“Kant” Revisited: Mental Illness in the Modern World

Did I already post this one?

Anyways, I’m attempting to locate all of my old Life With Kant scripts and then post them here. So I might’ve already posted this one.

If you’ve never read this one before, keep in mind that I don’t edit or spellcheck. So please forgive any errors.

If you have read it before, read it again.

Enjoy!

branches&creatures

How much has the human mind changed since we have officially evolved into “homo sapien SAPIENS”, because, apparently there’s a slight distinction between “homo sapiens” and “homo sapien SAPIENS”. If you’ve listened to this podcast before, you’ve heard me ask this question. And from what I gather, apparently it hasn’t really changed at all.

Yeah, like it or not, we’re still that same primate that was simply roaming the land thousands of years ago. We haven’t changed, only the bullshit that we’ve surrounded ourselves with has changed. Thankfully, our forefathers conquered all the beasts and tailored the earth to fit our needs. So I think that this has given us the illusion that we are more evolved or have things more figured out than our ancestors. And maybe we do, we certainly have a better understanding of the universe that we occupy. We can definitely achieve many more things than they ever could. But…what does it matter? I mean, we’re still going to die in the end. Or at least, you probably will. I’m going to live forever.
But I think that there’s this mistake that we all believe, that says, the most optimal time to live is right now. And as the future rolls on, then THAT will be the most optimal time to live. I think I might have also beaten this horse to death as well. But in our modern time, we have exchanged pure survival and minimal existence for material gain and information. Additionally, because we are very social creatures, the increasing population and constant awareness of others have greatly altered what it means to be a human. Does this make sense? So if you’re living in First World Society, there’s a whole NEW set of problems that the mind has to deal with, and isn’t accustomed to dealing with because the human mind and body are adapted for survival, and our social habits are a tool. Now we have to learn to survive in a highly sociable world.

The belief that we have evolved out of animal status, or our methods of living today are superior to those of our ancestors, is an arrogance of modernity. To an extent, we are just trading one set of problems out for another. As much as I hate it, I think to a large degree, the human mind is made to suffer. Instead of having to worry about animals and competing tribes out to kill us, we have exchanged those problems out for more Nietzchian-like struggles. Like how to we bring meaning to what seems to be a meaningless life? So, which problems would you rather face? Immediate survival with your fellow hunter-gatherers, or figuring out your purpose in a world that encapsulates you with its meaningless laws, morals, mythologies?…Probably the latter, I would too.
However, these new sets of problems have created a new set of illnesses. Or at least it has brought awareness to a new set of illnesses. But it’s interesting to consider what causes what…if I’m making sense.

The work I’ll be relying on for this episode is “All We Have to Fear: Psychiatry’s Transformation of Natural Anxieties into Mental Disorders” by Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield. And they start of by saying, quote: “Fears, worries, and apprehensions are painful and ubiquitous aspects of human existence, whether they are common or idiosyncratic, specific, or diffuse, rational or irrational.” End quote. And it is. I think that everyone has suffered from it as some point in their lives. Love it or hate it, it’s a very effective tool that evolution has bestowed upon us. Without fear, who knows where we’d be?….

But Horwitz and Wakefield point out, that in the 1980 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Health Disoriders, it stated that only 2 to 4% of people would classify as having an anxiety disorder. Now that number reaches to 1 in 5 persons. And to the authors, this calls for an explanation.

Now us philosophically-inclined folk like to think of anxiety as feelings we get when we try to contemplate life’s meaning. Which, to be honest, I don’t really get anxious. Angstful…hell yeah! But let’s sideline that thought for awhile. When most people get anxious, at least in our comfortable first-world existence, it’s over small things like…I don’t know, being late to a meeting or failing to meet deadlines. However, having those small concerns in-themselves, are not enough to meet the criteria of having a mental illness. Unless, of course, these sorts of concerns come to dominate your life. In that case, these feelings can cross the threshold into a disordered anxiety.

Of course, fear itself is not an unreasonable thing. As I said before, fear is in fact, a very useful thing. However, in our modern sterile world, where a lot of these fears have become irrational, the human mind can sometimes find itself out of place, as it tries to grapple with mundane realities using cognative tools that evolution granted us. This can often lead to disproportionate reactions to problems that the individual has no control over. Then fear and anxiety themselves become things to avoid, even if they are natural reactions from the body. Thus new anxieties are developed out of these incontrollable fears.

But we come to define these anxieties in not only biological or neurological terms, but we also look at them through social terms. Which is why the severity of these disorders vary from person to person. Therefore, to the authors, questions arise, like how can we distinguish between normal and abnormal amount of anxiety, should the fears instilled in us through evolution (but seem out of place to us now) be considered a disorder, and what role does psychiatric evaluation have in making this distinction, in addition to the role of medication, among many others.

But the authors contend that by simply looking at the brain, you cannot adequately recognize any mental health problems. Or as they say, quote: “Looking at the intensity of amygdala activity is not a way to “see disorder” in the brain.” End quote. Only in extreme cases, where physical trauma has been enacted on the brain, you won’t be able to determine any abnormalities. Just because someone’s brain waves are exhibiting anxiety or any other forms of natural stress, doesn’t mean that there’s a disorder in place.
Another popular theory is that undesirable responses to stimuli can be a learned trait. For example, when you see someone else respond with fear to something, you echo that response. And some believe that mental illnesses can be considered a social construct. But either way, Wakefield and Horwitz don’t necessarily reject these positions, but they downplay the significance they might have had in the rise of mental health diagnosis’. Instead the authors support a more evolutionary focus on anxiety. They say, quote: “A disorder indicates that something is wrong with some (possibly inferred and as yet unknown) internal mechanism that is biologically designed to do something but is failing to do it-or is designed NOT to do something that it is doing, as in panic attacks when no threat is present.” End quote.

So as I said earlier, fear, panic, anxiety…those are all natural things. And occasionally…very useful things. It’s only when those functions start firing off at the wrong times, or even if they fail to fire off at the RIGHT times, can that be considered a problem…and therefore a disorder. These mechanisms are designed to respond to the world in a particular way. But perhaps the real problem isn’t the brain, it’s that the environment around it has changed, and so our brains are responding to a world that it’s ill-adapted towards.

This is where Wakefield and Horwitz introduce the idea of the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation, or EEA. Which, to me, sounds similar to Hobbes’s State of Nature. I don’t know if the author’s agree, but that’s what I’m rolling with. And in this environment, is where humans developed their emotional responses, and a number of other adaptations. And this environment was distinctly different from the one we live in today. I’ve discussed before how much of human history really isn’t history at all. It’s just people wondering around as hunter-gatherers. And our psychology evolved to fit those needs. It’s only been within the last few thousand years, where we haven’t had to fight predators and hunt our food. If we brought a newborn baby from 50,000 years ago, raised it in modern times, that person would function normally. Same thing, vice-versa. We haven’t changed, the world has changed, and our psychology might be struggling to adapt.

How many problems are out there, that aren’t really problems? Am I making sense? You have a report that’s due tomorrow…well what would happen if you don’t turn it in? Are you going to die? You think back to those people 50,000 years ago, and I’m sure that there are millions of people living like this today, but their problems had to do with REAL survival. So those stress mechanisms that fire off in us today, were quite valuable to those ancient peoples. It’s what kept them alive. Unluckily for us, those stress mechanisms didn’t evolve away. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the same stressor that kept the ancient peoples alive, start firing off for a much lesser problem. So society, unintentionally for the most part, manipulates those adaptations. That’s why college students stress the fuck out for completely useless reasons, or why I stress out over this podcast. None of it matters, but because society or high demands on oneself dictate that these first-world problems are akin to survival, people will either react in proportionally to the problem, OR truly believe that this means survival. So this modern world is a cruel machine…

Struggle is a normal, and to a large extend, healthy function of life. And as a sports fan, there are all kinds of quotes from athletes and coaches that explain this, but the one I am reminded of (and is perhaps the most applicable) is the one from Michael Vick (I believe, when he is addressing a group of inmates), where he says: “If you don’t struggle, you can’t make changes”. And you know what…I don’t even if he said that, or if anyone said that…but neither here nor there…the point is that struggling is part of the human experience. Ideally, we all want life to be sunshine and roses, but it doesn’t work that way. There’s almost a movement towards Aldous Huxley’s world, where once when we start to feel bad things, we can just pop a soma, and all of our bad thoughts go away…to move into a sterile world….
…but…not to sound too much like Captain Kirk in Star Trek V…but I need my pain. I need my personal struggles. Because that’s what shapes who I am. And who the hell knows where I’d be without it….probably a lot happier. That’s for damn sure.

