Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Still Life With Humanism and Numerous Offspring:

In philosophical terms the dichotomy between camp and versimilitude popular cultural forms is a conflict over how we deal with reality. One can see the conflict in public discourse in a slightly less artisitc form: idealistic agendas versus relativism.

Happily, idealism is invalid because it bases real world decisions on a hypothetical ideal - for example, “what the world needs now is love sweet love”. The world may need love ideally, but in reality only around four percent of humans are capable of love so the idea of “what the world needs now” is not wrong but simply an imprecise and ineffectual description of reality. It is a pop song that tells a sweet irrelevance to distract you from your long hour at work. It is the airport lounge literature that keeps you from losing your temper over a late flight. Idealism is a salve for the weak, which is good news because knowing this helps the would-be strong be forewarned to watch for and avoid such self-imposed victimisations. Idealism is also the first response of the weak to the prospects of empowerment, because it allows them to keep a sense of victimisation while they attempt to guide their lives in service of the ideal.

Relativism, on the other hand, is a kind of stopgap measure adopted in ethical areas where the level of complexity has outpaced human ability to comprehend, such as in politics or in liberation moralities such as feminism and gay and ethic liberation. Relativism is the philosophical version of artistic camp - it is fascinating, seductive, and, well, fabulous. But it is not usually rooted in reality any more than idealism, because holding a relative view in practice presupposes a relative self, a kind of ecology of subselves that compete for airtime in a crude kind of Darwinism. As an integral part of the selfishness of the baby boomer generation, moral relativism is an essential tool of denial, projection, and rationalisation, helping to purpetual mellenial distortions of fact that are passed off as our common humanity just because they are too absurd to refute for year another century.

Both idealism and relativism are ways of handling the challenge presented to our species by the assertion of the human, known as humanism. What makes a human being? What is the measure of a man? What is the place of humanity within the universe? Where did man originate, and whence does man travel hereafter?

With the answers to these famous questions the West ascended to cultural predominance over the last four hundred years. The driver of Western Civilisation was the assertion of the human, just as the driver of Western wealth was the presence of world-mastering genius, forging innovations new to mankind.

Humanism presents enormous conflicts to human society. Most notably humanism challenges the social structures we share with the other animals. In response, human society tries and fails to organise itself along lines that could be described as rational, sensible, or even peaceful. Humanity has and will always fail in the tragic project of generating a stable, peaceful, moral and useful society, but nevertheless the promise humanism holds out is not an ideal but a genuine intuition of the capabilities of man, based in experience rather than theory. We all sense that humans have the potential to grow and change and learn that is is at least somewhat greater than the species most close to ours. We sense this potential and so seek to enshrine it in culture, tragically and idealistically. Or we seek to enshrine it as an individual moral response to life, bring moral relativism to bear on the interpersonal problems we suffer which are beyond our competence to solve. Or, worst of all, we simply deny our humanity and seek common sense, which is the animal consciousness of our species. To displace the challenge raised by the assertion of the human is to accept by default animal mores developed by our species from ancient times. However, it is also by default to deny the possibility of human potential in order to maintain the semblance of humanity. This is tragic and most-difficult-to-accept condition of just over 80 percent of humans presently alive.

The idealistic progeny of humanism are notorious and varied:

Humanistic principles have originated classicism, the rennaissance and its ensuing so-called “religious” bloodshed of the reformation and the enlightenment, the marxist view of human values enshrined in class struggle, and the mass murdering nationalism of the early 20th century. In our lifetimes it has given rise to baby boomer liberation movements, 12 step recovery, and many extraordinary, passionate and ennobling American expressions of pragmatism and liberalism. Lastly but not least these same human values have been at the source of the grand attempt to fuse humanism and economics known as neo-liberalism, the ecologically-inspired version of humanism known as the green movement, and the confabulations of the new economy, which can be seen as an idealistic attempt to use economic means in the service of a (now old fashioned) baby boomer-style liberation of the working masses, a sad idealism whose promise will haunt us for another century to come.

The presence of our humanity is best explained by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie depicts a massive obisidian obelisk, obviously constructed by intelligent beings, found unaccountably in a crater on the moon. The challenge of the assertion of the human is that it is alien to human culture, and risks alienation from everyday life to exist.


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