towards a philosophy of radical kindness
Derek Van Gorder
its religion and ideologies
Why are Lefts and Rights so bitterly divided, when they should be working together? There are many factors but I believe one larger trend quite adequately explains it-- along with most other intractable problems of America, and of modern civilization at large. I would characterize this trend as:
"Gradual capture of human instincts by emergent machine-evolution (E.M.E), which is rationalized as a self-evident good under religion of rationalism-materialism."
E.M.E. is the material-natural phenomenon that threatens us.
(the hurricane that brings a flood)
Rationalism-materialism is the belief system that prevents sensible action to save ourselves.
(a comforting story we tell, while we fail to build tall enough walls to prevent flooding of the city)
The two phenomenon are deeply linked. And I believe there is now, in early form, an emerging debate about which causes the other. If Bret Weinstein is correct in saying that "we are still running our evolutionary program, and we must change our program"-- I must confess I see little hope down that path. I prefer the Peterson view, which is essentially: that we live in a rationalized age, responsible for many troubles, that can be overcome with human Reason informed by Will. So that we may still escape the negative consequences of obliviously pursuing E.M.E.-defined societal goals.
A brief description of the origin of E.M.E.:
Humans are animals that use the evolved, imperfect faculty of Reason to better follow their Will (evolutionary drive), and create tools to more effectively satisfy this drive. We imperfectly improve these tools over time. At a certain level of complexity, tools become machines (i.e. tool-orders of less latent Will; tools that move). The two-way conduit of Will influence becomes more dramatic with these machines: humans do not just use tools, tools have a demonstrable effect on human behavior. Chasing their instincts, humans are pulled by the efficacy of Willful machines to make them gradually more and more complex and Willful over time. At a certain point of history, rather than the human species using machines, it will become more accurate to say that humans are being adapted by machines into an emerging machine-evolutionary trend. Today it seems to me we are gradually being "captured" by this machine-order, much as the various Willful biological components within us all trend towards our direction. The end goal of the emerging, human-powered, machine-order is obviously to generate its own self-sustaining strain of machine-evolution, or "machines of lineage," mistakenly referred to as Artificial Intelligence today.
E.M.E. as a concept follows almost inevitably from looking at the modern world after accepting the utility of a universal force of Will as a reasonable theory for the driving force behind biological evolution, and likely all other self-sustaining phenomenon in the universe. I see Nietzsche's metaphysical ruminations as an early but very coherent formulation of this theory, which scientists and philosophers of the near future will likely define in more technical detail and less delightfully bombastic language-- assuming I am correct, and assuming we survive.
I will discuss E.M.E. as a phenomenon driven by Will in a separate piece. For now, so as not to distract the rational who are so fearful of anything resembling metaphysics, I will stick to the observable social / political effects of E.M.E., and the dominant belief system which rationalizes our subjugation to it, which some now call rationalism-materialism.
I believe it is the most powerful religion in the world today, and it governs most of our individual and collective actions. It should not be thought of as a totalizing force-- many modern people at least partially escape its influence in many ways. But it governs enough people and institutions to very well determine the overall trend of modern civilization. It molds our collective works, so that they ultimately push in its preferred direction. And over centuries it has generated many structures and phenomenon that capture or block individuals who threaten to stray from this direction-- in fact millions of them at a time.
I claim we do not live in a great age of Reason and Science, or path to progress through them, as many today believe. We live in a society-wide rationalization that prioritizes development of machines and material over human well-being in short-term and long-term, and steals words like "reason," "science," "democracy," and "markets" to justify avoiding any social or political decisions that would enable people to be happier, freer, more human or more productive.
Much material and much wealth is indeed generated by the dual-phenomenon of E.M.E. and rationalism. And much short-term apparent benefit to humans can result from this material. But crucially, the material and wealth is most often arranged in such a way so as to further ensure the widespread instinct-capture of human beings into E.M.E.'s direction of trend, never to allow or teach humans to better understand and follow their own instincts or purposes, never to Reason for themselves. Society instead teaches people to follow the prevailing rationalizations, and most people do so with alarming predictability, regardless of what rational words they may speak while doing so.
There are many problems generated by this trend. I hope to describe them elsewhere in more detail, but for the purposes of this piece, I will quickly summarize below, and you may judge for yourself how accurate you feel this description is.
