Dirty 30: A Chance to Do Things Different

If you’ve been missing my daily posts (which you haven’t), then my apologies. I needed a break.

I’ve been writing a breakneck pace for a little over a year. Once when the dog days of summer hit, I had nothing left in the tank.

It’s been refreshing actually. For awhile, not a day went by where I had to worry about what I was going to write. I had to see philosophy in everything. Do you know what a pain in the ass that is?

So I’ve been letting my mind just…wonder. About anything, really. Philosophy has no longer become a burden; or a chore that required me to stretch the limits of my intellect.

Honestly, I don’t even know how I became interested in it to begin with. A year and a half ago, I couldn’t tell you shit about Kant’s Transcendental Idealism or Marxist Dialectical Materialism, or Hobbes’ state of nature….nothing. Mind you, I still know nothing, but somehow I know a lot more than I did. And no one told me to learn any of it. It just sort of happened.

And now I’m burned out.

But I spent a ridiculous amount of time just thinking about how to live rather than just LIVING. So much energy was dedicated to learning about being a human that I completely forgot that I was a human! And I’ve said more than once: “forget about the pursuit of happiness, and just be happy!”

Seems simple enough, yet I never followed that advice. I was searching for happiness within my writing…within the words of philosophers of old. I learned a lot. Yet I still came up empty.

What could have caused such a void to begin with? And why was there such an urgency with my writing?

I have avoided answering those questions. But the truth is a familiar one: I was dreading turning 30.

Now I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about my upcoming 30th birthday. It’s all horseshit and no one cares anyway. It happens to everyone that lives for thirty years or more. Yet here I am.

And it’s horseshit because it’s meaningless. In theory, at least. We give so much weight to youth that we forget that it’s all a lie. Just admit it to yourself….being 20 sucked. You were poor, you couldn’t get laid, and you were probably an asshole (at least I was). Not that this experience is universal, but for the vast majority of us, being in our teens and twenties was not a pleasant experience…that is if you’re honest with yourself.

Were there some perks? Of course. I can’t think of any because I’m much more athletic, better looking, wealthier, smarter, and I get laid regularly (because I’m married). But for one reason or another, many people feel that those were the best years of their lives.

And it’s killing them.

Even if it were true, why continue to believe that your best days are behind you? Seems like that would be a pretty shitty way to live your life. I believe that it was the great Charles Bukowski (who didn’t find success in life in his late forties) that said “I’m only getting better.” Where he said that, I don’t know. And he might not have even said that, but it doesn’t matter….it was true of him and that’s the right attitude we should adopt.

Yet, the older we get, there becomes a greater sense of loss. But loss of what? Of youth?

So what?

But our youth becomes the measuring stick for how we live the rest our lives. We live within the shadow of our former selves. Obviously this is a (mostly nonsensical) problem.

If you’ve been following this blog at all, then you’ve probably come across the term static identity. Or where we conceive ourselves as being the same person until our deaths. We don’t think of ourselves as changing beings. Therefore, the older we get, we feel ourselves moving farther away from our “prime”…where we physically deteriorate, become set in our ways, and our personalities and general outlook become unmovable. Rather than seeing the self as water within a stream, it becomes more like stale bread that grows harder with each passing year.

This is why there’s a sense of loss the older we get. We don’t feel fresh. We’re less malleable. We’re no longer easily impressed upon. We are no longer in our “prime”.

I find it a mistake to keep living our lives the same way we’ve always lived it. People live in the same towns. Have the same friends. Read the same books. Watch the same shows. And give absolutely no thought to living in any other way.

Perhaps it’s out of fear. Fear of how others might think if we suddenly changed. Or perhaps it’s just laziness. The way that we have lived works for us, and can’t envision any other way.

I don’t know.

One of my biggest fears is doing the same shit I was doing when I was 20. Or attempting to recapture the “glory days”. I remember being 20. There were no glory days. There’s nothing to “recapture”.

I don’t know how many days I have in front of me, but I know how many are behind me. And I don’t want those days to be my best. I’d rather keep searching for better.

I took a break from writing because I needed a new voice. For the time being, I feel that I have taken the typical “academic” approach to philosophy as far as I can take it. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said by better philosophers.

