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Personhood Theory: An Account of Dignity and Its Opposite
Henry Flynt 2005
© Henry A. Flynt, Jr.
Acknowledgement is due to Galen Aumüller, Marcus Boon, and Virginia Tate for conversations while this manuscript was in progress.
1. Philosophical anthropology and the “transports”
2. Natural science as prestige cognition
3. Divisions within the alert waking state
5. Dignity spurned?
6. Dignity a formidible topic
7. Dignity as potential—respect as relative
8. Transports and other novel facets
9. First explications of dignity
The circumstantial polarity of affections
Our inexhaustibility to ourselves?
Acquitting oneself well situationally?
Acquitting oneself well generally
One’s relation to others
Dignity as earned?
Attaining one’s full stature?
Dignity as potential—vocation?
10. Supernaturalism fixated
11. My modalities and this perspective
12. Methodology and paradoxicality
13. The quasi-moral requirement
14. The opposite of dignity
15. Personhood and the flesh
16. Again the transports
17. Proposals for the rehabilitation of morale
Text A. The transports
Text B. Religious notions about human exceptionality
Text C. The mentally retarded
Text D. Religion and compensation
Text E. Against unknown knowledge and speculation: the question of Aristotelian discourse-universes
Text F. Psychology in the Jesus narrative
Text G. Is the science of machines adequate to us?
Text H. Mechanistic materialism and dignity as a social issue
Text J. Psychotherapy
It was an aim of personhood theory at its inception in 1980 to provide an account of dignity. And yet it was twenty-five years before I was ready to approach the topic. My assumptions about what the analyst’s task would involve were naive in 1980.
1. Philosophical anthropology and the “transports”
An entire background chapter needs to be added to philosophical anthropology. The philosophical tradition has generally been concerned with cognition, with the alert waking “phase of being,” with rationality, as they like to call it. Non-epistemological branches of philosophy such as ethics proceeded from the premise of rationality. (Without rationality, people cannot be held responsible for what they do.) Aristotle has a treatise on the soul which acknowledges dreaming; it is all too ill-conceived to be relevant here.
Philosophical anthropology needs to acknowledge that there are preferred waking phases of being which typically are not alert. The “transports”; intoxication. The Sixties captured this side of life with its typically vulgar phrase “sex and drugs.” It is a chapter which needs to be explored from a philosophical vantage-point (as opposed to behaviorism or literary or New Age exploitation). Hennix was my guide in this area.
First, in general, these preferred, elevated phases of being are not attained by any insight or realignment of a cognitive character. The importance of that discovery, in principle, is immense. The transports need “turn-ons,” as the Sixties knew. They have to be ignited, and the existence of these ignitions has to do, in conventional terms, with our corporeal nature, our flesh, no matter that the mechanisms are poorly understood. Let us be clear that not only sex, but drugs and sleep are corporeal. Dropping acid is not a cognitive procedure (in fact, one does not sense one’s body’s processing of the chemical). The reason something happens has nothing to do with the adoption of an intellectual posture.
Sex and drugs are not the only ignitions. If we include hypnopompic hallucinations, as the psychological literature calls them, and morning amnesia (my phrase), then sleep can be an ignition. If we include hallucinatory and delusive fantasy, then the art called hypnosis can be an ignition. Fever can be an ignition, affording a person hyper-real dreams. (Unfortunately, the illness is probably more dangerous than the dreams are worth.) If we want to list everything, when a person dies to whom a survivor was close, the survivor not infrequently has hallucinations of contact with the deceased.
As an aside, that suggests that there are hallucinatory zones in ordinary reality as many people know “it.” Well, a stronger observation is possible. When people take drugs which produce hallucinations—and the “evident world” incurs anomalies—then people ideologically embellish the anomalies in the moment of perception. That was the occasion of my critique in “The Psychedelic State.” Without descending into New Age flimflam, it is quite a lesson that there may be hallucinatory and ideological additions to the object in the moment of perception. Of course, people have to be “factually realistic” much of the time for everyday life to be possible.
Resuming with the transports, Hennix made an original proposal in this area. Some drugs afford a subjective hyper-lucidity. Subjectively, you see into your past and see the causes of your present “personality”; at the same time, abstract thinking becomes effortless and far-ranging. You are able to make breakthroughs, to chase ideas far down the implicative chain. Hennix is the only person I know who said clearly that there could be a transport of lucidity and ratiocination. (Subjective, let us be clear; it has not been proved not to be delusional.)
When transported, one can experience a revelation of “what ought to matter to me,” a revelatory displacement of attitude. (Again, it may be delusive.) I call sex and chemical intoxication “profane” because they do not necessarily sublimate. Another word is “sensual.”
However, it is possible for the attitude displacements during transports to be sublime. Very well, we shall speak of sublime “moments” (since the word ‘juncture’ connotes something mechanical). By announcing that a transport can initiate sublime ratiocination, Hennix requires us to rethink the purview of philosophical anthropology. (Again, we speak of subjective states; the ratiocination has not been proved not to be delusional.)
An exploration of the transports will be the first of this essay’s correlative texts. These texts will be indexed with Roman letters, Text A and so forth. Here we simply acknowledge the transports because they loom at the “margins” of alert waking life, and condition everything we say about dignity.
2. Natural science as prestige cognition
For the convenience of the reader, I do not proceed from my own modalities. I begin with the conventional wisdom and observe how that wisdom blows up on us—steering toward my own modalities. Now there is a fault-line in the conventional wisdom which is so big that I cannot postpone mentioning it. Natural science does not recognize minds, choice-making, responsibility, etc.—much less any such thing as a soul, etc. The reductionism of the scientific project, if you will, lies like a fallen tree across contemporary civilization. For prestige cognition, dignity is an illicit topic.
The words materialist, mechanist, naturalist, reductionist, behaviorist were not coined for nothing. They characterize the thrust of natural science from the time that its precursors appeared in ancient Greece. The endless middlebrow articles on the conflict between science and religion—which say that science explains everything in terms of matter—have not appeared for nothing. They appear because reductionist explanations keep pushing into territory previously considered the preserve of religion.
We admit—we insist—that scientists, as people, remain wedded to childhood religions. All the same, the project which they represent as scientists does not authorize them to do so. Do we really have to say that there is no branch of physics which proves the immortality of the soul? Do we really have to say that the relentless march of reductionism drove vitalism out of biology? This is the ABC of the history of ideas and shouldn’t have to be pounded into our readers.
None of the lessons implicit in this inquiry can be gleaned if we have to be evasive and euphemistic about what natural science has meant as a project. We refuse to recapitulate the innumerable texts which embody the mechanistic materialism, the reductionism, the disavowals of everything mental. (Norbert Wiener, Marvin Minsky, Hubert Dreyfus, Stephen Wolfram.) The point, of course, is not only that these luminaries say what they say, but that the profession of science includes no opposing position or textbook. There is no physics textbook which starts with psychospace—and there is no psychology textbook which proclaims a reality irreducible to matter (apart from extra-professional pandering).
Natural science has no place for a psyche. It has no place for choice-making. It has no place for language except as that word may have been given deceptively reductionist definitions. Of course scientists presuppose that they make choices and use language. Of course scientists point left and march right. Viewing the whole, and refusing to be indulgent, natural science is a total lie on the face of it. That understanding has been a foundation of our enterprise.
Elsewhere we observe that science stems from a fanatical mysticism of depersonalization. The goal of scientific civilization is the increasing manipulation of matter. Nobody is entitled to be surprised by this.
We will not labor to prove the obvious as a conciliation to our intellectually dishonest detractors. Let us proceed to the conclusions which we need here. Natural science does not confirm any psychic qualities. To mechanistic materialism, a human being is “merely an electric fan with the illusion that it is conscious.” “A human being poses no more moral issues than an electric fan does. Consciousness does not exist.”
Why is it that there is no book on any shelf called the philosophical anthropology of dignity? The topic has been divested of credibility by the triumph of the scientific world-outlook. Contemporary civilization is psychephobic—and moreover, is phobic toward ennoblement and exaltation. The prestige world-outlook grants no credibility to an inquiry into dignity.
As I hinted above, scientists as individuals remain wedded to their childhood religions. We could sift through Einstein’s The World As I See It and Out of My Later Years and find examples enough. The point, again, is that science does not authorize its adepts to harbor these views. Not only do I admit that the adepts are hypocrites, I insist on it—pointing out that those who call themselves atheists do not approach public affairs or conduct their private lives like atheists. (Minsky said in The Society of Mind that we have to believe in choice-making for moral reasons, even though it is scientifically false.) The reason why the public does not complain about the discrepancy is that the dishonesty legitimates the public’s dishonesty.
Scientists are not necessarily psychically robust. They may prefer to play the victim, they may prefer to feel sorry for themselves. They whine as if the world today is ruled by those who imprisoned Galileo. But not only is that outrageously false sociologically. The scientists themselves continue to adhere to their childhood religions with no scientific license to do so. As scientists, they make choices and they communicate in an enhanced natural language—with no scientific license to do so. When they condemn Creationism, they condemn a crude dishonesty, selectively, for transient political advantage. The betrayal of scientific norms by scientists who are Catholics, Episcopalians, etc. is far broader and more piercing than that of the Creationists.
Affectations of victimhood will not be humored here. In the prestige culture, natural science is the only doctrine that actually possesses authority. Sociology and theology and psychoanalysis are merely tolerated.
Science’s monopoly of intellectual authority has everything to do with how I have marshaled my efforts. Natural science is the only (cognitive and instrumental) challenge which I feel compelled to respond to. If I wasn’t sure that it is the civilization’s most formidible submission, I would not bother with it.
This inquiry does not allow me to be coy or evasive. Physics does not ascribe psychic affections or moral value to humans any more than to an electric fan. That gives the entire civilization the orientation which horrifies the traditionalists; that establishes the prestige consensus. If natural science were not already an indigestable trauma to public consciousness, the platitudes about dignity would not be the intellectual scandal that they are. To anticipate the next section, dignity is trumpeted as a value in the world’s supreme legal documents. Meanwhile, Europeans debated in 2004 over whether “the European religion” was to be mentioned in the European Constitution. Natural science affords no authorization whatever for these references.
Because I am committed to a uniform perspective, because I am not satisfied to believe materialism on Tuesday and supernaturalism on Thursday, I must draw on Flyntian modalities in this study. Science directly obstructs everything we propose to do. There is nothing for it but to plow science under, to destroy it cognitively.
In other words, my “insane extremism” is not optional in this discussion. It means, also, that I cannot abide in tranquility with the average person. The socially normative psychic fixation is called “sanity.” Recognizing that, I have to reply that the normative psychic fixation is insane. If I could abide in tranquility with the average person, the topic of this inquiry would be swallowed up in intellectual cowardice and hypocrisy.
The latter-day reconcilers “harmonize” science and religion by saying: “if natural science is only part of knowledge, then it follows that the miracle of water into wine (or whatever) occurred.”
Well, dishonesty viciously subtracts from intelligence. In the first place, science does not concede that it is incomplete in the sense that this pronouncement assumes—and the publicists ought to know that. In the second place, even if we disavowed the unity of science, the conclusion is a non sequitur—and the publicists ought to know that. To concede gaps in science would not prove “the water into wine.” Does the intellectual dishonesty run so deep that we have to say that?
We are not through with the work of destruction when we agree that physics does not give you permission to believe that Biblical miracles were real occurrences. Neither do the childhood religions have some vague wisdom which sets us on the right path. The Bible is not recommended here as an ethics treatise or a guidebook to the ethereal realm. The Bible is not a masterful ethics treatise. Its delineations of “the world above, the spirits in the sky,” amount to comic-book obscurantism.
The intellectuals tell me, the perfect solution is to believe science on Tuesday and the Bible on Thursday. I say, that is like believing Stalinism on Tuesday and Hitlerism on Thursday (which all too many people do). Congratulations on creating a perfect hell for yourself.
3. Divisions within the alert waking state
The human psychic sphere is divided within the alert waking state. Self-consciousness has long been given a place in philosophy (for what that is worth).
The divisions include reflections, reversals, self-detachment. Self-consciousness; the monitoring self. The hierarchy of goals: I may allow one goal to go unsatisfied in order to satisfy another. We restrain ourselves, we discipline ourselves. Because of the hierarchy of goals, “bad” becomes “good.” We may annoy somebody deliberately because we don’t approve of them. We may welcome hostility as a sign that we are disliked by people whose approval we wouldn’t want.
Something else needs to be acknowledged: a mentation outside the alert waking state. Attempting to extract a generic hypothesis from Freud, I introduced the label subsurface processing. With the new label I seek to escape the doctrinal baggage of Freudian terminology. Subsurface processing is one of the person’s facets.
Speaking of reverse behavior, once we grant that subsurface processing occurs, we can ask whether a reverse behavior is impelled from subsurface processing. For example, does one behave abrasively to repel another person without being aware that one does something deliberately? I say more about these junctures in the “wisdom and subsurface processing” series.
Such questions, which cannot be ruled out, became a trap for psychoanalysis, because they tempted the psychoanalyst to engage in slanderous ascriptions of motivations.
Just as ‘dignity’ can have several well-motivated meanings, so can ‘pride’. High expectations on oneself; self-infatuation. The meaning which is key here is that of standing or self-justification. I have placed this section next after §3 because the division which allows for self-consciousness and self-monitoring is a precondition for the possibility of pride.
I judge how I am doing by objective standards to which I have committed, or which matter to me. I may be embarrassed if I can’t spell. The criterion of spelling is the dictionary. Whether I care about correct spelling up to me. But it is not a whimsy; other people may penalize me if I cannot spell, reckon, etc. People will disapprove of me if I am not sufficiently well-groomed. Not only because I am unsightly or unsanitary, but because it may be emblematic that I am an irresponsible person. People will classify me as insubstantial if I do not drive, own a house, if I am not married, or the like.
