Two sides of the same coin

My last blog post was about intellectual trickery, involving circular arguments.  This type of argument is accomplished by hiding the desired conclusion, within the opening definitions themselves.  It’s all about the definitions.  Plato defined “best philosopher” as the same thing as “guardian”.  He then defined “guardian” as somebody who would not change any laws or institutions.  He also states that only “guardians” should be heads of state.  Then he proceeds to mount a superfluous, unnecessary, and irrelevant set of parameters for what constitutes a “best philosopher”, but really, he has performed a mental trick which he has hidden within his opening definitions.

The danger in showing this sort of trick to people is that somebody will learn how to use it on others.  Whenever you reveal something in the hopes that people won’t be tricked by it, you are taking this risk – the risk that somebody unscrupulous will use your key as a tool of manipulation.  But all things considered, I think that it’s best to show people how this is done (i.e. circular arguments involving loaded definitions) so that they can begin to recognize when somebody is trying to use it on them.  Knowledge is power.

Today I’d like to talk about the other side of the “Never change anything” coin.  Plato’s Republic is a huge, complicated treatise on how and why to install people who will guarantee to the power structure that there will be no major changes.  These days we often see the opposite problem.  That is, the entire structure of society including the laws, moral codes, and institutions, is said to be wholly “corrupt”, invalid, or otherwise deserving of destruction.  This is the opposite extreme to “Don’t change anything”:  “Change everything”.  And it is equally wrong.

There are groups who are devoted to their own misguided hopes of “destroying civilization” itself, and starting over again.  The exact same tools of brainwashing and programming that Plato employed, are used within these groups.  Again, definitions are pre-loaded, circular arguments are then mounted, people are mentally fogged up and once rendered mentally disabled, they are then convinced to take destructive action.  This is just as wrong as what Plato has done in his works in preserving a static status quo.

A great way of telling if something is weak, powerless, or basically a really bad idea, is if somebody has to use manipulation or brainwashing to get it done.  A powerful, good idea doesn’t require any manipulation – it stands on its own.

An earlier blog post talked about “ruling by nature” as being inferior to “ruling by results”.  To declare that a particular person is, by their very nature, more suitable to rule than anybody else is to also support the idea that people can be somehow inherently inferior to others.  This sets up the foundation for social imbalance and violations of human rights.  Rather, a more solid and lasting way to choose leaders is to do this according to which person is proven to be best able to achieve the desired results.  This is a fact-based analysis, rather than a “character” analysis.  Unfortunately at this time, politics is often driven by considerations of personal character, rather than by things like proven ability, knowledge, skills, and proper motivations.  This results in a skewed political system, prompting many voters to feel frustrated by the process and resulting in truly bizarre scenarios.

When the emphasis is placed however on an analysis of who is best suited to deliver positive and helpful change to an unbalanced system, then the best and most effective leadership can and should result.

Notice that I referred here to “change”.  Plato was all about making sure that there is never any real change done.  But some destructive groups are all about trying to make everything change, by trying to attack the foundations of society.  Although this effort is bound to fail for many reasons which I am not going to spell out, the fact that this effort towards destruction is being done at all results in unfortunate losses and unnecessary grief.

The most powerful way of rebalancing society into a sustainable model which appropriately fits each particular region and culture, is to allow for incremental change which does not threaten overall stability, but which accounts for the sources of imbalance and corrects those areas in a helpful way.  Destroying something to make way for something new is not a helpful way, because of the net losses involved in such methods.  Creating something to edge something out before its time, is just another way of doing something destructive.  Destruction is not sustainable as a model because it’s “one-off” in nature.  The only way to do sustainable, non-destructive change, is to forge new connections which are more lasting in nature.

Think of how a brain develops.  New electrical connections are created, forming new bridges which allow for faster processing and more bursts of inspiration.  Nothing has to be destroyed in order for new brain connections to develop.  A person might develop so much neurologically that they almost seem to be a new person.  Their behaviour can develop and change over time due to new brain and brain-body connections being formed.  There is no place for destruction in this model, except for the natural death of cells when they’ve reached the end point of their life span.  This is not destruction – it’s natural attrition and there’s a world of difference between the two.  One is natural, the other is not.

