Saturday, 16 April 2011

Mapping The Mythology


There is something immature, infantile, precocious and primitive about the notion of causality.

Sure, if you kick a ball it causes it to move, or whatever, but that’s not causality, that’s physics. Causality is like when we say Hitler’s invasion of Poland caused England to declare war in 1939. And that’s just simple minded guff, like saying pulling the trigger causes the gun to fire, while ignoring all the other factors involved in the firing of the gun: the mechanism, the loading, the intention to fire, the whole mindset that begets phallic ‘ballistics’ like guns at all, etc.

As I've said before, there is no one cause for complex events, and all events are complex if we consider them deeply enough (even kicking the ball involves gravity, atmospheric pressure, manufacturing design and infrastructure, DNA for legs, etc etc...). Things occur in complex combinations of events. Things aren't caused any more than a particular twirl in a turbulent current or a plume of smoke is caused. It's plain silly to say that this twirl or that was caused by X, if it was then we would see that shaped twirl or plume everytime X occurs, but we don't. Every twirl is unique! It cannot be repeated so it cannot have a replicable cause. A thousand identical Xs will give us a thousand different twirl shapes!

Chinese culture is more mature, like I said. It does not ask what caused Y, but rather what kind of things tend to appear together when Y occurs. That is connective thinking.

(As an advocate of Chinese thinking I am reminded of the story about the Chinaman who invented guns hundreds of years before Europe. He took his new invention to the emperor to show him how useful it could be:

‘You see, we just put the gunpowder in the tube and pack it down like this, then in goes the metal ball. Next, this sparking mechanism is operated by pulling on this thing we call a trigger and WHAMMO BLAMMO the ball comes shooting out – it’s so cool. We can use it to kill animals in hunting, or even people in battles. If we make it supersize we can use it to smash castles, anything.’

The emperor was less than impressed: ‘What a terrible way to use such a wonderful thing, gunpowder is for celebrations, not for killing, beautiful fireworks, not horrible guns! With such guns many other bad things will also occur. You must be punished for having such a bad mind – take this man away and clap him in irons – off to prison with him!’ And the poor man was sent to rot in jail for the rest of his life.

Three hundred years later the causal thinking Europeans got hold of gunpowder and BLAM KERBAM … the rest is history.)

Causality is not the epitome of meaningful thinking; it is just an immature phase in our growth as a species. If we want to see a slightly bigger picture mythology lets us zoom out a bit, giving us a more panoramic view.

Stage 1: All ancient civilizations present their ‘gods’ (which signify their values and mind-set) as working mainly in a divine realm, where humans don’t exist. Like Olympus, Asgard, etc. Their effect on us is therefore entirely magical, nothing natural about it.

Stage 2: Then came Yahweh. For the first time we had a God who’s main activity was here on earth, with humans, starting with genesis and the earthly paradise of Eden. This is a historical God who makes things and changes happen here, this is a god of causality. Covenants, plagues, floods, exodus, Job, – all caused by one agency: God. Yes, there are miracles, but they are always related to natural ‘laws’ of God. God’s word is the Torah, the Law!

That causal idea then spread through Christianity and Islam: divine incarnation, crucifixion, final judgment etc. It’s the marker of monotheism: Divinely defined laws of causality.

And this causality has brought with it such dangerous philosophical ideas as naturalism, objectivism and logical positivism, etc.

Naturalism is the idea that natural laws cause all things, which seems fine on the face of it, but if we scratch the surface the flaws open wide: we often interpret laws wrongly, like phrenology, like eugenics, and then the natural law just becomes a dogma, e.g. Nazism.

Objectivism is the renaissance idea that reality is laid out in front of us like a renaissance piazza in perfect grid-perspective. The observer is the subject, removed from reality, set above it, with a god’s eye view (‘sub species aeternitatis’), while the observed is the object, the objective truth. The self is godlike, the other is an object. I think therefore I am, all else may be a dream, an illusion, or pieces to be manipulated on a gameboard grid – I can see what causes what and I can cause things to happen, I can solve problems!