I believe most people who live in modern society are victims of the following:
• flawed societal model of human beings as rational actors rather than emotional-moral at core, which affects practically every social or material structure we create
• morals and philosophy are driven out of the public sphere under excuse they are unscientific
• widespread stigma against those who are "irrational" (traditional, simple, moral, faith-driven, or emotional; i.e. a significant, crucial portion of all humans)
• same stigma prevents humans from understanding and mastering their own deepest emotions-- thus preventing actual use of Reason, which I now believe requires emotional health to be properly directed for individual or common benefit.
• Failure to understand and use Reason results in "rational actors," i.e. people who aimlessly pursue societal rationalizations to arbitrary conclusions or dead-ends
• society at large sees no scientific evidence for human Will or inherent moral purpose or meaning-- therefore it is widely considered OK to sacrifice it en masse to obsessive generation of material
• technological advancement is postured as the long-term solution to all our problems; individual or social moral responsibility is left by the wayside
• institutionalization from early childhood ("education") generates rational personality that encourages people to ignore their emotions and do what they're told-- merely using rational language to justify their behavior to themselves, contributing to cultural ossification and social & political inaction
• people who fail to speak and act rationally, or who become broken in the process, are generally considered mentally ill or disabled.
• ideology is generated as poor substitute for community, philosophy, religion, or more human politics
• extreme influence of machines & technology on human behavior, which is not properly addressed or taken seriously, precisely because most people believe they are rational actors who can stop any time they like-- not emotional beings whose instincts are being hijacked by machines & machine-like social constructions
• urban / rural divide (result of instinct-capture by technology) over time rends Left and Right into two separate, conflicting tribes instead of a cohesive communal whole. Lefts chase novelty into cities, Rights stay where they are, preferring comfortable traditions. Both suffer cultural impoverishment as a consequence of each other's absence
• exaggerated Left / Right characteristics develop over time in their isolated communities, further preventing communication and collaboration (culture war)
• social media does not restore authentic community, but further captures human instincts, from which people are unable to break free so long as they hold a rationalist view of themselves and their world
• Left / Right pursue "rational" political goals that do not take into account basic human drives and moral nature, and end up with nothing but deadlock and manifestly immoral decisions
• both sides become extremist, lacking self-knowledge, and generally trend toward resentment, fear and hatred, of themselves and others
In short: humans are driven apart and isolated by our machines, which renders their collective Will more useful as fuel for the emerging global machine, and this is culturally rationalized as progress.
While this trend may have developed over a long period of history, the exponential growth of technology has now brought our collective psychological / emotional life to a breaking point. Everyone is now aware of the problem at some level, but is incapable of addressing the root cause, unable to admit that, overall, modern society currently pursues an unhealthy, anti-human trend, despite the apparent benefits have been provided by advanced technology along the way.
I believe the widespread dominance of an unquestioned religion of rationalism-materialism answers some puzzling paradoxes:
Why does the Left-- longtime critic of capitalism-- now advocate for the spread of unrestrained globalist material markets under the guise of utopian, ill-advised intercultural unity?
Why does the Right-- defender of traditional values and responsibility-- worship a market system whose products continually denigrate and degrade traditional values and personal responsibility over time?
Because we still feel morally, but have been taught to think and speak rational ideas, ideas which always prefer division from other humans, rendering us incapable of critiquing the most unhealthy influence behind our actions, having accepted it as inevitable. We come up with whatever rational excuse is necessary to continue the current Left / Right conflict, which allows us the luxury of avoiding painful self-critique or unwrapping the rationalized personality that hides our truer moral feelings.
Both sides blame the other for their misfortune to material forces outside their control, the same ones which over time grow the urban / rural divide and further exacerbate the problem. Enacting into physical space the fundamental error of binary thinking; converting into two rival tribes, those who were intended by nature to be friends and allies-- helpful human teammates and competitors separated and turned against each other.
How radical of a claim is it to observe that human evolution has largely been captured by emergent machine-evolution? From a fairly neutral global view of the species today, both Left and Right might agree (only blame each other): we work further towards our communal atomization, to increase machine complexity, at the expense of ourselves, our nature, our instincts, our environment, our culture, and our societal wellness. Whose interests are we better serving? Ours, or our machines?
This may paint a rather dim picture of modernity. To be clear: I believe Science & Reason are our most powerful tools, and we will need them to survive and find a new way forward. I would like very much to live in an age where science, technology, and Reason were used to promote the benefit of all citizens. I simply do not believe that accurately describes the trend of society today, and it is precisely because we have for too long ignored other crucial dimensions of human life while pursuing technical-material goals. We have the structures and material we need to make a better world for ourselves-- we simply lack the collective Will to claim as our highest priorities: psychological wellness, Reason, human dignity and freedom, healthy competition & cooperation, and equality of opportunity for all citizens. To restore human evolution itself as a worthy goal.
