Society’s Progress

Succesful systems are not necessarily characterized by efficiency.

The best systems are those that are immune to catastrophic failure and allow for incremental improvements that compound across time.

Literate societies that pass down all accumulated scientific and ethical knowledge to future generations tend to be very successful.

We are the beneficiaries of such a system, and we are complicit in its decline insofar as we do not contribute to the process of improvement that makes our very existence possible.

Some people are simply apathetic, or outright malicious against the system that provides them with safety, food, water, and economic potential.

However, most people do hope for improvement. The issue is that they ignore history and believe improvements can be achieved via means and principles that are antithetical to what got the society to its current state of prosperity.

Or, because of bitterness and a pathological attachment to perverse ideology, they envision progress in terms of systems that have consistently failed in the past. Such people read history and ignore the thread of progress that runs from ancient Greece to the modern day.

What is this thread?

The belief in and the pursuit of objective truth, a limited representative government, and property rights.

The degree to which these are valued by the individuals in a society is the degree to which long-term scientific, economic, and moral progress can be achieved.

There is no surer sign of a civilization’s decline than the relegation of these values to the status of “radical”, “extreme”, or perhaps even worse, “boring”.

You do not make progress down a road by tossing out the engine of your car, or by dismantling it piece by piece. Perhaps some of those modifications will increase your speed in the short term, and give you an illusory pleasure. But by way of these changes, you will have created a system without incremental improvement, prone to sporadic catastrophe.

Moral Radar

Though it is not knowable, every one of us has a hypothetical ideal self: an entity that acts out the best possible set of behaviors in any given circumstance.

We cannot know for sure what this ideal would do, but we can, by examining our past, determine what is fundamentally opposed to the morals and sensibilities of this higher version of ourselves. In the realms of science and moral development, failures are among our most useful data points.

head-3001166_640“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” 

-Oscar Wilde

But as useful as such reflections can be, they are not sufficient for the attainment of what is greatest within us. We must not only identify what is contemptible and worst within us, but also what is most noble and excellent not through speculation, but experience.

Philosophies and belief systems, like any scientific hypothesis, must be falsifiable. There are none so lost and undeveloped as those great intellects who do not throw their ideas against the walls of the world and watch for the reaction.

An untested idea, belief, or behavior is a blind spot, and the more we cling to such an idea, the blind we become. By focusing on a blind spot, we see nothing at all.

By acting out our beliefs, and facing success or failure, we move towards perfection. However distant and impossible perfection may be, it can be moved toward. 

Until we have attained a life congruent to our highest ideals, until we have embodied those traits that would allow us to move through the world with grace and courage, it is best not to lapse into comfortable patterns of action.

We must continue to test ideas, not just without our minds, but out in the world, where they can be confirmed or destroyed. Only then can we receive course correction data, and direct ourselves towards the highest good, in accordance with our own limitations and the demands of objective reality.

 

 

 

The Price of Comfort

What price do we pay for comfort?

I think it is nothing less than the soul’s ability to strive. When cloistered and coddled, protected from the chaotic element, our internal worlds become chaos in order to compensate.

The human mind delights in problem-solving and implodes when challenges do not present themselves, and so we invent challenges, viewing the world through a lens that makes a comfortable sitting room appear to us as a lion’s den.

We walk through the streets more terrified than our ancestors on the open savannah, more scared in confrontation and minor difficulty than they when standing face to face with some monster out of the black.

We cannot look into the black without seeing monsters, whether that darkness is within or without. Every space the human eye glances upon becomes populated with angels and demons, snakes and centipedes.

But the lions and snakes do not cause a permanent state of internal disorder and misery. They are defeated, or we face death.

Invented challenges neither die nor entirely defeat us; they prowl and circle us and reduce us to cowering, tricking us always into thinking they are about to strike, and never striking.

The threat is the strike, their imagined presence is the only weapon they have, as evidenced by their vanishing on those rare moments when we confront a real threat, that demands of us utter attention and focus.

Against the Modern Illusions

It seems we as modern humans do not so much expend energy as we do conserve it for no practical purpose, like bears forever preparing for a hibernation from which they will never awake. And even when we do expend our energy, we seem to seek out the means by which we can best “let if off” as if it were meaningless heat. Instead of thundering down mountain paths, we sweat over electric treadmills. Instead of building relationships with new people, we fritter away our social and sexual energies through the vicarious experience of watching; watching porn, watching television, watching sports, watching movies. We favor the illusion of experience over the experience itself, out of our basest properties as objects and living beings: inertia.

Why stand if we can remain sitting? Why talk if we can remain quiet? Why silence ourselves when the rant is already in progress? Why quit the job if we can continue business as usual, however miserable that business may be?

Luxury has made us unhappy because luxury has denied us the necessity of almost constant productive action, in the manner of our ancestors. They knew rest and recreation, but only in the purest forms, of the manner which we love but so rarely achieve; the making of crafts, the bonfire storytelling, the cooperative hunt, the rearing of the community’s children, and the act of sex with those whom we have known and appreciated for decades.

