Wednesday, November 11, 2009

that's interesting too

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.



JesusGun said...

well, this is the first comment i have ever done in your blog while i check it out almost daily for new stuff. i don't know why i haven't done it before, but i guess i will do it more often from now on.
This article of yours seems to be one of the most interesting things you have ever uploaded in your blog, so i couldn't resist to leave a comment.
I don't think i'm gonna discuss about the article right now, mainly because my english don't seem to respond to such a conversation. i would be very glad if this was in greek so i could read it easier+more times than now, and express myself as far as my brain (and not my english) allows me.
I really have no idea how this happens, but the last days my main thoughts are based on many of the things you mentioned.
For excample the idea of human beings being fundamentally unsure has lead me to question how can i deal with this. Also the question "what is objectiveness?" lead me before some days to kind of similar opinions to yours. Moreover, i have questioned myself many times why the most of people don't want to try to put philosophy to their conversations and their "real-lifes". Has it got practical incomes to try to be sophisticated or it's just a mental masturbation?
I'm not going to analize your thoughts more, for the reasons i told at the top of the comment.
Anyway, thank you for making me work out with your thoughts, και καλή δύναμη με το κόμικ!

Helm said...

Welcome, and thank you.

Anonymous said...

...For a treveller who is lost in the forest and seeks desperately for a road to the clear, some misplaced wooden board fallen because of the winds, showing the opposite direction than the one out of the forest will cost expensive time, until he steps back and examines it, seeing the initial position (and eventually replaces it) and following the right direction to some inn where he dries his wet clothes and eats something -supposing there was also a storm and, second suppsition, that he can afford a room and a meal-, then the right direction is clearly separate from the wrong one.
Finding the truth, I think generally means that one is in danger and he is rescued, while if one is always safe or is lost for ever, could not realize that truth I describe.
Then other truths might be available, but given that permament safety or life beyond death I cannot comment, as I have no experience about them, I stop here.
I have not time to study yr whole blog in detail, and do not understand you as a whole as a result (according to yr blog I mean), also I cannot judge yet yr ZX comic neither can I predict its evolution and end. I although think surprise might be an advantage to it, and maybe because of it some situations could be explained in the action.
But going for uncomfort when showing love action, maybe it's a male attitude not the best one to adopt.
There are fields where violence might backfire badly and unexpectedly, in the long term too.
You shall not be able to use my comment as the other ones (like a weapon) as I'm leaving you here for ever conerning the online life, also I cannot reveal my real name for invincible reasons.
I'll add a last personal doubt of mine.
If somebody would comment my work and was obvious he was right and I was wrong as per some specific detail, should I accept it, or dismiss the critic, because of the situation you described as above?
That is should I always claim I'm right or admit the critic was right after all? (You know, uncertain honnest flee the field to the opinionated strong).
I'm not sure not only in virtual but also in the real life, while in both it's more than safer to say yes, more than reasonable and more of everything.
There are those old prejudices, justice amongst them and so on, which I cannot deny them all. Especially justice that relates with interests and survivals, is often more obvious than others, and easily understandable... I'm honnest when doubting and this is not a weapon!
I'll add "with love", risky as it is

Helm said...

enaever informed me in an e-mail that the above comment is not complete. Before it comes the following text:

today I commented in yr blog and here-below is the total text of my comment, cause I sent it cut in two because of the 4000 characters limit and do not know if it was received alright.

"English is not my mother tongue either, so that I cannot stay and read yr expatiative comments in english, especially the texts about philosophy (?) while it's easier to follow the comic.
Today I tried so hard to understand some of what you say and I dare to comment them briefly.
I am always avoiding the process you describe about persuasion in the internet and elsewhere.
I am aware of that "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" and do not need to antagonize on this field, while I can act effectively outside of dialogues, and being heard there (in action).
The text I managed to read after all, does not seem to me as an academic philosophical comment, rather it seems like experiences trying to be interpreted by philosophy, perhaps although they could be ideas interfering with experience? The last one I'm not sure.
Given the young of yr age, explaining that you do not feel that safe, or that content as you say, yet, yr resolutions are also explained.
"There must be no ingrained Truth to what I try, there must be no lesson, only impression and expression.", I mean.
Courage is also necessary to be terrified and defeated, but insisting, also courage is needed to seek for truth, while leaving pieces of yr existence behind, and when each and every choice of yrs will be paid cash and not in money.
But those are situations forgiven to old people, not for young ones who MUST be victorious if they want to aspire to survive in the jungle.
I will only add that I believe truth exists, and can be described very naively too.
For a patient who sees a doctor and receives false diagnosis and cure, then his life is in danger, for instance, then he changes doctor and finds back his health, lives happily ever after for long years, is apparent that the true diagnosis was the second one."

Helm said...

And my reply to the whole above:

First of all, your words are very interesting to me and there's a lot that I'd like to see clarified instead of answering anything. But instead of throwing a lot of questions at you, I'll opt that in due time if there is a natural dialogue, most answers I need will happen on their own. I am just saying this as a preemption: excuse me if I don't comb through your position properly.