This is not the place for a detailed treatment, but people form expectations regarding other people’s approval of them. I may disagree with other people about what is admirable. In that case I willingly forego the approval of others in the pursuit of self-approval.
Any number of people whose expectations of admiration are not met enhance their standing to themselves by fawning on themselves and shutting out any data that lessen their importance. They know it all; you can’t tell them anything they don’t already know. The author’s problem is, in a short space, to indicate the mental levels and the reversals given rise to by pride.
One may be viewed as riffraff by others and fail to please oneself at the same time. Nevertheless, such a person may battle back. They will have all sorts of ways of doing so, deriding the self-satisfied, giving themselves tawdry status with tawdry attire or outlandish accessories, facing down others with hostility.
At the same time, a dissatisfaction with themselves, correlative to being disapproved, may consign them to a wretched life, if not to self-destruction.
Pride has to do with expectations, with the opinions of others, with one’s capacity to judge oneself. It is very much a matter of milieu norms; it is highly relative in that sense. People battle for their pride, resorting to bravado, to tawdry bravado. All the while, pride is a correlative of dignity. Indeed, to separate dignity and pride rigorously would impose an uncomfortable level of rigor on this discussion.
5. Dignity spurned?
I was not ready to address dignity twenty-five years ago because I assumed that the task was to refine a platitude. ‘dignity’, of course, is used for several distinct concepts, most of them reasonably motivated. But what we have to contend with in the first instance is found at the beginning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family …
The European Constitution of 29 October 2004 provides for the human person. It provides for respect for human dignity, which it calls a value. At the same time, it is notoriously evasive on religion, leaving the person and dignity completely unexplained. In any case, Europe’s highest law is built on terms we have brought to the front in our inquiries since 1980.
One basic way of classifying notions of dignity is as follows.
—All people already have dignity
—Dignity is a potentiality for all people and that is what matters
—Dignity matters only when it is attained (or forfeited or divested!)
If we choose to take all this seriously, then the philosophical attitude takes over. We need to know what dignity IS before we bother to talk about whether it deserves respect and so forth. The place to start is with dignity attained (or forfeited or divested).
We can guess what the Universal Declaration and the European Constitution mean by dignity. Dignity is innate from birth. It has the constancy of a jewel but is intangible. [English assigns it the pronoun ‘it’—perhaps we should not make too much of this.] Then dignity has the being of a pure number, except that it is also personal. (But we just learned that grammatically it is a thing.) Very well, it is a pure number with a personal essence. Aristotle was said to be the master of the species of being, but he never said a word about this. We are commanded to respect dignity. In other words, it is sacred. It only lacks immortality to be identical to the soul—except that the pronouncements of the UN and EU are not keyed to religion.
Whatever the merit of the foregoing guesses, they are not the most instructive place to start. Let us turn to dignity attained. If we reflect intensely on the latter, it blows up on us. We are taken somewhere we did not plan to go.
A reflection on dignity becomes a trenchant critique of people—or a lowering of what we expect of people. It becomes a complement to “The Theory of Ordinary People” and so forth. That rather undercuts what the United Nations and the European Union want, namely, for dignity to be an award given to everybody.
We can salvage what the United Nations and the European Union want; we can identify qualities which most humans have which make it understandable that there would be a social injunction to respect humans. (Humans feel, think, are purposive, etc.—However, it turns out that this line of thought not sufficient.) Just here, however, there is a difficulty for the civilization of catastrophic dimensions. The very elite for which the UN and the EU speak accords the status of prestige cognition to natural science. As as we noted in the preceding section, scientific naturalism makes no place for dignity. The entire culture founders on this incongruity.
For all that, we choose a strategy of exposition which will take the measure of the “humanistic” notions, on their own terms, before taking the frame of reference as the problem. As to the humanistic notions, we need to reflect on dignity attained (or forfeited or divested). If we do, we are plunged into a critique of people.
It is reasonable to explicate dignity as the aspiration to authenticity. (That is not the only explication, of course.) Then somebody like Emily Dickinson would manifest dignity—give or take even more trenchant positions we will discover in later sections. But Emily Dickinson shows precisely what the catch is. Who would want her life? Her reward, the praise, the fame—she knew none of it. If she had believed she would be posthumously acclaimed for benefiting the public and giving New England some cultural credibility, that would be pure conjecture on her part. (There is no evidence that she believed any such thing.) In fact, she lived as she did out of concern with her stature in her own eyes (presumably). Do not be so quick to say that you admire that trait; in fact, you treat such people as delusional (and some of them are delusional, presumably).
If dignity is radical authenticity—if it means living as Emily Dickinson did—then most people don’t want it. The United Nations and the European Union are giving people an unearned promotion—which they don’t want.
Well, as Hennix brilliantly said, the trouble with philosophical anthropology is that it assumes that everybody has an equivalent inner life. There is another issue which this inquiry brings to the fore. We may assume that bitterness and resentment are faults. For all that, some people rise to the top by wielding resentment. And for all that, some people seem to thrive on resentment—hate is their fountain of youth. It raises the possibility that people have individual differences which are constitutional.
To specify that everybody has an equivalent inner life is in fact a specification for replacing the human race with a different race. It does not address people as they are.
Emily Dickinson was weird. How did she happen to find the equilibrium she did? That is like asking how it happens that somebody is a genius (which also could be asked of Dickinson). Dignity has to be explained in the same vein as genius. That is not what the United Nations and the European Union want, and it takes us where we did not plan to go.
In one word, most people want to be “happy.” But let us be realistic. Some people, more than we think, are not happy. They do not give themselves to pondering matters of principle because they can’t. In the first place, they are tied down by the various worries, addiction, relationship problems, lack of money, a hated job, chronic illness, approaching death, a burdensome family, and on and on. But there is something else. When basketball players get in trouble with the law, and reporters ask them if they will continue to play with all the worry, they reply that they will, because it is when they are on the court that they feel right and can forget their worries.
Basketball players soothe themselves (or brace themselves) with basketball.—But most people cannot soothe themselves by pondering matters of principle. It does not make them feel right. What is more, the content of the reflection may not be tranquilizing. Reflection may agitate one, where one has no outlet for that agitation. (I expect a reader who bears with this manuscript to find it agitating.) One has to have an additional gift for keeping one’s own counsel in order to find reflection bracing.
Our list of worries did not even mention the cruelties and disasters, war, tyrants, floods, fires, etc. Most people want happiness, but some people, more than we think, do not have it. More than we think: because people feign satisfaction in order to be presentable.
To sum up. Most people want happiness, not authenticity (if that is what dignity means). For all that, many do not have it. It is a lesson that philosophical anthropology ought to register.
But our critique has only begun. Entire classes of people manifestly, unarguably renounce dignity. All those who join cults. They aspire to be swindled and enslaved. In fact, I looked into cults a little, and I lost interest because nobody was testifying to any gratifications from joining. It was like gratuitously sending yourself to hell. People should not find the bargain attractive, and yet they do. Enough people commit that it is important.
The addict may not start out with the goal of forfeiting dignity, but that is what happens. In fact, the progressive dependency affects the addict’s judgment. The addict flails about trying to get another fix, not even realizing that the ruses have become transparent to other people. They exhaust their credit, steal, become homeless, are jailed or hospitalized by the police. They sink into debasement.
This suggests another explication. Dignity is self-control, being in control of your life. It means the ability to keep promises. It means being able to make a plan and follow it. It means not being desperate, not being an abject supplicant, not being adrift.—However, it turns out that this line of thought is not sufficient.
We come to the people in predatory occupations, mobsters, police torturers, etc. Here we need a lesson which we will return to later.
There simply is not a single ladder of causes for satisfaction, or success. People create ladders of satisfaction which are in competition with each other. If one remains in the marketplace of ideas—unless one resolves everything by a decree—then the content of fulfillment is bitterly disputed.
The mobster justifies himself by assuming that the world is irrevocably cruel. Then: winning is nothing but successful predation. So it is that mobsters are able to find people who admire them. Hooking schoolchildren on heroin, or peddling sex slaves, is admirable if you make enough money to maintain middle-class appearances and hide one side of your life from the other. The fans of mobsters gush over how dapper they are, over how well they carry themselves, over how self-reliant they are. For all that, we say that since they make their living directly by ruining other people’s lives, since they delight in causing suffering, they renounce dignity.
Moreover: what of Nazis and Islamic terrorists? What of serial killers? Isn’t it conventional wisdom that they are bereft of dignity? “There is something inherent in every individual which entitles them to respect”—and yet a person can incur the death penalty by committing a heinous crime.
We have a new consideration to contend with. What does your dignity have to do with how you treat other people? Well, if you prey on people, then you accord them no dignity. Then you have no dignity—or merit a characterization like “debasement manifest.” Then you comportment to other people is an issue in the definition of dignity. That is a conclusion we have been anticipating.
A generalization is warranted. Depending on the definition, most people don’t want dignity. And—entire classes of people aspire to the opposite of dignity, however one labels it. (They set a bad example.) Then what purpose could it serve to say otherwise—to accord them dignity as an unearned promotion? It is bizarre to use ‘dignity’ as a slogan and accord it to people just because they still breathe. And yet that is what the United Nations and the European Union do.
The example of the addict teaches us that dignity can be renounced little by little; it does not have the constancy of a jewel. We are reminded of a large lesson in philosophical anthropology:
We are always on our way, we must always do something else, we have standards for ourselves, we adopt goals and pursue them (unless we are supine in a nursing home). We are not inert, immobile, invulnerable, perfected (except that death “perfects” us involuntarily).
One can, with more or less effect, try to extricate oneself from demeaned circumstances. One can reverse the descent. In such an undertaking, an important part is played by
The way you interpret yourself, the way you interpret being alive, the way you interpret the short-run goal-seeking which goes on throughout your waking life.
“Why am I doing this?” Your answer affects whether you can do it.
If we can be forgiven the mechanistic metaphor, dignity has a dynamics as well as a statics. Indeed, dignity attained has more than one axis of development. Dignity has to mean something different for an infant, a child, an adult. Infants don’t walk tall: because they don’t walk. We cannot disregard our corporeal existence and the way it unfolds. We are still human (for all the garbage about cosmic transcendence that issues from this or that religion or cult).
If dignity has a dynamics, if one can let dignity slip, if one can realize that one has done so, if one can try to recover oneself, if one can recover oneself, there is just that much more to be accounted for. Dignity is a potential which is not necessarily extinguished by descending into debasement. What is more of a constant is the potential. However, philosophically, it is droll to use the language of tangibility about something as elusive as an unactualized potential. How wise is it to give people credit for heights they did not scale?
Many lives display trajectories in which one gets into trouble and then reclaims oneself in some manner or other. It is not a circle, because one does not return to where one started, or want to. (Where you started, you were already headed for trouble.) Philosophical anthropology should acknowledge recovery and reclamation, as it should acknowledge the waking transports.
Obviously, religions are packaged messages, institutions, which interpret these “junctures” and exploit them like an extortionist.
Something we have already said can never be forgotten. The ladder of achievement is not a done deal; it is disputed continuously. There is nothing to stop people who share failings from banding together and patting each other on the back. There are saloons which amount to the reverse of Alcoholics Anonymous. To the denizens of these dives, people whose lives are in control seem self-righteous and smug. Thus, there are social fringes which possess a transient equilibrium that forfeits dignity (as we understand it), and yet concoct a pride in themselves. It bears mentioning as an example of how people invent their own ladders of achievement.
6. Dignity a formidible topic
By now we can see that a substantial examination of dignity must above all be labyrinthine. Unwritten chapters need to be written to prepare for it. That is the reason why this essay has correlative texts, indexed with Roman letters.
The notion of dignity harbors intellectual issues, epistemological issues, if you will, which are far-reaching. I consider a suitable inquiry to be fiendishly circuitous, encountering paradoxes which have to be appreciated intellectually.
We can readily conclude that the objective of sorting dignity out finds the given civilizations wanting. Most civilizations impose a supernaturalist ideology which not only has no warrant intellectually, but is pathetically parochial, mirroring human lives with sky-people who are of the same race as the worshippers—groveling before those sky-people—imposing magic rituals on life—etc.
As for the present civilization, or the United Nations, it prides itself on providing generic or mundane preconditions for dignity, such as
—freedom of thought
—freedom from superstitious authority
—freedom from terror
—freedom from destitution
At the same time, this civilization, which has delivered us from superstition and from want (it says), has made things worse when it comes to sorting dignity out.
To reiterate, scientific naturalism radically excludes dignity.—All the while, there is a public arrangement to proclaim scientific naturalism one day and childhood religion the next. This is already an irrationalist deformation worthy of George Orwell.
But there is another layer to it. The elite consensus takes hollowness, mockery, cynicism as the ideal human qualities. In the universities late in the last century, it was called deconstruction. This is not the place to sort the Zeitgeist out in this respect. Deconstruction responds to mechanistic materialism with a hollow irrationalism. (The two postures collided in the Sokal hoax.) At the same time, just as the scientists incongruously retain their childhood religion, the deconstructionists take unreason as an excuse to abide with the atavistic, to affiliate with fanaticism. It would take us too far afield to pursue it.
This civilization has no place for a heartfelt homage to dignity such as is found in older cultures. (The United Nations and the European Union should call their icon dingity, not dignity.) The older cultures provided us with the idea (as superstitious as those cultures may have been, as divided as they may have been along caste lines).
I consider Nietzsche an obnoxious charlatan. Having said that, his work concentrated the Zeigeist to a remarkable degree; it is unfortunate that he had to express himself in bluster (and that his most important book was forged by his sister?). He was pivotal, heralding the various cultural dislocations that we will encounter here. As I trek across this territory, I keep being reminded of him—but I hasten to assure the reader that everything said here is formulated independently of him.
