Pleasure and Preservation – the need for an Aesthetics of Humanity

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Pleasure gives us a purposiveness to preserve that which we like.

This idea is Kantian[1]. In linking pleasure with preservation, it also ties it to the will for permanence and removes it from pleasure as a hedonistic love of the ephemeral.

In this way, we find that there are two kinds of pleasure: the superficial (ephemeral) one and the deeper one that is tied up with this will for permanence.

Kant was investigating aesthetics when he brought this up, and in fact it is this double pronged idea of pleasure which explains the need for aesthetics as a need for understanding the pleasure that things can give us in order to understand the need to preserve them.

It there is a necessary purposiveness in preserving humanity, then perhaps this can be inculcated via the development of an aesthetics of humanity, a way of looking at ourselves that will foster the deeper pleasure instincts of the will for permanence.

By dwelling on the beauty that is humanity we encourage ourselves to strengthen the human and mould ourselves into good human-beings: a concept which can only be properly understood once we have learned to see the beautiful within what humanity is.

An aesthetics of the human would need to be disinterested in anything other than the authentically human. Any study of this aesthetic would therefore have to distance itself from the ugly humanity that we are, in order to find the beautiful humanity that we should be.

This concept should not be seen as Idealist, but rather as a kind of positivistic deconstructionism. The only way to know what we should be as authentic human beings, is to dismantle the errors that have shaped us into the monstrous form that humanity is today. Only by unveiling the ugliness of what we are now, can we see the beauty of what we should have become (and can become in the future). This unveiling demands a dismantling of all interests that divide humanity: all nationalisms; racial or religious divisions; as well as all economic interests and ideologies of class.

An aesthetics of humanity might not only be a way to ensure the permanence of the human race, it could also create an authentic design and composition for humanity or for human progress.

Technology, seen from the perspective of the aesthetics of humanity, is either an ornamentation that takes away from the genuine beauty of humanity, or it is an extension of the beautiful picture itself.

Objective purposiveness is either external, i.e. the utility; or internal, i.e. the perfection of the object,”[2] said Kant. But our line of thinking sees perfection coming through utility. Once we understand the utility of humanity in the cosmos, then we can begin to conceive where the road to perfection starts.

[1] See Immanuel Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, Oxford Classics, OUP, p. 51

[2] Ibid, p.57

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What we Forget

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Every living creature, and, of course, every human being, has a spiritual tie to nature. It is the cosmos that has created us, moulding us out of itself, and pre-programming us through our DNA to eventually return to it when our physical life deteriorates or is broken and dies.

All spiritual linkage, therefore, should be not with the land or with the country, or with the people who speak our language, but with the Universe.

From this stand-point, human culture has been a steady process of psychologically dis-possessing us from our authentic home, which is the entire Universe. This dis-possession begins with our parents and the immediate family that take possession of us immediately. An initial dis-possession that spreads itself out into the extended family, then our friends and neighbours, and little by little all this dis-possession through kinship dissolves into the great dis-possession by the cultural environment of the state.

Purpose

Purpose

Kant divided his critique of judgement between the aesthetic and the teleological powers of judgement. For Kant, the aesthetic side of judgement is that which judges formal purposiveness through the feelings of pleasure and displeasure: this is a subjective judgement. The teleological side, on the other hand, judges the real, objective purposiveness of nature by using understanding and reason[1]: teleological judgement is objective.

Our nihilistic, capitalist system has done away with the teleological side of judgement as its forward-moving impulse clashes with capitalism’s need for the cyclic. The system is therefore imbalanced, in favour of the feelings of pleasure (predominantly) and the need for displeasure in order to fuel the highs through their contrast with the lows.

This abandonment of the teleological has been our greatest mistake. By ignoring the teleological and, as such, the objective powers of judgement, we have pushed ourselves ever deeper into an apocalyptic scenario. By ridding nature of its purposiveness, we give ourselves free-rein to exploit it to the end, extracting the last drop of sense from the biosphere until there is nothing left to sustain us or any other life here on Earth.

Nature’s purpose has to become an object of concern again if we are to get ourselves back on the forward moving track, which has to be a partnership between us and the world. And, as in any partnership, the alliance must be based on understanding, which is precisely what the teleological judgement aims for: an understanding of the purpose of the Universe, beginning with an affirmation that such a purpose must exist.

