The Force

As the previous post suggests, I have been through some religious seeking, and finally arrived at some clarity about what I find to be a solution, and what the hell I was even looking for in the first place.

I basically have come to conclude that the cosmic or divine backdrop of a person’s life matters almost not at all.  It really does not matter what gods or devils or divine laws do or do not exist.  If they are with me I will be with them, if they are against me I will defy them, if they seem irrelevant I ignore them.  My life remains largely unaffected by whatever is in the background, and spirituality seems more like a struggle of finding fulfillment or doing something, anything significant at all, while trapped in an extremely limiting human body.

But on the way to this conclusion I passed through some interesting meanders, and while I don’t think the objective backdrop is critical to spirituality, my perspective on what objectively exists did shift.

I have basically come to be a believer in the Force.

Now I know that’s bad, stupid etc., to base my beliefs on a sci-fi fantasy series – even worse, a series which, if we include the prequels, was not necessarily even that good.   (Shit, I might as well link to this while I’m at it.)

But don’t worry.  I came to this view through scientific and philosophical explorations, not because I like Star Wars.  The issue is that the Force is simply the most exact way of labeling or illustrating what I came to know separately.

WHAT IS IT?

Firstly, the Force is not God.  It’s not judging you, or maybe it’s judging you subconsciously, but it’s just not like that.  You could go your whole life as an atheist who thinks only matter is real, and the Force would not be offended (or even awake enough to care).  So don’t worry about it.

Further, unlike God, I am extremely skeptical that the Force has a central consciousness.  Otherwise the world would simply be too different from how it is now.  It think such a central consciousness would be much more assertive in revealing itself as a continual presence to us.  In other words, instead of merely sending Jesus two thousand years ago, the Force would still be talking to us openly and directly now, in a way that was clear and unmistakable and required no subtle interpretation.  Either that, or the Holocaust was part of God’s plan.

Like the fictional Force, the real Force has both a Light and Dark side.  However I am not sure it is so neatly divided as that.  Better to say that the Force reflects and includes the full range of human emotion and probably a lot more besides.

So what the hell is this thing?  Simply, it is the maximal interpretation of Jung’s Collective Unconscious, a mental-emotional energy field reflecting/generated by all life plus some elemental forces and probably a lot of weird twists and connections across time, possibility, and other dimensions.  It is everywhere, an undercurrent of soul in the physical universe (possibly not separate from matter but merely its mental aspect, which would explain how a neural network can develop emotions and experiences).  It is more emotional than rational, like a child, and semi-conscious, like a dream.

How exactly I came to this opinion requires some science.

WHY WOULD I EVER THINK THIS?/FUCKING MAGNETS, HOW DO THEY WORK? (1:51)

I have come to believe that the brain’s computations do not solely occur at the neural level, but that each neuron is closely tied to a quantum network which influences each neuron’s electric charge.   (And yes, I read almost all of Penrose’s book, as painful as that was.  Apparently the dark side really does demand sacrifice.)

Now most of the time quantum effects cannot influence atomic-scale or molecular-scale behavior – there is a sort of wall of interaction between the magnitudes – but cellular microtubules provide on of the rare environments in which this is possible.  It’s not unheard of in nature; plants use quantum physics, too.  It’s silly to think that natural selection, in its great randomness, would not utilize every physical phenomenon, just because it is cutting-edge technology on the edge of contemporary human understanding.  We didn’t understand genetics for a long time either, but it was still real.

So if you know anything about quantum physics, you probably know of the creepy phenomenon of quantum entanglement, or the inexplicable ability of particles at the quantum scale to interact at infinite distance or even across time.

Don’t fight it, just accept it.  Like gravity, we can’t explain it but it just exists.  Before you argue, the military  and high science are already using it as a wireless communication system (and it kind of solves the future interplanetary communication problem because it doesn’t lag!).  So fuck you with your conventional physics where things have to touch and all that.

