Sunday, March 23, 2008
Many have heard of Friedrich Nietzche's "Will to Power". Structurally, what this notion did for him is create the possibility of motion outside of the morass of materialistically inspired nihilism he saw around him. If God didn't exist, so the argument went, then everything was meaningless.
Meaning is a qualitative structure. It is a sense within a person or group of purpose grounded in a sacred belief. It is meaningful to give your life to Jesus, or to your country, or to your family.
The motion of materialism is to equate all apparent sentience, activity, and what would have formerly been viewed as moral decision based on free will, with biology. Within this ideology, we are effectively animals with instincts that don't differ, qualitatively, with those of ants. None of us have souls, and our apparent freedom is an illusion.
On this reading, the only way to be honest, is to admit the ethical imperative given in your biology, which is the preservation of your genes, through being the fittest, most powerful person on your block. An uebermensch (lit: "Above-man").
Self evidently, morality in this regard is a mistake, and mercy something for lesser mortals. Only the truly great man will be able to rise above the pedestrian, bourgeois distinction of Good/Evil. Since it promotes weakness, and womanish--read non-Darwinian--virtues like compassion, Christianity is held in contempt.
The Will to Power was in effect a heuristic by which those who wanted to be free, who wanted to follow Nietzche's reasoning into places he never went himself (spending much of his time crying on his sister's couch), could judge their actions. Power was to act according to one's own wishes, without regard to tradition, normal understandings of morality, or petty sentiments like mercy and compassion.
Logically, the end of the aspiring "Superman" was to rule the world. This is the summit. Once you are there, you never need to apologize to, kowtow to, or even acknowledge in any way ever again anyone who does not advance your immediate aims.
Yet let us zoom in on this World Emperor, sitting on his thrown. He is sad. Why? Because he is alone. Why is he alone? Because he subordinated the desires of everyone else to his own, and because he disabled his ability to interact with his fellow humans on an honest level, which would have enabled him to find other souls that could touch his own. To be superior, is to be alone. You can find people to surround you, but their ability to touch you are directly proportional to your capacity for vulnerability, and to giving in to the purportedly womanish virtues like tenderness. Once you do that, you have effectively renounced the Will to Power.
Hitler never loved Eva Braun.
The limit case of this is described by the Marquis de Sade, whose work should be burned in its entirety--but which hasn't-- and whose remaining value is to give us an inside look at the mind of evil.
Sade, who spent most of his life in jail both for real and imaginary crimes, dedicated himself to the destruction of traditional notions of morality. He shared with Richard Dawkins not just an atheistic stance, but an open, flagrant, and aggressive hatred of God, and every human institution and relic that flowed from conceptions of God. He described God as the most horrific invention ever to flow from the mind of man.
Like Nietzche, he found in power his salvation. Since he was precluded by lack of money and freedom from committing the crimes he imagined--and its not clear he would have had the stomach to do so anyway--he focussed his drive to power not on actual physical crimes, but on writing books intended to corrupt people. Napoleon understood this, and jailed him for that reason. He also banned his books, some of the most famous of which were not published until well after his death.
If we return to our sad Emperor--who in his solititude is not altogether emotionally different than Sade in his cell--he can do two things. He can renounce power, and again value connection, harmony, love, compassion, kindness, mercy, tenderness, and all the other virtues which seemingly oppose the doctrine of Power. Or, he can take his actual power to its limits, and begin to use it to destroy others.
He can find solace in the visceral sensations occasioned by sexual activity, and even more so by gratuitous cruelty. He can live his life, in effect, getting high. Since there is nothing he cannot do, everything is permitted. In effect, this is the life lived by Uday and Qusay Hussein, who had rape rooms, who murdered people and tortured them with impunity, and who took whatever they wanted.
What, though, we might ask is the point of this? Is this the best possible life? By what criterion do we decide that power alone is worth pursuing? What is wrong with the tender virtues?
My contention is that neither Nietzche or Sade (or their many fellow travellers; I am using what amount to Ideal Types in my argument, since I can cover more ground) thought through what they were doing. They were superficial, and cowardly.
The reality is that all of us crave innocence in some form or fashion. Those who live normal childhoods think back with fondness and nostalgia at the joy and pleasure of simple things like playing tag, or snowball fights, or playing house, or just walking outside on a beautiful Fall or Spring day. In our daydreams, all of us want to be innocent.
But we aren't. None of us are perfect. There is likely not a Christian on the planet who can be found who is perfect in their love, compassion, faith, and mercy. Some people see this and reject Christianity as a whole for this reason.
Morever, once you adopt Science as your ethical system, you slowly lose all ability to use traditional standards of morality--particularly those anchored specifically in religion--and justifying doing the right thing becomes harder and harder. Your criterion for the purpose of life is Truth, but you ignore the fact that within the Philosophy of Science Truth is unknowable except provisionally. You can speak functionally about what is true experimentally, but this does not permit blanket ontological statements of Truth with a T.
