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Philosophy

.. hidden from me in my miscellaneous assortment of unfinished notes from last summer.

I. THE NECESSITIES IN FREEDOM  

The prerequisites of liberty are simple and natural. They correspond with one’s aspirations, the triumph of human will, and the realization that man’s mind is his greatest tool. It is thus omnipresent in the human imagination and it has been made conscious ever since man’s first walk out of the swamps of his ignorance. The application of this ideal, however, is fairly recent and symbolically represents a shift in the human mind; from one of negative dogmatism and intellectual chains to one of free-thought and beauty. It is in man’s liberation, emancipating him from the shackles of mental slavery, he will find his place in the natural order – one that maximizes the potentiality of his rational mind, humanizes his labour, and eliminates his alienation from the fruits he creates.

The intellectual origins of freedom date back to Enlightenment thought and the beginnings of modern scientific inquiry. It is of the Lockean concept that man in nature is in perfect freedom, and it is only when he accepts the social contract with the state he relinquishes such freedom. Therefore, we are bestowed certain self-evident inalienable rights that are given to us for simply being individuals and such that cannot be usurped by any sovereignty. These positive natural laws serve as a humanizing factor and divides humanity, philosophically, from being a mere lowly creature; that man is much more than simply some “object.” He is to be free from coercion, his life cherished, and his freedom preserved – for his mind is ever-growing, and that is must be protected for it exists and it is invaluable. It is from this axiom we postulate a corresponding society; a society that values such pure absolute liberty as static, never-changing, and unable to be forsaken – one that realizes that free association is the only proper mechanism in determining ethical relations in reaching a supposed outcome since it is the only such system that fosters a free society of independent peoples. It is from this our true emancipatory potential is reached, to its utmost extreme.

Paris Commune, 1871.

“The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David.

Art is a complex phenomenon that has frequented philosophic circles since the days of Socrates. Scrambling to pinpoint a concise definition, thinkers have attempted to encapsulate objective meanings of aesthetics in an effort to fully understand what constitutes ‘beauty.’

The issue is that art has no distinguishable intrinsic value of its own; it as good as the audience deems it to be. Whether the audience is a group of commoners or a collection of art critics, works of artistic value have to substantiate their worth through harsh criticism — only thereafter falling into the category of real praiseworthy ‘art.’ This interpretation of art is valid in many respects, but it must also be realized that art must serve a function. It is certainly not purely subjective, since it derives its status from collective admiration, and it must portray an universally relevant idea, to capture the audience.

My goal here is not to differentiate between what is ‘art,’ and what is not, as that is an exercise in futility, and entertaining that point is relatively useless. Rather, the question should be phrased: “What constitutes good or proper works of art?”

“Want it? Enter” by Vladimir Mayakovsky.

The struggle for humanization involves articulating our consciousness, our fears and dispositions, into a medium that is accessible and unifying. This medium is art. Art should portray an ecumenical sentiment and should be a statement on the environment we inhabit. Rather than uselessly capture the banality of alienated industrial life, its function is to distance ourselves from mechanization and uniformity. It should introduce spontaneity, commentary, and subtle discontent where our own lives do not. Art should function as a medium in which we use to escape alienation. By association, this means that art is, by definition, antithetical to restraint and modern conditioning. It seeks to escape it, to realize human potentiality outside the bounds of current mechanisms. By need rather than choice, it must function outside these bounds because it expresses, by its very nature, an ideal. A work that is produced within the confines of modern production would hardly be revealing, since it would be restricted to only portraying feelings that are already realized. The struggle is to bring out conditions that elevate these sentiments, which requires working outside the confines of modern alienated labor and life, to highlight the potential of bettering our current condition and status. It is by this token, true ‘art’ is not conservative — it is, by necessity, progressive in its idealism and commentary. The Greeks, perhaps the first real admirers of beauty, understood this quite well, creating sculptures and paintings of the ‘perfect’ form and physique. They were attempting to capture an ideal distant of their own lives, and thus were in the tradition of real artistry.

However, there are social means that pervert and downgrade art and bring it back into the restrictive confines of bourgeois industrial life. Profit, as a general rule, distorts its true function. Art cannot act as an escape if it crafted within the model of mass-production. It loses its individuality, the heart of its meaning, if it is created in bulk by groups driven by monetary gain. It also loses its ability to depict anything outside the contemporary, becoming a self-congratulatory trivial blanket statement that praises the lifestyle it is a part of, rather than criticizing and dissociating itself from it. The problems of artistry is heavily intertwined with the general struggle of humanization. It is a core component of reflection. The function it assumes, and how well it communicates it, is what differentiates the good from the bad, the masterworks from the mediocre.  Serving as an escape from alienation, art takes on a crucial form in human development. Without it, out inner emotions would be bound to the present, with no way of articulating what we wish to become. It is in this way art is an important realization of what it means to be “human,” and a stimulus for progressive insight and change — be it in the mind or in action.