The truth you describe seems to me to be about necessity and survival. In a sense it's the only useful truth because if you die then you are no longer there to ponder the epistemological ramifications of a position in the first place. That much I can discern and do not contest - even academically. My position was more about all the data surrounding life, and the living, and their interactions, that do not have to do with the bare survival of their bodies, but with the well-being of their psyches.

A psyche is a very underrated thing. A society built on commercial contracts has ingrained in us that what's most important is that we keep breathing (and buying), but there is another health that it's far more lax about protecting. Most humans suffer the children of the city and its ways, they are anxieties, neuroses and enduring inexplicable discomforts, seemingly tied with the basis of social living. It is there that the malleable truth becomes most a weapon, because the space is limited and the ruthless, the unscrupulous will seize and dictate the terms. The jungle of keeping yourself alive, fed and warm might be distant to some city-dwellers, it certainly is distant to me, but that other jungle of semiotic space, once brought to the forefront, is startling.

"But going for uncomfort when showing love action, maybe it's a male attitude not the best one to adopt."

I would like more clarifications on this one, though. Both why you think there's a male element to it (I don't deny anything) and why you think I am adopting anything of what I am showing. I am expressing an impression, is this the same as someone adopting a position on an ethical matter?

"If somebody would comment my work and was obvious he was right and I was wrong as per some specific detail, should I accept it, or dismiss the critic, because of the situation you described as above?"

If I ask myself that then I feel the answer is -surprisingly- clear: I already know he is right about my own suspicion. I can benefit from this internal realization even if the catalyst was external. However I'd be very careful with whether I openly admit to the critic that they are right, judging whether they are trying to gain something from me. If it's just momentarily validation and acceptance, that's fine but if it's something more, then care is warranted. How you tell people they're right (or wrong, it's not so different) can actually be a pretty discouraging insult sometimes.


"The text I managed to read after all, does not seem to me as an academic philosophical comment, rather it seems like experiences trying to be interpreted by philosophy"

For this, I am glad.

setuzuvar said...

My observations led me to the conclusion that especially those you call strong do not start a conversation with the conscious intention to convince someone of their "truth". It's rather a constraint arising from their subconsciousness. Their need to dominate is neurotic and actually a weakness.

The problem of forming someone else's reality by convincing him about your thoughts or having your picture of reality altered by thoughts someone opposes to you seems to be severe for you. I don't mean to judge on that and maybe I'm even completely wrong with this impression but here's a thought I have about this:

Are you helping others by trying not to convince them of your believes or judgements? Someone who is very uncertain is probably (unconsciously) searching for someone to dictate him his truth and if you don't give him yours then he runs into the arms of someone "strong" and gets his truth there. Being a philosophically thinking person you might be able to give someone who is weak in the sense of uncertain and searching for truth more than someone who is strong but just in the sense of being dominant and good in rethoric/persuasion.

On the other hand I like your solution to the problem. I feel trying to make uncertainty a virtue and enjoying the state of having no fixed truth is a good adaptation to the world we live in. Not expecting too much but considering everything possible, perceiving impressions and being expressive in return.

Hermann Hesse (the texts of whom deal a lot with the issue we are discussing) said something like "The only person one should try to change is oneself". (This is probably a poor translation, sorry.) When I tell someone my thoughts and opinions that may have a strong impact and change him as a result, but as long as I am not explicitely trying to form someone's mind this is ok, I guess.

Another thought: I think philosophical topics are avoided a lot not only because they are considered mental masturbation but also because of a fear of increasing one's uncertainty. It's easy to build up one's picture of reality by collecting pieces of information from TV / radio / newspapers / internet and so on. Often articles are like "American scientists revealed in a study about ... that ... is true." This makes it easy for a non-philosophical person to integrate the "fact" into his reality. When bothered with philosophic thought people realize they might have to doubt more and hence have to deal with uncertainty more than before. I don't know why, but for me it felt natural to have philosophical thoughts from my childhood on. And I was very surprised how shocked my friends and family reacted on some of my - from my viewpoint - harmless ideas. I realized that mere thought can cause a lot of fear and anger. Well, I have fears about other things instead.

Helm said...

I think the people that consciously realize the powerplay and still go on to dominate others become even 'stronger' because they're consciously honing their skill.

The way I talk about the problem at hand in this text makes it seem like it's keeping me up at nights. It doesn't exactly, I try to be a good person and I'm trying to come to terms with how much harm exactly, a good person has to effect on the world around them if they still can consider themselves good. It's a slow-burner, let's say.

I don't think I'm helping others with my worldview, expressly. I tend to think that I'm not hurting them *a lot* either though, and I'll have to live with that.

"Another thought: I think philosophical topics are avoided a lot not only because they are considered mental masturbation but also because of a fear of increasing one's uncertainty."

I hadn't thought of that but it seems probable. It's interesting what you say about "American scientists found out this or that" too, in how it replaces the need to question some aspects of reality for some people. I'm sure it happens to me too, actually, it's a great feeling to read somebody like Pinker or Hofstadter and see several of your most complicated thoughts about reality verified - to a degree - by scientists. It's something to watch out for.

Your message is very well-taken, I hope you keep commenting, setuzuvar.