Sunlight and Lasers (12/11)

The obvious benefit we derive from focusing our attention exclusively upon an isolated object of sensory or intellectual perception is that we are thereby able to form a ‘clear and distinct’ concept of the content—a concept that would be much fuzzier if we mentally glanced at it while it was still insufficiently differentiated from its background or context. The disadvantage entailed in this particularized, narrowly concentrated way of seeing should be just as obvious: by isolating and setting the content apart from the ‘ground’ out of which it emerges, we not only isolate it, but we often unconsciously distort and misjudge the content, as well. This occurs simply because of the underlying interrelatedness of all particular contents. We might encounter a similar problem if we tried, for instance, to understand or make sense of a bodily organ that has been surgically removed from a body, or a series of notes from a melody or symphony. A complete or adequate understanding of the severed spleen or kidney requires that we see the single organ within the context of the whole organism of which it was a functioning part. Of course, the moment it is surgically removed two things happen: it stops functioning and, unless a donor’s organ is ready to take its place, the organism, itself, will soon expire.

For similar reasons, isolated words and ideas—taken out of the context in which they are meaningfully and vitally embedded—are frequently, if not inevitably, distorted and deformed. Or rather I should say that our understanding of them becomes distorted and deformed—so that we lose the power (and the suitable perspective) to judge and evaluate them properly. In a sense, we unintentionally murder and maim every mental content that we segregate or isolate from the ‘organic’ whole out of which these contents are born and within which they acquire their sense or meaning. Segregation is by no means a thing of the past. It is alive and kicking in the modern mind—imposing barriers and obstacles of every sort to mental integration and to the free interplay of dissociated psychic contents.

Here, perhaps, we have stumbled upon an inherent imperfection of the human intellect—or, at least the sort that has been shaped by a ‘modern’ education. Its tendency, when functioning as a faculty of analytic or discursive understanding, is to dissect and chop up the living, organic whole of (unmolested, ‘innocent’) life-experience into more or less bite-size pieces that can fit comfortably into the limited jaws that open up and lead down into the mental digestive tract.

Like little Jeffrey Dahmers, our compulsive, compartmentalized, predatory modern intellects are drawn to ideas that promise to lift us out of our lonely isolation and to heal our inner fragmentation. But all we know how to do with them as soon as we get one through the door of our smelly apartment and onto the couch is to bludgeon them from behind with our blunt tools and crude devices—and then proceed to cut them up into dead parts that we can completely control. We toss these dead parts into our vats of corrosive analysis so that only the bony remnants of the once living and breathing forms are left behind as souvenirs—a skull, a hand, a formerly strong shoulder. Perhaps a heart or a phallus can be preserved in the deep-freeze of our own ice-vault souls. Such atrocities are born out of the tormented helplessness of minds that want to overcome their intolerable sense of vulnerability by trying to get down to the mysterious mechanisms lurking beneath the deceptive, concealing ‘skin’ of their prey. As a boy, Jeffrey Dahmer started by killing, flaying, and dissecting animals before ‘advancing’ to human victims. His motives, as it turns out, were not entirely violent and destructive, for he would usually engage in sex with his male pick-ups before killing and dismembering them. Parts (and not whole persons) were simply easier for such a deeply disturbed and disintegrated soul to deal with—which means, of course, to control. The abominable fantasies that ultimately overpowered Jeffrey Dahmer’s tainted mind—and with such force and urgency that he felt compelled to act them out—bear more than a faint family resemblance to modern man’s ‘acceptable’ and conventionally ‘commendable’ fantasies of domination and control over nature (and over human affairs) by means of reductive analytical methods and instrumental reason. Dahmer is just a pathetic and monstrous caricature of our Baconian-Faustian fantasies of domination and control by means of ‘special knowledge’ of how things work. And let’s not kid ourselves. Aren’t we interested in how thing work largely, if not solely, in order to gain practical advantages from them—as opposed to knowledge for its own sake? There is no disinterestedness here.

Bacon reputedly spoke of placing Nature ‘on the rack’ and torturing her to obtain her secrets—a grisly image for the modern experimental science of which he and Descartes are the architects and founders. Nietzsche, their even more radical heir and updater (cf. Laurence Lampert’s Nietzsche and Modern Times: A Study of Bacon, Descartes, and Nietzsche), frequently uses the metaphor of vivisection in speaking of his approach to knowledge of human nature.