[1] Immanuel Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, Oxford World Classics, OUP, p.28

The Purposiveness of the Subjective

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Through the creation of sapiens life-forms, the Universe adopts a new external reality for itself, in which it becomes subjected to the subjective perception of individual consciousnesses. And these consciousnesses are themselves struggling to channel their own subjectivity in the most objectively meaningful form possible. Thus, in the external dimension of sapiens cognition, the Universe is basically an aesthetic phenomenon.

Our minds are the external dimensions of the Universe.

Each mind is a universe in itself.

Minds are layered. Language and memory, as well as imagination and feelings, seep into the mindscapes provided by perception. The mind needs the Universe not just to create it, but to inspire it and give its cognition something to think about or, in other words, to give fuel (and meaning) to its power and potential. Likewise, the Universe needs the mind to discover it and give it the Being, which comes through being known, and the subsequent meaningfulness that comes from the relationship between the subject and the object of that Being.

Once the meaningfulness of this interchange is unveiled, the result is pleasurable and liberating. Meaning is a tool for freedom. The sapiens entity finds its freedom in the universe itself has created, which is a subjective one, discovered through its own consciousness and which is its own subjective reflection of the Universe as a whole. Our universes are their own subjective cosmos in the vast space of multiverses created by the accumulation of all sapiens consciousnesses.

But this liberation is only felt when the sapiens is able to understand the meaning inherent in its own experience. It is not the thinking itself, but the meaning inherent in the thinking that is liberating.

Toward a Philosophy of Progress

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Kant divided concepts into those of nature and those of freedom[1], and now let’s introduce a third concept, lying between these two, which is that of nature which has been transformed by freedom.

With the establishment of this third category we can also now envisage a new philosophy between the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of morals that would be a philosophy of progress: which is concerned with what we can achieve through the alteration of nature and which would have an ultimate of creating eternity – because eternity has to be the ultimate aim of all progress.

This philosophy of progress has both technically-practical and morally-practical principles, geared towards that which is not yet practical but which should be, and hence, which should be the aim of freedom.

The existence of progress means that the practical itself is constantly evolving with the development of the technically possible. Or, in other words, the theoretical of today creates the practicalities of tomorrow’s freedom.

 

THE IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBILITY OF THE IMPOSSIBLE

The philosophy of progress takes, as its first assumption, that anything is possible and that the impossible is a temporary illusion: things are impossible only until we discover how they can be made possible.

Impossibility only exists while a) we are incapable of developing our technological skills enough to be able to render things we desire to be possible; or that b) we lack the desire to render certain things possible. This lack of desire can come about because of b.1) the condition in which the imagined possibility is morally undesirable (e.g.: the creation of a hard-core artificial-intelligence, by which we mean a super-fast, self-conscious computer that would have access to unlimited information instantaneously and the power to control all that information at its own will, should be considered impossible, not because we could never create it, but because it would very easily and likely destroy us if it ever were to be created. Moral undesirability, therefore, renders the theoretically possible a practical impossibility).

[1] Immanuel Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, Oxford World Classics, OUP, p. 7

THE EXISTENTIAL NEED FOR NEW KINDS OF CRITICS

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How is an objective judgement of something so personal as art possible? Or, in other words, how is aesthetics possible? Or perhaps the question is irrelevant, for even if a truly objective judgement is impossible, the critic must try and make one. If not, without criticism what would art achieve? How would the artist know how to proceed in a critical vacuum?

Once again we find that something we take for granted rests on a very shaky paradox: criticism is impossible but we need it. In a sense, the whole basis of art is absurd and unsustainable, and yet we need it. In fact, we could not really conceive of being human without it.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that we, or our artists, ignore the absurdity and the paradox and just get on with the job, and the critics keep on with theirs. Surprisingly, yes, until we start to consider that all activity in the whole of society and civilisation is based on this same paradox: How can any individual make an objective judgement of any human activity at all?

Of course, to most people the surprising thing would be that we are even trying to formulate such questions. Another paradox is that absurdity is so ingrained in our lives that we take it completely for granted and it doesn’t surprise us at all. We can’t even see the pointless nature of our lives. As Camus said, we are a kind of Sisyphus, condemned to push a huge rock up a hill, but a happy Sisyphus, unaware of the real absurdity of our condition. We just get on with the job; revealing or talking about the non-purposefulness of our lives does little to help. Or not at least until we realise that we can change things and that the most absurd thing about the absurdity is its repetitiveness which is completely unnecessary.

