About pauladkin

Paul Adkin is a writer, theatre director, actor and educator. He runs the ÑU theater companies in Madrid, Spain. Ñu Teatro www.nuteatro.com and Ñu Accents www.nuaccents.es . He is the author of plays, novels,short stories and philosophical texts. His novels "Purgatory", "Art Wars" and "When Sirens Call" can be found at any of the Amazon online stores.

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

5 WAYS TO CHANGE THE WORLD …

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Surely, we all want a better world, and that better world is possible if we …

1) Believe that a perfect world (Utopia) is attainable, and that, subsequently, the eradication of wars, poverty, disease, crime and social injustices is possible. Believe that we can create better living standards in clean environments and that work will be a labour of love for all.

2) Understand that this Utopia can only be possible if it is constructed for the enjoyment of all of humanity, and that nation-state borders are an impediment to the construction of this better world. A constitution already exists for humanity, it’s called the International Bill of Human Rights Insist that this universal constitution be taken seriously. 

3) Understand that the alternative to Utopia is Dystopia and that this Dystopia is the current direction we are headed. In Dystopia, wars are a constant reality; poverty is rife, as is disease; criminal organisations control and govern us; the environment is dirty and noxious; and labour is an alienating reality for the worker and a daily purgatory. Understand that the creation of Dystopia has to be resisted at all costs.

4) Understand that technology is the main tool that will make the utopia or the Dystopia a reality. Understand that our creation and use of technologies must therefore be bravely orientated towards Utopian purposes.

5) Understand how our current system, which is geared towards acquisitions and the protection of acquisitions, is prejudicial for Utopia and a motivator of Dystopian scenarios. Understand that this system needs to be dismantled in order for the possibility of Utopia to bloom.  Help provoke this dismantling of the system by believing in (1).

WE AND THE WORLD: PARTNERSHIP VS DOMINANCE

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Human societies have always (or for the last 8 millennia at least) been subject to the perspective of Wealth and the power that Wealth wields. In terms of our relationship with the natural world, this has been a perspective that has always asserted that we must either control the natural or it will control us. In its essence this perspective is erroneous because it competes with the world and fails to acknowledge the self-regulatory nature of the ecosystem. It does not see that too much meddling will cause nature’s self-regulation to collapse. Instead of our arrogant manipulation of natural resources for the purposes of wealth, we need to acknowledge our dependence on the world and its self-regulating biosystem for our survival. Because of this, a belief in the continuous remoulding of nature to suit the needs of Wealth (i.e. by continual exploitation of its resources) is fatally dangerous. This needs to be replaced by a vision not of dominance for profit, but of partnership.

Once this idea of the great partnership between humanity and our world is embraced, power itself will be pushed into a diluting space. Questions like real democracy or egalitarianism, and problems like famine, organised crime, corruption and health are all determined by our erroneously competitive relationship with the world.

Dominance and competitiveness with the world is a mistake that is incorrectly linked to the idea of freedom. However, the truth is quite the contrary: Wealth creates responsibilities and duties that inhibit personal freedom. With Wealth’s power also comes the fear of losing that power, and the need to maintain control that also inhibits freedom, even for the one in charge. Ask anyone who wields it: power is often, if not always, a burden.

Freedom cannot be found in dominance or slavery, but in partnership. Of course partnerships also bring their own responsibilities with them and it requires hard and concentrated work to keep all the partners happy – but the liberating power of partnership is that neither side of the deal is being robbed of their freedom.

A NOTE ON “LACK”

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Nothing changes until it can change. No changes happen, and no new things are created, until there is the technology and the know-how that can bring those changes about.

All lack can be abolished through knowledge and the application of technology, once that technology exists, to the abolition of lack. If the technology is lacking, know-how is needed to create it, and more know-how is needed to apply the technology to that other thing that is lacking.

But, what is lack?

Lack may be felt, or it may be imagined. It is in the realm of imagined lack that creativity becomes the protagonist. Lack can also be universal or local or individual. An egalitarian economy has to be based on a science of lack, which in turn, needs to be rooted in necessity. The social-utopian slogan “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” is, fundamentally, a question of lack.

Productivity and War

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Should we be more, or less productive? The laws of the global market insist on the former: excess is a virtue, or at least while excess amounts to the excess of profit. To be rich and powerful, one needs to get money; and to obtain money, one needs to sell things; and in order to sell things, one needs to make things to be sold; and those things should be commodities with a short life-span so that that there will always be a need to purchase new things allowing the money to keep flowing in.

Now, according to this economic philosophy, we should have a productive and innovative society that is continually producing new commodities or improving on old ones. Capitalism produces a marvelous circuit of creativity dedicated to satisfying the needs of the hungry consumer.

However, there is an essential flaw in this philosophy. In order for it to work, consumer needs are not enough: the system must be fueled through consumer-desires, which can only be systemically positive enough if they are turned into needs. But then, this is not enough to keep the system spinning either. Something else is needed to keep the momentum going and the excess turning into wealth and power. To maintain a constant progress, every now and again everything has to be pulled down so that there is room to build anew in. And what is a better way of pulling things down than blowing them up. Natural disasters are good for the consumer economy, but, despite the increment of natural weather-anomaly disasters, these phenomena are still too infrequent and too random to be an assurance.

Yet, there is something we can always depend on in moments of the deepest decadence of the capitalist-consumer system: war.

War is something that can be manufactured; something that can be pulled out of the hat as a last resort whenever growth becomes lethargic, and guarantee the system’s self-perpetuating motion. In fact, war is a very part of that system: a tried and true methodology for injecting momentum into the machine. Wealth and power have been using war to sustain itself for the last eight thousand years. In a sense, technology has always been subordinated to military needs and great advances have been made when the empire of the state has pumped huge amounts of man-hours and money into military research.

But to see this fact as justification for the military and, subsequently, as a justification for war, is the most cynical of positions. The production and selling of arms (whether of mass or minor destruction) and the use of those weapons as profit-making internecine tools of thymotic rage has led us to the gates of the Apocalypse and the eternal damnation of a complete nihilistic destruction of life on Earth.

The inherent absurdities in the capitalist-consumer philosophy of perpetual growth have necessitated the production of its own class of clowns to perpetuate itself. Their justifications for prolonging the destruction have become infantile-ego wailings, in adolescent-will societies, driven by demands for what the clowns want and by the fact that they all want to have those wants now despite the consequences, because they deny the existence of any consequences. To get what they want, the clowns know they have to be tough, but they can buy protection, and they can rig the system to perpetuate their power and strength. The promises this circus makes for humanity, of course, are not comforting at all, but the clowns also feed on the fear they themselves produce in order to stabilize their grasp on power. And while the tough clowns flex their muscles, the weapons of mass-destruction sit comfortably in their silos, waiting to be unleashed in the greatest destructive act the world has ever seen. But this time, surely, it will be the final curtain.

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