Thursday, July 9, 2015
Original Sin and Free Will
Beyond the Garden
It's easy--so very, very easy; so childish; so cheap; so banal; so cute and pithy and worthless--to accurately criticize almost anything you find around here. Political movement? Cultural trend, whether real or imagined? One person, place, or thing? How witty! Easily done. We do this for the same reasons we breathe air: it has value; it's necessary for life; it can be entertaining; and, it helps us learn.
What one doesn't want to do, if one wants to be better, is to fall into one's own culture of critique (sic). The developing computer networks here have provided a lot of people with the opportunity to mimic paid operatives of the corporate media--e.g., "the internet" has given many people an opportunity to, through their own social networking sites or other minor soapboxes, duplicate without pay the climate previously established by the propaganda apparatus federalized by the Imperial American Presidency in order to guarantee entry into World War "1." The journalists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries provide poor enough examples for their web-logging successors, having created an inheritance of fabricated consensuses, terrified denialism, product placement, and bizarrely illogical, short-sightedly self-interested verbal framing.
That pattern remains, though, the norm. From Seoul to Edinburgh, Sydney to Nairobi, Toronto to Berlin--from still-blogging nonagenarians to chronically-liking preteens--the NATO media apparatchik is going full swing. Hundreds of millions of activated sleeper agents, unaware of the source and nature of their own behavior patterns, are busy at work right now, a century after the Archduke was assassinated, convincing their countrymen that new standards must be raised in service of new causes. From kitten pictures to the autoiconic profile substitutes of the wannabe neo-civil-rightist bandwagoneers, everyone's goal is to be an editor at Pravda Reborn, though with neither salary nor camaraderie--locked forever in a cave of echoing shadows.
It's not a phenomenon exclusive to "the West," unfortunately, as Indians and Sub-Saharan Africans "like" one another's dumbed-down cartoons rudely depicting a rival faction's take on a manufactured, yet complex, issue of regional or global politics--just as readily as Americans take pictures of themselves holding sympathetically misspelled signs over the weekend, on the streets of an urban combat zone where they'd never dare take up residence because the locals would mug and rape them too often.
Endless interesting fodder, as some would say. A legion of millions of AM radio hosts without necessarily the need for advertising revenue, all criticizing and congratulating one another's pasts, presents, and futures. God bless the internet: our paradise, virtually rebuilt. How whimsically and precisely, agonizingly and lightly, and with such excruciating length or inappropriate superficiality, do we parse our own annals and prospects. How smart we all are; how well-informed, this time!
Within the Critique
To some extent everywhere, but primarily in the outposts of the classical empires--the Anglo-Israelizone, if you will--the tensions between insightful negativity and positive tripe play out to ill effect and extended interest. There's a little bit of the old Jenome v. Adonai there, or Satan v. Christ, as you prefer. The most intelligently written blogs are blogs of critique, and they critique everything: politics, society, ideology, ethnicity, and any other ism or imaginary set of ideas and people that you can imagine. The right, the left, the north, the south, the up, the down...it's so easy to deconstruct anything, using big words and making (genuinely) accurate observations about how someone/thing sucks. You can fight a bugbear or a windmill for centuries, and be endlessly rewarded for it. Not shallow rewards, either, but the forging of a community of like-minded people who appreciate the rightness, the justice, of your critique, whether generalized or specific.
By contrast, blogs that are positive--in generalized mimicry of COINTELPRO-style television positivity--tend to be stupider, based around wishful thinking and pseudo-spiritual sentimentalism. There's something refreshing in that kind of writing, compared to another 3K-word essay on how conservatives/liberals are destroying freedom/families, but then, after enough descriptions of someone talking about how the sunrise verifies omnipotent benevolence, it's almost a relief to read a lengthy article about how the transsexual agenda has been a deliberate plot to subvert the families that produce enlightened republicanism.
There are a lot of fun reasons for those divisions. People who are drawn toward parasitic deconstructionism tend to get formal educations (or mimic those who have them), which can bring both good things--complex verbiage and grammatical forms, and the ability to give detailed critiques that draw upon material observations--and bad things--the adoption of pompous, meaningless tribal dialects, and the inability to do otherwise than give detailed critiques drawing upon material observations. People who are drawn toward simple joys may be less likely to get formal educations (or may be more likely to mimic those who pretend they don't have them), which tendency brings both good things--an appreciation for physical proximity, communal bonding, and caution about change--and bad--often, the inability to communicate well outside of pre-existing boundaries. The "bad things" in these situations are roughly identical, in the sense that both lead toward clannishness.