For this reason, I view the doctrine of Scientism--that all answers about everything come from Science and only from Science--to be a form of power mongering. It is a cultural landgrab that is allied to that of Sade, and I think it no coincidence that the language of prominent Scientistic apostles like Richard Dawkins so often approaches that of Sade in venom.
The net fact is that our experience preceded our understandings. To invert this, I can say that the doctrine of Darwinism (my understanding) dictates what emotions I can feel (my subjective experience). For example, I can choose to believe that compassion is a relic of the need for group cohesion to survive. This means that compassion is in some respects "unnatural", in that its expression is a function of biology, and not individual will. For all intents and purposes, this is the take that the Nazis had on biology, and used it to justify their actions to coerce evolution to the next stage through the mass slaughter of inferior peoples.
Darwinism for this reason, as an ethical system, leads immediately down the Nietzchean pipeline into the Will to Power.
Here is the crux of the matter: I believe there is equally a Will to Joy, or Goodness. This is the Will to Innocence, beauty, love and all the emotions that have, deep, lasting effects, and which actually do work to mitigate our solitude. It is a sense that can and has been expressed differently in various peoples, times, and places.
When we fail to do what is good, this is a form of repression. It is Qualitative Repression. Failing to meet our own duties with respect to what we consider to be the Sacred causes us pain. Some people don't want to meet that pain--neither Sade nor Nietzche or any other evil human being does--so they fly away from it, and justify their cowardice by making cowardice a virtue. This is Qualitative Repression. They push back the noble feelings they cannot keep from their minds by constantly contemplating or committing crimes.
If we add to this Freudian notions of repression, we see how the argument comes to be made that NOT indulging yourself is the crime, since self restraint is somehow artificial, and licentiousness of various forms what constitutes "virtue."
Qualitative Repression, then, is to be opposed to Quantatitive Repression. We understand readily the sex instinct, and believe we understand the effects of that. However, since there is no place holder for the notion of Quality in a universally leveling materialistic Scientism, the notion of Qualitative Repression--or of the need to express noble ideals in action, has not caught hold yet.
But I do share with Abigail and John Adams the basic idea that we are meant to be Good, to do Good, and to rejoice in everything. When I use the word Meant, I am not claiming to have unlocked the secrets of the universe. Neither can any scientist. Not one of them can find any piece of matter which is ONLY matter anywhere in the universe, or any linear explanation for the undisputed facts measured by Quantum physicists.
No one can claim that what the human race has always done need be what it always will do.
No one can measure free will, since to do so one would have to be external to the system, and no humans are. Morever, if we are limited in our decision making capacity, there is no reason to limit it further by recourse to scientific theories of unproven merit. There is EVERY reason to use our logical faculties to develop ideas which work to foster our happiness, and joy.
"Griefs upon griefs! Disappointments upon disappointments. What then? This is a gay, merry world notwithstanding."
Friday, March 14, 2008
This they did splendidly for quite some time. Then approximately in the 1960's, the whole thing went to hell. A storm front blew in from Europe which rejected virtue, per se, outside of conformity to the collective, and that effectively ended the capacity for rational thought of most of our Humanities professors.
Now liberal arts graduated no longer possess broad general knowledge. Through the intercession of Freudian notions of instinct and repression, they are taught that what formerly passed for virtue--as for example in chastity outside of a loving relationship--was unnatural. They are taught little about history, the process of formal debate and rhetoric, and quite generally graduate with considerably less common sense (which I define as "knowing what you know, and knowing what you don't know") than they went in with.
Over time, this has affected our political discourse in such a way that sound bites, 30 second news stories, and conformity dictate a very high percentage of what people believe in this nation.
Manifestly, most conservatives are religious, or pro-business. Very few of those who ought to have widened and deepened both their tolerance and their cosmopolitanism care any more to indulge in non-ironic patriotism, or preach the importance of personal responsibility.
This long term trend will, if not reversed, lead to our eventual complete decline and failure.
The freedom to choose one's one manner of virtue--whether it be some form of Protestantism, Deism, atheism, Judaism, Mormonism or something else--is one understanding of freedom. This freedom is consistent with freedom of action and freedom of speech. It leads naturally to freedom of business and economic life, since it implies both some work ethic, and honesty. It lends itself to decentralization, since if people do not abuse one another, they do not need to be protected from one another.
We can in fact posit that the degree of decentralization of government possible is a function of the capacity of individuals to govern themselves and their own passions. Some government will always be needed, since this is not and presumably never will be a world populated entirely by perfectly honest, perfectly rational people. Where this balance should lie is negotiable, and represents the part of the continuum I consider to be political moderation, in which difference of opinion on details are expected, and debate both productive and needed.
To this I contrast Leftism. This doctrine redefines freedom to mean freedom FROM differential moralities, and defines virtue precisely as conformity. Self evidently, the diversity of human genetic material will--absent coercive Huxleyan genetic tampering--always mean that people are different in their innate capacities, and hence likelihood of large scale success. Added to this, in the economic and social spheres, are the relative utilities and drawbacks of different ethical system.
For example, those who love pleasure rather than work will always be outpaced financially by those who value work over pleasure, in a just system. This is an inevitable consequence.
