Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Clash of Worldviews

MODERATOR: Welcome to Clash of Worldviews, the show that spotlights the philosophical differences that shape both the daily conflicts that determine our personal fate and the flow of history on the grandest scale. And may I say hello to our eleven viewers around the world. This evening, we introduce Adam Garnett, a liberal secular humanist who believes that science, democracy, and capitalism liberate us, which makes for social progress; Heather Fogarty, a skeptic and postmodern pessimist and cynic; and Lindsey Rowe, an unabashed Catholic conservative. Gentlemen and lady, I vacate the floor and leave it to you.

HEATHER: It’s about time! Love the phony formalism of your discourse, by the way. That’s the old bogus neutrality of the civilized modern man. So discreet, so polite is the modern man, all while serving rapacious aristocrats who plundered their colonies for resources and slaves so they could live as amoral, godlike connoisseurs, and later while backing democracies that free us up to be domesticated by huge corporations that likewise elevate a small class of sociopaths. I’m just so bowled over by your British affectations that are supposed to distract from your mammoth-sized phallus-worship.

MODERATOR: Ah well, do remember, dear guest, that you’re here to engage with the ideas of your fellow ideologues.

HEATHER: Yeah, while the dispassionate, scrupulously objective host has no ideas of his own, as if he were a robot rather than just another hairy primate that stuffs his belly and farts and craps and bangs someone else’s naked body in the dead of night like the rest of us “dear viewers and participants” in these slickly-staged spectacles and monuments to modern conceits of progress.

ADAM: Heather, I hope you’re not going to be this tedious the entire time.

HEATHER: Tedious? Have you really been so dehumanized by the powers of modernity that you can feel only ever-so-polite tedium when someone speaks prophetic truth to power? How very civilized of you!

LINDSEY: She’s full of herself as well. An upstart feminist whose delusions of equality and persecution complex are signs of her fallenness and need for redemption.

HEATHER: Get your facts straight, chauvinist. I’m a realist, not a feminist. My pleasure is in transmuting the horror that comes with knowing the natural facts into comedy and art. And how rich is it for a Catholic to speak of a persecution complex! You’re the one wearing a cross around his neck, Lindsey.

LINDSEY: Yes, because Jesus really was persecuted and tormented.

HEATHER: Oh, really? Is that a fact? Known how, I wonder. Next to science, your dogmas are infantile babblings. You’re supposed to grow out of religion by the time you can think for yourself. Have you ever tried doing that? Thinking for yourself?

LINDSEY: Who’s the modernist now? As Proverbs says, pride goes before the fall, and the most arrogant children of God are the modern rationalists and individualists that idolize the renaissance genius who challenges traditions and institutions and discovers facts that have been hiding in plain sight. You see, originality counts for nothing and is barely even possible due to the weight of culture. So stop trying to outthink God! All you need to know is that morality is a transcendent business that elevates us above the animals. We wrestle with moral questions because God’s testing whether we’ll do the right thing even when we’re confined to the desolate material plane.

HEATHER: What’s the right thing?

LINDSEY: Admitting that all human effort is in vain. We need God the most when he's hidden from us because that's when we lose ourselves in idle pursuits. Modern culture and even the entire physical world will fade away in the end and only spirits will remain. What matters then will be our proximity to God.

ADAM: Such comical blather! What’s proximity without space? What’s the pleasure of heaven or the pain of hell without time, not to mention brains? These are just schoolboy fallacies of literalistic theism, so will you kindly stop talking nonsense as though we were in a Church filled with wrinkly old people who still defer to sinister priests?

LINDSEY: I’ll ignore the slander. But who said anything about literalism? Religious metaphors are fine as long as we keep the faith that they point to a reality that transcends our best intellectual efforts.

ADAM: And that move right there is consistent with every sort of charlatanism. How many cult leaders have told their flock, “Just trust me and don’t be arrogant enough to question my pontifications”? Do Christians condemn reason because reason is flawed or because theists fear the world that reason presents?

LINDSEY: First of all, Catholics don’t condemn reason. We merely put reason in its place rather than idolizing it.

HEATHER: Yeah, you save your idolatry for Jesus the carpenter, for his mother Mary and all the apostles and saints, not to mention for Catholic history and institutions. No room left for idolizing reason, I guess.

LINDSEY: Such snark for a grown woman—talk about the need to outgrow childish ways. Anyway, as I was saying, Catholics are highly rational. Look at Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica.

ADAM: No, Lindsey, you won’t get away with that. Catholics pretend to be more intellectually sophisticated than their fellow theists, but they neuter reason. Aquinas doesn’t follow reason wherever it leads, because he begins his labyrinthine cogitations with faith-based, indeed ludicrous presumptions which he never questions. His systematic theology is a castle built on sand. Scientists are the ones who follow reason where it leads, and they have no need of the God hypothesis.

LINDSEY: Need I remind you that early modern scientists like Newton and Kepler were fervent Christians?

ADAM: Yeah, and all the intellectual progress they made happened in spite of any influence from the Bible or Church dogma. If science is compatible with religious faith, it’s because that faith is utterly empty. You lose sight of theism completely because modern science casts such an enormous, all-encompassing shadow.

LINDSEY: All-encompassing, you say? Then tell me the scientific theory that dictates how you ought to live or how something material comes from nothing? Theism isn’t a scientific hypothesis. It’s an absolute, partly philosophical and emotional answer to ultimate questions that scientific methods leave untouched. Behold the secular humanist’s arrogance! You think that because scientists know how to intellectually break down events into mechanisms, that science can replace philosophy or religion? Trust me, I find your scientism as tedious as you find Heather’s cynicism.

ADAM: That’s a strawman you’re flogging. Science doesn’t have to replace them. We can just learn to stop asking obsolete, uninformed questions that have no answers.

LINDSEY: I throw your earlier question back at you: Will we stop asking those ultimate questions—like what’s right or wrong or what’s the cause of nature?—because those questions are flawed or because observation and logic alone don’t deal well with them? You’re like a child who’s jealous of his fellows’ larger ball and you figure that if a game can’t be played with your rather meager ball, it’s not worth playing, so you mean to subvert the playing field.

