critical thinking, critique of modernity, culture, embodiment, freedom, intelligence, nature, philosophy, science, spirituality, time, transcendence
Taken together, the two previous postings present a couple of observations worth highlighting. The postings are: Philosophy as Critique of Orientation Within Systems of Reality (July 15, 2015, posting # 85), and Horizontal Dualism and the Spiritual Quest (November 4, 2015, posting # 86). The first observation, pointed to by the titles, is that (Blind-Spot) philosophy is both a spiritual quest and a critique of orientation. A quest begins in questions, and is a re-orientation process with questions as guides. As a spiritual quest, it is an intelligence’s search for what is most personal and most human, a self-consideration, and as a critique of orientation it is an intelligence’s questioning its situation within what is beyond itself. A spiritual quest is a gaze into a mirror and the critique of orientation is a gaze into surroundings (being in a life in the world). There is already a horizontal duality in this binocularity to the philosophical gaze: inward and outward, although there is no inward-seeing eye. The directionality of the gaze (outward) is so laden with what cannot be perceived, with subjective non-actualities such as futurity, aspirations, and lessons learned, that it points (in addition to some region of surroundings) back in a direction that can only be characterized as inward. The duality is all the more insistent because we are irritated or nagged by the sense of that inward direction as partial blindness, as obscurity and vulnerability, the sense that there should be an inward sensitivity to match the richness of our outward sensitivities. Since there is no simple gaze inward we are forced to devise or discover a spiritual mirror and we find it in the experience of time. Inwardly, instead of a particularity of instantaneous outline or substance, we have a directionality within time.
Critique of Modernity
Critique of culture is a crucial part of any spiritual quest just as it is of critique of orientation because the engagement of spirit or intelligence with nature (via embodiment) is heavily mediated by ambient culture which is historically rooted and largely arbitrary for the individual. An individual’s surroundings include a multitude of other embodied intelligences expressing a collectively shared orientation (a system of reality) acquired in childhood from the local culture. “System of reality” specifically denotes a culturally stipulated set of ideas and orientations. It is the set of ideas by which a person’s orientation is constructed: conceptions of nature, the supernatural, community, and personal subjectivity, all provided originally by the culture into which a person is born. Ideas about the supernatural often have a revered status in systems of reality, stipulated as the top-down power over the other elements. Recognizing culture as an accumulation of human creations distinct from nature and from fundamental humanity provides the basis for recognizing in history a variety of systems of reality, which often contradict one another and all of which must include important distortions and falsehoods. Critique of modernity, for example, is culture criticism, since modernity is not a manifestation of nature (such as winter) nor, as a late and special development, can it be a structure of enduring human nature.
Not only the Euro-American imperialist culture of modernity, but every culture, is tainted with superstitious legitimations of the injustices of human macro-parasitism, because there are spiritual vulnerabilities which universally give macro-parasitic cultures access to human hosts. There is no index culture to use as a standard of empathy in human interconnectedness or of the human grasp on reality. Tribal or aboriginal cultures are no better. Philosophy is nothing less than developing re-acquaintance with personal pre-cultural innocence, disconnecting from all the cultural biases, especially constructs of personal identity, self-definition (including gender), and stories of cosmic origins, purpose, and destiny. What you get down to, moving outside cultural influences, is a horizontal dualism: limited personal freedom within the non-actuality of time (which is to say, individual intelligence) confronting brute actuality, a relationship obviously vulnerable to the very active interference of tainted collective culture.
The second observation is that there are two spiritual vulnerabilities inherent in intelligences and our situation, both of which vulnerabilities are exploited culturally by macro-parasitic factions to establish and stabilize their regime of top-down human-on-human parasitism. (Ancient herding groups went from preying on migratory grass-eating mammals to preying on a “sedentary” grass-eating mammal which happened to be human grain-growing, grain-eating, communities. That is the ultimate origin of capitalism, still in operation.) It is incorrect to say that critical thinking would have no function without the distortions of reality (such as gods, demons, inherent human vice, the great food chain of being, fine art, monumental architecture, and good breeding) spun culturally by macro-parasitic factions to legitimate themselves. Even without that distorting cultural force, the inherent vulnerabilities (self-uncertainty and orientation to top-down subordination) would remain. Although both spiritual vulnerabilities are culturally re-enforced and exploited, they are not created out of nothing by cultural forces. They are inherent in the encounter between the non-actualities of subjectivity (spirituality) and the brute actualities of objective nature, and so pre-exist cultural influences. However, it would be wrong to characterize the inherent vulnerabilities in the situation of intelligences as any kind of inherent vice or fault, there is no trace of original sin there. Vulnerabilities are not vices. Vulnerabilities require a strengthening of individual autonomy, encouragement and support of individual expression and critical thinking, and not repression or punishment.
