November 10, 2017 § Leave a comment
I recently read What The Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. It’s a quick read that I picked up from the kitchen of a hostel in Buenos Aires. I finished it in two days but I ended up taking it with me as I left Buenos Aires on a bus to Brazil. There were ideas within the book which bothered me on such a deep level that I wasn’t yet satisfied after reading it once.
In particular Chapter 6 “The Concept of No-Soul or Anatta” left me feeling incredibly torn. The Buddhist concept of Anatta (Sanskrit for “no soul”) rejects the belief in a soul that’s central to most other religions. Besides not having a god, this aspect of Buddhism is the most common reason that Buddhists insist that it isn’t a religion (which is wrong).
The Buddha believed that any theory which accepted the idea of a human soul immediately created suffering and angst within the believer and thus could not jive with any honest effort toward obtaining nirvana (absolute knowledge, absolute truth). The Buddhist thus sees the belief in an “I”, “soul”, “self”, or “ego” as a mental projection.
This sort of dove tails with the Buddhist concept of free will. Rahula flat out claims that Buddhism rejects “free will”. Which I suppose it does if free will is defined as the will of the individual unimpeded by the restraints of biology, society, and mortality. But in rejecting this conception of free will Buddhism seems to be in agreement with most modern scholars in The West. He admits that there is a “conditional and relative ‘Free Will'” accepted within Buddhism.
Even the Buddhist rejection of the individual turns out to be merely a rejection of the afterlife. Many sophisticated Christians can find the Buddhist rejection of the self rather palatable. Because it isn’t rejection the existence of individual action in it’s entirety. It’s simply emphasizing the importance of letting go of the ego and the existential dread that comes with cherishing it as such. It’s true that Christianity, at its most base form, appeals to the instincts within the human ego to “live forever” and escape death anxiety (as Freud put it). However many Christian thinkers or religious scholars have very easily reconciled Christian thinking with a lack of belief in the afterlife. Which was only injected into Christianity centuries after its founding. A non-literal reading of the Old Testament is a treasure trove of human knowledge, not unlike the ancient Buddhist texts.
Further, Rahula makes a distinction between the two forms of truth recognized by Buddhist thinking: conventional truth (sammuti-sacca) and ultimate truth (paramattha-sacca). Thus Buddhists may use words such as “I”, “you”, or “individual” in daily life because they refer to “a truth conforming to the convention of the world”. In this instance I can’t help but be reminded of the American pragmatists of the late 19th and early 20th century.
“Ideas … become true just in so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience.”
In short, the Buddhist rejection of the self is not necessarily a complete rejection of individual autonomy. If that were the case, then how would the Buddha have expected his followers from embracing and living by following his example? In fact, the Buddhist critique of the individual “self” or “ego” serves as a healthy antidote to the type of megalomaniacal tendencies rife within the human mind. Humans have a tendency to want to control things which they can not and suffer when the futility of their urges becomes clear.
To the extent that modern Christianity is used (abused) to provide an unhealthy outlet to the egotistical drives of the masses, certainly the warnings of Buddhism are needed. But for those interested in understanding the deeper significance of all religion and its impact on culture there is nothing inherently contradictory about the Buddhist and Christian conceptions of “self”. And my impression is that much of the scholarly noise in The West about “cultural relativism” is just that: noise.
November 10, 2017 § Leave a comment
I just finished an incredible book titled “The Wealth of Poverty of Nations” by David Landes. I found the read incredibly interesting, if only a tad tedious at certain points. Landes was a professor of Economics and HIstory at Harvard. The basic idea that drove most of the ideas in his book was that the wealth of different nations was a result of the culture developed (or accepted by) particular nations across the globe. Some of these cultures opened them up to wealth and prosperity and others left their people closed off from the wealth created by the capitalistic system. This upset a lot of the leftists and postmodernists in academic circles, to be sure, because it more or less implies that some cultures are better than others.
Of course this is a common sense truism. But it offends the delicate sensibilities of many whose philosophy or ideology makes the conclusions of this idea reprehensible. But to anyone with the patience (and intellectual honesty) to sit down and read through the facts, figures, and fascinating historical anecdotes that Landes provides it become clear that he’s on to something.
