Under the Influence

Galen Strawson is my latest male crush. With almost everything I read or hear from him, I say, ‘that’s what I think’, over and over and over again. So I thought I’d share some of my journey to now. I made a post about female influences not too long ago. This is a bit different.

My first obsession, let’s say was the Beatles. I can’t pinpoint precisely when, but when I was a child, it’s been said that I would sing ‘she’s got a chicken to ride’ when it came on to AM radio. I asked for or bought all of their albums, and read everything about them that a kid could get his hands on back in the day. This obsession lasted for years and overlaps some of my next interests. My interests were in John Lennon’s political interests and George Harrison’s spiritual interests. I didn’t really find Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr very interesting beyond their musical abilities. And to be honest, I also got all of the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and so on. At my peak, I had over a thousand vinyl records—all lost in a house fire because vinyl and heat are generally incompatible. Paper didn’t fare much better, as I lost hundreds of books, too. A lesson in impermanence.

I am a bit of a nonconformist, a contrarian, and a polemicist

In grades 5 to 8, National Socialism and World War II were fascinating to me. Not Hitler, per se, though I do recall reading Mein Kampf at the time. There was just something about the sense of unity. Upon reflection, I realised that this meant me conforming to some other trend, and that was no longer interesting, as I am a bit of a nonconformist, a contrarian, and a polemicist, so there was that.

At some point, I came across Voltaire’s Candide and it just struck me. This may have commenced me on my path to becoming somewhat of a francophile. I extended my interest into the language and culture. My WWII phase has already primed that pump. I remember reading Dumas, Hugo, and some Descartes.

After I graduated, I was a recording engineer and musician. I remember reading Schoenberg’s Structural Function of Harmony and being enamoured with Dvořák and Stravinsky. I was influenced by many musicians, engineers, and producers, but there was just something about Schoenberg.

I went through a Kafka phase—that eventually included Donald Barthelme. His Absurdism was a nice foundation for my subsequent interest in Camus. It was something that just resonated with me. After Kafka, I discovered Dostoyevsky and consumed everything of his I could get my hands on.

I took from Jung and Campbell the importance of metaphor

In the 1990s, I discovered Carl Jung and eventually Joseph Campbell and a few years I spent reading Jung’s Complete Works and peripheral material related to Archetypal and Depth Psychology. I absorbed the material. I took from Jung and Campbell the importance of metaphor, but it never really resonnated beyond this.

Somehow, this experience led me to the Existentialism of Sartre (and Camus and Beauvoir). At the same time something clicked with me, I was always put off by the teleological imperative these guys seemed to insist upon—Sartre’s political involvement and Camus’ insistence on Art. These were their paths—and I certainly had an interest in Art and Politics—, but I felt this was too prescriptive.

For a brief time, I really liked Hume (and Spinoza), but then I discovered Nietzche and felt compelled to read his major works. It all made sense to me. It still does. Nietsche set me up for Foucault with his power relationships and the sense that morality, good, and evil are all socially constructed and contextual.

And Nietzsche brought me to Foucault and his lens of Power. These two still resonate with me. I investigated a lot of postmodern thinkers after this.

Nietzsche brought me to Foucault and his lens of Power

Daniel Dennett came next. He seems brilliant, and I tend to agree with most of what he says. I was still absorbing. Where biologist Robert Sapolsky gets philosophical, it’s about the same.

But Galen Strawson is different. And I have a lot of catching up to do in my reading of his direct work. The difference is that with these prior influences, I was absorbing and synthesising—creating my own perspectives and worldview. By the time I am finding Strawson, with every encounter, I am ticking off boxes.

  • That’s what I think
  • That’s what I think
  • That’s what I think
  • That’s what I think

Only, he started publishing in the 1960s. I could have been reading his work all along. Since I agree with 99.999 per cent of what I get from him and he is such a deep thinker, I am looking for two things:

  1. Something that expands rather than confirms
  2. Some spaces to operate that he has missed or ignored

As I continue on my Anti-Agency project and gather more inputs and perspectives, I’ll be considering a lot of Strawson. Here’s a clip I really enjoyed. I am thinking of doing a sort of reaction piece, but whether or not that happens, here’s the source.

[Video] Galen Strawson — Is Free Will a Necessary Illusion?

Spoiler Alert: I believe that free will is a cognitive bias related to apophenia. It’s a Gestalt heuristic.

Gimme Some Truth

John Lennon wrote this song in 1968 and released it as a solo artist, post-Beatles breakup, but he clearly was no post-modern. He embraced truth. He searched for it. To many, he had found it; following Heidegger’s logic, Lennon was authentic; not living the life someone else designed for him; living up to his potential.

This is quaint. I’d always loved John. He was my favourite Beatle. Paul was always too saccharine for me. I liked George, but his mysticism went off the rails. And Ringo—well, Ringo was Ringo. What’s not to like about the guy?—as long as you’re not talking about his prowess as a drummer.

I watched a YouTube video, and felt compelled to write a response—one I’ve recast and embellished here.

What is Postmodernism – Armored Skeptic

To a postmodernist, there is no objective truth. End of story. There is no further discussion. To postmodernists, a claim that there is some objective truth is parallel to hearing a proponent of religion who claims there is a God just because s/he says so. Truth is like God: it doesn’t exist. Period. End of story. And so like the religious who will ramble on for days about their God, so the modernist do the same.

Like the notion of God, Truth is a construct of human language, and they’re both fictions. People often confuse facts with truth. Facts are descriptive attributes about things or ideas whereas truth is about some inviolable, absolute notion. But facts are analytic or tautological: the car is red. Sure, we’ve constructed a term ‘car’ and a term ‘red’. If a thing exists that is both a car and red, then the statement is factually correct, but there is nothing true about it. It provides no additional information than ‘all bachelors are unmarried’.

The problem with truth is that we are attempting to make some universal claim, so let me pick an easy one: Thou shalt not kill: killing is bad. As an emotivist (post-modern philosopher AJ Ayer’s term), this translates to ‘Boo, murder’ or ‘I don’t like murder’, but there is no truth component to be found. Moreover, when it is brought to my attention that I abide with killing very frequently—by means of eating meat or vegetables—, I can attempt to limit the scope: Thou shalt not kill people. Of course, there are all sorts of escape clauses from this, whether wars, police action, capital punishment, euthanasia, abortion, and what have you. Each of these is differently good or bad subject to the observer. Why? Because there is no objective truth behind the claim. It was fabricated in the same manner Gods, governments, and other human institutions were fabricated.

So, the claim is that there is no basis for the status quo, which clearly jeopardises the standing of the status quo, so they pull a yellow card and argue that you are not allowed to argue without accepting their notion of truth. Otherwise, how can they win the argument? This is akin to arguing when you are stranded in the desert without fuel in your vehicle that there has to be fuel or else you can’t progress. And so the status quo has no fuel, and so it whines that the postmodernists just aren’t fair. In fact, they are accused of speaking nonsense, which sounds a lot like what the church claimed about heretics all those years ago. Only now, the modernists are the church holding onto a past that never was.

Finally, grouping all of these different postmodern disciplines together is like lumping all atheists together—they may have little in common save for the disbelief in God and gods, but their rationale and path may be orders of magnitude apart.

But all I want is some truth…

John Lennon – Gimme Some Truth