One of the main ways that purposive evil has created the prevalent mood of nihilistic despair is by subversion of metaphysics - this has been especially important in destroying the morale of the ruling elite - and creating the mainstream self-hating suicidal animus of public discourse for most of the past century.
Maybe the key metaphysical subversion was to create doubt in the reality and significance of the self ('consciousness', self-awareness, the ego, or 'I') - I mean that ultimate 'me' which comes underneath and before anything else I experience: that which I find when I dig-down as deep within my-self as possible.
It has seemed obvious to almost everybody (adult or child) who has ever introspected, that the self is a reality, and that it has agency: the ability to choose, to evaluate, to motivate. The self is a cause - or so it seems to intuition.
Furthermore, this self is vital to most religions - certainly it is vital to Christianity; because without a self to choose Christ as Lord and Saviour, then there is no possibility of, or meaning to, Christianity,
However, this metaphysical basis has pretty much been overthrown in mainstream modern intellectual culture - and certainly in public discourse.
The way that discourse is structured, there is no space for genuine autonomous choice, no place for the self to reside - merely an arbitrary and subjective 'belief' and an explanation for observed behaviour.
Now it is vital to recognise from the start that metaphysics is the structure of reality as we understand it; and because it is the structuring principle of reality, then it cannot be proven or disproven.
Therefore, experience has no relevance to evaluating the truth of a metaphysical system, evidence from history or science has no relevance to the validity of metaphysics.
So, since the self is a metaphysical assumption; there is no evidence for the reality of the self - and there never can be evidence for its reality.
Neither can there be evidence against its reality; no actual or possible discovery of philosophy, history or science could possibly count as evidence against the reality and autonomy of the self.
But the idea is general that 'modern science has proven' that the self does not exist, or is not a necessary hypothesis. Or something.
Modern people try to function on the basis that at the core of their being is... nothing. There is no core, the self is a 'projection' of higher systems.
So when a man looks deep within himself, and he finds his-self; then this is stated to be an illusion.
The proof? Because... science.
What does this do to a man? To be told that his perception of primary inner reality is some kind of mistake. The idea that at his core is... nothing?
Well, it does things like confuse, bewilder, stun, paralyse, despair. It injects distrust into the deepest level of thinking. It renders thought helpless, unable to gain traction, unable even to begin to understand the world.
Given that there is no reason at all to doubt the reality of the self/ consciousness/ ego/ 'I' - then why would anybody want to do this to himself, and to his fellow men? Why would such a pernicious metaphysical notion be propagated, become mainstream? What could be the motivation for inducing confusion, bewilderment, paralysis, despair?
The answer is - delight in destruction of the Good and the possibility of Good; in other words evil.
The evil of subversive metaphysics is not a small thing; it is not a game; it is not an amusing way of passing the time; it is not a contribution to the intellectual environment: it is a very real, very pernicious evil - akin to gratuitous torture.
To act sinfully is bad, but may be inevitable; to deliberately choose to plan to induce others to act sinfully is much worse than doing the sin. The hands may be clean, but the heart is filthy.
To despair is a sin; but deliberately to induce despair is worse. Those millions of intellectuals - philosophers, scientists, doctors, novelists, dramatists, movie-makers, journalists etc - who have engaged in strategically-subverting the self, should forget about making excuses and repent what they have done.
However, Buddhism explicitly denies the self and achieves a very high moral tone, as do most eastern religions, especially Hinduism and Taoism, (without achieving the high moral level of Buddhism), and Christian and Jewish mysticism, I believe, does likewise (am I wrong here?).
Religion is itself, a subversion of reality. The ''modern'' problems about empires decadence is not be out of transcendental colective cults like collective abrahamic religions, is inside it.
