Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What is power and why do we seek it?

Power is the ability to exert one's will upon reality, to make real in the physical world, what is already real in the imagination.

Within the mind we can dream up the most elaborate fantasies, ones in which we are able to rectify wrongs, become who we want to be, and be loved by whomever we fancy. Essentially we are gods within our mind and are limited only by the depth of our imaginations.

Yet the moment that we try to make our will be done in the actual world, we realize that our power is not only limited, it is miniscule compared to the multitude of natural and human forces acting upon the world to create the reality that we actually find ourselves in. Those whom we love may not respond in kind, the brilliant plans we have may be crushed before they come to fruition, and all manner of injustice and hardship is thrust upon our backs, sometimes without the possibility of redress.

One can imagine an idealized moment in the history of our species, when the first modern human became self aware and reflected upon her condition, realizing that she was weak and vulnerable to all that nature would wrought, that despite the remarkable gift of creativity, her power was contained within the physical limitations of her body.

This may have prompted the first philosphical musings on the possibility of gods and godesses, of a trancendant spiritual power that could somehow bridge the gap between ther world of matter and the world of ideas. This may have brought comfort, had it not been too hard to live in communion with spirits that would always be more powerful than man.

Thus a second option may have been thought up, one which would reject the comfort of some other world beyond ours, or of a limited place for us. The humility of such a position within the economy of the cosmos would have been too meek for some, and thus the tragedy of power would have been brought into the world of man.

This second option, this tragedy of power, entails seeking to maximize one's ability to exert one's will upon reality. Because we are limited in our raw physical power, this requires cajoling, convicing, and sometimes forcing other human beings to do our bidding. Thus opression and tyranny are born.

Of course those who take this path provide comfort, protection, and direction for those that do not, such is the history of our great civilizations, where "great men" have led millions to glory. But with glory also comes ruin and suffering as the wills of these kings and emperors become so corrputed by the power they weild, that they think themselves divine and incapable of error. Thus they stumble into dangerous situations they can not control, and they go from success to failer because whenever they try to put reality in a box, the universe just makes the box bigger. 

This can be observed in common individual as well, the woman or man who tries to control everything and everyone around them. They see in times, that the more they try to control and direct, the more things slip away from their grasp and the more the variables stack up against them. Teetering on the brink of breakdown, they scarcely manage to maintain order amid the chaos, and sooner or later the stress destroy's their health, relationships, and all the dreams they once had.

So what can be done about this tragic situation?

The truth is that we can not do much about the world as it stands, because even if we realize the truth, others will likely remain in ignorance and folly and we will have to content with suffering their mistakes as they spill over into our lives.

Yet we do have the ability to let go of our quest for power and recognize that we will always exist in a constant state of tension between our limited animal nature and our divine unlimited potential in the mind and the spirit. Realizing that we are limited is not to give up our ability to make decisions and influence the world around us, rather it frees us from a doomed struggle for ultimate power and allows us to focus on areas where we can make a difference and experess our creative power.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"The Good"

This blog has been formed in order to bring to bear ancient philosophical wisdom to tackle the complex social issues of the day. It will not be concerned with politics or economics except tangentially as they may reflect deep social trends affecting humanity in the present day.

I will concern myself primarily with what “the good” is in a general sense. I understand that in the contemporary context, such seeking is either forbidden or severely looked down upon as na├»ve or simplistic, yet I firmly hold to the belief that while our interpretations of the good may change and evolve over time, we are still in fact still searching for some sort of moral axis in the human experience, a guiding trajectory of virtue that at least in an ideal world, can improve us both individually and as a species.

I therefore also adhere to the idea that society is man written large and not the converse; that whatever systems we erect in our long slow march to the stars will always reflect the internal constitution and moral outlook of the individuals comprising them.

This is the wisdom of the ancients, individuals who attained, if not exceeded, the same level of understanding of the human psyche that our modern psychological and cognitive disciplines have reached in the modern world. Indeed, as this blog will show over time, whether the topic is morality, sexuality, or happiness, many studies are confirming what the ancient philosophers wrote about so many centuries ago.

Getting back to the point at hand however, I will put forth a concept of “the good” which will guide the discussions contained within this blog over time. Essentially, “the good” as it will be understood here, is nothing more than the search for those essential principles of life which if followed, would lead to the greatest possible flourishing for the greatest number of human beings.  I refer to the greatest number because I believe there will always be exceptions, or individual circumstances in which alternative principles could be followed and still lead to flourishing for that particular human being. This allows us to have tolerance for different life principles while still seeking general principles which could apply to the large bulk of our species.

Some may argue that the existence of alternative principles would invalidate the very notion of essential principles, but this objection can be overcome if we simply see these alternative principles as akin to outliers in a statistical analysis. Just as the existence of outliers does not invalidate the rest of the data, the existence of alternative principles which may work for some people in some contexts, does not affect the more general principles for the rest of us. Furthermore, we can imagine principles which can never lead to flourishing, principles which are so far outside the wide river of moral thought that they are no longer on the path to any improvement in the human condition but rather actively run against such improvement and produce ruin in those who adhere to them.  This is how we can discern the good even in the complex and dynamic social reality of today.

This blog will seek out the good, understanding perhaps that a complete knowledge of what is good can never really be attained by mere mortal minds. Yet with a rediscovery of timeless principles, and a critical analysis of today’s social issues in light of those principles, the hope is help others find their own journey towards the good in their own existence, even if that only amounts to some singular solitary soul which stumbles upon this blog.