Saturday, August 26, 2017

Heaven On Many Sides

- I'd like to take the lead in this discussion too.
- Fine with me.
- You are fond of saying you're just a talker, not an expert in anything. So I've gone to a couple of experts.
- Experts on what?
- Did you know the comedian Steven Colbert studied philosophy before he went into show business?
- I didn't. Did he go into philosophy because it was funny, or did he leave philosophy because it wasn't funny enough?
- I don't know. Maybe he was attracted to it because it was funny, but left it behind because it was not funny in its consequences. Perhaps that is your view too?
- It's been funny enough for me, despite most being boring, or near unreadable, or flat-out wrong. What's your funny subject?
- Religion and our president.
- Oh. That funny story. And Colbert, in your expert-advised view, might not fail to see the humor there if he bothered to return to philosophy and look.
- If he didn't, a good guess would be it was because he, a practicing Catholic, didn't get the Jewish connection. In polytheism - religions telling stories of many gods - rituals allow participants to act out the passage from weakness to strength of a varying set of human attributes, to think, to love, to use tools, to fight, each represented by a separate god. In monotheism, instead of many different rituals there is only one, a single enactment in history moving from weakness to strength, from wrong to right. We tell ourselves the story of how we have embarked on the journey of single ritual. Three positions are staked out. They are: 1. We have the rules of what we should do, but were not there yet. 2. We are just about to be there, a savior will arrive to announce our arrival, our task is to see this world of strength and beauty and love, what we do to get there is of no importance. 3. We can imagine ourselves already there, that it has all been written already, so we must submit to the script; both the rules how we are to act, and thoughts of the world we are to arrive at are set already.
- First Judaism's rules of action, prohibition against images and determining how the world looks when the time for action is over. Then Christianity reverses this valuing, attention is turned towards the heaven of love we will be taken to by the messiah. And Islam, the Jewish and Christian together: you have no choice but submit to the rules and think as others do. The story of the ritual of history is already written right up to paradise at the end. What is supposed to be so funny about this story?
- Ritual, single history or otherwise, makes use of forgetting our personal weakness, letting the sense of power acting in concert with a group replace it with a feeling of rebirth. The single ritual of monotheism, however, makes rebirth, recovery of power, for the Jews something absolutely not the be relied upon, for the Christians dependent on the grace of being able to leave the world of bodily things behind and enter the world of pure thought, and for Muslims demanding absolute submission to rules and authority. The single ritual is undermined by not being acted out in the real world, by jumping directly to the conclusion, or by being seen as finished before offering even get a chance to start.
- Then what was the advantage if any of monotheism?
- As if you didn't know. I got this all from you. The Jews, prohibited from expecting or picturing particular results of their action, could modify how they interpreted the world so as to learn from experience in following the rules in different ways. Monotheism, with the Jews, allows the forgetting of ritual to be transformed into something completely different, the gathering of knowledge.
- And that is funny?
- No, not yet. The punch line comes with the next step, when thinking of the heavenly world of love and beauty that we are destined to, that we know we were made to arrive at, results in a terrible new forgetting.
- Forgetting what?
- The body. With Christianity the body became the enemy, its alien demands interfering with thoughts of love and beauty of the heaven to be brought by the messiah. The actions that lead to heaven are not the subject of knowledge, as with the Jews. Knowledge for the Christians is only about heaven itself, attained by grace, not knowledge of the world. This leaves the Christian vulnerable to ignorance of what makes for good and bad action, and inexperienced in control of bad action. Self observation and self control are not valued. The same is even more true in Islam where the rules are unalterable and actions determined in advance.
- The monotheistic ritual can only be the carrier of learning at the first step with the Jews. How is that funny?
- The subsequent monotheisms,  confused and weakened by their own inexplicable violence arising out of the thought to be separate world of the body, recover their confidence by return to the original, episodic ritual. In repeatedly attacking the practitioners of the first monotheism, the Jews, seen as an enemy within. they feel themselves to be getting back on course.
- And this is funny? Ritual that had miraculously been transformed into a tool of learning devolved back to a primitive instrument of power?
