Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Aphorisms on Intellect (last part)

The progress of the average modern man is at a stage that he has thrown away the weight of history, but his knowledge is that of a child, kept that way by forces around him. The discourse of an average individual hooked on to mass media revolves around people and perhaps events, but certainly not ideas.

"That's the trouble with everybody - you're all so bored. You've had nature explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the living body explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the universe explained to you and you're bored with it, so now you want cheap thrills and, like, plenty of them, and it doesn't matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new as long as it's new as long as it flashes and fuckin' bleeps in forty fuckin' different colors." (Mike Leigh, Naked, 1993)

Further progress will happen when, perhaps due to a collapse of capitalism or due to peak oil (due to circumstances beyond anyone's control), mankind is forced away from unbridled consumption, advertising (which fuels it), and mass media (which depends on advertising for its survival).

If this happens, and the engine of modern distractions gets rickety, people will be forced to turn to deeper and non-market-driven distractions (books, conversations, ideas, politics) and perhaps their intellectual faculties may become stronger, more knowing, and wider and deeper.

Then we might see an epidemic of depression and neuroses. Traditional immersions will become cringe-worthy. People will scoff at love marriages the way they now scoff at arranged marriages, and kids will be seen as a liability to be avoided. "I want to live my way."

Some say that is already underway in developed countries. If the Mad Cow disease was due to cows eating their own entrails, the Mad Man epidemic will be due to men continuously and fruitlessly being aware of their existence and aware of their mortality and their insignificance, but unable to go back to immersion. Eating their own thoughts in the absence of communion.

When fundamentalists hate Valentine's Day, or beat up girls drinking in a bar, understand that it is one generation of distractions versus an older one's anchors of meaning.

Peter Zapffe writes in The Last Messiah:
Any culture is a great, rounded system of anchorings, built on foundational firmaments, the basic cultural ideas. The average person makes do with the collective firmaments, the personality is building for himself, the person of character has finished his construction, more or less grounded on the inherited, collective main firmaments (God, the Church, the State, morality, fate, the laws of life, the people, the future). The closer to main firmaments a certain carrying element is, the more perilous it is to touch. Here a direct protection is normally established by means of penal codes and threats of prosecution (inquisition, censorship, the Conservative approach to life).
The older anchors will be uprooted anyway, you cannot prevent that. But the distractions can also only last so long. There are only so many ways to show penetration in a porn film. James Cameron is already on to sex amongst aliens, but you can't deny it is becoming desperately hard to invent new distractions for an increasingly impatient mass of humanity.

A teacher of the Krishnamurti Foundation is on to the problem
The attempt to overcome boredom through novelty, through sense-stimulation gives rise to a vicious spiral. As every 'new' programme stales, as a given level of sense stimulation fades, the inner psychological demand for ever increasing sense-stimulation becomes more and more insistent till one's being cries out for satisfaction. TV networks are sensitive to this and over the last fifteen years or so, the extent and degree of violence and explicit sexuality has grown exponentially.
Oh, but what is his solution?
Can we once again develop this ability to savour every moment of life with our entire being - whatever this moment brings, whether it is washing dishes or eating a chocolate pudding? Can we drop the discriminating mind which says"this activity is insignificant, that other activity is of great importance"? Can we live in the moment, because the past is irretrievably gone and the future mere phantom? Can we live completely in the 'here and now' and thus recover that child-like quality which has been 'educated' out of us?
No Sir, you cannot. Not without extinguishing a large part of your mind and intellect by, say, use of drugs or alcohol.

Once you and Time have cultivated a child's brain to be aware, to plan and to foresee, to be highly discriminating, to be highly developed, to be a man's brain, you cannot now demand that it go to sleep and just be "here and now", that it be a child again. That is a cruel joke you seem to be playing, Sir, you, who are a teacher! And assuming the graduates of your school are able to be "here and now" by some sleight of hand, who will build the bridges and who will operate the InterNIC?

Irving Howe said, "The knowledge which makes us cherish innocence makes innocence unattainable."

