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The God in the Machine is You

Without citing a bunch of past posts, I’ve been on a bit of a quest, lately, to investigate some of the Eastern religious traditions. I still am — but increasingly as a skeptic and less as an honest inquirer. That’s inevitable; once you’re informed enough to begin making honest judgments, you do. There are still interesting aspects I haven’t fleshed out, and this quest is driven by a couple of things. First, I see a lot of things I like from some of the new breed of businesspeople, many of whom cite interest in Eastern traditions, and second, I prefer to focus on what we can actually choose to do and accomplish, rather than on merely what is our right not to have done to us. That may perhaps just be a difference in perspective and attitude, but I think it’s a big one. The following is an email out to this author, and concerns discussions over months and years centering on this page and proceeding forward through the chain of eight short pages, which should be read for background.

Paul:

I don’t think that he, I, or any of us are "confusing consciousness with quantity." We’re just saying — correctly, I think — that consciousness is required to make sense of both quantity and quality. Most importantly, it’s what integrates the two.

I believe the various dichotomies you propose, though perhaps useful from the standpoint of that very thing — breaking reality into pieces to be understood — are but models. It is consciousness that must artificially organize reality into a mass of percepts and then reassemble it all, apprehend it all, and re-integrate it all into a hierarchy of concepts, and it does so in ways that are above and beyond what reality would be without consciousness.

And neither is it "collapsing consciousness into quantity, thereby
equating the two." It is integrating everything. It is consciousness,
for example, that takes wave, frequency, notes, measures, rhythms,
score, key, tone, timing, and integrates all this quantity into a
beautiful and exalting qualitative experience we know as a musical
composition that moves us deeply and reflects our "soul," our deepest values. There is
simply no correct way to look at that, except as an integrated whole. No
composer could possibly dis-integrate the quality and the quantity; and
if he tried, the result would be an awful horror.

What
you seem to propose is that reality is two wholly separate worlds: a
material and a spiritual, but with the spiritual guiding the material
as the ideal. In terms of an analog, I get that, and can think of ways
it’s helpful as such. But that’s not reality. Reality is metaphysically and
physically one thing, and consciousness does what consciousness does in
order to break it into pieces to understand it, reassembling into an
abstract conceptual hierarchy of integrated pieces of a different and
more useful or beneficial configuration. It is by this process that
consciousness molds, shapes, and controls reality in a way that is
useful and beneficial to man. It is our nature: to control reality to
our uses.

It’s as if you propose a physical reality where
our right and left brains are completely separate, like if they existed
in two separate bodies: the left-brain body of quantitative reason and
logic, and the right-brain body of qualitative appreciation and
reflection. The body of quantity is slave to the body of quality,
completely blind to where the body of quality is coming from, what it
perceives, knows, understands, or is motivated by. It’s just a slave, a
workhorse. Mr. Right Brain is the enlightened master.

Now,
I think that’s a fine analogy, and actually is helpful in some contexts
to understand the importance of computing and production skills serving
high values and being constrained by moral conscience. But it’s also
not reality. Mind and body; material and spirit; theory and practice;
fact and value, it’s all integrated, and breaking them down beyond the
desire to simply understand, and instead: culturally, socially,
politically, and institutionally cramming mankind physically into one mold
or the other (go-nowhere religious mysticism (idealism), on the one
hand, or grind-’em-up communism (materialism) on the other) is just
wrong.

It’s wrong metaphysics, because it rests upon a
wished-for model of human psychophysiology that simply does not exist.
It is the job of metaphysics to establish first principles as a
foundation upon which to build human knowledge of reality and all that
comes after. To do that properly, it must take account of human beings
as they really are (integrated mind/body; whole beings), not divine a set of
principles based upon someone’s idea of the "ideal" human model: half mind, half body. The consequence of the later approach — that gets it all wrong, incidentally — is that everything
that comes after tends to work against human nature rather than for it,
and the result is predictable: coercion abounds, in order to mold
people as "they should be;" and because "they don’t live up," corrosive
and chronic guilt eats away at the fabric of relationships all up the
entire spectrum of society and politics.

Now, understand this:

The
essence of morality is voluntary choice. Where people have no choice,
then morality and immorality is inapplicable, not possible. Morality
without human free will is a contradiction in terms.

The
moral is the voluntary pursuit of values that benefit people, and not
some kind of coerced servitude to some idea of spiritualism or goodness
that everyone seems loath to specifically define, but that nonetheless embraces — indeed: pretentiously dictates — a set
of "values" seemingly divined from on high or picked by some elite cadre
of the enlightened. The immoral is either the voluntary pursuit of
"values" (disvalues, or anti-values) that harm people, or the default of pursuing beneficial values
altogether. Two ways to be immoral; one way to be moral: the mathematics of ethics.

I
understand that some people pursue unwholesome values, or don’t seem to
care, or default entirely. It’s in man’s nature to act so…because? BECAUSE his will is free. But, this is all precisely none of my
business (nor any of yours) until their pursuit of "values," or
default on pursuing barely necessary ones, comes up against mine in
irreconcilable ways. When that happens, I propose defense, while you
propose offense, i.e., the ones with "inferior values" are forced to
serve "higher values," as determined by you and others in "authority." I only demand
that they leave me in peace to pursue mine, and I’ll do likewise.

