An old friend from philosophy grad school and I are asking a pressing, non-philosophical question: What the hell is going on? It isn’t just American politics that’s completely gone off the rails; it’s relations between people.
Here’s a telling example. Not long ago, it was ok to lie to your boss about being sick if you needed a day off. It wasn’t good, but as long as one only did so once a year it was accepted.
In recent months it has become commonplace to lie to your friends and acquaintances about being sick when one isn’t. It’s being widely used as an excuse for not keeping one’s word or not keeping a date (romantic or otherwise).
The problem is that if you say you’re sick once with a friend or acquaintance when you’re not, you break trust for good. Perhaps people are figuring, since there’s so little trust anyway, why not just say I’m sick and get a pass, plus a little sympathy?
This is a small but significant example of how prior norms of decency have become quaint, how even minimal honesty has broken down into labyrinths of deceit. What the hell is going on?
As my friend Dan put it, “the linchpin of human order is crumbling.” If we define the linchpin of human order as the construction of the self and its symbols—not just the Western, individualized self, but the collective self and traditional culture before ‘the American model’ became globally predominant—then we are indeed facing a crisis of consciousness itself. Science cannot help us.
Most people see physics, the hardest of the hard sciences, physics, as immune from cultural considerations, but it isn’t so. After Einstein and the emergence of quantum physics, physicists largely gave up on forming coherent explanations (the domain of philosophy) in favor of a strictly mathematized approach.
That allowed great technological benefits, but made the discoveries of physics increasingly incomprehensible and remote. That in turn led to a mystification of science on one hand, and over-valuation of technology on the other.
If philosophy had not been marginalized, and the necessity of coherent explanation remained central, science would have continued to develop, without the Musk/Bezos/Branson absurdities of today.
And if that is true of physics, how much more influenced by cultural factors is psychology? Despite its rampant failure in recent years to provide real remedies to individuals, much less the culture, the pseudo-science of psychology retains a privileged position.
Arguably, the psychological industry has produced more harm in the last half century than any other field. Millions of people have been swept up in the pharmaceutical approach, and become dependent on powerful antidepressants and anti-bipolar medication, many turned into numbed-out ‘zombies’ (conduits of collective darkness). Inwardly, nothing is actually dealt with; everything is permanently deferred.
Philosophy has to reclaim its central role in providing coherent, compelling and fluid explanations for scientific discoveries, as well as what is happening to the individual and humankind. Such explanations must be infused by open-ended insight rather than closed-system theories and conclusions.
For example, can psychology be redefined in terms of negating the structure and content of the self, rather than reinforcing the structure and content of the self? What would such a redefinition of psychology look like, and how would it be conducive to individual and collective health and wholeness?
During deeper meditative states, all-inclusive, undirected attention grows intense through passive observation of the outer and inner movement without the division and duality of the observer. The mind-as-thought falls completely silent, and there is only sensory perception, plus insight. During such states, it feels as if one has left the psychological dimension altogether.
These aren’t just ‘peak experiences,’ or even intimations of illumination (unrelated to the New Age, Marianne Williamson variety of ‘enlightenment’); they are touchstones for keeping one’s head and heart above the social and psychological sewage of the culture.
Speaking for myself, I feel there is no choice but to go all the way, ending thought and transmuting the brain itself. That’s a daunting task even for those who are contemplatively inclined, much less ordinary people caught up in all the trivialities of society.
We are truly in uncharted territory. I’m reminded of Plato’s account of the trial of Socrates, during which the doomed philosopher says:
“Do not be angry at me for speaking the truth; no man will survive who genuinely opposes you or any other crowd and prevents the occurrence of many unjust and illegal happenings in the city. A man who really fights for justice must lead a private, not a public life if he is to survive for even a short time.”