This may be all over the place…
November 6, 2008

by pegleghippie

So recent events (the election last night, playing guitar hero tonight) have crossed with my philosophy classes in my mind to form some ideas that I want to sort out.  I will do my best to connect the ideas in some way, but no promises.  I’m telling myself I’m writing this for an audience because I think they’ll find it interesting, but there’s just as much of a chance that I’m writing this to talk to myself, in a way (sorry, I’ve been reading about deconstruction, and ever since I’ve had the nasty habit of deconstructing whatever I’m writing as I’m writing it.  I’ll do my best to refrain from here on out.)

Anyway, first a take on my favorite obscure philosopher, Bataille.  Specifically his view of consciousness.  Normally I don’t like the consciousness debate, but his views lead to some fun philosophy.  Bataille was a fan of the “pre-reflective consciousness,” also known as “lack of self-awareness,” or as he termed it, “theopathy.”  What he was talking about is traditionally understood as the idea of a mystical experience, like zen, or transcendence, or buddhist enlightenment.  

I don’t mean to sound like i’m spreading woo. All through history people have found themselves feeling connected to things greater than themselves, to the point where they stop self-analyzing and just interact with the experience.  Similarly, people have spent lifetimes trying to get back to that experience, and often tied the experience into the supernatural.  Supernatural causes weren’t really what Bataille was into, instead he found these moments in deviant sexuality, like BDSM, but also in simple things, like smoking a cigarette, or taking a coffee break.  

I break from Bataille in a few ways.  First, why is this state is so important? I’ve had plenty of “transcendent” moments in life, some purposeful and as Sometimes accidental.  Sometimes its meaningful, sometimes it is just fun. At the same time there are plenty of moments where I really enjoy being self-aware.  Consciousness, much of the time, is pretty sweet!

Second, I think that maybe this is a matter of degree.  You’re aware of yourself, but you don’t have to think about your heart, or you liver.  Unless something goes wrong, in which case your awareness has expanded. I guess that isn’t so sweet.  But this illustrates where I’m going with the degree thing.  

Stick with me here.  Imagine the pre-reflective state of mind, going along its own business, fitting into the pattern of some larger whole.  Suddenly, something appears to the consciousness that doesn’t fit the pattern.  Like getting heart burn, suddenly the consciousness has to account for something that is just weird, something that takes an analysis to deal with.  If the pre-reflective consciousness is to successfully account for the discrepancy, it will have to define itself in relation to the discrepancy.

Ok, now imagine yourself, everything you are aware of, and everything around you that you are not aware of.  You’re self aware, but you aren’t aware of your intestines, because your intestines fit a larger pattern.  When something starts to hurt, you analyze things so you can experience a more comfortable level of awareness.

I’m going to leave the different levels behind now.  This is where things get strange, but at the same time I don’t think I’m writing anything you don’t know here.  The intestine pain isn’t really without a pattern.  It’s not random, it has a cause, say evil bacteria, and fits into a larger pattern of Earth’s biology that is just too complex for the human mind to fully recognize.  A self-aware consciousness is just a consciousness capable of admitting that the pattern we think we are a part of is just a simplification of larger, more complex patterns.  

I thought of this playing guitar hero (I know, I know, I should be studying).  Think of a beat in a song.  now imagine a guitar playing along with the beat.  Suddenly, the guitar plays something quick, something that doesn’t seem to fit the beat, just for a moment.  Of course, if it’s a well written song, it does fit into the overall math of the music.  But it gets our attention because we’re experiencing the beat, and we don’t imagine that the songwriter planned anything more complex than that.  

Now to the next level: to go with the following example, Say maybe we pick up an instrument, or learn some musical theory, and then the change in the song doesn’t surprise us anymore.  This would mean that the pattern we’re experiencing is more complex than before, we’ve expanded our pre-reflective consciousness.

So the reflective consciousness allows us to expand the range of our pre-reflective consciousness.  It’s a cyclical relationship, both feeding the other, and oftentimes both go on simultaneously.  Should we see one as the goal?  I don’t think so.  Maybe it’s important to know the difference between analyzing something and experiencing something, but I don’t think we should be so dualistic about the two concepts.  

I may have had a transition to this next part when I started this, but I’m not seeing it now.  Oh well, you get two posts in one!  Don’t worry, this part is shorter.

Now, a word on Democracy.  I’ve long wondered why we don’t qualify democracy as simply a political committal of the ad populum fallacy.  Ad populum, for the record, is the fallacy of arguing that a position is correct because lots of people hold that position.  The problem is, of course, that all those people can be wrong.  Importantly, even everyone ever could be wrong about a position.  So we appeal to a different set of standards.  

Democracy, at its most basic, involves asking everyone what side of a position they think is right, and then taking action based on which side has the most people behind it.  It’s like the perfect illustration of the ad populum fallacy.  As long as we’re talking about right and wrong, I don’t see any way around it, really.  Democracy is inherently illogical.

At the same time, democratic governments are more peaceful, richer, and advance faster than any other form of government humanity has tried.  Philosophically, only an idealistic anarchy seems more equatorial, more focused on humanism, in short, more legitimate than the democratic attempt to make political decisions that benefit a polity.  Additionally, people like democracy.  If a group comes to a democratic decision, the minority may grumble, but they usually go along with the decision.  

So how to explain this divide?  We have logic so we can make smart decisions, yet our best political tool for making decisions is illogical.  

We do what good philosophers always do.  We challenge the assumptions.  A couple paragraphs back, I just described the democratic process as  “asking everyone what side of a position they think is right, and then taking action based on which side has the most people behind it.”  Why the assumption that Democracy is settling a question of right and wrong?  Can we still have democracy if we ignore questions of truth at the ballot box?

I think we can.  Instead of looking for a right, I propose that the democratic process is asking everyone what experiences, given society’s limited resources, should society pursue for its members, and in what manner, and then taking action based on which path the most people prefer.  Logic only enters into the equation for the “choosing the manner” part of things.

 Because of limited resources and limited time, we can’t afford to make universal proclamations about right and wrong. We can only compare our plans, argue and compromise about them, and, once it’s time to make a decision, use democratic machinery to pick a path.  An advantage of democracy is that since people are involved in the decision making process, previous decisions that led to unwelcome experiences serve as a feedback loop, and the next vote goes differently than the previous one.

So to sum up, the line between simple awareness and self-awareness is fuzzy at best, and Democracy isn’t logical, but we should stick with it anyway, cause it’s not about logical decisions.  Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

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