Thursday, July 31, 2008

Que sais-je?

In the end, isn't all of this working to establish systems of language that we feel most accurately account for the state of things ethical.

That is, we want to know how to live. So we do live, some of us, ironically enough, lives of leisure concentrated on finding out how best to live. And to be honest, most minutes of the day I wouldn't want it otherwise. Occasionally, dailily, a panic will descend on me, saying, Justin! Why aren't you working your fingers to the bone!

I answer him with silence. I have no reason, except for a soft conviction concerning the value of work: quality and not quantity. Working to the bone and working well are not mutually exclusive, but it's easy enough to let them be.

Science! Funny when you think of it. I suppose it's contribution to the control we humans have over nature has provided me with my leisure, and yet... Mightn't I be just as happy in a medieval world, and act just as ethically? I might, yes, as self-righteous and naive as the question sounds. Montaigne, in his aristocratic leisure, sitting at home, translating, with more than a twinge of Irony, the work of Raymond Sebold...

Ethics: acting in a way that elicits confidence in and love for your person from the most people.

Knowledge (n.): The relationship between yourself and the world. Some call this our mental and physical impressions of the world's information. Also, the mental and physical categories we make for this information -- distinctions and organizations that continue to produce the capacity for more knowing.

To Know (v.): to develop a relationship between yourself and the world. (Also, the categorizing of impressions gathered during this relationship)

Belief: To be convinced of the relative accuracy or usefulness of some part of your worldly impressions.

Certainty: To be overly convinced of such.

It's all in Montaigne. Who got it all from Plutarch. Who got it all from ... Heraclitus? We've harped on this same chord for more than 2,000 years and yet...

Someone might say that without curiosity, we would wither away. But curiosity implies a light-hearted pursuit of knowledge. One that opens the eyes softly, rather than one that eats at the gut. An enlightenment, rather than an emburdenment, an embitterment, which always follows a perceived empowerment.

Adam and Eve ate from the fruit rather than naming the animals, both of which were kinds of knowing.

Which brings me to Human Dogma. The wonderful thing about complete skepticism and nihilism is that none of us are convinced by them. There are a few impressions, which we believe we've managed to communicate to each other, that we are all completely convinced of the accuracy of. I've named them before in this blog, but again: 1. That we have a self. 2. That it exists in a world (implying a web of things, given boundaries by and categorized according to their meaning in our lives). 3. That there are other selves.

And if its true that we share some basic beliefs, and that all other beliefs are made of impressions whose accurate naming we merely make ourselves feel convinced of -- well, before I finish that sentence, I suppose I should stop and consider that this idea would be impressed upon others and elicit conviction its accuracy only with great difficulty -- i.e. by being very convincing. I.e. rhetoric.

The role rhetoric plays in a world of seeming is indivisible from the role knowing plays -- what we know, we know by conviction. What has convinced us of what we know? Do you know you are sitting at your computer? How? Because you believe your senses, which are a power you believe in due to your capacity to categorize impressions, which is a power you believe in. Which isn't to say anything about belief in the statement "You are sitting at your computer." But we believe in our power of making useful phonemes and morphemes the same way -- we are convinced by certain impressions.

Try to convince me that Abraham Lincoln lived. You can't do it completely. If someone brought to me what I considered overwhelming evidence that Lincoln was a hoax perpetrated by the Illuminati, I would likely believe him. Especially if others started to hold that idea as accurate.

But try to convince me I don't exist, and gol-dernit, I won't quit.

Perhaps after some pretty extensive brainwashing, but I'm fairly certain it wouldn't stick. I'd stop eating and talking, to adhere to my new conviction, and then... I'd get hungry... and I'd ask for food...

Try to convince me you don't exist, and I'll only believe in your existence more.

So, what do we call it when people act on kill each other over impressions/idea/conceptions that neither party are fully convinced of (relative to the Human Dogma)? What else, but foolishness?

Sitting pretty in my ivory tower. Come down, come down, little fool.

No comments: