Saturday, January 19, 2008

I hate philosophy

Trying to clean out my email box and came across a link sent to me almost a year ago. I was asked to comment on it, and it is simply one of those things I put on a back burner and just looked at today. So, my apologies for not commenting on it sooner.

The title is suppose to be a play on words (philo-love & sophia-wisdom). On the other hand, it does express my view on the discipline itself. Even when theology (admittedly a form of philosophy) becomes more about rationality than trying to understand God, I do not enjoy it. It's the feeling, I suppose, a semi-illiterate gets when forced to read a novel. The person might be able to get through it, but not without a heck of a lot of struggle and frustration and an overall sense of apathy. It may simply be an excuse to not dialog about issues brought up by intellects. It may be an unwillingness to do the hard work posed by thinking people. Their questions are valid and sometimes worth the effort to talk about. However, I am not the person that is capable of engaging their minds in talking about highly intellectual stuff.

Well all right then. Now that we have the disclaimer out there, that this is way outside my domain, I will try to interact with this article on the need for skepticism in our (Western) society.

The author, I think, is arguing that postmodernism (defined below) and skepticism should be valued more in today's world. It all begins with multiculturalism, a subject with which I feel I am slightly familiar, having, in my opinion, a pretty good background in pedagogical theory and its usage in the public arena (i.e. my undergrad is in Secondary Education). And as defined, I think I can assent to the idea.

"peaceful coexistence and the mutually-beneficial sharing and disseminating of ideas. "

Now I do think that the ideal mentioned above will have a very hard time ever being achieved, but hey why not have impossible goals. The argument then goes on to say that only in a "secular" realm can this multiculturalism be realized. I think "secular" here means devoid of religion (especially organized and institutional ones).

"Personally, I'd like to see religion wither away as a force in human affairs...Yet that need not prevent us from striving to realize one of the key objectives of Enlightenment thought: the removal of organized religion from politics."

I was under the impression that "religion" was a part of culture? But maybe I got that wrong somewhere. On the one hand Sims (the author) wishes to have a free sharing of ideas between distinct cultures, but then he argues for any religious thoughts to not be included in the exchange. Only the religion of secularism can be exchanged.

Don't get me wrong, if you mean by "secular," the separation of church and state, well then we agree. As to whether a secular state means the best chance for multiculturalism, I am not ready to say I agree or disagree. It could just as well be as not could be. (I would entertain a more in depth look at the Persian Empire to see what might make for a good multicultural atmosphere)

The "cause" of not being able to achieve multiculturalism (defined above) is religious dogmatism. As I understand it, "dogmatism" is insisting that what is thought to be fixed can not be questioned or that

"assumptions [are] claimed to be beyond all possible doubt"

This dogmatism is the arch Nemesis of Skepticism (as a system of thought I guess). In other words, we have the right to question the validity of everything in life (mostly what we don't like). I really don't care if someone wants to go around questioning everything. If that is how someone wants to live their life, I say go for it.

"Unquestioning belief is rife amongst us, and it always leads to trouble."

In regards to the above statement, I can agree to a certain degree. It's OK to question the Church, God, or whatever, but what if the same critique were made upon Skepticism? Is it right to question, if we should question? Please don't answer, it will spiral this conversation way out. It is only a side note to say, why do we have to question everything including whether we should even be questioning? Can't we have something in our personal lives that is solid, a foundation? If you don't like mine, fine. I probably don't like yours. I'll try not force Jesus on you. Similarly, why is it so important to make seem more ideal your foundation of skepticism? If that's your thing, cool. Be skeptical! But to keep the argument (see above on multiculturalism) alive, my ideas must coexist with those of doubt. Skepticism can't trump belief if we are trying to attain an ideal multicultural. Granted, I am not perfect in this myself.

The next thing in the article is a bit difficult (for the author is responding to criticism he has received over previous statements he's made elsewhere) for me grasp. We get that he's not being nihilistic but relativist, the opposite of fundamentalism. He defines relativism as

"relativism is calling into question the notion of there being an absolute truth - precisely what all those of a fundamentalist disposition claim there is (their version, naturally). Even worse, fundamentalists refuse to acknowledge that other views have any validity at all. You can't debate with them - about multiculturalism or anything else."

Maybe I am a fundy after all (see paragraph 2).

Next, we get into postmodernism, which

"challenges authority in its many guises, and questions the assumptions that underpin our value system. "

Side note: If indeed postmodernism exists (and I have never doubted its existence, just its extent especially in America.) this is a great example of its philosophy, and it's how its adherents would view the world.

If applied equally everywhere, this could be of some value. I am not the one to advocate how it should be applied. Basically, postmodern is the freedom to question the structure of modernity. Modernity, for all its advancements in science and technology, has not made humanity any better. Therefore, there is a backlash and frustration over the lack of progress in how human beings (maybe there is something more wrong than just what we can see) treat other human beings. Wars, injustice, poverty, hate, violence etc. all are evidence of Humanity still Gone Wild. The cause; therefore, must be the traditional structures of society (i.e. institutions like church etc etc etc).

You know, the institutional C(c)hurch has really screwed up. You know most governments of the modern (pre- and post- as well) world have made serious errors in regards to actions against humanity. Business (in a free market society even) have exploited its workers. Yes, indeed, bad things have gone on (are still going and will continue to go on) among humans. Look at the story (you don't have to believe in it) of Cain and Abel. In this story from this world view, humans are out to injury in the most heinous ways other humans. No matter the structure, humans are humans; bad people. Yes, yes, yes, I know you know some very nice people, so do I. But can't we agree that humanity in general is more self centered than other centered? If not, why are we even talking about this. The subject itself, seems to me, to indicate that we agree. Changing the structure is not going to change the human.

As Sims goes on, I actually find that I like just a tinge his explanation of his universals. He

" explicitly commit[s] [him]self in 'Fundamentalist World' to what [he] admit[s] could be called 'universal values': 'equality of opportunity, an end to cultural oppression and the tyranny of tradition (religiously inspired or otherwise), and the eradication of discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnic group, social position, or sexual preference' "

My favorite is "tyranny of tradition." For some reason, it brings a smile. I am not laughing at Sims. I am thinking this poor man has been abused by "tradition" somehow, and the image is a bit funny for me.

OK. So, I need to finish this. If you have gotten this far, bravo, and I am sorry for having wasted this much of your time already. It has surely taken up more time than I intended.

In conclusion. I would DISagree that we need more doubt and skepticism. What we need is more real belief. I agree we do not need more of the same belief. What we need is to find a structure(s) that will guide us to improve whatever bad situation we find ourselves in or find others in. We need something to believe in!