What does this mean?  What I have concluded is that human mental computation is entirely unlike the linear mechanical deterministic process we thought (but then with the brain’s chaos, I guess we never really thought that).  But more importantly, this computation is taking place outside the brain, in addition to inside it.  Like not just in another dimension, though probably that too, but also across the dust of the known universe.

USE THE FORCE

So there are bits of our thinking-and-experiencing process happening all over, probably in everything we’ve ever touched, their air we’ve breathed, the water we’ve cycled.  So what, are we psychic?  Well, we’re probably not psychic any more than on a murky subconscious level; that stuff probably mostly comes through as background static.  But combined the quantum physics’ ability to defy time, this provides a hypothesis for my family’s experience with non-déjà vu precognitive dreams.  You won’t believe it so I’m not disclosing.

From my experience, my family has been most affected by precognitive dreams when the person having them was living in an emotionally impulsive way.  This means letting yourself get excited about things, letting yourself get hurt, taking offenses personally, letting yourself daydream, going with the moment, etc.  Of course this is a horribly impractical way to live, especially in capitalism which requires a total mechanical deadening of the emotions.  And then thinking emotionally also impairs your objective judgment regarding whether what you experiences is in your head.  This means we are operating in a realm of often unverifiable personal experience.  That’s why I am not annoyed if people don’t believe what I believe, since like Morpheus, my beliefs do not require them to.

Is the Force – The Spiritual Solution?  Again no, I just think it’s something that objectively exists, though its objectivity is closely intertwined with our subjectivity (making it similar to Warhammer 40,000’s “Warp”).  There is some overlap though.  When a human being strips off their persona and pretentions and feels themselves as they really are, I think they are dipping into the same substance of which the Force is made, ie their souls, with the Force again being an undercurrent of soul that is everywhere.  Again, I think the spiritual solution is finding some strong life purpose and sticking to it.  I also think this is the best way to command the Force, but even if it wasn’t I’d still recommend it.

Can people start Force-pushing or shooting lightning out their fingers?  As usual, life is not so theatrical – I think you’d have better luck with Jedi mind tricks.  But the intertwining of quantum physics with the world of possibility is suggestive.  We’ve already exploded the concept of time as merely a measurement; it must be a dimension unto itself.  But then Schroedinger’s Cat is alive-and-dead until you actually lift the box and find out (necromancy?).  A multiversal series of possibility-threads is the only way I can explain a world with possibilities instead of one pre-determined mechanistic outcome.  Given the link between human consciousness and the universe via entanglement, and given the bridge between that entanglement and possibility, it is possible for human consciousness to nudge the direction of events.

Is this – The Secret? FUCK NO.  The Secret implies that you can make things happen that are beyond the realm of possibility.  I think the Force can nudge outcomes, but outcomes which are not grossly outside the realm of possibility.  There has to be some kind of tethering us down to current material circumstances.  If you wish for a million dollars fuck you, the world isn’t going to rearrange its entire setup for your ass.  If you want someone to die, praying they spontaneously combust, well.  But if you pray they die in a car accident, make sure you really mean it.

So what if something you want is outside the realm of possibility?  How would you bring it closer?

It’s called doing work.

It also helps if you have realism in assessing how possible something actually is, not wishful thinking.

This brings up a critical issue: subconscious roadblocks.  You can will something in the Force but if you are emotionally divided about it, or don’t believe you deserve it, or just don’t entirely want it, it’s going to flop.  So how do you convince yourself you want it?  First you may have to deprogram yourself out of any religious-inspired guiltiness or foolish ethical codes, if what you want is selfish.  Or if you can’t do that, at least find a way to justify (sincerely) what you are pushing for as helping-yourself-help-others.

But besides reprogramming/deprogramming, the best way to convince yourself you really want and deserve something is WORK FOR IT.  This will (1) bring it physically closer to the realm of possibility, especially if we’ve thought it through objectively and it actually does this (2) clear up subconscious roadblocks because we all feel we deserve a thing we’ve worked for (3) create a center of gravity, focus, and intention in the lines of possibility.  In this way two hands at work don’t just beat a thousand folded in prayer, but two hands at work actually are two hands in prayer, as all work implies hope and will.

