The Secular and the Sacred

20 Jun

First,  I want to make it clear that I believe hard science is universal.  That’s the whole point of frame independence, right?  The periodic table, for example, gives no sign of being a matter of perspective or ideology.  Some confuse their ability to say, “science is just a point of view” for a sort of ‘hermeneutic validity’.  I don’t.  Hard science is a basic order from which no rationally enterprising mortal can escape without inviting self-destruction.  Rejecting basic consilient science is tantamount to anti-realism, futility, and a severely weakened identity.  Dramatic skeptical arguments may cast some doubt on certain empirical beliefs, but the catch is that they are almost always incapable of providing coherent and livable alternatives.  This entry refers primarily to the much fuzzier realm of life and its initiatives.

Philosophical practice has always been a fragile thing.  Celia Green pegged this fairly well: there are very few windows of opportunity in history during which many people dare to think beyond the bounds of programmatic query and behavior.  (This becomes apparent to any reader of Hume.  Not many people think like Hume today, but there’s little reason to believe that all of his concerns have been thoroughly satisfied.)  I have elaborated on her insights by noting that ‘sanity’ is a fragile state of being which tends to behave like a creature that must keep its membrane and immune systems intact.  Its basic impulse is antithetical to threatening queries as a matter of life and death more than as a matter of truth and falsity.  This dynamic is retrospectively obvious in obsolete religions via their unmitigated hatred of apostates — a hatred which contrasts absurdly with our present sensibilities.  The situation remains much subtler in modern secularism.

Programmatic inquiry can be very productive in basic science, but it can also offer the sketchy temptation to treat all of life as programmatic and unambiguous.  There’s some danger of illegitimate substitution.  Modern secularism pulls this maneuver by combining explicit science and implicit common sense(which remains circularly justified and ironically non-scientific).

The windows of opportunity often appear in times of vigorous diversity and upheaval.  Ancient Greece, early America, and 19th century Germany come to mind.  There was incredible activity during the Scottish Enlightenment; I’m not sure if it fits the pattern or not.

I believe real secularism is only achievable through strong diversity.  By ‘strong’ I mean that people and groups have real feelings and beliefs which will cause some tensions between them.  There will be some hard lines and boundaries.  Compelling peers, too, rather than random craziness.  Crisp people!  This is very different from simulated disagreement in which some people like the Reds and others like the Blues.  The idea that secularists can decisively converge on a single legitimate system which will exhaust what life is and should be strikes me as a very misguided and regressive idea.  It flirts with authoritarian impulses.  This orientation appeals to certain personality types — particularly to very judgmental and authoritarian sorts who have an allergy to the practice of  serious philosophy.

If tolerance is taken as the metaphysical absolute, then initiative suffers mightily.  Diversity becomes more ceremonial, while real distinction erodes.  Any serious plan or set of values will necessarily exclude and order in no bashful manner.  It will mean saying that some things are better than others, some people more relevant and important than others, etc.  Crisp identity enables new orders of self-awareness to form in the well-defined networks of interrelations.  A subtle bonus of this situation is its ability to generate new coherent query-potential.  There are more coherent choices by which one can measure oneself and one’s beliefs.  Without coherent alternatives, skepticism can become an empty practice(note the function of markets in generating coherent alternatives).  In a sense, one has more ‘inspiration’.

The hope is that one may combine the best of both the perceptual and the assertive components in a plural state.  The less complex and less fertile alternatives are chaos/anarchy on the one hand and the uniform State on the other. Of course there’s also the problem of destructive conflict.

I’m not sure how ‘micromarkets’ may fit in.  If there’s a basic modularity to these systems, then local diversity may be able to replace total ideological diversity.  It’s hard to say.

The basic distinction between life-systems and classic reductionist science is that description alone is inadequate in the former.  This is particularly true from the first-person point of view — whether the subject is a single person or an entire civilization.

I’ve been attempting to communicate the still-vague idea that spontaneity is an irreducible aspect of life.  The trouble begins when one imports a feeling of necessity and independent origination to describe a situation where no unconditional necessity exists.  That’s a sane and devout way to see oneself and one’s future, but each breath has to make its own way as a matter of unapologetic force on the world.  The descriptive attitude works very well with fundamental natural kinds, but it introduces insidious paradox to the study and management of sentient life.

It also raises questions on the nature of paradigms, ontologies, breakthroughs, emergence, value, progress, personal identity, and so on.

What is the locus of control and initiative?  Is it not a highly refined arena of spontaneity itself?

That is to say: one cannot exhaust life by mere description.  This take yields critical hints to the meaning of the Sacred.

The only way I know of to have initiative and to still work primarily through description is to create ideal descriptions outside of the present situation which then generate a net pressure between the starting point and the goal and seem to grant an identity to the journey itself.  I’m not sure about the relation of this behavior to science.




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