In other words, I can’t keep writing about the same things I have always written about. It’s time to move on.

Don’t get me wrong though….I still plan on discussing philosophy. I mean, shit, this is a philosophy blog after all.

But I can’t be confined to what OTHER philosophers and thinkers said. This isn’t fucking college. I can write about whatever I want. But I need to view the world in a different light. No one gives a shit if certain views don’t conform to my “neo-Kantian” perspective. That’s old news.

I don’t fear turning 30. I no longer see it as a “loss of being in my 20s”. Fuck that. But it’s a chance to turn into something different. 

A New Theology: Part II- God is Reborn

We see the world, and ourselves, through the same eyes. I am today what I was yesterday. Not much really changes. Perhaps there’s violent shifts of the external world from time to time, but reality appears the same. Just a sea of slowly changing concrete objects.

Of course, we can’t escape our physical selves. The body granted to us is our entire being. And with this sense of being, the world attaches to us various traits: name, social security number, sex, and a number of other qualities. And we also ACTIVELY attach material objects to our sense being. We are the things we own. If someone steals from us, they are stealing from ME.

All of these qualities turn the identity into an unmovable stone. The self lays there, occasionally playing its part, and on and on this existence continues. It fails to see itself as a speckle of water flowing through space and time, falsely believing that it is only capable of the finitude placed onto it by external pressures. This goes on until death, never realizing the potential of what it could have blossomed towards.

This lack of freedom strikes the core of our intellect. We even ascribe to God finite qualities…that this Being is limited by Its own ethics, limitations that only IT can place onto Itself. If God isn’t free, mankind isn’t free.

Unfortunately, we separate God and man. Thousands of years of ancient texts tell us that we are lower than the gods. They created us, but are in no way a part of us. Some even go so far as to tell us we PERVERTED creation. That Mankind created its disunity with God. And these texts, even with their faults, are correct in this regard. Mankind has, in fact, created its disunity with God.

But a distinction is unnecessary.

When we ponder consciousness, especially high-functioning consciousness like ours, we certainly know one thing….that we have it. We are aware of the universe in what might be uncommon ways. Yet, we are a PART of the universe. We are, as Carl Sagan infamously said, made of “star stuff”. And we are aware of this fact. Encased within us, is the consciousness of the universe.

Out of raw (supposedly unconscious) physics…arose consciousness. Out of the Earth, Mankind was born. We don’t exist independent of the universe, we ARE the universe. God is us, and We are God.

But, “God is dead”, as Nietzsche said. Man killed Him and placed himself on top. But Nietzsche was slightly mistaken. Through Man’s rising to conquer the Earth, he killed a part of himself. The construction of the concrete self, and disunity with Nature, killed the most sacred part of humanity. But returning to, for a lack of a better description, a state of nature…we may say that God is no longer dead, He is Reborn.

We don’t have to rely on ancient texts to provide revelation. Its through our consciousness, that we have direct contact with revelation. Whatever power the Prophets had, we share the same powers.  So we don’t have to consult with these texts. The words we possess have the power to convey sacred messages.

This isn’t to say that we have contact with any supernatural power. These realms are only works of fiction. It isn’t the specific events within these fictions that are important, it’s the eternal messages that they present. More often than not, these stories and myths can get in the way of true understanding. If such myths only promote fear, superstitious belief, or dogmatic allegiance, then (to quote another great philosopher, David Hume) “commit them to the flames.”

These beliefs don’t relieve us from the burdens of this world, they only serve to further our denial. They deny our place in the universe, our TRUE abilities, and the connection with our fellow beings. They only suppress our ability to engage in logic and reasoning.

The universe granted us, as we exist today, with insight into ourselves and the world. The mind isn’t, however, perfect. And there is much we need to do in order to reconnect with this stream of (or acceptance within) spacetime….

(And I need to figure out where the hell I’m going with all of this)

My Life With Kant: Moses Mendelssohn

Welcome to the Best of MY LIFE WITH KANT.

Hopefully this will hold you over for few days while I am out of town. Please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors. Enjoy!

