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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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

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

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

Pleasure and Spock’s Father

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In his Critique of Judgement, Kant begins by relegating aesthetics to the subjective, or to a condition of being determined by the subjective[i]. That which concerns whatever gives us pleasure or displeasure cannot be objectified[ii].

If we think of the Vulcans in Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek series, we are presented with an advanced hominid race – Vulcans are a completely logical species of Sapiens who have no emotions. But would it be right to assume from this that they don’t experience pleasure. If Kant had been able to watch Star Trek he would have found them intriguing.  If the fictional Vulcans can find a way of surpassing the subjectification demanded by his pleasure principle, then perhaps it is possible for human beings to do so as well. Followed by the subsequent question of – would we ever want to?

According to Star Trek myth, the Vulcans were originally a passionate, emotional race of Sapiens hominids who developed techniques to suppress those passions. Perhaps we could have imagined such a development in humanity if the Stoic school had become a universal institution in human educational programmes. But perhaps, to understand the fictional Vulcans positively then, instead of emphasising their oppression of passions, we could place an emphasis on the fact that they found a way of objectively analysing and drawing logical conclusions from their tastes – that which Kant says is impossible.

For a Vulcan, every sensation is analysed in order to determine and subsequently understand what the physical sensations are telling them when pleasure is felt, and why. This logical process, and the gap it creates between the experience and the understanding of that experience, dampens or cools the intensity of the experience itself. The result is that the pleasure or displeasure dissolves into something else – into understanding.

Star trek’s first officer, Mr Spock, despite the fact that he is actually only half-Vulcan, is often accused of being in-human because of his inability to enjoy the intensity of emotions. Nevertheless, in actual fact, Spock’s, and the Vulcans’, logic is also our most human of qualities.

Science fiction does try to see it otherwise, and it has created an abundance of these hyper-logical, creatures, or robot versions of them, or AI machine like HAL, in order to see how inhuman they are in comparison to us. Nevertheless, the greatest error would be to programme androids with the ability to experience emotions and make subjective their experiences to a sense of pleasure or displeasure – or develop a fear of their own mortality. Such robots would destroy us. It is precisely the judgements we form from the pleasure principle and our subsequent reactions that make us so dangerous for each other. A robot with a sense of personal taste would be one that desires, and a robot that desires will eventually do, or try to do, what it wants. A powerful intelligence combined with a strong, subjective sense of personal tastes would be the most dangerous monster imaginable.

Likewise, as humanity develops technologically, so must our ability to control our emotional side develop. If the homo sapiens is to evolve and not destroy itself, it will have to do so in the same way that the mythical Vulcans were able to do so – by conquering the emotional side through logic.

[i] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, I, i, §₁, p.35

[ii] Ibid

REAL DEMOCRACY AND THE LINE OF ERRONEOUS JUDGEMENT

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Basic to our philosophy is the idea that an authentic human history has to be measured by its achievements or failures as a process benefiting the human race in its totality. Because of this we have to affirm that what has been considered until now as the historical process is in fact an anti-human one and that the idea of human progress is only barely perceptible. This anti-history is a separating and segregating process, resisting all movements towards real human development. In the same way very much of what we consider to be “human nature” is in fact a kind of anti-human nature which, rather than defining the authentically human experience, drives us away from enjoying that authenticity. Of course this turning away from humanity needs to be further examined and will need special tools in order to carry out the deconstruction that our revaluation needs. One of those tools may be found in what we will call the line, or the hypotenuse, of erroneous judgement.

 

Kant complained in his Critique of Pure Reason that “the subjective grounds of a judgement blend and are confounded with the objective and cause them to deviate from their proper determination,”[1] and proposed that “it is necessary to consider the erroneous judgement as the diagonal between two forces.”[2] Pouncing on this anecdotal idea we have begun a new creative investigation based on the drawing of triangles. To find this erroneous judgement diagonal we must first of all create the right-angle of fantasies of which this diagonal will be the hypotenuse.  The ninety degree angle we want will be the meeting point of two converse, but also juxtaposing, fantasies, themselves running out of a centre which is a hypothetical idea of authentic humanity. These lines, which are escaping from the core of humanity, are in fact our same fantasies about the human condition. In order to draw our lines therefore we need to look for concepts which are erroneously considered the pillars of what all human cultures are: erroneously considered because, rather than unite us, they actually cut through the human and divide us. Once we have a concept we need to find a partner for it in order to create our right-angle. These are to be discovered in converse juxtapositions, contradictions and paradoxes.