Going Off The Rails On A Crazy Train

My new favorite show is Maria Bamford’s Lady Dynamite. I find endless humor in it’s obscene and violent tonal shifts.

Of course, it’s also a humorous exploration of life with mental illness. It’s frustrating for those that have to live with people like Bamford and myself….not knowing when or why we’ll inevitably lose our cool…why relationships abruptly end…why even the smallest things can send us over the edge. While Lady Dynamite is over-the-top, I do find it one of the better explorations of this topic.

Indeed, the show’s extreme shifts and straight-up madness provide an interesting glimpse into how someone suffering from bipolar disorder experiences the world.

I commend Netflix for producing content that explores mental health and addiction. In addition to Lady Dynamite…Flaked, Grace and Frankie, and even BoJack Horseman touch on this in varying degrees (those are just the shows I watch). Even a running theme in Star Trek Discovery is how PTSD is effecting various crew members.

Mental health awareness is now (thankfully) a part of public discussion. There’s still a long way to go, but at least there’s some acknowledgement. But this still leaves many questions (in my mind, at least), namely “what in the hell is bringing about the prevalence of these mental illnesses, and have they been there the whole time and we are just now acknowledging it?”

Now as you know, I talk about this shit all of the time. It’s my favorite subject, actually.

But the common conception (real or imagined) is that were are increasingly finding people that are unable to handle their shit. The modern world has become too stressful for the human mind and people are finding refuge in both prescription and illegal drugs along with other substances. This is evidenced by the opioid crisis, tiny houses, “social justice warriors”, and pretty much all of the problems associated with millennials….people today simply cannot handle the realities of the real world.

Older generations complain that this is the result of declining parental discipline, lowering of standards, and an overall decrease in “good-old fashioned values”. Others claim that we are only shedding light on problems that have always been there, society has just now progressed to the point where we can talk about them.

But common sense would lead us to one of either two conclusions: “mental illnesses” have always been with humanity, and we have simply gotten better at diagnosing them. OR, society has been progressing at such a rate that human psychology has been unable to adapt, thus leading to an increase in psychological problems. Just a few thousand years ago, we were hunter-gatherers wondering around in our “natural evolutionary condition” or “state of nature”, and now we’re living in highly structured societies with careers, full-time jobs, and mortgages that’s all enforced by a technological-bureaucratic complex. We’re rarely outside and probably don’t get the exercise we need. Most of our world is lit up by artificial light and we eat processed crap. What does that do to the human mind?

Surely the violent shifts in development over the last 6,000-10,000 years have had an impact on human psychology. Keep in mind that humans have been around for over a 100,000 years.

While I’m inclined to side with a “Rousseau-ian”, skeptical perspective regarding the so-called “progress of mankind”…I mean, we may be living longer, but are we really better off today than our ancient ancestors? (To which my response is “not necessarily”(it’s a massive trade-off))…the reason behind the rise in mental health problems is not so black and white.

Taking the lead from Yuval Noah Harari’s work Sapiens (one of my favorite books), I don’t think it’s fair to judge pre-historical humans with the same standards we judge modern people. I DID say that we have every right to judge Aristotle’s views on women, as philosophers before him seemingly took far more progressive perspectives than he did (which is why we’re able to pass similar condemnation on Hitler, Genghis Khan, and other perpetuators of atrocities). But as for the pre-historics, their actions simply were. While those actions most certainly contained what we call today atrocities and other appalling behavior…their models of morality were either non-existent or varied so completely from ours as to be deemed unrecognizable. Or to paraphrase Harari, they were simply being human.

It’s only through our modern eyes do we apply any sort of “moral worth” on their actions….constrictions that simply didn’t exist in those times. How we have come to evaluate “mental health” works the same way.

Depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, and even autism are likely not recent developments in the human psyche. These patterns of behavior have probably been with human beings since the beginning. I don’t know if we can say with any degree of certainty, but it’s possible that early societies might not have identified these behaviors as being out of the ordinary. I mean, some forms of psychosis might’ve been deemed “demonic possession”…but other behaviors, like the sociopathic-kind, might’ve been rewarded (like it is for some today)! Of course, this is all speculation, but it’s not beyond reason to suggest that what we’d call a “mental illness” today was just deemed a person’s behavior in ancient and pre-historic times.