HEATHER: Well, both your faith and your reason are pitiful now in the postmodern light. We’ve learned not to trust such metanarratives, such totalizing myths. They’re just stories you’re telling as we sit around our electric campfires, terrified of the black universe that lies beyond those lights. Of course Christians cling to their nursery rhymes because they fear the modernist’s ghost story about a godless world where justice and morality and life itself aren’t even afterthoughts, they’re so cosmically insignificant. And of course secular humanists cling to their legends of technoscientific utopia, because they’re afraid of their childlike partialities, which religions serve. You’re like pretentious movie buffs arguing about which film is number one: it’s all a matter of taste because your worldviews are works of art.

ADAM: Heather, let me explain something to you in plain language that will differ greatly from the obscure ramblings that pass for wisdom in your French philosophy tomes. Scientific theories aren’t myths or games or artworks. They’re maps of reality. How do I know this? Because, like a map of some territory, if you follow it you’ll get where you want to go. In principle, if you want to fly like a bird, you can follow the relevant research, build a plane and fly through the air. Stories are for entertainment; science is for knowledge. If you still don’t see the difference, try applying the Christian myth of Jesus’s resurrection and see if you can resurrect yourself after you die.

LINDSEY: But that’s just the crudest philistinism, isn’t it? Your own map metaphor implies that science isn’t entirely objective, that it serves the map-maker’s interests. We make maps because we have a destination in mind and we do science because we likewise have a goal. Knowledge isn’t an end in itself. You want to understand certain facts so you can have power over them and substitute yourself for God. Others use simplifications of reality, like stories or myths, for other purposes, because their personalities and traditions differ from those who worship reason or technology. So you look at the Christian resurrection narrative as a failed effort at scientific theorizing, whereas to me it’s obviously about spiritual rebirth. There’s no question here of a magical formula for surviving death. Christians live again when they die to their deluded selves and wake up to hope for revelation of spiritual truths.

HEATHER: Actually, that’s heresy. Doubting Thomas was allegedly refuted when Jesus proved that his wounds and thus his resurrection were indeed literal and physical, not metaphorical or merely psychological. Thus, your retreat leads to a dead end. Of course, since the rules of theology are so lax, you’re free to convert to some opposing faith that’s more in line with modern bible criticism.

LINDSEY: I’m well aware of the tenets of my faith. Jesus’s resurrection was physical, prior to his transfiguration, and we Christians trust that we too will rise again in bodily form sometime after we die. But we also believe we have a taste of that spiritual life here and now when we allow Jesus to dwell within us and guide us as our lord and saviour.

HEATHER: Like a weaselly politician, then, you get to have it both ways, because you’re inured to the cognitive dissonance that comes with that contradiction. The resurrection is both literal and metaphorical, you say, both physical and mental. Has it occurred to you that an enlightened soul whose character has been transformed so that he’s no longer plagued with earthly worries wouldn’t be so vulgar as to retain a hope for a bodily afterlife? But no, you want to personally live forever because you’re still a grubby little animal, programmed to survive at all costs to protect your genes, even while you make believe that you’re a nobler creature with more refined interests, that you’re already spiritually born again. But lest any of this fiction be testable you’ll be quick to blame the sins committed by Christians on their transformation’s immaturity. Only in the end times will goodness finally win out. Well, if that goodness is supposed to resemble a human ideal, I shudder to think of the everlasting world that would be ruled by it, because our history is brutal and oppressive—and that includes the so-called modern age of enlightenment. And yet if the afterlife won’t be governed by our twisted values, why trust that we’d be happy in it?

LINDSEY: Heaven for God’s creatures isn’t the same as heaven for God. We have the instinct to protect our embodied life because we’re a lower species. But heaven is the fulfillment of our ideals. If you reject our ideals of justice and happiness, you betray your humanity. God made you something different than himself. We’ve struggled to apply our values and we’ve usually come up short, as you say, but that doesn’t mean our highest goals don’t deserve to be achieved. So yes, the resurrection is both physical and internal. We grow spiritually even as our bodies will be perfected. The material world is good, as God says in Genesis, so there’s no need to transcend it. In fact, undermining the natural order that’s as God intended it is the devil’s project.

HEATHER: Calling the universe good is like saying an airplane makes for a fine footstool. It’s just a category error since physical processes are perfectly inhuman; they’re indifferent and amoral. Even Gnostic Christians dissented from conservative Jews’ sentimental apology for nature. Think of the ancient Jews, wandering and cowering in the desert between pagan empires, with no earthly success of their own, forced to contemplate the world’s pitilessness towards losers, only to betray that omega person’s insight, to refuse to follow Job’s logic to its conclusion. Gnostics and other spiritual radicals, like the Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and renounced the whole enterprise of trying to be happy in this life—they said nature should be transcended, because the evident impersonality of natural processes is beneath contempt. Just as you personify the unknown X that’s the source of everything and that could answer all our questions, you’d inject morality and teleology into physics and cosmology. Meanwhile, realists throughout the ages have coped with the horror of accepting that nature is alien to our preferences and have responded by building the artificial worlds we actually live in, thus transcending the prior world that mainstream Jews and Christians and other centrist functionaries of natural evolution serve. What you call the devil, the undoer of nature, is actually Prometheus, the heroic light-bringer who inspires us to create something better than the wilderness.

LINDSEY: I’d be offended by such blasphemies if I didn’t suspect they were due to your gross ignorance. Adam is right: postmodern philosophy has rotted your brain. First, you sympathize with heretics, then you embrace the very devil, that champion of all ungrateful, arrogant creatures that try to outperform their maker, only to fall flat on their face in some squalid tyranny they set up for themselves. This is why atheists are so untrustworthy: their lack of faith really does lead logically to immorality, to rank selfishness and even to hostility towards all Creation. You think you can create a better world than God’s? Can sinful pride really be so infinite? If you keep rebelling against your parent like an unruly teenager, you’ll find yourself out in the cold.

