I’ve been thinking about “anti-intellectualism” lately, and I’ve discovered what might be called the anti-intellectual intellectual. I think (alcoholic) Ed Abbey was such an anti-intellectual intellectual:
“I hate intellectual discussion. When I hear the words `phenomenology’ or `structuralism’, I reach for my buck knife.”
“How to Overthrow the System: brew your own beer; kick in your Tee Vee; kill your own beef; build your own cabin and piss off the front porch whenever you bloody well feel like it.”
As I sit before this keyboard, I reflect upon these words of Emile Cioran, who, by the way, never devised any philosophical “system,” but merely jotted things down without any theme.
“Why can’t we stay closed up inside ourselves? Why do we chase after expression and form, trying to deliver ourselves of our precious contents or “meanings,” desperately trying to organize what is after all a rebellious and chaotic process?”
I have been wondering the same thing. That’s why I’ve just resigned myself to working things out in the privacy of my own very personal notebooks, without feeling responsible for being understood by any audience but myself. Writing “on public record” – which the Internet is – brings into the process the problem of the internal censure aware of being judged as a persona. Why bother expressing ourselves to the populace? The contents of our minds may be precious and fleeting and leading up to some kind of transformation when suddenly we stop the flow of our ideas by trying to organize what it is we have been contemplating and investigating.
What we choose to focus our attention on becomes privileged. While reading some of my favorite writers and thinkers of the past and present, I am continually disturbed by my own prejudices against the “humanistic” view. I love reading Erich Fromm until he writes something that exposes his own attitude that our “animal nature” is somehow less than or inferior to our “human nature,” or even that “primitive” [Natural World] Peoples are somehow less “advanced” or less sophisticated than modern industrial man, even when it is clear, even to the author himself, that the civilized state of our psyche is one of anxiety and alienation.
Many theorists believe that our collective anxiety is caused by industrial civilization and our alienation from the deepest aspects of our lives. So many of the great thinkers that contribute to my understanding of “reality” – otherwise men of obvious genius – have believed the lies of scientific rationalism and “progress.” The oppressor has no thinkers, no philosophers. It’s all scientific, economic, manipulative. Science/rationalism does not require real thinking. One might be a philosophical “intellectual” and be a militant enemy of the servile State scientist, psychiatrist, politician, or economist.
There is also the problem I call the “What good can come out of Nazareth?” effect: We may hold back our loftier ideas if expressing such ideas conflicts with our “social status,” “education,” or “our place in society.” Who the hell does the carpenter’s son think he is entertaining ideas reserved for the highly educated and elite rabbis and professors? Some folks are encouraged (and encultured) to become scholars. In the non-academic world, being a scholar often alienates one from one’s comrades.
And yet, as we gain insight into our own action, and thereby find access to the unconscious, we involuntarily exercise an influence on our environments. The deepening and broadening of consciousness produces the kind of effect which aboriginal peoples call “mana.” It is an unintentional influence on the unconscious of others. This is how I can justify spending so much energy on developing a philosophical and psychological approach to life: Every breakthrough and transformation “my psyche” experiences produces this mana that radiates through the invisible fibers connecting us together in the web of life of the universe.
I put a premium on honesty, and yet I’m too aware of how elusive authenticity can be. The subject-matter of existentialist literature as well as psychoanalysis in general, certainly does challenge us to observe our own internal motivations to see where we deceive ourselves about who and what we really are.
Enlightenment is not something we can force upon others. In this world of banks, wars, automobiles, and grocery stores, philosophy and the inner life of the individual gets paved over or abstracted out of existence altogether. The existentialists, although very diverse, all agreed that traditional philosophy was too academic and remote from life to have any adequate meaning for them.
There is no “system” of existential philosophy. There are existential thinkers.