- Wait, the story doesn't stop there. I'll bring in now the authorities. As I said, the problem with having for your goal contemplation of a perfected world is that the body becomes separate from thought, seemingly inessential or even the enemy to thought. That according to Spinoza.
- Jewish Spinoza. 17th Century Dutch philosopher.
- Yes. According to Spinoza the separation of world and thought is completely wrong. Mind and body are two ways of looking at the same thing. Affected each in our own individual circumstances, our body among the things of the world, we respond, either actively or passively. Actively, when we act from knowledge of what we've done in the past and its consequences; passively, when we act from fear and anger. Our body and where it is placed is what allows us to learn. There can be no mind, in an active sense, in the sense that involves knowledge, separate from body. Nothing happens in heaven. Fear and anger, arising from loss of security, are habitual, bodily responses, unconsciously chosen flight or attack. This bodily passive activity, unrelated to knowledge, intrudes on the heavenly serenity of the Christian mind.
- And the security whose loss the isolated Christian mind suffers from and responds to could be that produced by primitive, polytheistic ritual. Ritual not of knowledge, but passionate acts of forgetting, violent attacks on the enemy within, ending in a feeling of recovered power.
- You refer to the rituals of anti-Semitism continuous in Christianity. And how is that funny?
- It's not. Of course it's not, but we're getting there. Around the time the Jews were first interpreting their laws, learning about themselves and the world, their ideas never separate from the world, the citizens of ancient Athens were practicing democracy, making democracy possible, qualifying themselves to share power with each other by continually observing themselves and controlling themselves. A couple thousand years later democracy begins to make a return in a big way in Europe with the arrival of the nation state. But since Europe was Christian, this created instability. Were faithful citizens to care about their actions or only thoughts? Europe muddles on. And then what happens?
- The funny part?
- Yes. Philosophers start paying attention to the problem. 19th Century German philosopher Nietzsche came up with the solution. Get rid of Christianity! Christianity was a Jewish plot to devitalize their enslavers, and it worked. And once we free ourselves from the Jewish plot, we can do, what?
- Learn about life through self knowledge and self discipline?
- Hardly. We former Christians can now individually construct our own rituals, celebrating our power and will. To institute ritual is a creative act that can be learned and perfected.
- So in rituals based on fear and anger learning is brought back in. That an irony, but is it funny?
- The funny part is how all these ideas go to explaining the behavior of one of the lowest, crudest men who ever lived, our new president.
- I'm beginning to smile.
- I can see. Let go at this step by step. In his campaign, our soon to be elected president assigns his enemies to the land of the Jews: they have too many rules, they have this abysmal rule obsessed political correctness, they don't care about our country, they don't want to make it great! The original monotheism ritual of rules to action giving way to monotheism of thought, in this case, Our Great Country. The Christian monotheism wages primitive ritual battle against the Jewish politically correct and their rules. Rules don't matter, the force of our united spirit will prevail, and Heavens! Our beautiful country will be ours again. Pure fascism: Identification of enemy within; violence that is pure, uncorrupted by rule-burdened civilization, and return of lost power. Before our new president became a politician and a fascist, he was a big practitioner of Nietzschian rituals of will. These he calls battles between winners and losers, and in his thoughts is always a winner, using astonishing quantities of lies, deceptions, betrayals in his personal and business lives. Now look at how our president spoke about the violence and murder committed by marching neo-Nazis at Charlottesville last week. He observed: 'There was violence on many sides, on many sides', the phrase 'on many sides' repeated with a kind of sermonizing sigh. Our president was, I think, saying to us, ha ha, you've got your politically correct, each group with its own rituals, repeated ways of doing things that makes participants feel secure, each isolated by their habits to be protected by other politically correct ritualists. So ha ha, you see what I have lowered myself to do to you? My guys the neo-Nazis are a protected group too, no? Yes. 'You know it too,' our President told the assembled press, feeling sure he'd caught them in a logical trap.
- And the funny part?
- That among the Neo-Nazis demonstrating were a couple of college students who quickly were identified by the classmates from news video and were receiving death threats. They complained to reporters that they were protecting their traditions, and they could not be placed in any category such as white supremacist.
