I remember the saying from a Marine Corp. boot camp drill sgt. who said, "There are three ways of doing things: Your way, the right way, and my way." The father of Jaws' author Robert Benchley, jr. wrote that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who put people in two categories, and those who don't. J. Fichte, one of my favorite German philosophers to hate, wrote of materialists and idealists that "that's just the way they are." Sometimes that lack of sophistication is profound. But not always.
Many years ago when I was a boy I found that I was so short of common sense that I "haint got a lick ern't." Well, silly me. I went to a foreign country and found a library where I got an essay by Karl Menninger on Common Sense. His thesis is that what passes for common sense isn't as valuable as some would have us believe, and that critical analysis, logic and rigorous reasoning and testing of assumptions, of empirical evidence, ie the ways of science, are stronger and better than "common sense." Years later I encountered Thomas Paine. When I get back home I'll have a lot to talk about.
In these long years on the road back home I've found there are actually more ways than my way, the right way, your way, the Marine Corp. way, and so on. There are ways that have no words or images to explain them. There is the Tao, there is the Eightfold Path of Wisdom, there is the straight and the crooked, the is Pathways to Madness. There is Heidegger's Paths. Thomas Grey sums it up nicely in its simplicity:
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Shakespeare, Macbeth (V, v, 19 ) puts it even better:
"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
All of the above are filled with common sense observations backed up by rigorous analysis. We ponder our own paths even when we don't think openly. Even the drug addled and drunken, they have to poison themselves to quell the voices of internal inquiry. Some poison themselves with the intoxicating certainties of ideology or eschatological religion. To question is to live in a state of constant fear. The world's oldest known book shows us the depth and universality of the fear: When Gilgamesh holds the dead body of Enkidu he asks "Where Is my friend? Must I too, like my friend, lay me down, never to rise again forever?"
We observe in the course of our lives events that crush us, and if we have no defence, no protection, we are crushed. I don't despise those who seek protection. Only a fool wouldn't. Only a man who hain't got no senz. But there are ways, and then there are ways. We can look to Pascal's totally inadequate wager. We can look at Kierkegaard's rational fideism. We can look here, there, and anywhere; but in the final leg of the journey we come to see that we have to decide all by ourselves alone. I like Rimbaud's version: that these paths are bitter that can only lead to the end of the world. All of these considerations are based in some way on common sense and practical applications in daily survival, and all honed on the sharpening stone of life. We think whether we like it or not, and the thoughts are frightening for many. Eventually, sometimes soon, we just decide and go on regardless. And then there are those who don't get it. For some the Truth is the unknowable that remains after the illusion is removed.
We all of us know intuitively that there is mystery. That would be common sense. Some aren't satisfied with that as a way of knowing. Some of us, when confronted by X become cutters of illusions, those who shear away the veils of deceit and self-deception. We want to know, and we do so knowing that it can only be tragedy in the knowing. My cat knows nothing. My cat is happy. We who live lives of knowing live lives of fear. Every step through life is for us a torment. The path leads to death. We know. We know that we are fallen, and we do not live the lives of cats. We live lives of tragedy.
Islam, as so many of our pre-paid public intellectuals would have us repeat, does not mean "peace." Nor, as so many taqqiya artists would dun into us, does it mean it mean "submission." Islam means slavery. In Islam, man's relationship with his god is one of salve to master. It is total and complete. It is a willing surrender. Man, in a state of islam, is not the owner of his own life. Man is reduced, (according to me,) and elevated, (according to Muslims,) to the state of farm animal. According to Islam, the Moral is revealed in the Koran, and its practice is prescribed in the sunna. There is no more to know, and to think there is more to to veer into apostasy, to tamper with perfection, an therefore to become less. In Islam there is no fall, there is no path, there is no moral. There is only the acceptance of Islam and its ritual practice thereafter. There is no moral. There is no tragedy. It hardly rates as comedy.