And aren’t we moderns just as compelled to act out our fantasies of possession, control, and domination as the ill-fated Dahmer was—even if ours enjoy popular sanction, while his only turn our stomachs? But when we are compelled to act out our dreams and fantasies, haven’t we long since forfeited the liberty to contemplate or reflect, critically and disinterestedly, upon them? Isn’t it this apparent lack of reflection—on the grand scale of societal behavior and ‘collective consciousness’—that bestows upon the fateful flow of contemporary events a deterministic stamp, as if they must happen since there is no one who can stop them? But, of course, when such automatic and unreflective compulsions become so widespread and normal that to dissent or step back is to risk raising more than the eyebrows of our ‘normal’ kinsmen, a strange thing occurs to us. All sorts of actions which former ages would have regarded as ‘criminal,’ suicidal,’ ‘blasphemous,’ and diabolical are rendered almost invisible to the blind perpetrators of these crimes of collective destruction and desecration—precisely because they have become as routinized and ‘banal’ as gassing Jews became for a number of years at Auschwitz and Dachau. As soon as such practices become ‘normal’ and routine, their inner core of sickness and pathology becomes practically invisible and inaudible—so that it costs more and more of an effort to reflect upon these behaviors rather than to simply give into them.

*****

Do such reflections cast a permanent pall of pessimism upon any philosophical enterprises that seek knowledge of the whole? Are such enterprises condemned to failure or shipwreck before they ever set sail—precisely because of these inherent imperfections of the human intellect? Maybe not. What if we were to learn that what we moderns have been taught to assume about the intellect is only a small part of the full story? What if we were to discover that the sort of reasoning and analyzing that educated persons employ (for their almost exclusively practical and utilitarian purposes) is actually a rather restrictive and extremely scaled-down form of thinking—a mode of thinking that our not-so-distant philosophical forebears would roll their eyes at in bemused disbelief? And why? Precisely because of the extremely limited arena or field of operations within which it can effectively function. Our philosophical forebears—with their more capacious, multifaceted, and multidimensional minds—would perhaps regard us as little more than intellectual ‘plebeians’ and ‘sensualists’ (with jaws that do not open very wide), practical problem-solvers, ‘a sturdy and industrious race of machinists, and bridge-builders to the future, people with tough work to do,’ as Nietzsche observed.[1] So much has been edited out of the formerly grand ‘picture’ of life—and of what can legitimately and confidently be contemplated about life. The sunlight of our forebears’ minds has been gradually and methodically altered so that today our mental light appears in the form of a laser beam: unidirectional, pinpointing, intense, and useless for most tasks, questions, concerns, and needs pertaining to the whole man. Lasers are far better suited for permanently altering situations and conditions than illuminating them.

A lot of vituperative noise—some of it extraordinarily eloquent—was made by dissenting thinkers and outraged poets of the 18th and 19th centuries while the intellectual ‘laser beam’ was being focused and perfected. That noisy (but eloquent and persuasive) reaction has simmered down in more recent times—so that the new but still appallingly narrow and delimited ‘instrumental’ reason rules without serious opposition. And like the self-serving sycophants and courtiers who flatter a delusional and insecure prince, the pompous technocrats and greedy custodians of this debased form of reason have almost unanimously conspired to slander and demean the nobler and more sunlike form of reason of earlier times. A laser—and the secret of its construction—are powerful weapons that can be restricted to the possession of a few ambitious ‘overlords’ who arbitrarily change the game to suit their plans and purposes—rather as religious authority was abused in the most shameful days of the Church’s long history. Sunlight—because it is natural and elemental and because, when unobstructed, it shines down upon all below it—cannot be commandeered and manipulated like a restricted supply of lasers. Nevertheless, artificial canopies and cloud covers can be produced that block out the sun—while teaching men and women to be fearful of the sun’s ‘dangerous’ radiation. Something like this has been deliberately engineered and orchestrated within our educational institutions, so that innocent minds are, in effect, given the options either to conform to the greed-stoked, anti-traditional, anti-philosophical, technocratic scheme—or be cast out into the swamp of insignificance without the necessary credentials and authorization to enter and compete in the game. With such an arbitrarily limited menu of opportunities, it should come as little surprise that the number of ‘sunlike’ thinkers has dwindled nearly to the point of extinction, while handsomely paid soldiers in the armies led by laser-wielders have grown to staggering numbers. It is no longer merely a war for the limited goods and resources on the planet—it is a war bent upon marginalizing and, if push comes to shove, silencing or exterminating, those of us who recognize what a swindle is being perpetrated in the name of ‘progress.’ No ‘ignoble lie’ in man’s history has been more despicable or more fraught with perilous possibilities. No stakes are higher than those wagered on the outcome of this global enterprise into which so many unwitting contributors are conscripted. Only the few—the very few—who have successfully managed to avert their minds, souls, and wills from the incoming path of this tsunami of soulless and trivial materialism can see it for what it is. Everyone else—like flotsam and jetsam—is being carried along by the overwhelming collective wave. Most of these poor deluded conscripts foolishly believe that they are swimming by their own power, steering themselves towards the fulfillment of their own hopes and dreams—scarcely ever suspecting that they are the helpless dupes of what one might with justice call ‘black magicians’ working remotely in the shadows. But who will read this and not privately (or publicly) declare that I am the crazy one for thinking such things?

[1] Beyond Good and Evil, sect. 14

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