The spiritual vulnerability studied in Horizontal Dualism and the Spiritual Quest is existential self-uncertainty. The spiritual vulnerability studied in Philosophy as Critique of Orientation Within Systems of Reality is a tendency to accept without question the imprint of a whole complex of normal human circumstances as a top-down or child-to-parent orientation on a cosmic scale. There is a direct correspondence between the two spiritual vulnerabilities and the two directions of the philosophical gaze, with a spiritual vulnerability as both an inspiration and a challenge to overcome in each direction. For the spiritual quest itself there is the vulnerability of self-uncertainty, spiritual no-thing-ness, the necessity to self-create at every moment. The spiritual quest never arrives at the discovery of a definitive self. Instead of having any definitive self-particularity, we have precisely what we think of as spirituality: time and the freedom that comes with time and the teleology of creativity, constructed of interior non-actuality, accumulating orientation. The past never accomplishes a definitive self, which is, of course, inseparable from freedom. However, the inherent self-uncertainty is exploited as a vulnerability to having a culturally assigned identity imposed. Consequently, the spiritual quest has to include a critique of the culture of personal identity. Personal identity definitions assigned by culture have to be put aside so that innocent self-experience is encountered and liberated.
Outwardly, the vulnerability is the readiness or early conditioning to project a top-down parental-type orientation (personal subordination) onto the self-to-environment relation at large. In fact that readiness to project a top-down structure onto the self-to-environment relation spills over and invades self-uncertainty as well, so that it becomes a vulnerability to crediting personal intelligence (non-actuality, time, freedom) to some cosmic source intelligence or master intelligence. The posting Horizontal Dualism … argues against the claim made historically on behalf of spirit, based on its transcendent freedom and creative power, to superiority and mastery over nature. As just noted, spiritual mastery has usually been alienated from individuals and made more plausible as a mastery by being centralized and assigned to a cosmic master intelligence, leaving the individual as some sort of subordinate derivation or product of the vastness of the master intelligence, but, even as such, still claiming a share of mastery over local nature. Rejecting that (culturally re-enforced) alienation brings intelligence back to the scale of the individual which already makes it more horizontal with respect to nature.
Enlightenment rationalists moved western culture along the right path by pioneering scientific secularism to replace the imagined agency of disembodied spirits in religion and magic. They made the people of their future (made us of modernity) philosophical in an important sense by helping us be secular. People have largely become scientific instead of superstitious and that was once thought to be the crucial aspect of being philosophical: accepting strict causation, interpreting and perceiving strict causation in the events and structures of the surroundings. However, conceiving science as “universal laws” still retains the old top-down orientation. With science, we are still overawed by the splendours of nature as a self-subsisting matrix or grounding to which the individual intelligence is subordinate. (That gets interpreted politically so that the fact that cheetah prey on antelope is offered as a legitimation of capitalism.) Comparing the radically located individual intelligence to the scale of cosmic nature, which is by definition omnipresent, seems to show the individual as insignificant and again some sort of derivation or product, this time of the vastness of nature. Critique of Orientation … argues against the claim made historically on behalf of nature at large of all-embracing superiority and mastery. Something crucial is missing from that system of reality, and what is missing is the experience of subjective interiority and the fact that human life is played out by individuals in the (horizontal) encounter between non-actualities of personal subjectivity (spirituality) and the brute actualities of objective nature (conceptually mediated by culture via the human surroundings). The awesome creative freedom of individual intelligences is still edited out, censored, from the scientific system of reality. Innocent self-discovery (self-possession) as an autonomous intelligence with the creative power of time/ non-actuality/ freedom is the release from that cultural distortion and from the spiritual vulnerability exploited by that system of reality.
The forces at the core of human life at the individual level are spiritual freedom and embodiment, constituting a strict individuality to spirituality in its embodiment. The encounter between the free non-actualities of the interior of intelligences and the brute, pre-determined, actuality of nature is an inseparable and shockingly fruitful dualism, essentially horizontal. To deny the dualism is either to deny spirituality or to deny embodiment, either of which is perverse and self-defeating. Effective freedom and the fulfillment of transcendence requires both.
Contrary to the prevailing Euro-American culture, which still includes important remnants of Christianity, there is no innate flaw or taint in human nature which reduces the individual to a destructive force in need of external control. Additionally, there is a global misidentification of transcendence as belonging to some other-world, an afterlife world, a future world of science and technology, or a supernatural ideal dimension, knowledge of which is reserved to a few selected gatekeepers. However, again contrary to prevailing culture, there is no such world to wait for, to escape to, or to expect rescue by. With no transcendent other-world there are no gatekeepers able to offer access to such a thing. This moment of being in a life in the world is it. There is transcendence here and now in personal creative freedom.
The inherent spiritual vulnerabilities would still challenge philosophical thinking even if there weren’t social inequalities which parasitic beneficiaries legitimize by means of culturally instituted (false) identifications of external transcendence, such as monumental high culture (instead of the transcendence of individual intelligence). It is still true that tainted culture exacerbates and institutionalizes the individuals’s spiritual confusion originating from the inherent vulnerabilities. Philosophical thinking is uniquely suited to overcome the influence of poisoned culture, and the existence of philosophy is evidence of a pre-cultural innocence. Something innocent in intelligence is drawn to the spiritual vulnerabilities as questionable, and strikes back against the confusion and diminishment around the vulnerabilities, and against the distortions and violations of reality that are institutionalized in culture. We are intelligent and embodied before we are cultured.
Copyright © 2015 Sandy MacDonald.