Tags: spiritual life, thinking, pragmatic metaphysics, social pragmatism, far horizons, individual rights, human dignity
The mental condition of social pragmatism is devotion to personally fitting into the existing economic and social systems you find in the surroundings, choosing among the incentives and rewards to join arrangements that are already “just there”. It is a very concrete and practical focus. However, in the shadows all around such social pragmatism is a certain kind of metaphysics, the Metaphysics of Far Horizons. It is the tendency to scan the farthest horizons of thought for a universal caring with a cosmic plan such that things happen for a reason, including total moral ledger-keeping in preparation for justice in an ultimate reckoning, and the layering of all Being as a great hierarchical stack or food-chain with messages coded in by which the universal caring reveals itself to the most worthy. In the metaphysics of far horizons the universal caring is a supernatural-provider to fear, and yet be grateful to and for. The provider shares the spirituality of caring with human beings but in us the power is flawed, tainted, ineffectual, and so we are low on the food-chain of Being, and, in our awareness of being thus flawed and chained low, we accept being controlled by unremitting moral ledger-keeping for that ultimate day of reckoning.
Part of that package of ideas is a general reverence for, and the presumption of superiority and legitimacy in, high abstractions like sovereignty, tradition, culture, institutions of authority, and civilization, all supposed to be founded on the cosmic plan as recognized by geniuses of the past. However, this metaphysics of the human situation within socially pragmatic ideology is howlingly ill founded, and metaphysics matters. Immersion in a cult of misconceived metaphysics is not a charming, quaint, or harmless tradition or legacy, and our cultural traditions harbour within them denials and oppressions of individual creative power, expressed in a negative attitude about thinking itself. In supporting a presumption of legitimate superiority in sovereignty, tradition, culture, and civilization, and all the lesser authorities licensed by the high ones, the metaphysics of far horizons discourages and limits original thinking in the present and literally issues a license to kill to agents of violent sub-cultures that are very imperfectly understood by the pragmatic public. The expectation and presumption of agency at the level of far horizons specifically denigrates and obscures the spiritual power of personal agency and creativity in everyone, indeed placing it in a blind spot. It is doubtful that there ever was an appropriate appreciation of the individuality of spirituality, one that was institutionalized and supported by a community culture. Humanity is on a spiritual journey to somewhere entirely new, and philosophical thinking is a motor for that journey.
Social pragmatism places emphasis on the concrete and practical, but with a justification like this: since no one knows or can know the truth of metaphysical matters, since there is no way to discover a coherent alternative, the safest and rationally pragmatic thing to do is to accept some version of the traditional metaphysics of far horizons on faith, faith in the long enduring wisdom of tradition and collective genius. However, that claim is profoundly false. You don’t have to take anything on faith, or decode cryptic messages in events, because you can turn your curiosity, your questioning attention, to personally getting from one moment to the next to find the spirituality of your own thinking. Such phenomenological questioning is precisely philosophical. To live a spiritual life is to be aware of the thoroughness of spirituality in the temporal depth from which you perceive and conceive the world, out of which you live, and the embodied self-possession of that personal spirituality. Philosophical thinking is a way of being spiritual and of living a spiritual life without all the bogus metaphysics of far horizons. Transcendence and spirituality do not cease to exist without the far horizons, but they are very different: local, multiple, and horizontal as opposed to hierarchical. Political consequences arise from having negated the presumption of legitimacy in high abstractions like tradition, sovereignty, culture, and civilization.
The spirituality of thinking is not difficult to describe. The portal is time. Past and future simply do not exist in the brute actuality of nature. The only current existence of past and future is as non-actuality, spiritually interior to individual people as a personal force of bearing or directionality. The very concepts of immateriality and transcendence are always some abstraction from the non-actuality of subjective orientation, of a person’s directionality in teleological time, and so essentially an abstraction from the immateriality of time as a subjective construct. Any removal from tangible materiality is some kind of invocation, projection, or allegory of the non-actuality of subjective interiority which is extraordinary in that it evades particularity without ceasing to exist! It exists precisely by remaining always unfinished, indefinite, in self-creative flight.