Even the person experiencing the “disorder” might not have seen their condition as an ostracizing illness.

It’s only through modern analysis and “clustering” do these behaviors become deemed “abnormal” and a disorder when experienced in excessive amounts. It’s not so much that the person with the so-called illness NATURALLY feels out of place in current society…it’s that society deems their behaviors as abnormal, thus contributing to their sense of isolation and exasperating their condition.

Perhaps the next step in “mental health awareness” isn’t to see it as an “illness” or “disability”. Yet because we have done so, as corroborated by doctors and scientists, we have a generation of people who seemingly can’t handle their shit because everyone thinks they’re crazy.

Dirty 30: A Chance to Do Things Different

If you’ve been missing my daily posts (which you haven’t), then my apologies. I needed a break.

I’ve been writing a breakneck pace for a little over a year. Once when the dog days of summer hit, I had nothing left in the tank.

It’s been refreshing actually. For awhile, not a day went by where I had to worry about what I was going to write. I had to see philosophy in everything. Do you know what a pain in the ass that is?

So I’ve been letting my mind just…wonder. About anything, really. Philosophy has no longer become a burden; or a chore that required me to stretch the limits of my intellect.

Honestly, I don’t even know how I became interested in it to begin with. A year and a half ago, I couldn’t tell you shit about Kant’s Transcendental Idealism or Marxist Dialectical Materialism, or Hobbes’ state of nature….nothing. Mind you, I still know nothing, but somehow I know a lot more than I did. And no one told me to learn any of it. It just sort of happened.

And now I’m burned out.

But I spent a ridiculous amount of time just thinking about how to live rather than just LIVING. So much energy was dedicated to learning about being a human that I completely forgot that I was a human! And I’ve said more than once: “forget about the pursuit of happiness, and just be happy!”

Seems simple enough, yet I never followed that advice. I was searching for happiness within my writing…within the words of philosophers of old. I learned a lot. Yet I still came up empty.

What could have caused such a void to begin with? And why was there such an urgency with my writing?

I have avoided answering those questions. But the truth is a familiar one: I was dreading turning 30.

Now I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about my upcoming 30th birthday. It’s all horseshit and no one cares anyway. It happens to everyone that lives for thirty years or more. Yet here I am.

And it’s horseshit because it’s meaningless. In theory, at least. We give so much weight to youth that we forget that it’s all a lie. Just admit it to yourself….being 20 sucked. You were poor, you couldn’t get laid, and you were probably an asshole (at least I was). Not that this experience is universal, but for the vast majority of us, being in our teens and twenties was not a pleasant experience…that is if you’re honest with yourself.

Were there some perks? Of course. I can’t think of any because I’m much more athletic, better looking, wealthier, smarter, and I get laid regularly (because I’m married). But for one reason or another, many people feel that those were the best years of their lives.

And it’s killing them.

Even if it were true, why continue to believe that your best days are behind you? Seems like that would be a pretty shitty way to live your life. I believe that it was the great Charles Bukowski (who didn’t find success in life in his late forties) that said “I’m only getting better.” Where he said that, I don’t know. And he might not have even said that, but it doesn’t matter….it was true of him and that’s the right attitude we should adopt.

Yet, the older we get, there becomes a greater sense of loss. But loss of what? Of youth?

So what?

But our youth becomes the measuring stick for how we live the rest our lives. We live within the shadow of our former selves. Obviously this is a (mostly nonsensical) problem.

If you’ve been following this blog at all, then you’ve probably come across the term static identity. Or where we conceive ourselves as being the same person until our deaths. We don’t think of ourselves as changing beings. Therefore, the older we get, we feel ourselves moving farther away from our “prime”…where we physically deteriorate, become set in our ways, and our personalities and general outlook become unmovable. Rather than seeing the self as water within a stream, it becomes more like stale bread that grows harder with each passing year.

This is why there’s a sense of loss the older we get. We don’t feel fresh. We’re less malleable. We’re no longer easily impressed upon. We are no longer in our “prime”.

I find it a mistake to keep living our lives the same way we’ve always lived it. People live in the same towns. Have the same friends. Read the same books. Watch the same shows. And give absolutely no thought to living in any other way.