This analysis, if correct, would mean that the best way to create sustainable, positive change in our societies, is to forge new beginnings – new connections, new areas of cooperation, new relationships.  No deliberate destruction is necessary or called for.  If this idea is powerful and good, then I don’t need to brainwash you to believe in it.  I wouldn’t need to do any manipulation or promotion since these ideas are good enough to stand on their own.  Only time will tell if this “new connection” model of social change will be taken on.  But I suppose that we can expect some degree of resistance by those who refuse to let go of their plans – both the people who are devoted to preserving the status quo exactly as is it now, and those who are determined to erase everything and start again.

The two groups here – the status-quo-preservers, and the status-quo-destroyers – are two sides of the same wrong coin.  I’m not on either of those sides.  I’m on the side of ordinary people who live and work and take care of themselves and their families, who trust in basic goodness and try to enjoy their lives, without taking from or damaging other people. That’s my team – and I believe that we are in the majority.

Speaking of anticipated resistance to these ideas that I’m spelling out here, we come to the opposite side of the “ruling by nature” coin.  If people are elevated to positions of importance because they are apparently born “special” (which is a flawed idea), similarly, sometimes people are reviled, attacked and rejected as “defective” and apparently with nothing to offer.  This idea is similarly flawed but it’s a favoured tool of those who are desperately defending an outmoded and unpowerful model (either unchanged status quo or destruction).  If somebody comes along with a persuasive idea which doesn’t fit with any of these wrong-headed groups, that person is surely to be attacked as somehow defective “with no good ideas”.  There will be a blanket refusal to listen or even attempted character assasination, or sabotage, due to these supposed personal defects.  This is highly predictable.  And in the end, it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because good ideas are more powerful than weak attempts to discredit the people who have them.  That’s because most people are too smart to fall for that type of thing.  It’s also because good ideas tend to resonate with more people.  Resonance has to do with sound.  If something is audibly sounding good then no attempts to drown it out will work, because the human ear is naturally attuned to good sounds.

Again, as always, any comments are most welcome here.

Original trickster masquerading as “thinker”

Plato was appointed to make his theory of politics and society, with the overall goal of making sure that the status quo stayed as “sticky” as possible.  He was given all the time and freedom he needed.  He was never bothered with trivial things or menial tasks – those were for slaves or women to do.  And so nothing distracted him when he created this tangled ball of yarn.

Think about untangling something very complex.  You pull on one strand, but this only tangles up the other strands further and tightens up the other knots.  Unravelling this entire work would have to be done as carefully as it was created.  It is slow going.  Of course, making the work this tangled up was done deliberately, rendering a detangling almost impossible to do.  But I guess Plato didn’t count on how humans can evolve and become more intelligent over time.  Oops.

The amount of time and effort that would have to be devoted to decoding Plato is daunting.  The decoding would have to be much more voluminous than the tangled ball of yarn that he came up with.  And there would be a danger of creating confusion in the decoding – this is how the code protects itself.

This work seems to be the original blueprint for programming or brainwashing.  Within The Republic there is even an architectural framework for cults, where the head of the cult is called “father” and natural familial relations are apparently found to be “damaging” to the wellbeing of the overall group.  This framework is actively used by cult masters to brainwash followers.  All of it can be found in Plato.

I wanted to go through and extract the examples of misogyny from this publication.  But I find that it’s been carefully hidden, just casually tossed out in phrases here or there.  If I wanted to list these phrases, I would be accused of taking them “out of context” and this would invalidate my criticism in the eyes of many.  So it’s impossible to quickly prove that Plato was a woman-hating and woman-fearing knob – this too would take a very long time to do carefully and well.  But I’m going to make it a personal project.

To decode Plato and reveal all of the ways that this is basically a manifesto for evil, would be a massive undertaking but one which I would love to do.  Meanwhile, real life makes its own demands (unlike in Plato’s optimal set-up, which allowed him unlimited free time and space to do this thing).  Maybe I will just pull out some examples of circular logic.  Maybe people could look at his work with the below comments in mind, and begin to understand what’s been done here and how much damage has been caused.  So, here is a good example of the circular logic and sneaky tricks that Plato employed.

Plato argues that only the “best of the best” minds should be philosophers, and an entire chapter is devoted to what constitutes “the best”.  He calls such people “guardians”.  Here’s where his definition pre-supposes the conclusion and creates the conditions for a tautology (a tautology is an argument that goes around in a circle, ending exactly where it starts, in a closed loop, such that it’s impossible to argue with).

