Monday 24 December 2018

The problem of abstraction - when you get rid of common sense, the mind is open to limitless manipulation; but escape destroys civilisation

The rottenness of our modern world goes very deep. I'm not saying its all rotten - but the strength of modernity derive from its weakness; the early steps are beneficial - but there is a positive feedback at work, and you can't stop after a few steps - and the end of the line is insanity and nihilism.

This is big topic and I will - no doubt - need to make multiple attempts at expressing this insight.  Here goes...

If we start out in the primal situation; people's knowledge is very direct, personal, experiential. We believe things because we have experienced them, or because we have been told them by people whom we believe because they are family. (Kids seem to be naturally credulous, from which I infer that they have an inbuilt expectation of being surrounded by benign people.)

Anyway, as culture becomes more complex, we get socialised into ignoring direct experience, and believing that which is abstract: what comes-down to us from the hierarchy of power, status, wealth. Eventually, what comes-down is what we Must believe; and any direct knowledge which conflicts with this Must be ignored.

The socially-approved abstract is increasingly mandatory, the direct and personal is increasingly forbidden. 

Conversely, the primal situation is again direct - one in which we believe in the soul, pre-mortal existence and continuation of identity post-mortally, beyond death (usually some kind of reincarnation is natural. And, on this basis, resurrection is a specific type of reincarnation-into-divinity) because we personally have experienced these things... we believe in spirits, the supernatural, 'magic' and so on because we know them in our lives.

Then at some point - our society demands that these things must not be believed - because they cannot be directly perceived or (we are told) detected or measured by science. (And, insofar as anybody says they do directly know such things, they Must Be deluded, self-decieved, lying, manipulating, drunk, hallucinating, or just plain crazy.

We must believe in 'science', and since science is nearly-all about things of which we have no knowledge, and are unobservable - this in practice means we must believe 'scientists'...

But who are 'scientists'? Scientists get defined by those with power. And anyway we only know what they say as reported by teachers or the mass media... So yet again we have to ignore direct knowledge and accept what comes-down to us.

My point is that we live in a system that requires we ignore direct knowledge and believe abstract stuff about which we know absolutely nothing. Whatever happens to us, whatever we experience, whatever we work out for ourselves - is, by definition and in advance of any specifics, completely irrelevant.

OK. Now, you may also notice that this system of mandatory abstraction, forbidden direct knowing, once established, can be - has been - subverted to evil. The mandatory abstractions can be... Anything! And no matter what we personally experience or work-out cannot (by advanced definition) ever be challenged under any circumstances.

My first point is that This is precisely and without exaggeration the world we actually live-in, here and now.    

My second point is that if we want to escape this world of abstract lies, we need to reject an awful lot of stuff that we take for granted, and upon which our civilisation depends. 

If we want to escape this world of lies, we need to pull down civilisation as well - because everything that supports and sustains civilisation is susceptible to, is abstract and authority-based; and therefore (now, in this world of demonic domination) always-and-increasingly trending towards evil, ugly, lies.

If the direct and personal is the only escape from open-endedly dishonest abstraction; if civilisation depends on abstraction; we can only escape demonic domination by also (not intentionally, but inevitably) undermining civilisation.


Chiu ChunLing said...

We need to reject our particular decadent civilization.

But we must not abandon that on which all civilizations, decadent or not, depend.

Whether or not we want to create a new civilization after the death of this one (and man-portable armor penetrating firearms make it questionable whether having our own civilization is absolutely necessary as a defense against hostile civilizations, though I am inclined to the view that there is nothing wrong with restarting civilization), we should not forget that all civilization absolutely depends on reason and productive innovation.

I don't know what else you think a decadent civilization "depends" on, but it is most likely something that is in reality better described as a corrosive influence destroying civilization. This confusion may be understandable in that the corrosive influences destroying civilization are now inextricable from our current civilization and give it the decadent character which makes rejection of our particular civilization morally necessary.

However understandable, such confusion is not helpful.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - You have not understood the point. Stay tuned.