Real Democracy diagram-1

In diagram 1 you will see described the relationship of one of our greatest human-culture fantasies[3]. In the core of the triangle is the 360º circle of authentic humanity. Within this circle lies both the essence and the fulfillment of humanity as a real possibility. It is the hypothetical space in which the universality of humanity is seen as a single concept. Ironically, for almost everyone, this authentic space is considered the most unreal and fantastic space, where the errors of all Utopias lie. And yet, the truth is quite the opposite.

Now let us draw a line upward from this centre that represents one of our authentic human-culture fantasies. In the case of diagram 1 we have chosen the concept of “power”.  This line, according to its own nature, must cut out of the circumference of humanity. It has to thrust upward, breaking away from the circle: power cannot be enclosed and it won’t be restrained. “Power” cannot bare humanity: it must reduce it to the dialectics of leader and follower, or master and slave. It is the driving force of all individual ambitions and the destroyer of all collectivisms. Its purest political manifestation is in autocracy, and its antithesis is anarchy. In the same way that autocracy is power, anarchy is related to “freedom”.  “Freedom” will therefore be our juxtaposing contra to “power” and it will be our second line that runs away from power on the horizontal plane.

“Freedom” also finds humanity restrictive and must push away from it. But freedom really finds everything restrictive and is essentially doomed to a constant condition of wandering and fighting against everyone and everything that oppresses it. It separates human existence between the free-spirits and the oppressors, and inevitably realises that its only way to come to terms with “power” is to be powerful itself. Thus “freedom” and “power”, whilst seeming to be antithesis, very often become entwined. But how is that possible in a political sense? And so our next question is: what links freedom with power? What can bridge the tension caused by these two humanity-fleeing concepts and their dismembering effects on humanity? What will the hypotenuse of this right-angle triangle be?

The answer is “democracy”. And here we see what democracy really is:

a) a limit to the extremisms of power and freedom. By drawing the hypotenuse we have put a limit to the extent of the antagonistic factions.

b) a conduit between freedom and power. The hypotenuse permits a running between the two concepts and a facilitating of the realisation of both fantasies at the same time.

Of course this hypotenuse has a very positive function, but our point is that it must also be clearly recognised for what it is: as a braking tool and conduit between two internecine human fantasies. Because of this, what it actually does is perpetuate the fantasies, and erroneously perpetuates the idea that the fantasies are real aspirations for humanity when in actual fact they are anti-human drives that can go nowhere. Democracy therefore mitigates the destructive intentions of the power-freedom drives by bonding them, but it does nothing to transcend them or reign them back in to the circle of humanity.

real Democracy diagram-2

In the political-geometrical sense, the circle is an autarchy. This can be better understood through the image of the Uroboros and the human Uroboric drive which we dealt with in early essays, especially ECOLOGY AS IDEOLOGY AND THE UROBORIC DRIVE. To make positive sense, our geometry would have to be able to draw the triangle within the circle, with the opposing concepts feeding the core, which is always autarchy.

real Democracy diagram-3

In this conceptualisation “democracy” becomes a positive force, holding “power” and “freedom” in and keeping the political model within the confines of the autarchy of authentic humanity. To do this the concepts of “power” and “freedom” must both be reduced, or, perhaps more feasibly, the idea of “humanity” expanded. Once within the circle of humanity the hypotenuse is no longer an erroneous judgement, it is an authentic one, and we can talk about “real democracy” again.


[1] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Everyman’s Library Edition, Trans. by J.M.D. Meiklejohn, 1991 edition, Transcendental Logic Second Division – Transcendental Dialectic – Introduction, I

[2] Ibid

[3] For a deeper explanation of what we mean by the term human-culture fantasies see our essay HETEROTOPIA