He states as a preamble to defining “best philosophers”, that only “appointed guardians” should be the rulers of the state, and only “best philosophers” should be “appointed guardians”.  He then defines “guardians” as the people who seem to be the “best able to guard the laws and institutions of our State”.  This definition presumes that the laws and institutions of the State are, or should be, static – i.e. remain unchanged, which in turn presumes a perfection that should never be challenged.  So only people who would never dream of challenging the underpinnings of the apparently perfect state, should be chosen to guard the state.  This is how his definition of “guardian” both underlies the rest of the material, and also presupposes his unspoken conclusion – that nothing should ever be changed.

This is a description of a dictatorship.  This is how Plato starts off the chapter on how to define the “best philosopher”.  Again, let’s go over this trick.  First he says that the goal of this chapter is to come up with a definition of “best” philosopher.  But he has already stated, in the preamble, that the “best” philosophers are to be called “guardians”.  That’s where he gets tricky.  The preamble definition (which is actually his hidden conclusion, the place where he ultimately wants to go) is that guardians are defined as the people who are unlikely to make any changes to the status quo.  Do you see the circular reasoning there?  He starts and ends in the same place:  “nobody is allowed to make any changes”.

According to Plato, by definition, only those who never want or see any reason to change the status quo, are qualified to be leaders of state.  Those are also the people who are deemed to be the “best” philosophers.  The conclusion that he wants (i.e. nobody is allowed to make any changes to the status quo), informs his definitions of who gets to be considered the “best philosophers”.  And only they are the people qualified to lead.  So the argument goes in a backwards or circular direction – starting with the desired conclusion (that nobody is allowed to make any changes).  With his definition of “guardian”, he makes this desired objective (“no changes”) inform how he goes about describing his definition of “best philosopher”.  He pretends that his definitions are only a “preamble” to his argument.  But really, the definitions are in fact the desired conclusion (“nobody make any changes”).  Then, once his definitions are in place (which are just another way of stating his unspoken conclusion – i.e. that nobody is allowed to make any changes) he then proceeds to describe who are the best philosophers.  And by the way, he is calling these people “guardians” (after defining guardians as those who won’t make any changes).

Does this seem confusing?  Well, it is.  It is deliberately confusing in how it’s written and argued, so that you can’t see what he’s doing there.  You can’t see it unless you really look hard and have a lot of mental focus.

This is a great example of a tautology or circular argument, because of how obvious it is.  He sneaks in his definition of what a “guardian” is (i.e. somebody who will guard the laws and institutions as they already are) and this is the entire objective of this chapter.  But the definition of “guardian” is just tossed out there casually, like an afterthought or something unimportant.  He’s hoping that the reader won’t notice what he did, by making it seem casual.  The entire work of “The Republic” is filled with such circular arguments.  It can really make your head spin.  The constant injections of the “yes” man interrupt your flow of thought as reader, making it less likely that you will able to see what Plato is really up to.  The dialogue style breaks up your chain of thought, rendering the circular argument into little bits, hopefully confusing you so that you can’t see what he’s doing.  Ultimately, he is really saying nothing much at all – just a small handful of central points.  But he makes you really work at it.

To summarize, in the chapter on “what is a best philosopher”? here’s how he goes around in a circle:

Who’s the best philosopher?  In this chapter we will examine that.

But first – whoever that is (and we’ll figure this out later), let’s call them “guardians”.

How do we define a “guardian”?  Somebody who will guard the existing laws and institutions (i.e. who will make no changes).

Now where were we?  Oh yes, who makes the “best” philosopher?

See how he’s already made his argument, by offering the definition of “guardian” as an opening definition.   His argument becomes a closed loop simply by virtue of this definition – and the definition is really the entire thing that he’s saying.  Everything else is extraneous.  But he hides this and he then goes on to other definitions which don’t really matter.  The real goal of the chapter is just casually stated as a preamble (i.e. the definition of “guardian”), but he pretends that the goal of the chapter is finding out who are the “best philosophers”.

For the rest of the chapter, he gets into “What do we mean by ‘best’ philosopher?”  But he’s already said who they are – the ones who won’t make any changes – by virtue of his definition of “guardians” which he just snuck in there, apparently before he got started.

There’s the circle.  Then he goes into all kinds of other things, like, they can’t be an alcoholic, and they can’t be a sexaholic, and they can’t have a bad temper – etc. etc. but none of those things really matter because they are extraneous to the conclusion (which is contained within the definition) – that guardians can only be those who aren’t going to make any big changes.  The other qualifications of “best philosopher” are only a distraction from the real point he’s making, i.e. that a “best” philosopher is somebody who isn’t going to make any changes to the status quo – because we’re going to call them “guardians” and guardians aren’t allowed to make any changes, by definition.