7. Dignity as potential—respect as relative
Let us resume with a basic way of classifying notions of dignity. Dignity might be something which is implicit in everybody alive (as vital signs are). It could also be a potential—which the overwhelming majority of people realize only in the sense that the person becomes a presentable adult. We could also conceive dignity so that it was a potential which does not get realized in any sense by most people. Then the warrant for respecting people would be a sheer hypothetical, in most cases.
Today it is so obvious outside Islam that the Muslim woman is not permitted even “ordinary” stature that the embarrassment has begun to perturb the Muslim world. (Any social condition of slavery would offer a similar lesson.) So dignity could be a possibility which half a billion people living today never attain. This is not a throwaway line; we insist on the implications.
What the official humanitarian discourse of dignity does is to select some aspect of a person’s life in which they are hobbled, enslaved, whatnot, and make an issue of it. We pick spots where denial of full stature is glaring. The concern with dignity expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Constitution is extremely selective and banal. It is announced that “people should not be slaves” (as they still may be in parts of Africa). That leaves a very great deal unsaid.
All women all the time in the Muslim world might live in circumstances which a Western woman might find outrageous. And yet the Muslim woman may condone the civilization-wide norm. To the Muslim woman, the role of women in the Muslim world is a given—not a fighting point.
A Muslim woman would have to go over the wall and cut all ties to her culture just to have what every suburban American woman has. Most of them will not do it. They are not only acquiescent, they are vehemently acquiescent.
Women’s liberation has cropped up in the Muslim world. If the majority of Muslim women refuse it, then we have to add them to the long list of people who refuse dignity. (That list is becoming very long.) They never taste unenslaved existence to begin with.
But before we leave this topic, let us be realistic about the glory that the West holds out to the Muslim woman. The scientific outlook, in conjunction with eighteenth-century republican doctrine, delivers us from medieval subordination and superstition. Yes: it delivers us to mechanistic materialism and the pursuit of the manipulation of matter as the whole of fulfillment. (That is not even to mention the political side of it.)
The model woman in contemporary Western culture is, for example, the punk girl with her piercings. She ritually defiles herself to give herself social status.
Beat the brat with a baseball bat.
Are we making too much of a lunatic fringe? Hardly.
For thousands of us, CBGB played a central role during a magical period of our youth. Sure there were other punk rock clubs in town, but CBGB was the only one that mattered. A lot of us became who and what we are today, at least in part, thanks to the crowd and the scene in CBGB.
New York Press, February 23-March 1, 2005
The present civilization is the civilization which celebrates ritual defilement, which understands ritual defilement as beatific fulfillment. In fact, it is just this development that gave us our topic in the first place, in the late Seventies. Somehow the metropolitan sophisticates, the constitents of the UN and the UK, assaulted dignity as it had never before been assaulted.
This is the deliverance we are able to promise to the Muslim woman.
Something else has to be said. There are Muslims who probably believed rank superstitions and who probably acquiesced to cult-like personal subjugation whom I have great respect for. Just that means that I, also, employ the concept of dignity selectively.
Suppose we use ‘dignity’ to mean that some one enjoys the respect of others, or that someone has done it their way. Then dignity is highly relative. If one is concerned about one’s status with others, that status can always be augmented with more money, more expensive clothes, etc.
Emily Dickinson is an icon, posthumously, and is convenient as an example of radical authenticity which can be popularly understood. But in fact her contribution was high Protestant theology in verse. Because she was saddled with those beliefs, I would not have enjoyed conversing with her.
If dignity has anything to do with attained stature, just that makes it highly relative. Moreover, the promise of “becoming who you can best be”—the offer of a ladder of satisfaction to the hesitating individual—can be a sales pitch that deceives. “Becoming who you can best be”—it can trap you in misfortune—or to put it the other way around, it has to be tested in reflection and experience. What you see is not what you get. “Awakenings” come in the course of time. We already knew that—but it is anything but trivial that authentic temporality is a “dimension” we have to acknowledge. Accounting for human striving requires us to contend with additional “dimensions.”
8. Transports and other novel facets
Before we get to the heart of the matter, we need to expand on the preliminaries in §1 and §3. Various phases of ourselves have only been showcased as concerns in the last hundred years. Dreams are treated as the height of prophecy in the Bible, but the notion that dreams are scripted by an inaccessible psychic basement is due to Freud. As I said, while I don’t want the doctrinal baggage of Freudianism, I include the hypothesis of subsurface processing in this discussion.
I have already mentioned psychedelic drugs. They, too, have to be included in the background of this discussion. Although vegetable psychedelics were known from ancient times, they are not featured in the major religions. (In fact, as I understand it, the notion of “intoxicating your way to God” is viewed with horror by the ethical monotheisms.) The synthetic psychedelics are entirely new.
There is a third observation which is specific to me. The cognitive nihilist insight, radical unbelief, is the vertex, or fulcrum, of my perspective, so to speak. But as I came to realize, the elevated states, the preferred states, which were addressed in §1 are not ignited by radical unbelief. If the alert waking phase was a room, then the transports were another room. Cognitive nihilism is just as much of an insight in both rooms. The catch is that the insight may not be accessible when one suffers a profane transport. Or, in terms of personhood theory, the transports are typically attached. (A conviction of cosmic cognition while intoxicated might be utterly deluded.)
So we have:
i. Subsurface processing.
ii. The synthetic psychedelics.
iii. The difference which I find experientially between radical unbelief and the elevated state, exaltation.
Let me expand.
i. To get what I want, you need to disengage from resentment, self-infatuation, imposture, and so forth. A strong ego is a necessity; self-infatuation is the death. You need to strive for wisdom; it is a phase of self-cultivation. In aspiring to wisdom, the acknowledgement that one’s posture harbors liabilities is necessary, but it is not sufficient. A conscious resolution to adopt a different posture [mental comportment] will not be effective. The remedy has to reach to subsurface processing.
Why do humans have distinguishable surface and subsurface processing? I don’t know and don’t have to have an answer.
ii. One can turn on “hallucinations” and alter mood in a controlled way by taking a pill. Profane transports have become predictable and reliably accessible because of the chemistry of psychedelics. (I wrote of this in “The Psychedelic State.” The importance of my essay does not lie in the testimony about being high, which is rudimentary. It lies in conducting the inquiry from a philosophical vantage-point.)
iii. Again, the difference which I find experientially between belieflessness and exaltation. Why should cogntive irreproachability be distinctly different from exaltation? I don’t know and don’t have to have an answer.
I am giving these facets heavy emphasis because they would not even have been topics a hundred fifty years ago, not explicitly. (Never mind de Quincy’s Confessions and so forth. Never mind Wells’ “The Purple Pileus.” These literati assuredly did not see a class of phases of being whose meaning has to be carefully unravelled.)
These facets have a sharp bearing on dignity. Everything we will say should be cognizant of, should be organized around, these facets (among others). We have to find answers which are topical. I do not want to hear that “religion already took care of everything three thousand years ago.” I do not want to hear that “nothing has happened since beards and clay pots and donkeys gave us all the answers.”
9. First explications of dignity
Dignity is an umbrella notion. Let us begin the proper part of the study by reviewing various notions of dignity which are familiar or reasonably motivated.
We may search for something common to humans which can be held to entitle them to respect without their having to achieve in an particular way. Dignity as intrinsic.
[A story ran on 4 March 2005 about chimps in a zoo in California. A Mr. and Mrs. Davis brought a birthday cake to the chimp Moe whom they had formerly owned. The story, I don’t know how accurate, is that the other chimps became enraged at the special attention given to Moe, broke out of their cages, and chewed the man’s face off. Jealous rage—it is entirely recognizable to us.]
An animal may have
—a capacity for sensation and emotion
—a sense of kinship and sociality (the mother’s solicitude for her cubs; anthropoid social hierarchies)
Is dignity already at issue for the animal? Are these attributes preconditions for dignity to be at issue? Then dignity is not just an affair of spirit. All the same, the animal is properly a predator. We expect a great deal from humans that we do not expect from animals.
To the attributes just mentioned, do we need to add self-consciousness and rational choice? Humans feel, think, are purposive, etc. Rational choice, I suppose, would be choice-making which understands a hierarchy of goals and calculates effectiveness; that is what is rational about it.
The circumstantial polarity of affections
There is a polarity of affections which is specifically human (we may assume).
love — hate
solicitude — malice
supportive — undermining
principled — opportunist (venal)
engaged — apathetic
vivified — demoralized
striving to survive — suicidal
The “affirmations” and the “destructions.”
Presumably the first of each of these pairs is the recommended affection. Some of these affections have to do with my sociality; other of them contemplate worthy goals in conflict with sociality. To be principled can conflict with sociality. Solicitude can conflict with sociality if one does not agree with one’s group about how another group should be treated. One’s vivification can require one to sequester oneself even though the community does not admit that the community stifles some of its members.
This polarization of affections is a precondition for dignity to be at issue, presumably. To be capable of these affections bears on dignity-as-intrinsic, dignity-as-potential. To exhibit these affections bears on dignity manifested.
Our inexhaustibility to ourselves?
An explication which upholds innateness and awesomeness. In “Values, Reverence, Humility,” I proposed that our possibility extends beyond any purpose we can contrive for ourselves. We can’t exhaust ourselves. That makes us awesome to ourselves. That is a wonder that you don’t have to earn.
Acquitting oneself well situationally?
Marcus Boon proposed that dignity means acquitting yourself well in a situation, integrating particulars to attain a whole. Dignity is defined in the particular interpersonal encounter. Dignity is a self-integration to comport to a situation. Non-smug approval of how one has related to people.
In these cases, dignity is an achievement of yours. Your risk is to come up short or to put a foot wrong. There is no reference to something another person can assault, or deprive you of.
This definition makes dignity earned, entirely so. Dignity is not something another person can strip you of; you surrender it. And yet—another person can set you up to acquit yourself badly. That is for a later section.
Another observation. We have acknowledged that attainment is a matter of dispute. Then whether you acquitted yourself well in a situation may be disputed. You may think you did the right thing, somebody else may not, and it remains unresolved.
Acquitting oneself well generally
Dignity could mean self-control, being in control of your life. It could mean being able to keep promises. It could mean being able to make a plan and follow it. It means not being desperate, not being an abject supplicant, not being adrift. However, there is a major qualification here. Attainment is a matter of dispute. It remains open whether the person’s goals are worthy. In general, self-control is not a sufficient condition for dignity.
One’s relation to others
Dignity could mean that one enjoys the respect of others. There is always something you can do to augment the respect others have for you, acquire a longer car, acquire more expensive shoes. Dignity is indeed relative here.
It is another matter to consider the negative preconditions about one’s relation to others. We do not ascribe dignity to one who preys on others (give or take the relativity of fulfillment as already noted). Precisely because the predator allows the other no dignity. We said, tell us what dignity IS before you tell us that we are obliged to respect it. And yet: respect for dignity seems to be part of what dignity is. This is a sudden irruption of ethics-like considerations into the inquiry, and they will have to be unraveled.
The preconditions in question are not the same as wisdom, because wisdom is a species of prudence. Devotion to wisdom is not an obligation. The world is full of people who are successful because they affront wisdom.
Dignity as earned?
Boon’s definition moves to the range of meanings where dignity is something one achieves. It is not innate. It is not a potential we give people credit for even even while they fail to activate it. Then there is an observation which ties into our biological circumstances. In fact we are born helpless as infants, and we develop in biologically distinct stages. There is an expectation of personal autonomy which becomes greater and greater as the child ages. Then ‘dignity’ applies to an infant or child very differently from the way it applies to an adult. It is a lesson to be explored in detail in a later section.
Attaining one’s full stature?
Dignity pertains to a person’s possession of their full stature—rising to their full stature. Then it is a quality of a person involved in a milieu. It is not something jewel-like possessed by a disembodied spirit.
Extracting all one can from one’s given capacities. Radical authenticity.
A questing person has to re-build himself or herself: that is not trivial. One undergoes enculturation as an infant, before one can take stock and wonder if the direction in which one is being steered is the right one. One has already ceased to be a blank slate. One does not choose whether Hungarian shall be one’s native language. Childhood enculturation is not something we can simply regret. It empowers us, it makes us “personalities.” For all that, it hobbles us.
Only a few individuals set out to re-build themselves comprehensively. Until I was in college, I pretty much tried to accommodate myself to the prevailing highbrow culture (affiliating with it as a counter-weight to Southern regional culture). The person who seeks to construct him or herself, who seeks radical authenticity, is a great rarity. We underlined that earlier in this inquiry.
When a comportment which is taken as admirable appears infrequently, it poses issues similar to those of genius. How does it come about, why here, why now? Of course people absorb traits from their mentors and peers, but if that explained everything, then we would be talking about their mentors and peers and not them.
As for the idea that genius (or dignity) is a god’s gift to an arbitrary few, it is ridiculous. But that is a topic for the discussion of religious ideas as they bear on human exceptionality. Text B. We have no basis to conclude anything but that genius is all inside the exceptional person and dies with him or her.
But the conclusion is troublesome. It makes the exceptional person too exceptional. It says that something far-reaching appears from nowhere, while being localized and transitory. But no other conclusion will stand up.
Radical authenticity is similarly rare, and as such, inexplicable. When an impulse and a determination emerge to rebuild oneself from the ground up, that impulse and that determination are born within and expire within. Dignity, which the United Nations and the European Union wanted to be something guaranteed to everybody, has become a rarity and a mystery.
Resuming with Hennix, we cannot assume that everybody has an equivalent inner life. But that is troublesome: it annuls philosophical anthropology!