Between the above sentence and this I stepped out for lunch. I could parse the experience to infinity. I don't because of lack of imagination and because I have control .Of the infinite number of possible things I might have considered only one is of any significance, and that only by personal choice: I noticed a man in a billiard shop breaking a rack of balls. My guess is that the balls went pretty much where he intended them to go. He has control. However, I'm not satisfied with that. I must also consider David Hume's understanding of the event I choose to consider. Billiard man has expert control over his game. His reality conforms to his efforts, and his expertise comes from practice, from common sense, and from deep analysis of the ways of billiards. Were we to explain to him that all of his expertise is of no value, that the balls go where they do because it is the will of Allah, he'd shrug and think we're Muslim. Were we to explain to him that all of his expertise is of no value, that the balls go where they do because it is the nature of his habits of mind to assume that because it is his past experience of such that the future must be so, then he would shrug and think we're stupid. Between the aggressively passive Muslim and the aggressively skeptical philosopher lies the shadow of the unknowable, the potential possibilities of billiards. I don't know even the simplest things. I lack common sense.
Below we see a bit of common sense tempered with intelligence and experience:
I do not have an advantage over the truth. Why, even saying such a thing sounds foolish.
My concern is the plight of the Palestinians, for now. I do not preach that I know anything about anyone, but I do ask those who have formulated their opinions about Palestinians question their stance, their motives.
Fichte, like the proverbial broken clock, gets it right: It depends on the kind of person one is. One can look at the potential possibilities of the possible tableau, and from the infinitely parsable, one chooses. Why would one choose concern for the plight of the Palestinians? Why would one choose concern for the plight of the Israelis?
Common sense tells us it's a minor conflict that involves very few people, only a minute number of whom we could ever in a whole long life-time ever know on a personal level. Of all possible conflicts between others, those we are not, why would we concern ourselves with this one, one of the least important and least harmful to the greatest number? Objectively, the conflict is trivial in Human terms of scale. Who cares? It's a small and low-intensity conflict between a small number of primitive hunter/ gatherers, beduin, and a group of Modernists who have inserted themselves into the midst of resentful reactionaries. Common sense would suggest that everyone just get over it. Instead, it is the defining issue of our time. Where we stand on this issue defines our world views, our epistemologies, our very reason for being. We don't get over it. We fetishise it. This conflict, if it exists at all, only exists for us because we choose to think so. I choose to involve myself in this conflict, man-made as it is, for a number of reasons, personal and public.
Publicly, it is of concern to me as a matter of control. I might admit to a smidgen of common sense. My common sense tells me that this struggle is one between Revolution and Reaction. I opt for Revolution if only because that's the kind of person I am. My sense tells me that there is less illusion in Revolution than in Reaction, and that once the illusion is cut away, what remains, the obscure, is probably closer to truth than otherwise. I opt for the revolutions of Modernity because I find there is less of my cat's life in Modernity that in Reaction. There is greater control in free inquiry than in slavery. There is greater freedom of inquiry in Modernist Zionism than in primitive submission to 7th century tribal rites of Islam. More enquiry is less illusion; therefore, more likely the possibility of truth.
Principally, I am against Zionism.
I understand the practical benefits accruing from the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648. The concept of national identity and group solidarity leads in its own way eventually to the concepts of self agency and joint stock companies. It leads to the individual acting in enlightened self-interest within a community of like persons. That would be your capitalism. That would be your billiard player. That would be control.
One reason I hate Fichte, also von Herder, also so many others in the course of this blog I've written about, is the concept of exceptionalism based on ethnicity. Our writer above is likely against Zionism for the very reasons I argue against Fichte. If there is a universal moral, what makes one group based on ethnicity excused from its obeyance? Why are they excepted? And what gives them the right to impose upon another group? To claim exceptionalism is to deny universality. One will not find me denying either ethnicity or moral universality. The one I argue from experience and analysis, the other I argue for simply because when one cuts away the illusion there is left the mystery.
