Tuesday 19 September 2023

The primary and essential role of personal understanding in these times of seismic change

How is it that we can live in a world where people's ideas are so very wrong, where their aspirations are so distorted and trivial (when not actually evil - which is common enough); where there is not even the most basic awareness of these times as ones of seismic spiritual and geopolitical change - and insofar as there is awareness is is a kind-of value inversion, leading to the opposite of virtue, truth and beauty...

How come all this can be true; and yet there be so much virtue in the world, beauty in our surroundings, decent truthfulness between people - even strangers; enough people doing a good job that things continue? 

How can this be, when the entirety of public discourse, officialdom, the mass media, gossip and chit-chat... is so utterly wrong?

What is the origin of the undoubted but invisible good that is implied by so much of our world; when there is no much - so much more obvious - evil?    

These times of Western civilizational collapse are Not, in any deep or significant way, a recapitulation of any earlier civilizational collapse - and, indeed, I think it is probable that each earlier collapse was at heart unique, with only superficial similarities. 

Here and now; I feel that the role of individual understanding is primary: it is what we ought to be doing. And, insofar as there are good things in life now, it is because of understanding (rather than, for instance, because of 'actions'). 

What I mean is that human consciousness is currently operating in uncharted territory. By adulthood we each have, all-but, lost that spontaneous and immersive groupishness that our ancestors experienced (the further back in time, the more groupish, and the less individually autonomous).

There are many consequences. One is that the traditional forms of groupishness (e.g. extended familie/ clans, guilds and unions, professions, villages, occupations) are either absent (destroyed or neglected to death), or weak, and/or assimilated to totalitarian bureaucracy. 

(In other words, spontaneous groupisness has been displaced and replaced by top-down bureaucracy - and there is no other form of effective groupishness.) 

Ultimately; this is because people do not now spontaneously and inevitable fall-into groupishness as they once did; and people have chosen instead to grasp-at whatever groupishness is most easily on offer. And what is on offer her-and-now is... the groups created and sustained by the totalitarian Establishment.     

So, we find-ourselves as natural/ inevitable individualists; we don't fall into groups naturally; and the overwhelming response in the West has been a choice to ally with... whatever non-spontaneous groups are in our environment. 

And all of these groups are already, and increasingly, part of the global System. 

However; if we regard the waxing individualism and autonomy of Men through known-history as part of divine destiny; then in the first place we see that individual freedom and choice - and therefore personal responsibility - has become unavoidable; and secondly that it is of essential significance how we choose. 

Since we now just-are individuals, and because God makes this world; then individuals have (thrust upon them!) a much greater significance than in the past. 

The actual nature of the 2023 world can be seen as directing-us (herding-us, channeling-us...) each towards what we ought to be doing; while of course, the decision of what specifically to do (which way to jump!) necessarily remains our own. 

(The world brings us to the point of choice; and then we each choose. God has a definite preference how we should choose, but God cannot compel us to make that choice - and would not wish to compel us.) 

So we find-ourselves in a world where any group we might decide to join is either too weak to make a physical difference, or else a part of the problem. Any effective action we might take, has been pre-emptively neutralized, or indeed weaponized against us. 

This sounds bad; but if we simply accept this reality, and start from where we actually-are; then we can see that other possibilities have opened-up, even as the old groupish ones have closed. 

If only we become aware of, then reject, the assumption (so widely held) that our thoughts do not matter, and do not affect the world; then we may realize that individual autonomy enables each person to affect the world by his own thinking, in ways that were never possible before - because thinking was never previously so individual, was always previously (to a significant extent, increasing as we move further back into the past) a part of groupishness. 

In the past; people could not, and did not want to (could not even conceptualize), thinking as individuals. But now we can hardly avoid doing so. 

We now (for the first time, in a widespread fashion) have the ability to understand as individuals, evaluate as individuals, and personally decide upon what we want and where our allegiance is allocated. 

And, so long as we recognize that thinking just-is effectual in changing the world: that thinking changes that world: that every choice has real-life outcomes; this automatically and inevitably means that when we understand some-thing and, after evaluating it, make a choice as to whether we personally endorse or oppose it -- we are making a difference. 

That process of thinking, that sequence of thinking, makes a difference to reality; and in the direction we choose.

Each individual has immense power located in his thinking... But, that power is only individual - only our power - when thinking is individual, when we take responsibility for our thinking and our choices!

The vast changes of society towards individualism can therefore be understood as putting each of us into a position where we are confronted by choices which we can either embrace and learn-from; or else deny and hide-from. 

It hinges on understanding. Do we recognize that understanding is the most important (and necessary) think we can do, when confronted by Life? The pre-requisite of any possibility of Good? 

Or do we accept the Establishment line that thoughts are just in-the-head and it is only by effective physical action (and therefore by action in groups) that we may live well?


Ron Tomlinson said...

Learning a musical instrument I eventually came to appreciate the idea that mistakes always flowed from misconceptions about what I was trying to play, not from a lack of coordination or omph.

And I think secular materialism is catching up to this. If you look at the recent predictive coding models of intelligence you'll come across 'active inference' which is about how all bodily movements arise automatically from correct *predictions* about the world. Valid predictions in turn are logical consequences of true *ideas* about what is possible and what needs to be done. We never take action directly...

Which leaves me wondering where the room for mysticism is, Christianity being a mystical religion. I think it must be in not knowing how precisely we're going to act in a given situation. The rational person tries too hard to explain his activity which is a losing battle.

It leads to a combinatorial explosion since many types of action are possible including some which pursue multiple values/objectives simultaneously and he could never know if he'd counted them all.

Or perhaps it is in not knowing what we're going to learn next?

Bruce Charlton said...

@RT "Which leaves me wondering where the room for mysticism is, Christianity being a mystical religion."

Perhaps you mean freedom/ agency? Any model of the kind you describe will exclude agency by assumption, and will therefore seem to leave 'no room' for it. But models only include what you put into them.

The task is to understand the *nature* of 'mysticism' or freedom; not to try and discover that nature using a model. Thinking that way, I find that mysticism and agency can be understood as divine attributes, i.e. they are attributes that are traditionally regarded as being of gods.

Since, for Christians, we Men are divine (i.e. Sons of God), this does Not present a problem of explanation - we are gods, we have freedom, we are capable of 'mystical' acts.