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Holons instead of Systems

To free ourselves from the “system”, we do not need to engage in anything so dramatic as revolutions. We do not even need to take the red pill, so to speak. All that is really required is to understand that life is a system of Holons. Entities that are both wholes and parts. We ourselves are such entities. We are both a whole contained of parts, in which we assert our authority, and a part of a larger whole, where we acknowledge our interconnection with something bigger than ourselves. We have our personal aspirations and enjoyments and independence as a self as a “whole”, and we have our social roles and responsibilities as a self as a “part” of a larger whole of a family, community and society.

The basic left and right in politics depends on which of these two features we choose to emphasise. As such, we always need a healthy dialogue and dynamic between these two parts of our being. On the left I can acknowledge some value in the ecological visions of Gaia as a guiding light. While on the right I acknowledge the value of the self-assertive independence of Western principles such as freedom of speech and liberty. We need a healthy balance here. It is just like the Tao.

We cannot lose ourselves in a larger whole with delusions and posturings of altruism. Neither can we immerse ourselves completely in our isolated selves. The problem with some on the left is that they have confused and confounded the good in the ecological vision of Gaia with their own personal desire to posture morally as altruists. They have confused this higher level of organised being with a level of universality and objectivity. When such a level of generality does not exist in reality.

The problem on the right is when we refuse to acknowledge the help of others to us and posture about self sufficiency and being better than anyone else. To avoid both these extremes, what we need is not a moral shouting match, but a dialogue. We cannot have this dialogue as long as the parasite that is the mainstream media keeps interrupting our channels of communication with its emotive click bait for both sides of the debate. We need to come to a joint awareness of this common parasitical enemy that has infested our political discussion. And highlight and expose it where ever we see it.

As long as people react in predictable emotive ways to certain debates and topics the real practical considerations cannot advance one bit. The left can scream racism any time the issue of immigration comes up, if they want. But they are only denying a part of themselves and a part of all of us. For really what they mean by racism is any self assertive tendencies at all. Any self assertion has become, to their altruistic, universalistic false consciousness, a case of racism and discrimination. Would they have us all indiscriminately the same in a collective mass?

Of course, this is no solution. In which case, you are going to have to grow up and have the adult debate about immigration and where the balance is to be drawn for a social organism to maintain and sustain its continuity over time. We are not really part of any universal collective. The earth is not a universe, it is Gaia, a small localised pocket of life, and negative entropy, an island surrounded by a sea of entropy. So we must end our delusions of grandeur here. We can be a part of the larger whole that is the earth, but we are also a part of other larger wholes, such as our communities and families. Let’s not give up these real groups we belong to for the sake of some illusory ultimate group. For all that waits for us in that ultimate grouping is death.

 

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Blaming the System

A common trend on the left is to blame the “system”, for the problems in society. An inability to distinguish the details of all the specific power relations of society, leads to this generic notion of a system. It is also a convenient thing to bring up after the fact whenever anything happens in society that is bad. It is conveniently always that same “system” at work which is to blame.

It doesn’t make much thinking to see that this notion of the “system” has no empirical content and is just a changeable placeholder for whatever the latest trend in power is. This notion of a system at work beyond human agency was brought to us by Karl Marx and his notion of the superstructure of society. In the 20th century it was transmuted into the doctrine of this “big other” of the world by French marxist thinkers such as Lacan. A big other that we are always fighting a battle of oppression against.

Now, I won’t deny there is some truth, for instance, to the notion that some social systems acquire a degree of inertia once in place that makes their actions much slower to change. As a result we often see the same patterns in cultures, in economics and in wars, for instance. But this inertia is not a robotic, mechanised foolproof system. Like the Shrike in Dan Simmons novels, or the terminator in the terminator movies. We are not dealing with some relentless untouchable and unchangeable machine. We are dealing with a social organism that has certain habits and ways of acting, that, to change it takes time, and the change must be enacted by human effort and agency with continuity and gradually.