For the dark side especially, a person having the Force doesn’t simply mean they are in touch with the universe’s waves.  It means they have force, that their personal determination creates a momentum in their wake which bends spacetime and the threads of possibility, sweeping events and the world around them toward the direction of their goals.  No, it’s not only traditionally successful people who have this and many successful people actually don’t; their lives are often lived without real purpose or weight.  Many leaders are incompetent bureaucrats, who care only about maintaining their position or maybe don’t even care about anything.  (Sad how much of humanity is morally indefensible.)  And no, it’s not only vocal, arrogant male leader-stereotypes who have it.  Influence can be silent and subtle and edgeless, yet very strong, like water.  Ranking people as having it/not having it is probably not helpful since we all have it at least a little, but when someone’s got a good deal of it you’ll probably notice.

OTHER IMPLICATIONS

So this Force, is this suggesting one of those ridiculous scenarios where every religion has a grain of truth simply because some people believe in it?  Hell, maybe.  I don’t know.  I’ve heard a lot of weird things, but then I’ve also heard a lot of bullshit.  I maintain a policy of equal parts open-mindedness and skepticism.

Again, the Force isn’t one of those things where you have to panic about whether it’s true, or whether you conform to its concept of right and wrong.  Its existence could suggest to you that maybe you should live for something more than going-along-to-get-along, that you shouldn’t be unthinkingly stumbling or passionlessly drifting.  But I could have told you that without resorting to an invisible energy field.

It does bring up the whole Light and Dark issue, though in my opinion any grown-up should realize that these are totally different from good and evil (this may just be my dark side bias).  All people and groups probably have a mixture (yourself, Christianity, the French Revolution).  It’s interesting how closely the Jedi and Sith mirror the Right-Hand Path and Left-Hand Path, especially in the context of the Force.  The Jedi believe in serving others and obeying the Force’s guidance.  The Sith believe in serving themselves and tell the Force what to do.  But in reality both sides use the Force both ways.

Of course as always I learn dark.  Me, I believe in being a leader, whether we’re talking about society or invisible force fields.  I’m sure the Force has plenty of wisdom buried in it if you listen, but the Force is also indecisive.  It’s like the unconscious: all sentiment, no decision-making.  We can, and should, be the deciders.  If the Force is the universe’s collective unconscious, then we are its pointed, individualized consciousness – its ego.  Again, if I was wrong, I think the Force would make it directly clear for us.  No – we are the Force’s greatest embodiment, we are the tip of its pyramid, we are the spearhead of the universe’s ever-persisting struggle for greater clarity and complexity and pattern.  We are the ones who have to bear the responsibility of conscious planning and putting things into material practice.  For the good of the Force itself – and just because we canwe must decide how the Force will be expressed, and express it – forcefully! – even if doing so requires going against Nature, ethics, religion, sentiment, our humanity, physics, or even seemingly the Force itself.

The Force is like a child who doesn’t know how to say what it wants, or doesn’t even know what it wants.  This may be why there is so much historic confusion over “what God wants” (besides people making things up).  The Force isn’t sure!  So we must use our patience, our intuition, and careful listening to figure it out.  But once we do figure out what it wants, which will necessarily in large part reflect what we want – then we must not be afraid to command it in full confidence.

Why spirituality often fails

Spirituality, whether in the form of classical religion or fringe occultism, often fails to provide any fulfillment to the seeker.  I think this is because it largely consists of seeking meaning in symbols, images, names, deities, or words, but these things are empty vessels which merely point to something else or remain empty.  The whole experience is often little more than a process of aesthetic seduction by evocative images, or ominous-sounding words (often foreign), with nothing behind the aesthetic seduction.