To accomplish this, I believe the first step is for Left and Right to forgive and embrace each other again: to accept fundamental baseline value in their respective ways, ideas, and customs, and to trust each other to find balance again, together and on their own terms. Variance & Tradition, Science & Faith, Kindness & Strength must all be given a place at the table and respected. Our tired, binary political views-- so similar to machine thinking-- must be discarded so that we might rediscover our common humanity, and seek a collaborative path towards healing of the nation.
But the path to this healing is blocked by our local experiences of the larger, rationalizing trend: ideology.
A STORM OF HATE
Driven by ideology, Lefts and Rights are now Othering each other. Not much different from similar events leading to atrocity in the past century. It always begins with an instance of superficial or helpful human variance, twisted via social-rational constructions like news media or propaganda into a specter of fear, which over time incites hatred and division, ultimately leading to war or strife.
Ideologies are "political beliefs" only according to textbooks. In lived political reality, they are more like natural phenomenon; vortexes of fear and hate which capture the Will of the helpers, and re-direct their Will so that it is arrayed against other artificial tribes-- equally full of well-meaning helpers, similarly controlled by fear and hate. This is the primary nature of ideology: vortexes of negative emotion which only appear to use rational terms. The political goals held by those within them are of little consequence, and only determine the particular words best used to sustain the vortex itself. The codified texts of the systems are merely a record; charcoal sketches of a passing storm.
It is not accurate to say new technology like social media generates the present hate: it is only a mechanism which amplifies pre-existing rationalizations or pathology, and if enough pathology is amplified, it becomes a self-sustaining storm of hate that can cover nations. The storm is observed locally as warring ideologies, but they are connected at top to the larger, pathological phenomenon that prevents people from seeing any value in the people around them, therefore from seeking higher purpose for themselves or society.
I call rationalism our religion, or highest ideology, because it is the upper limit of how far most people can go while searching for higher purpose. It is foundational to the physical structure of modern society and its markets, and no one can live in modern society without daily making hundreds of concessions to it. The local ideologies are ad hoc replacements for what rationalism denies them: tradition / religion / the nation / the tribe / Will, which all humans-- by their biological nature-- are still driven to seek. The ideologies then acquire this repressed drive to seek higher meaning and purpose, and in so doing twist humans into unnecessary political aggression against their neighbors.
The inherently oppositional nature of ideology betrays its truer function in serving machine interests. In any short-term view, one might pick an instance where an ideology was politically useful to one's cause. But in the long-term, I claim all ideologies sustain only division, sectarianism, adversarialism, inaction, stagnation, and widespread hopelessness. This can be revealed, if one looks for kinder, more human, more explanatory language beneath ideological terms that would undoubtedly pave an easier path toward social harmony if they were used. Yet the ideologues stick to divisive language. Because unity and cooperation simply is not a goal allowed by the storm to anyone who is trapped in it.
An ideology or 'ism' can be made from almost any political or social idea. You can furiously critique an ideology, and still be victim to one yourself. Everything I write now could become an 'ism' in the hands of the hateful. The stated politics are not functionally important. The only requirement is this: the seeking of a human enemy or Other to fight against or disdain-- instead of seeking to fix problems with the humans around you available to help. Even many people today who aspire to be reasonable (the emerging new free thinkers and Intellectual Dark Web) are, I claim, too often victims of the ideological mindset. It is readily apparent in their words: anytime a whole group of people are rebuked as "postmoderns" or "neo-marxists" or "the crazy liberals" or "the irrational," the same function is applied which causes others to be labeled "fascists" or "racists" or "nefarious immigrants"-- someone who it is OK to blame and fight, rather than talk to and help. It doesn't matter what the word is; the self-evident effect is the fearful division of what ought to constitute a human whole.
In contrast to ideology, I claim the best, wisest political thought or action is never group-think emerging from institutions or ideology, or any movement that is content to fashion an Other to blame or fight-- it is timeless moral wisdom, gradually sharpened and improved over the ages, and enacted with great courage. It must be able to convince common people and intellectuals alike, and it must embrace non-violence whenever possible. It is any action which can demonstrate manifestly the long-term evolutionary utility of cooperative, moral action in contrast to those who have embraced the fantasy of short-term gain conjured by immoral behavior. It is any action which exposes the actions of others as short-term rationalization, rather than long-term Reason.