Do you see what he did there?  It’s pretty subtle trickery.  It’s what he specializes in.

This kind of subtle mental trickery is used all the time by false leaders, in order to fog up the minds of their followers.  It’s important for people to be able to recognize this.  Stating your conclusion at the beginning of your argument, by having certain definitions of terms, which actually state your conclusion, and then going into all kinds of irrelevant things, is a way of spinning people around and seeming to be clever, bringing them all around to your point of view without really having proved anything at all.  It’s all in the definitions of terms which is done in the beginning.  Those definitions presuppose the conclusion and make the desired conclusion inevitable – so watch out for that.

Plato uses the term “guardian” throughout this work, constantly reinforcing his basic idea that only people who aren’t intending to make any big changes, should ever be allowed to be rulers of state.  That’s the overall goal of his work – how to prevent change.  But proving what Plato has done is a real challenge.

Hopefully the above shows that there is something bad here to be unravelled, and that it would be worth doing.  The mental trickery template put forward by Plato is currently being used in many arenas.  People are constantly fooled by it.  Sometimes people feel angry and they don’t know why – it’s probably because their mental processes were hijacked and rendered useless, and they know it, but they can’t pinpoint exactly where this happened and it’s frustrating.  That’s why some extremely intelligent people become frustrated with school and even tend to drop out. There are some educational programs which embody mental programming.  Not all, just some – just to make it harder to find.

So this is why I’d like to put forward a blueprint for recognizing and pinpointing circular arguments, so that people can reclaim their birthright of rational thought and learn how to bust guys like this Plato character.

Sometimes I feel angry when I see this trickery being done to people.  That’s my own challenge, i.e. to try not to sound too enraged because this can make me seem irrational.  In being emotional, I play right into the traditional misogyny, i.e. “women are too emotional to be rational”.  On the other hand, maybe I can bust that myth by being both angry and rational.  I need to mull this over.  But in the meantime, I think that I just have to be me.  And this type of thing just really pisses me off!

Philosophers behaving badly

I’m going to deconstruct Plato, bit by bit.  It’s very difficult because as I read The Dialogues of Plato, Volume 4 “The Republic” I have a logical or moral objection to almost every single sentence.  The entire thing reads like a treatise on why there’s no such thing as Justice, why there’s no such thing as “good”, and why leadership is by definition invalid.

Plato, or whoever wrote this stuff, has provided a manifesto for people who want to do evil.  I bet Hitler relied on a lot of this material himself.  So it’s very hard to read without getting completely outraged.

When I first picked it up I randomly opened up a page, read it, and I was so pissed off that I threw the book across the room.  But that doesn’t help anything.

To complicate matters, the introduction to this book, written by the translator, is massive.  There’s a “General Introduction” which is 35 pages long, and then an “Introduction” which is a further 49 pages long.  Finally at page 85 you actually get to start reading what Plato apparently wrote.  I say “apparently” because really who knows?  This translator certainly has his own personal views.

In the “introduction” to Book VI, the translator declares the following:  “Only those who grasp the eternal and unchangeable are properly called philosophers … They will be temperate, uncovetous and liberal; they will not fear death; they will be just; they will be quick to learn and unforgetful”.  I suppose that in the time of Plato it was physically dangerous to have a new idea.  And in some places in the world, this is still the same today.  This is why philosophers must “not fear death” I guess.  But what does he mean by “temperate” eh?  Hmmm.

The Dialogues are filled with astonishing pronouncements and declarations which then lead to an analysis.  It’s written in quite an annoying format – Socrates is having a long chat with a “yes” man who responds to almost everything that Socrates says with “Most certainly”, “Very true”, “On this I agree” or “I should say so”.  But once in a while, the “yes” man says something like “I grow impatient at the length of your exordium”.

This is an early precursor to the television laugh track, peppered with the occasional heckle.  It doesn’t add anything to the material or the analysis and it’s hard to understand why he used this format.  If the annoying style was meant to give further credence to the ideas being put forward, then this insults and underestimates the reader.

But since insults and underestimation of human beings is the underlying theme of the entire work, I suppose that one shouldn’t be surprised.