My Life With Kant: Moses Mendelssohn

When it comes to the Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau’s work remains the best example, however others before him were also developing this idea. Thomas Hobbes’s the Leviathan was a hugely influential work that inspired many political thinkers in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

One of the central ideas in the Leviathan is Hobbes’s notion of the State of Nature that early man found himself in. In this state, everyone can be considered equal because no one has the authority to exert power over other individuals. Even perhaps the strongest individuals can be defeated in some way without any enforced repercussions because there are no laws that protect anyone. Man’s primary desire is to fulfill his self-interest with the only deterrent being the fear of a horrific death. According to Hobbes, in order to avoid a world of persistent war and suffering, man must forgo some of his liberties and form a contract that would allow a government to protect the rights of individuals and prevent others from trampling on those rights.

However, Jock Locke didn’t take such a bleak view of the state of nature. Unlike Hobbes though, Locke believed that in the state of nature that man is capable of enacting a natural law, like bringing about justice, because anyone and everyone has the authority, or a lack of constraint, to do so. But because things in a state of nature can’t be guaranteed, like safety and protection of private property, humans should therefore engage in a civil state. Locke also argues that any state that is not enacted through the consent of the governed is therefore not legitimate, and the people are allowed to overthrow it. It’s from here, and for his advocacy of the separation of powers, that it’s easy to see how Locke was influential on the American Founding Fathers.

But, regarding the separation of powers, none were more influential on the Founding Fathers as Montesquieu, who actually separated the powers into executive, legislative, and judicial.

At any rate, when it comes to the state of nature, it seems that Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau seemed to believe that humans are not naturally political beings, and therefore must use their reasoning to form governing bodies. I have stated before that that is not the case and that even before there was something called the modern state that humans lived in tribal societies, which was likely a carry-over from their ancestors. So humans and hominids were living in these conditions for thousands, if not millions of years before the modern state. Even though tribal societies were primitive bodies, they were still governing entities and it would certainly seem to suggest that humans are innately political, rather than solitary beings that are only out serving their own individual interests. Even though there certainly are individuals that do that sort of thing, they are the exception to the rule, and therefore regarded as criminal, and is certainly not indicative of what all humans were like before modern society. It was because of these primal governing bodies that allowed politics to evolve to the state that it’s in today.

However, that is only knowledge that we have access to today, and political theorist living during the 17th and 18th centuries can’t be blamed for their beliefs. The important thing to keep in mind here is that the ideas presented by Hobbes, Locke, Montesque, and Rousseau would play an important role in the French and American Revolutions later down the road. But that’s a story for another day.

The social contract theory was an important idea that helped bring about a new era of rights for all individuals. Or at least, almost every individual. When these thinkers were dreaming up the social contract theory, they were more than likely speaking to European, or white, readers. Not everyone was so lucky.

Slavery was still rampant in the European world. Despite this, a few African thinkers still managed to gain a foothold in the intellectual community, most notably Anton Wilhelm Amo. He was more than likely sent to Europe as a slave in the early 1700’s, but he would later manage to attend the University of Halle and earn a doctorate at the University of Wittenberg. It appears that he found himself on the empiricists side of the empiricist vs. rationalist debate, and would later become a professor at Halle, and later Jena, but as to be expected from the time, he received a great deal of criticism. Likely due to the attitudes that others took to him during his employment as a professor, he returned to Ghana, his country of origin, where he lived out the rest of his life. Amo’s work would never receive the attention it probably deserved during his time, and was largely ignored as philosophy developed across Europe during the 18th century.

I bring this up because it’s an interesting piece of history that helps tell what life and thought was like during that era. When we think of the Enlightenment, we tend to romanticize that time and those thinkers without really bringing to mind some of the darker aspects that existed. Whole groups of people were marginalized across the world. Even though science and philosophy were supposedly freeing the mind from the grasp of the church and monarchy, these ideas were only applicable, in the minds of the Europeans, to the white man who was the most civilized being on the planet.

Even though I study their ideas, I don’t want to glorify the people that came up with them. In our modern eyes, these were not people worth glorifying despite the impact that they made on modern philosophy. I don’t want to be perceived as exalting a bunch of dead white guys. I want to divorce these ideas from the men that came up with them.

