existentialism, freedom, Kierkegaard, reorientation, Sartre, spirituality, subjectivity, The Matrix, time, transcendence
tags: subjectivity, transcendence, spirituality, existentialism, Kierkegaard, Sartre, The Matrix, reorientation, freedom, time
What is often too close and pervasive to even notice is not so much “the matrix”* which controls us, but instead the exact opposite of the matrix idea, namely our own transcendent spirituality. That is to say, it is our inherent personal freedom and power we fail to recognize instead of the subtle prison of cultural influences. Ultimately, the cultural matrix only works as a confinement by keeping us distracted from the transcendence that is personal spirituality. Reorienting to a grounding in that transcendence is the only reliable way to render “the matrix” ineffective. So, fringe philosophy is the revolution.
Without a personally lived grounding in transcendence we inhabit a restricted, hard-surfaced, and (except for the conversation with children) disenchanted world of rigid social norms and forms in which we raise our hungry beaks like baby birds to be given regurgitated material (or worse) to consume from masters and authorities. Rigid institutions recruit, groom, and present those authorities who always act in the interests of a faction projecting a culture inherited from title bearing crime families of medieval Europe, in control of great wealth, and using their dominant position for nothing better than to protect their macro-parasitic advantages. Scientific nearly-nihilism is so widely embraced that we live with either a secular dissociation from all transcendence, a dissociation we praise as realism, normally combined with a perfunctory glorification of art and architecture as the expression of some profound life-mystery of which we cannot speak directly; or we participate in pageants of obedient celebration of fantastic antique gods and demons and call those things transcendent, crediting them with founding and sustaining our institutions. It is often claimed that it was better in antiquity, when the fear of gods and demons was shared more completely and fervently, and when such fantasies enchanted everyone’s existence and their whole world, but it was not better in the past. Even then, there were brutal masters enforcing social categories, fresher and more personal fear of masters, and, oh yes, it was enchantment with a completely bogus transcendence.
That our own transcendent spirituality is difficult to recognize as such is the central point of Kierkegaard’s idea of “existence” as the peculiar inside-out way of being of subjective entities such as ourselves, entities of spirituality or intelligence. Kierkegaard’s conception of ‘existence” was a conceptual breakthrough for the philosophy of freedom without which the whole of phenomenology and existentialism would have been impossible. The description of subjectivity as “being-in-the-world” is one way of expressing the observation that the being of intelligences is inside-out. On that view, what is exceptional about us as beings is not merely our being sensitive and responsive to surroundings, but that we are aware of only what is not-ourselves. We are exquisitely sensitive to objects outside and surrounding us, but weirdly insensitive to personal self-nature because we have no definite self-nature. There is nothing to our interior except the freedom (and limited power) to create some outward expression, mark, or declaration of our being present among the other things. In that condition, intelligence is entirely and categorically outward-looking, existing without an essence (apologies to Sartre), and as such burdened with inescapable freedom in the form of the opportunity to create from scratch some placeholder for a personal essence, to construct and project an external mask or icon to represent an interior character which always eludes identification (and so remains free in a particular way).
Embodied Spirituality as a Grounding in Transcendence
Existentialism rests on the claim that there is nothing identifiable as a subjective interior, resulting in inescapable anguish at total uncertainty about personal identity and a sense of the absurdity of that existence. However, the freedom that is spirituality is not a formless nothing after all. It has a particular form: time as open futurity constructed of non-actual and increasingly remote possibilities and probabilities. Teleological time is the form of spirituality’s freedom, and so the form of transcendence. The existentialist interpretation of spiritual existence is properly individualistic and pluralistic, but fails to recognize Descartes’ discovery that questioning itself is a profound marker of spiritual existence, even though it is not a phenomenon. Asserting the nothingness of the interiority of intelligence completely misses the ever-present (and identifiable) rich personal orientation in a time-structure of non-actuality. A very elaborated directionality or orientation is certainly “in here”, along with (even in existentialism) the anxiety around consciousness of uncertainty, and a force of questioning and creativity. That’s quite a bit of existential interiority.
What follows from a person’s grounding in the transcendence of spiritual self-recognition is a profound re-orientation. This transcendence is not a message from anything or about anything, and yet it accomplishes a reorientation to a world which is unfinished, indefinite, always in process of being created by individuals in spiritual flight. Instead of living in a world of hard surfaces and definable appearances, we live in a world of possibilities. Nothing is in a final state or condition, and the fountains of creation are the many ordinary individual people. The world is constantly pushed off its line-of-fall by the original acts of individual people. Everything can be re-conceptualized, re-oriented, reconsidered. Social forms and categories do not have to be the way they are. Institutions are mutable, having been constructed by ordinary minds confronting specific situations from specific perspectives. Every individual has access to spiritual self-possession, and neither institutions nor individuals can own anyone. Nobody is (or could be) competent or qualified to exercise the institutionalized ownership inherent in sovereignty. The effect of all this could be described as de-cult-ing, something like what used to be called deprogramming. An important part is recognizing other people as autonomous and equivalent embodied spiritualities, each a creative fountain of original futurity instead of a consuming hollow of hungers. Nihilism is everything being already finished, leaving only endless consuming in the doomed attempt to fill the interior emptiness, but the world has to be created now by every person.
* The Matrix, movie released in 1999, written and directed by The Wachowski Brothers, starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, and Joe Pantoliano; produced by Joel Silver, Village Roadshow Pictures (and others), distributed by Warner Bros.. In this iconic movie, “the matrix” is a virtual construct of human experience created by a super-system of artificial intelligence devoted to solving the problems of humans by controlling everything about their experience of life, actually injecting a real time life experience for each person through a cable plugged into the brain stem. It is a metaphor for the control of masses of human beings by strategically crafted messages from an unidentified institutional entity.
At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, written by Sarah Bakewell, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada (2016), ISBN 978-0-345-81095-3.
This is an up-to-date and absorbing introduction to the ideas and historical milieu of existentialism and phenomenology.
Copyright © 2016 Sandy MacDonald.