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People Are Terrifying, Aren't They?

Feb 09, 2010

"In your ornamented dwellings, the only sacred things to be met with are the sage maxims of our wise men ... Suavity and sociability, art and science have so fully taken possession of your minds, that no room remains for the eternal ... I know how well you have succeeded in making your earthly life so rich and varied, that you no longer stand in need of an eternity. Having made a universe for yourselves, you are above the need of thinking of the Universe that made you."

-- Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion

"There's a hole in my head as big as the world and it's so very lonely ..."

-- Jason Woodrue, "Roots"

It is impossible to doubt the fact that profound personal satisfaction and self-esteem are to be found in applying our reason towards the creation and mastery of systems. However, we must at all times be careful to militate against mistaking human achievement for human value. Systemic productivity does not imply systemic utility; quite often the opposite is the case. Humans are easily blinded by their own efforts, and all too readily permit low self-esteem to trump reflection, and power to trump progress. Contrary to the opinions of the educated and the powerful; "The inertia of the human mind and its resistance to innovation are most clearly demonstrated not, as one might expect, by the ignorant mass -- which is easily swayed once its imagination is caught -- but by professionals with a vested interest in tradition and ... monopoly."

The most terrifying danger of vested interest and professional monopoly is the phenomenon of professionalization as a totalizing systemic force. The very process of professionalization envelops the mind of the actor within an elaborate hyper-disciplinary construct that is self-certifying and self-selecting, thus developing within the actor an indiscriminating instinct -- as opposed to a deliberating will -- that preconsciously seeks systemic enhancements, thus enabling the professional construct to extend its domain of "achievement," irrespective of utility and reality. In post-modern first world nations, the immediately perceptible "successes" of professionalization are accepted as the ultimate indicator of intelligence. If the concept of intelligence bears no ethical aspect, then yes, mere professionalization is synonymous with intelligence.

Mere professionalization is of course not synonymous with intelligence.

A fully human intelligence requires not simple training and instruction, but ethicality and humility. "It is quite a remarkable feat for a group of men who are together all day long merely to indulge themselves in acts of petty cleverness without ever touching on the subject of morality in their conversation." Morality is bound to cultural presuppositions, and cultural presuppositions are those suppositions which play the role of self-evident truths. As a consequence of being treated as self-evident truths, the topics of morality and ethicality are easily overlooked or taken for granted, often remaining almost completely unexamined beyond the application of willful ignorance towards the repetition of completely meaningless, but exceedingly comfortable platitudes.

Inhabiting their comfortable universe of satisfyingly complex professional platitudes, expert professionals are above the need of thinking of the Universe that made them; and, because professionalization is accepted as the ultimate indicator of intelligence, the roadblocks to ethicality and innovation therefore follow directly "from the unwillingness of students and faculty to undertake the very hard and serious work that's required, and to face, calmly, but firmly, the abuse" they will face if and when challenging any professional universe. Political history, for example, offers an endless set of instances supporting the prediction that vicious abuse awaits those who persist in challenging professionals, and asking simple, straightforward questions. To be sure, abuse "is quite inevitable. In fact, it results from the fear of" professional associations that their "guild structure will be threatened ... and where, very often, the pretense of professional expertise is used as a defense against the threat of legitimate criticism and analysis." Consequently, "Innovation is a twofold threat to" professional monopolies and "mediocrities: it endangers their oracular authority, and it evokes the deeper fear that their whole, laboriously constructed intellectual edifice might collapse." Historically speaking, the reality of resistance to innovation and inquiry is that professionalized "backwoodsmen have been the curse of genius from Aristarchus to Darwin and Freud; they stretch, a solid and hostile phalanx of pedantic mediocrities, across the centuries." In this way, if professional presuppositions focus a culture on acts of petty cleverness and ethically unqualified modes of systemic productivity, and eschew hard and serious work and humility, then a solid and hostile phalanx of moral mediocrities inevitably follows.

Accordingly: if the statement "American tax dollars are directly funding murder" shocks or offends you, then one question you might apply your reason towards is: just what is the condition of your self-esteem, and what systems and self-evident truths is it based on?

Murder. I feel compelled to reiterate that the subject at hand is publicly funded, professionalized murder.

"[W]hat seems to me a very ... terrifying aspect of our society and other societies is the equanimity and the detachment with which sane, reasonable, sensible people can observe such events. I think that's more terrifying than the occasional Hitler or LeMay ... that crops up. These people would not be able to operate were it not for this apathy and equanimity, and ... I think that it's in some sense the sane and reasonable and tolerant people ... who share a very serious burden of guilt -- that they very easily throw on the shoulders of others who seem more extreme and more violent."

If a professional complex responds to publicly funded, professionalized murder with equanimity (as most professional complexes are wont to), then how is that complex something more than a brutish response to brute requirements, unique among species only because of its adaptation to specifically human forms of brutishness and ability? If we look beyond the bright and shiny facet of technical prowess expressed by any professional complex, and accept the fact that profound personal satisfaction and self-esteem are to be found in applying our reason towards the creation and mastery of systems, then what is properly human about a complex that responds to publicly funded, professionalized murder with equanimity? The answer is terrifying, and that answer is: nothing.

Part of the series: Servetus