“I hear you saying that liberation is possible
and that Socratic wisdom
is identical with your guru’s.
No, Raja, I must start from what I am.
I am those monsters which visit my dreams
and reveal to me my hidden essence.
If I am sick, there is no proof whatsoever
that man is a healthy creature.” (“To Raja Rao”, Czeslaw Milosz)
The problem then is this: in our modern paradigm we assume man to be able to overcome any limitation he may face using the sheer force of reason. Even at the height of religious fanaticism in the Renaissance, faith was not even allowed to have such power – for the Christian teaching was always one of inevitable fallenness. This is the new faith, the faith of science.
However, this new faith treads on shaky grounds. What if this cannot be said about man? What if man is not a healthy animal, nor ever was, nor ever could be? What then does it mean for science to tell us anything by using the light of man’s reason? Is it not just better defining the edges of the shadows on the cave wall – making the illusion MORE real, rather than allowing us to understand anything truer, deeper.
But such a question cannot be asked of the new faith, for it is outside the purview of the new faith. To ask: “Why do we assume reason is flawless” is an unscientific question – and unscientific questions are simply improper to ask. Science doesn’t even attempt to answer such questions, because such metaphysical concerns are deemed inappropriate before they even enter the scrutiny of science.
So we must understand that the new faith is as dogmatic and pretentious as any other, assuming its own foundations to be correct, and then proceeding along as successful judged only by its internal consistency. It, like all other faiths, lends itself to the weak willed, and is only practiced truly by a few elites. The rest simply listen to what the prophets hand down, and accept, for whom else has the time to read the bones except these blessed wise men.
But listen to what I say, for this is more important than the rant thus far. We cannot abandon science because it is like this. We must instead understand ourselves and that we are flawed. Rather than believe that we cannot know, because all previous examples have fallen short, we must assume that we can only know in small amounts. Science has given birth to many miracles, miracles that we cannot deny because of its apparent contradictions and ethical, metaphysical, and ontological errors. It was never supposed to be our savior, asking it to be the explanation of all is in our arrogance, not its shortcomings.
The answer is not a disbelief in all things, but the use of these tools to understand a world that is complex and yet experienced everyday. Understanding shouldn’t be perfect, it should aim at perfection, but never should it be complete. Do not confuse this for a fruitless task, for in so doing you bask in the light of nihilism.
The enlightenment convinced us that man can be shaped to the point of perfection – we can be the perfect arbiter, the perfect class, the perfect race. None of these are true, and all that the enlightenment has accomplished is to fuel the egomaniacal with ideology to persuade the masses. For once perfection is brought into the purview of man, he will do anything to reach it, even commit genocide that he previously would’ve found revolting.
But communism and totalitarianism are not the only culprits, just the more obvious. Their brother, democracy, practices perfection in a more benign form – the form of perfect equality. The ideology of freedom and equality has convinced an entire society that greatness is impossible, that selfhood is found outside of anything higher or different from the individual and that a culture has nothing more to offer history than its own vein reflection – and the result is a gulag that cannot be fought. Not even by the pens of Solzhenitsyn, Czeslaw Milosz, or Tocqueville.
Even under oppression in the Gulag of Russia there was still an idea of greatness. This idea, though grown from the bastardization of communism, did propel a man toward greatness (so long as it was in the name of the party), the government endorsed writing, art, film, and culture advancement in the name of the Russian people – but in so doing reaffirmed the power of the poet, the artist, the director to bring down the system the same way it arose. Without such a confirmation from the government even great authors find it hard to criticize American democracy – for the tread on the most holy grounds our modern society can offer – freedom and equality. There are none better than you, you cannot be great, and hence you cannot contend with what the majority says. Who can deny that one voice cannot outweigh ten voices that weigh the same? – Such logic is infallible, it has been dictated by our ancestors, and can never be questioned.
Though in certain circumstances these gentlemen bellow their loudest like bulls, though this, let us suppose, does them the greatest credit, yet, as I have said already, confronted with the impossible they subside at once. The impossible means the stone wall! What stone wall? Why, of course, the laws of nature, the deductions of natural science, mathematics. As soon as they prove to you, for instance, that you are descended from a monkey, then it is no use scowling, accept it for a fact. When they prove to you that in reality one drop of your own fat must be dearer to you than a hundred thousand of your fellow-creatures, and that this conclusion is the final solution of all so-called virtues and duties and all such prejudices and fancies, then you have just to accept it, there is no help for it, for twice two is a law of mathematics. Just try refuting it. – Fyodor Dostoevsky “Notes from the Underground”
Let us take a step back at this moment and examine this notion of freedom and equality in the eyes of Dostoevsky in more precision. Our goal; to understand man’s nature and the possible flaws in his freedom and his equality; our tool – Dostoevsky’s “Dream of a Ridiculous Man”; why go through this trouble – so that some will be able to say that from ideology there rose a voice of discontent even if only to make others think of the consequences of their dogmatic adherence to the democratic process. Such will be the aim of the next post – my apologies if it takes some time to write.