Capitalism
is moral; not because it produces a lot of great stuff so efficiently,
but because it reflects and embodies man’s moral nature to voluntarily
pursue beneficial values for himself and others. When capitalism exists as it really should
(which it doesn’t), it simply integrates that moral nature of man into
a business context: employing division of labor, capital accumulation,
and the whole gamut of other things that raise us from farmers to where
we have a whole menu of values we may choose to pursue. It literally
saves our lives every day. Because it can do that in such awesome and
wonderful abundance, it is the most moral. Moreover, because it is
responsive to producing the values everyone wants and discarding or
leaving behind those values not wanted or not wanted any longer —
which is what makes it grow — it has its own self-correcting
mechanisms. This is unlike democracy, or any other political system,
where everyone pays, but no one gets what they really value. Everything
is either crammed down throats, or a poor compromise.

You
see capitalism as the problem, but it’s not. Force and coercion are the
problem, and yes, much of that is encouraged, sanctioned, and perpetrated by so-called "capitalists"
themselves, employing the power of the State to coerce for their benefit.

The
problem, Paul, is neither the Church (as you seem to ascribe to me) or capitalism (as you explicitly claim). It is the State. It was the
State when the Church used it to force its ways upon people, creating
such misery and havoc; and today, it’s the Sate, when mega-corporations
use it to force its ways upon people, also paving the way for them
to profit by diverting costs to externalities, such as environmental
destruction (which they would be loath to do on their own private
property).

This is the next step you need to take. All of
the lamentable problems you list in your book are not the result of
people freely pursuing the values they wish to pursue, because if it
were, then the real underlying "problem" you’re identifying is free
will itself
. All of the problems are caused by the failure to value  freedom, and the corrosiveness of coercion, with its myriad effects that
kick off a chain reaction throughout society, culture, and the
geopolitic.

It’s not people trying to pursue their values
that’s causing all the problems, Paul, its that there are levels upon
levels and institutions upon institutions trying to impose their values
upon everyone else; all while forcing them to pay for the "pleasure."

As
a friend of mine calls it: "Cannibal Pot Hysteria." Life and practical
politics, today, is all about who goes into the pot, and who gets to
feast. It’s not "selfish," in the negative sense of the word, to not wish one’s values to be used, by
force, to support or exalt that which one does not value, or that which
one despises. And neither you, nor anyone, has the moral right to
compel others to sacrifice their values to yours or some force-backed
divined set of "higher values."

If ideas shape man,
cultures, societies, politics, then there’s only one proper idea to
begin with: freedom. If that’s not the inviolable foundation — and I
mean: real freedom — for social and political interaction, then individual morality largely does not exist beyond that fact — is not
even individually possible for large swaths of values, because those
values are coerced rather than freely embraced. Only immorality exists
from beyond the abrogation or destruction of freedom. Everyone is
merely either a slave to some "higher values" religious-idealist
"nirvana," or they’re a slave to some "collective values"
dialectical-materialist commune (You want the dichotomies? There you
have ’em, in all their meat-grinder glory).

I’ll give you
this much, though: if the dichotomies were psychophysiologically real,
rather than merely artificial, I would be 100% on board with you. Given
only two alternatives, and no possibility of integration (only "balance"), then, of
course, the material is slave to the spiritual, and you strive to
define or divine the spiritual in ways that benefit the most as best
you can.

It’s so very fortunate that we don’t live in
such a reality. We have the potential to do and be so much more,
through the integrating power of consciousness to control reality into
realms we have proven ourselves, throughout history, to be scarcely
able to even imagine.

Get this: it is not the
physiological nature of humans to want to produce, and to produce more, that
created all of our material well-being, (and will run completely amok and destroy mankind if not bridled by Mr.
Right Brain), any more than ants and bees are going to take over the
world due their physiology. But if ants or bees could integrate spiritual purpose with their
ability to produce? We might have problems. Imagine what they could
and would build, if, rather than being programmed to create anthills
and bee hives, they could create anything within their physical power
to create: guided by a sense of wonder, possibility, imagination,
splendor?

What we’re doing? …creating, producing, as humans beings? It is being driven by our sense of spiritual awe.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

3 Comments

  1. Richard Nikoley on February 21, 2007 at 18:02

    Ron:

    Thanks. Actually, I had read that some weeks ago. I agree there is value. What my interest has been about is finding the nuggets of wisdom, insight, perspective, and leaving the rest behind.

  2. Ron Good on February 21, 2007 at 08:55

    herefor an interesting take on some of what you address.

    There is great value in the eastern spiritual traditions, but Ikkyu had it right: "That stone buddha deserves all the birdshit it gets. I wave my skinny arms like a tall flower in the wind."

  3. Adem Kupi on May 11, 2007 at 12:28

    Hear hear!
    In fact it is precisely the desire to use force to impose one's choices on others that is "selfish" in the negative sense (placing your own choices above someone else's), "greedy" in the negative sense (wanting more than you can produce), and destructive.
    Without violence or fraud, selfishness and greed aren't relevant categories.

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