Society and civilisation insofar as they exist, exist on a continuum. It is like a fabric, where to change its shape we have to avoid rupturing the fabric, because this undermines the whole society. This is the problem, once we set up this immovable object, terminator like entity of the “system”, we make ourselves the victim of it. We make it impossible to change it or overcome it. We force ourselves to indulge in fantasies and utopian visions as the only alternative and we force ourselves into a corner where the only change to that system can come through lashing out blindly and mindlessly, creating a violent revolution that will only destroy, or tear a hole in the social fabric and replace it with nothing new. But only, at best, if not with total death and destruction, replace it with something far worse and more primitive.

So, yes we need a healthy appreciation of the inertia of social institutions, but still the only way to change them is through human effort and agency, negotiation and compromise. It all sounds so limited compared to grand Utopian visions. But the latter is based on dealing with a monster that doesn’t exist, “the system”. And involves taking away the agency to do anything about it from ourselves, except random outbursts of violence.

Many on the extreme left today, for instance, refuse to engage in a reasonable debate anymore, they have decided that their opposition is an evil monster like Hitler, and so once this pent up emotion builds up out of control it inevitably finds its only release in random outbursts of violence. If this was not such a pressing and urgent problem, so destructive to our society, we could have the luxury feel sorry for them, as they have been victimised so much that they have lost any ability at this point to enact their own ideas and thoughts through their own body.

What all of us can do, is much earlier, before it gets to this point, is to show more responsibility in our dealings with people so we don’t set them down this destructive path of victimisation by some unbeatable system, but teach them more practical ways to cope, negotiate and reason in socially difficult circumstances, so that they can become empowered in their own bodies, channelling their ideas and thoughts through their bodies, rather than deferring it to some utopian dream or delusion of revolution. Every left thinker who sets the seed in peoples minds that there is this “system”, machine-like, out of our control, is engaging in a generic, lazy, irresponsible form of conspiracy thinking that sets people down a dangerous path to self destruction.

Book Review – Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, Roger Scruton

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New LeftFools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left by Roger Scruton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First, a confession, I was myself once a thinker of the new left. I once found myself digging through works of Marx, the Frankfurt School, Habermas, and others, trying to find some way to make their morally nice ideas work in practice. But, of course, to cut that part of the story short that I have described on here many other times, it’s an impossible task. Just as much as the idea of the philosophers stone was to alchemy or the idea of squaring the circle was to people who couldn’t accept the existence of irrational numbers. Just like this, these left intellectuals cannot accept the reality of human inequality, and motivated alternately by envy of the better, or hatred and shame of their own privileges in life they try to expunge this reality from the society they would like to enforce upon all of us, just to ease their intellectual difficulties living with morally ambiguous realities.

I guess I remember early stirrings of interest in Scruton’s perspective on politics in the views he presented in his book called The west and the rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat. It seemed to be a much more insightful account of the real problems the west faces than I had gotten from any of the lefts standard fair. The left has become truly like a broken record, so that this book criticising their many intellectual representatives, published originally back in 1998 is as relevant as ever in its critique of what the left has become reduced to in its politicising.

Despite all this negativity about the left. I do still wish the left could start to create a new reasonable platform for its views. The problem is threefold. The herd mentality of many; the negative emotions and immaturity that motivate many people in their left wing visions and the existence of a amoral minority happy to exploit and manipulate those emotions in people to obtain predictable responses. The left has become too predictable, too mainstream. It needs a truth to embody, but since the downfall of the proletariat, it has no group who can embody its movement positively, so instead it defines itself as the negation of something that it doesn’t like, something it can claim moral superiority to. A typical example of a slave morality of altruism, of self denial. It has become the thing it originally rallied against the hardest with Marx, the Frannkfurt School and others, it has become a mere commodity. It’s views are exploited to garner support for the further commodification of man and of all people. Leftist emotive outrage is the only thing fueling the commodities of the mainstream media and the newspapers, and much of its entertainment media also. The left has become the system it hates so much, and so it is spiralling out of control in an orgy of ambivalent alternate self destruction and self glorification and projection onto delusive and illusive enemies to continue to kid itself it is the underdog.

Scruton tracks the progress of this view through the 20th century in many figures from Foucault and the Frankfurt School, to Gramsci, Lacan and recently Zizek. Scruton asks of them the question:

“Why is it that after a century of socialist disasters, and an intellectual legacy that has been time and again exploded, the left-wing position remains, as it were, the default position to which thinking people automatically gravitate when called upon for a comprehensive philosophy?”