HEATHER: Actually, it’s your brain that’s been rotted—by the anachronistic Bible and the obnoxious Fox News. You have no idea that your conventional religion is the height of absurdity. Newsflash: you, the conservative Catholic, are the true devil-worshipper because you’re the apologist for nature. And it’s the mainstream theist’s lack of faith in human adaptability that threatens to make our species too boring to be tolerated by the plutocrats and other power elites who are the real gods that govern most of us. Those evil secular dictatorships you’re talking about? Those are expansions of utterly natural, primitive tribalism and social dominance hierarchies. Look at groups of birds and fishes and mammals out in the wild and time and again you’ll find the strong minority ruling over the weak majority. Nothing could be more natural than class inequality and oppression. And if it’s natural, it’s divine, according to God-fearers like you. It’s no use blaming some fallen angel who trashed God’s house, because God would have created the force responsible for that corruption. So by siding with the god of nature, that is, with the fiction dreamed up by the ancients who couldn’t bear to contemplate the world’s alienness and palpable inhumanity, you stand against the forces of progress which are the forces of transcendence, of escape from God’s dismal kingdom.

LINDSEY: Oh, the devil really is the father of lies. Christians don’t apologize for nature. On the contrary, we regard the world as having fallen due to the sin of God’s creatures, as symbolized by the story of the serpent’s temptation of the protohumans in Eden. That’s why the alternative of heaven is possible, because the present world is imperfect.

HEATHER: Who made the world that could decline in such a way?

LINDSEY: God, but freewill is worth the price of the suffering caused by the corruption of what was once paradise.

HEATHER: Did God create the natural as we find it or not?

LINDSEY: God created a paradise which then became corrupted by the autonomous creatures within it.

HEATHER: So God indirectly created the impersonal universe that follows an alien logic and that isn’t remotely centered on human welfare.

LINDSEY: Yes, indirectly God created the fallen world—through his creatures.

HEATHER: And God gets the credit while his creatures get the blame, right?

LINDSEY: Roughly speaking, yes, because God doesn’t err whereas we typically do.

HEATHER: For which part of nature does God deserve praise?

LINDSEY: For the majestic scope of the universe, for the wonder of the myriad stars in the sky, for the grandeur of the oceans and the mountains, and for the miracle of life.

HEATHER: Those things all have natural causes, as do the secular tyrannies you condemn as satanic. But natural causes hang together. If you have the one, you have the other. The stars and oceans and mountains require billions of galaxies and eons for planets to develop; some of them then burst forth with life and some species evolve intelligence and self-awareness and a conscience. Nature’s impersonal regularity, its being governed by inflexible, mathematical relationships is what led Christians to speak of the world as fallen from some previous state of perfection, because most suffering happens as a result of nature’s being ordered. So if the world’s imperfections are somehow due to sinful creatures, not to God, why worship God as the world’s creator? Adam and Eve and the demonic serpent should receive credit for all the universe’s grandeurs. And yet you worship a father figure that allegedly created some paradise you’ve never seen, not the natural world as we find it. You admit the world is morally flawed and because you don’t wish to worship the true powers responsible for its creationwhich could only be demonic ones of pride and recklessness and jealousy and so forth, according to your big book of myths, at leastyour only option is to attribute the world to some stand-in deity. And because God must be flawless, lest you be a devil-worshipper, you’re forced to paper over the world’s imperfections, to rationalize them by saying they’ll be wiped away in the end or to blame God’s creatures even though they’d be just as God made them. Still, by implicitly recognizing and rationalizing the world’s flaws and personifying their source, you worship a devil, but you haven’t the stomach to call him by his true name.

LINDSEY: Balderdash!

ADAM: Actually her logic is valid, but it’s all irrelevant because she’s given theology too much credit. Both theological dogmas and philosophical speculations are irrational, so Christianity and postmodern skepticism are equally foolish in the eyes of scientists. Can’t you laggards just remove your head from the sand? Where are you now? You’re sitting in a modern megalopolis which affords us luxury upon luxury. Are you dying before your time from some random disease? No, medical science has increased our lifespan. Are we locked into castes while a decadent aristocracy rules over us? No, democracy empowers the majority, while capitalism offers the potential for upward social mobility. Are we still searching in the dark for a clue as to the world’s nature? No, biologists and physicists and mathematicians and the rest have shone the light of reason and now we see far and wide, even deep into other galaxies and dimensions. Why, then, do you insist on the old, regressive ways of arguing from authority, of complacency and gullibility, of childish personifications of nature? The modern world progresses despite your archaic trust in gods and miracles and your pretentious and obscure philosophies.

LINDSEY: Your humanism is ironic, Adam, because you’ve turned your pride in reason into a religion. I agree that science and technology have enormous benefits, but you’re advocating for their misuse if you think they alone can do the work of religion or philosophy. You say, “To progress, just follow reason!” But follow it where? To what end? Observation shows the facts and logic helps us understand them by forcing us to argue in a careful, consistent manner. But those intellectual abilities only uncover certain truths, at best. They don’t tell us what we ought to do about them and they don’t make life worth living.

ADAM: Ah, the invocation of scientism: the last bastion of the obscurantist. Lindsey, I don’t worship reason. My values derive from Western culture, which is a culture in which individuals are allowed to freely mix and engage with each other’s ideas. The solution to the problem of normativity, of deciding which standards we should adopt, isn’t to cling to primitive prejudices from the ancient world, but to trust in people’s potential to work out their ideals for themselves. That’s how democracy and capitalism add to technoscientific progress, by replacing theocracy and feudalism. We’re free now to ask more questions, to discuss what should be done and to band together to advocate for our solutions to life’s problems. Liberate the individual from her irrational predilections, teach her how to think for herself, and trust that the ensuing culture comprised of the free flow of ideas in a population of such individuals will be morally and aesthetically praiseworthy.

