The following was written by ‘Caratacus’ Clifton1380. Any comments made on this post will be shared with the individual that wrote it, thank you.
Rene Descartes, one of the giants of the Enlightenment, stated ‘cogito ergo sum’ – I think therefore I am. This has been a staple of philosophy ever since and although there are some reservations about this statement, it could be said to be a true representation of human consciousness which enables us a sense of freedom; Human freedom will be the subject of discussion here.
Existentialism can be seen as a modern form of philosophy but in truth its lineage can be traced back to those early Greek philosophers and in many ways our thoughts of existence can be said to what define us as human. In the last century philosophers such as Jean Paul Satre, Martin Heidegger and writers such as Dostoevsky, Albert Camus and Franz Kafka popularised existentialism and examined the meaning that life has or, as Satre and Camus would say, the absurdity of life. Indeed, Satre famously stated that, ‘we are condemned to be free’.
In the post-war years of the Western World this question gained a poignancy because of the atrocities of the Second World War and this led to the freedom of expression of the 1960’s, free love and the ‘Hippy’ culture. This can be said to be where a misunderstanding of Existentialism began, that life is meaningless and we can do what we feel. This statement does have some validity but is without the definitive meaning of Existentialism; do as you feel but be prepared to face the consequences of your actions.
Arguably, we now live in the post-religious era and this means that for many there is no god that watches over his creation and that our existence is just a happy coincidence in the universe. It could be said that our lives lack a meaning, a goal, now that we see the passing of the dominance of the Judaeo-Christian hegemony from Western Society in that we are not born with a purpose and there is no eternal set of checks and balances for humanity to navigate. It is succinctly put in Dostoevsky’s words, ‘without god is everything permitted?’
The answer could be seen to be that without god morality ceases to be the monolith of right and wrong that we believe it to be, it becomes a series of subjective preferences that change from society to society, age to age, much as morality has done through time immemorial; we enter into what Friedrich Nietzsche called ‘beyond good and evil’. We have to accept, as humans, that everything we see and feel and everything we believe is entirely subjective. Our lives are a solid mass of subjective thoughts, feelings and beliefs. This is not to deny empirical truth but to say that our lives and perceptions are entirely subjective.
As has been previously stated, empirical truth is not on trial or in any sense being denied. Humanity can measure the temperature of the air or of the sun, measure distance or track the movement of heavenly bodies across the cosmos but, as Camus said, the biggest question in philosophy or indeed life is this; is life worth living? If my life is not worth living empirical truth is of little help to me, if the quality of my life is devastated by a car accident then being able to describe to me in medical terms why my injuries are so painful and debilitating will be of little comfort to me. It is clear that empirical truth has a place in our lives to understanding the universe around us in an objective way but it is of little help to us to understand the human condition.
So, we are without god but is anything permitted? Obviously, the answer is no. We have to give ourselves boundaries and meaning. Now that we have to admit, essentially, that our lives have no meaning but this is not meant in a negative way but in the realistic sense espoused by Satre and Camus. Our lives are blank, we are born without meaning, without a reason to exist so the onus is for us to create a meaningful existence for ourselves. This, in turn, provides grounds for us to live ethically, to live morally for ourselves and not from a religion of the book.
In this quest for meaning we can be truly free. Not free from the upsets and distresses of everyday life but free to make our decisions, to think for ourselves and move away from our, as Nietzsche stated, slave morality to a master morality. It would not be beneficial for the survival for the human race for each and every person to do as they pleased and that is not an outcome that can be sincerely advocated. We have to accept our responsibilities and the consequences of our lives and, to me, this is what living morally and ethically means. We cannot stand singularly but must help others to find this freedom.
However, there are issues with outside agencies that effect our freedom of choice and even our intellectual liberty. Firstly, the society in which we live stifles all forms of liberty. This can been seen in the censorship or partisanship of the mass media and even in the established norms and values of the culture that we were raised in, it could be argued that one informs the other. In that sense, our free choice and freedoms are massively limited by what the culture, (informed by the media which is often the propaganda arm of the ruling elite) family and education system considers valued and normal behaviour.
Here we reach the paradoxical arrangements of society that creates a system where freedom is limited due to the interests of the ruling elite and the business world in general. In this sense we need to live with a certain amount of doubt about the world around us as those who wish to control our freedom, our mind and labour, will use open media outlets to change and alter public opinion and, by extension, what is considered normal behaviour. In many ways society is becoming far more conformist and controlled than ever before. Consider this; laws are made by government, enforced by the police who are employed by the government and you are judged in a court of law presided over by a governmental employee, the judge. Your legal representative has primary obligations to the government and not to you.
Karl Marx, who will need no preamble, believed that it was the creation of private property that caused the rise of inequality and human freedom. It is this private property that continues to create an unequal society that is propagated by the dehumanisation of us all to create more wealth for the privileged few. Indeed, it has been reported that 1% of the world holds 98% of its wealth and this is not acceptable and it is a balance that cannot be maintained ad infinitum. This seems to be a digression but it cuts at the very heart of our freedom, both intellectual and physical.
It must be considered that these elites control the information we can receive through their various media conglomerates and through their counterparts who rule in governments throughout the world. It can never be denied that education is a great gift but the compulsory education system, created in the reign of Queen Victoria, is to benefit the corporate world with workers who are educated enough to perform their role and to profit the company but little else. This education can be and should be used to break free of these invisible bonds that ties each of us to conform to the wishes of this faceless elite.
If this is the reality then why is it not challenged? This reality is challenged but agitators are destroyed and have little effect. This is because they have stood alone or in small groups and have been destroyed by those they are trying to free. This is not due to a conscious complicity but because humans are social animals and generally scared of change. This can be seen throughout history, the world was flat, the world was the centre of the universe; people who think differently are ostracised because they threaten the conservatism and humans, it could be said, follow the path of least resistance.
Although there has been socialism since the 19th century it has been splintered and now, in the UK at least, has become part of the establishment which has caused this movement to change into a neoliberal dystopia, which aligns itself with the needs and values of the elite. At present, Jeremy Corbyn seems likely to be elected as the leader of the Labour Party due to open desire to move to the left and support the people who created the party. However, this will still be within the confines of the system and will have little power alone to change the neoliberal capitalism that succeeds through the destruction of liberty and freedom. Arguably, it is the entire system that needs to change as the changing of the personnel will do little to change this situation in the longer term. It has been said that compromise is the death of revolution.
The creation of the nation state, again in the 19th century, and the prevalence of nationalism since that time can be said to increase inequality, indifference to suffering and the legitimatisation of prejudice and inhumanity. This state has helped divide ordinary people from each other and halts any joint effort to bring forward social equality. It must be seen that national borders are arbitrary lines drawn on a map that have no physical power. Through these lines resentment and hatred for each other can be built and groomed, stopping these people uniting to find a better way of life. This halts a universal quest for freedom and liberty. Until this idea is widely accepted we will continue to see ourselves as English or Scots when really we are equals and friends in a fight against our continued enslavement.
In the final analysis, we can find true freedom. We can even find it here, now and today, in the limited choices that we have. However, to accept this would be to deny ourselves and future generations of economic, intellectual and physical liberty that should be our birth right. An analogy could be seen as this; humanity is locked in a brightly lit room and believes that this is the world and we are free. There is, however, a door to a wider world filled with sunshine hidden in the shadow created by the lightbulb in the centre of the room.
I am a citizen of the world – Diogenes of Sinope.
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