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  • Fragmentation of Values and Thinking

    Since I'm going off the internet tonight, I want to leave this thread for your consideration. This board itself is an example of how we fragment and compartmentalize thought: politics is something separate from religion is separate from talk is separate from...well, you see the point. Now, we have to make distinctions and have some definitions in order to communicate. I think that's straightforward. The problem is that life itself is unitary--not fragmented at all. Our experiences vary, such that on occasion we will say to others or think to ourselves, "I'm confused, disoriented, my thoughts are a jumble," and things of the sort. This is familiar to each and all, just in the normal course of living life. However, there's a further extension of this, something significant with far-reaching results.

    I'm specifically thinking of Albert Speer's book, Inside the Third Reich. He was, of course, Armaments Minister for Hitler in the last year or two of the war. As such, he utilized the vast numbers of foreign workers, prisoners of war, and people in concentration camps, to provide labor for war industries. He was aware of the conditions under which they worked, and that these conditions led to the deaths of many. When asked at the Nuremburg war-crimes trials about how this sort of thing came to be, not only for himself but for others working in the German government, he offered as part of his explanation the mental process of compartmentalization. The scientist working on the gas or the machine or the organization was doing so unrelated to what anyone else was doing. It was just this part, this thing in front of one, that had any reality, and the important thing was to do as well as one could in developing, solving, and finishing whatever was at hand. That's all. In this way, human beings could and did send other human beings to terrible outcomes and fatal destinies. The same bureaucrat who worked by day to send people to death went home and was a good father to his children, etc.

    A more contemporary--and nationally relevant example--is one that Robert Fisk raised in his book, The Great War for Civilization. He described in a chapter of that book how some fleeing civilians in a stationwagon were incinerated by a Boeing-produced Hellfire missile. When Fisk interviewed some people at Boeing about this, they were adamant that what they produced had no bearing upon what occurred. This, despite his providing the metal shard that showed the serial number identifying the missile as being from their plant. Again, thought only devotes itself to what is in front of one, with no connections, responsibility, or outcomes related to the "pure" undertaking on the lathe, the drawing board, or in the command center.

    It seems to me that this fragmentation of thought is one of the major problems of our time. Philosophy--the real thing, not the academic joke that typically bears its name--is concerned first and last with the world, which is where questions arise, abide, and work their way with us. It seems to me that the rationalization, play-acting, and simple lies that frequently make more comfortable the nest where death is served, is the fragmentation of values and thinking that undermine so-called civilization.

    I offer to you the suggestion that this is one of the major philosophical questions of our time, as we literally sink into the swamp of our technological creation, all the while continuing our tribal pogroms and buffoonery. Is there a solution to this dis-organization of thinking, this willful unknowing that rejects connections between cause and effect?

    It's something to think about.

  • #2
    I'm returning to this thread rather than establishing a new one, as it is reasonably close to what I wanted to say. The subject in mind is systematic thinking vs. non-systematic thinking. I take as examples of non-systematic thinkers Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Albert Camus, and Gabriel Marcel. It is tempting to equate systematic thinking with ideology, but I offer the suggestion that an ideology is a named and recognized system of thought that people identify with. You might be systematic in your thinking--following a method, and establishing internal consistency--but neither be following nor establishing an ideology. For this reason, I do not equate ideology with systematic thinking. I do think, having said that, that all ideologies are instances of systematic thinking; as just established, not all systematic thinking equates to ideology.

    Scientific thinking is systematic, but falls into ideology only when it becomes "established" by a name, as in the example of Darwinian evolution. Darwin himself was a good instance of a systematic thinker, but he did not set out to establish an ideology, nor so far as I am aware, did he view his work-in-progress as being such. When a certain scientific view becomes reified and treated as canon, then it might be thought of as being at least akin to ideology; I think Kuhn's famous observations about this are relevant.

