A ‘system of reality’ is a culturally supplied collective orientation constructed from stories going around (models for tragedy and comedy, heroes and villains), sacred texts, laws, oral descriptions, warnings, exhortations, explanations, popular aspirations, as well as material culture and typical ways of acting, altogether enabling individuals to operate with a semi-stable sense of three crucial givens: nature and the supernatural, community, and individual subjective interiority. The social construction is the repeated, continually re-imitated activities in which people fit into processes of production and consumption, conversations, and crowds.
All institutional systems of reality have been top-down systems, that is, structured into metaphysical stories in which supernatural beings have decisive involvement. Systems of reality typically include a supernatural super-structure in the form of disembodied and immortal spirits, including gods and demons, or eternal metaphysical realms (heaven), invisible transcendent causes, forces, substances, or special arcane states of being. Such systems are always top-down with respect to ordinary individuals because the individual is explained as a product, result, creation, or effect of prior, larger, or higher forces and structures, often some form of omnipotent will. Whenever ideas, forms, laws, classes, or categories are considered to be prior to ordinary individuals, more real or important than individuals, for example, when language is considered as prior to voices, you have a top-down system. That orientation supports a comprehensive top-down conception of value and power, effectively blocking a true self-recognition of spirituality and stifling the autonomy, creativity, and self-possession of all individuals.
There is nothing inherently parasitic, disempowering, or repressive about human interconnectedness or about cultural forms to formalize that interconnectedness. It is our sociability (as otherwise isolated individual intelligences) which inclines us to welcome culture in as tokens of our connectedness to a collective of spiritual beings. However, culture has been made toxic by a particular historical contingency. Ancient herding groups went from preying on migratory grass-eating mammals to preying on “sedentary” grass-eating mammals which happened to be human grain-growing, grain-eating, communities. That process launched the cultural efforts to celebrate and glorify top-down human-on-human parasitism. It is the ultimate origin of capitalism, still in operation. The historically special, and historically traceable, cultural and political force of the human-on-human macro-parasite faction has eluded recognition, for example by deconstructionists, who instead blame oppression on a tragic, unalterable, flaw in humanity. ‘We are all complicit and co-conspirators in our own oppression’ is just the default rhetoric of cultures still emerging (slowly but surely) from Christendom, a repetition of its declaration of original sin, an inherent vice which turns every individual against itself. Deconstructionists got “everything is political” right, but they completely missed the criminality (perpetrators and victims) in the operation of power. Culture, something everyone depends on, under these conditions becomes critically disabling for individuals.
The systems of reality elaborated and declared by cultural institutions such as religions, economic production and exchange systems, and the military wings of sovereignty, are crucial for any individual’s orientation, and as such they top the list among bits of heritage which must be questioned in critical thinking. Anyone is able to re-orient, to engage in a process of self-directed re-orientation by which the official conceptualization of community, subjectivity, and nature (including the spiritual forces of non-earthly intelligences) are replaced with de-cultured conceptualizations recognizing that human life is played out by individuals in the encounter between the givens of nature and the myriad non-actualities of creative subjectivity, in the play of interior non-actualities against the brute actuality of nature.
The Ultimate Reality System Hack
For such a reorientation to be possible, there must be a framework of orientation that is independent of culturally supplied conceptions, and philosophical questioning (the spiritual quest, critique of orientation) brings it to light by exposing certain elemental features of experience. The elements of the philosophical frame of reference are personal embodiment, spirituality, and sociability. Sociability, the gratification each intelligence derives from engagement with others, is really part of spirituality. What enables the ultimate hack of false systems of reality is contemplation of personal embodiment because embodiment imposes needs, costs, and vulnerabilities, as well as powers and abilities, at the level of the individual. In doing that, personal embodiment defines spiritual individuality. Embodiment decrees individuality. De-cultured acquaintance with embodiment and spirituality (and with it sociability), and with the powers and vulnerabilities that come with them, situates a person for creative autonomy and a re-conceived interconnection with others.
