Thought Archive

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Price of Liberty

It has been long argued that human progress and its development is a long established certainty. Indeed it has been argued that this is the only certainty in the vile and unpredictable world of today. As some philosophers stated - and my humble self tends to agree with their position - this is an misconception that permeates the modern Western mind. No more infallible that all the previous grand ideas, idea of progress and reason moving the World ahead is a beautiful but flowed one. I remember with irony, the name bestowed upon guild of Soviet writers by Stalin – “The engineers of human souls”. Now these engineers have become scientists and businessmen and we pray for salvation from our misery, putting our faiths in a solution or improvement in a human condition in them or in Governments that we elect. The premise is a simple one – if a man is no more than a assembly of chemicals and his emotions are chemical reactions, his imperfections are to be fixed by combination of nature (change in genetics) and nurture (adherence to a new moral code).

The only dissenting voice in this discourse is the voice of the past, we tend to think – the voice that urges us to overlook superficial reality of rational belief. And yet, affluent people of today's West are no happier now in the modern world than they were in the past. Nor they look into the future with any more certainty than peoples of the past, consoled by religion could.

If we look at our own Islamic examples, where some parallels to the development of Western thought can be sought, a certain narrative emerges by the time when Mutazilites were long defeated and gone and Greek philosophy was in retreat across the Arab world. In his “Refutation of Philosophy” Al-Ghazzali wrote damning critique of contemporary Arabic rationalists- explaining that reason was responsible for sins of a vain humanity, and how exercise of reason-derived judgement about God and His attributes is ultimately futile. As a result of his and his followers’ work Plato has triumphed above Aristotle in the East and stayed triumphant throughout ages, thus making it hardly possible to create a rational discourse that appeared in liberated Christian Protestant societies and led to creation of the modern Anglo-Saxon concept of liberty.

With advancement of the Age of Enlightment reason became more and more associated with the West of “unbelievers” and was thus praised and recognized as the quality to be had. Unreason (as the spontaneous and irrational can be called) was something wild, dangerous, and mysteriously Oriental – something to be amazed by looking at whirling dervishes and tea ceremonies but rarely used in a building of a harmonious society. Religions were dogmas and as such – even though elaborate rational systems were build around them – not subjects to reason and inquiry based on reason. Societies build on them or around were thus not something which could be universally applicable.

The new Western liberal society was build on something totally different. It was all simple – as John Stuart Mills had explained - people’s pursuit of happiness can be satisfied if society is build upon the conditions to have least amount of unhappiness in the world. To govern this rational society of happy people, the laws should be put in place and the laws should be enforced by people themselves. Thus liberty and democracy combined together after many setbacks and agonies to produce a state of affairs we have today, the one fervently believed in US and cautiously defended in Europe. This “ideal” society may not exist in the most of the world, but it is the only model that the world currently is led to believe will lead to eventual happiness and salvation of humanity.

People flourished in such an environment satisfying their intellectual, artistic , carnal, financial or spiritual desires. Every possible desire except the one that would hurt another individual even in the least, could be satisfied. On this moral principle rape and murder are banned but poetry and painting, even of pornographic nature are allowed, as “lesser” of evils to be let loose on the society.

Yet what is the price to pay for us, as human beings in such “benevolent” society. Liberty in the Western society gave us power to think unrestricted (too few use it but it is their own fault, goes the argument) by external power or religious dogma. For the first time in human history there are no answers amongst the prophets of today to masses of people as to which way we should be developing ourselves – and it is so because community of modern prophets - who are thinkers, intellectuals and politicians - is fragmented and atomized to an absolute maximum. For those few who dare to think there are no answers, no prophets and no salvation promise. It is for those who do not dare or care to do so, there is general satisfaction with the world of today.

Thus we arrive at paradox that freedom grants us, the paradox of choice. This problem does not usually arise in societies ruled by enforced dogma or irrational belief. In former the totalitarian thought dominates individual expression and in the latter no logical explanations of ruling paradigm are necessary.

In contrary to the famous declaration “the pursuit of happiness” is ultimately futile for us in such an environment as we are becoming less and less happy. Only a few can rise above the rest and emerge, but for every winner, thousand losers will end up on the sidelines – unable to achieve and fullfill what society expects of them. Devoid of warmth, and comfort that family, religion, love and traditions would have offered them in the past they are doomed to live in misery.