Perhaps it’s out of fear. Fear of how others might think if we suddenly changed. Or perhaps it’s just laziness. The way that we have lived works for us, and can’t envision any other way.

I don’t know.

One of my biggest fears is doing the same shit I was doing when I was 20. Or attempting to recapture the “glory days”. I remember being 20. There were no glory days. There’s nothing to “recapture”.

I don’t know how many days I have in front of me, but I know how many are behind me. And I don’t want those days to be my best. I’d rather keep searching for better.

I took a break from writing because I needed a new voice. For the time being, I feel that I have taken the typical “academic” approach to philosophy as far as I can take it. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said by better philosophers.

In other words, I can’t keep writing about the same things I have always written about. It’s time to move on.

Don’t get me wrong though….I still plan on discussing philosophy. I mean, shit, this is a philosophy blog after all.

But I can’t be confined to what OTHER philosophers and thinkers said. This isn’t fucking college. I can write about whatever I want. But I need to view the world in a different light. No one gives a shit if certain views don’t conform to my “neo-Kantian” perspective. That’s old news.

I don’t fear turning 30. I no longer see it as a “loss of being in my 20s”. Fuck that. But it’s a chance to turn into something different. 

A New Theology: Part II- God is Reborn

We see the world, and ourselves, through the same eyes. I am today what I was yesterday. Not much really changes. Perhaps there’s violent shifts of the external world from time to time, but reality appears the same. Just a sea of slowly changing concrete objects.

Of course, we can’t escape our physical selves. The body granted to us is our entire being. And with this sense of being, the world attaches to us various traits: name, social security number, sex, and a number of other qualities. And we also ACTIVELY attach material objects to our sense being. We are the things we own. If someone steals from us, they are stealing from ME.

All of these qualities turn the identity into an unmovable stone. The self lays there, occasionally playing its part, and on and on this existence continues. It fails to see itself as a speckle of water flowing through space and time, falsely believing that it is only capable of the finitude placed onto it by external pressures. This goes on until death, never realizing the potential of what it could have blossomed towards.

This lack of freedom strikes the core of our intellect. We even ascribe to God finite qualities…that this Being is limited by Its own ethics, limitations that only IT can place onto Itself. If God isn’t free, mankind isn’t free.

Unfortunately, we separate God and man. Thousands of years of ancient texts tell us that we are lower than the gods. They created us, but are in no way a part of us. Some even go so far as to tell us we PERVERTED creation. That Mankind created its disunity with God. And these texts, even with their faults, are correct in this regard. Mankind has, in fact, created its disunity with God.

But a distinction is unnecessary.

When we ponder consciousness, especially high-functioning consciousness like ours, we certainly know one thing….that we have it. We are aware of the universe in what might be uncommon ways. Yet, we are a PART of the universe. We are, as Carl Sagan infamously said, made of “star stuff”. And we are aware of this fact. Encased within us, is the consciousness of the universe.

Out of raw (supposedly unconscious) physics…arose consciousness. Out of the Earth, Mankind was born. We don’t exist independent of the universe, we ARE the universe. God is us, and We are God.

But, “God is dead”, as Nietzsche said. Man killed Him and placed himself on top. But Nietzsche was slightly mistaken. Through Man’s rising to conquer the Earth, he killed a part of himself. The construction of the concrete self, and disunity with Nature, killed the most sacred part of humanity. But returning to, for a lack of a better description, a state of nature…we may say that God is no longer dead, He is Reborn.

We don’t have to rely on ancient texts to provide revelation. Its through our consciousness, that we have direct contact with revelation. Whatever power the Prophets had, we share the same powers.  So we don’t have to consult with these texts. The words we possess have the power to convey sacred messages.

This isn’t to say that we have contact with any supernatural power. These realms are only works of fiction. It isn’t the specific events within these fictions that are important, it’s the eternal messages that they present. More often than not, these stories and myths can get in the way of true understanding. If such myths only promote fear, superstitious belief, or dogmatic allegiance, then (to quote another great philosopher, David Hume) “commit them to the flames.”

These beliefs don’t relieve us from the burdens of this world, they only serve to further our denial. They deny our place in the universe, our TRUE abilities, and the connection with our fellow beings. They only suppress our ability to engage in logic and reasoning.