As far as cultural output goes, though, this tends to mean that whiny critics around these parts will usually be more interesting to read than hopeful dunces, even when the latter manage to also be refreshing. Yes, it's wonderful watching a baby discover that ice cream tastes good, but instead of seeing pictures of that, I'd rather go read some guy complaining about race riots or drone strikes. The baby is cute, but the very potential of future babies depends on the results of race riots and drone strikes, so it's almost selfish to take time to smell the roses...unless pre-emptively anticipating your own second-guessing of yourself is what got you into this loop in the first place, in which case there's no hope. The mutant combination of the two is even worse: when verbose visionaries give elaborate pseudotechnical talks about the brightly banal future of recycled housing and Soylent Green. Pompous coastal jargon combined with flyover daisy sniffing...shudder.
Overshadowing all of our self-referential critiques and glorifications is the critique of primary importance: the critique of yourself. Not to be confused with the generalized evangelical confession, this--nor with, more relevantly, the "we really need to stop using so many resources" confession that's actually a disguised power play, even more hypocritical than being sodomized by Cotton Mather.
If we approach Original Sin from a Christian perspective, we encounter not only the Torah's many problems, but the Constantinian ones. The vast history of Imperial Christianity being used as a justification for moneychanger theft, child rape, and garish displays of Tartuffian confession and rebirth, make the parable of Adam, Eve, and apple dim in comparison. It is this exploitative desire--the rationalization for the born inferiority of any given person, straight out of the womb--that makes the common usage of "Original Sin" so rightly detestable.
Let us approach Original Sin, instead, from a different angle. If these early computer networks have shown us anything, it's that people Terrawide are all too willing to become exactly the hypocritical talking heads that have polluted their mass media for more than a century. Without even being paid; without being cognizant of any role in even a minor local conspiracy. There is something there, in all of our righteous indignation, that we're feeding on, and expressing, when we so scathingly and lengthily produce and review criticism.
Pre-Jenomic infection, pre Stone Age, the Indus and Nile peoples had a pretty decent Fourth Stage arena running, in the sense that you could show up, experience consciousness, fear mortal death, and craft your character however you would. Terra still does great at that, with ample opportunities to be a jerk or to not be a jerk. The Indus and Nile populations had some nice cheat codes going for a while in the sense of an understanding of cyclical lives, based around pretty obvious introspection in the form of cogito ergo sum, and observational evidence of cyclical seasons, orbits, births, deaths, et cetera. Jenome touched down, and did what it does: established finite, linear concepts, including an elite caste, a fixed beginning, and a denial of the self.
The tensions mentioned earlier--"between insightful negativity and positive tripe"--result from something of a fallout between various worldviews. The elite, solipsistic, materialist self, is an ardent cultural critic, while the common spiritualist is a poor speaker, nicer at heart but easily dazzled by magicians and, therefore, easier to mock and harder to take seriously. We see this in the occasional tensions between Crypto-Talmudism and (what remains of independent-) Christianity: Crypto-Talmudists seek to preserve the material expression of Jenome via their "superior" genes, while independent Christians seek to atone for their wrongs. The former are mockingly, violently exclusive, while the latter are pitifully, enthusiastically inclusive; the former are charitable to their in-group, the latter to everyone (much to their worldly benefit and detriment, respectively).
If you prefer to disregard my metaphorical scifi nonsense, reflect instead on a conflict between the lingering premodern, based around cyclical geokinship, and the modern, based around the enlightened, rational, and utterly cold pursuit of self-interest. The culture of critical, unpaid newscasters with which we have filled the internet is operating on the basis of no Original Sin, wherefrom all the criticisms can so poignantly and incessantly arise. As an individual doing a life here, one should try to develop one's understanding of the "wrongness potentiality" that hasn't been entirely scrubbed out of old "Original Sin" metaphors. The process, ironically, tempers one's own capacity for criticism, and while it's less instantly enjoyable than reading another long critique of _________, it's more ultimately rewarding. So, let's get to the point.
Your Original Sin
We develop our sense of conscious self by acknowledging its potentiality. In this case, for negativity. An essential lesson right now is recognizing that you were capable of all possible wrongs. Not "you" in the sense of "the immature, ignorant, and/or childlike me," but "you" in the sense of the enduring, essential character.
This is difficult to do without having first mastered cogito ergo sum. Part of the reason we're encouraged to think of ourselves materialistically, and controlled by chemical forces, is that it causes us to think of ourselves not as the changing-constants of reality, but as a series of interconnected vignettes which bear only a superficial or cellular relation to those which come before or after. This prevents us from recognizing that we exist, and also from being responsible for ourselves at any point--because the "I" contemplating an action now is different than the "I" which performed the action earlier. E.g., "I stole a pack of gum when I was a little kid, but that wasn't me; I'm not a thief."