In particular I found the chapters on the divide between northern European Protestants and the southern European Catholics incredibly informative. And it helped me understand a lot of the questions I had after spending months in Latin America. I’m going to focus on that here because it reveals the historical and cultural influences which created a lot of the behavioral and economic difference we see between North and South America.
It all starts in Europe..
Things first began to change following the Protestant Reformation. The primarily protestant nations of England, Holland, Germany, etc opened themselves up to trade and enterprise. The progression of Christianity toward individualism took a giant leap forward when the Protestants decided to break from the Catholic church. The rebellious northerners would do bussiness with anyone — even non Catholics (gasp!). Wheras in the south of Europe (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy) the church still reigned supreme.
In short, Protestantism bred a different sort of man. One who was industrious, more open to business, and more likely to ask questions. The men of the south were raised in a cultural environment which suppressed questioning authority. In fact it suppressed any kind of questioning which might undermine the authority of the church.
This divide became more apparent over time. Northern European culture gave birth to most of the great advances of technology and enterprise while most of the south festered in papal control(notable men were vilified for their ideas e.g. Galileo). The effects on the American colonies were easy to guess. The latin Nations (particularly Spain and Portugal) influenced South and Central America while England, France, and Holland influenced the North.
At the time of colonization of the Americas (1500 the Portuguese found Brazil) the Spanish and Portuguese were becoming more insular, corrupt, and backwards compared to the their northern neighbors. England and Holland had depended on clock manufacturers for years while Spaniards didn’t find a reason for them until a century later — the church provided the time and everyone based their life on the churches intermittent bells (morning, noon, etc). In fact, one of the legacies of this is the cultural lack of punctuality typical of latin people. Because the locals in places like Spain and Portugal depended solely on the church for time they could only set rough meeting times and as a result punctuality was never expected (or possible). Likewise the punctuality of the German people can be attributed to early acceptance of clocks and watches for trains, boats, etc.
But the divide went deeper than time. While the British and Dutch innovated industry and science, the latin nations were unable to partake in any kind of investigative enterprise which would defy the church. It wasn’t until centuries later that the church accepted to the inevitable. But the damage was done. The man of northern Europe was a different breed. And when the British colonized North America it was only a matter of time before the new colonies became alive with the same hard working, diligent, and curious culture which brought Great Britain all of it’s wealth.
Today, things are mostly the same..
The gap between North and South America continues. And the cultural differences inherited from our European counterparts are still alive and well. After spending eight months traveling across South America I noticed a number of obvious cultural differences.
For instance, South American’s are lazy. In my experience, most South Americans are not very industrious. And although many Americans or Canadians may consider themselves lazy, they don’t understand the type of personal obligation that they hold themselves responsible for in daily life is absent in many parts of the world. For example, in customer service roles most South Americans employees treat the customer as if their job is a hassle. The idea of “put the customer first” is entirely absent in South American culture. And even in their daily life, South Americans are rather unindustrious. In Brazil there is a phrase “suck the government’s tit” which of course exists in English as well. But in Brazil it’s referred to jokingly because the end goal of most Brazilians is to find a job on government payroll where they can do very little work and get paid.
The Catholic influence contributes to this metality as well. Without holidays Brazilians get essentially a month of paid vacation time by law. But after the dozens of national holidays in honor of whichever Catholic saint (most locals do not know the historical significance) it’s likely that the average Brazilian is working significantly less than that.
House repair and construction is very commonly done shoddily and cheaply. And what’s most strange is that it’s rare for a Brazilian to leave their mother’s house before the age of 30. Almost all of this is more or less true for most other latin people as well. The end result is that most grown latin men are lazy, dependent, and more or less looking to marry a second mother.
The cultural backwardness that resulted from the Catholic church and it’s lingering effects are nowhere more obvious than in South America. The state of their economic systems indeed appears to be a reflection of their lack of industriousness which can be observed at the personal level.
September 3, 2017 § Leave a comment
I had my first Ayahuasca experience last night. I wanted to record as much as I could while it’s still relatively fresh in my mind.
First I’ll explain the location, which is incredibly relevant to the experience. We went to a small retreat in Pisaq, Peru. It’s in Peru’s famous sacred valley and only about an hour and a half from where we’ve been volunteering in Ollantaytambo. It’s also significantly cheaper than other options. We don’t have enough cash to dish out over $1,000 just to trip balls in the mountains for a week. So instead we opted for the one night ceremony for $60. Which was still too much, but beggars can’t be choosers. I felt like if there was any place in the world to introduce myself to mother Ayahuasca it would be Peru.
