Saturday, June 30, 2007

How Reality, Part 1

Human beings don't spend very much time on a reduced plane of material objects. We tend to live in a world of stories, which is what the individual self is: not an objective, external object but a collection of processes and internal conversations whose program is to cluster together and exclude enough information to function but include enough so as to appear to exist as an objective, external object. The result is something like a feedback loop, and identity is more or less a story that collection of different processes and programs tells itself.

So, the models of a material world are necessary, but they need to be used in tandem with poetics so the story can continue and the organism function. Religion is a way of organizing those poetics in a way that is coherent to our illusory selves so we can organize our internal universe enough to make it habitable. The content of said religions doesn't matter as much as the way said content is structured, and how it can be used to the best effect.

For example, in all the collected sayings of Buddha, not once does he say "You have to believe that karma is literally true or you're not a Buddhist." Never does Jesus endorse the Substitution Theory of Atonement over the Ransom one. These are things people use after the fact to make sense of it all, in the same way that religion is used after the fact to make sense of things. Someone doesn't have to believe in karma to derive value from Buddhist teachings. Buddha, Jesus, Lao-Tze and the founders of many other religions had very non-dogmatic teachings that were later on dogmatized, changed from systems of individual salvation and enlightenment (two terms I take to mean the same thing) into political tools.

In the same way, the game of soccer gets transformed from a means of making sense of things and organizing the internal universe (I play soccer, it gives me joy, joy makes the world habitable) into franchises that channel that into financial ends (watch our soccer, buy tickets to our games, buy stuff from our advertisers). Not that I'm condemning this morally or anything, since I think that business is another means of self-actualization and making the world habitable for our puny, self-important egos. The point is that the same evolutionary platform that governs the universe itself also governs biology, which in turn governs social interaction, and that means that not just individuals but all systems tend to self-organize to give themselves maximum survivability and strength. Survival of the fittest; as above, so below.

The primary problem of human existence is survival; food, water, shelter, sex. Once we have that taken care of, we move on to the secondary problem: that the material universe is uncompromisingly harsh, violent, and random, where things must kill each other to live and that when you get down to it, the invidividual experience, the sense of "I"ness, has no objective scientific validity at all. But it's necessary to believe in it, because it helps propogate life and vitality. An egoless species would probably get eaten, and to any extent, it certainly isn't very fun. But, and here's what Nietzsche was driving at (I <3 Neitzsche); is a necessary fiction even fictional at all?

So, reductionist materialism dies on the vine. Yes, everything has a material basis, but that on its own only takes you so far. From a purely materialist perspective, why shouldn't all of us kill ourselves? It would provide the most benefit to organic life at large, since our corpses would provide a hearty meal to scavengers, maggots and countless trillions of bacteria. Eventually, billions of years from now, a species may evolve from said scavengers, maggots or bacteria that doesn't massacre one another regularly or build enough atomic weapons to render Earth a quasi-lifeless rock for thousands of years. The self dies, but it doesn't really exist in the first place; it's the collective illusion of a cluster of emergent processes.

For life to continue, we must believe in something that is scientifically false. Which means that it isn't really false, it is something that is "true" under a different rule set.

This is where poetics come in; religion, art, business. They provide us the means of building rule sets from scratch that affirm and continue life in a way that pure materialism cannot, because it builds an environment where the "I" is allowed to exist, and not just exist, but incorporate itself comfortably into the material universe. But as it solves the secondary problem of human existence, it creates the third problem of power and social relations, since the tendency of systems to self-organize means exclusion, which is a means of organization. These systems that give so many people the means to live as themselves are also semi-sentient, organizing principles, competing with one another over which get to exist.

This leads to sports franchises making money off of something you could, if you wanted to, experience daily for free. It leads to ethnic conflict. It leads to eugenics. And yes, it leads to religious fanaticism, which is the result of some very big jerks appropriating the religious experience of incorporation and salvation of others for their own selfish ends. This means religious leaders capable of twisting the words religious texts that condemn violence to justify violence; this means those soccer guys who support Arsenal kicking the crap out of Manchester United supporters; this means blackshirts assaulting those who dare to insult Il Duce. They are all religions, they all provide things necessary for survival, and they all produce problems stemming from the same things.

In business, this means that some companies channel that wonderful experience of independence and self-actualization that comes with owning your own business, or being a part of something you truly believe in, and use it to abuse eminent domain laws and use the government to crush their competition.

In art, this leads to, well, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: crap, that provides incorporation and salvation in the same way that pork rinds technically provide nutrition.

This is where we are right now, I believe. Religion, art, business and many other things I'm sure I'm forgetting to mention provide the tools necessary to survive in this harsh environment of stories we live in, but by the same token, produce the most daunting challenges to that survivability. The question is how to negotiate ourselves to that realm where we can solve the problems while keeping the benefits.

(Incidentally, this is the reason for my anarchism: the state, like art, business and religion, provides the means for self-actualization and incorporation of one's self into the environment, but the state is unique in that it provides those things only by letting some dominate others through violence, and thus it is an innately harmful means of doing so)

Am I making sense?


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