Many try to relate to God, but if we’re assuming God or something like it is real, people end up relating to a mere image of God instead of God’s objective reality, which is quite distinct.  If God is real, then s/he is far too expansive to be summed up by one thought.  It’s questionable if a person could even actually think of God in a single thought without being untrue to what God is, and relating to God requires a very different approach than merely thinking of him/her/it.

Sometimes the images/symbols/names/deities/words point to other images/symbols/names/deities/words (vessels).  This leads the seeker through a “conversion career” of moving from one thing to another, each conversion acting as a sugar high that later leaves an aching vacuum requiring another conversion.  (I’ve also seen people do this with leftist groups, suggesting a similar problem about the fetishistically theoretical nature of the groups.)    Despite the cycling of vessels, significance lies ever elsewhere.

This conversion career can be done by changing religions or ideologies (ideologies also have many buzzwords to obsess over).  However, a conversion career can also take place within a religion or ideology, with the seeker obsessing over different internal parts of it.  A fundamentalist Christian fanatic could switch up which Bible verse they are currently fixated on, and feel the transition from one verse to another as some kind of God-sent revelation.  Actually I am almost positive this is a common phenomenon.

Switching vessels is not the problem, though.  The real problem is investing in vessels at all.  If a seeker sticks with one vessel consistently, then they are still trying to find substance in something which won’t provide any, because the fountain of spirit is always the Self.  Again the seeker is caught in a vicious cycle, like quicksand, because they invest themselves more and more deeply in the empty vessel.  They (again) find (brief) fulfillment in each increase of devotion, and then come up choking and empty-handed, frustrated and unfulfilled, proportionally to the extent of their emotional investment or devotion.  What they put in, they hope to get back out in more than a momentary way, but they don’t.

Again, the fountain of spirit is not the vessel but the Self that assigns the vessel significance.  Possibly spirit is to be found in this emotional investment, this assignment of significance, this act of Self pouring into something else.  But maybe the rough truth is that a life of devotion to symbolic vessels is not the way to do this, and is just not a fulfilling or even spiritual life at all.  So what is?

There are two ways as far as I can tell to reach the divine state.  The first is sensory.  It can involve anything from ritual to meditation to learning to sex to drugs.  You don’t even need to be extreme in the last case; a few beers or cigarettes achieves the eternal now, for me personally anyway.  Socializing is a curious combination of symbolic-and-sensory, because you enjoy the sights and sounds of other people but also invest significance into them as we might a vessel.  (Of course people are actually real living entities but they are still entirely independently of your own willing, the import of which will be explained later.)  Learning and studying philosophy are a similar combination-type – they are aesthetic because you discover the beauty of patterns in the world, and also you learn something potentially useful for whatever your life mission is.

I have come to be rather dismissive of the sensory approach, for reasons similar to why I don’t currently involve myself with god-names or words.  I suspect it is a temporary high, devoid of substance.   To be sure, the divine state is often fleeting and impermanent even in the best of situations.  You try to carry it with you as long as you can.  But what we really need is something which at least performs a little better, something not reminiscent of “spirituality’s” vicious cycle of investiture and withdrawal.  For the sensory is identical: once you attune yourself to it and seek your fulfillment through it, it owns you.  You will always seek to increase the intensity without the increases ever offering what you are truly looking for.

Hegel was right, and so by extension I suppose Marx too.  Thelema is right, and the Temple of Set is right, and above all Nietzsche was right.  The only spiritual path I have ever found actually creates a genuine moment of value-added (but which is not merely a moment) is when spirit steps down from its pedestal and digs its hands into the materials of Earth.  The expression and manifestation of Self in an external object.  Accomplishment.  Labor.  Work.  Struggle.  Art.  Where spirit and matter combine.

In modern life this can be difficult.  As The Onion wrote, “find the thing you’re most passionate about, and do it on nights and weekends for the rest of your life” and went on to drive home the personal effects of forty-hour-a-week slavery.  But whatever you do, you must do it with feeling.  Do you go to work every day thinking your job is stupid and meaningless?  It’s okay, so do most people; according to a June 2013 Gallup poll, seven out of ten US workers feel actively disengaged at their jobs.