The graves of our fathers mean little to us, those of our grandfathers even less, and of the great-great-great grandfathers, who are they?

With the means to worthwhile expenditures of energy so limited, and so overwhelmed by illusions that pretend at fulfilling our soul’s most ancient and natural desires, we find ourselves passing years, decades and lifetime in dissipation. 

We dissipate the sexual desire with masturbation, out of fear of what might occur if we faced what we truly needed. We dissipate the desire for intimacy with illusory relationships with fictional characters and celebrities. We dissipate our general urge towards progress and achievement with games that allow our brains the tantalizing dopamine trickle that true achievement provides with a power that is a thousandfold the greater.

We did not merely allow this progression towards addiction to feeble and unsatisfying illusions; we purchased it. Every new means of fulfillment of the energetic urges seems a gift to those who have forgotten what it is to distinguish between hard-earned happiness and momentary contentment.

The only way out is through pain. Pleasures that do nothing to enhance our lives as a whole must be discarded if the modern human is to rise above a tolerable existence. The exhilaration of our ancestors is available to us. Their impetus was necessity; ours must be discipline.

Heroes are Victims

Us human beings tend to organize and curate our memories and beliefs so as to either elevate ourselves to positions of power or degrade ourselves into sad wretches deserving of pity.

In either case, we elect ourselves as the supreme moral authority and evaluate the merit of others according to the degree to which they conform to our conception of the ‘reasonable man’.

Moments of extreme emotional pain and tension are caused by events that challenge that authority, and we either expend energy in ignoring or distorting the natural conclusions those events would lead us to draw, or allow our most basic assumptions about the world to die and be reborn in a form capable of assimilating those conclusions.

The latter process of change can be regarded as humanity’s primary and self-directed form of Darwinian adaption.

The former is stagnation, and it happens to everyone at varying moments, and eventually, the energy spent on ignoring the truth reduces one to exhaustion and anger.

For if we are the supreme moral authority, and yet failed to achieve our vision of success, we must necessarily conclude that the Universe is fundamentally cruel and aligned in opposition to human achievement.

If we are to succeed we must learn, and if we are to learn, we must humble ourselves before those natural laws that are displayed before us in every passing moment. Without so doing, there can be no destiny for ourselves or our species.

So ask yourself:

Is this Universe populated by heroes or victims?

 

 

Why We Complain

We human beings are terrible at noticing the problems we don’t have.

The tall man does not think of the plight of the short and diminutive. Likely he is not arrogant or boastful about his own height, but rather is host to an insidious complacency wherein the issue of height or size or strength never enters his mind, and he cannot conceive why another might seem at times insecure or frightened or resentful.

Nowhere is the problem so apparent as in our beliefs regarding physical attractiveness. The exceptionally attractive live in a different world than the rest, and that world must seem a welcoming, friendly, charitable world indeed. This is an issue most philosophers do not touch because our society hates for this most common of prejudices to be analyzed.

The effect of ethnic and economic background on the trajectory of a life has become a popular topic of discussion, yet still, no one broaches the painful fact that physical attractiveness and sexual market value likely have at least as much an effect upon how the world treats you, and how you respond in turn.

If an attractive person discusses the positive effect of their looks on their own life, they are labeled arrogant and conceited. If they discuss the negative, everyone perceives them as a terrible whiner.

If an ugly person does the former, they are regarded as bitter and pessimistic, if the latter, deluded and pathetic.

We all want to avoid taking on the pain of others and reaggravating the old wounds we have worked so hard to ignore. But if we dig just an inch down into the average person’s psyche, there is usually a festering sore to be found. A sore that reopens at every glance into the mirror, or at a person with a body and face that makes people default to desiring their presence.

Take care to examine what gifts you have, and what advantages you take for granted. Else you may someday be caught on a soapbox preaching to the starving that the sugar is not sweet enough.

The Magic of Principles

Without principles, life is a never-ending series of increasingly complex and exhausting decisions. If we do not recognize the categorical patterns common to our failures and successes, we necessarily lack the raw materials needed to construct a calibrated and effective strategy for future action.

If we do not recognize the categorical patterns common to our failures and successes, we necessarily lack the raw materials needed to construct a calibrated and effective strategy for future action.

In many cases, our time would be better spent in first extracting the lessons from the problems in our lives, before endeavoring to devise a solution. Before analyzing the origins and probable duration of a problem, finding a tenable solution is nearly impossible.

The mistake we make multiple times is like a thread waiting to be pulled, by which we can uncover uncomfortable but infinitely helpful defects in our own personalities. We can only hedge against our own bad habits and biases if those biases have been identified, and systems put in place to compensate for them.

It isn’t easy to study our personal histories with the critical and impersonal objectivity, but it is possible to a great degree, as evidenced by the many people who have overcome their worst tendencies and achieved incredible, almost unbelievable results.

To study your personal failures as economists analyze the Great Depression or military leaders dissect Napolean at Waterloo is at least as useful as it is difficult.