Life for the individual person is the engagement of metaphysics with physics. There is nothing metaphysical about the natural world at large, the cosmic terrain. It is just plain old physics. Metaphysics is entirely interior to individuals, to us embodied spiritual beings. Metaphysics is our interiority, our spirituality. Conceptions of metaphysics emerge from thinking about time, and time has almost always been misconstrued in philosophy as a dimension of objects independent of intelligences. (What is to be made of temporal discontinuity: the fact that past and future do not actually exist?) Theories of a hidden mysterious substrate of material objects, such as a single infinite substance (Spinoza) which must remain the same even though objects change constantly into different objects, are an attempt to translate time (intelligence) into an occult structure of objects or substances, a way of dealing with time in terms of a ‘metaphysical’ structure within objects, separate from intelligences. However, time is the interiority of teleology, a metaphysical non-actuality. It is the dimension of individual freedom or spirituality, and can only be comprehended in terms of what is interior to intelligences, the bearings of questions, curiosity, projects, and lessons learned in any human gaze.
Religions also have a metaphysical misconception of the fabric of the cosmos, from an insistence that ethical or moral standards are inherent in it, laws based on divine decree and divine enforcement, a universal mechanism of justice: commands and judgments, record keeping, and an ultimate moral reckoning removed to some indefinite remoteness (for example, the karmic progression of reincarnation, or the final day of judgment, heaven and hell). Although even the religious conception of personal spirituality has to emphasize freedom so that moral acts and enforcement have some foundation in individual responsibility, that conception is dominated by the individual’s subordination to the universal (divine) system of moral reckoning, making the religious conception of spirituality hopelessly political: top-down, punitive, and repressive. The supposed cosmic source of our ethical sense is proposed as the essence of our spirituality, immediately locking us into unalterable subordination. It is a misconception which expresses the political agenda of the power-hoarding human parasite faction, projecting a mythical personification onto cosmic nature. Only embodied spiritual beings, ordinary persons, (not cosmic nature) make ethical judgments, and ethics is, again, entirely interior to individual intelligences. The real basis of morality in spirituality is not an occult connection to a cosmic order of justice but rather an individual power of empathy. Empathy is the moral compass. The lack of empathy is the lack of a moral compass.
Not recognizing the transcendence in personal subjective interiority (living in time) sets us up to accept all kinds of absurd superstitions about various (romantic) hidden entities, powers, or forces which are used as mechanisms of psychological manipulation to legitimate injustices of the status quo. The philosophical insight is that ordinary subjectivity itself is the miracle, and that it can be recognized as such even though it is misrepresented by official culture.
What is called Liberation Theology was inspired by a recognition of the institutionalized exploitation of indigenous people in “Latin” America, (which was a fully intended consequence of modern European imperialism) and it attempts to provide support from New Testament scripture for grass roots activism in aid of social justice. The immediate project was to restructure economic arrangements to accomplish a more equitable distribution of wealth, power, and choice, and with them dignity, and respect. Freedom was conceived as equitable distribution in the nexus of human goods. In that context, the inspiring idea of freedom cannot be realized without large-scale organizational change because it is inseparable from social structures and economic operations.
The point of posting 88, Philosophical Liberation: Sociability, Embodiment, Spirituality (December 15, 2015) is that doing something consequential and decisive, achieving self-possession, does not depend on the overthrow of the economic order or on any other environmental change. Freedom doesn’t need to wait for historical or evolutionary change in economics, biology, or culture. It can be achieved individually at any time, but even though the philosophical reorientation is first, decisive, and indispensable, perhaps it is not the end of liberation. Since sociability is so crucial in our spirituality, a withering away of the human macro-parasite faction and its culture, and of human parasitism in general, would be the practical hope and the expected effect of a broad distribution of philosophical liberation.
Note: For a closer contemplation of embodiment see posting 11, November 10, 2011, Nature: Ground and Sky
Copyright © 2016 Sandy MacDonald.