With an absurdity we have three choices: believe in it; not believe in it; or, ignore its existence and believe in something else. The fact that the objective system is impossible as a pure objective truth means that there are as many other impossible objective systems as we can subjectively imagine. The system as it is now, has most of us picking grass in a huge green lawn. This is not the best of all possible systems and neither is it the least worst, it is just one possibility that maintains itself purely and simply because it is geared toward convincing us that it is the only feasible possibility.

To find another possibility we need good new critics. Ones who are capable of inventing a purposeful aesthetic for the rest of us to follow. The grass on the lawn we are picking has already created too many bare and ugly patches of desolate, impotent land. A better system would be one that plants and grows much and picks little. In order to enjoy existence, we have to let it be.   

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WHY DO WE FEAR INTELLIGENCE?

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The only finite being that could be an absolute end of creation is the human being, considered not merely as a link in the chain of natural causality but as a moral being capable of grasping itself as such. This is Kant’s moral theology …”[1]

As an absolute end to creation, humanity also becomes a purpose of creation. Do we have a more inspiring idea pointing to the importance and meaningfulness of our existence in the Universe? An existence which is not only an evolutionary aim of nature, our perceptive and cognitive faculties are appropriate or conformable to nature, and are purposive for it. By investigating the nature of the Universe, we allow the Universe to know itself through us, and that self-knowledge enriches the Universe with meaning. This train of thought leads to the anthropocentric idea that our cognitive faculties have been deliberately fashioned by nature in order to allow the deepest reaches of the inanimate cosmos be made meaningful through a process of being known and appreciated.

According to Kant, being human had to be defined through the three faculties of the mind: the faculties of cognition; feeling; and desire. We are rational, but sensitive and easily driven (as well as mislead) by desire. Likewise, we are condemned to exist in a reality of paradoxes: once we start thinking deeply, we discover there is an abyss of scepticism before us which can pull reality itself into question – How can we be certain that what we perceive is truly real?

As Socrates said: the more we know, the more we know that we nothing at all. Thinking is dangerous: it can be tormenting; can provoke madness. So, is it so hard to understand why so many people choose not to bother? For the majority of human beings, the most human faculty of all, our cognition, is the least interesting one, and it is repressed by the most vital faculties of feelings and desires. Thus, we have the intellectual: which becomes an aberration or freak of society – or what is popularly ridiculed by being labelled a nerd.

Western society is certainly one driven foremost by desire, with a strong sympathy for feelings and little time at all for the cognitive faculties. Sometimes it seems as if the cognitive just gets in the way of the fun: it is a party-pooper. Nevertheless, every time we deny the cognitive faculty, we are really denying our most human quality – certainly our most Sapiens’ quality.

This latter idea, however, has been both reinforced and contradicted whenever our own capitalist society has envisaged us meeting other, more advanced species of extra-terrestrial visitors. Our imaginings of the more advanced races of interstellar travellers visiting the Earth, are almost always endowed with an over-abundance of cognitive abilities and a sharp lack of feelings and desires. The alien visitors are intrigued and seduced by our human propensity for the sensibilities they lack. At the same time, in the same sci-fi scenarios, we humans are portrayed as being proud of our anti-intellectual, wilful and sentimental souls.

In the sci-fi vision of us versus them, the anti-intellectual is warm-hearted and good whilst the rational beings are cold and bad. Of course, much of this material was fabricated in the Cold War and is a capitalist fantasy of the desire-driven subjects belonging to the liberal economy cultures triumphing over the cold-hearted, emotionless intellectual beings created by communism. But nevertheless, this tradition has transcended the fall of communism. For Hollywood, an alien invasion is still a possibility, and if we were conquered by creatures from another galaxy, they would have to be cold, calculating monsters of pure cognition. How would they have been able to develop a technology complex enough to have transported them across the Universe if they weren’t?

But, why are we so scared of aliens? Why are we so frightened of intelligence and deep thinking? Shouldn’t it be something to aim toward rather than tremble with fear at? And, why in the first place does intelligence seem so alien to us? Why can’t we associate ourselves with it; sympathise and empathise with other Sapiens?

