Friday, November 20, 2009

Abusing Rationalism

Recall that in the broadest sense a rationalist is anyone who is predisposed to believe that all important knowledge is attainable. In this context note that one of the fundamental principles of rational dynamics is that the accumulation of knowledge brings with it greater power. This notion motivates self-centered individuals to seek knowledge for the purpose of increasing their power. In the long run, pursuing such an immature rationalist agenda will cause more problems than it solves. The great threat posed by rationalism is evident in the fact that the scientific and technological breakthroughs it continues to produce are providing increasingly efficient mechanisms for bringing about the end of humanity.

In the face of this danger we continue to eagerly embrace rationality. To understand why this is, first note that in more mundane circumstances it can be difficult to differentiate a rationalist from a mystic. But as situations become more challenging it becomes easier to distinguish those responding rationally from those reacting mystically. The rationalist contends that with sufficient time we can accumulate the knowledge to solve any problematic situation, regardless of its complexity. The mystic believes that for problems exceeding a certain scope, the knowledge to solve them either does not exist or resides forever beyond our rational grasp. It is this viewpoint that inclines mystics to appeal to external, often supernatural, agents for assistance with such challenges. This means that given the spectrum of perspectives extending from total rationality at one end to pure mysticism at the other, those adopting the more rationalist outlooks are more self-determined and personally empowered than those embracing more mystical points of view.

It is through the application of rationality that we increase our objective understanding of and control over our world. The subjectivity that manifests in the absence of rationality limits the precision with which we can share knowledge and experiences with others. This means that rationality is the most efficient mechanism for building an empirically confirmed consensus of knowledge that is immune to subjective uncertainty. Such a rationally-derived structure reflects the accumulated power of our intellect in that it is the foundation of our most consistent capacity to influence our surroundings. The story of the Tower of Babel is essentially the tale of a mystical God opposing such a program.

Appropriate resistance to such a rationalist agenda is based on understanding that increasing rationality does not necessarily correspond to increasing wisdom. As such, there is no guarantee that even the most brilliant rationalist has the maturity to pursue knowledge and accumulate the accompanying power, without also laying the groundwork for our extinction. This is because as long as knowing better does not automatically equate to doing better, we will always be able to think better than we can be.

This is the dynamic underlying the fact that, left to their own devices, immature rationalists have a tendency to be indifferent to the negative impact of their pursuits on others. These self-centered rationalists are often inclined to use the power they gain from amassing knowledge, to enrich themselves by exploiting others in ways that limit their victims’ growth. Such oppression represents the essence of evil.

To limit the spread of this condition throughout our society we must transition from a quest for the knowledge to subjugate our world, to an altruistic program to discover and fulfill a logical, unifying purpose that is not based on separating ourselves from everything else. The specific nature of this purpose will become evident as we find rational answers to our most important existential questions. These discoveries are the events that will facilitate the cultural transformation that will prevent our rational self-destruction. If we abandon the search for rational existential answers, this crucial social paradigm shift will most likely not occur.

In that eventuality, knowledge will become our ultimate weapon of mass destruction. The more we wield its accompanying power to further our own self interests, the more this knowledge will consume that which we should be encouraging to grow. Such ill-conceived choices are typically justified by our sense of self-importance, which expands with our power from a self-centered perspective.

In making the fundamental choice to always favor ourselves over others, we become susceptible to the principle of sentient dynamics that is characterized by the adage: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In this context, the power we gain from a self-centered pursuit of a rationalist agenda will lead to an increasingly brutal world in which people increasingly prey on each other until we completely devour ourselves.

It is important to realize that if this is to be our fate it will be the result of an abuse of the rationalist program. Our rational self-destruction would not be due to the fact that we went in search of rational answers; it will be because along the way we became lost in our own self-importance and failed to develop wisdom required to safely handle what we discovered.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tolerating Mysticism

Recall that in the broadest sense a mystic is anyone who is predisposed to believe there are mysteries that can never be rationally solved. To many rationally-inclined individuals, mysticism represents one of the great ills of our society. They point out that mystics were responsible for many of the greatest atrocities in human history (whether or not Adolph Hitler was a theist he was undeniably a mystic). But the fact that we can appreciate the wrongs done in the name of mysticism does not mean we no longer need it.

Early in the evolution of a society its awareness of the existential threats facing it exceeds its knowledge of their basic nature and how to eliminate them. During this period, the society is at risk of being undermined by fear of the unknown. The most common solution to this problem is for sages to develop a belief system that allows the people to push forward through this fear and uncertainty. This mythos provides the culture with certainty based on a belief that its people can influence the unknown to their advantage without ever fully understanding it. This situation often leads to the personification and worship of the Primal Mystery underlying all unknowns. And thus a new religion is born.

At about this point in a mystic culture’s history it transfers a portion of its fear of the unknown to the Primal Mystery, which represents the fundamental unknowable. As a result, most of those who worship the Primal Mystery also fear it. This mystical fear serves to keep its subjects from completely giving in to their most selfish instincts. This is why the Primal Mystery, which is the ultimate object of mystical fear, is the basis of morality for most mystics.

The mystics’ fear of the Primal Mystery also serves to inhibit their pursuit of knowledge. In the story of the Garden of Eden this fear kept Adam and Eve from initially eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Mystical restrictions on the quest of knowledge often lead to a situation in which a culture’s worshipful fear of the Primal Mystery limits the growth of its people. Such repression represents the essence of evil. To avoid this circumstance a culture must transition from a reverential fear of the Primal Mystery to a purposeful search for the complete connection to the Fundamental Absolute. This Fundamental Absolute is what will survive the solution of the Primal Mystery (i.e., the so-called ‘Death of God’), which is the event that usually facilitates this transition.

Has our society reached the point at which mysticism, the customs that sustain our relationship with the Primal Mystery, is doing more harm than good? This question is essentially asking if we are mature enough to resist our self-centered tendencies in the face of the temptations of the fruits of the unbridled pursuit of knowledge, without the influence of a real or imagined supernatural agent. Even if you believe that as an individual, you have the requisite maturity, would you trust the average person around you with the knowledge to reshape the planet?

If your answer is ‘no’, then while it may be okay for you to doff your mystic robes, you probably do not want to live in a world where no one who needs to believe in a Primal Mystery is inhibited by fear of it. Even with this fear consider the carnage mystics have caused under the influence of their misinterpretations and misrepresentations of its will. This indicates that at your core you believe it is still necessary for some people to remain mystics, even if you aren’t one of them. This is because most mystics are not mature enough to be freed from their self-limiting viewpoint. As such, even if you no longer share the characteristic beliefs of mystics you still believe the world needs mysticism.
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