The universe granted us, as we exist today, with insight into ourselves and the world. The mind isn’t, however, perfect. And there is much we need to do in order to reconnect with this stream of (or acceptance within) spacetime….

(And I need to figure out where the hell I’m going with all of this)

My Life With Kant: Moses Mendelssohn

Welcome to the Best of MY LIFE WITH KANT.

Hopefully this will hold you over for few days while I am out of town. Please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors. Enjoy!

My Life With Kant: Moses Mendelssohn

When it comes to the Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau’s work remains the best example, however others before him were also developing this idea. Thomas Hobbes’s the Leviathan was a hugely influential work that inspired many political thinkers in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

One of the central ideas in the Leviathan is Hobbes’s notion of the State of Nature that early man found himself in. In this state, everyone can be considered equal because no one has the authority to exert power over other individuals. Even perhaps the strongest individuals can be defeated in some way without any enforced repercussions because there are no laws that protect anyone. Man’s primary desire is to fulfill his self-interest with the only deterrent being the fear of a horrific death. According to Hobbes, in order to avoid a world of persistent war and suffering, man must forgo some of his liberties and form a contract that would allow a government to protect the rights of individuals and prevent others from trampling on those rights.

However, Jock Locke didn’t take such a bleak view of the state of nature. Unlike Hobbes though, Locke believed that in the state of nature that man is capable of enacting a natural law, like bringing about justice, because anyone and everyone has the authority, or a lack of constraint, to do so. But because things in a state of nature can’t be guaranteed, like safety and protection of private property, humans should therefore engage in a civil state. Locke also argues that any state that is not enacted through the consent of the governed is therefore not legitimate, and the people are allowed to overthrow it. It’s from here, and for his advocacy of the separation of powers, that it’s easy to see how Locke was influential on the American Founding Fathers.

But, regarding the separation of powers, none were more influential on the Founding Fathers as Montesquieu, who actually separated the powers into executive, legislative, and judicial.

At any rate, when it comes to the state of nature, it seems that Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau seemed to believe that humans are not naturally political beings, and therefore must use their reasoning to form governing bodies. I have stated before that that is not the case and that even before there was something called the modern state that humans lived in tribal societies, which was likely a carry-over from their ancestors. So humans and hominids were living in these conditions for thousands, if not millions of years before the modern state. Even though tribal societies were primitive bodies, they were still governing entities and it would certainly seem to suggest that humans are innately political, rather than solitary beings that are only out serving their own individual interests. Even though there certainly are individuals that do that sort of thing, they are the exception to the rule, and therefore regarded as criminal, and is certainly not indicative of what all humans were like before modern society. It was because of these primal governing bodies that allowed politics to evolve to the state that it’s in today.

However, that is only knowledge that we have access to today, and political theorist living during the 17th and 18th centuries can’t be blamed for their beliefs. The important thing to keep in mind here is that the ideas presented by Hobbes, Locke, Montesque, and Rousseau would play an important role in the French and American Revolutions later down the road. But that’s a story for another day.

The social contract theory was an important idea that helped bring about a new era of rights for all individuals. Or at least, almost every individual. When these thinkers were dreaming up the social contract theory, they were more than likely speaking to European, or white, readers. Not everyone was so lucky.

Slavery was still rampant in the European world. Despite this, a few African thinkers still managed to gain a foothold in the intellectual community, most notably Anton Wilhelm Amo. He was more than likely sent to Europe as a slave in the early 1700’s, but he would later manage to attend the University of Halle and earn a doctorate at the University of Wittenberg. It appears that he found himself on the empiricists side of the empiricist vs. rationalist debate, and would later become a professor at Halle, and later Jena, but as to be expected from the time, he received a great deal of criticism. Likely due to the attitudes that others took to him during his employment as a professor, he returned to Ghana, his country of origin, where he lived out the rest of his life. Amo’s work would never receive the attention it probably deserved during his time, and was largely ignored as philosophy developed across Europe during the 18th century.

I bring this up because it’s an interesting piece of history that helps tell what life and thought was like during that era. When we think of the Enlightenment, we tend to romanticize that time and those thinkers without really bringing to mind some of the darker aspects that existed. Whole groups of people were marginalized across the world. Even though science and philosophy were supposedly freeing the mind from the grasp of the church and monarchy, these ideas were only applicable, in the minds of the Europeans, to the white man who was the most civilized being on the planet.