Of course, Kant pointed out that cognitive judgements have a sensuous dimension and sympathy and empathy have to play an active role in any decisions made that affect others. To not allow sympathy or empathy to sway our judgements would turn us into a psychopath for a simple definition of the psychopath is one feels no empathy.

But the psychopath, who is highly intelligent, is not reason enough to disdain intelligence: it is rather an example of an unbalanced human personality. Yes, the result of too much thinking without enough empathy and feelings creates serial killers and other monsters, but that does not mean that intelligence is bad for us.

Is the cold-blooded sadist and killer reason enough for us to fear intelligence? Do we hold an assumption that an over-developed cognitive mind would dominate and deaden feelings and desires, turning the anal-retentive genius into a psychopathic demon? Yes, some brilliant minds are anti-social, but so are many non-brilliant minds. An excess of rational thinking can turn us into a Raskolnikov or an Einstein, and a lack of it can fabricate a Rocky or a Donald Trump.

We must remember that to be human, according to Kant, we need the three faculties (the cognitive, as well as our feelings and desires) to be harmoniously balanced. But if we are to develop our humanity and ensure human-progress, we have to develop the intellectual side along with our feelings of empathy. Empathy is important because it combats the psychopathic tendencies and therefore liberates the intellect because it keeps it rooted within humanity as a whole. Lack of empathy leads to megalomania and a lack of humanity. Without empathy humans cannot be the moral beings meaningfully linked to the cosmos which allows us to fulfil our role at the end of the great process of creation. But neither can we achieve that purposive role without a highly developed intelligence either.

It seems more coherent to us to imagine alien visitors not only with mega-intellects but also with a highly developed sense of empathy. And empathy and intelligence are what we on Earth are lacking if humanity is ever going to progress in an authentic way; more empathy and more intelligence is what we need if humanity is ever going to fulfil the enormous ends that it is supposed to achieve.

[1] Nicholas Walker from his Introduction to Immanuel Kant’s CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, Oxford World Classics, OUP, p. xix

Progress, Technology and Human Purposiveness

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The measure of human progress cannot be a mere technological one. Technology has become an end rather than a means to an end because we have lost sight of what authentic human-ends could be.

The classic rubric of the true, the good, and the beautiful, which are basically aesthetic objects when drawn together, would also be truly transforming ones if they were understood as pathways to human fulfilment.

This may sound odd, or absurdly romantic, but if we consider our current motor for fulfilment which is money and examine how technology has become an instrument for manufacturing profits, then we can see how progress becomes swamped in a circular movement that is totally absorbed by the singular notion of making money. The result is that, without an end-notion or a teleological principle, authentic progress towards fulfilment cannot progress at all. Something is needed to pull the activity forward and out of the nihilistic circle of money-making and money-spending in order for any human realisation to be found.

We believe, and have tried to show in many of these writings, that the principle motivating force for pulling us out of the circle has to be necessity. Only after necessity has been embraced will the great aesthetic ideas be feasible as purposeful motors for humanity as well. Only through authentic human-necessity will the seemingly non-utilitarian notions of aesthetics become powerful life-affirming elements capable of drawing forth the true Sapiens potential of humanity as a vital element in the vast idea of the Universe itself.

Our relation to the Universe is an aesthetical one, but so is our relationship with the world we live in and our very survival in this world will depend on how quickly we can make the leap forward from the economic animal of the money-system to the aesthetic being of authentic human-fulfilment.

Human purpose cannot be disassociated from the Universe which we depend on for our existence, without being fatally short-sighted. Through association with the cosmos, the ends of physics have to also be metaphysical or transcendental ones – knowledge is an unending voyage unto truth; purposeful actions are movements toward good; and all creative acts are born out of the passionate struggle unto beauty.

Once these concepts are allowed, through necessity, to become motors for our life-affirming instincts, authentic purposefulness can begin to become manifest.

Power and Life

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If any human-progress[1] has been made along the unwinding of the largely anti-human historical process, it can be found in Power’s[2] fascination with Life.

This is essentially a capitalist fascination and has resulted in life-preserving structures in civilisation like welfare and health services. But Power’s seemingly democratic interest in Life came at a price, for the mastery of Life also gives the Master the right to demand sacrifices. Capitalism’s interest in Life is generated by its need to maintain a demographic abundance to serve in its work-force. By making Life a priority, capitalism binds Life to its own economic model. Power ensures Life, but only as long as that Life is entwined within its own system. Not only does the service of Life that Power provides ensure survival, it also obliges Life to serve the Master and even die for the System in its wars: patria potestas. Power preserves you and guarantees your safety, but it may also demand the ultimate sacrifice from you if the need should arise.

