"The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit." -James Joyce
Our culture is conspicuously void, impoverished, I should say, of a fundamental embodiment of philosophy and the rich poetry of a personal philosophical constitution. Turn on your television (actually, I don’t recommend this, but for the sake of argument…) and flip through the channels: “Trump xenophobic hypocrite denounces chain migration unless it benefits his wife.” Note: just because his wife takes advantage of the benefits of a law doesn’t mean her husband supports said law. Adjust your radio to NPR in your car: *gasp* NPR just said something negative about Brett Kavanaugh’s depositional questioning during the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. Go to any printed or online news source and you will find a slew of ‘serious’ conversations laden with childish chirping; people will be up in arms, vociferously denouncing one person’s/party’s corrupt principles, moral bankruptcy, or elitist parochial mindedness. I harken to the words of Marshall McLuhan, “Moral indignation is a standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity.”
What, precisely has happened? How did the public discourse (if it can be called as such anymore) arrive at such a perfunctory and truncated state? I believe we have suffered the death of patience via the birth of online convenience —and the result is childish and lazy conflation. If you are skeptical of intersectionality, you’re a bigot. If you’re skeptical as to whether an influx of undocumented individuals from varying cultural backgrounds is inherently a good thing, you’re a xenophobe. If you’re hesitant to support Black Lives Matter because you pour through the data and find it has retributive foundations, you’re a racist. If you hear about the Catholic church having over 1000 reports of child molestation over the past six decades, acknowledge how abhorrent that fact is, but then question why no one mentions (or seems to know) why the astronomical numbers regarding child sexual harassment in public schools over the last, say, four years never makes it to the news or public discourse—you support the “molestation club with an opening prayer.”
There is an infantilization of minority citizens and illegal aliens being propagated in our cultural discourse; regression to infancy in our youth is yet another byproduct. Seriously, this name-calling, finger-pointing nation of narcs and tattle tails we are transmogriphying into by condemning the other, making a monolith of evil out of those one simply disagrees with on issues sensitive to that particular person or group has got to go; generalizing individuals into oppressed or oppressor groups is a hallmark delusion of a growingly government-dependent society—and I believe the root of this may lay in a lack of understanding philosophy and philosophical western principles; namely: the sovereignty of the individual and personal development. Personal responsibility comes from self-concern, which stems from the childlike curiosity preserved in a strong philosophical constitution. You either remain childlike, or you become childish.
Philosophy can be categorized into three pillars of fundamental concern:
1) What is real? (Metaphysics: nature of reality.)
2) What is true? (Epistemology: how we justly acquire knowledge.) and...
3) What is good? (Ethics: what is universally preferable behavior.)
These principle pillars should be applied to the individual and then scaled up and out once understood, or better, ‘realized’ within oneself, i.e. when you gain a sense of individual agency and personal responsibility for your actions by possessing a cognizant (active) understanding of what it is that motivates you, turns you on/off, and what works in practice within the constraints of reality—then, and only then, can you successfully begin to scale out your philosophy and reckon it with worldly concerns. We each begin with the self, branch out to family, then one’s community, and once one has developed and contributed positively to such an acute, localized realization of personal/familial/communal philosophy then one can take on the world's slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
To be self-concerned should not be mistaken as self-involved, egocentric, solipsistic, or simply selfish. Self-concern is the just default setting of the individual—after all, you are worth nothing to anyone if you are worth nothing to yourself. Self-concern is getting rest, eating consistently well, informing yourself, maintaining good health (mentally, physically, emotionally), continually developing a good work ethic, and practicing the principle of charity in all its forms when regarding other individuals as you develop relationships with them. To be self-concerned is to know yourself, your faults, and not only your infinite capacity and capability for good, but also your infinite capacity and capability for evil. Each individual can be a benevolent force of creation or a maleficent force of destruction—you must know this about yourself, and you must remain aware there is no end to the ways you are corrigible as well as corruptible. We are not blank slates at birth; we come programmed with hundreds of millions of years of neurological engineering, and a have a brute nature that we have still yet to overcome. Ill thought-out, childish slogans like “money is the root of all evil” are not only stupid, they are dangerous. A growing populace's collectively childish notion of reality can lead to the downfall of any advanced civilization.