When we think, we do not think as “thinkers,” but as living human animals, as REAL CREATURES, bodies breathing, psychological defense mechanisms in place, with all our personal quirks and peculiarities, as creatures with senses, urges, desires, secret fantasies …
One has to grasp how significant their own individual (inner) life-world is, important enough to study and interesting enough in itself to deserve their own attention. We are constantly in an “existential situation” in our everyday reality. We merely have to focus our consciousness to behold the “strangeness of everyday existence.” We lose sight of the strangeness of life, the enchantment, the mystical, when we lose sight of our individuality being-in-the-world (life experiencing world).
We can choose to unplug the TV and turn inward to contemplate the contents of our own minds. Our essential being is a subjectivity, not an object. Objectivity can’t give the whole truth about the individual Being. Rational, mathematical, and scientific thought are incapable of guiding us to genuine existence. We deal with matters of the heart in the Dark Night of the Soul.
I was inspired one evening when I happened to speak to a Mexican here in Smalltown, USA who was interested in the metaphysics of Martin Heidegger, a student of Husserl. I was so inspired since my mind was racing with trying to get a grasp on just how phenomenology (self-observation) influenced existential psychology, and why it is something so obscure. Why does everyone know about Jesus or Ali or Moses, but nobody studies Schopenhauer or Husserl?
And yet here, in the midst of so-called day laborers, a real living man spontaneously and informally wonders along with me why “the masses” are not equally interested in such fascinating ideas. Is there some kind of idiot-effect having to do with organized sports, the music industry, and the media which creates this culture of wealth-warped values? Why does education in and of itself inspire so much self-respect in African communities, yet, in our materialistic societies, money and social status seem the only avenues toward maintaining dignity? What is real education anyway?
Many people educate themselves, but this is something I imagine our rulers scoff at. How can we educate ourselves out of this crisis? Well, me personally, I am not looking to come up with solutions so much as I am simply looking to describe as honestly as possible what I am experiencing. I know that others are as complex as I am, and we can’t just be written off just because we are swimming in the muck. Shall the Oceans be ashamed at being polluted? No. Nor shall I be ashamed of being contaminated. Our crisis is a spiritual emergency.
Wouldn’t it help us were we to focus on reawakening primordial modes of consciousness, developing our animal intuition, and liberating ourselves from the awkward impossibility of genuine communication? I have a craving for mystical experience. Maybe this is what Wittgenstein meant when he pointed out the limits of philosophy. It is really more about the limits of languages or the limits of symbolic communication.
It is believed that five percent of people in any given population possess occult powers. There’s that 5/100 showing up again. Original Man, Natural Man believed the world was full of UNSEEN FORCES: the orenda (spirit force) of the American Indians, the huaca of the ancient Peruvians. The Age of Reason has placed these spirit forces in our imaginations, but this does not mean the forces don’t exist. Most animals possess senses that we would consider “magic powers.”
Maybe we lost a great deal of “spirit-power” in the process of being civilized/domesticated/despiritualized. Do hidden powers lay dormant in us? Do some of us use faculties that we just take for granted, faculties that may not be active in the general population?
What are the limits of human perception? Surely we perceive much more than we can express.
“Why can’t we stay closed up inside ourselves? Why do we chase after expression and form, trying to deliver ourselves of our precious contents or “meanings,” desperately trying to organize what is after all a rebellious and chaotic process?” ~ Cioran
It is as if we have to go through the process of trying to express ourselves philosophically in order to reach the point where we no longer speak too much. We become all-too-aware of the limits of language. Do we give up trying to express ourselves? Do we just learn to keep things to ourselves?
Is it all the same whether we type our ideas on the Internet or speak our ideas in public or just contemplate in silence? Why burden others with the details of how we are processing the problem of being born? Well, maybe it comforts others a little to witness a fellow-creature reaching similar limits and conclusions. There’s some kind of spiritual gratification I experience just with the possibility I might shed some light in another’s darkness, maybe inspiring an individual to become interested in life again.
Then again, maybe the TV got your brain.
Either way, there is a tension in me. I am jealous of my time. When I type “in public” like this, I am forced to organize my thoughts – desperately trying to organize what is after all a rebellious and chaotic process.