I favor Zionism on the grounds of the observable benefits of the Treaty of Westphalia. Some Jews argue against it on the grounds that it violates the principles of universality and the oneness of Man. Zionism is an exceptionalism. Some Jews argue against Zionism on the grounds that it contradicts their religious views, altogether obscure to me. And finally, we are left with the observable fact that all Jews are Jews. We could be skeptical, but let's not. Let common sense prevail for now. Zionism is in conformity with the Treaty of Westphalia, a treaty most of us accept as given. Large groups are due nations based on numbers, unities of custom and tradition over time, of common language, by self-definition. Jews and Kurds seem to qualify on those grounds as nations. One must honestly ask if Basques and Eskimos do. And to answer that honestly, one might refer to Engel's later writing partner, Eduord Bernstien, who claimed that in the life of nations there are those who can and those who can't. One must sometimes bow to the somewhat humorous realpolitik of Communists.
I argue in favor of Zionism partly in terms of prudence and practicality, that with a large group of identifiable ethnic people one must form a nation in the general and in the individual interests; and that this particular group is singled out for extermination by too many other groups to bother counting, both now and throughout much of our history. The universality of the moral of Man is not the same as the universality of the brotherhood of Man. Frankly, mate, we ain't kith and we ain't kin. I would like you better not as a pretender to my brotherhood but as a man among men. Scots wa hae where Wallace bled, like them or no, those are mine in some remote sense. One of the last men to go down during the collapse of Constantinople, he was a Scot. I know about him because he is mine. The Jews know because the Jews are theirs. I know that a Scot died defending the Greeks. I know there is transcendence. I know too that the Greeks have never heard of the Scot who died trying to defend them. I know that between Donald Grant and Dagald Walker there is a bond. I know that between the Highlands and the Horn lays the mystery. I favor Zionism because it is demonstrably less illusory than the Caliphate. I can see Donald Grant in Constantinople and I can see myself in Jerusalem. There is truth in the existence on the ethnicity of the Jews as there is truth in the ethnicity of the Scots. The brotherhood of man is illusion. There is prudence and benefit in the Treaty of Westphalia, and there is illusion in the Caliphate. Proof? Look so far as Sophia and so near as London. Look so far as East Jerusalem and look so near as West Jerusalem. The stance is telling. One is reactionary or one is revolutionary. It depends on the kind of person one is.
These past eight months of near daily writing on the intellectual history of reaction will show that Modernity is revolutionary and beneficial, less illusory than reaction, and therefore more likely to be the mystery of the remaining.
All I know is the machine is targeting Palestinians, a microcosm for the future of the non-corporate world; if you have any doubts, see the aftermath of Katrina for more evidence-- on North American soil.
I'll return again to the metaphor of the billiard player. Recently we posted a comparison between B.F. Skinner and Viktor Frankl. One argues for environmental determinism, the other for self-agency. This is of a piece when one argues for or against Palestinians, so-called. There is a machine that controls or there is not. Frankl, inmate of a Nazi death camp, accepted the externality of the machine as obvious and given, and he accepted his agency within. Most died,;and like Primo Levi, Franlkl survived. We can count the survivors. The drowned, as Levi writes, had no names because they were dead already. I write this name, and I want you to shout it out in any moment of agony: Tom Cunningham.
My aim, should I have one, is to get people to think for themselves.
Alas, in my experience, people are lazy and peddle anything they see or read, just to be accepted, just to be left alone...
One can see at a glance that this exercise in dialectic is in sympathy to some degree with the idea of getting people to think independently. Not to become excited: I write constantly here and elsewhere about boundaries and authority.
There is a difference between dialectic and education, and the obvious difference is between the Greek and the Latin. The Latin term refers to raising children. The Greek to discussing with independent adults. If we rear by education we infantalise our charges, lapsing into a condition of in loco parentis, of which we here have written disparagingly. If people are going to arrive at independent thinking, then it would be a matter of privacy as opposed to publicity. One has no right to educate adults but much opportunity to discuss as equals whatever comes to mind and is of interest.
