Natural Causes

Some of us are concerned with the metanarratives underlying society, but and given society is apt to have many competing metanarratives. Logical Positivists tapped into the narrative of science, which is a primary theme of Enlightenment thinking. This was supposed to have supplanted the narrative of superstition, except it didn’t. And a sort of empirical, scientific Nature was supposed to have supplanted the metaphysical gods, except it didn’t.

Illuminati Eye Symbol

Apart from the problem that a supernatural God was replaced with a sort of animated Nature, some people just didn’t buy into the new narrative. Today, in the 21st Century Western world, some people still subscribe to these pre-Enlightenment notions, but that’s not the root of the issue. Neither is necessarily right or wrong. And in a Hegelian synthesis, some people assuage the ensuing cognitive dissonance by merging the two and cherry-picking the ones that work for them. These people usually have little difficulty finding people who believe that the earth is 4.5 billion or 6 thousand years old, that Ayurvedic medicine is superior or inferior to Allopathic medicine, that vaccines cause or don’t cause autism, that homeopathy is effective or ineffective, that the Illuminati are some secret society that rules the world or not.

Many people still can’t get past an appeal to nature, whence the Organic and traditional medicine movements. This is not to say that some or all of these claims might have validity; it’s just to say that ‘because it’s natural’ is not a suitable defence. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day—unless it’s set to a 24-hour display, in which case it’s only right once a day.

Without rehashing the argument whole hog, we know that poison ivy and uranium, arsenic, and cyanide are all natural. Not many attempt to defend this with an appeal to nature, so this suffers from selection bias from the start.

you cannot go against nature
because if you do
go against nature
it's part of nature, too

— Love and Rockets, No New Tale to Tell

The larger issue is about how we define nature. I don’t recall if this was Lyotard or Lacan (and I don’t feel like looking for the cross-reference at the moment), but by definition everything observed is natural, whether physical or behaviour.

Love and Rockets – No New Tell to Tell

Some humans—notably the Enlightened ones—like to view themselves as somehow above nature, but the veneer is nanometers thin and threadbare at that. And these people extend this concept to behaviour. As the song goes, you can’t go against nature because when you do, when you observe it, it is by definition part of nature, too.

Oftentimes, this becomes a moral argument: this or that is unnatural. Certain sexual activities are usually held up as examples, and yet many of these activities are not only practised by many humans, they are also practised by members of other species. The argument is that we need to elevate about nature, an so they are making some appeal to meta-nature or some such.

In any case, the complaint shouldn’t be whether it’s natural anyway. It might rather be couched in some instances as not ‘naturally occurring’, so plastics would not happen save for manufacture, but neither would asphalt or telephones or televisions or processed foods, so I find it to be disingenuous to rail against some items that do not occur naturally whilst ignoring the ones you happen to find useful.

Advertisements

History for the Masses

Crispin Sartwell authored an Opinion piece about how to render history, and he presented several alternative perspectives.

The problem is that history is none of these or at least it doesn’t much matter. History is a narrative; it’s rhetoric; it’s a map, and an apparent goal is to simplify trends, but in fact, real history is a complexity of events and simplification is as often as reductio absurdum that not. Sure, facts are sprinkled in so people can latch on to them and say, ‘that happened’. But history is durative. It’s not just a locus of trivia and factoids. Some say that hindsight is 20/20, but even this is untrue. Humans are not very well equipped to perform analysis and even less so when the analysis is complex. We have all sorts of cognitive biases and backwards-form noise into signal or presume some weak link is as a strong link, moreover, a causal link. Humans love the simplistic notion of cause and effect. We rarefy Newton’s Third Law and even adopt this concept into morality vis-a-vis karma: what comes around, goes around. And we apply this to history. But what if history is more like music? What if, as Debussy said, regarding music, that history is the spaces between the notes, between the events?

“Music is the space between the notes.”

— Claude Debussy

In the world of mass market investment, it’s claiming the stock market declined because of some single factor. It’s a nod to facile humans and their limited capacity to grasp complexity and to settle for some heuristic that assuages cognitive dissonance.

On a smaller scale or considering grander themes, Hegel’s Dialectics is functionally decent, but it misses the Butterfly Effect of interrelated events and forces.

 

Rhetoric and nothing more

Morality is nothing more than rhetoric. Rhetorical devices are employed, and a person will either accept or reject the claim contingent to an emotional response based on prior experiences. This is Ayer’s Emotivist position—or even that of George Berkeley. There is no moral truth, and any moral truths are nothing more than an individual’s or group of individuals’ acceptance of a given claim. Rhetoric is used to sway the claim.

Logic is employed but only after having been filtered through the experience through the emotion and through the rhetoric. Accepting some particular truth claim does not make it true; neither does rejecting a truth claim make it false.

I’d like to expound upon this, but for now, I’ll create this placeholder.

Fast-forward, and I’ve returned. Still, I feel that morality is nothing more than rhetoric. Perhaps I’m even more convinced—and this extends into jurisprudence and politics. I’ve rather latched onto Foucault’s or Geuss’ sense of power or Adorno’s socially necessary illusion that is ideology by way of Marx.

Talking about power, Geuss says, “you may be more powerful than I am by virtue of being a charismatic figure who is able to attract enthusiastic, voluntary support from others, or by virtue of being able to see and exploit a strategic, rhetorical, or diplomatic weakness in my position”.

« One cannot treat “power” as if it referred to a single, uniform substance or relation wherever it was found. It makes sense to distinguish a variety of qualitatively distinct kinds of powers. There are strictly coercive powers you may have by virtue of being physically stronger than me, and persuasive powers by virtue of being convinced of the moral rightness of your case; or you may be more powerful than I am by virtue of being a charismatic figure who is able to attract enthusiastic, voluntary support from others, or by virtue of being able to see and exploit a strategic, rhetorical, or diplomatic weakness in my position. »

I tend to think of myself as a proponent of the Hegelian dialectic, but even this is in a rather small-t teleology manner instead of a capital-T flavour, so I feel that although history moves in somewhat of human-guided direction, there is no reason to believe it’s objectively better than any number of other possible directions, though one might be able to gain consensus regarding improvement along several dimensions. Even this will not be unanimous.

[To be continued…]