Dignity as potential—vocation?
There may be a more cautious way to talk about assuming one’s full stature: to talk about having a vocation. If you have a longitudinal thematic purpose, that might be considered generically worthy of respect—a facet of human nobility.
Having a vocation is quite broad and non-specific. It certainly doesn’t imply anything about worth. Some “normal” (non-psychotic) people don’t have vocations; we say that they are aimless, drifting.
While many people may be stubborn about the lives they want to have, we say (as indifferent observers) that there is nothing sacred about their choices. Somebody who works as a supermarket checkout clerk—it wouldn’t affect anything but their personal, superficial sense of comfort if they worked at a retail cash register somewhere else, say in a drug store or coffee shop. Basically, they have to be of use to be considered worthy of their keep. Beyond that they don’t have a vocation.
The question of what is due a mentally retarded person will come up throughout this discussion. If we make an issue of longitudinal thematic purpose, that raises the question. If your entitlement follows from having a vocation, if that comprises your dignity, then whether it applies to the mentally retarded is doubtful. The notion of a vocation being denied lacks a clear meaning in their case. We choose to remove the rest of our remarks in this connection to Text C.
10. Supernaturalism fixated
The overwhelming majority of people acquire a second nature which makes unenslaved existence psychically impossible for them.
You may create conditions so that a Muslim woman can go about without a scarf. She can accede to a life without this imposition; it is a matter of a physical condition and a social code. The point is that in general, a psychic subjugation which was implicit in one’s enculturation cannot be reversed.
The overwhelming majority of people espouse a polarity of the mundane (material, bodily) and the spirit, in which the spirit is identified with the supernatural. This is second nature to them. [Well, in conversations with La Monte Young, he forcefully asserted this polarity.] I began to address this polarity, and called it a disastrous misjudgment.
The polar counterposition of spirit to body is deeply ingrained in more than one civilization. We will be forced to repudiate it again and again. It is, in fact, a misjudgment. It is an overinterpretation of genuine evidence—that means that it is a stereotype.
Admittedly the flesh is corruptible. Admittedly the playboy who throws himself into fleshly dissipation becomes gross. Admittedly an active mental life refines a person. But it is all a half-truth, and half-truths are dangerous.
In order, for example, to believe that the mind can save your person from corruption (age, illness, death), you have to believe that your “mind” is detachable and will have an entire disembodied career when your body is gone. That simply overrates your “mind.” It makes of the disembodied mind a bodiless god. Then we have fools mortifying their flesh in order to break their minds free.
We do not deny that the mystique of asceticism has motivations. One is the corruption of the flesh. Another is that the goals that prevail in a community (society) can be pedestrian, not to say profane, not to say degrading. In order to save yourself, you have to become a hermit. It is a standard misinterpretation to say that the hermit renounces the body. No, the hermit renounces sociality because it is pedestrian (or worse). Ideally, we should be fulfilled in relationships—by camaraderie. Life gives us less than we need, and a tolerable equilibrium is found in a distorted situation such as solitude. This is no argument for “renouncing the body.”
To posit that we have a spirit which possesses a diamond-like perfection and inertness disregards the empirical psyche—which is extremely rudimentary at the beginning of life, always changes, and can, in effect, die before the body does. “Fleshly impulses make us bestial.” That is stereotype-making; it is willfully biased. (What is more, the people who preach this platitude do not refrain from giving in to their fleshly impulses. They get away with everything in the back room.)
Again, for the overwhelming majority of people, once they get wind of what is being discussed here, it cannot refer to anything but the spirit (as a pole of being associated with the supernatural). And this spirit is monopolized by the institutions that are called religions, the literature that is called scripture. If it sounds like we are rehashing village atheism here, the village atheist is right on this score.
Village atheism is not new—but as we said, the atheist’s lessons are not heeded. Scientists are materialists on Tuesday and supernaturalists on Thursday—and that is not the half of it. The anachronistic creeds differ from person to person. For one, God rode on a donkey, spoke Aramaic to his companions, and walked on water, all two thousand years ago. For another, God spoke Hebrew from the air, having only an indistinct body, and made a bush burn, some three thousand years ago. In both cases, these stories are the individuals’ ultimate commitments.
Once again we recall Hennix: the trouble with philosophical anthropology is that it assumes that everybody has an equivalent inner life. I can understand the social expediency which indulges stories, stemming from a bygone world-picture, which are incompatible. However, I am constitutionally unable to emphathize with the person who indulges these stories as ultimate commitments.
Here we refer to Text D, in which religion is frankly delineated as a system of compensation, involving phantom celebrities, a phantom [appointed] authority, the humanly understandable doings of the phantoms, etc. (The lives of the gods and angels, etc. etc.) That—and a great deal else, conduct codes, a priesthood, shrines, etc. etc.—add up to what the overwhelming majority of people call “meaning.”
If a person’s replacement for “weekly worship” is the golf course—if their sense of comfort is like an animal’s—then their peers call them shallow.
In the context of the state of affairs just outlined, what some people expect in a discussion of dignity is an acknowledgement of the ethereal, of the celestial—of beatific fulfillment. An account assembled from pieces of humdrum life falls flat with them. Very well, where I part company with them is in supposing that “beatific fulfillment” has anything to do with the various anachronistic world-pictures.
11. My modalities and this perspective
If I insist on talking about dignity achieved in a way that is credible to me, I am talking about lives that almost nobody is going to lead. We may as well acknowledge that to the conventional wisdom, cognitive nihilism (which nobody but me would even present for consideration) is infinitely impoverished. The discussion moves to a different planet, a planet that most people evidently find bleak and chaotic.
There is a more pedestrian version of my approach. Simply apply intellectual standards uniformly, without shielding religion and so forth. Is that so terrible? Evidently, yes.
If the conventional wisdom is smug, it is smug in shoving materialism, religion, and deconstruction together as one. It is smug in having found a perfect hell.
I have a vantage-point outside the civilization. When I want to interact with the civilization, I glean devices from cognitive nihilism to metamorphose the determination of reality. That is hypocritical of me, as I have explained at length. The social constituency which is the target of my intervention does not see my hypocrisy. My intervention is implanted in what they already espouse, and builds on it. (E.g. my proposal of certain perceptual illusions as semantics for inconsistent verbal phrases. Recognized by G. Priest in 1999; otherwise ignored by philosophical logicians.) I return to this selective intervention below.
I can’t avoid meta-technology and personhood theory in this discussion. These distinctly different and compromised enterprises supply the “space” for ennoblement or exaltation as I envision it.
All the same, meta-technology is an amoral instrumental enterprise. Personhood theory (I don’t have a better name, unfortunately) is an amoral anlaysis which if pursued astutely would find operative interdependencies, and so shift the instrumental modality to the realm of “humanness,” morale, purpose, … . Personhood theory reviews beliefs characteristic of the normative psychic fixation. (What the public calls sanity.)
Personhood theory’s method is devolutional. Its review of beliefs does not endorse normative beliefs.
To all this, my skimpy writings on wisdom and “depth psychology” need to be added. A panoramic perspective emerges.
For me, an inquiry into dignity goes nowhere without the reconstitution of the instrumental realm by meta-technology.
And—without the unfolding of the ostensible person by personhood theory, and its displacement or unbinding of the ostensible realm. It is not a mere interpretation of reality as Schopenhauer’s idealism is. There are operative junctures—and you don’t understand without being “hands-on” (to use the unfortunate idiom, since it’s between self and object—not an object manipulated by hands).
I am forced to invoke my enterprises because: the civilization’s authoritative materialism and behaviorism strip us of all “human qualities” (affections?). The perspective I speak of gets us past that fatal flaw, operatively and without credulity. But it is a perspective for the few—not because it is secret, but because the public does not “hear in that pitch range.” I wonder if any of my friends grasps that I have already defeated natural science intellectually—never mind how long it would take to bring a new technology to the arena, never mind that the new technology might presuppose different social arrangements. (Well, as an antique correlative of this sort of prophecy we have Bacon’s New Atlantis.) A few samples of specific contents are on my web site. More is offered in such publications as Io #41.
Meta-technology is correlative to an attitude toward “knowledge” which bears on how I conceive demeaning credulity. The standard attitude toward “knowledge” is that thought is made up of assertions such that undecided assertions “have a half-chance” of being right.
To be precise. Each unsettled assertion is deemed binary decidable. If one tosses a coin, letting “heads” be “true,” there is a half-chance that the coin will give the right verdict on the assertion. Obviously we choose here not to worry about issues of ambiguity as are properly the topic of rhetoric etc.
There is an equivalent observation for settled assertions. With respect to the Theory of Evolution, if you toss a coin, there is a half-chance that the coin will agree with the authoritative verdict, i.e. will come up “heads.” (Obviously, at this point I choose to talk about the large public question known to school boards etc.)
We emphasize unsettled assertions because relative to them, the coin gives you a half-chance of obtaining a right verdict and so of adding to your knowledge. “Our knowledge is an accumulation of truths.” ‘There are seven planets’ is false and ‘There are nine planets’ is true. (Given that these assertions are well-understood shorthand, as natural-language sentences usually are.) “But while more and more assertions are settled, we never settle all of them.”
That is the basis for the standard attitude toward certain sorts of speculation. “It is reasonable to infer cosmic consciousness from quantum nonlocality because tomorrow the majority of physicists might agree with the inference.” “It is somewhat reasonable to believe in visiting aliens because the belief is binary decidable and might be ‘socially confirmed’ tomorrow.”
A scientist’s attitude toward an as-yet unsettled assertion must be: we haven’t accepted that yet. (Abstracting from the case where there are reasons of plausibility to reject something even in the absence of an exhaustive empirical investigation. Many side-issues are being ignored here as they have to be in epistemology.) As I pointed out in “Is Incredulity Self-Defeating?” the standard attitude just sketched here opens the door to massive cognitive clutter.
I do not posit a “world-state map” of binary decidable assertions—a condition in which you can espouse an (undecided) assertion and have a half-chance of being right. I make interventions, as I began to say above. I engage selectively with assertions as an interloper, targeting the assertions which are socially compelling. (I don’t deem astrology to be socially compelling and I wouldn’t intervene in it.) As for the areas on the map of assertions which I don’t engage with, they are blank for me as far as commitment is concerned. (One or another logical exercise might require imagining the formal completion of the system of assertions; to me that is merely an exercise, not my epistemology.)
Questions which I don’t find socially compelling don’t have answers on my map. It is an unusual epistemology (it is conventionally illicit)—relying on my iconoclasm as its warrant. For remarks on what it would mean to refine this “epistemology,” see Text E.
I had to take this detour to explain that speculation is not respectable with me. The conclusion for present purposes is that I conceive credulity—as a fault—far more broadly than conventional wisdom does.
12. Methodology and paradoxicality
We are ready for a direct consideration of the abstract intellectual tangle. These remarks here are of a piece with “Uncompromising Positioning” (on the web site). However, to apply the program of “Uncompromising Positioning” to this inquiry is more than I can do at present. In fact, I have been speaking dogmatically in order to explain the familiar usages of ‘dignity’.
The problematic of dignity dissolves itself as one approaches the cognitive nihilist insight [namelessness reference]. Cognitive nihilism annuls the person, annuls the arena of dignity.
(A) If one is disabused of all belief, there is no issue of dignity.
(To elaborate, subject to the qualification that we are not speaking rigorously:) There is no personhood. There is no issue of longitudinal thematic identity. No hierarchy of personal aims is in play.
There is a more pedestrian version of the same lesson. An ingenuous person is not concerned with their own dignity, does not raise dignity as a demand. A person in a condition of well-being does not raise dignity as a demand. Dignity becomes a value, an aim, because you are losing ground with other people—or because you judge yourself inadequate. It presupposes a social network of judgment-making.
It could be that the problematic of dignity is reactive.
(A) is not just a pro forma qualification—a perfunctory tribute to my extreme insight. It is operative in this inquiry. As the inquiry approaches (A), it becomes more and more paradoxical. (Asymptotic paradoxicality.)
To inquire into dignity is the same as inquiring into degradation. That is, they are antonyms, and what we learn about one sheds light on the other. We precisely have to analyze deprivation of dignity to understand what dignity is.
As to degradation—subjugation—one sign of it is credulity—belief. To be mired in superstition, as the saying has it, is degraded. Credulity and noncredulity are operatively involved in approaching or retreating from dignity.
I want an audience which is beyond or outside the standard compensations (compensating personal adjustments), religion in particular.
Suppose we try to conceive of absolute dignity. It would mean being divested of all mental subjugation, for one thing. It would mean being perfectly noncredulous.
What puts credulity in play, as an aspect of attachment, in the person-world? What enables or impels disengagement from belief? What is the relation of dignity to attachment? These questions belong in personhood theory.
The person-world is not merely intellectual, not merely a matter of espousal of propositions. A monomania about credulity would vitiate an inquiry into dignity and I do not wish to be a monomaniac. We do not propose to treat credulousness as the only test of dignity. As we already saw: if dignity is defined as absolute demythologization, it self-dissolves.
With these qualifications, we are left with the following key lesson. To serve phantom gods, to crawl before phantom gods, is demeaned—and the issue serves to illustrate that an intellectual consideration is involved in dignity.
Dignity is, for example, a prospect of attaining a fuller stature—which parallels the deliverance of oneself from myths. Relative to my absolute standpoint—cognitive nihilism—belief is a form of servitude in every case. As I sought to explain in the previous section, I delineate credulity—as a fault—far more broadly than the standard attitude does.
We treat being the dupe of beliefs as a test issue: in particular, because it illustrates that radical authenticity has paradoxical consequences and is not sought by most people. An absolutist approach to dignity becomes paradoxical. Radical authenticity takes us right off the planet, and then self-dissolves.