By looking after the needs of Life, Power has been able to ensure that societies remain democratically docile and this has allowed democracy itself to run its course without threatening Power in any way. Nevertheless, it has also allowed for the potential of real human-progress by promoting Life as a value in itself.

The next great leap in human-progress can only come through a great Life-affirmation, that will, in itself, break the bonds binding Life to Power and to Wealth, in order for Life itself to become the driving motivator for humanity. Life is not Will to Power, Life is the very alternative to Power.

According to Foucault, the modernisation of our Western Society came through a transition in Power’s fascination with Life from life-as-blood to life-as-sex.[3]

A positive future transition would evolve in a way that moves away from life-as-sex into life-as-necessity.

If Power were to make this transition itself, then it could also save itself, but it seems easier to imagine Power being democratically replaced by Life than for it ever to be seduced by Necessity.

[1] by ‘human-progress’ we mean progress that is made for the benefit of humanity as a whole

[2] We give Power and Life capital letters to distinguish them from the common definition of those terms: by Power with a capital P we are talking about power as an invisible, but active and ubiquitous force which is firmly tied to the power wielded by all wealth and the organisational structure of the capitalist economy; Life with a capital L differs from the common definition by representing the idea of human life within the framework of the economic system driven by Power.

[3] See Foucault, HISTORY OF SEXUALITY, Vol. I, p.148.

Sin & Sexuality, Foucault & Plato’s Noble Lie

 

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Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump, Brexit or climate-change denial … we live in a world riddled by liars and lies. Given this global scenario it seems that Plato’s Noble Lie[1] is a crucial element in explaining our civilisation, which is really nothing more than a system upheld and maintained by lies.

Significant it certainly is that the Republic was written as an alternative to ‘democracy’, and the only way Plato could see of convincing the people that an elitist Republic could be better for them than a democracy would be by lying to them. Reality, Plato says, is whatever we believe it to be, or, what we make people believe it to be. Thus, the greatest success of contemporary civilisation has been its ability to fashion an absolutist power regime around the idea of democracy.

Foucault, in his History of Sexuality, showed how the absolutist gets right into the most intimate regions of our lives by inventing the lie of sin: a lie that directly targets our sexuality and invites power to make the fantasy of sin materialise in the form of the law.

“… the point to consider is not the level of indulgence or the quantity of repression but the form of power that was exercised. When this whole thicket of disparate sexualities was labelled … was the object to exclude them from reality?”

(Foucault, HISTORY OF SEXUALITY, Vol. I, p. 41)

When describing the ‘campaign’ against the ‘epidemic of children’s onanism’, Foucault says: “what this actually entailed, throughout the whole secular campaign that mobilised the adult world around the sex of children, was using these tenuous pleasures as a prop, constituting them as secrets (that is forcing them into hiding so as to make possible their discovery), tracing them back to their source, tracking them from their origins to their effects, searching out everything that might cause them or simply enable them to exist …” (Ibid, p. 42)

What we see in this and the rest of Foucault’s description of the oppression of masturbation is a representation of the way all power uses guilt, creating lies to assert itself.

First, create a false premise: yes, it can be as absurd as ‘masturbation is a mortal sin that the society needs to protect its innocents from’. Of course, the subject of the lie needs to be something that everyone does but that is not a general topic of conversation. Once the false premise is created, as Power knows that everyone is guilty of it, then it is a handy tool to have in order to get rid of opponents whenever necessary. The best sins to create are the ones that make us all sinners and breakers of the law and so, if you step on my toes, says Power, I will find your sins, bring them to the fore and crucify you for them.

The #METOO movement is noteworthy in this respect: women, who suffer terribly from power’s manipulation of them through the lie of sin embedded in their sexuality, have now taken the bull by the horns, so to speak and thrown the same stigma of sexual sin back in the face of Power.

What this has achieved more than anything else, is a discovery of the inherent weakness in the weapon of the Noble Lie. Like the Boy who Cried Wolf, lying stands on sandy soil, and a castle built on such foundations can easily come crashing down.

[1] If you don’t know what Plato’s Noble Lie is, here’s a link to the Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_lie