The part where I threw the book across the room was where Socrates carefully mounts a rational explanation for why it’s important to mate “superior” people only with others like them, and similarly match up “inferior” people with eachother.  He also reasons that it’s important for infants to be raised separately from their birth mothers, and that the mothers and the kids should never find out who gave birth to whom.  If this was really done in ancient Greece, I instantly felt all of the grief that women must have been forced to experience – just because somebody who was pronounced “clever” said so.

I’m not sure if I should go through the entire book and write about each part that I disagree with.  Should I just pull out all the examples of misogyny (i.e. hatred or fear of women) and make this the theme of my critique?  Should I concentrate on all the ways that he “rationally” slags the concept of justice or fairness?  Should I just deal with his cynical view of politics and leadership.  It’s so hard to choose.  If I took the piece apart sentence by sentence, this could take all year.  Is this sad man really worth all the effort?

I’ll give you an example of what I mean.  He states that in order for a city to be peaceful, we need to have a person who is willing to lead, along with all the other people willing to be obedient.  This statement is a twisted view of leadership. I’ll explain why in a minute – but first, to be fair, a Plato fan might say, “Hey – he does subject each of his own statements to a long analysis, so what’s your beef?”  I’ll tell you what – it’s his definitions.  How he defines a “leader” sets up the tone of the analysis as well as its content.  How he defines “peaceful people” is also done in a way that pre-supposes his conclusions.  His entire book is one massive tautology.  The definitions of terms inevitably lead to the conclusions.  This skips over what the real debate should have been.  Maybe that’s really why he uses a “yes” man – to hookwink the dumb reader.

A word on what I mean by “yes” man – I mean somebody who is merely serving as a passive, supportive audience, without contributing their own material or using their own skills.  This is a very different thing than an “assistant”.  A “yes” man serves an empty role, however an assistant serves a very important function.  Let’s not confuse the two.

I blogged another time about how the wrong kind of leadership occurs when somebody steps up and says, “I want to be the leader!” and takes up the role due to his personally feeling that he “has the stuff” to lead, unlike other “less suitable” people.  This is where you run into problems. The problem is that with “ruling by nature”, i.e. some people are better suited and are just born that way, the idea that some humans are naturally inferior is the inevitable result – and this paves the way for human rights violations.  Rather than “ruling by nature” (which Plato carefully supports, using trickery), the better way is “ruling by behaviour” – or to put it another way, “ruling by results”.

The better way is to have somebody naturally rise to the top due to their proven skills, their helpful ideas, the fact that they have an open mind and have learned how to be discerning (i.e. how to tell good ideas, from bad ideas) and due to their track record at being able to persuade people when they are right.

The other half of Plato’s damaging view of leadership is that the other people must be “willing to be obedient”.  This is also wrong.  The better way is that people come to recognize, using their intelligence, that a certain person has the skills, ability, education, and experience to best administer their region, and that the decisions and ideas of this person create the best available conditions for daily living – because they have learned how to be discerning, and they put the people first (rather than themselves).  This is a sensible approach to politics, however these issues are completely ignored by Plato.

So my view is that Plato’s very definitions of the terms that he uses to analyze politics and leadership are warped.  His philosophical ideas go on to form the underpinning of autocratic leadership, the kind which has to be done by force.  No doubt many dictators have relied heavily on his “work”.  His backward ideas have formed the basis of the great mistakes which have created most of the world’s biggest problems.

And all of the above comes from disagreeing with one single sentence in “The Republic”.  You see the problem:  there is way too much bad material here.  To disagree systematically with everything wrong in this book, I would have to write a much larger book.

So I’m just going to go through this book and only blog when something gets me pretty angry.  Wait – that’s going to be multiple times per page.  Well, I will find a way to choose what to blog about.  Wait. No, there are other things to blog about besides what this jerk wrote.  See?!  Plato’s absolute, profound “wrongness” is positively paralyzing and it threatens to overwhelm all other topics.  What a dilemma!

Does anybody else think that the translator’s definition above of what a philosopher must be, seems to exclude women?  Or am I just being too sensitive due to the rampant misogyny sprinkled throughout this work.  It’s hard to know.  But that doesn’t matter.

This brings me to the question “Why”?  Why did Plato, or whoever wrote this, do it?  The only answer can be that a certain few people stepped up and said, “We are going to rule this place.  We are inherently better than other people, we are the best suited to be their bosses.  We need you to appear very smart, and come up with a few mental tricks, which seem to prove that our decision to govern over others by force, makes the most sense.  Make it seem fair, while at the same time attacking the very concept of fairness.  We know you can do it, Plato.  You’re our man!”