We have come a long way from the unearned promotion which the United Nations and the European Union wanted to give everybody. We have come a long way from Emily Dickinson and her versified Protestantism.
13. The quasi-moral requirement
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Constitution posit dignity as something inherent which it is a moral obligation to respect.
To say this recalls the lesson that: dignity may be a reactive problematic.
In conventional usage, dignity is not something one might attain by being radically authentic. It is something inborn which entitles people to be spared systematic abuse. Literal slavery, as in Africa, is bad because it diminishes dignity. Child brides, child prostitution, etc. etc. are bad because they diminish dignity. The person does not have to earn decent treatment.
We need to detour and reflect on moral injunctions. Socially there are moral dilemmas, that is, situations where right conduct is actively debated. There are also situations in which there is perfunctory agreement on moral absolutes, but wrong behavior proliferates. I digress to give some illustrations. It is precisely a matter of debate whether to prohibit cruelty to animals and how far to carry the prohibitions. Society is fumbling for the answer. It happens that there are screaming double standards in this area. The law is explicitly curved to allow certain traditional cruelties to animals to persist while penalizing unauthorized cruelty.
Cruelty to humans, murder in particular, incurs a nominal universal prohibition. That does not change the fact that cruelty to humans goes on apace, as with the sex slave racket in advanced countries today—or in a cult like the Children of God which the courts cannot seem to move against effectively.
We can resume with animals, and ask what is it about them that makes their abuse deplorable. We can ask what respect the mentally retarded ought to enjoy. That is a recurring issue which has been assigned to Text D.
As we said, our task is to ascertain what dignity IS. Where does it live, what is its reality-type? I have a great deal to say about morality elsewhere, mostly along the lines that the goal of proving moral absolutes as if they were mathematical absolutes is the wrong goal. To grapple with morality gets us no farther forward here. We would prefer to bracket morality out.
And yet two moral considerations make a surprise appearance in the discussion.
i. Dignity is given as the reason for a moral rule which has the character of an exception in some moral code. The prohibition of cruelty when the state kills criminals. The “death with dignity” slogan of the proponents of euthanasia. Instead of “you must not assault another person’s dignity” being the conclusion, it is the premise.
ii. We withhold credit for dignity from a person who preys on others in one or another obvious way. In §5, we were talking about people who forfeit dignity. It was entirely plausible to brand people who prey on others as debased. [[In fact, since we mentioned cults, we could have included the leaders of those cults. People who take advantage of freedom of association to launch a “servitude of consent,” a membership organization in which members surrender all responsibility.]] Thus, dignity has a negative precondition: one must not abuse others in certain obvious respects.
To amplify, a person can forfeit the presumed right to respect by committing horrible crimes. Then, correlatively with losing respect, that person is not credited with dignity. Then that person may be marked for execution, and it becomes clear that dignity is conceived as an attainment and as contingent. Does some “humanitarian” say that you retain dignity no matter what you do? Then we must recognize the dignity of Hitler, etc. Then there would be a problem with execution as a punishment, etc. We would have to say that Mussolini was wronged when he was killed—and the wrongs balanced out. Actually, as we just noted, there are restrictions on the state’s methods of killing—etc.
The generality is that a dignity attained involves: not only a solitary posture, but one’s posture toward others. But let us be clear what the level is here. We are sorting through explications. If the individual is a flagrant predator, an obvious criminal, then we do not credit the individual with dignity. But that is a matter of usage. It is a matter of custom what is flagrant predation. A crime boss is a flagrant predator. But even the crime boss will have dependents who defend him. The public finds wrongdoing romantic—in measured doses.
We find the evidence overwhelming that Roosevelt sacrificed thousands of Pearl Harbor seamen to get the United States into the Second World War. (He provoked the attack, allowed it to happen, and was privately gleeful when it did.) But Roosevelt’s maneuver does not constitute an example of wrongdoing for these purposes because custom, customary usage, does not take that route. As Hennix brilliantly observed, what is wicked, what is a crime, is an unpopularity contest. Is smoking immoral?—it is an unpopularity contest.
The popular usage of ‘dignity’ is keyed to the public’s sense of the obvious. It is not capable of establishing what the hierarchy of wrongs ought to be. If one had to be morally pristine to be credited with dignity, then the word would be useless, since faults can be detected in anybody, and, as well, are in the eye of the beholder.
If dignity is an attainment—if your behavior can cost you your claim to it—then once again, the United Nations and the European Union are whistling in the dark.
14. The opposite of dignity
Part of this study consists in pondering the opposite of dignity. Degradation, debasement are just as difficult ontologically as dignity. An electric fan cannot literally be demeaned. (Although humans can, and do, symbolically demean possessions.) What, then, puts a human at risk of being demeaned?
Again we have the problem of whether we are talking about an inborn possession or about an attainment. If dignity is an inborn, intangible possession, then it can be assaulted, but one cannot lose it or be deprived of it. If, on the other hand, it is an attainment, then it can be forfeited, or, equivalently, one can run towards degradation and debasement.
As a matter of fact, degradation and debasement are attainments. We have to view the situation dynamically. That is a first non-trivial observation here.
If dignity is defined as attaining one’s full stature, then degradation imposed pertains to denial of a human individual’s full stature.
i. Another person may divest you, either actively, or by negligence.
ii. You may divest yourself.
Other people can divest one of stature by abuse. They may spit on me as I walk down the street. It remains to be said why being spat on as you walk down the street assaults you, lessens your worth, etc. That is for an entire separate section.
Other people may divest me of full stature by negligence: refusing to cooperate with me when I have a valid claim on their cooperation. I offer the other person a chance to make us both better off and they spurn it because they are heedless, smug, or whatever.
More vaguely, “society” fails to enable a person—when many or all would be better off if it did so.
[We can speak here about society’s recruitment and cultivation of people for roles which are more or less delimited. When the role is a stereotyped one, such as football player, then society aggressively recruits boys (and makes prostitutes out of them before they realize it). When the role is not stereotyped, then you are left to yourself to create a niche for yourself.]
It takes us back to the question of why radical authenticity is rare. Moreover, the person’s shortfall is attributable both to other people’s failure to enable that person, and to the person’s failure to assert themselves. There is a self-other collaboration in stunting the self.
Already we shade over to self-deprivation of dignity. If dignity is acquitting oneself well, its opposite is shaming oneself, disgracing oneself in a situation. Then you cost yourself your dignity. When a person fails to acquit themselves well in a situation, what does it mean? As cases,
i. One lets others down, it could involve breaking a promise.
ii. One humbles oneself unnecessarily; one crawls (or such like).
The former case, again, makes dignity depend on one’s treatment of others.
We must suggest, however, that poor behavior need not come entirely from within. Another person can set you up. If it is deliberate, there is a word for it, entrapment. But it need not be deliberate. You can’t exist without accommodating people, you have to accommodate people who have faults—and that colors you automatically. It places you in constant disequilibrium. (The Gospel narrative of Jesus is a decided curiosity in this respect. The faults of other people do not color Jesus; he is pictured as never accommodating people. Text F.) You are, as it were, lured somewhere you should not have gone. There is a self-other collaboration to lessen dignity.
As we have noted several times, people forfeit credit for dignity when they prey on others. They are not merely unreliable; they commit to predation, they become sadistic. Crime bosses scorn dignity with a coherent selfish intent, possibly having a family from whom they hide their practices.
People forfeit credit for dignity when they fail to aquit themselves well during an entire chapter of their lives; we gave the examples of addicts and cult recruits.
We may mention the entire punk phenomenon, in which people defile themselves ritually as a message to the public. But before we come to punk, we may note, for example, that a lot of now-classic modern art had moved defilement to the center. I remember that I reacted to it like a child. Why, why is this happening? Why are people telling me that the crude and abusive and squalid are good, as if they are humanity’s destiny? The art’s proponents said, it is necessary to make bad art to show that the world is bad. As to that, I do not deny that the art is devastatingly symptomatic. But then that demands a far more negative verdict on the civilization than the proponents had in mind. It doesn’t make the art admirable.
It poses, acutely, the question what is defilement? An electric fan does not defile itself, does not put shame on parade, certainly not to send a message to the world.
Modern art is an affair for bohemian snobs, which then becomes an affectation of the very rich. Punk was a turn in the development of commercial “youth” music, a turn away from the music’s relative wholesomeness. There are certain analogies to German fascism—its name says that it is a mystique of riffraff and it recruits from the “proletariat.” As anybody should know, the Sex Pistols adopted Nazi references. Punk was only a hair’s breadth away from the explicitly fascist skinhead culture. In other words, if disaffection is disoriented, its import becomes fascist automatically—never mind any Leftist trappings that this or that British group may have had.
We have to say the foregoing to distinguish punk from the sordid branch of modern art. With punk, self-degradation becomes the content of commercial youth music—a youth fashion in the metropolises in the later twentieth century. What is perhaps just as startling is that with the passage of years, it becomes the subject of nostalgia and glorification by culture pundits. The defenders justify it on the grounds of underprivilege—relatively speaking, that is preposterous. Evidently the pundits are heedless of the liabilities of disoriented disaffection.
Generically, if one is spat on, one’s dignity is assaulted. We will ponder that in the next section. The metaphor is that the punks spit on themselves in order to be seen to do so. (The pose of being menacing and brutal was already adopted by bikers and so forth.) It is an example of reverse intent, of the divisions we spoke about in §3. The punks form a peer group and claim status by proclaiming themselves without hope, without constructive abilities. They construct an increasingly abrasive ambiance for themselves: both to send a message, and to drown out their despair or “rotate” it.
Similar observations apply to rap, although the rap representatives are extremely touchy, demanding that overt misbehavior be revered like chivalry, reflecting all the disapproval for their criminal images back to “the man.”
A subculture casts off its dignity theatrically. It is a reversal on behalf of pride. Because the postures are institutionalized, rewarded by publics, and earn millions, it is obvious that social aggregates, systemic conditions, are involved. It has given direction to the culture industry; it even ties into the civilization’s station in the life-cycle, and into what is absolutely new about technification.
All the same, the task before us is to understand the content at the individual level. The punks are not listless; they are extremely energetic. Their adaptation pivots on pride (pride had to be one of our first themes). The core constituency is without hope, without constructive abilities; then punk is adopted more widely as cliché youth rebellion. It is seductive that one can serve one’s pride by plunging into vice. But beyond that, the collective, class, and ritual aspects are crucial—as is punk’s distribution by the entertainment corporations.
15. Personhood and the flesh
If we think about it, our “higher affections” refer back to our corporeal nature, which is contingent, even in so banal a respect as being born with the wrong number of fingers, for example. A two-headed person was born in the United States. That tests all sorts of clichés about intrinsic personhood, not to mention the equable social intercourse which is a precondition of a life.
Rationally, “personhood and the flesh” could have begun this discourse. I did not make that choice because the topic has a preliminary character, and I wanted to proceed immediately to personalistic questions which the reader is most interested in. All the same, the topic seems too fundamental to leave out of the body text.
If one imagines that dignity pertains to the ethereal side of the person—that dignity resides inside an abstract psyche or a disembodied soul—there is a great deal to be said to the contrary. If someone espouses the mythology of cosmic transcendence, and wants to know, “where do you allow for beatific fulfillment?” part of our reply is that we are “all too human.”
Many cases in which dignity is at issue essentially involve human biological circumstances. In case after case after case, the issue of dignity is a reflection of biological specifics of human life. Something as basic as the circumstance that we seek to be groomed and prefer other people to be groomed.
Heterosexual reproduction. The development from helpless infant to callow youth to adult to elder adult. If we want to be sticklers, there is more to it than that. A person begins life as an embryo internal to the mother. Intrauterine gestation and continuous change across a boundary. The newborn is separated, but remains totally dependent on care. Later the individual becomes more or less self-reliant, but is operatively dependent on society at large.
As to the psyche: the spectrum of affections, spelled out in §9, which may be a key in understanding dignity, is known to us from the human case. We may add a polarity of corporeal conditions.
sanitary — unsanitary
As before, the first of the pair is the recommended condition. We haven’t carried this very far, but, for example, being divested of clothing in public can be a humiliation. It is circumstantial, because there is an exception for swimming costumes etc.
If sentient creatures other than ourselves have a comparable range of affections, we have no evidence about it. I rigorously exclude all speculation about the “Martian psyche” from this inquiry. As for two-headed humans, whether we are entitled to generalize from them depends on what is known about them empirically.
If dignity is something you earn, an infant has to be judged by different standards from an adult. Young children convey their displeasure by crying and whining. An adult is expected not to. Incontinence is biologically circumstantial. Incontinence is normal for an infant. For an adult, it forfeits dignity; not only that, it is one of the symbols of loss of dignity. A capacity for embarrassment is presupposed here. That capacity may be inculcated. (We don’t have to know whether it is or not.)
The very fact that we are affected by psychedelic drugs is corporeal and circumstantial. It has nothing to do with celestial abstractions.
Our lives are divided into sleeping and waking phases. We dream while sleeping. The infirmity of old age; death. The life-cycle of seventy years; that length relative to the life-cycle of nations or civilizations, measured in centuries. All this is contingent, circumstantial.
The circumstance of the developmental phases means not only that dignity applies to a youth differently from the way it applies to an adult, but that dignity attained may not apply to an infant at all.
It so happens that a human reaches full growth in two and a half decades and typically dies of natural causes after seven decades. All of it is circumstantial. One could imagine the lengths, or ratios, in the life-cycle of the human animal altered. Moreover, lives are staggered; the collection which I apprehend as “other people” constantly loses and gains members. In particular, my peers successively die.