The answer?

“we are dealing with the religious need, a need planted deep in our ‘species being’. There is a longing for membership that no amount of rational thought, no proof of the absolute loneliness of humanity or of the unredeemed nature of our sufferings, can ever eradicate. And that longing is more easily recruited by the abstract god of equality than by any concrete form of social compromise.”

The problem is a perennial human one of the failure to embrace the tough tasks of the spirit, and to instead hide behind some collective from taking personal responsibility. The left likes to make us well aware of the far right and its evils, largely as a way of diverting our attention away from how similar and cowardly their error is.

This book explores in great detail just how similar their error is and also how equally deadly it is for a human future containing an appreciation of basic human dignity and reasonableness. The left may start in seemingly innocuous niceness and political correctness, where the far right may start in more obvious tribalism, but they both end in the same place of total destitution. A place where reality has been “shrugged” in favor of a collective decision to adopt an ideological attachment that can never be fulfilled in the real world. Just another Utopia motivated by a refusal to accept original sin and face the imperfections and challenges in their own human spirit.

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Why are there still Marxists?

So many intellectuals still have a predilection for the Marxist doctrine. And I am struggling to understand on what basis. It was very popular with french thinkers in the post world war two era. And they transmuted it into some generic oppressor vs oppressed narrative. In some ways related to the work of the Frankfurt school thinkers, such as Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheimer and others. As an extension of their doctrines. The fact remains that Marxist thinking needs a proletariat. A working class proletariat, and there is no such thing as them in the western world anymore. This very conceptualisation is out of date and does not capture the new kind of crisis the western world is facing.
 
What we have in the west is an increasingly centralised, technocratic elite, finding ways to automate all our jobs, so that they get all the wealth, and so that we become dependent upon them for handouts. A bit like a new kind of serfdom. This is what it will be like when people are given a free basic wage, as is being tried out in some Scandinavian countries. The problem, for all its well meaning, good intentions, is that a people without work is a people without independence or dignity. The result is an inevitable encroachment on all aspects of their being. Until they have no means of self determination left in their life. Reduced to a pawn of various impulses. Activated in them at will by their puppet masters, the technocrats.
 
We see much of it already. A news story only has to hit people in the right “feels”, and they will emote and react as predictably as an automaton. Our battle is against this state of affairs. We don’t need to be wasting our time and our breath on outdated battles that only made sense in the world prior to the two world wars of the 20th century.
 
Our new elite handlers are very happy I am sure, to see masses of people fighting for the rights of a proletariat class of people, when such people don’t exist anymore! I expect they are equally happy to see people caught up on a narrative of being oppressed by oppressors, when this is perfectly conducive to inducing a victimhood mentality in people that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
 
There are no grounds for Marxism as a social or political theory. If you want to argue for socialism, you are going to have to find better economic and political support than marxist thinking. But, without Marxism, what does socialism offer other than a blind and bland distinction-less commitment to equality? Tinged with some emotive and moralising language directed against their would be “oppressors” here and there
 
Marxism was supposed to be an embodied revolution of the masses to lead to communitarian and socialist ends, nowadays it is no more than a complaint of oppression with no practical alternative offered for how to get out of that state of oppression. What once may have had some truth and life, is nothing more now than a hollowed out 19th century ideology.
 
Until the left can accept and come to terms with this failure, they will not move on, but will instead keep banging their heads against the same barrier. An ontological divide in reality that by believing in it, they made it real and made it impossible to overcome. And by and through which they are eternally oppressed.

First Book Published Today!

Well it has been a long road to get to this point. I have had some of the materials and ideas for this book since my time studying philosophy at university, which was over 10 years ago. I have also attempted writing many other books over the years, and I have many ideas. The problem usually for me is that the ideas come so thick and fast that is difficult to keep patient to get them down into a full length book, before my mind has moved on to some different ideas. Here, for the first time I managed this, and was able to see it through to the conclusion.

journeythrough20thcenturyphilosophy

There is a lot more I would like to write to develop the ideas much further, and I am already working on my next book, which is a kind of companion to this volume. Where this book discusses the mainstream analytical philosophers, particularly Bertrand Russell, Saul Kripke, John Searle and some others I have wrote about on this blog before. That book is going to be devoted to some of the underground philosophers and thinkers of the 20th century. Some of the thinkers whose ideas the mainstream was not ready for, such as A.N. Whitehead, Teilhard de Chardin, Ivan Illich, Carl Jung, Rupert Sheldrake and some others. It will also consider some of the underground movements of thought and their rise in the 20th century, such as occult movements and conspiracy theorising.