- What they did at the demonstration was an act of will, its purpose to reestablish power among people like themselves exercising will; they were unwilling that what they were doing, what their passive, passion intoxicated bodies were doing, be made a matter of defined social roles. The heaven they seek was not to be created out of something so meaningless, so uninspiring as a category of people defined not by beliefs but by their action, not even the inspiring categories of White Supremacist or neo-Nazi.
- That's funny. A little.
- Culture as a function of will, thought uprooted from the actions taken by individual bodies, carries no knowledge of good and bad and so inevitably falls into the bad of primitive ritual, of violence to establish or reestablish order.
- Ok. I get it. It's not just rhetoric: political correctness is no stranger to fascism. Fascism easily claims from political correctness its own protected status as one aggrieved traditional group among equals. Whether 'just obeying orders', or 'just giving orders', they are engaged in the protected traditional behavior of political correctness, no matter that the world of rules whose protection they demand is the Jewish world of rules they at other times charge with being their fundamental enemy.  They are above the petty concerns of consistency or rationality. Funny. Ha ha.
- A modern scholar of Judaism I consulted, Dobbs-Weinstein,* explains that separation of religion from the state has been since the time of humanism seen as a necessary protection against battles between religions becoming political battles. However, the religious battle has come in through the back door with the politically correct relativist's individualist will to power in his own voluntarily instituted or participated in group. Each group demands protection from the others, while offering no cooperation. Indeed, groups have no means to cooperate without practice observing themselves and controlling themselves, the qualities held in common democracies demand. Dobbs- Weinstein traces as you have the Jewish focus on action rather than thought through Aristotle in ancient Greece to Averroes in the Muslim world of the late Middle Ages, philosophers commonly misunderstood in their Christianized interpretations.
- Not to mention their ancestor, the deChristianized Plato, and his ancestor, the deChristianized Parmenides.
- Well, yes. Anyway. Freud and Marxist in our modern world recover more directly the emphasis on action, and so doing uncover the relation between good and bad action absent in the focus on heavens.
- The funny part about that is that by their using language of the world of heaven, the materialist language of science, of a separate, self contained world of things, they undermine the project of recovery of ethics. Freud had parts of self in a materialist dynamic of forces, Marx had his economic material of surplus value of things shifted about by the power of labor.
- They self-Christianized. What should they have done?
- Simply ask of themselves, Were they doing justice to themselves and others? instead of looking for a heaven of things in which that justice would be expressed outside individual bodily lives of action.
- Another modern expert I consulted, the Spinozan and historian of the enlightenment Jonathan Israel, argues that as long as thought was separated from the body there was an implication that since god made the world so it had to be good. When Spinoza returned thought to the body, identifying one with the other, god could be thought as being in the world (there was no where else for him to be), and since he was, an attractive force or encouragement towards perfection, there was no reason thought could not improve the relation of body in the world, that is, historical progress appears more possible. In fact, Israel claims that the French revolution was only possible because of the widespread reading and influence of Spinoza.
- If that is right, then political progress has involved a religious-political regression from polytheism, to monotheism, to Christianity and Islam then back to the beginnings of monotheism, then back to the absolute beginning in polytheism of the individual ethics-free willful ritualist losers and winners. It took a while for us to get here, and I'm with you, I see humor here, a little bit. The story of the Jews goes a little further, with the founding of the state of Israel. Jews are accused of considering the founding of the Jewish state, an immense technological and social achievement, a use of rules of action in the world to obtainknowledge of the world if there ever was one, to be intended as a heaven, though that would be a Christian heaven; they are accused of making for themselves a military state, though that would be an Islamic sort of closed totalitarianism; they are accused of applying fascist, that is, anti-Semitic means to protect against outsiders a society of amoral individualists. The Jews are accused of recapitulating the entire history of latter day monotheistic and finally polytheistic corruption of the Jewish focus on rules experimentally applied to action.
- Needless to say, all wildly disputable.
- But a little funny?

Further Reading:
How To Read Plato's 'Republic'
Homework For Serial Killers
Hungry Dog & The 17 Year Man
Bringing Back Stray Sheep
A Machine For Making People Unhappy
* 'Spinoza’s Critique of Religion and Its Heirs: Marx, Benjamin, Adorno', Idit Dobbs-Weinstein
, 2015