Questions of dignity are interwoven with death in many ways; the easiest way to make the point is to mention Death with Dignity laws. In a sense, death cancels some of the aspirations we denote as dignity: it renders a person’s striving meaningless to the person. But there is also the opposite effect: approaching death can give people who are inhumanly flippant and cavalier a sudden injection of sobriety. (Unfortunately, they become sober only about the selfish matter of their biologic fate.) Being mortally wounded can cause psychological regression, translating the adult psyche backwards to childhood.
Death motivates far-reaching credulity (not to mention widespread hallucinations of contact with the departed). Many people imagine that death is the premier motivation of religion, whether it has been proved to be such or not.
We despise Heidegger for rubbing our faces in death as a boundary of the subject, a pole which makes unique claims on the subject’s comportment. But we are not being fair, because not only is it such a boundary, but execution as a punishment for “doing it your way” was a common enough occurrence. The women of Iran face death by stoning as an unfair punishment. The first step in becoming a race car driver—or in ascending to genuine political consciousness—is to accept death as the probable consequence of your endeavors. As Eugen Leviné said before he was executed by the German government in 1919, “we Communists are dead men on leave.” Indeed, death is a consideration for an alert, lucid person, because you may take risks, and do important things—or you can play it safe and suffer an early death anyway (by mishap).
Perhaps what is obnoxious abut Heidegger is that he had an agenda; he could not expound on death without becoming a proponent of Bushido. In any case, death cannot be omitted from philosophical anthropology. Nor can philosophical anthropology rest content with Wittgenstein’s shallow observation that death is not lived through.
Turning to another human phase, romantic fulfillment, you can’t get its texture from abstractions. You may believe that mundane love is our training for beatific love—but mundane love is not ethereal. It is terran and pairwise and otherwise contingent; in turn, it has infidelity and jealously as pitfalls. (The Biblical God and Devil are filled with egoic emotions, by the way.)
Our psychological or psychic investiment in heterosexual reprouction. Carnal pleasure, emotional support, solidarity from a pair bond. One replaces the commitment one received for one’s parent, and one takes over the parent’s role. Heterosexual reproduction is preceded by a courtship which is cultural and culture-specific, not instinctual.
Because mating embodies pair solidarity, the quest for such acceptance is liable to the mishaps of infidelity and jealousy. It is biologically circumstantial. We don’t know if fidelity to the pair bond is an issue for Martians; there is no basis to say anything about it.
If I make a play for a member of the opposite sex and another male shows up and she is obviously more simpatico with him and goes off with him, that may, or will, humiliate me. This observation is not self-contained. It presupposes human socio-biological contingencies of reproduction as already mentioned—the reasons for the suitor’s selfish and emotional stake.
We are born helpless and a culture is instilled in us before we can make cultural choices. A human individual is encultured, has a natural language imposed on him or her, acquires coping habits. Personality has to be crystallized by enculturation. Once that has happened, once there is language-fixation and so forth, the individual is not a blank slate. The person who feels that they were abused and wants to become different has to re-build, not build. Humans don’t have an “erase key.” (Apart from science fiction which it would be frivolous to indulge here.) Not having an “erase key”: that is biologically circumstantial.
Other people can divest me of stature by spitting on me as I walk down the street. Why does being spat on as you walk down the street assault you, lessen your worth, etc.? A full answer would require an account of the person in “the situation.” If our explanations seem thin, that is because we do not place a comprehensive account of the person in “the situation” on the record here. (That account is presupposed.) The person in “the situation” is a contingent and it is a synthesis of innumerable contingencies.
Already, presumably, you can annoy a mammal, a pet, by spitting on it. Presumably, the animal will be annoyed that you have besmirched its grooming. It will not be concerned with the heavy symbolism known to humans—although apes may know this symbolism.
What does being spat upon mean in the human realm?
i) One has an intrinsic need for the approval of others. To be hated by the people around one is wounding.
ii) Being symbolically injured in public quickly translates into nonsymbolic injuries, “pranks,” being elbowed, tripped, etc.
To expand. People have expectations about well-being. They have expectations about their condition. They have expectations about their performance in the stream of tasks which comprises “a life.” They want other people’s approval. To get it, they have to measure up to other people’s expectations—and to standardized expectations (such as an acceptable haircut in the army). If people start spitting on you as you walk down the street, everything goes badly. Your grooming is besmirched, something has happened to you which is a symbol of disapproval, other people detest you substantively.
A sane person could not be indifferent in these circumstances. The only way a sane person could tolerate such treatment is if he or she wanted to be disliked by these people in particular. Then it becomes an example of how, with humans, values or aims can override other values or aims.
The case of behaving in an uncouth way, knowing that people will resent it, in order to annoy or insult them. Whereas one would normally avoid doing what would provoke resentment. Again, with humans, values or aims can override other values or aims.
We are capable of fleshly delectation, gluttony, inebriation, concupiscence, etc. Some people have the personal circumstances to indulge themselves far more than average; we call them playboys. All the while, there is a wisdom qualification here. It could be argued that the playboy’s dissipation damages the psyche (rather as cigarettes damage the body). Getting what you want can endanger you. What is more, fleshly gratification has a shorter life-cycle than the person gratified. Infirmity can rule out the fleshly gratifications.
A friend of mine came into money. She bought her cats expensive catfood. The cats loved it. They got too fat. Gratification, fleshly gratification in particular, can undermine you. (Aristotle solved it by counseling moderation in all things.) We also see that one’s personal goals can harbor pitfalls. Doing what you want to do may undermine you.
It pertains to dignity because dignity attained involves becoming who you ought to be—all the while, our development occurs in a climate of debate over what is good.
As we have repeatedly observed, it turns out that the notion of dignity is inseparable from a quasi-moral consideration. But most (if not all) moral questions refer essentially to human biological circumstances. Fidelity in a pair bond is an obvious example. But many more questions have to be set up with references to human biological circumstances. Incest. Cannibalism. (Cannibalism would not be an issue if humans were herbivores.) Abortion. Rape. We can analyze murder as being biologically circumstantial. If there were two bodies for one mind, the implications of killing one body would be different from what they are now. Killing a body would be amputation rather than murder. What would destroying one head of a two-headed human be? The question has never been asked.
If a place, such as Jerusalem, is deemed sacrosanct, that is terrestrially circumstantial. If something prevented life from abiding on the ground, no such determination would have arisen. In fact, planet earth is the specific material abode for which moral considerations for angels were elaborated. (In the Testament of Enoch etc.) It is earthly, all-too-earthly. There is no such thing as a matter-free or earth-free morality.
Answers to moral questions are not self-evident. It is possible for cultured, thinking people to disagree over moral questions. Abortion. The point, again, is that there is no moral directive without the biological circumstances.
Again: the spectrum of affections, which may be a key in understanding dignity, is known to us from the human case. We have no example of these affections outside the human sphere. They are circumstances of being human. The question is whether the human polarization of affections is a necessary condition of dignity—or whether dignity could be an attribute of a sentient creature whose psychological norms were unlike ours. My answer is that the human polarization of affections seems essential to the concept and we have no preparation to factor it out. We have no basis to discuss sentient creatures who do not have the same gamut of affections we do.
None of our observations here can be deduced from abstractions about being as such. Nor can they be deduced from the idea of an abstract disembodied psyche. The subject-matter is specifically terran and is prefigured by anthropoid social psychology. All the same, we humans are incomparable to anthropoids.
We are caught in human biological circumstance like a fly in amber. Does personhood theory then treat biological human circumstance as an absolute? Does it make absolutes of mere circumstances, such as the vestigial appendix, or nipples on males, and say that self-consciousness or rational choice or dignity is inconceivable without them? Seemingly it would be ridiculous—anthropocentric and geocentric—to do that. But our position here will be that we are not equipped to generalize cogently beyond the human condition. Especially with regard to the spectrum of affections. Especially with regard to an emotion such as jealousy.
In fact, this inquiry does not unfold on some ethereal or beatific plane—as it might have when authors on magic wrote books about the life of disembodied spirits. A general theory of disembodied spirits and supernatural occurrences which has dignity as one of its outputs? The project has no credibility.
Do we want to try to generalize definitions of the higher affections beyond human circumstance? The dignity of the disembodied soul? We have no basis to speculate on dignity as self-contained in an abstract disembodied psyche. We don’t even have an analysis for Martians in case Martian reproduction does not involve pair bonding and consequently provides no opportunity for human jealousy. It does not enhance personhood theory to speculate about “personhood on Mars.” It is just decadent to speculate when there is no evidence.
All the same, there is a further avenue of speculation here. We live in bodies, as we say. Does that mean that we should be analyzed as machines? Does it mean that the science of machines is adequate to us? Since this is an entire separate avenue of speculation, we devote Text G to it.
We can turn this last question around. We may enter into evidence a biology which is a mechanistic materialism—credible or not. The notorious Introduction a la medicine experimentale (1865) of Claude Bernard. Then what are the implications for a perspective on the human collective? The biologist naturally thinks of his or her “fellow humans” as a rabble. He or she may believe that the rabble has now been mapped, like the keys of a piano. “None of the keys surprises us now—humans might as well be a finite collection of piano rolls.” Where does that leave the notion of dignity? See Text H.
16. Again the transports
We have said that philosophical anthropology must recognize the transports. We have not assigned them a specific part in dignity, nor will we. The transports complicate the human condition; a transport is unsublimated or sublimated; it may be preferred or elevated. Hennix is the one who made a direct association between the transports and dignity. Further, as we said, Hennix associated intoxication with cognitive acuity. This heightened acuity (including clairvoyance) may or may not be merely subjective, delusional.
What if there is a difference between our level of consciousness under ordinary circumstances and the level of consciousness following non-intellectual ignitions? What if the latter condition seems like our best to us? This is a query which Hennix posed seriously. As we know, it was also wielded by the charlatans of the psychedelic craze. And we continue to underline that the transports can be unsublimated. The civilization is such that it could not empower the sort of exploration of psychedelics which Hennix envisioned. The use of intoxicants was typically recreational, and that meant that the goal was stupefaction. The psychedelic craze was mainly an exploration of dignity diminished. The careful work of stripping superstitious imputations from psychedelic phenomena which I undertook in “The Psychedelic State” (published on the Internet) was not endorsed by anybody.
Society ties people down; it makes sure that they are tied down. Hennix never exactly said this explicitly. If you legitimately try to be a high flier, it won’t last very long. You will immediately crash into other circumstances I have explored so thoroughly. The self-hatred that saturates public preferences. The circumstance that to the public, being swindled is the preferred experience. The circumstance that the patrons of culture usually reward the wrong thing and are blind to the right thing. All of this, by the way, goes to the heart of the topic of dignity.
Even immense privilege is not a sufficient condition, because the immensely privileged person has to adopt a managerial consciousness, to continually manage subordinates—as well as fending off business fraud, and even in rare cases the insubordination of the underprivileged. There would have to be a division of labor: a wealthy patron who was willing to do the work of management and be mainly an audience for the “players,” and the players themselves, who would live in a condition of vulnerability much of the time. But then the “players” would have to have a productive motivation within—would have to be appropriately humble, appropriately sober, appropriately confident, and so forth. (They would, for example, have to have honor, when the civilization’s prevailing verdict is that anybody who has or wants honor is a chump.) Any number of people would be delighted to be shielded so that they could live lives of indulgence and dissipation. Milieus in which everyone plays everyone else for a fool are not so hard to arrange.
The transports may enter this inquiry in another way. In the next section we will ponder gatherings whose purpose is the rehabilitation of the morale of people who may already have passed some test but need not be “geniuses.” Transports might have a part to play; it’s an open question.
There is no reason to believe that humans have some one beatific destiny as fulfillment. The transports open doors of human possibility, and meta-technology (for example) opens other doors; the modalities are not commensurate, but could conceivably (or assuredly) intersect. We can say confidently that humans live way below their potential, evidently because hell is what makes them comfortable. We say again: even if the external requisites are met, it still depends on having a productive motivation within. Here dignity appears not as something everybody already has, but as a quality rarer than genius.
17. Proposals for the rehabilitation of morale
I do not rule out formal (i.e. scheduled, regular) meetings for the purpose of personal stock-taking and group restoration of morale or serenity. I am talking about ideal situations—understanding all too well that in the present society these proposals might fall into the hands of hustlers. In fact, I’m not ready to say what the relation of these proposals would be to change in society at large. Do these proposals assume that the participant is still in the workaday world? A world whose social arrangements would be familiar to us (private employment etc.)? I don’t know whether the proposals assume a new society as I discuss in writings on economics and on the “enchanted community”—or whether they have a compensatory purpose in present conditions. We may observe that the present techno-capitalism is well-entrenched; at the same time it is continuously unstable, always skates on thin ice, so to speak. (Financial or technological or ecological catatrophe, possibly as an act of war.)
It seems, for example, that in the proposal for counseling, the counselors should not be paid by consultees per visit. I don’t know whether it would be paid work or who would pay, but it seems ridiculous to ask consultees to pay per visit for such a service. All the while, the counselor should not be a policeman. The counselor would not have a policeman’s disapproval of the transports. The consultations should be privileged as they are in other professions. I don’t know what the counselor’s status would be occupationally.
None of these proposals springs from the premise that the consultees or participants are sick and come for medical care. If psychotherapy is a legitimate branch of medicine (I have written at length about that, feel that I am still only a beginner in developing the perspective I ought to have), it is separate from what is proposed here. (Mental illness—see Text J.) On the other hand, since a significant fraction of the population is mentally ill, the counselor would come across mental illness as a matter of course—and presumably would refer the consultee elsewhere.
Consider a weekly or monthly counseling session. To focus the consultee for stock-taking, for self-examination—in the perspective of “wisdom” etc. Not to drive toward a goal. In present society, it would take the consultee out of a routine that doesn’t allow for this, or that doesn’t provide a knowledgeable confidant.