Cruelty is older than currency. Crime is older than coin. Cain killed Abel long before money came into the human equation. But if that doesn’t mean anything to you look at the indigenous tribes of any continent; they raped, murdered, plundered, and cannibalized each other. They killed infants when an infant was inconvenient and disposed of entire tribes on a whim. There was no peace—there was only intermittent periods where tribes were too tired, too hungry, too cold, or too inebriated to attack one another. This idea of the “noble savage” is a propagandized fiction: there is no nobility amongst savages. There may be some sophistication regarding architecture, narrative origins, and codes of conduct regarding rank amongst inner groups but by no means can one look at indigenous tribes anywhere and call it civilized nobility. True nobility is when one comports oneself in a manner aligned with the greatest possible good despite their brute nature. Hobbes was right when he said “poverty, war, and death is the natural state of human beings.” It takes work to build civilization, it takes incredible effort to build character—building a civilization of totipotent citizens of good character is damn near impossible; but the development of Western Civilization has revealed us to ourselves: through constraint comes creativity; through discipline comes character; through self-concern comes the ability to transcend our inner savage and develop cultures that come to understand the heavens and reflect that understanding in our everyday dealings with each other: “I see the supernal spark of divinity glistening in your eye, let me show my respect for it by taking good care of myself so I may treat you well.”
Is the system we built perfect? Of course not. We are not perfectable, and neither will any system we construct be, but it certainly doesn’t mean our system is broken—however, just because something isn’t broken doesn’t mean it couldn’t use adjustments. Just as the individual is in a constant state of becoming, so are our systems in a continual state of refinement. In other words, things will never reach perfection, they will only continue to get better—if we work for it. “A republic, if you can keep it.” remarked Franklin. A government run society is one where autonomy and personal development are not only discouraged, but vilified. It makes permanent children out of its citizens: you don’t know what is best for you but our parental policies do. It says you can’t make decisions, its fiats will make them for you; you don’t know how to spend your money, we’ll do that for you. Just sit back, content in your mediocrity. It's no coincidence that such movements like Democratic Socialists of America would arise out of a generation where one of the most successful television programs to hit the small screen in nearly three decades is a show literally titled "Arrested Development." I don’t believe the officials championing distended government are maleficent (although, I can’t say they ALL aren’t either) but I do see a certain predatory element lurking in government officials claiming to have your best interests in mind by increasing their own power and decreasing the yours. I believe when a growing number of citizens start rooting for bigger government one can derive from this a cultural crisis of personal philosophy.
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people scoff at the name Aristotle (usually by those who haven’t read his work) or how many people haven’t read Dante’s Inferno. People quote Plato’s Republic and talk of Philosopher Kings but don’t seem to realize, or don’t care, that the fundamental principle in that Socratic elucidation and series of inquiries is fundamentally a justification for authoritarian rule—there are many reasons why Plato advanced this type of system, namely: it was dangerous to say anything against the state; after all, Socrates was later executed for encouraging youngsters to simply think for themselves—and now, Republic is being taught in humanities departments through a postmodern lens. This kind of indoctrination renders a whole generation of youth growing up embittered and justified in their RESIST movement—worse still, postmodernism, a literary device and ludic syntactical game, has been divorced from literature and married to reality as an ideological praxis. Postmodernism is a fracturing of language and a dismantling of ideas (particularly, one’s blind fidelity to any given idea), which renders everything in a state of flux; ultimately beating its disciples into jejune nihilists susceptible to the only narrative that can withstand the weight of nothingness: human beings bifurcated into oppressor or oppressed groups. The whole ‘you’re either with us or against us’ mentality. This ideological fallacy fractures any semblance of cultural cohesion western civilization has left; it is balkanizing our country—and it could only be successfully pulled off on a populace whose culture has deemphasized, if not flat out dismissed, the rich fruits of serious philosophy, from the likes of Aristotle to Locke, and poetry from the likes of Sappho to Dickinson.