HEATHER: You’re talking about ideas as memes, based on a comparison of people to genes. You’re saying that just as genes and proteins produce a wealth of organisms, free and modern individuals generate a wealth of ideas and in either case the environment sorts them out. So cultures evolve rather like species do. But why trust, then, that the artificially selected ideas that emerge from democratic and capitalistic competitions will be best? Excellence in biological evolution is just fitness to spread a brand of DNA. Likewise, some ideas will predominate in a free society, but why suppose their mere evolutionary excellence will coincide with the moral or aesthetic kind? On the contrary, democracy is infamous for its facilitation of demagoguery and its mob rule. And the current champion of capitalism is China, which is infamous for its mass production of schlock.

ADAM: You’re forgetting about the modern recognition of human and civil rights. You wouldn’t have been educated in most premodern societies, Heather, because they were patriarchal. Men’s historical chauvinism was defeated in modern societies not by religious sensibilities but by science and technology, by the engines of all progress. When Europe became autonomous, detaching itself from its Christian past, Westerners held up individualism as their ideal. So women as well as minorities were eventually treated as having the same basic potential as white men. It’s science that provided that detachment, which was the ground for that revaluation. And it’s the economic logic of capitalism that provided the niche in which women could thrive as full economic participants. The technology of mass production forced women to enter the workforce as producers and consumers, to maximize profits. All of that is progressive.

HEATHER: First of all, I don’t see how you can compare cultures’ values without presupposing some cultural foundation. You assume the modern West is superior to medieval Europe, that women, for example, would rather live in contemporary America than in twelfth century England. But I submit that women of that earlier culture would be loath to trust in the promises of modern progress. Leaving your home for a foreign land of unknowns is always terrifying and it’s that fear that accounts for anyone’s preference for the culture in which they were raised; it proves nothing with regard to any progress from one culture to the next. As soon as we look at our culture more objectively, we see its glaring flaws. Women are free—to be objectified by multimillion dollar businesses that crassly exploit men’s sexuality. Minorities are free—to be stereotyped by similar corporate enterprises, which prey on our fears. Individuals are free—to be reduced to an infantile mindset that links happiness with the consumption of material goods. The United States is free—to arrogantly dictate how all other countries should behave, while it stagnates.

LINDSEY: And all this talk of progress because of the greater freedom of the modern individual is so na├»ve. Modern secularists have more liberties to do what they please, but they don’t know what they should please because they don’t believe in anything. God is dead for them and the idols that substitute for him are rendered malnourishing by the poison of postmodern hyperskepticism. You’re free from coercion from the outside, because of your democratic rights, the civilian control of the police force and the military, and so on, but you’re unable to articulate a positive conception of your potential. So-called liberal values are just warmed-over Christian ones to which you’re not philosophically entitled.

HEATHER: It’s worse than that. Reason, the so-called liberating force of modernity, is a curse. The mythopoeic ancients enjoyed a kind of ecstasy that we have only tantalizing experiences of in our childhood innocence, which we grow out of because of our modern responsibilities. But what good is rational enlightenment when the truth of natural life is dismal? Existential philosophers picked up on how the modern science-centered worldview leads logically to anguish, despair, horror, and apathy. Granted, scientists and engineers themselves don’t often suffer in those ways, because their intellectual skills make them successful in modern societies and so their business and family preoccupations ensure they haven’t the time to consider the philosophical ramifications of the scientific view of nature. The suffering from rational enlightenment is left to the omega men and women who have all too much time to ponder the implications, because they’re the introverts and artists and misfits and freaks who lack the skills to flourish in a short-sighted, materialistic culture. Instead of progress, then, I see a decline in the quality of life of the minority who are existentially authentic, who have absorbed the modern worldview. There are intellectual and artistic and otherwise disenfranchised underclasses now whose disenchantment with life itself belies the modern liberal hype.

ADAM: Your whining on behalf of the losers who exist in every society doesn’t change the fact that science and technology have made the world a better place.

LINDSEY: Is that supposed to be a scientific conclusion? How could you possibly know that on scientific grounds? How can you even suggest with a straight face that the notion of what’s better or worse is quantifiable? You’re just presupposing liberal values and pretending that they have something other than a philosophical or quasi-religious justification. Talk about schoolboy fallacies…

ADAM: So move to Afghanistan if you prefer a premodern theocracy!

LINDSEY: I don’t deny that science and technology are enormously beneficial. I merely put them in perspective. All things under the sun are ephemeral. We’re flawed creatures and we erect flawed social systems. We misinterpret scriptures and mistake our metaphors for the ultimate truth. We project our biases onto God and worship images of ourselves that are no better than idols. I’m hardly committed to the belief that any theocracy is superior to any social democracy. Catholicism merely moves me to faith more than the other religions.

HEATHER: Heaven help us if we’re stuck with the dichotomy of liberal humanism or some obsolete institutional religion! Follow reason, objectify everything and so dehumanize ourselves, transferring our power to the more efficient robots we build to do our work for us so that we can have the free time to ruminate on that blunder and on our dire existential circumstances. Or have Christian faith and betray the truth of nature that’s manifestly before our eyes, not to mention being forced by the modern lifestyle to make a mockery of the ascetic ethics of Jesus. Either way, postmodern life is absurd.

MODERATOR: And that cheerful note will have to be the last word for now. I want to thank our guests for that stimulating conversion. And for the eleven viewers who paid attention, good night and good luck.

25 comments:

  1. Sadly I have been all three of these talking heads at one point or another in my life. In fact I may still be swinging between a couple of them right now. Most people with an intellectual bent of some kind probably do I suspect.

    While I am most sympathetic to the post-modern worldview of Heather it is only reluctantly so. The philosophy you espouse on this blog is similar to what I have long suspected to be most authentic about life and the universe but it is also one that is incredibly difficult to embrace and live with. Especially for someone like me who is often melancholy and introverted at the best of times.

