Friday, 3 June 2016

The Impulse/Mind/Body/Spirit Quadralism, Part 1

I've written before, in case you have dared to not religiously follow and memorise my writings, about the reasons to prioritise the body over the mind, or rather to see the better angels of the mind's nature as included within a more robust and coherent conception of the importance of the body. This invites further pontification.

Impulse to Mind; From Chimpanzees to Confucians:

A world prioritising impulse would have fairly obvious drawbacks. If I were doing this properly I'd probably quote Thomas Hobbes extensively, but since I haven't actually read him and am not actually going to do so just for the purposes of this post, we may make do with his famous formula that the consequent perpetual explosion of violence would render people's live "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Interestingly, this is not an argument more relevant to humans than to chimpanzees - just one that humans are in a better position to do something about.

If Leviathan were written today it would doubtless draw more attention to the situation of women in such circumstances, which perhaps was not sufficiently improved in 17th century England for this to provide a strong enough arguing point. More on that later (stay tuned!). The fact is that life would probably have been equally unpleasant to children and men who were physically smaller or weaker than average. There would also be significant problems with managing food, with people becoming obese in the unlikely event of its surplus or malnourished because of bad management both in consuming and producing food. Diseases would really suck. If access to any psychoactive drugs were around we would be even more comprehensively fucked. Which is to say, our bodies would suffer.

Impulse is not a good policy. It is fortunate that we developed a voice box and words and the ability to form our lives around ideas. Hobbes is correct in thinking this state of affairs worse even than authoritatian rule, but as Westerners we seem to have an almost instinctive aversion to and suspicion of the implications.

But Hobbes is basically a curio. More significant to world history was the world-view of Confucius, which, like Hobbes', curiously enough, was preached during a time of devastating civil war. Confucius doesn't speak of a social contract, but he does have what to me at least is a very strange intense conservatism without God, and ideological essentially without values except for the importance of ideologicalness.

It is true I am probably doing a great disservice here to the great variety and complexity of thousands of years of Confucianism, but I'm probably selling the chimpanzees even shorter, so bear with me. My point is that Confucianism is about definitions, about words, about ritual. The idea is to fight impulses by fighting nature, in an attempt to reprogram mankind into obedient virtuousness. Their hearts were probably in the right place, and the social order they brought about was probably better than endless war, but it was still pretty nasty in its own ways.

I am singling the Confucians out because it's a doctrine I find particularly annoying as well as unusually transparent in its subjugation to words and ritual as sacred. But I think this process of prioritisation of mind over impulse could probably be tracked down to basically the first time we used words to tell somebody to shut up or be ashamed or themselves. Probably it began intensifying when we started living in sedantary agricultural communities, when we became religious, when we invented nation-states, etc.

Next installment, I further explain why words are for Nazis!