27-09-08

La vision d'autrui

"Nos yeux doutent d'eux-mêmes, tant que les autres ne nous ot pas aidés à établir en nous la réalité de ce que nous voyons. Notre conscience s'égare: car cette conscience, que nous croyons être notre bien le plus intime, n'est que la présence des autres en nous. Nous ne pouvons nous sentir seuls." Pirandello, 'Un, personne et cent mille', p. 149, L'imaginaire de Gallimard, 1930.

(amateuristic English translation below)


It is the last certainty: our self, our individuality, our personality. Few have ventured to boldly go there where the simplicity of the self is no longer an unspoken premise. Pirandello was one of the first. Many have put nuances, almost nobody dares to get so bold as to attack the first pillar of dualism: the "I". Some day - with the sufficient hindsight - people will wonder about this fact; after all, of all linguistic constructions - "personality, self, conscience, I" are, historically, extremely recent. They will wonder how Pirandello antedates Davidson with a half century where Davidson really was the first providing a basis for a serious, systematic criticism of the construct of 'self'.

No doubt our self is a most useful invention, no doubt there are many things we will want to cling on that are based on this sense of self. Individualism for instance - as expressed in the creative imagination of the individual - is a good thing (if not "the" good thing). Again, don't interpret any of this as a step to woolliness; my criticism is not going in the direction of recuperating old group-think notions. It is not nostalgia to days of yore when cosy togetherness outweighed individual expression. In fact, it is my firm belief that we need to criticize (yes, why not, deconstruct) the notion of 'I' precisely because we will find in this way a nucleus of universality that binds us, that provides us a direction (even if never a definite goal). Precisely here Pirandello goes astray, whilst his notion of self as consisting of others is right, he stops prematurely &, often, gets stuck in an almost nauseating relativism.

"The others disappear when the self is no longer there. Otherness is central to those with a strong personality. Individualism is altruism." That are enough paradoxes not taken from other people's quotes. But, while you forgive my paradoxical indulgence, you can appreciate the direction of my criticism: integrating the notion of others in a notion like the self - & that's precisely the meaning of the word 'conscience' - does a world of good. To me it's so clear that I can feel how much good it does, even if it is hard to do it because all of the resistance built around the concept by traditionalists is huge. It is not a comforting quought but it is a quought that dynamizes (sorry for the ugly word).

And again (and again - and again, and again): nothing woolly is present because it is not a matter of conforming yourself to something external invented by others - in yet another attempt to go after your money & happiness. It is a matter of finding in yourself the others, whatever their shape or conviction. It isn't finding the conviction of others in yourself but finding the others there & appreciating how they came to a conviction whether deplorable or not. Expressing your individuality is the only way of respecting those others and therefore respecting yourself. Everybody lives on and it is only possible because they live on via others after others have lived on via them.


"Our eyes doubt themselves, as long as the others have not helped establish in us the reality of what we see. Our conscience dissipates: because this conscience, that we take to be our most intimate asset, is nothing else than the presence of other is us. We can't feel alone."


Whilst writing this I was listening (or trying to) to Stockhausen, Tierkreis, Laborintos.

12:59 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: self, imagination, universals, tones, pirandello |  Facebook |

03-08-08

On the Principle of Population

"(..) and I thought that I should not do justice to the subject, and bring it fairly under discussion, if I refused to consider any of the consequences which appeared necessary to flow from it, whatever these consequences might be. By pursuing this plan, however, I am aware that I have opened a door to many objections and, probably, to much severity of criticism: but I console myself with the reflection that even the errors into which I may have fallen, by affording a handle to argument, and an additional excitement to examination, may be subservient to the important end, of bringing a subject so nearly connected with the happiness of society into more general notice." Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, Cambridge University Press (1992) Preface, p.9.