    A non-systematic thinker is neither concerned with internal consistency nor with establishing and employing a method. I'm not clear as to whether a non-systematic thinker (such as Arendt) would see ideology as the product of reasoning as distinct from thinking. The question arises to me because of this passage from a book I recently read:
    Arendt forces us to confront the fact that it is rational for a democratic government charged with protecting its citizens to do so, as the slogan goes, by any means necessary. It is rational for guerrilla fighters to promote their cause through terror. Indeed, the normalization of terror and torture shows how ordinary men can reason themselves into justifying what ought to be unthinkable. Thus, reason, Arendt writes, “fits man into the iron band of terror.” Reason, Arendt warns, reasons, it does not think.
    Can it be meaningfully said that reasoning produces ideology, whereas thinking does not? 'Reason' as Arendt seemed to mean it as shown in the preceding extract, would have to do with justifying an outcome by reference to some preceding, assumed context. For instance, the imperative of national security would be the basis for reasoning to torture, genocide, and so forth. Without a corresponding basis or context, thinking would necessarily be non-systematic...wouldn't it? Arendt has been characterized as thinking in "trains of thought," where one thought derived from another, but never with the kind of self-check that verified consistency with root assumptions or a canon of some kind. If this is so, then thinking would not be predictable as systematic and especially ideological, reasoning would be.

    Is it a deficit or a positive to search for a method? Sartre obviously thought so, as one of his major works was entitled just that. I think it is the case that many thinkers equate 'systematic thinking' with 'thinking.' That does not make it so--and I am obviously considering at least the plausibility of the distinction--but it is not uncommon to find these equated or conflated.

    The way in which I have most often come up against this issue and question, is in examining and considering Marxism as a way of comprehending events and phenomena in general. There is, of course, a basic, underlying assumption of materialism, which raises further questions and issues. Still, leaving that aside for the purpose of this reverie, what strikes me about Marxism--at least as an example of systematic-thinking-become-canon--is its all-encompassing character. There is literally no phenomenon that cannot be at least made consistent with its methodological approach and assumptions. When I say 'made consistent' I believe that is the same as 'interpretation' in the sense that at least for a systematic thinker, interpretation is nothing other than bringing phenomena into line with the categorical structure of the method employed.

    There is a real-life problem that corresponds to this, and that is the Procrustean nature of the methodological canon. Precisely because all must be comprehended within its grasp, anything that does not readily fit or submit to congruence with it, is apt to be sent into never-never land. On the level of thinking, this can range from confusion to suspended judgment to--at worst--repression and dishonesty. More important--and derivative of the thinking entailed--is the real-life corollary: that recalcitrant entity or phenomenon gets literally removed or sent away. Thus, the ideological imperative on the level of thinking results (or can result) in the gulag or extermination, on the level of real life. An example more familiar to us in this time and place, would be the 'American' who becomes 'anti-' or 'un-' and is accordingly fitted to a cell or other "vanishing" form of interpretive reconciliation.

    Arendt was one who thought that the absence of thinking was both typical of our modern era and explanatory of totalitarianism. Her most famous example--that of Eichmann--was of a man who, as she conceived of it, did not think:
    The new form of evil that Arendt identifies is thoughtlessness. Thoughtlessness is not a revolt against reason and should not be confused with irrationality. To the contrary, it is the ability to act rationally without thinking. Eichmann becomes an extreme example of such a possibility, unable to rise above the logic of bureaucracy and the clichés of utter conformity.

    This is not to say that all ideologies produce gulags, any more than I mean to suggest that systematic thinking does likewise. I am searching, in my ongoing meditations, the proper weighting of these categories and how they relate to the actual events of our time. (The postmodernists are well known to take precisely the view that totalizing systems of thought are the culprit in explaining the advent and existence of totalitarian societies, but I don't quite take on the entire postmod schtick. That's another and broader conversation--I only note it here by way of recognizing this contemporary current of thinking.)

    So what do you think about systematic vs. non-systematic thinking, reasoning as distinct from thinking, and ideology as a crystallized form of systematic thinking?