So we had a couple days off work and hopped on a colectivo to Pisaq. Pisaq itself is like most of Peru’s sacred valley: a combination of indigenous culture and cobblestone streets contrasted with the growing tourism industry and its telltale symptoms: pushy taxi drivers offering over priced rides, tacky gift shops, and corny restaurants that cater to Europeans and North Americans. Once we got to Pisaq we had to find another colectivo and get ten minutes into the mountains where the temple is located. That turned out to be more frustrating than we imagined: once we finally found a colectivo, the driver refused to leave until the van was full. That is…unless we agreed to pay more. Welcome to South America. We were running late already so we begrudgingly paid 2.50 soles per person instead of 1. It was a rip off. But let’s be honest…that’s 50 cents.
We finally arrived at about 5:10 PM. As we walked in we followed the directions and took the footpath up a short hill to the last house on the property. It was a beautiful temple surrounded on all sides by the Andes mountains. We walked up a flight of steps in front of the temple entrance. As we did so we saw a man standing outside the temple staring into the distance. We said “hola” and he responded “hey”. Based on his accent he was clearly American. I didn’t think much of him but as we took our seats in the temple and I watched him walk back and forth I felt something was strange about him. Call it bad vibes, whatever. But I thought nothing of it and relaxed with Larissa until the ceremony started. Keep this guy in mind though, because he will come into play later in the trip.
The inside of the temple itself was incredible. It was a circular building with two concentric rings of seating on the edge. The outmost ring was slightly elevated and the inner ring was lower. In the center was a large mandala and directly above the mandala was a circular sky light which allowed the beautiful moonlight to shine into the center of the ceiling. This is also important, as the skylight played a huge role in my experience.
The ceremony leaders were perhaps around my age. One was a Venezuelan girl and the other an American guy. Both were very relaxed and approachable, and for me at least they made me feel at ease and calm. The woman led the ceremony. She spent the first half hour or so talking about what to expect and gave some good advice on handling the experience. Finally, it was time to take the “medicine”.
Each ceremony leader sat in the inner ring of seating surrounded by candles and served one half of the room. People took turns walking to the center and kneeling before the leader and gulping down the drink. There was perhaps 20-25 people so it took about 20 minutes for everyone to drink a cup.
It tasted like barf. Literally, it tasted the way vomit tastes as you throw up. It had a liquid yet somewhat chalky consistency. Perhaps what made it taste most like vomit was the acidic flavor. It was brown and murky. Not the most appetizing thing.
After I drank a cup I went back to my mat and blankets on the outer ring of seating and sat down to wait. After about ten minutes or so I started to have my doubts. Did I drink enough? Should I drink more? I’m not sure, maybe I should drink more because I’m bigger.
Then about five minutes later it hit me.
Out of nowhere it felt as if someone grabbed me by the chin and turned my head toward to moonlight shining through the skylight in the ceiling. The starry night sky lit up before me and I completely forgot that I was there laying on the floor. In that moment I was somewhere else. Then, I heard a woman’s voice:
“Yes, it’s me! I am the unknown. I am the darkness. I am the uroboros!”
I immediately knew that I was hearing the voice of what the locals call “Pachamama”. Mother earth. She spoke and I listened. As she spoke the room came back into focus but everything around me was full of colors and spirals. It was as if I was viewing the universe through one of those glass prisms that refracts light into a rainbow. I was in complete awe. She continued to speak, but about me. The following is obviously paraphrasing because I can’t remember every detail. But all of it was verbally communicated to me by a feminine being. She began by looking me over and judging me, but not in a spiteful way. But as a mother who was reunited with a long lost son would.
“Oh, I see. This is a rare one. We don’t see many like these…(she appeared at this time to be speaking as if there was another being near her, and that she was addressing it at the same time)”
“Yes…I see. Oh, and more than one language for this one. Ele fala portugues tamben (speaking Portuguese). Hmm, yes. I see. He’s a jokester. “
[It feels as if she’s peering into my soul now]
“Ohh yes, such a jokester! Always has been!”
