Monday, April 18, 2011

Separation, Adaptation

The foundation of all principled activity seems to be a separation of the authentically human from nature. That sounds odd in an era the thought of which rests on the opposite notion, namely that the human not only arises from but is nature and that, strictly speaking, no qualitative differences (better, higher) mark the human. Today’s dominant thought, however, also has a system of valuation. It values adaptation. Pragmatism is its philosophical expression: whatever works. In the absence of separation from nature, everything must be relative to something else. Not surprisingly the highest revelation of our age is the Theory of Relativity.

The “separation” that makes for principles is based on the notion of a hierarchical origin of all that there is: God, the universe, and so on. Here values, indeed absolute values, are implicit in what today we call “the narrative” itself. The modern view, violating strict consistency, also has its equivalent “higher” order, now called The Market, now Democracy. But in essence, there are these two: Separate, absolute, principled—over against monistic, relative, adaptive.

The problems in modern life arise because we refuse to apply modern ideas consistently, as already noted. When some group is stronger than ours and holds views we dislike, it is inconsistent to speak of bad will, evil, corruption, and so on. There are no absolutes by which to arrive at such negative judgments of others. It is as inconsistent to accuse other humans as it is to read malevolence into tsunamis and tornadoes. But modern man wants it both ways. It wants untrammeled freedom to choose its ideology pragmatically: principled when it is hurting, adaptive when it has the hammer hand. But this is heresy, of course. If we can’t walk the talk, sooner or later a principled era will come back and take over.

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