Even though slavery ran wild during this time, it’s easy to forget that there was another group of people that were ostracized from the mainstream. Anti-semetism was also rampant throughout Europe prior to the events leading up to World War II. One such Jewish thinker that lived during this time was Moses Mendelssohn. He won a prize from the Berlin Academy in 1763, beating out none other than Immanuel Kant, for his essay titled “On Evidence in Metaphysical Sciences“.

This essay lays out Mendelssohn’s metaphysical framework, where he argues, at least according to the Stanford Encyclopedia, that metaphysics works the same way as mathematics in that they both utilize conceptual analysis. There are, of course, many layers to his arguments, but ultimately God has to exist in order to prove that the world outside of the mind actually exists. In his other works, he would even go on to sort of paraphrase Descartes by saying that “I am, therefore God exists.” But he would also further cite his proof for God’s existence by arguing that something that does not exist cannot be thought of. However, it should be said that existence is not necessary for something to be conceptualized. But because of our finite knowledge of ourselves and this world, things outside of our knowledge must be thought of, if they are to exist. Therefore, there has to be something that Mendelssohn calls an “infinite intellect” where all things are known. From this, we can surmise that God exists.

Most of his explanations of God’s existence is described in the work called “Morning Hours”, which were lectures that he gave to his son. This was published later in his career while he was engaged in a controversy with Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, who called out the writer Gotthold Lessing for his Spinozist views. Baruch Spinoza was a philosopher of the 17th Century, who was also of Jewish ancestry. His most famous, and most controversial, idea is that all substance in the universe is made up of God. God is the only substance in the universe, and modes are the customization of that singular substance.

From this, it’s easy to see how many would equate Spinozism with pantheism, which during the time of Mendelssohn, being accused of holding these views would have severe consequences. Spinoza himself received backlash for writing these works during his time. But in the 18th Century, Jacobi was concerned with the Enlightenment’s descent into what he saw as atheism, and Lessing’s work was just another example of that happening. Mendelssohn was a friend of Lessing, and could not stand by while Jacobi accused him of such things after Lessing’s death.

The debate between Mendelssohn and Jacobi, which was a huge controversy at the time, would come at a huge cost to both thinkers, and would end up effecting the perception of Spinoza’s philosophy as well. But Mendelssohn should be best remembered for his attempts to find acceptance of Jewish culture within German society. After he wrote his prize winning essay, Frederick the Great, who we discussed earlier, extended to him the same rights that all other German citizens possessed, however it was extended only to him and not to other members of his family. This, coming from Frederick the Great, who was supposedly a king that was ahead of his time. This just goes to show how far Jewish culture had to go to find acceptance in Europe.

Mendelssohn would take on the act of excommunication within Judaism, and establish that religion has no such authority to commit such an act, unlike the state which, in part due to the social contract, has the authority to use physical power. He would state, in his work titled “Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism”, that religion’s primary power should be that of, quote “love and beneficence”. He would also suggest in this work that the truths revealed in Judaism could be concluded through independent means and is therefore compatible with natural reason.

Mendelssohn also translated the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible, into German, which was an attempt to help the Jewish population, whose primary language at the time was Yiddish, to learn the German language. He also furthered his reputation with his work Phadon which was well-received in his time.

With all of these works, Moses Mendelssohn spearheaded the Haskalah, or the Jewish Enlightenment which would help establish an identity among the Jewish populations within Europe. As the 19th Century developed, several Jewish political movements arose, which would eventually lead, through much turmoil, the creation of the independent Jewish state of Israel in the 20th Century. Another subject that we will most likely revisit.

The Static Identity: The Root of all Evil

A chained man no more.

Have you ever been in this situation? Knowing that you must do a thing, but your body and mind just couldn’t let you do it?

I faced this scenario this morning. Everyone knows that I have (or had) a terrible job. But I woke up. I put on work clothes. Got in my vehicle. And drove the 20 minutes that it takes to get to my (former) place of employment. I got to the building, and everything fiber in my being wouldn’t let me pull into the parking lot.

I literally couldn’t do it.

So I drove on by and didn’t look back.