[She begins laughing hysterically. Which makes me laugh along with her. I can feel how much she loves me. I can sense how much she appreciates me. I can feel her laughter. It’s contagious and I can’t help myself. I start laughing hysterically as well]
“Yes I understand this is why he’s loved. Such a jokester. Always joking!”
[At this point I see images of my mom and Larissa, separately. I’m made to understand that this is why these women appreciate me and love me]
[Then she abruptly changes tone. The colors go away and now I’m given the impression that the laughter is to stop]
“But such darkness!”
[Her voice gets much more stern and almost sad. It felt as if she was both upset, surprised, and felt pity for me]
“Why so much darkness? Such a jokester, but underneath is a deep, deep darkness. Why? Why are you so afraid? Why do you view everyone around you as wolves, and yourself the prey? So much fear! So much fear! What are you afraid of!
You must incorporate your shadow! (Yes! [she acknowledges my surprise that she’s using Jungian psychology to describe me] YES. YOUR SHADOW! But you knew that! You must understand that every one is nothing, that you are nothing. That the universe is everything and individuals are only an infinitesimal piece!
[At this point Larissa is deep in a trance and making noises which breaks my concentration. I look over at her to see if she’s okay]
“Ahh, so concerned! But why? All is okay. Everyone has their own experience. Everyone is different.”
[She senses my fear and insecurity towards Larissa. My fear for her well being but more importantly my insecurities and fears regarding our relationship]
“This is just your ego speaking. You want to control everything but you can not. You can not control others. You can not control the actions of others. Your ego wants to but can not. You need to let go and accept this. You must let me in.”
[I continue to resist. I’m afraid of leaving Larissa alone and simultaneously afraid of what mother earth has to tell me. She senses that and realizes that everything is becoming overwhelming for me. She begins to hold me and coddle me. To speak to me in a very motherly way.]
“Shh, it’s okay. Everything is okay. This all will pass. I know this is too much. I understand. But you will come back again. I know you will. You will come back and see me.
[I sense that she is upset with the people who are running the ceremony. She tells me “They mean well but they do not understand”. I can sense her scowling in their direction as she runs her hands through my hair, comforting me. But I begin to understand that she is caressing me because she knows that I’m overwhelmed. She then begins talking to me in my own voice, as if it’s my own conscience speaking to me.]
“Fine, I understand. If everything is too much I can speak to you on your own terms. But if you think you can escape me you’re wrong. But you can not hide from me. You must put your ego to the side”
[I continue to resist, so she playfully tries to pick a fight with me. To appeal to my masculinity]
“Ah, I see. You want to be stubborn?! You American men are all the same! I’ll take you on your own terms! You aren’t man enough to confront me!”
[I completely understand what she’s doing and I laugh hysterically. It puts me at ease.]
“Ahh…the ego. ‘Phallogocentric’. That’s the critique of western culture, no? Tell me how it’s wrong!”
[a bit of background of on this point. I’ve been very interested in understanding the post modern view of the world which critiques western civilization as being “phallogocentric” which essentially means that it’s obsessed with men (thus phallus) and logos centric, which is meant to be obsessed with logos, or the spoken word, which is embodied in the Christian creation myth in the masculine form of Jesus Christ.]
I think for a moment, and respond: “Well western history certainly is phallus oriented. Men dominated. Men controlled. Men made decisions and fought wars. The ego of many men certainly thought themselves to be dominant over the universe. To foolishly control it. So the “phallus” part is certainly true.
However the logos—the spoken word.” And before I could finish my thought she finished it for me:
“This is where critics of the west are wrong: they don’t understand the logos. And their critiques of male dominance and egocentric behavior could be applied to all cultures, not just western. But your problem is that you don’t understand the logos, either. And until you do you will not fix your professional problems or your personal problems and overcome your social fears.”
“This involves letting go of your ego and embracing the logos”
[She then begins talking about Jordan B Peterson, a psychologist that I’ve been fascinated with for most of this year]
“Jordan Peterson is right. The masculine voice is under attack in your culture. It’s true. But until you understand the logos you will not be able to contribute to reviving the masculine identity”
[I look back at Larissa as she starts moaning and Mamapacha sees it again, and senses my insecurity]
“You partially feel this way because you feel the need to protect her. You come from a long history of men who have protected. It’s part of who you are. It’s only natural for you.