Hell, we have a modern Greek philosopher among us today: Bob Dylan is a Nobel laureate and, contrary to popular belief, there is more truth in his music than the countless garbage queer theory, third-wave feminism, and intersectionality books consumed by the jaded late-adolescent narcissists populating academe and, as of late, the work place. Even though Dylan’s work is ferociously opaque, it is none the less indexical. His work points back to individuals who breathed and bled philosophical consistency. A consistency that is becoming rarer with each passing year. Just look at how much credence and extolling is extended to the likes of Slavoj Zizek and Noam Chomsky, these are the philosopher kings of today. Jordan Peterson is condemned as a pseudoscientist and quack philosopher, but Catherine Mackinnon is taken seriously? Christina Hoff Sommers and Lauren Southern have far more to say in five sentences than Mackinnon could synthesize in a five-volume book. I’d argue the same for Camille Paglia—albeit, she too has her own faults of extreme wonkiness—whose essays are a hoary stream of, well, not necessarily a noble justice, but certainly a “no bull” justice, and her magnum opus, Sexual Persona, reveals a remarkable, titan thinker with a clarity of vision and pellucidity in writing unrivaled by any of her contemporaries. Stefan Molyneux is derided in the public sphere as a Nazi and a fraud, meanwhile Terry Eagleton is the exalted modern-day voice of the social justice warrior. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing everyone he didn’t exist; well, the greatest trick Terry Eagleton ever pulled was convincing everyone he's a Marxist—seriously, do you know how much that man makes a year?! Only in the philosophically bankrupt age where patience is a thing of the past and emotion runs roughshod over intellect and virtue could Chomsky be praised while Peterson is trounced.
The main difference between the likes of Peterson and Chomsky, say, is that one champions individual craftsmanship and discovering meaning in the individual life while the other champions victimhood and top-down conspiracy; or more aptly put: Peterson is a philosopher and Chomsky is a propagandist. Chomsky is constantly telling us what is real. Peterson relentlessly asks the question: What is real? Chomsky continually tells us what is true. Peterson obsessively asks: What is Truth? Chomsky repeatedly tells us what is good. Peterson insistently asks: What is good? Chomsky tells people where to look and what to see. Peterson suggests you look within yourself and asks you what you find. In these two figures a resting metaphor emerges: the knower and the seeker. The knower is a tyrant, a parental supplant. The seeker is a citizen, a mentor. The knower has nothing to learn from you; the knower is a government owned country with nothing novel to bring to the table of discussion because all is well known. The individual under the knower-state has no agency, no voice, no soul yearning to express itself materially. The knower-state is a wasteland of moribund thoughts with the insight of a cadaver.
Hell is a country with no new ideas.
The seeker-nation is a country where the soul is invited to radiate through the fruitful soil of its corporeal form. It is a garden of introspection and conversation. It is a fecund breeze of inspiration. It is an Eden of ideas. Heaven on earth is not a geographical locale, but an ever-materializing idea—heaven is ever in production. We will never reach that perfect state. We can only aim to improve what currently is. In the words of Yoda, our favorite of philosophers, “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of masters.” The seekers are the masters of the present. Our posterity will be the master seekers who will one day realize that beautiful beyond, a shady respite under a “heaventree of stars” planted long, long ago. The task of salvation for the philosopher is a reverence for how the past informs the present, thus humbling him into receptivity regarding the future.
Our past is chock-full of wisdom, printed words of yesterday’s sages who devoted their lives to planting ideas in the garden of time. The philosopher embodies the Joycean adage, “Be just before you are generous.” One must take care of themselves before they can be charitable. One must build character before they build community. This notion seems lost upon our up and coming. It seems the seeds of the past are being suffocated in sand, instead of nourished in soil. A postmodernist ever-present is where the men of the past weren’t revolutionaries, honorable and ethical, but tyrant power mongers. There will always be those who are power-hungry. There will always be those who are blatantly malignant—they, I do not worry about, for they tend to be spotted and cast aside to either change or wither away. It is the ones who don’t realize they are poisoning the well of ideas. It’s the ones who aren’t aware of their ill-realized charity, where selflessness is the detrimental symptom of narcissism; a self-serving naivety paradoxically projecting its desire for personal harmony onto the world and thus causing a devastating discordance. An interesting thing about music, it’s not the notes themselves, much like stars are not, themselves, constellations—it’s the majestic interlinking. The seeking between the points, where destiny and infinity embrace in a cosmic Terpsichore. Seeking harmony between ideas and forms. Maybe this is real. Maybe this is true. Maybe this, is good.