Monday, July 06, 2009

What the Soul Means

As you will no doubt find out from the rest of this foamy post, I've ended up in a terribly, terribly cynical mood. And on my birthday. (Though I am glad I managed to regain my idealism after writing the first part.)

To a person like me, the soul is a convenient metaphor for all the intellectual and emotional complexities of a person. The part of a person that experiences joy and passion. The intellect that forms plans and watches for opportunities. The determination that allows them to grasp for a desired future and victory over adversity. An ideal society is one that allows every person the means to follow these. Even though such a society is more than likely impossible to achieve or maintain, I seek such an ideal. If it ever is achieved, we can only hope that we have such diverse souls of varied interests to maintain such a world logistically.

A farmer plants and grows his crop not only to provide for himself, but also to experience the joy of seeing his hard labor bring forth delicious, nourishing fruit. He can also take pride in knowing that by performing this task, he has allowed his fellow beings more time to pursue their passions, since they no longer have to perform a labor they may not enjoy as he does. Because specialized laborers can provide the basic necessities of life, other people can pursue other passions. Scientists can study increasingly subtle aspects of reality and tease out useful applications others can use. Artists can look at the world and use the tools available to society to present problems in such a way to motivate others to think of solutions or they can bring forth entertaining displays of color and sound to brighten other people's lives and expand their horizons. Police and government officials enforce laws so that individuals can feel safe and waste less time and effort engaging in security measures. Civilization is the tool we invented to make this possible, even if only imperfectly. The civilized world is a place where a soul is best able to express itself and find satisfaction. As social animals, we have an inherent desire for cooperative lifestyles such as this. By helping one another, we can enjoy greater and greater levels of freedom.

That is the basis for morality. Altruism manifests in those myriad forms. The farmer takes pride in knowing he can provide the necessity of food for his people. The scientist swells with joy when his discoveries provide new tools and insights that make life easier for others or makes the formerly impossible within another's grasp. The artist smiles when his work raises another's awareness of the world around them. The police officer gains satisfaction knowing that his vigilance helps us sleep soundly at night. A humble bureaucrat can smile if his good record keeping has prevented confusion between his fellows. Even someone who tries to produce something and fails can express his deepest gratitude for all those who provided the resources and opportunities he needed to explore his ideas, and society, in turn, can acknowledge even this person's honest efforts and intentions. Even if luck was unfavorable to him, his actions were centered around helping his fellow souls, and therefore worthy of praise. We all see farther when we stand on one another's shoulder's.

There are many people out there who despise this order the ideals it is founded upon. They are the fundamentalists, the alties, the frauds, and, to cover them all in a single word, the woos. They bite the hand of the farmer, saying we need to return to the ancient ways of parasite-ridden foods and scrounging for precious scraps of land to grow low-yield crops. They spit in the eye of the scientist, claiming their idle certainty and brief, careless glances are worth more than the insights built on the blood, sweat, and loving precision of generations. They spurn the artist who sees beauty in another soul's work and presents the quintessential truth of it so that others may be inspired to learn more and expand upon it. They ridicule and censor the writer for feeling the compassion and determination it takes to raise awareness of a problem and encourage others to seek solutions. They whine about the laws enforced by our protectors because those rights and liberties prevent them from doing harm to satisfy their selfish greed and hubris. They marginalize the bureaucrat, believing their biased memories to be more reliable than any records and their haphazard technique more perfect than procedures created to prevent confusion and discord. They mock the dreamer by claiming everything is known, and there is no room for new things. They stone the lovers for finding the comfort and joy they bring to each other more important than the production of offspring. They persecute the peacemakers, community builders, and teachers, for they believe the enrichment of these things we call souls is a meaningless endeavor in the face of hollow, efemeral pleasures.

The woo, and in particular, the fundamentalist, sees no value in the richness and depth of the soul. They crave the shallow and the empty, so they seek to suppress anything that might ignite a person's passion. They reject the social, secular world as a result. They seek to eliminate our social nature, replacing it with something akin to that of an insectine robot. Sameness is a virtue in their eyes, conformity the law. If they cannot enforce conformity on the world, they isolate themselves from it, forming insular tribes. Children are indoctrinated in tribalist ways, and taught that exposure to the outside world will turn them savage, so that they turn vicious towards peacemakers and foreign ideas instead of thinking about them. Foreign heroes are recast as villains, not based on the deeds they do, but are punished for meaningless technicalities like the genetics of the people they help or trifling details about the mechanisms behind their abilities. Love, being based on things beyond mechanical reproduction or the enforcement of random and arbitrary laws is treated as inferior to the conditional praise given for rigid obedience or the carnal lust for one's designated reproductive partner(s).

For us, a soul may only be temporary, but we seek to carry on parts of it to be remembered for generations. We feel sorrow for the loss of a loved one, and may hope they continue on in some as yet unknown fashion, but we can not allow our sorrow to lead to the sloth of believing our wishful thinking is true and absolute. Seeking out what truth really is will be far more useful to us than gambling.