And the result is that well-meaning, eager intelligent students of philosophy have been hoodwinked for eons.  I guess that blogging is a good format for busting this guy.  It gets instantly “out there”.  I also guess that anybody who came along before the internet and who pointed out all the fatal flaws in Plato’s “analysis” (which is obviously motivated by power) would probably be killed as “subversive”, framed as a criminal, and/or locked up as crazy – and their material destroyed.  I’m not saying that this blog is important or anything, heaven forbid that!  This is just a personal exercise in venting my frustration that this “thinker” has passed for the “father of philosophy” for over 2,000 years.  So …. onward.  Everybody needs a hobby.

The Unpowerful

Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the “un”, as in, “unknowing”, or “ungrateful”.  The whole “un” trend is interesting.  It’s interesting because of how uninteresting it really is.  When something that is unintriguing is being put forward as intriguing, then you really have something unbelievable.  It can even be a bit unnerving.

When I say “unnerving” I mean of course something that makes you feel nervous.  When you say “Wow, I really found that to be unnerving!” what you really mean is that it was “nerving” or caused you to feel your nerves.  So in this case where does the “un” come in?  Why is it there?  You see how confusing the “un” can sometimes be.  You can’t prove a negative, but that doesn’t stop the unintelligent from trying.  Some people can be very untrustworthy – particularly when they use formal education to try and uneducate people.

Let’s examine the whole “un” concept here.  Bottom line:  it’s unpowerful.  It gets us nowhere.  It doesn’t really add anything to our lives.  I’ll explain.

Lots of people are fascinated by the concept of the undead.  Personally, I am not.  I find it unfascinating.  It’s not a real thing.  There’s either “dead”, or “alive” – or neither.  Something that is neither dead nor alive, but appears to be somewhat alive, is simply artificial or robotic.  You could take a formerly living body, i.e. that which has ceased to live, and run an electrical current through it.  It would jump.  Somebody nearby might think that this is an alive being, jumping.  But really, of course it isn’t.  It’s only artificially moving.  The most important point here is:  so what?

None of this is important however sometimes, people get fooled into believing that it is.  As I’ve mentioned, personally I remain unimpressed by this.  That’s because the vast majority of people will never encounter this issue in their lifetimes.  So then why worry about it?  You won’t encounter a formerly living being which is having an electrical current running through it, such that it seems to jump, appearing before you in your workplace.  You won’t find such a strange thing at home, or even at any of your friends’ homes.  You won’t see this in a store, or at the train station.  You won’t encounter this on your morning commute or in the coffee shop.  No – this is something that exists only in your mind, or in the movies, or on t.v.  This is imaginary stuff.  So it’s not only uncommon, it’s also unreal.

I don’t mean “unreal” in the sense of when you say, “Wow – that’s unreal!” when something impresses you.  No, I mean “unreal” in the sense that it isn’t real.  When I say that it isn’t real, I don’t mean that it’s inconceivable.  It is conceivable that somebody, somewhere, is making a formerly alive thing SEEM to be alive, by running electricity through it.  Maybe somebody even devoted thousands of man-hours to writing an incredibly complex software program, which makes something seem to have a working brain – when it’s really just a bunch of code.  Actually there is such a thing – it’s called a “robot”.  The fact that robots exist is neither here nor there.  It doesn’t change anything else.  The reason I say this is “unreal” is that this is unlikely to be duplicated by anybody very often since it’s largely a waste of time and resources.  What’s the point of it?  There really isn’t one, except if you use a robot to replace human workers.  Then we do have a real problem – but that’s for another blog post another time.

This brings me to the topic of “unknowledge”.  This one is tricky, so bear with me.  The sphere of “unknowledge” is where somebody tries to muddy up very clear definitions, by presenting an example of a situation which seems to make the definitions unclear.  This doesn’t work.  Here’s an example of such an effort:  “In this scenario, it’s hard to tell what’s right or what’s wrong.  Therefore, the concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ don’t really exist.”  I have blogged about this error before.  The example does not lead to the conclusion but people try to do this all the time.  Another example:  “This dead body looks alive because somebody is jump-starting it with electricity.  Therefore, the concepts of ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ are blurred and there’s no longer any clear line between them.”  This is a perfect example of unknowledge.  The clear knowledge of when somebody is alive, compared to when they are dead, is supposed to be muddled up or made less clear, when somebody comes up with a way to fake life.  Again – this doesn’t work.  The existing definitions are NOT affected by coming up with a weird, freakish example of something dead appearing to be alive.  I repeat:  the freakish does not affect the regular.  They are two different things, existing separately.  You can’t just jam them together by pronouncing them to be relative.  It’s a subtle point here.  Just saying that “A affects B” doesn’t actually make A affect B.  You can’t skip over the evidence.  The statement that “A affects B” is without any content.  You can’t create truth just by saying something.  But the unclever do try to do this from time to time.