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  2. Heather, the postmodern spokesperson, speaks most for me too, but I've got criticisms of all three viewpoints and I held back some of my view in this dialogue. That is, I agree with some of what each of the characters says, but there's also much that's wrong with all of the viewpoints, as I see it.

    I'm still working out my philosophy. I don't know, though, whether it's that philosophy that's hard to live with or whether it's the breakdown of modern conceits or the implication of naturalism that's at fault for our ennui, apathy, cynicism, and the like.

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    1. Hi Benjamin.

      I really do sympathize with much of your developing philosophy. Even though it is the consequence of acknowledging hard, uncomfortable truths about existence and human culture, in the end I feel it is hopeful. What is painful aside from the inherent negative aspects of existence is the metaphorical growing pains of embracing our fate.

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    2. I agree there's a positive side to RWUG's worldview, which I make explicit in the summary article, "Enlightenment and Suicide." I'm not sure "hope" is quite the right word, though. There's no deus ex machina to the rescue. Instead, there's the potential for aesthetic and comedic appreciation of everything. Anyway, thanks for reading!

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  3. Can't say I really think having a cynic represent anything along the lines of causes is worth writing about. It's like having a sociopath talk about empathy. Like, not qualified!

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    1. Why couldn't a cynic or an outsider have insight into certain causes? Cynics look down on people and thus tend to fall outside social groups. Outsider status, in turn, gives you objectivity and neutrality, which can make certain social relationships all the more clear.

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    2. Who gives a fuck if they do?

      Sorry, my inner cynic came out for a second. But he makes a point by how much he doesn't give a fuck about the matter.

      Sure Heather isn't a skeptic?

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    3. I think you're assuming that cynics are apathetic or nihilistic, that they don't care about anything. I'm defining "cynic" not in that sense nor in the sense of ancient Greek Cynicism, but just in the contemporary sense of "cynical." From dictionary.com:

      "distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; like or characteristic of a cynic; showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one's actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others;
      bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic."

      So postmodernism lends itself to cynicism in that postmodernists distrust all metanarratives. Their cynicism is the sort expressed by John Stewart.

      I'd say Adam is more skeptical than cynical, since he still believes in liberal and rationalistic, modern myths. He's skeptical of classically dubious claims, especially the monotheistic ones, but unfortunately his reliance on reason makes him scientistic and blind to his own questionable, philosophical assumptions. His modern philosophy was refuted by Nietzsche and by the whole course of postmodern philosophy. For example, he still believes in human rights even though science and reason alone provide no ground for normativity, which is why you have to turn to artistic, speculative philosophy and even to religion to be a complete person. The problem is there's no good postmodern religion. The closest thing might be some form of transhumanism.

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    4. I don't know much about ancient Greek Cynicism, but if Heather can't be bothered following any kind of cause, then she's essentially apathetic and nihilistic. So I don't care (ironically enough).

      For example, he still believes in human rights even though science and reason alone provide no ground for normativity, which is why you have to turn to artistic, speculative philosophy and even to religion to be a complete person.

      How do you mean he believes in it? Like it's a thing that somehow exists in some magic semantic space? Or as a overall name for something he's going to do and how he's going to do certain things that integrate with others who believe in human rights in the same way?

      I mean, lets say I believe in picking up a $20 note I see on the ground - do I need artistic, speculative philosophy or religion to believe in this? Look, I just got the $20! Is Adam's belief, even if completely forfilling the goal is so very far away, any different than believing in picking up $20 bills? Certainly more altruistic, but is it any different otherwise?

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    5. Callan, I think you're asking whether Adam's philosophy of secular humanism is just pragmatic, like the act of picking up money that's lying on the ground. Liberalism and humanism would be just tools that have certain uses, all other values being arbitrary or delusional.

      As I've said to Scott Bakker, though, I think this pragmatism has a hidden agenda that's been exposed by postmodern philosophers. Allegedly value-neutral utility actually depends on the metanarrative or myth of human power over nature. So picking up a 20 dollar bill is useful because it's empowering. It allows you to do what you want and what you tend to want is to have things go your way. This individualism/egoism and antagonism towards the world as it is prior to being engineered or remade by us are quite normative as well as having their philosophical and religious implications and motivations.

      The religion in question is nothing short of de-Christianized Satanism, as I argue in a few articles and as I mean to make clear in an upcoming article.
      Look, humanists are big supporters of science and technology, right? And what's technoscience if not an engine for transforming nature into an intelligently designed world that better serves us, satisfying our every desire? That's the project of modernity: to liberate us, freeing us from nature's shackles and from those of our devising (theocratic institutions, non-progressive economic systems or cultures, etc), making us lords of creation. The reason modernists shy from the myths at the base of this project is that Christians have spent two millennia demonizing the modern/ancient Greek protagonist, who is Lucifer/Prometheus, the rebel against God's creation.

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    6. Liberalism and humanism would be just tools that have certain uses

      I think this pragmatism has a hidden agenda

      So what is it? Just a tool or actually a complicated series of interelating principles?

      Or is the issue that it (what the particular individual carries) is not tied to a franchise (ie religion - traditional or philosophical). And trying to reveal it's hidden agenda is trying to reveal how it really is tied to a franchise all along. When it isn't. At best it's one person with their own individual religion, rather than a group owned religon (which generally means it's actually owned by a scant few)

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  4. Isn't the idea that social outsiders develop greater objectivity and neutrality an unproven assumption on your part? Couldn't it be argued that people who suffer from social rejection and alienation tend to cultivate a bias towards bitter and antagonistic positions. I mean if you were an extroverted individual who was moderately successful at accruing friends and sexual partners etc wouldn't you find all this talk of cynical omega-hood to be itself a cynical PR ploy to cover for the fact that you had poor social status. If it all comes down to neurobiology and environmental effects then isn't it possible all this semantic exploration is simply empty verbiage after all. It would seem fairly obvious that mentally depressed individuals are more inclined to develop dark worldviews while the cognitively lucky would be the polar opposite. Or perhaps that's being too reductionist?