Naked truth sometimes is much, much worse than lies and submission. We need protection, we need clothing. Rational society gives us a cold sholder of arrogance, and we shiver from its cold wind. With looming winds of change satisfaction turns to unease and unease turns to fear. It is foolish to think that Faith and all the comfort it offers will ever be defeated. If it is, then the West is doomed to disintegrate as a society, for all its scientific progress.

2 comments:

Stalker said...

Hi Hazar Nesimi,

It's been definitely a pleasure reading your posts. A refreshing experience. In the world of radicalism and propaganda of so called "clash of civilizations", it's not common now-a-days to see passionate, yet well balanced view of human life and its meaning. I enjoyed the fact that what you wrote was neither evolving around any one religion, nor political/social system. Truly, thoughts of a universal kind!

However, I'm not on the same page with you, if we go into detail. For example, you wrote:
"Devoid of warmth, and comfort that family, religion, love and traditions would have offered them in the past they are doomed to live in misery."

I would definitely question your attempt to tie love and tradition, family and religion. In any combination. Feels like you combine those notions into something uniform, 4 components of happiness, to say so. One may live in a religious/traditionalistic society and that may cause him to lose love, thus make person unhappy. In open/free/modern society you may not have strong ties to family, obligation to follow traditions and one wouldn't be criticized for rejecting the very existence of God. One has freedom of choice, and if choosing one’s own destiny becomes a burden, one can always run from reality, either towards religion, or wherever one feels "safe".

In my humble opinion, human happiness is basically independent of type of society one is living in. If you were born in religious society, you “absorb” the lifestyle (doesn't mean you will accept that forever); and a lifestyle that would be unacceptable in free society doesn't seem that wrong to you when you are in that sort of environment since childhood.

Well, in two words, you may have not all, but one or two "components" of happiness you mentioned and yet be happy. And neither free nor "restricted" society offers you any guarantee of happiness. I think that a percentage of people, who considered themselves “happy” in feudalistic society, is approximately equal to the current statistics in any part of the world (not “hit” by wars or drastic social disasters).

As for religions, I believe that the only reason for their existence is Fear. Fear of natural disasters, fear of uncertainty, fear of having a choice, of being obliged to decide for yourself. A desire to be directed rather than direct, a desire to be a part of something rather than be an independent entity, fully responsible for one’s deeds.

And happiness, I believe, is somewhere in between. Independently of type of society one is living in.


On the other topic, I would like to ask you a few questions.
1. Do you believe that human civilization has an ultimate purpose?
2. Do you believe that there is a universal type of society that would fit/allow coexistence of all nations, races, political/social systems? I.e., is there a perfect society and do you have a recipe?
3. What do you think the history of humanity would look like if there were no religions from the very beginning.
(Not to bias you, I truly believe there would less bloodshed… Faith vs. Religion… Faith is a very different notion from religion. And much more useful and less harmful… However, it to give a clear definition of faith…That’s why, for the majority of people, religion is easier to accept. Contrary to faith, it gives answers to all questions, and that what makes it dangerous)

Hazar Nesimi said...

Thanks for your comments Stalker

To answer in detail I can not given a lack of time, however I will attempt to summarize. I do not question the freedom of thought that modern society gives us, however I question the ability of majority to cope with this responsiblity. It is an enourmous burden that people can not live with, which is why they tend not to analyze their existence and live quite simplistic lifes. As I said "not thinking offers a great comfort" ili "Gore ot uma".

"Religion vs Faith" can be defined differently and thus judged this way. Firstly faith-based beliefs are EMOTION which is probably intrinsic to human nature as people tend to want to belief in something, whichever this something is and satisfy their lives. Unquestionably we can not exist without faith and that is why it is so dangerous to make us immune to emotions.

Second notion - fear exists so that to offer people constrains. When religion goes away state or human laws give people similar constraints. However most people tend to fear religion more than laws (trade-off is huge)

Third notion is cultural. Familiar customs offer people content with their surroundings and comfortable existence.

I would question the ability of us to estimate the amount of happiness in different societies as primitive societies are prone to wars, famines etc. If you were able to achieve peaceful existence you are generally happier when your needs are less rather than more.

1. A different altogheter wider topic. Probably yes, but as a humanity not as individual
2. Not really. I think we can find ways to coexist in our current cultures without substituting them for "new" saviour culture like communism or "democracy" or any such rubbish.

3. Not sure if this would have been possible. Without religions people could not have developed moral codes and limit their behaviours. Organized religion needs to be moderated so that it gives "correct" answers useful to the state, but it needs to be morally certain. As you know from geoscience - people fear uncertainty and prefer clear definitions.