Consistent with the general tendency to scan far horizons for the cosmic plan, philosophy itself has left the impression of being speculations on some transcendence so remote that its only possible interest could be for mindful inactivity, passive contemplation or meditation, removing the personal bit of supposedly flawed human nature from its participation in the inevitable strife, anxiety, panic, and ephemerality of ordinary life, to rest for a while in ideality, the idea of eternity, and perhaps to ‘elevate’ your bit of human nature in doing so. Platonic and Hegelian metaphysics fit that impression very well, and the question of transcendence is certainly central to philosophizing from a broad historical sweep. The view that philosophy is mindful inactivity goes with a Platonic view of eternal forms, and it made sense in ancient times as a way of achieving a kind of freedom from the lower regions of human nature which were considered to be irredeemably bestial. However, such speculation on the most remote transcendence is a philosophical dead end, a false trail, although the question of transcendence as such is not. In that light, philosophy can be described as arranging acquaintance with transcendence in the most local and immediate personal activity.
Philosophy is not an endless or shapeless journey. The destination is a raw encounter with transcendent spirituality, the personal spirituality of thinking here and now, departing from the distortions of orientation and perception drilled into us in early life, all grounded in the Metaphysics of Far Horizons. The philosophical purpose of thinking, of a critique of orientation within a culturally provided conception of reality, is to experience the personal transcendence of spirituality directly, rather than the more typical academic plodding through intellectual puzzles looking for a theoretical “way forward” within social pragmatism. An academic life is focused on ideality without being a spiritual life because there is no recognition of the transcendent creativity of individual thinking. The purpose of philosophy as a gateway to spirituality is not to relieve the guilty or heal the sick, but to enable everyone to value personal spirituality appropriately, as the whole reality of spirituality, distinct from concepts of remote spirituality typical of cultural communities.
What is a Spiritual Life?
So, this philosophical thinking is off-grid by completely negating the tendency to scan the metaphysical horizon for a cosmic plan. Having made the raw encounter with transcendent spirituality at the most personal and immediate level, with bogus metaphysics all forgotten, including the human flaw and the cosmic chain, the task of thinking changes. You have left behind a world that was fundamentally formed and furnished with (Lego blocks) particular instances of ideal forms, and entered one that is incomplete and still being created at every moment, locally by your creative interventions. Here, time is the incompleteness of the world as well as of embodied intelligences, both being created, or self-creating, at every moment. Such is the setting of a spiritual life. In doing that, you have opened up a space of disjunction, of discordance, between your state of orientation and that of anyone still immersed in the far horizons and concrete grid-ways of economic incentives and rewards. So, one immediate project becomes to devise communications to clarify that disjunction and enable a broader sharing of the new orientation. A great deal of philosophical writing falls into that category, which accounts for some of the frequent difficulties of making sense of it. Language is a public transit system. The orientation of spirituality goes far beyond language, as geography goes beyond the streetcar tracks. You are now beyond the tracks and so in a position to help construct a public portal from there to here. Reading and interpreting the archive of recognized philosophical writing is one way to approach that project.
Withdrawing from the conceptual system of social pragmatism includes negating the tags of individual identity derived from ambient culture. When you strip away from all personal definition everything except bedrock creative spirituality (and you can), you escape the prejudicial tags used within cultures to mark out the pageantry of superiority and inferiority, tags such as race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, abled-ness, body-shape, size, strength, wealth, extroversion, and so on. Those tags are cultivated specifically to obstruct universal empathy derived from recognition of profound spiritual equality. This is another iteration of the Enlightenment assertion of universal human dignity at the level of the individual, sometimes expressed formally as individual rights.
Copyright © 2016 Sandy MacDonald.