Augustine, dystopia, Fichte, Freud, hive mind, Hobbes, ideas, Leibniz, modern idealism, nature, Plato, Sartre, social contract, social control
Fragment 159, word count: 1,010.
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” (Karl Marx)
What makes a dystopia is a cultural regime, structured as a human hive-mind, which fails to recognize the creative transcendence of individual ideality. It is hive-minds that make war. A crucial feature of dystopia is that it hides and denies that it is dystopia. It campaigns, mainly successfully, to have everyone accept that, although imperfect and beset with intractable problems, it is the best of all possible worlds. Every personality is strongly influenced by social controls, the ambient society as authority, from a very early age. That makes dystopia a problem of perception, knowledge, and reality: a philosophical problem. Philosophy has a history of seeking to understand how collective illusions and delusions can separate ordinary consciousness from knowledge of the elemental structure of reality. Dystopia conceals itself with just such illusions, making it the philosophical problem.
Institutions of military-backed states survive by keeping as many as possible dependent, and the crucial dimension of hive-mind dependence is (drumroll) metaphysics. For example, if you accept anything like the Freudian conception of human nature then you loath and fear your own individuality and feel allegiance to externally imposed authority symbols against yourself, siding with the normalized practices of ambient society no matter how bizarre. There is a strong tendency to normalize whatever bizarre power inequalities happen to exist. Although Freud presented his work as scientific, the overall model of personality he offered followed a pre-existing and pre-scientific set of speculations and superstitions with contributions from Plato, Augustine, and Hobbes. The Freudian model of human nature places inherent personality (id: biologically generated drives with a tinge of the demonic) in urgent need of social control by an internalization of authority symbols (superego); recall philosopher kings, divinely established religious authority, and a social contract for absolute sovereignty. That conception of human nature is a longstanding piece of metaphysics which misidentifies what is fundamental to humanity or personality by conceiving it as something of nature: a determinate set of attributes, fixed, unalterable, and universal. That bit of metaphysics, a conception of individual personality as a bit of nature tilting demonic, serves to legitimize patriarchal power and control. Freud’s model dovetails with social contract theory, upholding the ancient and traditional view that human beings can’t thrive without strict social control. What’s wrong with that is that personality is not a thing of nature, but, as existence without essence (thank you Sartre) transcends nature.
Instead of defining metaphysics as commentary on ‘being’ (strictly impossible to define *) it is more effectively understood as commentary on the occurrence of ideas, of ideality. Being is defined as universal and eternal, which, by fiat, makes ideas as ordinarily experienced inadmissible. Ideality doesn’t have being. The fact that you are conscious as you read this is proof in a general way of the truth of idealism, the most obvious thing there could be. Consciousness is ideas. The only reality we can possibly experience is completely structured as and by ideas constituting the interiority of personal experience (thank you Fichte and Leibniz). Nature is adequately comprehended by physics, since there is no intrinsic drama to brute actuality, no structure of what matters to make sense of or explain. Ideality is the only home of drama, of things that matter, of purposes and reasons. Neither physics nor biology is helpful in understanding ideality. The question of human nature brings us into metaphysics immediately because any individual person exists as ideality, and ideality is necessarily the stuff of metaphysics. In the modern idealism worked out in the wake of the Protestant Reformation it is recognized that ideality is always personality, all forms of ideality occur together in clusters that have the dramatic structure of a living personal “I”, subject of a personal drama which is an individual’s embodied life in the world. The existence of ideas is the existence of thinkers. This idealism retains a sense of the transcendent creative freedom of ideality (personality transcends nature) but relocates it from a patriarchal Christian deity to ordinary individual human personalities. The supra-actual creative power (again transcendence) is removed from Platonic heaven or gods and demons to ordinary personalities. After all, how things matter in the world does not depend on ideas in the mind of some deity nor in a Platonic heaven where ideas are master molds for material beings. It depends only and entirely on the occurrence of ideas in the living of individually embodied persons. We know ideas from personal caring and our engagement with others who express caring. Living personality is known by a creatively expressive voice and purposive activity. Personalities produce coherent utterances and acts which express ideation: caring, sensitivity, knowledge, and the preconception of intentions, the drama of inventing, moment by moment, a particular life in the world. Ideas are openings of newness, created outside actuality, interventions of an instance of supra-actuality, non-being, which is a living consciousness. Ideality is willful becoming by always questioning, learning, and creating, the exact opposite of being. Individuals cannot claim to be creative masters of nature, but each person creates a time-system (a life) of possibilities and probabilities in a universe of interiority, a personal orientation within non-actuality, which is then actually imposed on brute nature with variable success, and shared by building interconnections with other ordinary persons.
Dystopia hides behind false conceptions of fundamental reality, distorting every individual’s self-conception so the old systems of top-down human-on-human macro-parasitism can be maintained and wars can be fought. Every individual is still a fountain of original re-conceptions of a future, of self-creation, with an inherent capacity to be free of hive-mind influences, starting with hive-mind patriarchal metaphysics. That is a bit of cultural conditioning that can be controlled at the level of every individual. Any aspiration for cultural, social, and political change must be founded on an appreciation of creativity, recognition that reality is mutable because ideas make up so much of the structure of reality. To change the world, it is first necessary to go beyond the colonization of patriarchal metaphysics.
- Medieval Philosophy, Volume 4 of: A History of Philosophy Without any Gaps, written by Peter Adamson, published by Oxford University Press (2019), ISBN 978-0-19-884240-8. (Chapter 25: It’s All Good – The Transcendentals, especially pp.179-80.)
Doubting dystopia? Think about these articles in other publications.
Fragment 106, May 10, 2017, Social Contract as Hive Mind (1) (word count: 520)
Fragment 158, January 9, 2020, The Arc of the Monad (word count: 803)
Copyright © 2020 Sandy MacDonald.