The key, as you work, is to remain continually mindful (better, emotionally aware) that you labor not for the work itself but for some higher intention, as a means of surviving to accomplish your life’s mission.  The Thelemites have beautifully reversed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: you can’t find meaning if you can’t eat, but you might as well not eat if you can’t find meaning.  They embody this in their pre-meal brief ritual: instead of “saying grace,” they call it Saying Will:

What is thy will?

It is my will to eat and to drink.

To what end?

That I may fortify my body thereby.

To what end?

That I may accomplish the Great Work.

It is true that, in order to stay fulfilled in this way, the seeker must keep doing it, making it uncomfortably similar to the previously-rejected methods.  The difference, which you can feel, is that instead of feeding an endless recurring hunger with each attempt at fulfillment producing an ever-escalating crisis of panic and desperation, something else happens.  As opposed to sensory or symbolic paths, in willpower-based or goal-based paths the seeker begins each round of the hungry cycle already feeling partially full.  Rather than filling a vacuum that increase in intensity with every loop, the seeker knows and feels that they are instead already in possession of the foundation of their past achievements and efforts.  They now expand and build upon that foundation with further achievement or effort.  It is a real process of growth.

Does this mean we must reject all sensory indulgence or ritual or divine symbols?  I haven’t figured this out yet.  The two paths seem vaguely compatible but you will notice them frequently get in each other’s way.  Of course as spirits are are nonetheless trapped in these meatbag bodies, so I can’t just stop eating as a willpower exercise, not more than 1-3 weeks anyway.  But the interference of the paths with each other is most commonly experienced as a competition for your time and attention: work or pleasure?  So while I’m not sure the sensory life must be abandoned, the time spent on it will probably have to be reduced to pursue the path of effort.

Still – maybe it is right to take it all the way.  Imagine if the world was reduced to a shoving match between yourself and some nameless opponent in a dark closet.  No sights to see, just you and them.  The world pushes you.  Do you push back?  Do you push back like you mean it?  Do you stop reacting and start acting – switch from defense to offense?  Are you fighting to win?  How far are you willing to go?  This is all life really is, this test of your willingness to struggle.  So along with the rest, the existentialists were right, too, and we must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Meditation and ritual are gray areas.  Ritual is clearly about divine symbols, but perhaps also involves some serious willing, which makes it a possibly useful combination, a way of flexing the spiritual muscle.  Meditation is more complicated.  In some ways it is more of a mental exercise than spiritual one.  The two overlap, yet still should not be confused.  It’s true that meditation is similar to a physical workout except that it uses and strengthens attention, focus, concentration, and through those things willpower.  But then the Buddhist model uses meditation as something like an escape from the world, with Nirvana as the end goal itself, as if clearing your mind and diving into that emptiness is fulfillment, or the seeker’s final destination.  In this way Buddhists have replaced pouring yourself into vessels with pouring yourself into blankness.  You end up trying to invest significance and emotion into it in the same exact way, but once more, it will only ever truly be your attempt to make it mean something and nothing more.

My advice is not to learn discipline, devotion, or your life’s purpose through meditation.  If you are trying to begin with ritual then I suspect you will become especially caught in the symbolic quicksand.  Put them off and revisit them later, or use these things as supplements.  Instead, live your life.  Try things.  Do things.  Do work.  Test and strengthen yourself against that most difficult gatekeeper of all: cold indifferent matter itself.  Live for goals, not gods, though if you are a believer it is the surest way to God.

Above all, your soul only exists when you are using it.  Really it is better to think of your soul as a verb, not a noun.  It’s something you do.  Only by living like this does your soul’s substance become concentrated enough to possibly endure the wall of death and have a shot at eternity.