Assume that you have become aware of your own existence. You've understood cogito ergo sum, and you can feel that you exist--that you actually exist, and that you're not just a chemical illusion which thinks it exists because it's afraid of not existing. Move then to the acknowledging of your potential for wrong, which--for both convenient and dramatic purposes--we'll refer to as "sin."
What is the worst thing you can imagine doing? Rape? Murder? Intergenerational membership in a cabal of lying thieves? It's all there in you: the capacity to commit any sin. Not in a dramatic way, but a rather pedestrian one. Cast lines back across your material life, and look for that point of dark injustice where, if you could've nodded quietly to someone you trusted and then never had anything else to do with it and never gotten in trouble for it, you would've felt justified in ordering a revenge. Look at the smallest concession you've ever made, and magnify it with appropriate circumstances.
But that's easy. That's you now. Try teenage-you. Prepubescent-you. Toddler-you. If the right set of experiences hadn't fallen into place to allow you to become what you think of yourself now, what could you have done? What could you be doing right now? Recraft your shell with a different set of chemicals; a different variety of temptations; an entirely different life in an entirely different culture of years spent being routinely educated and nurtured in a different way, without the slightest voice of dissension from anyone, whether experts or rebels. Are you so utterly and inherently perfect that, right away, without any experience, you'd know what was really correct behavior, in contrast to what obviously was, at that time and place? Atheists and agnostics are great at pointing out that, if they'd been raised differently, Baptists could be Sunnis, and well-said, that. But, if you yourself grew up in the Harvard bubble--with all the thoughtfulness, diligence, and positive reinforcement you can imagine--who's to say you might not have ended up like Chelsea Clinton?
Do you pay your taxes in an empire? Do you cash your check inside a corrupt financial system? How hungry would you have to be to push that envelope just a little farther, just a little bit more toward the face you would, from this vantage point, consider Big Brother?
Like all the rest of my scifi junk, this is easy enough to reconcile with orthodox Christianity. The actual notion of sin and forgiveness isn't the Torah's metaphor about the blood-debt owed to a deathlord because someone once ate an apple. Rather, the Jesus part of the story is to accept that inherent flaw-ability in everyone, as you'd like them to do for you, because we're all capable of it all. Some of us choose not to develop the positive parts, but even if you go that way, part of that positivity is accepting your shared responsibility for every sin ever. If you would have done it, under any conceivable circumstance, then you are/were capable of doing it, and are/were as guilty as someone who has done it. Only in a sense, yes--but still.
The Progressive Importance of Sin upon Free Will
And now we're machines, and have always been machines. Haven't you heard? Everything is predetermined, and our increasingly scientific self will cause us to understand that we're not actually making decisions. We have no free will, which is an attempt to say that, if we never committed any given sin, then it is not in us to have done so; and, if we have committed any given sin, it was the fault of genes or demons.
When did the first great human thinker conclude that he had no free will because he had only eaten because he was hungry, and not because he "really" wanted to eat? A marvelous feat of science, that. Of course, once we have luminous nuclear imaging and understand the entire genetic code, we'll be able to perfectly predict the future of the planet. Being that we're now so much more advanced than those who could only figure out that a person, sufficiently bashed in the head, was less able to think, ergo the soul was nonexistent, it's an entirely different conclusion to say that genes control behavior, and that no one actually exists, even those who think they do.
Original Sin, as it were, flits about all these flights of fancy, for it is our fear of who we are--or who we might have been--that causes us to want to not exist. Both the good stuff and the bad stuff is denied by the materialists: "We're neither noble nor scary, because it's all pretend." The final question of free will, though, is already settled by any given mind, for no one here can correctly tell you that your sense of self is imaginary any more than they can tell you that your love is purely a chemical illusion. Everything here can be said to be purely a chemical illusion, though not in the pejorative sense.
Free will isn't illusionary; it's merely mundane. It's an infinitely diverse and expanding repetitive process that is not, despite sweaty-palmed claims to the contrary, so violent a concept that it must be mere sensory deception. It pays testament to the nihilist's repressed delusions of grandeur that he views the veracity of his potential consciousness to be so firm and so throbbingly engorged that, for it to be real, the laws of quantum mechanics would be shattered wide open, and genes for hair color or toenail growth rate would no longer turn on or off during reproduction. The "cold, hard truth" of experiential physical reality is that it's not that big a deal that the process of interfacing with matter contributes to decisions, or occasionally makes them.