The End of Civilization as We Know It

I’ve been reading a commentary lauding the virtues of free-market Capitalism. The author champions the Ayn Randian conception of unrestrained capitalistic growth, giving free-rein to anyone with the wits and ambition to produce without regulative restriction, capital goods and services, which, he tells us, means more quality products produced through competition which in the end, we are assured, will raise everyone’s quality of life. A bit of social engineering through subtle advertising will convince us all to buy more, seek out the wondrous new products we had no idea even existed just yesterday.

My skeptical nature leads me to see a problem with such a rosy picture. For just one thing, these new and wonderful life-enhancing, time-saving products will (and, of course, have already) require(d) us consumers to put in extra time at work and, I suspect we will, before long,( in the immortal words of the great Tennessee Ernie Ford), ‘owe our soul(s) to the company store’.

More for you, more for me may sound good but uncontrolled exploitation of the earth’s resources will result in scarcity which will put the ‘good life’ out of the reach of increasing numbers of working poor. Without viable consumers, producing industries will fail and before long, just a matter of time, we will experience the collapse of civilization as we know it. A new Dark Age will ensue; survivors will find new meanings and values in existence and begin again to build family and community.

Well, maybe I’m being a bit extreme in my imaginings; but maybe not.

The Downside of the Examined Life

I’ve been reading lately the musings of a young philosopher who has spent considerable time trying to make sense of his life (worth living, he wonders) through investigation of the profound offerings of the great thinkers of the past. He tells us of a less than ideal childhood, of searching for answers in his readings as a student, of a confused sense of need for someone to share his life with while at the same time desiring solitary un-interrupted contemplation, finally settling on the belief that the ultimate motivation of all men is self-interest.

Caught up as he was in the existentialist thinkers (who, given the history of the times had good reason for their pessimistic assessments of humanity, I suppose) our hero (and how can we think of him otherwise pursuing truth as he was) descended into the dark realm from which no man escapes unscathed, placing upon himself the burden of humanities failings and facing the inevitable disaster which will inevitably follow. Kind of like living under a dark cloud, I guess.

Anyway, in the end our young philosopher does appear to re-enter life to some degree, remarrying and having a child, decisions which carry along with them sufficient anxieties to over shadow the thoughts of the existentialists. One would think.

Eternal Recurrence

I’ve been reading about the fairly difficult existence that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche endured over his life time. Given his self-imposed isolation and the debilitating health issues that he endured: fairly constant migraines and nausea, it’s small wonder many of his thoughts were less than uplifting.
But, the physical and mental infirmities led him, I suppose, to one of his most notable ideas.

Eternal recurrence, stated simply, is to “live this life again in all its aspects, every pain and every joy, every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small and great must return to all in the same succession and sequence over and over for ever and ever”, which must have been a pretty horrible idea for Nietzsche given his health and loneliness issues.

So, I’ve been thinking, maybe there’s something to be learned here, you know, make friends, go to the doctor, do good things; if life is indeed cyclical than maybe recurrence wouldn’t be so bad. There still would be periods of boredom to deal with though, I suppose.

A Frightening Proposition

Apparently Augustine of Hippo, after a mis-spent youth of carousal and debauchery, found intellectual and spiritual sustenance in various disciplines of the time (neo-platonism, etc.) until his meditative practices led him to Christianity. Then slowly, over the years, a dependency on reasonable determination gave way to faith: an all-encompassing faith in spiritual direction arrived at through prayer.

So, in fairly short order, Augustine tells us in his Confessions, he abandoned reasoned thought in the certain knowledge God would be sufficient means, a more than adequate guide, to see him through the lapses in faith that he and all who were invariably sinful-in-nature required to be worthy of salvation.

He apparently felt so strongly about this, about everyone’s essential sinfulness and inability to lead a truthful and honest life on their own, that he saw to it that the laity were subject to the whims and dictates of the church hierarchy. These innocents, were discouraged from seeking any sort of personal spiritual enlightenment through Bible study and prayer which was pretty easy to enforce since most of them couldn’t read anyway. Over the next few centuries this priestly authoritarian presence became tyrannical resulting in the establishment of inquisitors who burned heretics.

Maybe the lesson to be learned here is to beware of those who suggest to you: don’t think about it all too hard, just believe, have faith, God will provide. A pretty scary proposition, it seems to me.

 

The Ancients

I’ve been wondering, lately, if anyone thinks about the ancients anymore. I’ve been reading about the polarizing political intrigues that engulfed Plato in the later years of his life. He found his integrity compromised despite his best intentions to teach the young ruler Dionysius philosophy, geometry and the path to a deeper understanding of the ultimate realities.

I guess the idea that absolute power, which is what these early Greek tyrants had, corrupts absolutely holds most of the time. Diogenes the Cynic certainly understood this. In protest to the perverse values of the time he cast off all social conventions (along with most of his clothes) and wandered the streets of Athens seeking an honest man while living hand to mouth, without material possessions of any sort, in a castoff wine barrel.