The beliefs of Western liberal society are at a fundamental crossroads. In one direction, lies secular humanism — at the other, lies ancient Judeo-Christian heritage and its supposed claim of relevance. Most individuals walk a very fine line between the two; holding onto the cultural implications of religion, while also not minding its declining involvement in government. Belief acts as a mediator which holds this delicate balance together.

Belief, in and of itself, is a obligatory view. It is a tenet you live your life by, and it has profound implications on your social psychology and the general organization of a civilization. It would be foolish to discredit the influence of religiosity in the West, in spirit and in practice. However, belief can function as a sort of ideological trapSimply put, acting on a belief is not equivalent to actually believing it. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek provides us with a story to illustrate this point, in which he tells us the tale of physicist Niels Bohr.

“A well-known anecdote about Niels Bohr illustrates the same idea. Surprised at seeing a horseshoe above the door of Bohr’s country house, a visiting scientist said he didn’t believe that horseshoes kept evil spirits out of the house, to which Bohr answered: ‘Neither do I; I have it there because I was told that it works just as well if one doesn’t believe in it!” [1] 

In an excellent passage, Zizek essentially explains the function of belief in modern society. Although individuals may personally not believe an ideology, they act as if they do because they take it others believe. In fear of reprisals, they then live as if the belief is theirs. But there is a twist: what if the other individuals do not believe it either? With this, an entire belief system is build upon the existence of non-belief among individuals. I take religion to be in this same stride, functioning as a belief in a sea of disillusioned disciples.

Such a statement is hardly revealing to the standard American Christian household. The father takes his son to Church, to educate his child on Christian values. The father, himself, was pressured to do so by his own parents. They would be disappointed if he raised his children without such a pretense. The father, himself, does not believe, but acts as if he believes to give a proper impression on his parents. The child lacks the belief also, but to not disappoint his father, he refuses to tell him. Instead, he acts as if he believes. Here, we have a situation of two non-believers, paradoxically imposing a belief on one another. Would it not be another twist of irony to say the father’s parents do not believe, just as the father and the son do not? This belief is likewise solidified, passed through familial relationships, and built upon a structure of non-belief — giving those trapped within this dilemma the illusion of a belief that is absent from the individual’s own choosing, being imposed on them by the technicalities of human relationships.

This is the death of God. The death of God is not external invasion unto the Christian church hierarchy. It is not an attack from outside the prayer circles — it is within them. It is when God as an entity becomes irrelevant to the actual substance of belief, being replaced by a complex foundation of non-belief. In Europe, trends of non-belief are stronger than in the United States. According to surveys by the Financial Times/Harris Poll, only 27% of individuals living in France truthfully believe in a Christian God or Supreme deity. This is contrasted with 73% of those in the United States [2]. Bearing in mind the different histories of European and American ancestry, I take it that such a large disparity between religiosity is largely due to the culture of the United States. Religious disbelief is looked down upon, even persecuted, in American media and society — denigrated in excessively negative terms. The question is, how many of the religious belief structures in the United States are founded on fear of consequences? Potentially, very many, I would say.

However, the implications extend further than Zizek’s story on ideology. Equally important are those that believe (for cultural reasons generally), but live their lives as if they do not. Done through ritualistic ends, their religious ideology becomes a routine rather than a philosophy of action. For many Western Christians, this is the reality. They find themselves lofting to church on some Sundays, and then vehemently arguing over whether we should say “Merry Christmas” during the holidays, and fighting to preserve prayer before football games [3]. The extent of Christian ideology in American culture has largely become a gimmick of cultural preservation more than anything else, serving as the last backlash of a decaying social phenomenon.

Christian ideology makes many universal claims. It promotes objective truth and meaning, a belief system that is dogmatic and said to be true by its disciples. They have this bastion of knowledge, the key to God’s judgement and mercy, that is said to be the absolute truth. And yet they live their lives as if this is hidden, only resurrecting (excuse the pun) it when socially beneficial. If an individual held such truth of the universe, would they not devote their entire lives if they believed so strongly it was true, rather than bickering over trivialities on cable television? The charade of these religious charlatans defending “Judeo-Christian America” is a testament to the hypocrisy of the ideology in the hearts of those that follow it. True belief would not frequent itself in discussions on media sensationalism, in an attempt to keep what always has been in American society; it would prepare, and act, in the interests of God and rely on his judgements. Perhaps if they took God’s objective truth to its fullest conclusion, they would sit and pray rather than rely on themselves. If they are so convinced of their beliefs, they would be equally be convinced God would give them a hand.

