Saturday, May 15, 2010

Technology & Fanaticism

"Your problem is you think you can change the world."

I have gone back to Farabi lately because I am interested in the question of why someone like me, who loves ideas more than the world, keeps throwing himself back into the world.

Farabi interprets Plato in this way: most people never get beyond the received thinking of childhood, thinking that is so which is taught to be so, seeking reward and avoiding punishment. The philosophic law-giver composes religion as the best form of received thinking, while the philosopher himself lives above the shadowy realm of religious doctrine and seeks and attains to some extent the truth. The religious community is constructed as something lower, from conclusions derived from the higher life of philosophy.

Contrast this with our idea that from within the orthodoxy of our received group thinking, confusion develops from confrontations with other doctrines, new ideas and techniques develop. The philosophical is produced from within the confused community, not merely from a confusion of ideas deliberated upon by isolated philosophers.

The philosophers who are thinking their way out of confusions developed from within the shadowy life of the religious group, when they reach new conclusions, they are necessarily practical, refer to real life lived among others. This leads to adapting the same kind of thinking to practical technology: and we know that the Arabs following the tradition expressed by Farabi of law-given orthodoxy in society failed in this application.

Philosophy as creative and protective of lower dogmatically enforced religious doctrine is a good definition of fanaticism. It involves both no loyalty to any community, no love of particular people or places or things, and an insistence on loyalty to what is known to be partly arbitrary, and inevitably treating people for whom one has no particular love as means to the end of maintaining the partly arbitrary orthodoxy and sustaining the possibility of the philosophers' higher lives.

Love is divine, not philosophical, because it arises from community, from a bond we do not know. Yet love is also the beginning of philosophy. Knowledge is something that is a successor to religion, and is superior to it. It is a solution to the problem of religion. When philosophy is separated from religion it also is separated from love. "Make the beings and what they contain intelligible with certainty", but why do that if not from love? The knowledge we obtain we return back to management of our religious and personal lives.

Within our communities we are always partial strangers to each other, and so inevitably betrayers of each other in this strangeness to the sense of home each offers the other. We know this, have made exactly this the essence of our technological development. Falling in love, romance, is the story of this adjustment. Cervantes' story of seeing ideals in ordinary life is the corrective to seeing "religious" life the composed place of ideas instituted from above. We create the ideas which then are modifications of the always partly arbitrary rules of religious community. Knowing that not ourselves alone we are engaged in this is what we mean by public spirit.

We are collectively engaged in recreating our "shadow" government, mere representation, but the necessary conditions of meaningful life. Because our knowledge, which is superior in reality to our religious life, becomes in turn the tool of improving our religious life, it is inherently suited to making tools and instruments useful to accomplishing that improvement.

Finding religion in our political communities means wanting to have problems.