I have in mind a counselor who can bring to bear what I have to say about personhood, wisdom and subsurface processing, etc. That makes the counselor a “student of human nature” among other things.
It’s far more extreme than that, because of the question which threads through this essay: what delivers us from the mechanistic materialist truncation of the person without returning us to intellectually dishonest and psychologically ruinous traditions? As I said above, I know of no other way of escaping the truncation than by modalities meant to overmaster the scientific outlook. So the counselor would not believe common sense, would have a perspective outside the existing civilization. It assumes an iconoclasm which would not be in the purview of any “job.”
There could also be discursive wisdom-education. I could formulate wisdom-precepts. It would then be clear that I want to mold a particular sort of effective actor in the world. If there were a considerable number of people like that, they might have a compelling effect. Even for that, the human material would have to be redeemable to begin with. And they would have to be capable of holding themselves apart from the ordinary demoralizations, from so-called peer pressure.
But the people who have “made history” have not been like that, not at all.
Proactive wisdom-education would encounter the common personal faults as obstacles. After all, the most valuable quality for any path-breaking endeavor is not wisdom; it is raw ebullience. Empirically, raw ebullience frequently correlates with arrogance and, at least in certain well-publicized cases, with mental disturbance. The individual may be impervious to wisdom-teaching—and if the wisdom teaching was not itself well-conceived, the individual would detect that, and make it a reason to reject the goal wholesale.
The last proposal is for a regular “meeting,” a “ritual,” a group-participation morale-restorer.
That, if one is very lucky, is what one gains from attending a musical concert. What are the lessons of musical performance? It is possible for a group of people to be exalted by cultural content which is not discursive but at the same time does not stupify—which increases one’s lucidity. Emotions are awakened, not to make the hearer insensate, but to afford insight. The better self is awakened—in the company of others with whom you may prefer to believe you have little in common. You are not trying to become one with the audience.
However, the musical concert satisfies the purpose tangentially. A professional, who lives as a slave of the discipline, dazzles a passive and unskilled audience—and then it ends. Even if it helps, it is not conformed to our objective. A result is needed which the attendees help to produce. What is required of the attendees cannot involve the kind of proficiency that precludes their enjoyment of what they are doing. (Presumably a soloist performing a difficult concerto is working like a surgeon; they are not there to enjoy the music. I know; I have seen soloists at rehearsals who were not quite up to it.)
I imagine the proposed meeting as non-discursive, although it might have a discursive perspective announced somewhere other than in the meetings. In fact, I began to think about this when I was writing about wisdom and subsurface processing. There ought to be some way of evaporating resentment, and it is not adequate to will resentment away. One has to “let go” on a level below that of willing and self-discipline.
Yogic gatherings started me thinking about it. The decor one sees in the Yogic or Hindu world?—OK. However, let me say in the strongest terms that not only did Yoga and psychotherapy not cure certain of my friends of bitterness—it did not even get them to admit that they have a bitterness problem. It’s worse than that, they might have elder family members who thrived on bitterness. Not all animals find their equilibrium in placidity.
I have no specific proposals. It would have to be conceived with elan—otherwise I wouldn’t want anything to do with it. At its best, music compels self-examination—again, without being discursive. We would like to transfer some of that to a participatory ritual which might indeed be led, but without the everything/nothing polarity of roles. Chanting?—as I say, I’m not ready to furnish specifics. It is possible that people in techno-capitalist society are so devastated (hollow, defeated) that the project could not even get started.
Personhood Theory: An Account of Dignity and Its Opposite
Text A. The transports
1. If we talk about the celestial, the ethereal, the beatific, as generic phases of being, then we have to acknowledge that there are waking phases of being which are not alert, yet which are preferred or elevated, which we may call transported. They are not necessarily sublimated. Sex and drugs; but also sleep and drowsiness-related phenomena, and also guided fantasy (hypnosis).
Ecstasy, and the revelation of our “truth,” may be ascribed to the transports. Because philosophical anthropology is not confined to cogitation, but addresses “man’s way-to-be,” it ought to acknowledge the transports. Somehow a perspective of dignity must incorporate them. (Here we part company with Nietzsche, an envenomed oppositionalist who had nothing to say about the transports.)
My life-experience (Flynt’s) has led me to distinguish between namelessness (radical unbelief) and elevated states. Belieflessness versus elevation. There are “transported” dimensions which need something other than thinking to initiate them.
2. We speak of phases of being which have ignitions other than ideas and emotions. Profane highs require ignitions: chemicals, nudity or touching, sleep or drowsiness, massage, hypnosis etc. All this is biologically circumstantial and non-trivial.
The pronounced “relaxation” after a massage.
Hypnosis [a combination of suggestion and relaxation which can produce elaborate delusions and hallucinations]. The neuropsychology of the art of instilling fantasy by relaxation-suggestion (hypnosis) is very skimpy.
Drowsiness and dreaming can be set-ups for waking transports. If you are fortunate, you are familiar with hypnopompic imagery and morning amnesia, which I have focused on elsewhere. The hypnopompic state is recognized in psychology. Morning amnesia is my label, although it is vividly described by Proust in Swann’s Way.
Dreaming as such is not a topic here. Only the hallucinatory dreams which may accompany fever would be “transported enough” to be pertinent.
We are interested in non-mythical ignitions, profane ignitions. When parochial mythology is bundled with the ignition, as with shamanism and so forth, we classify the transport as delusive, for example.
It is biologically circumstantial and profane. If the science-fiction idea of a conscious computer could be realized, there is no reason to suppose that the computer would get high from smoking marijuana; in fact, the only purpose for which the computer would circulate air would be cooling. Chemical reaction with that air additive certainly would not be desirable for a solid-state machine.
3. Precisely because we are talking about ethereal or beatific experience, we have to be clear that intoxication need not be ethereal or beatific.
There are routine drug parties called Happy Hour, the cocktail party, etc. Alcohol intoxication is not psychedelic. Social drinking brightens sensations, makes you forward, makes you devil-may-care, makes people and conversational topics seem more interesting than they are. Euphoria with progressive loss of alertness.
These phases of being are, in general, profane. Sensual or profane elevation does not automatically sublimate itself. Sublimation can occur spontaneously—but it is not guaranteed.
We give no blank-check endorsement to New Age claims made for intoxication. Bohemians are always “discovering” some “kick” or “fix” which affords a euphoria, or even the feeling of having had a revelation—where the feeling soon dissipates and has to be reactivated with another dose. Alcohol and cocaine do not garner cosmic pretensions nowadays. The use of LSD and Ecstasy were crazes which did have these pretensions. In the case of LSD, the pretensions were published by Leary, Masters and Houston, etc. In the East Village in the Sixties, there was some sort of “sex group” whose name began with a K which practiced what amounted to nudity in a living room. Who knows what claims it made for itself; the police quickly closed it down.
The bohemians often find that they have to discontinue the intoxicant because it is destructive. Or, it may be a “kick” which becomes more boring than euphoric, or falls out of fashion (meaning that the social cues turn against it).
There are assuredly psychotics who are more comfortable with their delusions of grandeur than with reality. They may eagerly use drugs to magnify their delusiveness. People who take something to crank up their pychosis. (Leary could certainly have been suspected of this, although he was never officially diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.) Obviously we cannot recommend this.
4. The dimensions of waking being in question are not immediately hurtful.
All the same, there has been intense social disapproval of the avenues, whether the disapproval has been rational or not. No doubt the Mosaic religions view them as portals for the Devil’s work.
Alcohol has such an ingrained tradition that few attempts are made to ban it, even though it probably makes a large proportion of its users worse off.
In the case of drugs formerly popular only in the “twilight world,” the regime bans them for everybody even though they do not have the same deleterious consequences for everybody. A widespread deviation from waking alertness is viewed as disabling a society: the equivalent of the British imposition of opium on China. With psychotropic drugs, repeated use can lead to personal disintegration.
As for the erotic, society does not know what to do with a turn-on that does not sublimate except to exploit it as a lure for mercenary pruposes.
If eroticization of a population would translate into promiscuity, it would impinge on dignity, even urgently so. The corporeal specifics of the human condition are all-important here. Humans are not “wired” to engage in consensual sex as entertainment; that makes consensual sex different from athletics. Biological tampering is needed to block procreation. Promiscuity carries a high risk of specific diseases—“nature’s revenge.” Consensual sex is associated with pair bonding, with unconditional acceptance. Such relationships impinge on dignity. Fidelity and jealousy become consuming considerations, enough so that the crime of passion is a separate category in some legal codes, being considered understandable and uncontrollable.
To sum up, society typically frowns on the opportunities of intoxication, or finds them bothersome. All the while, many people (including many authority figures) partake of them. Infidelity is as likely among authority figures as anyone else, of course. (Cf. the teacher-student sex scandal in the New York City schools, 2005.) During Prohibition, “everybody” drank.
5. The transports may be believed to be our access to our finest potential. They may be credited with revelations of attitude and self-interpretation. They may have the potential to assist in the rehabilitation of morale. But there has been no such thing as thorough exploration of the transports in the way we would want.
If a transport (an episode of intoxication) amounts to anything more than euphoria and an illusion of grandeur, what is it? There has been no appraisal which takes its premises from “The Psychedelic State.”
The use of intoxicants in the rehabilitation of morale has never been tried legitimately. It has only been tried by scam artists who trade on the authority of ancient superstition (The Book of the Dead etc.). An insistance that parochial superstition must be served.
The most important use of psychedelic drugs to mold morale may have been the enterprise of Charles Manson. The Assassins, as is known, used hashish. Whatever went on among the Leary followers at Millbrook in the Sixties presumably demoralized them and handicapped them; it was the opposite of a mental hygiene.
There are not that many people who want the benefit of a probing conversation with me, Flynt—or who are able to gain anything from one. And I don’t even require people to ingest poisons! What does that say for the prospect of using drugs in the rehabilitation of morale?
I must repeat what I said in “The Psychedelic State.” The drug’s capacity to alter consciousness is completely overwhelmed by who the person is in any case, and by the social cues impinging on the person. How many people have known tripping as something other than entertainment? I know people who tripped until they had world-dissolving hallucinations. You might think that would give them a tremendous cognitive advantage. But it didn’t. They weren’t positioned to draw sound conclusions from the experience (did not have the appropriate intellectual preparation or stance). Moreover, it gave them no wisdom insights. It was simply a phantasmagoria which rendered them helpless, afflicting them like brain damage. They needed a prolonged recovery in order to be able to re-enter the everyday world.
It has not been established whether taking psychedelics in a group is desirable. Of course people have done it, but why shouldn’t we believe that that made them worse off? Why wouldn’t group tripping simply amplify base instincts and folly? Again, was not the most important experiment Charles Manson’s? If you are going to lower your defenses, shouldn’t your companions be chosen even more carefully than in alert life?
Text B. Religious notions about human exceptionality
What the believer wants is some explanation which does not find the gift to inhere in the individual—which posits that the gift is mysteriously injected from without, and which makes the injection humanly understandable. (It’s a sky-king bestowing an unearned favor on an isolated individual.) But in trying to make acquisition of the gift acceptable, the story makes it intolerably unfair. Indeed, Libby Flynt points out that most people who are considered geniuses have major personal flaws. What is the value of conjuring up favored people who are also seriously flawed? It is at best a pagan ethic to imagine that the gods create crippled favorites.
And we count people as geniuses whose contribution was to discredit belief in the gods—are they supposed to have been spurred to do that by gods?
And what is the value of giving the gift to so few? If this impulse to distinction were the gift of a personal deity, why does the deity wish it that the arbitrary few have it and so many do not? [The dichotomy which Nietzsche finds between a few self-motivated people and the herd.] It’s just ridiculous to believe that the human race is designed that way because it is perfect fulfillment.
When it is pointed out that God’s gift-giving policy does not seem fair, the stock answer is that God is incomprehensible. But the only reason the story of a sky-king was put in play in the first place was to make something humanly understandable. Now we are told that it is not humanly understandable—so the whole exercise was worthless.
Text C. The mentally retarded
All we propose to do on this topic is to probe the conventional wisdom; we have no original views. The question (which we encounter repeatedly) is whether dignity pertains precisely to those who are biologicaly human. Is dignity something a human attains? Can it be forfeited? Are there qualifications for it which some biological humans fail to meet at birth?
What sort of a trait is IQ? Defined a hundred years, ago, the conventional wisdom now demands that IQ be taken seriously, because it is found to be partly hereditary, and because there is routine use of IQ in neural medicine.
The conventional wisdom separates out the mentally retarded, at least in regard to legal punishments. Humanitarian opinion does not want the mentally retarded to be penalized in the same way as a normal person for a given cirme. Does that determination limit these individuals' capacity for dignity? On this score, humanitarianism opts to treat dignity as an honor to be accorded to all humans. And if a human misbehaves? Evidently Hitler is to be judged differently from the mentally retarded who commit capital crimes.
The problem with the conventional wisdom is that it forgets that we may want an understanding of dignity which proceeds from active interiority. That entails definitions into which the reader can interpret him or herself. From that angle, an infant does not have dignity and it is hard to say when the maturing child acquires it. The infant only has the potential for dignity. One of the most profound phrases in philosophical anthropology is Hennix's phrase (to paraphrase), "for the with-it reader." Nobody has ever attempted to say what is the unfolding interiority of the mentally retarded that constitutes dignity. Then: defintions we work so hard to attain, such as "my suitable appreciation of my way-to-be"--which precisely presuppose that "the reader" matches the text's level--become useless.