    Comment


    • #3
      I much prefer critical thinking.
      Being Immortal is so time consuming.
      http://shadowsoul.wordpress.com/

      http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The...life+of+nobody

      http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004D4ZWTI

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Snapdragon View Post
        Since I'm going off the internet tonight, I want to leave this thread for your consideration. This board itself is an example of how we fragment and compartmentalize thought: politics is something separate from religion is separate from talk is separate from...well, you see the point. Now, we have to make distinctions and have some definitions in order to communicate. I think that's straightforward. The problem is that life itself is unitary--not fragmented at all. Our experiences vary, such that on occasion we will say to others or think to ourselves, "I'm confused, disoriented, my thoughts are a jumble," and things of the sort. This is familiar to each and all, just in the normal course of living life. However, there's a further extension of this, something significant with far-reaching results.

        I'm specifically thinking of Albert Speer's book, Inside the Third Reich. He was, of course, Armaments Minister for Hitler in the last year or two of the war. As such, he utilized the vast numbers of foreign workers, prisoners of war, and people in concentration camps, to provide labor for war industries. He was aware of the conditions under which they worked, and that these conditions led to the deaths of many. When asked at the Nuremburg war-crimes trials about how this sort of thing came to be, not only for himself but for others working in the German government, he offered as part of his explanation the mental process of compartmentalization. The scientist working on the gas or the machine or the organization was doing so unrelated to what anyone else was doing. It was just this part, this thing in front of one, that had any reality, and the important thing was to do as well as one could in developing, solving, and finishing whatever was at hand. That's all. In this way, human beings could and did send other human beings to terrible outcomes and fatal destinies. The same bureaucrat who worked by day to send people to death went home and was a good father to his children, etc.

        A more contemporary--and nationally relevant example--is one that Robert Fisk raised in his book, The Great War for Civilization. He described in a chapter of that book how some fleeing civilians in a stationwagon were incinerated by a Boeing-produced Hellfire missile. When Fisk interviewed some people at Boeing about this, they were adamant that what they produced had no bearing upon what occurred. This, despite his providing the metal shard that showed the serial number identifying the missile as being from their plant. Again, thought only devotes itself to what is in front of one, with no connections, responsibility, or outcomes related to the "pure" undertaking on the lathe, the drawing board, or in the command center.

        It seems to me that this fragmentation of thought is one of the major problems of our time. Philosophy--the real thing, not the academic joke that typically bears its name--is concerned first and last with the world, which is where questions arise, abide, and work their way with us. It seems to me that the rationalization, play-acting, and simple lies that frequently make more comfortable the nest where death is served, is the fragmentation of values and thinking that undermine so-called civilization.

        I offer to you the suggestion that this is one of the major philosophical questions of our time, as we literally sink into the swamp of our technological creation, all the while continuing our tribal pogroms and buffoonery. Is there a solution to this dis-organization of thinking, this willful unknowing that rejects connections between cause and effect?

        It's something to think about.
        I think it's a problem with over-complexity. The reason that the Boeing guys aren't feeling all that guilty about it is that the manufacturing occurs thousands of miles from where it was used. Besides that, the missle is made more or less on an assembly line, thus no single person is "responsible" for the whole. I mean I only assembled the wings -- not my fault they attached a bomb to it, right.

        But the same thing happens in almost everything we do. The commentator who publishes a webpage for a pundit probably cares little about the content -- just whether the javascript works and the ASP shopping cart is functional. If the message is somehow distructive or could cause damage, I mean it's only the Javascript. Why should I care if the page has targets over people?

        I think the only answer is a shift in perspective. You're part of a web. And if you don't like the final product, than you shouldn't be involved in even a part of it. If you wouldn't bomb a village, then don't work for companies that make bombs. Don't invest in those companies. If you don't agree with fossil fuels, don't buy BP stock. Of course it's easy to say -- it gets tough when it's a choice between supporting something "evil" or starving. That's just life.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Snapdragon View Post
          .
          That compartmentilization you are complaining about is how we pried faith from reason and church from state

          You just have to look at people like Oliver Cromwell or Osama Bin Laden to understand what our culture would be like without it
          "One between two worlds chants, "fire walk with me""

          Comment

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