“But to the extent that your feeling toward her are unhealthy it is because you have strong feelings of love for her that you are misplacing. In fact this describes all human evil. Every human is full of love but simply misplaces this energy and distorts it in their actions and the result is evil. Every human has innate good. And you are all connected. Everyone around you is your brother and your sister. You all share a common family bond. It is simply the misplacement of this deep family love that manifests itself as evil. Until you understand this you will continue to fight me and you will not trust others. You must not only recognize the good in yourself and the evil in others, but the evil in yourself and the good in others.”
[It was at this moment that I began to grow in confidence. I looked around me. I saw everyone for what they were. I felt myself for who I am. I felt a rush of vanity. I am handsome. I’m the most handsome man in this room. These people fear me. ]
“They do fear you, and until you understand that you will never understand how powerful you truly are. But how little power you actually have. This is not about “knowledge” but about “understanding”. You need to understand. Once you understand all of your problems will disappear.”
[But I began to become overwhelmed again. I puked a few minutes into the trip and I felt sick as I became more overwhelmed. I didn’t want to feel sick, even though I recognized that the only way to fix my problems was to confront the sickness and open myself to Pachamama (mother earth). She felt that I was closing up again. She became upset]
“You like to think of yourself as an open person. But you are not! You are your father!”
[As I scan my view across the room I see prison bars start abruptly falling around the walls, locking me in. Representing my closed mind.]
“Until you open yourself to me you will not understand”
[I finally start coming back to. But I’m still mildly tripping, but without visualizations or hearing her voice. Now I spend what felt like an hour or two digesting and understanding everything that happened. During this period I remember sitting and nodding my head repeatedly. Everything was making sense. I can’t remember everything but here’s some things I do remember]
- I saw my old therapist. I was told by Pachamama to email her. To contact her and let her know that she was in my visualizations. Pachamama said that she would like this very much. And I kept visualizing her face as she read my email. Smiling, emotional.
- Man can not understand everything. There are those things that are outside the scope of human knowledge and understanding. These are the things that music and artistic expression attempt to describe.
- There is a line, a fine line that man must walk to understand the universe. I saw it as a ying yang symbol, the squiggled line between the ying and the yang is the path we must follow. We will make mistakes because that is human.
- We are nothing. The ego makes us believe that we are more than we are. But we are like a grain of sand in the beach. Our greatness is the result of our collective greatness.
- When I was a child I had a recurring dream where I would see giant tsunami-like tidal waves that scared the living hell out of me but also deeply fascinated me. These dreams were associated with the night terrors that I would have when I was four. But I had these dreams until I was at least 9 or 10. Eventually when I laid down to bed I could forcibly bring about these dreams as I was falling asleep or as I was trying to fall asleep. I lost the ability to conjure up these dreams but I never forgot how they made me feel. I was suspicious that these dreams may have something to do with psychedelics and perhaps my mom’s experimentation with them (perhaps epigenetics has something to say about the passing of these experiences to children, who knows?). At any rate Pachamama made it clear to me that these dreams are symbolic of the psychedelic experience. They were an attempt by my immature mind to represent the uroboros. The unknown. Pachamama. And it made sense immediately because the DMT affects would hit me in waves. The waves are the waves of higher consciousness crashing into our mind and disrupting our feeble ego. It’s worth mentioning that there’s an old Jewish idea that says wisdom is regaining in adulthood what you lost after your childhood. Perhaps this wave imagery is a rather clear example of this.
- Remember the weird guy at the beginning when we first arrived? Pachamama told me that I was right to be suspicious of him. She said something like “Isn’t it strange how you can simply sense the evil in a person simply by looking into their eyes?” I was made to understand that this is because there is evil and good in every man. And then I was reminded of an Aleksander Solzhenitsyn quote which says “the line between good and evil runs through every man’s heart”. At any rate at the end of the night they spread fruit across the floor and everyone gathered around to share it. It just so happened that the strange man sat down next to me and started to talking to me. After five minutes of conversation it was clear that my initial suspicions, as Pachamama warned me, we dead on. Something was wrong with him. He looked like a hippie Jim Carey. Picture Jim Carey with long hair and a beard. And every time you asked him a question, even a simple one like “where are you from” he would pause and close his eyelids halfway and roll his eyes into the back of his head while smirking mischievously. I think part of this was because he was full of shit and enjoyed pretending as if he were a mysterious character. However I also think this behavior was because he was mentally unstable and was one of those characters who used socially liberal and open minded circles to find easy prey. As I asked harmless questions about his life and his interests he gave spotty and half complete answers that stunk like lies. It was clear to everyone and I could sense that the rest of the room, some of whom were listening to our conversation, were equally clear on this point. He wasn’t to be trusted.
