To the Single Individual, When you first started me thinking about this project, there were so many different possibilities I could have followed. The writings of Kierkegaard inspired and moved me in ways that I hope no college student ever graduates without, and I wanted to write you something that included them all. As I say this however, I sense a familiar lunacy with which I seem to approach many of my academic endeavors. As I began to plot it out, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, though this did not necessarily stand as a reason for it not to be pursued.
In the midst of it owever, I noticed that all of my potentially inspirational discussions were hinged upon a common contingency, namely, the posture we take when approaching such conversations. I found that you and I could not begin to discuss all that moved me, all that was crucial to your and my existence, without the awareness of our relation to the words being spoken. Naturally, the format of the essay underwent some change, so as to hopefully provide such an opportunity.
The conversation of the present age, while we may pat our backs with pride at the level of diversity and open-mindedness within it, does not eflect that we are aware of (let alone concerned with) the appropriateness of our posture toward the existence in which we all participate, when our relatedness to a given concept is as crucially valuable as the conversation itself. A right relatedness determines our outlook on the rest of life. It determines how we treat ourselves and our fellow man.
Existence, Truth, Knowledge, Love, Faith, etc. , our relationship to these and more is reflected in our lifestyles, and our relationship to them is indicative of what we believe about them and what will become of us. On the surface this ay not seem like such a pressing issue. There may be nothing wrong with our posture toward these things. As anyone could observe however, the habits of lifestyle often grow unnoticed, and it is this assumed habitual living that I am concerned with.
In many ways, our world has become a very innovative and ambitious place. We have come a long way in just over half a millennium when people lived stagnant and unquestioning lives, back before the rumors of progress and modernity had begun to trickle through the civilizations of the world. Where those of the Dark Ages lived in a famine of ignorance, we now swim in eas of information, presumably unimaginable to the people of earlier centuries.
Where life before was an oppressive burden for many, today it is a golden opportunity, and while it is easy to say that these distinctions are qualitative improvements in the history of humanity, the possibility for impropriety has by no means escaped these advancements, and certain habits formed during the augment of modernity are incapacitating to the present age. In this age of golden opportunity, objectivity is the assumed posture of our collective lifestyles.
Figuratively speaking, prior to modernity, an was an object of life’s oppressions; conversely, in the present age, life has been reduced to the object while man risen as its authority. We did not breathe life into ourselves yet we act as if we did, treating our existence as if we were self-made beings. These statements may seem melodramatic, taken from the beer-coated breath of a downtown tinker. Nevertheless, this is the posture we have shown in our activities.
This posture of objectivism-or to be expressed by its negative, reductionism-is primarily a development of the modern era. Rather than ccept established mores and beliefs, individuals began to question the status quo and found that through empirical efforts they were able to clarify what had only commonly been accepted as truth. The principles of reductionism were key to what has come out of this era of modernity, and is largely responsible for what we now refer to as the scientific method. [? Reductionism can basically be understood as a method of breaking things down into smaller, more comprehendible constituents for the purpose of understanding better, the larger picture from whence they came.
Essayist Wendell Berry says, Reductionism… has uses that are appropriate, and it also can be used inappropriately. It is appropriately used as a way (one way) of understanding what is empirically known or empirically knowable. When it becomes merely an intellectual “position” confronting what is not empirically known or knowable, then if becomes absurd, and also grossly desensitizing and false… s an article of belief, it causes trouble. [? ]
Though this method of understanding has rendered considerable advancements not limited to the field of science, it has also at the same time acilitated a particular disposition of being above or outside our own humanity, (relatable to the Socratic disposition found in Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments, to be explained later). In this present age, the assumed postures of differing spheres of understanding have become too inflated to legitimately participate in any real transcendent conversation.
Dr. Edward Wilson, considered one of the greatest scientists and visionaries of the 20th century, in 1998, wrote Homo sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection, the force that made us. There is no genetic destiny outside our fee will, no lodestar provided by which we can set course. Evolution, including genetic progress in human nature and human capacity, will be from now on increasingly the domain of science and technology tempered by ethics and political choice.
We have reached this point down a long road of travail and self-deception. Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become. [? ] Here Wilson contends, rather candidly, that mankind possesses the power to take hold of the future as something wielded rather than experienced. He suggests that today we are “exempt from the iron laws of ecology” and that a new species is emerging. Where we were once called Homo sapiens-or “wise man”-he proposes we be called Homo proteus-or “shapechanger man. ”
Says Wilson, The legacy of the Enlightenment is the belief that entirely on our own we can know, and in knowing, understand, and in understanding choose wisely… we now better understand where humanity came from, and what it is. Homo sapiens, like the rest of life, was self- assembled… Human autonomy have thus been recognized, we should now eel more disposed to reflect on where we wish to go. [? ] Whether or not Wilson is being completely literal in his rhetoric, his basic claim that mankind has risen above that which made him possible is ridiculous.