For this reason, absolute human equality is not an attainable goal, without violence.
And violence is of course what we see in the history of efforts to remake man in the image of an obedient happy drone, none of which have succeeded. The 40,000 killed in the French Revolution pale beside the "accomplishments" of the Chinese, Russians, Vietnamese (who killed 65,000 in 1975 alone), and of course Cambodians.
These are the two foundational forms of political life. Freedom FOR virtue, and freedom FROM virtue.
This was the mantra for most 20th Century apologists of Communist atrocities. Yet, as historian Paul Johnson noted, no omelet was ever created. No version of leftist collectivism ever worked, if by "work" we intend to signify an improvement in the lives of the people subjected to diabolical notions of "justice". People lost rights, got more poor, lost hope, and not infrequently were jailed or murdered. This was the egg breaking part. There was no creative counterbalance to the destructive impulses and actions.
We hear often of past American crimes. Perhaps most blatant is the invasion of sovereign Native American land, followed by what can only rationally be described as colonization. We did in fact create an empire in North America, and did it through the murder and resettlement of many Indians. This part cannot be disputed.
However, this differs not at all from the Communist atrocities, and the great difference is that we did indeed create the omelet. In a history of humanity replete with every sort of horror and violence imaginable, we created an oasis of relative peace, and the possibility of long term growth in standards of living, understood not just economically, but morally and spiritually as well.
If we want to atone for the sins of our forefathers (self evidently, slavery is another such issue), it is pointless do it through self destructive behavior, as many on the Left demand. Rather, let us atone by carrying through the project which succeeded at the cost of so many lives. Let us continue to view ourselves as the City on the Hill, and work for the continuing betterment of humankind as a whole.
If we should choose to fail, there are no nations on this planet with records any better than our own, and both Russia and China have many, many more literal skeletons in their past than we do.
This last is important. A fundamental notion in science is that of falsification. If you want to compare one understanding of the world relative to another--say the idea that our current temperature alterations are natural, relative to the idea that they are created mainly by human activity--then you need to format your hunch as a hypothesis. You say, "I predict that if my idea is right, then X will happen. If X does not happen, then my hypothesis is not the one that best fits the data".
Self evidently, nobody likes to be proven wrong, but the reality is that that is how our sum of knowledge increases, so this is an essential component of honest science.
There is in fact a simple prediction made from the AGW conjecture, which made publicly would elevate the idea to that of a hypothesis.
The relative importance of CO2 on temperature goes up as you travel up in the atmosphere:
Given the present composition of the atmosphere, the contribution to the total heating rate in the troposphere (the portion of the atmosphere of most interest -- it is the region from the surface to basically the top of the active weather zone) is around 5% from carbon dioxide and around 95% from water vapor.
However, in the stratosphere, the contribution is about 80% from carbon dioxide and about 20% from water vapor, although this makes a relatively small contribution to total greenhouse effect.Therefore, the prediction can be made that if CO2 is responsible for most of the warming, that we will see disproportionate warming in the upper atmosphere--perhaps 2-3 degrees for every degree of surface temperature increase--which can be easily verified by satellite. Thus far, nothing has shown up, and this fact has been ignored or even suppressed. The models have been invoked as more accurate than actual measurements, which of course is highly unscientific and even unethical.
If the AGW proponents want to ask us to make enormous and economically damaging investments based on their ideas, they need to make them scientific. This has not yet been done.
I should close by saying this formulation is accurate to the best of my understanding, but I am not a climate scientist. I am verifying these ideas with someone who knows more than me.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
What I mean by it is a renewed dedication to the principles upon which this nation was founded. It presupposes that we are a nation of individuals dedicated to the perfection of our own personal moralities, and needing government only to curb the abuses of those within and external to our nation who are not willing to govern themselves rationally.
I believe that the rights of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and ownership of property are universal principles which work to foster actual freedom and associated felicity. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men.
I understand that some of our Captains of Industry are sons of bitches, who do need to be regulated. I understand that many of our workers are whiny, and that unions on balance likely hurt most of their members over time more than they help them.
Overall, we are however better off with less regulation than more, more personal responsibility, and less trust in both our elected and unelected representatives.
This is not libertarianism. It is not dogmatic, but fully cognizant of the many advantages of a strong central government for some things, like defense.
This is not conservatism, which has come to be equated with a rejection of most forms of social change and progress. For example, I believe most moral issues should be pushed out to the states, and the Federal Government pulled out entirely. Drug laws, abortion law, gay rights, homosexual civil unions, the Pledge, school prayer, education, prostitution, euthanasia: all of these should be determined by the States. The Federal government has no business in any of these.
Laws passed in Washington, or laws compelled on the nation by overreaching Supreme Courts should have no compelling force with respect to issues that do not intrinsically affect the nation as a whole.
In a perfect world, no government would be necessary. Rational anarchy is the aim of neoliberalism, as it is with Libertarianism. This presumes government of the individual, by the individual. It presumes generalized Goodness. We are far from that point, but can perhaps begin to imagine it.