I’ll come back and update this list as new memories come to me.
August 29, 2017 § Leave a comment
I finished Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning about a month ago. I spent last week going over the notes that I made while I read it and jotting some down what I felt were the important themes of the book. At first I was simply trying to organize my thoughts. After some time it become clear that it would be useful to sort of give a high level summary of Peterson’s arguments and then provide a brief critique of it. This is my attempt at that.
Peterson’s work relies on a concept in social science called the Multi trait multimethod matrix. I’m not a social scientist so I won’t pretend to understand the intricacies of it but it essentially says that if a given theory is supported across multiple subjects then its validity is reinforced. Peterson attempts to show that his theories of human behavior are valid across psychological, neuroscientific, child development, and mythological domains. This is one the strongest aspects of the book, but it often results in the verbiage of the book being incredibly repetitive as Peterson repeatedly references back to the same topics in order to reinforce the idea that his theory is valid across domains of knowledge. Anyway, here’s that high level summary I promised:
Peterson’s thesis is something like this: Human consciousness is subject to universal social, temporal, and physiological boundaries. These universal boundaries result in more or less predictable human behavior and thus, in predictable cultural representation of that behavior. Human consciousness is not fully understand, however as an approximation it can be represented as the propensity of humans to gather knowledge from novel and unexpected events. This process of gathering knowledge from novel and unexpected events is reflected in neuroscience and mythology. In fact, the individual knowledge gathering can be extrapolated to the society as a whole. The individual’s gains in knowledge benefit themselves as well as their culture. The development of culture mirrors that of the individual, in the sense that the culture benefits by obtaining new knowledge from “the unknown” and incorporating it. Thus there is a feedback loop between the individual and their culture which was first attempted to be represented in the form of ancient mythology. Myths represent the world as a place of action and thus represent the process of knowledge gathering in the form of some exemplary beings which demonstrate the individual knowledge gathering process. These myths are then crystallized into formal religion and moral behavior is proceduralized into religious texts. Eventually religion is further abstracted into rational attempts at describing morality in the form of philosophy. This abstraction begins with mimicked behavior and ends with explicit description of that behavior. This is represented as moving from “knowing how” to “knowing what”. The same development occurs with children, wherein children can play a game without being able to explicitly describe the rules of said game. It isn’t until later in development that children are able to explicitly describe the rules to any particular game (Piaget).
And thus we have a reasonable explanation for the origin of human morality. It’s universal, which invalidates the postmodern view of “moral relativity”. The physiological boundaries are the most interesting to me and primarily involve neuroscience. But that would be it’s own post if I ever get around to it. I generally buy Peterson’s argument, as it seems to be supported by the scientific literature and is more or less the centralization of facts from across different fields. Most importantly it explains why human beings tend to value certain things are “good” or “evil” universally (for instance, murder) and why it makes sense to reject those systems which explicitly or implicitly justify murder or tend towards murder. The neuroscientific details suggest that the American pragmatist school of philosophy has the concept of “truth” more or less correct and Peterson clearly supports that position. I view it favorably as well and if I ever get around to breaking down the basic neuroscience arguments that Peterson makes I’ll touch on that topic as well.
August 21, 2017 § Leave a comment
I was watching a discussion between psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson and a philosopher named Dr. Stephen Hicks. There was an incredibly interesting point in the discussion at around the 40 minute mark that caught my interest. In it Higgs is describing the philosophical “fork” that occurred in philosophy in the latter half of the nineteenth century. This so called fork was between two conceptions of postmodernism, that of the Nietzscheans and the Marxists. There was an agreement among philosophers that there is no objective truth. And as a result no individual or social group could consider their beliefs to be superior to others. If truth is subjective than there is no logical argument that can be made in favor of any one group’s beliefs. However, it is true that some individuals within groups have more power than others. Thus, the world could conveniently be split into two groups: the more powerful and the less powerful. Or to put it in more recognizable terms, the “exploiters” and the “exploited”. All decisions about the superiority of one culture or belief system versus others would then necessarily be the result of the power of one group over another. In other words, power decides.