I have never done that in my professional career. Usually I’d just bite the bullet and hack out another day, and hope that I will land on my feet somewhere else. But not today. My body and intellect kicked in and took over. I was no longer in control.

My rallying against careerism is nothing new. I’ve always felt that people overly associate their identity with their career. But in doing so, their profession becomes just another stone that weighs down the true identity of a person.

In the last post, I mentioned this thing called the static identity. We’re born. Then we’re given a name, a social security number, and assigned a gender. We’re stuck in this life until the day we die. You can run all your life, but you will never escape your social security number.

This is how we see ourselves.

We are our family. Our jobs. Our community. And our relationship with others. You are not permitted to escape.

While it’s not possible in a physical sense to become something or someone else, the notion of the self (or the “I”) is not actual. It’s something that only the mind applies to itself, and so the notion of a continual self is an illusion. As in Buddhism, all of reality (to include the self) is a stream moving forward in time. The notion of continuity is an idea in the mind, and is therefore not real.

This might sound crazy, and I don’t care. I can say anything I want in this blog.

But the important thing is that these ideas in the mind are rudely enforced by the external world. We can choose to ignore them, but in doing so, we risk having the will of the outer world imposed on us….meaning the law will imprison us, we can become ostracized, or any number of other things. To avoid this confrontation, we placate these societal norms and play the part that was given to us.

We become locked-in to our identities, and it is made difficult to transform. Then we are forever trapped within the existence imposed upon us. This, I believe, is why we are undergoing a mental health crisis. Not only because we are getting better at diagnosing these problems, but because bureaucratic, technological, and economical entanglement is getting better at transposing societal norms onto individuals. And the only way forward is to find acceptance, so we have higher rates of depression, paranoia, addiction, and recidivism of crime.

Therefore, as the great Jean Jacques Rousseau said: Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.

Rousseau seemed to have differed from his fellow contemporaries in believing that human progress has not been beneficial; that mankind was better off in its state of nature. Believing that in this state, humans were peaceful, noble, and lived in harmony.

This belief in the nobility of the natural state of mankind is, of course, bullshit. HOWEVER, I don’t believe that he was completely wrong in challenging human progress. This “progress”, really hasn’t been progress at all. At best, it’s just been a matter of switching one set of problems out for another. IN FACT, this progress has contributed to a great deal of modern problems, namely class warfare, racism, sexism, slavery, poverty, and God knows what else. While this state of nature might not have been peaceful and noble, mankind was at least EXISTING in its natural state, rather than living in a manufactured and prolonged misery of being.

We might be living LONGER, we can also say that we are living in an extended existence of slavery. Slavery to jobs, to mortgage, to materialism. Instead of being seen as an integral part of a community (as in a state of nature), we are seen as being just one.  Just one of the millions that consist of a nation-state; an existence that doesn’t matter, that only plays a small role in the vastness of world population. We have to fight for meaning and purpose because we are chained to an insignificant societal identity.

To be happy is to be unaware of this predicament, or to find meaning outside of this paradigm.  This means to be stupid or in complete denial. OR to find acceptance in this stream of existence.

This is an unpopular opinion. Especially in our state “feel good” literature. Everyone wants to read or hear about how “they matter”. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true. The average person today just doesn’t matter. The individual has been disconnected from a grand community; thrown into existence. We are all just a minor player in this realm of society.

Of course, the solution isn’t to return to a “state of nature”. We know too much. A state of nature is a ship that has sailed. For better or worse, we are stuck with this economic-bureaucratic-technological complex. The paste is out of the tube. How we fix this problem would require a recognition of hard truths.

What are these truths??

Chiefly, most of the nonsense we surround ourselves with is false. They are only problems that we create in our heads, and become reinforced by societal standards. Imaginative problems are the number one cause of stress in the world. Having a mortgage and career are not LITERAL necessities for survival. Realistically, to live a reality that’s genuine, we have to recognize our basic selves. One that is stripped away from from modern conveniences.

But truthfully, I have no answers on how to fix these problems. Because in order to do so, would require an understanding that’s fundamentally contrary to everything that we know. It’s not as easy as reverting back to anarchy or taking up a Marxism. The only revolutions that work are the ones that are generated from within.