“As a waterfall becomes slower and more floating as it plunges, so the great man of action will act with greater calm than could be expected from his violent desire before the deed.”  — Nietzsche

Living without free will/against Marxist crypto-determinism

Perhaps Nietzsche was right and free will is now just another pleasant fiction that people use to make themselves feel better, and the only reason they don’t reject it is because they are uncomfortable rejecting it.

Of course the brain’s possible close interwovenness with quantum physics implies that perhaps the human soul is indeed something strange mysterious and beyond simple mechanical determination.  Perhaps the Order of the Nine Angles is correct that the human soul is acausal, a sort of fountain into the physical mechanical causal world, flowing out of some other acausal dimension where things work very differently.

But what if the doubters are correct and free will really is false?

The first question, then, is what is this sensation that we have a choice?  Is it a complete illusion?

Perhaps the way to think about it is that whenever we feel torn, or are weighing different options, our conflicted feelings themselves are the very process of computation which, though mechanical, we still experience emotionally.

This brings up another very important subject.  Even if we are machines, we still have desires.  Given that the universe (and our brains as an extension of it) is here being thought of as a cold deterministic mechanical progression, should we even care about the fact that we have likes and dislikes, or goals or hopes or dreams?

Perhaps we should just think of them as existing on an entirely different spectrum than physics, even though if we are mechanical determinists, we assume that these very hopes and desires are determined by chemicals, which were themselves arranged by natural selection.

(Of course this very persistence of human subjectivity in a world that should actually be completely unconscious, because of its cold objectivity, is one of the reasons why I question determinism.  A determinist might object that there is nothing about a mechanical causal deterministic universe that should preclude consciousness, but then I would ask why and how should such a universe produce consciousness?  Consciousness seems to be a completely inexplicable absurdity, similar to matter yet in a separate category.  Anyone can test the reality of matter by using any of their senses, if we put aside stupid Matrix arguments that none of this is actually real.  Consciousness, too, can be tested by Descartes’s method of “I think therefore I am.”  Thoughts are happening, there must be a source of these thoughts or at least an experiencer of them.  This source or experiencer may be coherent or incoherent, united or divided, but still it’s there.)

Getting back to my main point, there must still be some kind of way to live as a machine.  I think one of the main reasons people refuse to entertain a thought is because they don’t know how they would live if they came to believe that thought.  What would they have to change about their lives if they believed this new idea?  And they don’t really want to think about the practical ramifications either, because it is often at the very moment that you entertain the details of what you would do differently that you become comfortable with changing your beliefs, so people stay away from this consciously or unconsciously.  I admit the whole point of writing this is so that I can be open-minded and entertain the thought that my spiritual beliefs are completely wrong, and that the world really is just a cold scientific void.

So what if we are machines?  We still have values, qualitative values which because they’re not quantitative you can’t put a number on.  We have to weigh between our values and figure out which ones are the best so we can prioritize what we actually do.  You can try to rate them in their degree of import, but again it’s hard to be numeric; you may have two values which you think numerically add up to being more important than a third value, but if that third value is your life’s primary value, you may still choose it over the other two.  Then we have to figure out how our preferred balance of values matches up against the world of practical possibilities, and then perhaps change our methods or our goals accordingly.

This process seems to have something in common with a computer.  It is a matter of comparing things according to a somewhat logical process.  Admittedly often people aren’t so aren’t often so logical about it, and rather than deliberating, they weigh their values in a rather immediate emotional; they just go with their feelings.  Really these are two versions of the same thing, the only difference being a more carefully thought-out version of going with your feelings.  And then of course often people’s actions are at a complete mismatch with their intentions, because once again, they act on momentary impulsive feelings instead of thinking about larger consequences, or the deep feelings that they have their entire lives (versus the ones that are dominating right this instant).

But the more we talk about feelings the more you see how this is different from a computer.  I really have no idea if an emotional computer is physically possible.  Maybe, maybe not.  But this is what sticks out to me about humanity.  Our eyes are not surveillance cameras.  We don’t just receive and store data; we experience it.