The death of God does not involve the elimination of religion, nor does it involve the tearing down of religious institutions. It involves the hollowing out of religion by its believers. It makes God into a centerpiece of disbelief, propped by complex interlocked relationships and cultural enforcement. A belief propped by non-belief, it finds itself as the comfort to those that fear the destruction of their religious and cultural identity. It finds itself as the poster-child of reactionary backlash, the broken center of the exaggerated dichotomy of secularism and religiosity, and the illusionary opponent of civil institutions by religious disciples that lack the belief themselves. During the height of Catholic ascendancy, the belief was not so fractured. Prayer was seen as a powerful tool; the Devil was a real distinguishable threat. We have long abandoned such views, despite what is heard in Evangelical circles (I can assure you there would be little hesitation for them to take human action over prayer if their own lives were in peril). Let’s be frank, God is dead –The emperor has no clothes on, we are looking straight at him, but we are too naive to admit it.

Work is difficult to define. In the modern mindset, it has become synonymous with economic productivity — a primary cornerstone to progressing society: a kind of necessary evil.

Fundamentally, however, work does not implicitly have a negative connotation. Contrary to its function in today’s modern context, work is not objectively a burden nor a pleasure; It simply is. Work is indeed a necessity, that much is true, but must work be pursued and viewed as solely a negative aspect of one’s lifestyle and be downgraded to the point of dissatisfaction, hatred, and dissuasion? Yugoslav Marxist-humanist Mihailo Marković, in his philosophical work titled “From Affluence to Praxis” addresses this dilemma:

“Work is a neutral concept. It refers to an activity which is a necessary condition of human survival and development in any type of society” [65].

The indispensable nature of “work” is crucial to the praxis of Marxism. The elimination of the “free rider” issue is a paramount dilemma, and has to be properly discussed before goods are allocated accordingly. Specifically speaking, this requires a clear correlation between work done and goods received to be able to function fairly; however, the proper criteria and definition of work must be defined for such concepts to be handled.

The initial question that must be answered is — what is work, and how is it different from labor? Marković makes a stark distinction:

“In labor the worker uses only those abilities and skills which he can sell, which are needed in the process of commodity production… [Work] is the permanent exchange of matter with nature” [63].

“[Work] is the self-realization and satisfaction of human needs… [labor] might be maximization of income, or increase of power” [66].

Perhaps most importantly, work is a natural concept. It is not, by nature, exploitative nor negative. Only in the current mechanisms of the market, is “work” (better said as labor) defined by its productive forces — by its potential to produce more capital and profit. Realistically speaking, virtually all action that progresses the social being is work once this chained view of labor is broken. Leisure, which is seen as an valueless in economic terms, is indeed a form of work. It is used as an outlet to break from the routine of labor that is a commonplace in today’s age of modernity; an attempt to free oneself from the objectification of what he does.

The largest obstacle to the realization of pure work, the fullest self-realization and satisfaction of human needs, is the alienating nature of today’s labor. Marković defines it quite well:

“Alienated labor is the activity in the process of which man fails to be what he is, that is, fails to actualize his potential capacities and to satisfy his basic needs. Marx distinguished the following four dimensions of this type of alienation: (a) One loses control over produced commodities. The blind forces of market enslave man isnterad of being ruled by him. (b) In his struggle for more property and power man becomes estranged from his fellow man. Exploitation, envy, mistrust, competition, and conflict cominuate relationships among individuals. (c) Instead of employing his capacities in creative, stimulating work, man becomes an appendage of the machine, a iving tool, a mere object. (d) As no opportunity has been offered to him to fulfill his potential abilities, to develop and satisfy various higher-level needs, his whole life remains poor, one-sided, animal-like, his existence remains far below the real possibilities of his being” [63]. 

Although poetic in its definition, it is fundamentally true. Is it not human to become more inclined to work, if one feels involved in the final product? Is one not more inclined to work if he feels it is necessary for the community, which he has clearly learned, through praxis, that it likewise benefits him as well? The struggle, then, is to liberate work from being a status of wealth and power. Rather, it should be seen as a necessity for human conditioning and improvement. “Work” is not simply a commodity to be used and exhausted, to be stripped of creative spirit; it is has definite aesthetic qualities. If one realizes the beauty in work, the individual is more inclined to work to reach the means that was once outside its productive sphere. Work would develop beyond being a collection of one-sided mundane tasks for indefinite periods of time; it would serve as a necessary form of expression of one’s abilities and talents.

***
Labor’s Struggle for Supremacy by Eugene V Debs.
The Right to be Lazy by Paul Lafargue
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