Text D.Religion and compensation
The source of the average person’s “spiritual” life is religion-as-compensation—which some may call “meaning.” As a recent commercial author said, devotees of religions believe things which have no warrant by the standards of validity which are in general use today. So it is flagrant intellectual dishonesty. In this inquiry, woo-woo content is classified as debasement. The authoritarian compensatory mythologies of religion will be viewed as demeaning.
All the same, I do not want to remain in the orbit of the village atheist, or the insincere publicist of scientism. “For the permanent record,” I insist on applying my specific contributions to the appraisal of religion-as-compensation. First, to reiterate, I do not want readers to imagine that I am consigning them to a materialist dogma whose very silence on “morality” and “spirituality” is taken as permission to revert to ancient superstition in those areas. Secondly, the attraction, the need for religious packages on the part of the overwhelming majority of humanity can be a topic for personhood theory. What I have to say here is just a floor-plan which offers no breakthroughs. Thirdly, my perspective is far—very far—from being humdrum or pedestrian. Although I may not be able to convey that to the reader in any way he or she can appreciate, I have to insist on it.
When sophisticated people encounter a challenge to their religious allegiance, they retreat to streamlined versions of religion. There are two ways of streamlining religion. One is to ascend to theological abstractions, as with the Catholic love affair with Aristotle. The other is to retreat to minimal commitment, as with deism. As with non-sectarian meditation (which is a real enterprise with its own manuals).
I have no motive to wrestle with the streamlined versions. It is “vulgar” religion that matters socially—and that is what we should address.
Most people want their lives to be what I call compensation richochets. They accept tiresome employment, raising a family as a duty, humdrum diversions—and then insert a “supernaturalist religion” at a weekly meeting which is supposed to make them feel grand or at least allow them to be spectators for celestial celebrities. (Like seeing the Pope pass by in the Popemobile.) They deliberately don’t expect anything from themselves. They want phantom celebrities with approximately understandable lives (Mary and Jesus), and a phantom appointed authority (God), so they have a commander who is not mortal like themselves.
The average person wants a shadow appointed commander (God), shadow celebrities (demigods, angels), narratives of sky-people with human desires (Hesiod, Hinduism, the Nephalim in Judaism, especially the Testament of Enoch). And a once-a-week religion fix. Godliness is divorced from humanity, while being embodied in the lives of humanoids who care intensely about humans. (The lives of the Greek gods. The lives of Nephalim and angels.)
Religion furnished the follower with an appointed authority which in the monotheistic epoch is called God. If an all-powerful God is too boring, then a counter-authority called the Devil is supplied.
Most people live humdrum lives and add a pinch of grandeur with religion. They tell themselves that their devotions, and the priestly blessings they receive, connect the ordinary passages of their lives—marriage, becoming a parent, facing death as a conscript soldier—to a personal God.
What the adherent wants is an existence above the humdrum which which is like a human narrative: to which the adherent can be a spectator. You don’t live it. You don’t fly with angels, fly on a magic carpet, hear God’s deep voice in your native language—unless you are willing to sink into a fringe classified as delusional. You are entertained by it once a week at a meeting.
People need phantom appointed authorities and phantom celebrities to gawk at, and tales of the tricks which the phantom celebrities got up to, in order to feel exalted and to explain to themselves why they curb their own impulses. As a package, it is called “meaning.”
We can make guesses about why or how people are so wedded to intellectually unreasonable “religions.” Obviously there are issues of believing-what-is-satisfying-non-intellectually, and of rationalization.
Let us hold onto our sense of proportion and remember what religions do not do. The discourses of the major religions do not have the representation of nature as their motive, do not have coherent inference as their motive. They are myths, tales, to motivate obedience. The major religions give intentionally twisted accounts of morality (and spirituality) to mobilize and demobilize the little people for purposes of elites. The Judaism that survives today is bowderlized. Original Judaism was about animal sacrifice, essentially so. The blood of a creature was the seat of the soul and the blood reparation for sin was entirely credible to the constituency. (Joseph Kastein, History and Destiny of the Jews, page 173.)
The authors of the Old Testament wrote “morality” jive and “God’s majesty” jive to keep the little people in their place. Most people are too naive to realize that the Bible suspends the presumed universal law for Jewish campaigns of conquest and for the personal transgressions of one Jewish king, namely David.
Aside on Eastern religion
“Eastern religion” can be a salvation for nonreflective people, whether Asian householders or Hollywood actors. It can be a birthright and can motivate people whom I hold in awe for other reasons. It can be presented in a refined way as an alternative to pagan Europe’s “wisdom” (as an alternative to Epicureanism, Stoicism, Neoplatonism, etc.). In that respect, Schopenhauer acknowledged it, although nothing came of his doing so.
Here what matters is Eastern religion as known to nonreflective people, Hinduism, Shinto, Confucianism, Buddhism.—As taken up in the West by non-intellectuals looking for salvation or consolation, whether the Beatles or a movie star. The otherwise profane employee gets told once a week that he has a cosmic self or can unite with the cosmic. I don’t see why this isn’t pure compensation, like chewing cocoa leaves. (You can make yourself feel sublime by listening to certain sort of music. That doesn’t make you a different person—it may raise your estimate of yourself, but does it do so justifiably?)
As I said in the body text, the religions are not redeemed by being the most advanced instruction in ethics and spirituality. To the extent that we must have a perspective on the latter areas, religious indoctrination is the worst possible preparation. (Unless your goal is keeping the little people in their place.)
Reasonable, penetrating questions about what the God does with us are not answered with respect, but with rationalizations.—Because the spokesmen are preaching to people who want to believe a preposterous consolation. I have no motive to entertain the rationalizations. There is an entire compensation-structure in the person—which I want to have nothing to do with, which I regard as retarded. If this is what somebody is trained to need, or has made his or her peace with, they aren’t even in the audience for my work. I do not wish to “market to these customers.” I do not want to countenance antique myths of magic, disembodied psyches, etc.
If I defend the intrinsic sanctity of these people, thus supporting the contemporary constitutional documents, nevertheless, these people can never participte in operative ennoblement or exaltation as I conceive it. I don’t see any way around elitism. Such a differentiation of humankind is imposed by the masses’ backwardness—whether we deny the backwardness and the differentiation in words or not. Here again we cannot avoid tangency with Nietzsche. As they say in the performing arts, it’s the audience that determines the quality of showcased art.
Somebody can complain that the persepctive I present is too humdrum that I find all the pieces of life’s puzzle in humdrum life. It could be said that I have not even done justice to the gulf between ape and man. (But it wouldn’t be said in this era of “animal rights”!) People are not pedestrian experiments, even though they frequently get treated as if they were (it could be said). A perspective which is a mere composite of bits and pieces of humdrum life would be found wanting.
When does my exposition reach the celestial, the beatific? It is necessary to acknowledge God (some will say).
First, I do not apologize for paying attention to what is banally corporeal. I do not apologize for not floating off into the sky with the disembodied spirits. I do not apologize for not having a moral code for incorporeal spirits in the sky.
We can never renounce the corporeal, the carnal, the egoic, in reflecting on the affections. Love is an example. The reason we know what love is, at all, is because of our mammalian, terrestrial etc. situation, which is a conjunction of contingencies. One cannot proceed directly to divine or beatific love without passing “go.”
If you want to ask how my perspective would be challenged by superior beings, then talk about a visit to earth by finite creatures who have the advantage of us. (Called “gods,” in the vernacular.) Could God simply be a finite creature who has a vast advantage of us, an amoral scientist who established planet earth as an experiment? I will worry about that when experience confronts me with it.
As for dragging in the God who is named ‘God’, the God who is a being, I cannot respond better than I did in a recent memo on Heidegger. Heidegger carefully makes a place for the God who is a being, but just as carefully does not say anything about him.
Heidegger excoriates thinkers who posit unexamined positives in which we find salvation.
But God as a being is the unexamined positive for Heidegger.
Critical reflection would find the God-being to be nothing but bluster. References to God are never anything but hand-waving.
It is not enough that the God who is a being remain a noise, a word, intoned ritually. I insist on a definition. Is God
—finite life-span/infinite life-span,
Is God supposed to care about us? Is God supposed to wish us well? Is God egoically involved with our attitudes?
Without answers, we are talking about nothing. If God is impersonal, then it (not he!) does not play the role which the fantasy demands.
One and the same religion gives different answers over time to the question of whether God is finite or infinite. Why would an infinite God care about individual petitions?
Is there an earthly life in which we have to prove ourselves, after which we are rewarded with an eternity in an optimal community? Then what is the point of the earthly life—the brief and brutish chapter in which people have to prove themselves under abuse? Why would a God who was solicitous about individuals set it up so that many never have a chance?
Sartre pointed out that a god cannot be “everything” and still be personal.
If God were to be the fount of “meaning,” then these questions would have to have answers. But nobody wants to focus on these questions. To reiterate, apologism deflects these questions with rationalizations. What is more, a “proof” of an Aristotelian god could never establish the parochial tenets wanted by the believer, e.g. that infant genital mutilation is divinely obligatory for a tiny male minority and them only.
The perspective offered in the body text is not humdrum; do you have to read between the lines to see that? I can furnish something exalting and overmastering which does not fail by the standards of validity which are in general use today. We can use the word ‘cosmic’ as a somewhat facetious shorthand for tht. I offer a cosmic opportunity which can be seized if the person is radically authentic. (Although it would be a misuse of the vernacular to suggest that radical authenticity is co-extensive with my perspective.)
If someone is talking about gods and about the possible, to me that is a symptom of how poorly understood our own potential is. What I here call “cosmic” is a closed book to almost all people. They would have to be dragged into it kicking and screaming, as they were into modernity. I don’t know how it would affect the perspective of the average person if my modalities were in play socially, leaving the average person to adjust to the changed institutional landscape without becoming an adept.
Whatever ennoblement and exaltation I offer is participatory and “expert.” It is elitist: not only because most people don’t want to be radically authentic, but specifically because my contributions are too recherche, recondite for them. My modalities provide an opportunity which, for better or worse, only a tiny number of people will respond to for the foreseeable future. (The rest will be in Rome at the Pope’s funeral! Once more, Nietzsche!)
What I offer is for a few people who can be adepts themselves and pull the exaltation and ennoblement out of their own unfathomable possibility. They, we, remain finite and helpless in everyday existence.
Text E. Against unknown knowledge and speculation: the question of Aristotelian discourse-universes
This became a separate document: Conventional wisdom on the progress of knowledge: Aristotelian discourse universes.
Text F. Psychology in the Jesus Legend
Jesus is the only classic legend about a leader-follower relationship which is urgent and personal, where the goal is redemption from this world, redemption from the natural self. If we could somehow disconnect the narrative of Jesus from its religious use, there are interesting points in it. One of them is that Jesus is pictured as a perfectly autonomous minister. The faults of other people do not color him in any way. He has the luxury of never compromising with his own public. (Of course, Jesus essentially disappears from the narrative between childhood and the commencement of his ministry.) This aspect of the story—Jesus’ imperviousness—is amazing because it is so unrealistic.
Text G. Is the science of machines adequate to us?
A claim we may ponder: the human individual can be “projected” onto a machine, but does not have the reality-type of a machine. The infant arrives biologically before there is personality worth speaking of. (Premature births are the clearest cases.) Personality and the “machine” are not co-extensive; personality is the more transitory and the more fragile.
Death is what? If the human person is extinguished when the machine is, then the reality-type “person” exhibits a total dependence on the reality-type “machine.” In fact, personality as mentation, decision-making (“animation”) can be extinguished while the body lives on in a damaged, rudimentary way. That would seem to make personality entirely epiphenomenal.
And yet that is a [dangerous] conclusion. One of personhood theory’s contributions or achievements may be to relieve us of the epiphenomenal thesis. The price of being relieved is that common sense gets dislocated. But personhood theory announced that common sense would be dislocated.
Text H. Mechanistic materialism and dignity as a social issue
To the extent that mechanistic biology might now want to challenge the claim that we cannot exhaust ourselves, I take that as an intellectual challenge. It is another way in which the reigning orthodoxy is grist for my mill.
But the conclusions of mechanistic biology could become social policy without being true. If mechanistic biology steadily gains ground while I have no forum to dispute it from my philosophical vantage-point (while only traditional religion has the right to speak against it), then it will be not a debate topic but an institutionalized ideology of oppression.
I will use the phrase “Eugenics II” for animal husbandry applied to humans on the basis of the genome and complexity theory. Eugenics II could teach that the human rabble has now been mapped, like the keys of a piano. “None of the keys surprises us now.” It could encourage a technocratic caste dictatorship in which the technocratic elite held sway over peons who had been measured and cut to length and were considered suitable as industrial products.
Text J. Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy assumes that its client is ill in a way that confession and self-examination and coaching can ameliorate. (The illness that can be remedied by conversations.) Ideally, psychotherapy would provide: insights as to self-defeating patterns, how one may escape them, how one may cope better, all in a mundane sense. Therefore: it drives toward a goal—in old-fashioned terms, being relieved of neurosis. [Or more realistically, in latter-day therapy, the suppression of debilitating symptoms.] Psychotherapy’s client is a mentally ill person in search of a cure.
I’ve written a lot about psychotherapy—whereas I have written nothing about dentistry. That is because, while I have had both, dentistry is technical in a way which I feel no connection to. [Although even there one has to be an alert and communicative patient; once I had the wrong wisdom tooth scheduled for extraction.]
Using the wrong move to open a childproof bottle cap would be susceptible to conscious self-correction, for example. Psychotherapy assumes that people have gone wrong in ways that are outside of mere conscious self-correction. Expert evaluation and intervention are required to relieve somebody of having been pushed on the wrong road—even though what is brought to bear is not allopathic medicine. One cannot of oneself simply detach and self-correct—that’s the point.
In my “therapy” manuscripts, I grant this special role to psychotherapy.