Archive for the I do believe Category

What I Do Believe (3/3) — Humanity

Posted in I do believe, Uncategorized on March 18, 2013 by Patrick

I regard myself as a sort of postmodern Neoplatonist (::blam!:: that’s the sound of heads exploding as they try to reconcile the two — just roll with it, man, just roll with it).  As such, I also admire the Stoics, who are some of the wisest and most practical philosophers ever to apply stylus to tablet.  One of my favorites — because, like me, he found his own authority troubling and often woke up feeling like nothing he did was ever good enough — is Marcus Aurelius, who in between being emperor of Rome and leading campaigns against northern barbarians (who were, of course, my ancestors) also wrote a few notes to himself about how to be a good person.  I read one passage over and over regularly, often on first waking up.  It goes like this:

Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.

I believe, then — or try to — in humanity.  I believe that we are good and trying our best, more or less.  We do stupid things out of ignorance, and often those stupid things are just horrid, absolutely and undeniably reprehensible.  But that fact that we can be repulsed by them is evidence that we’re not bad.  We’re made to work together.

I think the good can often be described as the prosocial.  I don’t mean that we have to get along with everyone or hang out with lots of people and go to lots of parties.  For that matter, we can lock ourselves in our house all winter, much as I have this season, and still be prosocial.  I just mean that the good is what allows us to live together and contribute to each of our welfare.

Society is a non-zero-sum game.  If we learn that, we can create a civilization worthy of the name.  Unfortunately, many people are ignorant, so I have to also believe in the power of education and reason to teach people how to live.

I don’t think that goodness comes from the gods — or rather, it does, but it’s not delivered by them in a little package of thou-shalt-nots.  I get that many religions do believe that, and that’s fine.  But I don’t.  I think we’re human and we must determine the good for ourselves, but that it’s clear that we survive best by being with each other.  And so that’s a place to start looking.

I live in a suburb of a city of six million people.  If you were to take six million monkeys and cram them into the same amount of space, you would very quickly have a bloody soup of monkey fur.  But we manage pretty well.  Yes, there is violence and murder, but really not that much of it.  It’s a miracle that there aren’t more murders, thefts, and so on.

There is an instinct for the good that drives most people, and I think that’s simply to be kind to other people, because we recognize on some level that they are we.

What I Do Believe (2/3): Magic (the Occult)

Posted in I do believe on March 11, 2013 by Patrick

When I say “I believe in magic,” what does that mean?

First, what do I mean by “magic”?  I believe that magic is the causing events to occur through occult means.  By occult, here, I mean hidden.  In other words, you can’t trace back the chain of cause-and-effect as you can with mundane actions.  If I am playing pool and I hit the cue ball to knock the eight ball into the corner pocket, we can trace back the physical forces back through the chain of cause-and-effect.  We can draw force vectors and account for everything by clear phenomena (literally, in the original Greek, “things which appear”).  But if I make a gesture with intent and proper visualization when my opponent is lining up his shot at the eight ball, and he scratches as I intended, we cannot trace back the phenomenal lines of force.  They are hidden, or occult.  This, I believe, is magic (and also the only way I ever manage to win at pool).

So I believe that these occult forces are real.  In other words, the chains of cause-and-effect that govern our lives are not entirely phenomenal — are not entirely visible or physical.  This is the cause of free will, in fact: it’s the indeterminacy that gives rise to our sense of self-agency.  When the addict puts down the crack pipe for the last time and turns his life around, or the middle aged school teacher suddenly decides she’d like to write a novel, that’s magic.  Assuming, of course, that they do it.

Now, I believe there’s a technology to harness these invisible chains of force.  This technology is magic: by manipulating symbols and whatever the underlying stuff of reality is, we can direct these changes.  Because these things are occult, I don’t think we can ever really understand how or why they work.  Our theories are just theories, and while I love mine and can spend long hours polishing it — theory, I’m talking about theory — they’re visible images of invisible things.

That’s why I like the word “occult.”  It’s very precise: “hidden.”  Unfortunately, silly people think it’s the same as “cult,” and look nervous when you say you study it, so I tend to use “esoteric” instead.  But what I mean is “occult.”


What I Do Believe (1/3): Reason

Posted in I do believe on February 2, 2013 by Patrick

I believe in reason.

In saying that, of course, I’ve just undermined the whole name of the blog as well as the title of my first book.  But I’m an uneasy postmodernist, and we’ll get to that later.

What does it mean to say that I “believe” in “reason?”  I’ve talked about what I mean by belief in my last post, but what I mean by reason is a little harder to pin down.  Part of it is just garden variety “critical thinking” — take nothing for granted, examine warrants, look at implications, always question.  But as I’ve pointed out before, critical thinking is not value-neutral.  It comes with its own ontology, and a lot of people who wave the flag of critical thinking are not doing what I would call reasoning.

I take my model for reason from Socrates, who was willing to question everyone about everything.  He often uncovered common knowledge was, at its core, hollow and meaningless.  He often left people in a state of “aporeia,” a Greek word with no clear English equivalent.  I like “perplexity,” as it gets some of that stunned lack of resources implied by the original.  Socrates yanked the supports of preconception out from under people, and left them without support.

I think this state of aporeia is a valuable one, and the foundation of knowledge.  The foundation of true reason is a sense that we are without support, swimming in a sea of perplexity without knowing whether or not there’s a ground beneath us.  From that we can start to build real knowledge, by not being those who, as Socrates says, “not knowing anything, pretend to know.”

I also, then, believe in the limits of reason.  The universe is rational, I believe, but it’s also arational (not irrational, however).  It works by the logic of cause and effect and also the logic of metaphor.  It is both material and spiritual, and each has its own laws of reason.