    Either way I have to say I am loving this blog! Been a long time lurker here, Enemy Industry and TPB, I find it provides a nice counterpoint to my usual rationalist and progressive haunts at Less Wrong and the IEET.

    What I really wanted to ask was how you feel the argument between philosophical or religious values and postmodern cynicism or even nihilism mirrors the current debate between transhumanism/posthumanism. I'm also wondering if this maps on to my own personal experience as a science enthusiast who suffered a major disillusionment episode before returning to the fold. Having gone through a frankly very cynical and bitter teenage phase (as many youths do), nihilism gelled rather well with my desolate emotional palette of the time. In fact after playing around with various forms of relativist epistemology it was only when I discovered transhumanism at university that the world began to seem dare I say it 'interesting, exciting and hopeful.' Not only did I become more engaged with my surroundings but it clued me on to a whole realm of social/ethical issues and problems I had never bothered to consider before. However when I encountered posthumanist skepticism doubt was reintroduced to this emerging worldview. Yet if anything I feel that this has actually clarified some conceptual aspects which have been nagging me. One of them being to acknowledge that many of the normative values I hold as a transhumanist do not derive from science and reason (although they may be informed by them) but arise from what in essence amounts to aesthetic preferences. I don't know if that weakens or strengthens these positions but I do know it makes me feel more honest about it. Or maybe that's just my easily deluded monkey brain talking.....

    Cheers anyway!

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    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depressive_realism

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    2. Seen this already mate, but thanks anyway.

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    3. Kyuzo, I think the omega biases, such as bitterness, depression, and pessimism are causes or effects of objectivity. Omegas have a greater experience of personal failure, which means they come up against nature’s impersonality, so even if they’re not familiar with naturalism (with the science-centered worldview), their experience teaches them the philosophical implications of that worldview, including atheism and the principles of existentialism. It just so happens, though, that naturalism is horrifying, depressing, and corrosive to fairy tales and popular preferences.

      So who’s more likely to accept nature as it really is, the loser or the winner in modern society? Who’s less likely to sugarcoat, to get in the habit of recognizing the ramifications of atheism and existentialism in all social situations, to deflate theistic happy-talk and the ideologies that rationalize the unjust social order entailed by naturalism (i.e. the default social structure of the dominance hierarchy, with sociopathic gods ruling over the masses in the megamachine)? After all, cynics, pessimists, and those with artistic sensibilities and preoccupations are likely to be economically hampered by those characteristics, which is to say they’re likely to be relatively unsuccessful in modern societies; hence their omega status. But their failures also humiliate them, making them humble and wary of the lies we routinely tell ourselves to avoid dealing with natural reality.

      By contrast, the optimists, extroverts, and go-getters are rewarded for their more socially useful personality. Unfortunately for them, dishonesty is a job requirement in all fields in which there’s a public relations component. So dishonesty (rationalization, minimization, misrepresentation, white-washing, etc.) becomes second nature to them, because success in business requires mastery of that vice. Therefore, the betas are less likely to acknowledge the dark implications of naturalism, that there’s no objective morality, no ultimate justice, no afterlife, no linear historical progress; that life is fundamentally absurd and unfair, the default social order is plainly horrific, enlightenment is tragic since reason deflates all fantasies, and so on and so forth. (As I explore in “Subhumans, Outsiders, and Glimpses of Posthumanity,” the alphas are another matter.) Those who are happy can’t afford to feel in their bones nature’s alienness due to its impersonality. Feeling that sort of alienness is tantamount to suffering from permanent homelessness. Omegas are those who are unsettled by their failures, which are just their experiences of the world’s heartlessness. So omegas are more in touch with reality, and their personal biases are actually indicative of that fact. Their personality type leads them to, and is exacerbated by, modern enlightenment. Meanwhile, the winners are distracted by the fun and games of pursuing glory and happiness in our social networks.

      (True, in premodern societies, the masses that lost out in earthly competitions were typically illiterate and superstitious theists, whereas the better-informed power elites were often the cynics. But the scientific revolution was crucial to modernity for spreading the deleterious truths of nature even to the masses. Indeed, Leo Strauss criticizes modernists on precisely this point, for failing to keep the distinction between exoteric and esoteric knowledge, that is, for being too cavalier about revealing the disturbing truths of nature.)

      Thus, I can grant your premise and my conclusion still goes through. Objectivity and emotional detachment in life—not just in work when we reduce ourselves to our social functions—don’t just fall out of the sky. We see reality as it is only when we shed our ludicrous personas that are puffed up by grandiose delusions. That’s more likely to happen to losers, not to winners.

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    4. As for transhumanism, you seem to be distinguishing it from posthumanism, whereas I’d have thought they’re more or less synonymous. Strictly speaking, they should each imply only that some other species will follow humanity by way of evolution. Whether that aftermath is uplifting or apocalyptic is another matter. But maybe the idea is that those who call themselves transhumanists are optimistic about our merger with technology, whereas posthumanists are more skeptical. So the debate is between optimists and pessimists about technology’s ultimate impact on our species. Transhumanists want to transcend human weaknesses. And you’re wondering how the above debate, in Clash of Worldviews, maps onto the technology debate.

      It’s a fascinating question, since transhumanism is often criticized for being a quasi-religion. Indeed, I’m intrigued by the religious aspect of faith in technology, since I think we need a viable postmodern religion that does justice to the dark side of naturalism. Again, though, reason is antithetical to the values that inform cultures, including religions. And yet I think aesthetics is an exception, as I argue in “Science, Nihilism and the Artistry of Nature,” “The Roots of Instrumentalism and Mysticism in Science, “Life as Art,” and elsewhere. The aesthetic attitude overlaps with scientific objectification and depersonalization. So an aesthetic vision of the world goes hand in hand with a science-centered worldview like naturalism; thus, in so far as the values of transhumanism have aesthetic justifications, they should be consistent with the best explanations of the real world. At least, they won’t be as obviously arbitrary or cowardly as the ideals that guide those lost in the traditional exoteric practices.

