Sunday, March 15, 2020

Finding Value in a World of Fact

How do people learn what to value?

People can learn what to value from family, school, friends, advertisements, media, cultural cues, and to a lesser extent in our time - religion and philosophy.

Religion is a powerful tool for transmitting values. Some good some not so good.  One could argue that religion provides a simple means for training simple people to be good. One could also argue that religious wars and persecution resulted in a thousand year pause in human development (the dark or middle ages) and that some forms of religious dogmatism have resulted in negative consequences for individuals, segments of society and society as whole up to the current day.

Usually these negative consequences are not a result of what a particular religion believes, such as - handling snakes is a way to see God (may be so), speaking in tongues is a sign of possession by the holy spirit, women should not hold positions of authority in the Church - because the members of that sect have agreed to the rules. The negative consequences usually come about when, those who believe in a doctrine via faith try to force their religiously derived "beliefs" into government, businesses and public schools. It's a two-way street when some governments attempt to use religion to further the governments secular goals of staying in power to further the interests of whatever group controls the government.

As Christianity grew in it's early incarnations after the death of Jesus, western society abandoned the rational world of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle - and retreated to a mystical world of "pie in the sky when you die". Philosophy during this time was concerned not with the question the ancient Greek philosophers asked of how to live a good life - but rather other-worldly questions like how many angels could dance on the head of a pin?

Today is the anniversary of the death of Julius Caesar who was stabbed to death at a meeting of the senate on The Ides of March (March 15, 44 B.C.) . Four years later Octavian executed 300 senators and knights to avenge Caesar's assassination. Ancient Greece and Rome weren't quite as civilized as one might think from reading the ancient Greek philosophers. In addition to stabbing each other, they held slaves - justifying the practice by proposing that some people were born to be slaves, and reserved participation in the government to male citizens - so it wasn't quite the Shangri-La some of us may envision.

As the Renaissance unfolded humans began to jettison religion for the world of science and rationality.

With the advent of the Machine Age or Industrial Revolution humans saw the power of science to understand and shape nature. This tendency to favor the rationality of science over the mysticism of religious belief accelerated through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries with the discovery of quantum physics, leading to the invention of solid state devices, the computer age and the technological marvels (or disasters depending on one's point of view) of today's world.

Untethered from simple rules taught by religion to guide conduct  humans were put into competition of all against all, each striving to obtain the highest wage allowing each individual to consume the most stuff. The new religions of science, technology, capitalism and free markets gradually replaced the old religions.

Finding little satisfaction in either, the baubles and trinkets of consumer society, or the idiocy of much popular media, and having lost touch with nature and the infinite - most (some) (all?) men live lives of quiet desperation which manifests in a myriad of ways including addiction, suicide or choosing a self-interested charlatan as their "leader".

A "leader" who forces us to recognize, as David Remnick writes, - "the fragility of precious things" has oddly enough done us a favor by making us think about what we hold dear. Honesty, courage, fidelity, and kindness are some precious things that we all strive for and expect to be demonstrated to some degree, rather than shattered by a "leader".

If you ever get tired of "the world" as it is and want to think about how  you might improve "your world" and maybe "the world" a bit - there's a wealth of philosophical studies on YouTube, podcasts and the web in general. You don't have to take any tests so you can absorb as much or little as you please. You may find some of it fairly useless, some too complex or obscure to understand, and some bits that really resonate with you. It's like a bazillion piece puzzle - you'll never get it put together but it's fun - challenging, interesting, and complicated to work on while you have a chance.

Some philosophers hold that the critical question of Philosophy in our time is how humans find value in a world of fact.

It's a good question.