How can a man be a child again? Can you again believe in Santa Claus? Can you, having played the stock market, play Ludo for hours and hours and be content, like you used to as a child? Well maybe you can, to prove a point, but have you seen the complexity of computer games recently? They don't even fit on a double layer DVD.

As I said earlier, the recognition of this malaise is there, there are 16 million echoes around the world: "Mind is the enemy."

People are furiously trying to keep it quiet, silent, un-judging, filled with belief and faith. But there are 239 million echoes of the others who have given up on that pathway and are trying to numb themselves with Snake, and 1.5 billion more echoes of those who can't be bothered to even twiddle their fingertips.

It's not their fault. What would you have them rather do? Spread the word?

16 comments:

Modern Man said...

Harman,

So the man who gazes into the abyss must suffer. And out of a deep pity for mankind, he must understand that it's his duty to suffer alone.

-MM

Anonymous said...

Intellect is useful, but it is not the right tool for apprehending the meaning, joy and beauty of life. For that you need either heart's wisdom or apperception.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous

Spirituality or Actualism! Choose your meanings! Feel the joy thereof.

Of course you are right, with one proviso.

The "meaning, joy and beauty of life" are not inherent phenomena, they are human creations.

As such they are not "apprehended" but felt or imagined.

Oh, but I should leave you alone. :-)

Susan said...

Hi Harman,
I feel that the depression and neuroses that you talk about is prevalent in today's world anyway, even when the awareness has not reached the level of questioning the meaning of life (or whatever it is). It might be rare to find a case of depression caused by meaninglessness leading to suicide. However ending one's life because one's favorite team lost or because one's god was not given enough respect is not unheard of. A person toying with the idea of meaninglessness will not fall into the trap of depression due to these reasons and is saved from the "usual" problems of life.
Also, I feel this stage of meaninglessness and alienation is not the final destination but a temporary halt similar to previous halts.

gamzoo said...

I look at someone like Richard Feynman, the quantum physicist, who wasn't spiritual and wasn't an actualist but he did enjoy living. He enjoyed his job because it allowed him to discover the way the universe works which gave him personal joy. He enjoyed playing the bongo drums and enjoyed having sex. What he didn't enjoy was philosophy. You can say he wasn't an authentic man since he didn't obsess about abstract things like meaning, but so what? I don't think people must suffer about not having an ultimate purpose. But I do think people who can't help themselves obsess over meaning will suffer (at least when they are obsessing)

Modern Man said...

I don't think Harman's aphorisms suggest that unhappiness and suffering await all those who see through the illusions of meaning. He understands that people have the ability to isolate, anchor, distract, and/or sublimate (to use Zapffe's terms). In fact, the use of these survival mechanisms are required for a functional social existence.

The more authentic the individual, however, the less he will use these preventive measures. Consequently, his survival will be threatened as his panic, anxiety, despair and suffering increase.

The question seems to be whether or not a man can cultivate these negative effects while remaining authentic. If so, it would have to be shown that the cultivation he is using isn't simply employing one of the four defensive mechanisms listed above.

If pure authenticity cannot be maintained, however, I think it would be beneficial to make value judgments on the quality of one's defensive mechanisms. An excuse for rampant hedonism it is not.

-MM

tazmic said...

If seeing through the illusions of meaning has anything to do with discovering their contextual and therefore local as in non-grand-narrative nature, why can't the same 'seeing through' happen to 'panic, anxiety, despair and suffering'?

Why is the despair of an 'authentic person' not a delusion?

(I would not call despair over the loss of illusion authentic. But if it is the despair of authenticity placed within this current state of affairs then why is the emphasis on the personal more than the suffering of others?)

Modern Man said...

