Saturday, April 11, 2015

Part 24: (Self Love, Compassion and the Self): Dialogues on a Philosophy for the Individual

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

With this post Flora Sapio and I (and friends from time to time) continue an experiment in collaborative dialogue. The object is to approach the issue of philosophical inquiry from another, and perhaps more fundamentally ancient, manner. We begin, with this post, to develop a philosophy for the individual that itself is grounded on the negation of the isolated self as a basis for thought, and for elaboration. This conversation, like many of its kind, will develop naturally, in fits and starts. Your participation is encouraged. For ease of reading Flora Sapio is identified as (FS), and Larry Catá Backer as (LCB).

The friends continue their discussion around the problem of the individual and the liberation project.  Here Flora Sapio (FS) responds to earlier provocations of Betita Horm Pepulim (BHP), Larry Catá Backer (LCB) and Paul Van Fleet (PVF). Her focus, compassion, narcissism and the self.

Contents: HERE

(BHP) Flora Sapio Imperatrix Maris, Paul Van Fleet e Yvonne Love! O diálogo 23, foi publicado no blog de Larry Catá Backer . É uma reflexão sobre a resposta da Flora e sobre a resposta de Paul, comentada por Larry Catá Backer, que deixou uma pergunta no ar! Abraços! Estou esperando por vocês! Estou curiosa para saber o que vocês pensam sobre o que foi dito no texto.

Flora, Paul and Yvonne Love, the 23rd dialogue, was published in the Larry Catá Backer blog. It is a reflection on the Flora response and on Paul's response, with commentary by Larry Cata Backer, who left a question in the air! Hugs! I am waiting for you guys! I'm curious to know, what you guys think about what was said in the text.

 (FS) This response addresses most of the points raised by Paul, Betita and Larry. I will turn to reconceptualizing compassion as a political act in my next post.

A piece of paper on which words and figures have been written is just a piece of paper.

I guess people have always kept records of their transactions, but I don't know who first had the idea to call these records “invoices”. Who invented the invoice is not really important. What is important is that from the day when invoices were invented we have been taught that pieces of paper recording a sales transaction are “invoices”, so we have the idea “invoice” in our minds. Whenever we see such a piece of paper we interpret it as an “invoice”. We give a meaning to it. This meaning is only one, and it never changes in our minds. An invoice is an invoice and it serves a single purpose, that of recording business transactions.

Children have not been taught the idea of “invoice”, therefore they do not see those pieces of paper in the same way as we do. They do not give the same meaning to them. To children an invoice is something they can play with in a thousand different ways: they can tear it up to enjoy the sound paper makes when it is torn, they can fold it into a plane, they can color it.

We need to know what an invoice is, if we are to function in our societies, and therefore we need an artifice to support our interpretation of what a piece of paper is. This artifice consists in the relationship between data (thing), information (sign) and individual (interpretant). Can we function without this framework, as it applies to objects, to people, and to movements of the soul?

Poets and artists know very well that “piece of paper” + “idea of invoice” + “interpretant” = invoice. When they receive an invoice they honor it, and in this sense they use the triangle of meaning.

At the same time, they are very playful people who can step out of the triangle of meaning. They will play with the idea of “invoice” as they wish; they will use the “invoice” for purposes other than those conceived by the man who invented the invoice, or by those who have taught us what an invoice is. They will give new meanings to the invoice as a physical object (the piece of paper) and to the invoice as an idea, their only constraint being their imagination. Poets and artists cannot be used by the triangle of meaning, because they do not belong to it. The machine will try to capture them, because the machine has been programmed to capture all living things. But, poets and artists have fluency in the language of the machine as well as in the language of the most playful and cheerful moods. Such fluency is not their exclusive preserve: each one of us has at least once in their lives written a poem, painted, tried to compose a piece of music, taken a picture, made a video.

Those who operate and maintain the machine would like us to be fluent only in the language of the machine. Forgetting our native language to use the language of the machine will open up many more opportunities to us, or so we are told. But, the language of the machine has only a few words that can be used to communicate ideas about emotional tonalities, and each word in the language of the machine can have only one meaning...because the machine determines which affective characteristics man should possess, as well as their content. This is an extremely important point: the most effective forms of governance and manipulation exploit human emotions, fostering an emotional attachment with brands, with the company we work in, and with each and one of what Foucault called the 'micropowers'. Ancient Chinese military philosophers understood this point, and it is by no chance that after 2.000 years their treatises are still a source of inspiration to Chinese and Western managers. The Western philosophers we have been referencing in our discussions understood this point too, and they sought to undo conventional morality.

You can undo conventional morality only if you have already developed a new morality. A snake cannot shed its skin until he has grown a new one, but Zarathustra, the Free Spirits and the Übermensch (Nietzsche's philosophical avatars) tried to shed their old skin when their new one had not grown yet. They had a natural feeling of compassion, a feeling no one taught them, but they could not find a word to name it. Nietzsche mentioned kindness (Wohl-wollen) and “concomitant sensations” (Mitempfindung) without really focusing on them. He instead spent much of his intellectual energies in rejecting the idea of “suffering with” (Mitleid). The original form of “suffering with” was Aristotle's concept of “feeling pain for the misfortune of another” (eleos Rhetoric, part 9).

This is the concept that Nietzche eventually embraced as the more virile kind of compassion he was looking for, but Aristotle's compassion is selective. It is a kind of pain we feel only for those who are related to us. This is the kind of pain we felt if we saw one of our relatives or acquaintances being killed for no reason. This pain does not extend to those we don't personally know, therefore if we saw a complete stranger being killed for no reason we would feel nothing for him, and our lack of emotional response would be justified.

Each word in the language of the machine can have only one meaning, each man can have only one function and each feeling can have only one kind of target.

From a very young age Nietzsche had learned that flogging horses was entirely normal – cart drivers flog their horses all the time, and you have got to flog a horse if you want it to walk. But one day in Turin as he saw a horse being whipped he threw his arms around its neck, and then he collapsed to the ground.

From a very young age we learn that feeling nothing for the suffering of strangers is entirely normal. We are not related to them, so why should we care? But how comes, then, that some of us feel indignation for the suffering of people they don't know, and they moreover act upon their indignation?

Could it be that even though we know the language of the machine, we haven't forgotten how to speak the true language of the self?

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