According to both the German philosopher Ludwig Klages and the present-day iconoclastic Indian thinker U G Krishnamurti, there is a continuous fight going on in the universe between – on the one hand : life, nature, the body, the senses, and – on the other hand : spirit, culture, the mind, thinking. Life does not really need thinking except, to some degree, as a useful tool. As David Hume says : reason is a slave to the passions and should be. Life can perfectly well carry on its own. It has its own laws, its own spontaneous equilibrium. It is an ever continuing process which, as far we know, is also its own purpose.
Every individual plant, every animal, every human being is, from nature’s point of view, a device, a channel for experiencing part of itself. When I see, hear or feel something, when people fight or make love, when individual beings are born or die, all this, with all the sensations and feelings it involvess, can be considered as nature looking into the mirror, nature looking for its own hidden depths or, if we may borrow this concept from psychoanalysis, nature becoming conscious of its own unconscious. Our status, as individuals, in this universal process, can be compared to the status of small leaves on a giant tree, of organs, or perhaps even just cells, in the great cosmic organism.
You will have understood that this view, which I happen to share with Klages and U G, puts me on a somewhat different track from most libertarians. It’s hard to be a libertarian if the status you’re willing to grant the individual is comparable to that of a leaf on a tree, of a cell in a organism.
It’s hard to be a libertarian if the status you’re willing to grant the individual is comparable to that of a leaf on a tree, of a cell in an organism.
I don’t despise cells or leaves. Healthy cells are necessary to the tree and thus, on some level, the individual is important too. What I question is the individualist point of view, which glorifies the individual as a unique, autonomous reality, different in kind from everything else, and which can use all other things in the world as it sees fit, as nothing more then ‘objects’. And when it comes to the ‘freedom’ of this individual, I become even more reticent.
Philosophically speaking, the freedom of the individual is about as questionable as a principle as the freedom of the leaf or the cell. In fact, there happens to be a defence mechanism that kicks in when the individual cell decides to become free, autonomous, to go its own way, regardless of the needs, the nature and the structure of the larger organism, and that word is cancer. A strong case can be made for comparing our contemporary social situation to a sort of planetary cancer. We, as individuals, increasingly refuse to play our role as part of the larger social or natural whole, we want to pursue our own ends. As a result, we disrupt and may ultimately even distroy both the social and natural systems of which we are part, without ever getting any real satisfaction in return. If the statistics about the increase of suicide, drug abuse, crime, psycho-somatic illnesses and neuroses are any indication, the individual cells have little to show as a result of their refusal to act as tools of the organism of which they are part. May I remind you that in physical illness the result is exactly the same. When the cancer cells have succeeded in destroying the organism, then they die too.
To find the cause of this negative result, we have to go back to the second part of our original dichotomy : reason, thought, the spirit, culture. Reason, which, when its limits are accepted, can be a useful tool in the process of life, especially in a negative sense; i.e., protecting us from dangers, has partially, and increasingly, as civilisation progresses, become autonomous. Instead of being satisfied with its role as a tool, a helper of life, it has become a rival, which in turn wants to use life for its own purposes.
If we had more time, we could do a little experiment, during which I would ask you not to think for a few minutes, but simply to keep your mind open for whatever impressions occur, without adding any mental comments, associations or judgements to it. What this attempt which, I am sure, would fail miserably, would show is that thinking, no longer satisfied with its subordinate role has committed a coup d’Ã©tat. We can no longer refuse to think, even if we want to. Real life, the things we see, hear and touch, are only used at irregular intervals as materials for further thought. For most of us the balance has tipped, especially so the more civilised and intellectual we are. We live in a mental world, little different from a dream world. Like any other parasite, this dream world feeds on the real world. I think this is what is meant by systems like indian vedanta and some kinds of buddhism when they say the world is an illusion or a dream. As I understand it, they don’t really meant that the world doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist to us ! The world is there, but our world is different. It’s a dream world, even less similar to the real one than a map is the territory it describes. It’s a world of thoughts, associations, images, interpretations, even plain fantasies and daydreams, even farther apart from the real world, the world of the senses, the body, the world of real life.
Conclusion : the world of life is slowly gobbled up, preyed upon by the world of mind ; the world of nature is parasitised by the world of culture or civilisation ; the world of feeling is preyed upon by the technosphere, or more briefly : the world as it is is preyed upon by man, since it is, of course, we human beings who do all this thinking, this reasening.
Is there anything wrong with man himself or can we stick to the more moderate position that man as such is all right, but that he is only making technical mistakes, temporary errors as it were ? I am afraid the latter position is unacceptable. If some being persists in acting wrongly, if it continuously devours and distroys its own habitat without even attaining happiness itself as a result, then we must conclude that something is wrong with that being.
Modern man especially has become a ‘clever idiot’ who, like the computers he has made, is very strong at reasoning, abstracting, proving and refuting whatever he wishes, solving problems and creating new ones, but very weak at understanding what really mattersâ€¦
Modern man especially has become a ‘clever idiot’ who, like the computers he has made, is very strong at reasoning, abstracting, proving and refuting whatever he wishes, solving problems and creating new ones, but very weak at understanding what really matters : himself, his own nature, his relation to his fellow-beings and to the whole of reality, the mystery of life.
Generally speaking, we can say that excesses in nature are as dangerous as shortages. Man’s forefather, the hominid ape, got along perfectly well with the size of brain he had. With it he was able to solve the problems nature provided him with. He had no need of it being doubled or trebled. If this happened anyway, the result would be almost predictable. When a problem is solved, you can’t solve it twice or three times. What you can do is to create new problems, discover pseudo-needs, try to satisfy these, fail to obtain real satisfaction, search for an explanation, try new ways involving new problems etcâ€¦
The result of all this is that modern man has – in spite of all his progress, his technology, his civilisation, his culture, or perhaps just because of it – even more problems without even a glimmer of hope of real solutions. When I walk along the streets, I don’t see smiling, relaxed, satisfied people indicating the happiness real progress (if such a thing was possible) would produce. What I see instead are increasingly nervous, agitated people, involved in perennial internal dialogues with other real or imagined people. In effect: sleepwalkers. When, at 60 or 65, they can retire from all this to enjoy the results of their frantic working and thinking, most of them are so addicted to such processes that they feel even more unhappy than before. All this, as I see it, is the result of a civilisation which has chosen mind and reason instead of nature and the earth – it is, in fact, the result of the very process of civilisation or culture itself.
One of these days, I suppose Nature will scratch its head and murmur: ‘Now, this human joke is going a bit too far. Perhaps it’s time we put an end to it.
I can’t say I’ll blame Nature for that.