Some things never change I guess. It’s pretty evident today that the inclination to wield power trumps thoughtful contemplation, reasoned pursuit of the good and the just and true pretty much every time.

Virtual Reality and Dementia

I’ve been reading that Virtual Reality technology is becoming pretty sophisticated these days: put on the headset and find yourself in an alternate world so all-encompassing it all becomes pretty believable. Well, as a recreation anyway.

Apparently the technology is being applied to nursing home residents suffering from dementia. The intent is to help them restore brain function, I guess. I’m wondering if or when VR will be taken a step further: headsets for hospice care. I can imagine, rather than heavy sedation a journey to a pain-free realm of serenity, beauty and peace might not be such a bad way to retire from life.

What would happen, I wonder, as physical life expires. Does one live on psychically in beautiful VR? Seems kind of religious. Could it be technological advances will redefine the notion of heaven?

That Which Cannot Be Known

I’ve been reading how, early on, and I mean way early on, before humankind had developed the capacity for conscious thought, instincts advanced by evolutionary survivors determined our ancestors’ standard operating procedures. Instinct provided useful means for dealing with a relatively harsh environment, which in addition to food acquisition, shelter and clothing needs also included recognition of super-natural powers that led these early folks to establish ritual behaviors in recognition of whatever gods might have been imagined.

These intuitive actions (passed on, from generation to generation with slight variations, maybe, with the success or lack thereof of the procedure) manifested themselves in fantasies that assumed symbolic images: conquering hero, heavenly paradise, torturous underworld, and so on.

Now, the thing is, my very distinguished authority asserts, deep within our unconscious these primal connections are just waiting to spring to consciousness and mess with our delusional sense of self-control. Dissociation is close at hand, I guess. Reason and logic are but a Band-Aid.

Rather than fight it, I think it might make sense to embrace the super-natural realities buried deep within me, be creative, find a workable, useful manifestation of that which cannot be known and assimilate.

How to Solve the World’s Problems Part One

I’ve been reading a very interesting assessment of the religious conflicts that have been fomenting around the world these days (well, actually, religious conflicts may be the lone absolute all civilizations have realized ad infinitum).

The problem, that has developed into terroristic behaviors according to my very credible source, is disenfranchisement: a lack of opportunity to voice grievances by participating in a political dialogue. Giving marginalized peoples the opportunity to be part of the legitimate social/political structure has been shown to reduce extremist behaviors and even groups with fairly hostile inclinations, people who view non-believers as apostate or heretical, will, given the opportunity, most likely work within a legitimate structure.

So, perhaps, rather than preparing for a cosmic war, opening dialogue, developing mutual trust, bringing the outliers into the fold is a superior philosophical stance. Besides, who can really know which side God is on?

 

 

Spiritual Mysteries

I’ve been reading, lately, about the likelihood the human mind may be considerably more than a physical compilation of billions of neurons, that, in fact, human consciousness is the manifestation of god within, giving humankind the capacity, through mental focus, to alter the material world.

The idea suggests that if we as a species were suddenly to realize the power within us we could bring about great advancements to our civilization not to mention world peace.

I understand there are those among us feeding their enthusiasm for the spiritual mysteries and hidden meanings in traditional religious texts like the kabbalah, Zohar, Gnosticism and the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus.  These folks are organizing, believing there to be power in numbers and creating ‘focus groups’ they believe will cure the world’s ills by concentrating their collective consciousnesses toward what they may consider to be positive goods but which, in fact, if any credence may be attributed to the activity at all, may turn out to be not necessarily good for everyone.

But, of course, it’s pretty hard to prove that the human mind is anything more than an organic computer, sophisticated though it is, which allows us each to more or less function within our respective worldly milieus.  The idea of being god-within is certainly intriguing and imaginative. I though, as I’m sure you can tell, remain skeptical. On the positive side, I suppose any group activity probably has useful social value.

Pragmatism

I’ve been reading about certain 19th Century philosophers, William James and John Dewey among them, who developed a philosophic procedure, pragmatism, to deal with the disconnect between the growing validity of scientific discoveries and long held religious conceptions many folks embraced at the time.

Pragmatism was, and still is I guess, about practicality. Acting on an idea, empirical or religious, will produce either a result that proves to be personally useful, one of practical applicability, or will prove itself useless and disposable. The ‘truthfulness’ of the idea is thus established.

I guess it’s pretty clear that being practical, you know, for the most part, is important in decision making regarding social functioning and earning a living. It seems to me important, though, to hang on to idealisms sometimes no matter how trivial or fantastical they may be. Imaginings need to be limitless and be free to reach beyond any notion of functionality.

James and Dewey realized we live in a steadily evolving, transformational world. We need to spend time seeking the unknown in all its potential absurdness. Who knows, such investigations may lead to useful insights that will counter unwanted future evils.