Would it not follow from this that most highly developed Eastern philosophies including, principally,Buddhism are intrinsically evil in that they propagate the metaphysical believe that 'the self is an illusion'? I am no longer a Buddhist but I can recall vividly the clarity of arguments that are now v well developed in thousand's of years of Buddhist tradition that duped me into believing I had no self or soul. I am now a Christian and see things rather differently but I don't see the mistaken belief of Buddhists as evil, just incorrect and an earnest attempt to undestand a 'reality' which is a perennial and difficult question for many people throughout the ages.
Also on the issue of despair being a Sin I must say I don't understand why it is regarded in such a uniform interpretation. We can be incited to despair through torment and the various vissitudes of life. Surely this is often a state that should be recognised with compassion in others and not as an act of sin? To illustrate, surely a person who has been induced to despair by the suicide of a loved one say, or a sexual assault that haunts their mortal days whilst living in hope, faith and at times despair, surely to despair at times is to be human and vulnerable to harm? I find it hard to imagine heavenly father feeling anything but loving kindness for such wounded souls. Or do I misunderstand the nature of Sin as you see it?
@Chris - My belief is that self-denying, self-annihilating religions sometimes have much the same psychological effect as I describe for modernity. The difference is perhaps that the goal is presented as an abstract, impersonal, absorbed-into-godhead kind of bliss - which sounds quite nice - at least compared with active suffering through eternal reincarnations.
"It has seemed obvious to almost everybody (adult or child) who has ever introspected, that the self is a reality, and that it has agency: the ability to choose, to evaluate, to motivate. The self is a cause - or so it seems to intuition."
"experience has no relevance to evaluating the truth of a metaphysical system"
Can you explain how these statements aren't contradictory?
A mistake often made is to think evidence is foundational in some strict sense. Rather, it is coherent, with certain beliefs or supposed evidences being more central than others.
We start out with various working assumptions. As we encounter new situations, we might revisit certain of these beliefs. This applies to various 'metaphysical' beliefs. It seems to me all are situated in, and informed by, experience.
If this is right, then experience has a great deal to do with evaluating the truth of a (provisional, working-things-through) metaphysical system, which everyone explicitly or implicitly has and acts on.
It is true that certain beliefs are more central to our interpretation of events (what it seems you are calling 'metaphysical' beliefs), but they are tied up in and often revised through new experiences.
So, there is a great deal of evidence for the self. Of course, one can re-interpret that evidence by providing a structure of different beliefs (typically involving an appeal to 'illusions'). In some cases, these reinterpretations work (the earth isn't stationary), in others they don't seem to work very well (there is no such thing as conscious experience).
@ajb - Introspection is not "evidence"; it is what we perceive. It is where the idea of real-self comes from, but is not evidence for it.
It seems to me that what we perceive and what we have evidence for are closely related - perception -> evidence.
The "self" appears to be epiphenomenal, sitting upon or arising out of the physical substrate - the brain.
This does not have to lead to a nihilistic and purposeless approach to life. Instead it may to lead to an awareness of the common ground upon which all of us sit. It may be humbling, and it may undermine the sense that "I" am independent from the universe in which I exist. On many levels it elicits a sense of awe and wonder because it entails an awareness of the complex interconnection that exists between all of us and the common evolutionary history that has led to each of us being here to reflect upon it.
The fact of being intimately a part of the universe, and of the extreme unlikelihood of having existence - and yet here I am as are you. It fills me with awe and gratitude. It is not in anyway intrinsically nihilist or meaningless but elicits states of ecstasy when I reflect deeply upon it.
So no, the lack of a non-contingent existent self does not lead to meaninglessness, nihilism and evil. Viewed through the right lens it creates a sense of profound beauty and joy - often.
A mass of self-annihilators = default "elite"
@NF - You are not following-through the logic of your metaphysical assumptions, you are engaging in incoherent pick-and-mix metaphysics - but other people will make the plain logical inferences, and they are the ones who will suffer.