He's probably thé heretic of woolly thinking. Charity increases misery. Helping out is often a matter of patronizing. There is a necessary tendency to overpopulation, and overpopulation is always an issue of the poor. The poor stay poor - because the rich need an excess of poverty. Social security leads to social insecurity. Just a couple of things in the line of - I do not claim they're Malthus' point of view nor even that they can all be based on his findings - woolly thinking heresy.
It is unfortunate that, based on anecdotal evidence, a figure and work like that is all but cut out of the rational tradition. Malthus was hugely influential. He predates men like Darwin & Bergson in showing the huge raw power of the tendencies of nature. He predates much modern moral thinking in pinpointing the differences between what is to happen regardless & what can happen based on rational human intervention. It is obvious that much of his work is outdated - that is true across the board for all early Enlightenment science. But be that as it may, the quote shows that - unlike much of the contemporary wooly babble, specifically in politics - he did attempt science.
He was right, attempting to be so scientific was his Achilles' heel. If he had "confined (him)self merely to general views, (..) the work (..) would probably have had a much more masterly air" (ibid.) who knows? It might have been taken as a left wing bible, calling on people to free themselves from patronage ;-) It is an intellectual crime to use erroneous predictions against somebody predicting them in order to find out the value of his hypothesis. But this is exactly what has been done here. "Birth rates are lowering because of social security." - "There are excesses of means of subsistence in the West & they do not give rise to increasing birth rates." - ... All of this is true & surely this is because social security has come after education - because the West is characterized by highly individualized moral agents taking responsibility for their own reproduction rather than relying on revelation or custom - ...
The point is that now modern economist have rediscovered scarcity of natural supply - whether oil, oxygen or food - we have to rediscover the work of the main man, the man that first made this link between nature & nature´s trend to evolve towards the limits of nature's means. There is a lot in Malthus that deserves attention in modern day: mainly that simple woolly reflex response to dabble around with consequences of scarcity are not on, for the simple reason that tendencies in nature cannot be met by opposition. Avoiding nature to run into its own limits (better: into the limits where intelligent human life is no longer sustainable) requires smarter responses, requires really moral responses like avoiding the pursuit of always-later-death, avoiding that we feel obliged to be quantitatively successful, increasing scientific investigation that is focused on coming to terms with unavoidable, & sometimes whimsical changes in nature, ...
In any case we will not solve it by denying our own human nature in striving for our individual independence & access to independent thought. Nevertheless, this is the popular leftwing solution of 'back to the roots'. Make no mistake about this: 'back to the roots' will mean that the reality of Malthus' examples becomes accutely modern again ;-(


Whilst writing this I was listening (to my increasing disappointment) to Edvard Grieg, Peer Gynt Suites ETC., Chandos Digital.

13:05 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: malthus, dynamics, competition, universals |  Facebook |

16-01-08

Will-o'-the-Wisp

"Zo ben ik dan eindelijk de baan eens op met mensen die volkomen verschillen van de volksgenoten met wie ik gedoemd ben al mijn dagen te slijten, (..) die in ieder geval van onze beroemdste medeburgers nooit hebben gehoord en voor wie onze vorsten en heiligen absoluut niet in tel zijn, dus zeer waarschijnlijk mensen naar mijn hart."
Willem Elsschot, Verzameld Werk, Het Dwaallicht, p. 695, P.N. Van Kampen en Zoon N.V., Amsterdam, 1957.

Amateuristic English translation below.


Group identity is making a come-back that would make many retired athletes very jealous indeed. Undoubtedly, getting to a personal identity (an own self & an own personality) requires some substrate of group identity. It requires at least a sufficiently sophisticated language in use by a group of people and I doubt whether a common language suffices. Hence the claim towards all of the diversity & multiculturalism as somehow foundational to human society.

But does this mean that group identity deserves our absolute respect? Does it mean that we have to endorse ethnicities or religions as essentially good, or - at least - as unavoidable evils? I think not: in fact far from it, most group identities are not just superfluous, boring, besides the point or nauseating - most are downright poisonous, specifically those related to peoples, states & Gods. The easiest & most powerful identities that can be created are such as to exclude others & glorify the likeminded. It is not however so that because the exclusionary identities are most proliferated that all group identity needs to be exclusionary.

In an attempt to argue my assertions: first of all, it is not because I need the tool to make the car that the car needs the tool to continue to function &, on the second point above, it is not required to say what something is not to be clear on what that something is. Put more pragmatically, following Habermas, human beings have a positive common trait: the ability to communicate. This identity is enough to maintain a quite universal notion of self & personality - there is no need to call into play ethnocentric or other diversities. The fact, if fact it proves to be, that the actual creation of selves comes out of an actual range of idiosyncratic cultural diversity is not more foundational than the fact that a new generation comes out of idiosyncratic gene diversity. Maybe, this cultural diversity is aesthetically pleasing to some - as biodiversity is to some others - & this seems good enough a reason not to force it out of existence (although the real reason not to do this lies in the fact that we should never force such issues either way), but it is not good enough a reason to make it an essential thing to be protected. 

The sad fact is that group identities are now only being attacked in order to promote the hegemony of another - stronger, purer, more traditional, more authentic, ... -  obnoxious group identity. Believers in diversity and believers in supremacy of a specific group identity agee essentially agree that group identity is both unavoidable & important whereas it is merely coincidental & utterly trivial. This being said, if ever there is a choice on life or death to be made between diversity thinking & supremacy thinking, there should be no soubt whatsoever that it is the former that is to win if we do not want our own selves to perish under group pressure.

The most straightforward thing is not to chase the Will-o'-the-Wisp of group identity & do as Elsschot does (more succinctly as I ever could): find what is similar between what is seemingly unbridgeably diverse. Diversity, relativism & group identity finally will evaporate for the mere reason that it is true that what counts in humanity is universal.

Over time everybody will be able to make the leap of reason.


"So I find myself finally on the road with people that are entirely different from my people with which I'm doomed to spend the rest of my days, (..) people who in any case have never heard of our celebrities and for whom our kings and saints do not count at all, most probably then people to my liking."

22:21 Gepost door Guido Nius in Liefde | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: identity, self, elsschot |  Facebook |