I often wonder if you just made a computer complex enough, and tangled up its processes so they were done in a more chaotic, simultaneous fashion similar to human brain function, would you get something that was similar to human emotionality?  I suspect that you get something similar to human behavior, but it would still not necessarily have feelings.  There is still some missing element.

Back to “how should a determinist live?”  I suppose a person could attempt to live like a robot.  They could live emotionlessly, or attempt to live but what they perceived to be a logical code.  The problem is that, their logical code’s foundation will always turn out to be something that they perceive as desirable.  People have often tried to argue that there is such a thing as reasoned ethics, one based on what most human beings want.  To me this is an incoherent concept.   I think what most people want is something entirely distinct from reason.  This is not because I frequently encounter human beings displaying poor logic (don’t get me started), but because the two things are on completely different axes.  Reason is when you can solve a mathematical equation.  Desire can be a lot of things, but it’s not that unless you really like math.  Even then, your liking of it is totally different from your ability to do it.

So yes, a determinist with still have plenty of reasons to live.  Maybe they might become more logical like the Vulcans, but even the Vulcans have feelings, and very strong compassionate motivations behind their logical codes.  I’m with David Hume that “reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions.”  A determinist could also just throw up their hands with all the planning and go with their momentary emotions, which honestly sometimes might produce a better result anyway.

What a determinist will find is that no matter how much they believe their decisions are only a mechanical process of computation, they themselves are this very process, physical and mechanical or not, and the whole thing can still be difficult, emotional, and interesting.  So the fact that human beings are possibly only a biomechanical construct does not diminish their value in any way.  For whatever reason, absurd as it may be, the ability to value things (including the worth of human life) works completely differently than the typical laws of physics (like a pool table, one ball predictably hits another, etc.).  Even in the determinist scenario, the human ability to evaluate, and that ability’s inherent worth (well I like it), is still present, both in humans-in-general and in the determinists themselves.

Yes, we may be machines, but we’re still human!

~

This brings me to Marxism.  I find the Marxist theory of free will vs. determinism to be completely incoherent.  You either have free will or you don’t.  You are either a product of economics or you are not.  Marxists say people make history but in conditions not of their choosing.  If Marxists are asserting that human beings have true free will, but we’re limited by physical and economic circumstances, that is one thing, and I’d agree.  It often seems that Marxists argue precisely this point.  But in German Ideology they/the man himself also argues that even something as fundamental as human thoughts are economically determined.  This would imply that, in reality, “people make history but in conditions not of their choosing” is a lie, because not only are the conditions beyond our choosing, but even our own thoughts, our “free will,” are actually just entirely determined by conditions anyway.

So it seems to me that the Marxist has a few options.  (1) Embrace literal free will, human thought self-originating, free of the economy, but with human action limited by various physical/economic walls.  (2) Embrace hard determinism, figuring that not only our physical/economic limitations, but even our choices within them, are economically determined.  I think many Marxists subconsciously do this, except for a few religious Marxists I know who I’m guessing go with (1) or:  (3) Engage in some sort of mutual-cause, chicken-and-egg explanation, which muddles-but-still-includes the rather religious, or absurd, or at least unexplained idea of free will (alongside, rather than instead of, economic determination of thought).  This is something I think most hard-atheist Marxists would be very bothered by realizing they must do.

I think most Marxists do either (2) or (3).  But they dislike (2) because they claim to be dialectical and not determinist.  And they dislike (3), if they are honest about its implications, because they are hard atheists or just don’t like dealing with inexplicable things.  (It’s true that, even though something is inexplicable doesn’t mean we have to resort to religion; in my case both my scientific and religious explanation are the same thing.)  For the record I’m currently in option (1), placing me with Jean-Paul Sartre.  I used to be option (2).

