Monday, October 3, 2011

Regarding ContraPoints modest enlightenment

“History could not come into its own until theology gave way.”

"Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous."

Some thoughts on ContraPoint's video. I was very interested in what particular shift he was making in his perspective. I think Wittgenstein used an analogy of using a ladder to get to a position and then looking back and realizing the ladder that got you there is no longer there. For me I see the enlightenment in a similar fashion. It is a beginning not an end. And for some it is a necessary start creating the space and ability to dare to question and think freely.
It sometimes takes the blunt force of freethought (activism, pathos, blasphemy, playful ideas) to break free from the dogmatic ice. The enlightenment is something to pivot off of not to remain static or to burn in place but to keep flowing. Knowledge is like water its great vitality is when it keeps moving and fills the spaces before it. It can become poison if it stagnates in one area or it can drown the person in despair if the weight of a lost paradise is too the statement goes "it was like trying to drink from a fire hose"... one must flow with the water of ideas and strive to see the world in its fullness by being aware of ones limitations as well as the possibilities in the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge.

I have no consternation with ContraPoint's shift only I hope he still appreciates the ladder that got him suspended in mid air. The ladder is no longer there but it was a necessary tool in breaking from the box of dogma. And his previous atheist activism may have helped someone else become more free and brave in their thinking. And there are others who still need the blunt force of active playful skepticism to give them the chance to think freely as a human possibly can. At times it takes great wrestling and activism to escape dogma and in doing so the person who breaks from that still feels the need to wrestle with broken chains no longer there. Getting to a point where those previous chains of the mind no longer haunt the individual can be a longer process than we think.

This is why I continue to look kindly on the so called new atheists because they were instrumental in helping me break free from the dogmatic ice. It took some blunt hammers to start the cracking and the rest was the heat of curiosity and the desire to know. To use a biblical analogy I see the Capital "E" Enlightenment as well as ones smaller personal "e" enlightenment as the Moses that freed one from the tyranny of the Pharaoh and like Moses it can only take one into the desert of freedom and responsibility of thought. The desert is not always a positive experience and can lead to many other problems. Personally I see Existentialism as a fine partner in this existential desert. Whether there is a Joshua of the enlightenment that leads one to the promise land of progress is not something that I can state with certainty. One reason I doubt the gods is because I doubt the humans who created them. Faith in men can be just as problematic as faith in the gods.

The Philosopher John Gray directly challenges the value and purpose of the Enlightenment in "Straw Dogs":
"I should liken Kant to a man at a ball, who all evening has been carrying on a love affair with a masked beauty in the vain hope of making a conquest, when at last she throws off her mask and reveals herself to be his wife." In Schopenhauer's fable the wife masquerading as an unknown beauty was Christianity. Today it is humanism.What Schopenhauer wrote of Kant is no less true today. As commonly practised, philosophy is the attempt to find good reasons for conventional beliefs. In Kant's time the creed of conventional people was Christian, now it is humanist. Nor are these two faiths so different from one another.
Over the past 200 years, philosophy has shaken off Christian faith. It has not given up Christianity's cardinal error – the belief that humans are radically different from all other animals. Our lives are more like fragmentary dreams than the enactments of conscious selves.
We control very little of what we most care about; many of our most fateful decisions are made unbeknownst to ourselves. Yet we insist that mankind can achieve what we cannot: conscious mastery of its existence. This is the creed of those who have given up an irrational belief in God for an irrational faith in mankind.
But what if we give up the empty hopes of Christianity and humanism? Once we switch off the soundtrack – the babble of God and immortality, progress and humanity – what sense can we make of our lives?

And another philosopher counter the enlightenment, Isaiah Berlin:
“We are doomed to choose and every choice may entail irreparable loss.”
It is true in a purely utilitarian approach that there are many variables to a good life and breaking free from dogma may not always lead to a good life in a strict emotional and physical sense. And I nod in agreement that it is easy to escape one ditch only to end up in another ditch. I believe it was Nietzsche who compared Kant to a fox that escaped a cage only to be ensnared into a trap.

But this should not lead one to being paralyzed in pursuing and sharing new ideas. There are many paths to a more vital and full thought life. And some of those paths must go through the enlightenment. Whether this leads to progress will depend on ones definition of progress. The enlightenment should be a mother that openly offers her death to those she gave life to. To question the Enlightenment could be progress whether in capital P or not.

In conclusion I hope ContraPoints keeps sharing because he seems to have a healthy dose of skepticism, irony, and an itch for discussing ideas.

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."

"There is nothing to prevent a man from changing his mind. Consistency is not a virtue in itself."
"Nobody human is ever consistent."
Christopher Hitchens

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