In these past pages we've looked in some detail at the history of social work as an outgrowth of European missionary vocation. Please refer here to archival material on Henry Mayhew. We have also written often on Plato's Myth of the Metals and the Philosopher Kings. Another place to find our positions is Elenchus and Aporia. And finally, in our on-going analysis of gnosticism and the origins of Nazi exceptionalism. In fact, the majority of this blog is dedicated to the discussion of the relationship between the self-identified elites and the so-called masses. If I had a few minutes of peace here I'd write more. As is, I'm swamped by crazy people making incomprehensible demands.
With regards to these toons, they came out last Sept/Oct 2005! My question is why is it a hot issue now, 5 months later? Cartoons by nature are subversive. These cartoons are meaningless without a context. You have to go back to the islamophobic behaviour that's erupted in the developed countries, namely the US and EU, over the last five years, coupled with some elementary knowledge of Islam, to fully comprehend the reactions (on all sides); now, I do not condone those reactions; it should have stopped at flag burning and boycotting Danish goods (the rest is just mob frenzy spinning out of control).
Regarding the cartoons, it should be common knowledge by now that they were originally commissioned by a newspaper publisher who was approached by a children's book writer who couldn't find an illustrator to illustrate his book on Mohammed. He couldn't find an illustrator who wasn't afraid of being murdered by Muslims in Denmark for doing so. What makes Muslim sharia valid in Denmark? Are Danes subject to sharia in Denmark? In practical terms, de facto, yes, if they are afraid to act counter to sharia from fear of murder for doing so. Sharia is triumphant in Denmark if that is the case, and then there is not one law for Danes but two. In effect, if there are two legal systems in contradiction in one nation, then there is no law but that of every man against every man; and that, as Hobbes points out so beautifully in The Leviathan, is chaos and civil war. Worse, it is the end of legitimacy of the original legal Danish state.
From Hobbes to Rousseau to me, we all agree that the legitimate state acts as final and armed arbiter of the civility of the commonwealth. I give up my right to kill my obnoxious neighbour in exchange for the the right to live without fear of him killing me when my back is turned. He and I both give up our rights to defend ourselves in favor of giving that right of force to the state. When there are opposing forces of legitimacy in one land, when there is my force and your force, and when there's no common agreement that mine is valid and yours is not, then we descend into civil war. If the law, as agreed upon in advance by the public and plurality, agrees that everyman has the right to express himself short of direct and immediate harm, then that is the law. To claim exceptions for some based on another form of law, and then to back that exceptionalist claim by force of murder is to defeat the purpose of the original social contract.
The question then is whether the cartoons were a direct incitement to violence. They were published in an Egyptian newspaper shortly after they appeared in Denmark. No one in Egypt seemed to care. Months later, after concerted efforts at inflammation by Muslim provocateurs from Denmark moving through the Middle East with the original cartoons and additional crude forgeries, then there were organised campaigns of public violence. The proof is that the cartoons, rather than being objectionable in the first place, even in Egypt, exist in themselves, and that only provocation made them an issue on the part of those who had an agenda of their own that had nothing to do with objective responses from Muslims who are as free to choose to react to them as they are free not to. The Danes, following legitimate and universally Danish national law, did not provoke violence; but the Muslims, incited, chose to react violently. As Lenny Bruce once claimed: "There are no dirty words only dirty minds." Yes, we understand that Muslims do not and canonically cannot accept personal responsibility for their actions outside the confines of Islam. If we claim that Mohammed is a pig, we can be fairly certain that the average Muslim will kill himself and a dozen innocent bystanders in response. That cannot and must not prevent us from claiming if we so choose that Mohammed is a pig. Regardless of whether Muslims can acept law and responsibilty outside of Islam the fact remains that their law is not exceptional in the greater scheme of the prevailing law. If they cannot abide by the common codified law of the land, then it is not imperative that we obey their law and ours as well, it is imperative that Muslims obey our common law or that they leave for other lands, or that they commit crimes and are processed through the local admisitration of justice as anyone else will be.