And this is what they agreed upon.
The fork occurred over which side should be supported. The powerful or the less powerful? Nietzsche supported the powerful class and Marx sided with the less powerful (the “exploited”). This split has characterized much of the philosophy that was created in the 20th century.
The False Alternatives
It’s clear that neither Peterson nor Hicks agrees with this construction. Peterson begins by responding that although he understands that truth may be subjective, he doesn’t see how power is therefore the necessary deciding factor when differentiating between the beliefs of groups.
Essentially Peterson points out that postmodernists fail to distinguish between the type of power characterized by force and the type characterized by ability or competence. They don’t make the distinction between relationships that result from force and those that result from mutual benefit.
Recognizing this distinction leads to the rejection of hierarchies based on force. Additionally, Peterson is skeptical that all hierarchies necessarily serve the principles of those at the top of that hierarchy. And even if we assume that they typically do, the Western Tradition would naturally exempt itself from such considerations because it’s based the natural sovereignty of the individual. Generally speaking the social contract is made subordinate to individual sovereignty in the Western world. This is ancillary to the topic at hand, but these ideas have their roots in Christian beliefs (and thus earlier in more rudimentary forms in Judaism and Greek paganism). This runs deep. And the postmodern critique of Western “logo centrism” seems to miss (willfully, perhaps) the importance of these beliefs.
Additionally, Peterson brings up the importance of the Piagetian model of human social behavior. Namely, that humans need to act in such a way that it is valid over time and valid around others. This necessarily requires human action be constrained by both time and society. That would mean that, although there may be an infinite number of beliefs one could hold, there is not an infinite number of equally valid beliefs.
This distinction of what exactly power is reminds me of something I wrote a few years ago. In post titled “Thoughts on Power” I tried to approach the taxonomy of power through the lens of the libertarian philosophy that I was engrossed in at the time. In the process of doing so I accidentally came to the same conclusion as Peterson. Albeit from a different direction.
“It should be clear that some form of power is necessary for modern society to exist. The dreamland of a completely anti-hierarchical society is impossible. Egalitarianism is not consistent with human nature. It’s a biological fact that some humans are better fit for certain tasks than others. An entirely anti-hierarchical society implicitly assumes that every human is just as good at basketball as Lebron James and that everyone is just as adept at physics as Einstein. Hierarchy is an inevitable, spontaneous outgrowth of human nature.“
Of course I never defined “power”, which was a mistake on my part. However the implication of the above excerpt is clear: power comes in numerous forms. Different abilities will lead to a difference in output. And as Peterson stated very clearly, this is the difference between telling someone “I will cede to your authority on this topic and allow your expertise to decide” versus “I will use force to tell you what to do”. The failure to make a distinction between types of power is one of the essential mistake committed by both sides of the postmodern debate. And it’s for this reason that the postmodernists who identify as Marxists or neo-Marxists must insist on egalitarianism and social determinism. Because if all men are equal and all individual outcomes are socially determined then those who have power necessarily have it arbitrarily and as a result of force and additionally the beliefs of any particular group are equally arbitrary.
The truth is that if humans are inherently unequal in their abilities then some individuals could potentially gain power via means besides pure domination. In fact the concept of the division of labor upon which modern society is built is a result of this reality. Some men are better at math and become mathematicians. Some men are incredibly strong and become weightlifters. Every career path from plumbers to philosophers is the result of some complex (and not yet entirely understood) interplay between our socialization, personality, and talents.
It’s from this perspective that I’m slowly beginning to make connections between the anarcho-capitalist ideas that characterized my early twenties and human belief systems. At the very least I better understand the intellectual roots of modern collectivism and its manifestations in modern politics.
August 19, 2017 § Leave a comment
[Ollantaytambo, Peru on a bench near what I believe is the Urubamba river]
Sometimes there’s nothing that can bring us peace like being alone.
Part of maturing is understanding yourself. And perhaps the most essential aspect of that endeavor is to understand that it’s a life long process.