      Thanks for your comments, Kyuzo, and thanks for reading!

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2014/03/the-roots-of-instrumentalism-and.html

      http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/science-nihilism-and-the-artistry-of-nature-by-ben-cain/

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2014/06/subhumans-outsiders-and-glimpses-of.html

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    5. Dietl, that's interesting stuff, although the evidence seems pretty mixed.

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    6. I just wanted to throw in the scientific point of view, which, as can be seen in the wiki article, doesn't have a conclusive answer to the question.
      I mostly agree with Ben here, because the arguments for depressive realism strike me as more compelling. What convinces me the most is that successfull people don't have the need/pressure to change their points of view. Why should they, when everything is working out just fine? When you are strugging in life you are forced to find ways out of your misery and are therefore more likely (not necessarily, of course) to come upon a more realistic view.

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    7. Hey Ben, I suppose the question is still whether nature is intrinsically horrifying or just horrifying to 'us' or even some of 'us'. I must admit I find it hard to grok how some people can perceive a reality informed by context, life history, psychological constitution etc and still arrive at a 'truth' which isn't ultimately arbitrary. This is mainly because I find the idea of 'objectivity' in the truest sense of the word hard to attribute to human beings given what the sciences are showing us about ourselves. The list of cognitive biases were discovering seems to snowball every year and seeing how peoples emotional and intellectual life is so contingent upon biological/neurological factors it's hard to see philosophical worldviews and perspectives as being anything but fleeting and dream-like, dependent on whatever neural process is going on in your head at the time. Anyone who's ever experimented with recreational substances, including alcohol, experiences the arbitrary nature of our thoughts quite intensely. If your on a good trip everything is filtered through a layer of euphoria, if your on a bad one, everything, including your most cherished memories, turns into an alienating psychodrama.

      Whilst I do accept that the socially unsuccessful may as a result develop character traits which are more inclined to question received wisdom, contemplate larger questions, challenge the status quo, recategorise and reassess the nature of things and develop unique perspectives on the world by doing so, I just have doubts that through the blind shuffling of social systems a segment of the population has experienced brain states which either correspond directly to reality or which allows them to open a window onto the 'truth'. That seems a tad...fortuitous..magical? Surely were all fundamentally 'locked in here'. Are we sure that transcendence through introspection isn't just another truism, one which gives philosophers, mystics, malcontents and other omegas a veneer of credibility and respect. In short I'm not sure objectivity confers any bitterness namely because a genuine objectivity (if such a thing is possible) would be value neutral and therefore have no emotional response at all. An optimistic mind might sprinkle the reality cake with life affirming sugar and the pessimist might cover it in bin juice, but the cake itself remains as bland as ever.

      Yeah for me the transhumanism/posthumanism distinction is really one of projected outcomes and slight difference in focus. Transhumanism follows a combative narrative; overcoming nature, ridding us of harmful biological programming, enhancing our virtues etc, and is firmly wedded to the enlightenment program of rationalism, progress, all the positive stuff. Posthumanism to me seems to suggest that future descendants may not see these things as being worth preserving and that trying to force the future to adhere to them is futile. I'm not sure if we should accept that possibility and hope for the best or do some serious planning to maximise the potential for good outcomes. That's why I'm intrigued by your idea of aesthetics going hand in hand with science-centered views. Thanks for the reading material!

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    8. Hey Dietl, I agree that successful people are less inclined to change their pov while those who are not must work harder at crafting a narrative for themselves. But at a finer resolution I'm not sure this general rule works as well. There are plenty of perceived 'alphas' who grow disillusioned at the emptiness of their lives while many of those who have suffered terrible hardship somehow anesthetise themselves to it. And I don't quite see how struggle on its own translates into realism. If people who don't struggle develop outlook A and people who do struggle form outlook B, how do we decide that one outlook is a truer representation of reality than the other? Aren't they both contingent on the same arbitrary interactions and mechanisms. How can any viewpoint transcend its history?

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    9. I wasn't trying to state a 'general rule'. Not every unsuccessfull person will come to a "true" conclusion about reality and not every successfull person is bound to be stuck in his/her illussion. But having pressure to change you point of view helps and pushes you away from wrong conclusions.

      'If people who don't struggle develop outlook A and people who do struggle form outlook B, how do we decide that one outlook is a truer representation of reality than the other?'

      Outlook A and B need to be testable points of view. If for instance you develoop a ritual at poker playing and win at the beginning there is an easy way to test if the ritual has anything to do with you winning. Just keep playing.
      On the other hand it makes no sense to use unfalsifyable views like the beliefe in god or something, because you have no way of knowing how reality correspondes to your outlooks.

      "Aren't they both contingent on the same arbitrary interactions and mechanisms?"

      They are arbitrary as much as survival of the fittest is arbitrary, that is only in a way. Lets say you have two people (A and B) and at the beginning they both have a 10% chance of having a worldview that can be called "true". Somehow person A ends up living a successfull life and person B is miserable. So person B feels the pressure to change his worldview. By the laws of math (;-)) you can see that changing your view has a greater likelyhood for leading to a "true" view, because the probability of being false is so high.

      "How can any viewpoint transcend its history?"

      My answer, if transcendence is possible, would be logic. You need to be aware of all the assumpions you make and also how your emotions affect your reasoning. You can never really know that your view corresponds to reality, because reality is only availible through your senses, but you can make pretty good guesses.

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    10. Those were good examples, and I do see where your coming from. I accept that people who have suffered various hardships have greater odds, if we can put it that way, of alighting on a worldview which is better at approximating reality. In so far as any nervous system can map the external universe.The problem is you can test for 'success' in the social game or for empirical facts about the world with a whole series of metrics, it's somewhat harder to test whether on not your emotional response to the world is justified or not. I'm just not sure a truly objective assessment of the 'truths' of the material world must determine any emotional reaction. Surely you would have to possess some kind of emotive bias beforehand.