Moreover, this notion that we are “self-made” beings, is not even supported by the accepted theories of Originality. Unless one believes that humanity has no origin at all, mankind was the result of something. If one were to go the route of Special Creation, life is the result of Divine intervention; with Extraterrestrial Origin, meteors or osmic dust from another planet or star with life already on it, infected our planet resulting in life; with Spontaneous Origin it was changing molecules uniting with time and chance which initiated the evolutionary process.
In each incident there is a contingency that man has no power over, in the same way a machine with never have the capacity of its maker, mankind cannot rise above the Divine; he cannot rise above whatever force caused life on the distant star; and in the case of Spontaneous Origin, although we may possess the power to manipulate molecules, he has not, to his day, displayed power over time and chance. This exposition on the sphere of science has been large, but is so due to the authority modernity invests into it.
Galileo was considered a natural philosopher until the word science was literally invented due to the definitive interests of Galileo and others like him. It has become a measure for the modern world, the most trusted way to discover the truth about our existence. Where prior to modernity, religion was the vehicle in which people percieved truth, in the present age, it is Science which holds that authority. Furthermore, there may be some quibble as to whether all this talk of modernity is really relevant being that we are supposedly in a post-modern society.
To that I would say that while we may have some presentiments of post-modernity, I believe that before we can consider ourselves living in a post-modern world, Science will have to undergo some kind of change in the public eye-perhaps as religion did in the Middle Ages-because of its integral participation in the shift to modernity; something must happen to its authority over our society. Related to the sphere of Science, Psychology has also been an nfluential trend throughout the rise of modernity.
While I am largely unaware of the specific activity of experimental psychology, it is more so the pedestrian manifestations of it that I wish to criticize for their ‘humanitarian'[? ] reduction of mind and behavior. The persona of psychologist presented in the public sphere is one of a behavioral guru, one in possession of the keys to the mysteries of the human mind, providing a name and explanation for every case he or she come across.
Granted the public has been known to exaggerate from time to time, but nevertheless, ith an increasing TV-educated public, this exaggeration does not stand to be realized as such, and the chance for a right relatedness towards the mysteries of human nature is once again waned. Unfortunately there is little difference in its literary representation. Bookstores now devote entire sections to Self-help; books with kamikazmic equations guaranteed to find the right partner in ten days, to providing a blueprint for sorrow-free lives, and to tell you how to be the person you never were but always wanted to be.
These claims and the doctors who write them, like Wilson are unabashedly declaring their osition outside of the ‘traditional’ human experience. Like Wilson, their language treats humanity as if they too were once human as well. “People, after all, are just extremely complicated machines,” says Wilson, “why shouldn’t their behavior and social institutions conform to certain still- undefined natural laws? “[? ] Sacred professions, conform to this posture as well.
Usually not far from the self-help book is a shelf entitled ‘Inspirational,’ in which religious authors objectify with spiritual clout what life is all about. A recent and extremely popular publication makes this statement in its pening paragraph, “By the end of this journey you will know God’s purpose for you life and will understand the big picture-how all the pieces of your life fit together. “[Italic added][?
As far as I know, not even Jesus himself told his disciples they would understand how all the pieces of their life would fit together, yet 2000 years later, a pastor from California lays claim to that information and presents it in a for-all- ages, 334 page, #1 New York Times Best Seller. This rich and promising language, whether religious or secular, literal or figurative, nfortunately only cheapens conversations to come. Then again, perhaps it is just a marketing technique.
Which brings us to another sphere of perspective: Economics. Similar to the word science, economy (or for our purposes, expressed more accurately as Economics), gained its importance with the modern era. Economics: the study dedicated to the movement of money throughout the world. The reduction lies within Economics’ tendency to step outside its appropriate sphere of proficiency, translating too much of life in terms of market value; that because all things have value at one time or another, ll things, naturally, have a price.
What is unfortunate, is that while the public may be aware of such deviances (every child who has learned how to purchase something has also been told that money can’t buy happiness), there is too often a blind eye turned to these fabrications. To echo again Mr. Berry, Economics ‘has uses that are appropriate, and it also can be used inappropriately… as an article of belief, it causes trouble. ‘[? ] In a subsection under Economics, it is also wise to note the inflated claims of its biggest fan: Marketing: satisfaction through beefy cars, ouncy hair, and bigger boobs.
Whether or not if accosted, marketers would admit to the reality of their ads (lest we forget the indictment of Big Tobacco), one is hard pressed to deny the outrageous (yet publicly inoffensive) declarations made by Marketing in this present age. Here, reductionism is manifested in the suggested containment (amputation) of contentment within something as tangible as a Hemi. It is an absurdity of paradoxical proportions that man would find capacious contentment in an object he created. What is more absurd though, is the people who buy them expecting this very thing.