I will grant that actually economic causes are an excellent guideline, and I often use it to understand things, but people consistently take it overboard like it precludes any possibility of human thought independent of economics.  Of course figuring out where a person’s thoughts come from is a ridiculously hard thing to do, so this to me seems like an unprovable dogma.

For all you know, a science fiction author could be responding to the feelings that capitalism gives them or receiving brain signals from an alien source.  Jesus could be interpreted as a critic of ancient feudalism and imperialism, or as someone who had a message from God for all times and all places.  Not just Jesus, but how about any individual person?  Are their thoughts and feelings coming from the experience of capitalism or are they coming from the experience of simply being human?  Both?  And what percentage of each?  Or can the thoughts not be easily divided, and perhaps right now being human and experiencing capitalism are the same thing?  Or is there a human element that exists in capitalism, and is conditioned by it, but is also an independent, distinct, or even separate entity unto itself that is universal across all times and all places?  Or perhaps is not universal but is just simply independent?

Maybe we just need to admit that sometimes things don’t fit into our giant all-explaining framework, and people just have their own thoughts!  “But where do these thoughts come from?” the determinist asks?  Well, how about the person themselves?  “But what determines the content of that person’s mind?” they insist.  Nature?  Nurture?

Maybe it comes from the Void.  Maybe actually there is a kernel of biological human nature independent of economics, and it comes from there.  (Is sex more economic than biological?  It seems like people of all times have wanted to do it…)  Maybe the thought acausally emerges from the person’s soul.  Maybe it could be explained by any number of things that you don’t want to admit are possible because they don’t fit with your dogma that everything must arise from economic material conditions.  Yeah, maybe The German Ideology explains a tremendous deal of human behavior, but that does not mean it is a tightly-sealed, absolute, proven theory behind absolutely all of it.   Maybe human behavior is inexplicable and that’s the great mystery of life.  Maybe uncertainty doesn’t bother me, while it makes many people panic.  Actually maybe uncertainty is a great thing, because the world is currently in the shitter so uncertainty could only lead upwards.

In fact I think it’s extremely dangerous for Marxists to believe that they have an all-explaining framework, even if they/we are actually very close to having one.  It turns them/us into very closed- minded people.

A lot of the time this seems to not be a problem, because actually we do have to have a certain mental rigidity.  The constant capitalist propaganda must be constantly opposed and refuted.  Our personal beliefs regarding socialism often come under constant individual attack.  But at the same time maybe we are just doing something wrong in terms of strategy or tactics, and we need to be radically open-minded.  Maybe there is some new issue we are ignoring which we thickly think we already have the answer to.  For example until fairly recently there were many socialist groups who did not recognize the importance of gay rights.  Even race and gender were not issues taken up universally by the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs’ time.

What if we are not wrong, but could just do even better than we are already doing?  What if we are doing things pretty well, but we could continue experimenting, continue learning, continue improving?  This is an experience I’ve had very recently actually with the ISO and Philly socialists.  It’s not that the ISO is a bad group, actually it’s an excellent one.  It’s just that despite how well-performing the ISO often is, Philly Socialist has an organizational model that is even better, without this necessarily refuting most of what the ISO does.  Anyway, in my new anti-sectarian outlook, I can still be a supporter of both groups, and I am, without even being a member of either.

We have to live as if, at any moment, we could be presented with evidence or an idea that completely explodes our entire concept of everything – of reality, of politics, of whatever.

Often we are guilty of arguing with a point before we’ve even truly listened to the point being made.  We assume it’s the same old tired kind of argument we’ve heard before, but maybe it’s actually coming from a completely different new angle that we are unfamiliar with, or the person presenting it has new evidence that we have never heard of.  We shut the conversation down before we even hear this new element because we think we already know the answer.

We should stop doing that!

We should embrace a life of radical openness where the things we are currently working on or invested in have no influence on what we entertain as true or untrue – in which we are willing to perform a complete about-face, to radically reorient the direction of our lives based on the things we learn or realize.

Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.  Anything is possible.