The question arises whether this is an act of islamophobia. It might well be, and so what? Again, one must decide what's important in life, privacy or publicity. The individual is private and not the possession of the publicity itself. Or, one may take the opposite view of communitarianism, that the person is indeed the possession to the whole of whom he is an otherwise meaningless atom. That would return us to von Herder and Fichte and the origins of Naziism, which we have dealt with here in other essays in deep and vast detail.
Thank you for your time.So, it depends on what kind of person one is. Either one pouts people in two categories or one doesn't. One is revolutionary or one is reactionary. Eventually, all paths, glorious or wicked, lead but to the grave.
Before they do for each of us there is the small matter of the details of living. That would include the common sense problem of the reason one bothers. Schopenhauer might be onto something.
Just because I can, I'll repost an old essay below to further my agruments above.
Metaphor, Authority, and the Moral (4)
Why Left dhimmi fascism? How did the West get itself into this bind whereby anyone with a "grievance" can claim victimhood and compensation while the West ties itself in knots of guilt and self-loathing? In past posts we've searched through history to examine the ideas of the Counter-Enlightenment thinkers who concocted the base for this idiocy, thinkers such as Herder, Fichte, Heidegger among others. Recently we've looked at the history of the Renaissance popes of the Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformers. We've seen the story of Sawney Beane, of morality based on the authority of one cannibal living in a cave. Here we will continue on that theme of moral authority and the metaphors that motivate us in our moral lives.
The Catholic Church has, for many in the West, lost its position as a moral authority. Whether that's right or wrong is a matter of dispute, but it is the objective reality in the West. It leaves a moral vacuum. Worse, it leaves a hatred in the collective mind of the very idea of an organised moral institution. The Protestant Reformation arose from that revulsion the Catholic Church brought upon itself and the world. Unfortunately, Protestantism isn't much better than the Catholic Church, in the eyes of many. The very idea of religion at all, and of God, is a source of hatred for many. For the past 250 years science has provided some kind of stop-gap as an authority, if amoral, but it too is discredited. We are left standing as the children of Sawney Beane, the ignorant children of a cannibal who has raised us to look upon the world as empty of meaning, as people as things to be eaten. We are the vacuous creatures of consumerism. We are assailed by Islam, a vigorous and primitive force of reaction and fascism; and Islam is aided and abetted by those among us who are atheists in a sense so deep that the world has never before experienced anything so despairing: people in the West generally have not anything at all to believe in but MTV.
The argument is that there is no authority to base our beliefs on. We ask an empty universe for answers to our moral questions, and in return we receive radio static and x-rays. It will not do. We ask each other, and we receive nothing better than one man's opinion, he possibly being Sawney Beane. The echoes from the cave of morality discourage.
Some of our more repulsively stupid fellows, usually our intelligentsia, feel that there is no universal truth, that there is only contingent truth, relative morality, and finally, that there is only astrology or tarot cards to base our morals judgements on. Some go so far as to opine that there is no such thing as truth at all, it being a social construct-- usually described as concocted by the dominant class in support of its own power, we being dupes who believe in phantasy that tricks us into acting against our own interests. The idea is originally Platonic, Plato being, as Neil Postman writes, "the first systematic fascist." That "narrative" is the dominant one in the West today. It leaves us in a state of moral stupor. I argue that the current Left dhimmi fascist moral narrative is as corrupt and disgusting as anything the Catholic Church is accused of. I argue that we today are in a state of public moral ruin. We cannot fight Islam if we do not care at all for our own lives. If we have no meaning as people, if our lives are no more worthwhile than the lives of chickens and Amazonian rain forests, then we are doomed to die out and to be overrun by Islam. Many in the West feel that that would be a good thing, the end of our revolutions of Modernity. Those who so argue are fascists. They are my enemies. What do we fight them with? What authority do we claim that proves us right in our struggle to further our revolutions?