Even though I study their ideas, I don’t want to glorify the people that came up with them. In our modern eyes, these were not people worth glorifying despite the impact that they made on modern philosophy. I don’t want to be perceived as exalting a bunch of dead white guys. I want to divorce these ideas from the men that came up with them.

Even though slavery ran wild during this time, it’s easy to forget that there was another group of people that were ostracized from the mainstream. Anti-semetism was also rampant throughout Europe prior to the events leading up to World War II. One such Jewish thinker that lived during this time was Moses Mendelssohn. He won a prize from the Berlin Academy in 1763, beating out none other than Immanuel Kant, for his essay titled “On Evidence in Metaphysical Sciences“.

This essay lays out Mendelssohn’s metaphysical framework, where he argues, at least according to the Stanford Encyclopedia, that metaphysics works the same way as mathematics in that they both utilize conceptual analysis. There are, of course, many layers to his arguments, but ultimately God has to exist in order to prove that the world outside of the mind actually exists. In his other works, he would even go on to sort of paraphrase Descartes by saying that “I am, therefore God exists.” But he would also further cite his proof for God’s existence by arguing that something that does not exist cannot be thought of. However, it should be said that existence is not necessary for something to be conceptualized. But because of our finite knowledge of ourselves and this world, things outside of our knowledge must be thought of, if they are to exist. Therefore, there has to be something that Mendelssohn calls an “infinite intellect” where all things are known. From this, we can surmise that God exists.

Most of his explanations of God’s existence is described in the work called “Morning Hours”, which were lectures that he gave to his son. This was published later in his career while he was engaged in a controversy with Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, who called out the writer Gotthold Lessing for his Spinozist views. Baruch Spinoza was a philosopher of the 17th Century, who was also of Jewish ancestry. His most famous, and most controversial, idea is that all substance in the universe is made up of God. God is the only substance in the universe, and modes are the customization of that singular substance.

From this, it’s easy to see how many would equate Spinozism with pantheism, which during the time of Mendelssohn, being accused of holding these views would have severe consequences. Spinoza himself received backlash for writing these works during his time. But in the 18th Century, Jacobi was concerned with the Enlightenment’s descent into what he saw as atheism, and Lessing’s work was just another example of that happening. Mendelssohn was a friend of Lessing, and could not stand by while Jacobi accused him of such things after Lessing’s death.

The debate between Mendelssohn and Jacobi, which was a huge controversy at the time, would come at a huge cost to both thinkers, and would end up effecting the perception of Spinoza’s philosophy as well. But Mendelssohn should be best remembered for his attempts to find acceptance of Jewish culture within German society. After he wrote his prize winning essay, Frederick the Great, who we discussed earlier, extended to him the same rights that all other German citizens possessed, however it was extended only to him and not to other members of his family. This, coming from Frederick the Great, who was supposedly a king that was ahead of his time. This just goes to show how far Jewish culture had to go to find acceptance in Europe.

Mendelssohn would take on the act of excommunication within Judaism, and establish that religion has no such authority to commit such an act, unlike the state which, in part due to the social contract, has the authority to use physical power. He would state, in his work titled “Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism”, that religion’s primary power should be that of, quote “love and beneficence”. He would also suggest in this work that the truths revealed in Judaism could be concluded through independent means and is therefore compatible with natural reason.

Mendelssohn also translated the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible, into German, which was an attempt to help the Jewish population, whose primary language at the time was Yiddish, to learn the German language. He also furthered his reputation with his work Phadon which was well-received in his time.

With all of these works, Moses Mendelssohn spearheaded the Haskalah, or the Jewish Enlightenment which would help establish an identity among the Jewish populations within Europe. As the 19th Century developed, several Jewish political movements arose, which would eventually lead, through much turmoil, the creation of the independent Jewish state of Israel in the 20th Century. Another subject that we will most likely revisit.

The Static Identity: The Root of all Evil

A chained man no more.

Have you ever been in this situation? Knowing that you must do a thing, but your body and mind just couldn’t let you do it?

I faced this scenario this morning. Everyone knows that I have (or had) a terrible job. But I woke up. I put on work clothes. Got in my vehicle. And drove the 20 minutes that it takes to get to my (former) place of employment. I got to the building, and everything fiber in my being wouldn’t let me pull into the parking lot.