Positivism is the idea that the world is made of facts that we can be positive about, and the totality of facts is the sum of reality in the world. Things like value, emotion, transformation and alternative world-views are completely excluded, they do not exist, along with art, poetry, metaphysics, love, etc. Reality is caused by facts, and if we understand the facts we will understand all causality.

It doesn’t take a genius to spot how the philosophies of causality, like the three described above, have led to problems like patriarchy, social division and economic polarity. And it’s no surprise that we find in response the typical escapist solutions of drug addiction, religious extremism, media-immersion, digital-games obsession, computer obsession, celebrity obsession, hyper-materialism, gambling addiction, porn addiction, etc.

And no wonder the nihilistic despair that attends the inevitable futility of such escapism: gang-violence, earth rape, anti-education, political and bureaucratic corruption, anti-social behaviour, etc.

The cul-de-sac of meaning presented by these sort of problems leads to a vicious-weakling backlash of health and safety, risk aversion and increased state and police powers that defy any reasonable measures of common sense. Neo-fascist, control freak, mumsy mollycoddling – call it what you will. I call it the tyranny of mediocrity, the iron fist in a velvet glove.

To recap: Stage 1 was polytheist with all the important action taking place in the divine realm. The paradigm here was the Magical. Stage 2 was monotheist, with the important action happening here on earth – the Causal paradigm, giving us science and so on.

Now that the petrol gauge of meaning has gone below the reserve tank and is sputtering on fumes, where is the last chance Texaco? What is stage 3 and how can we fill up on it?

The answer is blowing in the wind, said Bob. Never was truer word spoken! The windblown particles, waves and wavicles of quantum physics hold a clue. So too does the connective, collaborative, reflective, responsive, innovative, improvising pluralism of 21st century social networking. This whole bag was pioneered by the jazz and rock and roll that has spread across the world like a miasma for the past century – a mummy’s curse that curled out of the ancient tombs, through the horn of Bird’s exalted sax or Hendrix’s cosmic harp - perhaps. Bringing us together as a whole, preparing us to act as a body greater than the sum of its parts.

The mark of this phase is social-communalism and holism. Holism is best understood in the Latin phrase pars pro toto: the part is equal to the whole. Each cell contains the DNA blueprint for the whole body – the whole race, the whole universe. I cannot reduce the other to a positive bunch of facts, like objects laid out before a superior me, and defined by what I call natural law. I am just another part of you, like Donny Hathaway sang: everything is everything, or John Lennon: I am you and you are me …

I cannot define that Texaco station or the type of fuel there, nobody can, only the plurality can. Like the plural group collaborating in the search for sustainable new meaning on Group Partners’ Yammer, set up by John Caswell, just one of many such groups no doubt.

All I’ll say for now is Stage 3 is being defined by our collaborative search for meaning.

Hopefully it will be considered useful and valuable to have the roadmap laid out like this – if we want to get our bearings we need to know the road we’ve been travelling on: from polytheist/magical through monotheist/causal to holistic/creative. I make no apology for the course grained history and philosophical nitty gritty. It’s important, it sets the historical context for meaning.

Final word to Edmund Husserl (he of the very finest grained philosophical nitty gritty), the founder of modern phenomenology, who disappeared under the Nazis. His very last words, urgently written on a clickity old typewriter as the jackboots raced up his stairs and kicked in his door:

“The crisis of European existence can end in only one of two ways: in the ruin of a Europe alienated from its rational sense of life, fallen into a barbarian hatred of spirit; or in the rebirth of Europe from the spirit of philosophy, through a heroism of reason that will definitively overcome naturalism [and the whole paradigm of causality it springs from]. Europe’s greatest danger is weariness. Let us as ‘good Europeans’ do battle with that danger of dangers with the sort of courage that does not shirk even the endless battle. If we do, then from the annihilating conflagration of disbelief, from the fiery torrent of despair regarding the West’s mission to humanity, from the ashes of the great weariness, the phoenix of a new inner life of the spirit will arise as the underpinning of a great and distant human future, for the spirit alone is immortal.” – KERBAM!

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