      'My answer, if transcendence is possible, would be logic. You need to be aware of all the assumpions you make and also how your emotions affect your reasoning. You can never really know that your view corresponds to reality, because reality is only availible through your senses, but you can make pretty good guesses.'

      Yeah I pretty much agree with this. I guess it's still an open question whether logic and reasoning turn out to be more than an evolved mechanism for out-predicting and out-debating opponents. The entire argumentative theory is pretty interesting: http://edge.org/conversation/the-argumentative-theory
      But as leaps in the dark go rationality is better than most, and like you said some guesses are better than others.

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    11. I read a bit into the article and I must say that the argumentative theory as it is represented there seems wrong to me. Surely convincing others and having arguments is important and probably plays a big role for the evolution of reasoning. But when they say things like "reasoning doesn't have this function of helping us get better beliefs and make better decisions" they are neglecting how much reasoning is involved in everyday life. It seems to me that reasoning for them is only about forming big belief systems and having arguments with your peers, but reasoning is also involved in finding your way through your environment (hunting), time related things, basic relationships with people, basic math (I can give examples if it isn't clear what I mean). No-one can say that human being aren't good at these things and they all are necessary for survival and require reasoning (not very high level, but still).

      Also this?
      "If the goal of reasoning were to help us arrive at better beliefs and make better decisions, then there should be no bias. The confirmation bias should really not exist at all."

      I'm really puzzed how the advocates of argumentative theory came to this ridiculous conclusion. Confirmation bias can be easily explained even if reasoning would only be for helping us to arrive at "better" believes. How can any reasoning being survive an the world when it always changes it's opinions about the world or itself. Of course such a being must keep having believes that assured survival in the past. It worked yesterday, so it probably works today, why change your mind everyday.
      In short, keeping your believes (not changing them) plays a big role for survival, arguing with others only a small one.

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    12. Kyuzo, the big question you raise here is about the nature of truth. I talk about this in "Philosophy of Existential Cosmicism" and "Prayer, Truth, and the Re-Enchantment of Nature." In the latter, I say "whenever any of us thinks, speaks, or writes and assumes that some configuration of our symbols corresponds with the facts, we likewise take ourselves to be aiming at a rapport with something that gives a damn, whereas we’re just howling at the moon." The issue here, then, is whether "truth as correspondence/agreement" is objective or metaphorical. Is objectivity a mirroring relation between symbols and facts? How could that mirroring happen?

      As I see it, from a truly objective perspective everything is indeed perfectly arbitrary, because the undead god is impersonal and fundamentally random, not rational. Scientific theories are models, which means they're simplifications that ultimately have practical functions in social games. True objectivity is found not in rational theorizing, but in a mystical experience of nature's aesthetic dimension. Scientists and mathematicians like Einstein or Godel speak this way too. Genuine objectivity is the vision of the world as it really is. To have that vision, we must paradoxically empathize with something that's impersonal, which means we must depersonalize ourselves.

      Now, which type of person finds that task easier, the extroverted social butterfly who lives in a phony world that puts our superficial personas (public, civilized, elaborate selves) on pedestals or the omega individual who doesn't engage in social games and so cares little for her persona if she even has one? The introvert lives in her head and has little if any social life, so in a sense she's inhuman. The omega suffers likely from social dysfunction, which is to say she falls somewhere on the so-called Autistic Spectrum. She doesn't even understand normal social interactions. What else doesn't think in social terms? Natural, undead forces, of course. In short, introverts have an easier time imagining what it's like to be entirely impersonal, to "think" as nature "thinks," to exist as an arbitrary, demystified process that shatters all illusions and mocks our metaphors and myths and models.

      And this is so despite the fact that, as I try to show in "Authenticity and the Cost of Self Creation," introverts have the deeper selves. As I think Nietzsche says somewhere, the best type of humanity is something that's most easily overcome. (That’s a paraphrase.) At least, the type of consciousness that most easily knows what the world's really like is the type that can have the mystical experience of just BEING rather than of doing anything distinctly human, let alone something American, Chinese, postmodern, virtuous or otherwise socially relevant. Objectivity is a case of self-zombification! And it's the least socially engaged who can best imagine what it's like to be a zombie, if they're not already largely zombified by some social dysfunction.

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    13. So when you say that pessimism and bitterness are just as emotional as optimism and social engagement, I agree. But we should take care to distinguish between steps towards objectivity and objectivity itself. As I said in my earlier comment, social negativity is a cause or an effect of objectivity. Those who withdraw from social games are more likely to have the mystical experience of knowing the world as it is in itself.

      What goes on in that experience isn’t a mirroring of symbol and fact. I think our best analogy is the aesthetic beholding of an art object as such. When we see something as just art, the thing is seen as arbitrary since it stands by itself without the context supplied by the perceiver’s presuppositions or social agendas. Moreover, the object (or process) loses any moral standing and has only an aesthetic value. In the case of natural rather than artificial art, which means art made by zombie forces and materials as opposed to art that’s intelligently engineered, the aesthetic value is a monstrousness. The proper, existentially authentic and vindicatory response to reality is horror, followed by the will to do battle with the universe by a process of re-enchantment. That process is the satanic creation of artificial microcosms to undo or overcome nature, replacing the undead god with worlds filled with life, mentality, and existentially authentic purpose and value. The problem with the correspondence metaphor of truth, then, is that it takes truth to be at a standstill. This is based on Platonic metaphysics of the Forms’ eternal and static presence, whereas as Heraclitus and Whitehead say and as modern science entails, we should think of everything as in process. Objectivity, therefore, is a stage in a satanic process in which the undead god’s creation undoes and recreates itself through rebellious creatures within it.

      That’s my big picture of what’s going on. I should probably write this up in an article that’s directly on point. Some of my favourite articles that I wrote begin with a response to a reader’s comment. So thanks for your thought-provoking comments!

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2013/05/prayer-truth-and-re-enchantment-of.html

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2012/11/the-philosophy-of-existential-cosmicism.html

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