When a fundamentalist speaks of the soul, however, they do not speak of the sum of a person. They speak only of an everlasting receptor of pain or pleasure. When one follows the arbitrary laws and believes in the random tenets of the faith, this receptor is sent to a place that pumps pleasure into it. It feels no sorrow for those who didn't make it because it is incapable of loving another. They speak of how our receptor will receive only pain, but even if we believed them, we would not embrace their beliefs: The joys of enriching ourselves and each other hold far more value to us than the empty promise of eternal carnal pleasure. We're not so cowardly that we would give up what we value most to appease the purposeless anger of a nihilistic stone idol.

These locusts grow fat on the labor of others. They enjoy the benefits science has brought to society in the form of tools everyone else uses in their craft, but they detest the discipline when it's personally inconvenient for them. They use the laws and bureaucracy established for the common good for their personal protection, but seek to rob others of those same protections with arbitrary, nonsensical exceptions. They attempt to conflate our restrained and perfectly legal responses to their hate and irrationality with their worst efforts to censor and bully us into submission. They harm others and yet claim to be the victims.

That is why I lay my heart and soul out on this blog for all to see.


Random said...

Thank you, BD.

King of Ferrets said...

Why is it you aren't a famous atheist yet, again?

Lab Boy said...

That is one of the best foamy rants I have read in a very long time.


Dark Jaguar said...

You call that cynicism? That was one of the most uplifting things I've read all week!

Berlzebub said...

That's some of the best writing I've seen in some time. You actually reminded me of a post I've been thinking about but never got around to.

Kudos to you, BD.

Clint Bourgeois said...

Just got around to this, brilliant.

Raziellus said...

Nice post. You sound like an objectivist to me. Have you read any Ayn Rand?

Bronze Dog said...

No, I haven't, but given some rather annoying Randroids out there, I doubt I'd really enjoy her stuff.

Dark Jaguar said...

Yeah, nothing breaks the deal on objectivism to me more than those objectivists. Well, that and the more I looked at that little philosophy the more holes I found in it.

I flirted with it for a bit after breaking up with Christianity but the charm of some of the broad strokes I agreed with wore off rather quickly when I realized just how silly most of the logic in it is. It didn't help at all when I tried to debate those points with some objectivists who insisted I just "didn't get" it and when I asked them to explain what I misunderstood, they just told me to read her work, because it's "all there", ignoring that reading her philosophy is what got me to that opinion to begin with.

That's not to say it's complete poison. There's some good ideas about people not being afraid to be proud of what they have accomplished and the benefits of a free market, but it goes way too far off the deep end when it claims, for example, that ALL human relationships are "market based" (and yes you can shoe horn any relationship INTO that, but it requires a very fluid, catch-all and thus useless definition of the word "market"), and then claims that a free market is capable of solving everyone's problems and any immoral things "the market" does automatically and inevitably correct themselves (the very existance of the alternative medicine market attests otherwise) and should never ever have any limits on it. Oh, and there's the screeds on how the native americans deserved what they got and how "modern science" (say, relativity) was a corruption.

What gets me is that for such a "universal" philosophy, it sure focuses on one small part of the human experience a lot, money. That, and rereading what I just typed makes it sound a lot like some organized religion and it's creed.

That's my take away on the whole thing anyway. Libertarianism I can relate to a lot more, and it's clear with the bizarre opinions things Rand held why such a splinter group would have formed. However, even that seems to ignore the reality that a free market still needs some controls in place to prevent people from being abused.

I think the best way to put my objections to it I've read is simply to imagine that all land was free to aquire, it starts getting bought by people who over time become major companies. If you want to live on their land, you pay various fees to stay there. Perfectly acceptable free market thing, except eventually all land is aquired by one company or another. Each one has it's own rules for you to live on it. Break these rules and they are free to either kick you out, or if no other company will take you, find a way to get you out of the way. The fees you pay are used for various services, such as security, housing, and so on. In fact, this situation is no different from living in a nation and paying taxes for public services. The only difference is there is no protection for the individuals living under the rule of these companies, and yet this is supposed to be the preferred ideal state of a free market of land owners.

I think I've gone off into more of a political discussion though. Problem is that's more or less the only thing Objectivism ever talks about, free market politics. I suppose I could mention that most of the "moral absolute conclusions" from a bunch of "true but pointless" axioms are all non-sequiters leaps, or that nothing about objectivism's catch-all "total freedom from responsibility to others" can account for children, or whether it is immoral for someone raising a child to simply decide to abandon them.

Raziellus said...

Randroids, haha, nice.

It sure didn't help Objectivism that Rand herself had a huge ego and didn't want anyone questioning her. It became, in practice at least, dogmatic and self-contradictory. Personally I like the principles that it's founded on even though implementing them in every possible situation is difficult, a lot of people take it too far, and Rand herself didn't follow her own philosophy (she's usually following intrinsicism, though no one called it that at the time).

Reason, existence exists, freedom from socialistic 'need', A is A, etc. are good starting points. It's mostly about individual freedom, integrity, and respecting things according to their nature. There's a lot of, what I consider crap that misses the point, out there in internet land, most of it from intrinsicism masquerading as objectivism.

Essentially what I like about objectivist ideals is that it requires attempting 100% honesty, intellectual and otherwise. Anyone who claims to be an objectivist but fails to respect things according to their nature (they're abusive, dogmatic, or unwilling to explain for example) has stopped being an objectivist in my opinion.