I literally couldn’t do it.

So I drove on by and didn’t look back.

I have never done that in my professional career. Usually I’d just bite the bullet and hack out another day, and hope that I will land on my feet somewhere else. But not today. My body and intellect kicked in and took over. I was no longer in control.

My rallying against careerism is nothing new. I’ve always felt that people overly associate their identity with their career. But in doing so, their profession becomes just another stone that weighs down the true identity of a person.

In the last post, I mentioned this thing called the static identity. We’re born. Then we’re given a name, a social security number, and assigned a gender. We’re stuck in this life until the day we die. You can run all your life, but you will never escape your social security number.

This is how we see ourselves.

We are our family. Our jobs. Our community. And our relationship with others. You are not permitted to escape.

While it’s not possible in a physical sense to become something or someone else, the notion of the self (or the “I”) is not actual. It’s something that only the mind applies to itself, and so the notion of a continual self is an illusion. As in Buddhism, all of reality (to include the self) is a stream moving forward in time. The notion of continuity is an idea in the mind, and is therefore not real.

This might sound crazy, and I don’t care. I can say anything I want in this blog.

But the important thing is that these ideas in the mind are rudely enforced by the external world. We can choose to ignore them, but in doing so, we risk having the will of the outer world imposed on us….meaning the law will imprison us, we can become ostracized, or any number of other things. To avoid this confrontation, we placate these societal norms and play the part that was given to us.

We become locked-in to our identities, and it is made difficult to transform. Then we are forever trapped within the existence imposed upon us. This, I believe, is why we are undergoing a mental health crisis. Not only because we are getting better at diagnosing these problems, but because bureaucratic, technological, and economical entanglement is getting better at transposing societal norms onto individuals. And the only way forward is to find acceptance, so we have higher rates of depression, paranoia, addiction, and recidivism of crime.

Therefore, as the great Jean Jacques Rousseau said: Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.

Rousseau seemed to have differed from his fellow contemporaries in believing that human progress has not been beneficial; that mankind was better off in its state of nature. Believing that in this state, humans were peaceful, noble, and lived in harmony.

This belief in the nobility of the natural state of mankind is, of course, bullshit. HOWEVER, I don’t believe that he was completely wrong in challenging human progress. This “progress”, really hasn’t been progress at all. At best, it’s just been a matter of switching one set of problems out for another. IN FACT, this progress has contributed to a great deal of modern problems, namely class warfare, racism, sexism, slavery, poverty, and God knows what else. While this state of nature might not have been peaceful and noble, mankind was at least EXISTING in its natural state, rather than living in a manufactured and prolonged misery of being.

We might be living LONGER, we can also say that we are living in an extended existence of slavery. Slavery to jobs, to mortgage, to materialism. Instead of being seen as an integral part of a community (as in a state of nature), we are seen as being just one.  Just one of the millions that consist of a nation-state; an existence that doesn’t matter, that only plays a small role in the vastness of world population. We have to fight for meaning and purpose because we are chained to an insignificant societal identity.

To be happy is to be unaware of this predicament, or to find meaning outside of this paradigm.  This means to be stupid or in complete denial. OR to find acceptance in this stream of existence.

This is an unpopular opinion. Especially in our state “feel good” literature. Everyone wants to read or hear about how “they matter”. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true. The average person today just doesn’t matter. The individual has been disconnected from a grand community; thrown into existence. We are all just a minor player in this realm of society.

Of course, the solution isn’t to return to a “state of nature”. We know too much. A state of nature is a ship that has sailed. For better or worse, we are stuck with this economic-bureaucratic-technological complex. The paste is out of the tube. How we fix this problem would require a recognition of hard truths.

What are these truths??

Chiefly, most of the nonsense we surround ourselves with is false. They are only problems that we create in our heads, and become reinforced by societal standards. Imaginative problems are the number one cause of stress in the world. Having a mortgage and career are not LITERAL necessities for survival. Realistically, to live a reality that’s genuine, we have to recognize our basic selves. One that is stripped away from from modern conveniences.

But truthfully, I have no answers on how to fix these problems. Because in order to do so, would require an understanding that’s fundamentally contrary to everything that we know. It’s not as easy as reverting back to anarchy or taking up a Marxism. The only revolutions that work are the ones that are generated from within.