Hello Tazmic,

The same 'seeing through' can and does happen to the 'panic, anxiety, despair and suffering,' and this, I argue, only leads to more of it. Perhaps there's a moment of relief when one is able to temporarily see through his panic in the face of grand meaninglessness, but it quickly devolves into more panic when that person realizes there there is no impetus anymore for taking his next breath. Maybe it is a delusion, but it's the final delusion of the intellect that can't be overcome without resorting to suicide or to the mind's powerful defensive mechanisms. It's the authentic end-point of the intellect.

-MM

Elduderno said...

I still do not understand why such panic, anxiety, suffering and impetus for suicide.

Think about it: we are dead for almost all of infinity, except for a small blip, when we acquire a living cognate form, it is a very rare occurrence, and for that reason itself it is quite miraculous and worthwhile. What is the hurry for suicide when death being our true nature is present both in out infinite past and the infinite future.

Modern Man said...

Hello Elduderno,

I'm not claiming that panic, anxiety, and suffering is an impetus for suicide. I'm suggesting that the only way out of the panic, anxiety, and despair is either through suicide or through one of the mind's various defensive mechanisms.

Of course, one can also choose to remain and suffer in continual despair, panic, and anxiety, as well. :)

-MM

ElDuderno said...

Well my point was that being aware of the meaninglessness of life need not lead to despair anxiety etc. Since life is a very rare occurrence in the infinity of death it is worthwhile for that reason itself.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@tazmic, @mm, @elduderno

If seeing through the illusions of meaning has anything to do with discovering their contextual and therefore local as in non-grand-narrative nature, why can't the same 'seeing through' happen to 'panic, anxiety, despair and suffering'?

You can't see through emptiness, you can only see through fullness.

Well my point was that being aware of the meaninglessness of life need not lead to despair anxiety etc. Since life is a very rare occurrence in the infinity of death it is worthwhile for that reason itself.

Wonderment can sustain for a while, I think, if one thinks these thoughts ("how rare and miraculous that life exists, that /I/ exist, Wow!"), but I would question the use of the word "worthwhile". My whole point is that worth is in a context. If you are saying there is some inherent worth to life because it is "rare", that is certainly an argument, though not an open-and-shut one. It may need more discussion.

Should we celebrate human consciousness that it is now so evolved that it can wallow in thoughts of existential angst? Perhaps. :-)

But does that celebration over the miracle of angst take away the angst itself?

Anonymous said...

No one should worry about death, nature will take care of it :)

Anonymous said...

This might be history repeating itself as there have been societies in the past who used to question the meaning of life and what is good life. Consider Greek society back in Socratic times. What happened to them? Almost all their manuscripts were burnt and it was only due to Muslims that we know of the Greek philosophers. What happened at a local level then is happening at a much larger level.

Emptiness was one of the scarecrows used by pundits in India to herd people into their camps from Buddhist camps.

Some people see emptiness in negative shade while some see liberation in it.

As far as lesson from history goes, it is in favour of those who present it in bad light and then use it to cash in. Sheep go after those who stop them from finding them out about emptiness.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@Anonymous.

Buddhism needs reincarnation, and the cycle of rebirth, to keep people going at it. It has a goal for the self: liberation. For whom, you may ask, if not the self? Hence, Buddhism is self-less only in appearance, not in essence.

As far as lesson from history goes, it is in favour of those who present it in bad light and then use it to cash in. Sheep go after those who stop them from finding them out about emptiness.

Trust me, Buddhism is a chapter in the annals of meaningful living.

Anonymous said...

//He knows there is no path to a non-existent salvation, and I guess this would lead to a compassionate understanding of people who are comforting themselves with delusions.
//

//Buddhism needs reincarnation, and the cycle of rebirth, to keep people going at it. It has a goal for the self: liberation. For whom, you may ask, if not the self? Hence, Buddhism is self-less only in appearance, not in essence.//

//Trust me, Buddhism is a chapter in the annals of meaningful living.//

Could it be that a compassionate Buddhist having understood emptiness came up with a theory to comfort people with delusion? They certainly are big on compassion (at least one sect who emphasises on emptiness is). Those who have the leaning for it, can go and embrace emptiness and those who don't, they can go for reincarnation delusion.