It’s usually pretty obvious when something or somebody is alive, versus when they are not alive.  In the vast majority of cases, the difference is quite clear.  If somebody comes up with an experiment which appears to blur the lines between the two (think Frankenstein), this doesn’t affect all of the other scenarios where the difference is very clear.  But some people seem to think that it does – they seem to think that if such an experiment succeeds, then this proves that the line between life and death is no longer clear.  Well this is just is not so.  The clear definitions are just as clear as they were before.  This is all quite unimportant.  Why am I writing about it then?  Because I want to pinpoint unknowledge and point out how unpowerful it is.  It’s also quite unnecessary.

The unknowledge, which tries to undo knowledge, is a very strange phenomenon.  It is unclear why anybody would actually think that you can unknow something, after finding out an example of when it isn’t true.  It is pretty unfathomable and unimaginable that anybody would ever try to make people unknow something that they already know (like, the difference between life and death) – but it does happen.  People still try.  Why they try, I really do not know.  Well it takes all kinds, doesn’t it.

Let’s say you take a room full of very smart people, and you confuse them.  Does this make them unsmart?  Well of course not.  Let’s say you take a room full of ethical, good people and you show them a film of good people going bad.  Does this make the audience go bad?  No.  Not only does it NOT have this effect, it’s unbelievable that anybody would even try it.  Let’s say you have a bunch of people who care about something.  Can you make them uncare?  That’s definitely unpossible.  Who is wasting their time trying to do this?  Only the terribly unsmart would try it.  The poor things.

All of this effort towards undoing things or erasing definitions is extremely odd.  It’s ineffective.  I wonder why this word is not “uneffective”?  The English language can be quite mysterious.

This blog post does not fit in with my overall theme of “Conversations in Philosophy”.  This comes off more like a rant against unintelligence, so I apologize.  I just had to get this off my chest.  If anybody wants to uncomment, please feel free.  But if not, I understand.

The gift of death

Today I realized that we humans can’t be immortal, since we have reproduction.  Let’s say that we evolved to the point that our organs became self-renewing, and we reached a state of homeostasis (meaning that the inputs equal the outputs, or put another way, that everything in our bodies remains in balance).  Let’s say that our immune systems evolved to the point that we lived for hundreds of years.

This would be a problem.

Since humans have reproductive capability, if we lived for hundreds of years or even “forever” we would quickly over-run this planet.  Our population would increase exponentially (this means that it multiples very rapidly – like rabbits).  We are already reaching for the stars and escaping this planet via space travel.  It’s only a matter of time, they say, before we can travel to other habitable planets – that is living planets on which we could set up colonies.  We are already on our way to doing that.

If we were a reproductive but “immortal” species, we would become like galactic vermin, devouring all planets in our path.  This would not do at all.  This would not be good.

Maybe “original sin” could be interpreted this way – maybe Adam and Eve discovered how to make a new human out of their essence.  Maybe before they did that, we had a heavenly existence where we did not decay or die.  But once we discovered how to reproduce ourselves, all bets were off – we could no longer ethically be immortal beings as well.  We were not allowed to become as pests consuming everything on this planet, and then moving on to the next one.  So we lost our immortal status, as soon as we began reproducing (maybe).

This is based on science, and math.  It’s simple math.  If we have children but we don’t die, there will very quickly be too many of us here on earth.  So – we have a choice.  And we have made that choice, as a species, somewhere along the way (let’s say).

This is what I was thinking about this morning … because we die, we can therefore have kids.  Because we die, we can have succeeding generations who can feasibly improve living conditions on this planet for the time that we are living here.  Because we die, we can find ways to keep our population stable.  Therefore – death is like a gift that we’ve given ourselves, so that we can live out our existence in the way that we are doing now.  If it were not for aging and death, we would have to all be sterile – no kids.  No sex.  And I don’t believe that everybody would want that.