All these things I have made some attempt to understand on this blog in short posts in the past. For instance: Rupert Sheldrake – Science Set Free , Implicit Teleology – The Answer to the 20th Century Rejection of Reason , Book Review – Limits to Medicine, Medical Nemesis: Ivan Illich . But now, as a tribute to the influence and value I have gained from reading many of these thinkers, I want to bring it all together into book form. It has been a fascinating journey for me, delving more deeply into the philosophy and thought of the 20th century.

We really need to get to grips with what happened in the realm of thought in that era, for it has created the world we live in today. Irresponsible thinking there has created many of our problems, and responsible thinking has created many of the good things about our society.

Moving on to the 21st century I hope to see a reemergence of respect for reasonable philosophical thinking. The 20th century led to a situation where philosophy was confined to a small corner of the conversation, mostly a mere cheerleader for science and mainstream dogmas. But, this was crippling to our reasoning faculties and to rational debate, and the atrophying of this is clearly visible in our society today.

The conversation on the connection between philosophical and critical reason and the nature of reality needs to be reopened. Science does not have the final word on what we have to believe about reality. Our own minds and our own thinking have the final word, for these are the only means we have to responsibly project humanity into a worthwhile future. The drift of entropy of deferring our thinking to experts will only lead to the downfall of human dignity in all areas, and so we must resist this.

I hope that my book, and my future books to come can be some small contribution to this fight, by clarifying the basic ontological grounds on which we need to be establishing our positions, in order to be able to defend ourselves from those who would like to take away our ability to think for ourselves.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon in the UK, the US, and Canada. It is also available on Amazon in many other countries. And it is due be released and available as a paperback also in the next few days. I hope anyone who chooses to read it gets something valuable from it, and any constructive feedback will also be appreciated…

A Journey Through 20th Century Philosophy – Amazon.co.uk

A Journey Through 20th Century Philosophy – Amazon.com

A Journey Through 20th Century Philosophy – Amazon.ca

Book Review – Tools for Conviviality: Ivan Illich

Tools for ConvivialityTools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lot of prophetic insights into our current malaise from a book written back in 1973 when most, if not confident in aspects of the political elite, certainly most still had faith in technological progress and the unqualified goodness of welfare and social state measures. This book explodes the whole faith in technological progress as an unqualified virtue. Showing how this is just the last phase of dependence on an industrial, depersonalised mode of being, of a consumer society that has reached a dead end of economic progress and knows no other way to run its societies, other than with notions of more state, more education, more health services, more everything and the issue of a quality service never gets a look in, and the issue of independence and self care gets lost as we become more and more passive, consumers with no independent self worth and no community spirit.

Here is one quote on progress, and how it becomes used purely as a way to perpetuate professional elites who must find ever more subtle ways to manipulate us:

“…first, new knowledge is applied to the solution of a clearly stated problem and scientific measuring sticks are applied to account for the new efficiency. But at a second point, the progress previously demonstrated is used as a rationale for the exploitation of society as a whole in the service of a value which is determined and constantly revised by an element of society, by its selfcertifying professional elites.”

Regarding this dystopian situation this creates, Illich states:

“…People would be confined from birth to death in a world-wide schoolhouse, treated in a world-wide hospital, surrounded by television screens, and the man-made environment would be distinguishable in name only from a worldwide prison. “

The not so good side of the book is in his positive predictions. Where he talks of an oppressed group inverting this social order. This just seems like a typical marxist dialectical analysis that deals in fantasies and not realities. The oppressed people right now have been made way too dependent and unable to be self sufficient in any area of their lives that they would be simply too scared to ever rise up against the system they depend on. A more realistic uprising might come from a group somewhere in the middle of society, feeling under threat of becoming totally dependent, but still currently independent enough to do something about it. Or it might come from other parts of the world taking over from the West on the world wide stage, such as China.

