Erratic Thoughts on Daedalus I

Philosophizing is antisocial, perhaps the most perfectly antisocial activity possible, easily beating out murder. Even I will readily admit, however, that man is a social animal. Small wonder, then, that philosophy is most popular among those constitutionally incapable of engaging in it.

Those who philosophize risk alienation, solipsism, exile, poisoning, poverty, passion, horror, ennui, and, perhaps most distressing, knowledge. In fact, philosophers risk more than these. I tend to doubt the credentials of those who show no symptoms of distress, such as those courtly artificers of nonchalance: professional philosophers. (Indeed, the philosopher is not a professional. Professionals are craftsmen — and guildsmen, too.)

Abruptly: what are the consequences for human life if we assume that free will does not exist? Ask this question of the philosophically inclined, and, these days, likely replies are:

  1. There are no meaningful consequences. (Compatibilism)
  2. Human life is meaningless, but that’s easy to forget, so forget about it. (Soft Nihilism)
  3. Human life is utterly devoid of meaning; indeed the most fundamental human experience (consciousness) is an illusion: there is no “human” life. (Hard Nihilism)
  4. Human life is meaningless only if we…. Hey! Isn’t science neat? (Prestidigitational Compatibilism)

Now suppose that free will, in the strong — and only meaningful — sense of ultimate origination does exist. What kind of thinkers are apt to believe the opposite?

Ascendant now among the liberal middlebrow intelligentsia is an unseemly and anti-philosophical worship of science, which has evolved to include odd little cults growing up around certain prominent scientists. Cultist “brights” and self-proclaimed “reality-based” hangers on exhibit a particularly revolting mutation of collectivism. They seem to be trying to construct a scientistic counterculture, apparently in order to serve “progressive” cultural goals by aggressively confronting the dominant cultural alliances. What makes the evolutionary biology fanboys’ machinations so unpleasant is that they’re making the world safer for scientism. Even if they manage to weaken the cultural alliances now leveraged by mystics (itself a good thing), they’ll do it by exchanging one opiate for another.

Philosophers — countercultures of one — fix their sights on something that by its very nature is invisible to most: that-which-is rather than that-which-is-said. Science is, or has become, a public enterprise. Whatever cannot be seen by everyone must not be seen by anyone, insists the scientist. This of course means that the world of science is delimited by and subservient to culture, which circumscribes the common realm of the real. The public character of scientific practice, in other words, necessitates that the object of scientific inquiry is a derivative and domesticated nature, rather than the raw phusis, the Nature, which is the purview of philosophers. This intrinsic shortsightedness of science is obscured by the fact that domesticated nature and unadulterated phusis are largely coextensive. The telltale signs of artifice show through principally at the boundaries of nature-with-a-small-“n”. On the quotidian main, even philosophers live within cultured nature. The breadth of cultured reality pushes Nature to the margins of life, until anyone calling attention to the unseen world beyond culture becomes like a prophet for an unpopular god, stinking to the scientistic nose of locusts and honey.

To the blunted sense of dupe of scientism, philosophers (as I pick them out) are indistinguishable from mystics, because the philosopher and the mystic both claim access to privileged knowledge, to a reality beyond the common one. In reality (though not in the world we live in) philosophers reach the highest peaks of thought, and gain the broadest view. The limits of philosophy are the limits of the intelligible world. And so, if philosophy is brought to heel by science, there will be no perspective available superior to the culturally given. Man will live in a bubble. Philosophy, deprived of the high country, its native soil, will wither and die, to the restrained applause of disintrested, objective, professionally detached self-delusional myopic wankers.

Or philosophy would wither and die, were it possible for it to be brought to heel. Just as the quintessentially scientific mind is constitutionally incapable of directly apprehending Nature, the philosophic mind is constitutionally incapable of giving a damn what the herd’s new idol is whispering. But if this were the end of the story I would be considerably less concerned than I am. There’s something profoundly hateful about the scientistic Weltanschauung. Reeking forth with the blithe and breathless pronouncements of the “reality-based communityTM,” I smell disinfectant and rubbing alcohol, latex and blood, cold sweat and ozone, and stacked bodies burning.

To answer my earlier question: the kind of thinker apt to believe that free will is so insignificant that he’d never notice if his own went missing — is the kind of person incapable of philosophy, yet proud of his intellect and convinced of the efficacy of rational inquiry. If he and his ilk command the heights of culture for too long, I don’t think I would like it very well.

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