BUT – let’s be careful here.  This is not a treatise on why it’s OK to take a life.  This is not a reason to commit suicide.  No, this is a reason to celebrate aging gracefully, achieving the status of elder, and welcoming our eventual demise as something special, to be revered – a precious transformation.  When I thought about death in this way, suddenly I stopped fearing the aging process.  I realized that aging is also a gift, enabling us to enjoy the younger generations as the precious miracles that they are.  Because we age and die, we can enjoy the miracle of growth and development in those who come after us.  If we did not age or die, then we would not be able to enjoy all of that – and this might be too boring.

I discussed this with a very clever person who posed a lot of questions and issues.  It’s a chicken-or-egg scenario, he says.  He argued that if we did evolve to live hundreds of years or longer, then we would no longer have the instinct to reproduce, so this wouldn’t be a problem anyway.  If we stopped dying, he says, then we would stop trying to reproduce ourselves – so where’s the problem?  I countered that it would be impossible to enforce the “no children” rule, wouldn’t it?  How would we do that?  He argued, what if we did achieve great longevity, if we learned how to prevent our bodies from decaying – and we gave people a choice.  Acquire the knowledge of longevity, fine – but you must at the same time become sterile – no kids.  I argue that we will always have the kind of people who would steal this knowledge and then reproduce themselves, believing themselves to be “special” – wouldn’t we?  Wouldn’t we always have such people among us?

Well, we don’t live much past 100 years anyway (I assume, based on the available evidence – unless we have immortals hiding among us).  And there’s no indication that we will ever do so – it looks like our organs do eventually wear out.  So this is all theoretical only – mere speculation.  But if speculating about this makes us feel better about aging and death, then why not?  Whatever makes you feel good …

By the way, this raises the question of the Elves in Lord of the Rings.  They are immortal, apparently, but they also reproduce – one of the main characters was the daughter of the Elf King, right?  How is this so?  I haven’t read the book, but the movie does not solve this conundrum.  Why don’t the Elves just reproduce then and live forever to the point where there are Elves everywhere?  What about the math?  Do they have a system of dying at some point to keep their numbers down?  What is it – combat?  War?  Does war then serve the purpose of culling the population?  The movie didn’t answer any of those questions.  If there are any Tolkien fans out there, perhaps they could enlighten me on this.  Anybody?  I sure hope nobody out there seriously proposes that war is a good idea to keep the Elf-like population down.  I refuse to accept that war could ever serve any useful purpose.  That would be treading on very dangerous ground indeed.  Good thing we get old and die then.  Good thing.

**IMPORTANT NOTE:  The thesis above should not be taken as indicative of my approval of suicide in any form whatsoever.  I do not believe in taking one’s own life as a solution to any problem, whether “physician assisted” or otherwise.  More importantly, I do not believe that anybody should insist that other people attend their suicide.  I think that would be an awful thing to do.  This is a personal opinion and it has nothing at all to do with the above metaphysical musings.  My general observation above that all human beings die, and that we are also a reproductive species, resulting in symmetry, does not mean that therefore, I believe that taking one’s own life, or taking another person’s life, could ever be a good thing.  These are entirely separate topics and should not be confused.

Conversations on Philosophy

This is the post excerpt.

This blog will be a series of philosophical themes, with the goal of starting a conversation or dialogue.  We will cover death, politics, evolution, and society – along with anything else that comes to mind.  I will take a position on a particular topic – a theory, if you will –  and I will invite readers to weigh in with their thoughts.  The idea here is to make philosophical thought accessible to everyone, even those who have not studied philosophy; in fact, the only educational requirement will be that you speak English.  If I don’t bring home the topic statement in a way that can be understood by everybody, then that’s a failure.  And I don’t aim to fail.  Our first topic, in the next blog post, will be about death.  Because today I had a personal epiphany about it and I would like to share.  We all think about this topic from time to time.  It is an experience shared by all of us.  So it’s a fitting start.

What does “secular spiritual human” mean to me? Why do I use the handle?  Because I tend to use earthly or human tools like mathematics, philosophical thinking, and science, to bring a new understanding to spiritual issues.  It’s a blending of the mundane and the spiritual which makes us human.  At least that’s how I understand it.

I also want to say a word about higher-level philosophical study.  This course carries an honoured place in higher educational institutions around the world.  What philosophy students do is to reach higher and higher levels of thought and analysis.  This is great exercise for the reasoning faculties.  Of course nothing that I write here could possibly replace that.  This is rudimentary level philosophy, presented in a way that can possibly make people think and perhaps even have a discussion together.  That’s the goal.

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