But he only flirts with this kind of Marxist analysis every now and then, and for the most part his suggestion of tools for a convivial society makes for very good guidelines for how we should aim to run our societies. He even brought up the notion of austerity, something the conservatives have lately talked of in the UK as a policy for fighting against aspects of the state leviathan dependency situation. But of course it often gets caught up as being just to help the rich corporations avoid taxes and exploit workers more. But then on the other side we only create more state dependence, that will ultimately bring down civil society completely. Devolution is another policy that has been implemented much and is also a suggestion of Illich. But on the other side the dangers of the technological elite controlling us all is still there. With their professionals extorting money from us all under fears of global catastrophe where they are the “experts” and we are expected to trust all our ideas and all our resources to them to save us from disaster. Such a situation is clearly dangerous and I think a sober appreciation of some tools for a convivial society, and of the implications of our dependence on a non-convivial state bureacracy can be a good basis for a reasonable political discussion not tied up in the outdated paradigm of the simplistic more state, or less state dichotomy.

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Underground Thinkers: Alfred North Whitehead

Whitehead is best known as the co-author of the principia mathematica with Bertrand Russell. That grand, but ultimately failed attempt to reduce mathematics to formal logic. If people know anything else about him, it might be for his famous quote arguing that western philosophy is largely footnotes to Plato. Beyond this, though, little his known about the whole process philosophy he pursued.

While Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein developed their logical atomism, a philosophy of analysing dead isolated things. Whitehead, not satisfied with this approach and going to a contrary extreme, was striving to create a philosophy of organisms as being all interconnected living processes.

What happened here? The two figures had been close in their estimation of logic, close in their mathematical and scientific background and close in their desire to understand the true nature of things. Yet they ended up going off totally at right angles in their search, and forming totally opposite conclusions.

Both Russell and Whitehead attempted logical constructions of physics from a few basic notions, and both realised that one could not start out with point-like, static things, based on the advances in science, with 4 dimensional space-time, but would need to construct instead more dynamically out of events. This though is the point at which they diverge sharply. Where Russell sees events as localised approximations to thing like entities in space and time, and is happy, with this concession made, to place the events back in the usual static logical atomistic ontology in line with natural science. Whitehead, however, sees things differently. For Whitehead these events are indicative of a basic change on the fundamental ontological level of reality, whose adoption must effect all other aspects of our ontology, and cannot be localised and approximated to things, but instead must be universalised as examples of process as the fundamental reality of the world.

This debate between the process ontology and the thing ontology goes back all the way to the ancient Greeks with Democritus and Parmenides arguing for stable substances as the underlying reality on one side and Heraclitus on the other side arguing for change and processes as the underlying reality. Whitehead takes up the side of Heraclitus and proceeds to develop his process philosophy. In works such as Process and reality he lays out this approach.

I won’t get into the details of it here, as he relies on a lot of technical concepts, and they are often not common-sensical notions because the common sense prejudice of our language, thanks to its grammar, is to see “things” as primary to which we then attach predicates and verbs as secondary. The nouns referring to things are predominant, rather than the verbs referring to processes. But languages with verb dominance can be created, as David Bohm gives a great example of in his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order.

A few central aspects of Whiteheads philosophy that are rising in popularity again recently include the notion of panpsychism. This view is coming to be seen as one clear way to forge a reasonable position in the philosophy of mind debate. Another is the notion of holons or holographs. The idea is developed more explicitly by Koestler and then by Bohm and others more recently as a different way to formulate ontology in order to make parts of quantum theory like quantum entanglement and apparent action at a distance seem more coherent. A third concept is that of the laws of nature as being more like habits. If the universe is an organism all the way down, and all the way up, then the terminology more suited to it is that of habits, rather than laws. Invariant laws suggests machine-like entities, but there is no reason to suppose that this perspective will be the last word. This notion of the habits of nature has been brought back into prominence more recently by Rupert Sheldrake, who raises a lot of interesting questions regarding it.

All in all then, there is much still to be discussed regarding the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. He may have been effectively pushed into the underground of history because his ideas did not chime well with the ontological presumption of things as primary in an extended space and time. But, though the world of the 20th century may not have been ready for his ideas, I think there is some hope that the world of the 21st century and beyond may well be.