There’s nothing particularly interesting about me, all things considered. In terms of material things: I don’t have much. I come from a working class family in the Midwest. My life up until this point has been free of the sort of achievements that bring significant material success. I performed okay in high school and university. I had the good luck of haphazardly choosing a profession that immediately pushed me into the upper middle class income range at a very young age. However I was a sub par engineering student who was more focused on reading economics treatises than on focusing on the academic topics that I chose to study.
I was probably an even worse employee. I found the corporate life and its promises of success interesting for about six months. Once I realized that climbing that particular ladder was just another dead end. My performance followed accordingly.
My personal life has been that of isolation and eccentricity. I’ve spent more time in my twenties devoting myself to books and fruitless relationships than to anything genuinely worthwhile and productive. I’ve seen my life get completely swept away in this or that direction. And entirely based on my own compulsiveness and impatience. Everything from philosophers to political figures to women my twenties have been composed of a long series of reckless yet passionate decisions. All the while I was convinced each time that this time I had it figured out.
But each time I heard that faint whisper of doubt. The soft echo of my own sub consciousness. The voice in my mind that I ignored until my troubles became so great as to become unavoidable.
I’m now 27. I’m a man. Or at least I’ prepared to behave like one. What that means precisely I’m not sure. But it does require taking on responsibility for mankind. I have two options in front of me. We all do. Either wither away in anger, nihilism, and hopelessness. Or take what I have and try to do something with the world.
Too often as we reach a certain age and see our childhood dreams pass us by unfulfilled we become jaded and bitter. In a half-hearted sigh we resign ourselves to the fate of circumstances an fall into the monotony of a dull adult life. But I still have time. A lot of it, god willing. I can take the results of all the things that I’ve done right (and wrong) so far and try to make something more of it. To build upon the great foundation that my forefathers built. And what an incredible foundation it is, despite the hatred and bitterness that my contemporaries may feel towards it.
It’s been roughly 3,000 years of ubelievable cultlural growth since the Greeks. Western civilization has given the earth things that it has never seen before. And here I am. Free, young, and intelligent. And able to contribute something, however small, to that rich cultural history.
If the decade of my twenties has taught me anything it’s that the future is entirely within your control. You decisions, your mentality, even your very way of living contributes to the future that awaits.
I won’t pretend to know where I’ll be in a year. But I have concrete plans. I have an aim and I full intend to work towards it.
So as my twenties come to an end I will work to avoid the mistakes that characterized this decade until recently. I will face the unexpected with all of the courage that I can muster.And I won’t run away from what frightens me, but instead press forward all the more steadfast.
August 19, 2017 § Leave a comment
If this haphazardly constructed mess of skin and bones is my vessel and the world it’s home, then let it be as it may. But there’s something to be said for the soothing rush of the river. For the gentle breeze as it passes over the open field. And for the imposing eternity evoked at the sight of a vast glacier. There’s something that man sees in nature that reminds him of himself. The humility necessary to even begin to appreciate the immenseness of the cosmos. It’s strangely reassuring to be reminded of his mortality. The fact that the opposite isn’t true is one of the essential questions of mankind.
Yet something deeper lurks beneath mankind’s curiosity. The depths of uncertainty that nature suggest are the most beautiful coax. A gentle push forward into the darkness. The innate propensity towards the serenity and irrepressibility of nature is a representation of mankind’s favored state of being. On the precipice of order and chaos. One foot firmly in the safety of his brothers land, the other precariously yet bravely set forth into the great abyss.
Man’s greatest achievement is ongoing. The abyss remains, but man trudges forth regardless, as if unaware of the futility of his movement. And yes, removing the darkness from existence is indeed a futile effort. But it isn’t it’s removal that mankind works toward. Rather, man is driven forward by the creation of safe stomping grounds out of what was once potentially dangerous territory. Absolutely nothing could be less futile.
In the modern world much of the chaotic has been explored and demarcated by previous brethren. But man’s job is never done. And surrounded by chaotic circumstances and men beset on all sides by the evils of inaction, hatred, bitterness and hopelessness, man must find motivation to move forward. To find a sliver of this beautiful existence that he can mold into something novel. To keep one foot in the well traversed path and the other consciously and courageously placed toward the darkness. Only in the darkness can knowledge be found. And only in the beauty of nature and creativity can mind find the motivation.