Brilliant post Bruce! It sent me into a strange train of thought with some interesting (for me at least) results. Let me explain:
I've long thought that the primary aspect of modern people's implicit ethics is the notion of the "sacred self." Lawrence Auster used the term "liberalism," and described it as something like [paraphrase]: "society is only a collection of individual selfs, each with a collection of various desires. All selfs are equal and have the right to act on any desires they wish, as long as this does not interfere with the sacred autonomy of other individual selfs."
I've long thought that this implicit idea, is the one of the biggest stumbling blocks to modern people regarding Christianity-- especially as regards Christian ethics (especially sexual) and praxis.
Reading your post I immediately recognized it as true; but couldn't reconcile it with the above idea. How can the self be sacred if there is no self?
Of course, the problem is that these types of leftist/anti-Christian thought do not naturally make themselves known as explicit ideologies by their adherents, and therefore do not seek consistency, but thrive on chaos, darkness, concealment and deceit (their origin is of course the father of lies).
After a bit of reflection I concluded that the strange truth is this: the contradictory notions of "the self as sacred" and "there is no self" are implicitly held simultaneously by most modern people. The contradiction is solved thus so: there is no higher self, only a collection of desires unchosen by the person; yet there emerges out of this the ability to pick and choose amongst one's chaotic selfish desires and to affirm some configuration of them as the highest self-- and this act is the only possible "act of self" person can take in life. Thus, there is no real self, but the self becomes "realized" by affirming various desires as "his self".
Thus, whenever we tell people that there is a real self (human soul) and that there are higher, objective standards that the soul should seek, it seems an vile act of oppression and falsehood for anti-Christian moderns because:
-There is no God! There is no objective, higher truth!
-So who are you to tell me of something higher! You're just like me, a chaotic collection of random thoughts, feelings, desires that you didn't choose!
-Your religion is based on a collection of chaotic thoughts, desires etc. just like my act of self affirmation, and if you want to affirm your religious beliefs as your self I guess it's okay-- but don't you DARE tell me I have a self other than what I've affirmed! or that my choice of affirmation could be wrong! or that there's something higher than me that could or should influence my choice!
-If you tell me that, then you're taking away the only thing I've really got! This collection of desires, and this power to affirm whichever ones I want!
-There is no personal God! But if there is or was a higher power, it certainly wouldn't... couldn't want me not to affirm myself as I see fit! That would be cruel!
-Your religion that preaches an immortal soul and a God who gave us higher things is just a fiction! It's no different than my desire for sex or power or whatever I've affirmed... Yet you DARE to put it above me, and above the only real thing for all of us non-selfs: sacred self affirmation! You want to destroy us!!!
@David, though you're asking Bruce, my answer would be this:
Christians consider despair a sin because there is always hope in Christ. To deny that is to implicitly deny Christ's victory.
One must not confuse despair with mere unhappiness, suffering or difficulty. Certainly hope gives happiness in the long run, but sometimes one can be overall unhappy and suffer much despite the ray of hope they have, because the causes for unhappiness are so severe.
Despair is contrary to the virtue of hope. It comes through French from the Latin "de-sperare" meaning "not- to hope"; so perhaps it would be nice if we had an English word such as "to nothope" to more precisely communicate the meaning.
If one finds oneself tempted to despair by severe circumstances, one must pray for hope, for the ability to make an act of hope. The virtue of hope is in fact most laudable when it is during extreme suffering.
Similarly, if one has a friend who seems to despair; one should not hate them or judge their culpability while one recognizes the sin of despair (love the sinner, hate the sin). Rather one ought to do one's best to comfort them and help them to stop sinning by despair-- help them make an act of hope amidst their affliction.
@TE and David - I forgot to answer David's question so thanks to TE for doing so.
The way I make sense of this is not to regard despair as an emotion - an emotion isn't really a sin - but as a belief or faith.
Hope is a Christian virtue because it entails faith in God's power and goodness and love for us; despair is the opposite.
@TE and Bruce - thank you that does really help clarify that distinction for me significantly. Hope is a truely wonderful think. Life would be bleak indeed without it.
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