We have written here many times on Georges Sorel and the Myth of the General Strike. Sorel is right, in our opinion, that the Myth is essential rather than the kind of myth it might be. We require a reformation of our social and therefore universal myth if we are to not only survive but triumph. I intend to win. To win, to survive at all, we must reform our Myth of what it is to be moral.
Math is a metaphor. Language is a metaphor. So too are Time, Money, Colour, Shape, Extension, and so on. And yet, Human myths, metaphors though those concepts are, they are also Human realities, and they are universal. So too must be our reformed Morality. But it must also be authoritative.
Where do we begin? I begin with the story of Lazarus from the Book of John, 11: 39-44, perhaps surprising for one self-proclaimed atheist:
39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
The verses above distinguish clearly the problem of the Moral from that of the ethical. The ethical hardly interests me, it being a matter of how to act like a decent person. I don't much care. It is the Moral that is of concern. Look at Lazarus arisen. His ethical behavior is not important to the story of his reliving. The moral of his new lease on life is what is.
Suppose, if you will, that Lazarus is a smelly and creepy guy who has no job, hangs out in the market place and gropes women, and shop lifts. He might be unethical, but to Jesus that is not important. What is? Jesus could have raised up Brad Pitt or Clark Gable. He did not do so. He chose a guy who wasn't special. He did not pick a man who had qualities the world missed and wanted back for however long the life could last. He chose a guy off the street. Ordinary nobody guy is as important as Brad Pitt for some reason. Why him?
Lazarus, if no one else, must have wondered. And perhaps Lazarus was pleased. But Lazarus must also have been anguished: What was he supposed to do now that he found himself alive again after being so comfortably dead already? He found himself back on the street, in need of the things one requires to keep body and soul together. He had to return to shoplifting and girl groping and smelling bad. His ethical problems pale in the light of what the moral of his story is. Having returned to life, what was the meaning of it? What was he supposed to live? Forget what he was supposed to do, that's obvious: he had to live. But why? Was he supposed to live because the city ran out of shoplifters and gropers who smell bad? Not likely. So what is the purpose of his life? He has it again, and aside from making a living, what is he supposed to be? What isn't trivial? And what is important? What is so important that it makes his new life worth the effort of having raised him up from the dead? Watching MTV isn't likely what Jesus had in mind for him. Being thankful and acting as Jesus's servant isn't likely either because it's not something he would have done had he been allowed to die in peace. No one would like to live again only to do something in the new life he wouldn't have felt right about in the old. Lazarus, I believe, was free to choose his own destiny-- if he could understand what it was. A clean slate. A chance to do anything at all from the beginning. What would he choose? What could be important?
That, according to me, would be the Moral. Not the what but the why. The moral would be as mythical and as real a metaphor as math and time and money.
I argue that we in the West have generally lost the authoritative moral that tells us Why. Our metaphor of Why is as corrupt as the Catholic Church in the Renaissance. We have no legitimate metaphor and no authority we can believe in. We are as lost and helpless as the children of Sawney Beane. Our moral authority could as easily be a cannibal living in a cave. How do we know if he's right or wrong, and if we hear from others, from even so many as all others, how do we know they are right? Everyone could easily be wrong about the moral, as wrong as Sawney Beane. And how would we know? Where do we turn for the answer of true authority? We turn, I suggest, to the metaphor of morality that is as solid as the metaphor of math and as universal.
We in the West do not have an agreed upon universal moral based on true authority. Without that we are like Lazarus standing in the dust wondering what to do next.
Every morning when we awake we are like Lazarus arisen from death: we are alive again and faced with what we live for. What do we live that isn't more of the same trivia? If it's more of the same trivia then why do we live at all rather than not? If it's the same trivia, we would have been better off being dead so as not to have to suffer more of it. Reliving would be no good thing. We wouldn't thank anyone for that. And yet we do wake each morning to face a new day of life. I think we in the West find that harder to do daily. I think Islam triumphs because we have lost our moral.
And to all who managed to get through that, I thank you.