Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I've found often that people I discuss with are dismissive of philosophy because it seems to be tangential to their real-life concerns. They liken it to mental masturbation, but it is in philosophical - and more precisely epistemological - language that they could address some very real issues that would otherwise keep eating away at their psyche.
Human beings are fundamentally unsure. Unsure of the quality of knowledge available to them, from the topics of ontology and existence up to the results of a mundane assessments of everyday information. But most of all they are unsure about themselves, about their merits and qualities and most of all about their disadvantages. They need the external world to verify or debunk their often silent assumptions. The world is fuzzy and analogue and no truth seems to stick. The more complicated the system the less simplified truths stick and what happens when everything interfaces with everything?
People are fundamentally unsure of themselves because they can't really dependably know anything. The concept of 'objectivity' is a mental trap that has tormented many for thousands of years and on top of its bastardized existence there is staged an elaborate sociodynamic power-play that mirrors the battle for base survival in the wild. Given that the only certainty then, is the uncertainty of all, persuasion is the method through which pressure groups shape the available finite space.
Let's think about what human beings do with certainties like, 'puncturing the chest will kill the heart' or 'suffocation to kill the brain': they turn them into weapons. The way the strong hurt the weak with epistemological despondency - and they are strong as they are weak by making these realizations and having the resolve to put them into action - is by judgment. All judgments are fundamentally not true but that doesn't mean that they are seen by all as false; they are only as true as you can sell them to others. The more people that believe them (or profess to believe them, effectively), the more the one making declarations has established a world around them that operates on their own terms, has adopted their reality or a similar reality that allows for theirs.
Consider a social situation in which two people are engaged in dialogue or argument (as it much happens on the internet) and there is a crowd of mostly silent onlookers, like fauna in the wild. The party that offers judgment and makes the most compelling case for it gathers respect and support. The judgment can be anything, so it often is the judgment that most would appeal to the social dynamics of the specific group that is surveying the conflict. The methods for propping up that judgment are based on familiar empathic tropes, tell them what they want to hear in unexpected ways, surprise them with the truth they already knew, entertain them, intimidate them. Once they are convinced (and the opposition feels that they are out of favor with the silent majority) there is a victory for the strong. This is how the smart and the dumb and the learned and the uneducated all resolve their social conflicts, the words may change and the quality of dressing for the judgment may vary, but the intention is the same. Consider children fighting for the same toy, consider geopolitical summits and consider a lover's quarrel. At the end no Truth is unearthed, no wisdom is accumulated, but a violent game has been played and illuminates a long, similar road, until death counts the final score and laughs at the spectral reward. Persuasion is reality.
The unsure will lose because they cannot convince anyone of anything when they're unsure. Do not confuse with those subversively unsure, where they shape their calculated skepticism into a weapon that solipsistically destroys any counter-argument. In these battles the honest uncertain are terrified limbless targets and it is no wonder that they flee the field to the opinionated and strong. The few structure reality for the many. It is especially sadistic to consider the circumstances in which most personal judgments occur and what they mean in the terms discussed in this text. Imagine some uncertain fellow coming out with a personal experience and then the one discussing with them replying with (the fantastically non-sequitur, but so often employed) cruel knife of "you're weird/stupid/annoying/boring/pretentious". Imagine being in the shoes of the uncertain and being told by an external authority (the outside world!) a possible Truth about yourself. You have to find out if it's true for all around you and how true it is! Imagine how strangely flattering it is to be told anything about your own self from the external world, to be even noticed. Imagine sheepishly replying "oh, you think so?", inviting even further judgment on your unsure self just because you really need some external verification that you have qualities to begin with, that you are in fact, existent. The strong has persuaded you of what you are. Some grow addicted to external verification/vilification, they subconsciously shape what they feel and mean so as to provoke it.
This is perhaps how those equipped at judgment shape the world around them. I am cognizant to some of these processes and I have been on either end of them and as I'm slowly growing older (or perhaps safer, more content?) I am finding it less and less a game and a laugh, and a far-away, spectral reward. I'm a strong person in the sense discussed above, I have my weapons too, but I am also fundamentally unsure and I must keep reminding myself of this. Perhaps the conflict must be transcended, perhaps not engaging is best but there isn't always willpower (or opportunity) for this. So what to do when I have to level persuasion as a spear against the Other?
On a past text I said that I need to claim an ambiguous space to be alive (to effectively also shape the reality around me) so I write this addendum to remind myself that although this will always be a conflict with others that are trying for the same space, that although it will always be a violent resolution, I must not believe my own judgments further than I need to to survive. They are double-edged weapons and as they trap others in my own world, they might also trap myself in it, they will make ambiguity into hardened "Truth" and then I must abide by it, I must be 'consistent' (a neurosis if there ever was one) or lose my own identity. Courage to be always wrong and to let others know it then. There must be no ingrained Truth to what I try, there must be no lesson, only impression and expression.