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24 July 2009 @ 09:06 pm
10 Books That Screwed Up The World  
Browsing Half Priced Books recently -- searching, as I do, for Pride & Prejudice & Zombies -- I encountered a book called "10 Books That Screwed Up The World," and reading the dust cover decided to purchase. As I found it in the humor section, I imagined that I would be on an entertaining joyride of the flaws and foibles of famous books -- Mill's Utilitarianism, Hobbes' Leviathan, Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, etc. How wrong was I.

As I began the first chapter, on The Prince, by some Italian gentlemen whose name I cannot recall, it became quite clear to me that the author and I had fundamentally different views on the world. In fact, I found his "criticism" of these supposedly screwy books to be an interesting, if abbreviated, reminder of certain philosophies which I have encountered in their various evolved permutations throughout my life. For instance, I had forgotten that Descartes is the originator of the "ghost in the machine" concept or that Hobbes is the progenitor of the notion that what other people do is okay as long as it does not hurt us. Yet the author, whose name is Wiker and perhaps ought to be Wanker, has merely offered a summary of the works of these philosophers, the briefest of biographies, and merely concludes that because many of them were atheists that their conceptualizations of good and evil, morality, and the true nature of humanity are inherently flawed.

True, I believe that these great thinkers upon whose ideas our modern world is built did give short shrift to spirituality, but in the goal of disseminating their ideas, which indeed were radical, they had to adopt a martial stance -- no greater evidence than Karl Marx, who called for revolution of the proletariat in the Manifesto of the Communist Party. Marx, I'm sure, was every bit the dictatorial douchebag the author posits, as even his colleagues and compatriots indicate (Engels of particular note). Nevertheless, the author fails to realize that the moral authorities which had governed the world for so long required such men to shake the very foundations of faith so that Faith would remain relevant in the rapidly modernizing world.

My own worldview is not so lopsided as either this author or the philosophers whom he attacks. I believe, instead, in a macronomic philosophy which encapsulates both the notions of theism an atheism as byproducts of the natural human condition. Dealing with the micronomic viewpoint of this Mr. Wiker -- and these Mrs. Darwin, Hobbes, Mill, Marx et. alia -- gives me tremendous pause at the way in which ideology has ensnared the human senses and created the kind of ineffectual partisanship which results in the useless dissipation of our energies.

Though it does stir up in me a notion which I find quite curious -- that antagonism is the truest way to identify what one believes. Were I to ask a Liberal or a Conservative to state what they believe and why, I no doubt would get a list of core beliefs, but these would be tainted by a longer list of what they are NOT. A conservative is NOT interested in wasting the dollars of the taxpayers; a liberal is NOT interested in legislative morality. By exploring this book, which I had considered putting down when the thesis of its author became clear to me in Chapter 1, I have forced myself to experience and review ideas contrary to my own. Owing in part to my radical moderation, I am able to divorce myself from personal animosity and thereby critically analyze these affronts, which in turn have allowed me to produce a laundry list of "what I believe," the result of which is a clearer understanding of my own guiding philosophy and what compels me to do good in this life.

What interests me most is that however insular one may be, antagonism seems to be a natural occurrence. While antagonism may come in deliberately brutal forms (i.e., that of an invading army), it also comes in the most benign of forms in those who simply choose to disagree with us. The fundamental selfishness of humanity always breeds some measure of reaction when an idea to which we hold true is challenged. This is not to imply that selfishness is bad, for in my concept of philosophy it is the defining characteristic of humans. Our concept of "self" is what separates us from our animal brethren, and part and parcel to that concept of self is what we believe. Invariably, challenges to our believes translates into defense of the self.

I have never understood the appeal of hermitage, but I suppose one could successfully argue that the life of a hermit is perhaps the only kind of life free of antagonism. At least, that is, antagonism of a human form. No doubt the hermit has some philosophy or concept of life that is challenged by the natural world -- whether that philosophy or concept is concrete and definable is itself a subject of philosophizing as the hermit is not going to communicate it to the greater world.

Nevertheless, for those humans who choose to live in civilized society, challenges to our beliefs occur frequently. This, to me, explains why angry letters are written to television executives when profanities are uttered during prime time, two boys exchange a kiss on some popular teen melodrama, or Janet Jackson's breast is briefly exposed in a wardrobe malfunction. Such affronts require the response of angry letters because they are challenges to the fundaments of decency and morality held by the writers of the letters. Those who believe homosexuality to be unnatural and immoral are offended at its inclusion in the mainstream media because .

It is not necessarily the intent of the television show to cause offense, but merely to tell a story which involves something true -- homosexuality exists, and homosexuals engage in its practice. One cannot escape from this fact. Bestiality, cannibalism, rape, arson, murder, pedophilia -- these all exist, though perhaps we would prefer they not. Each time we are reminded of their existence, it sparks a challenge to our morality. If you believe those acts are immoral and wrong, the antagonism of their mention reinforces your own stance that such acts ought to be banned, and punishments created and enforced against those who practice such atrocities. If you believe that those acts are natural and, while a bit unsavory not deserving of moral condemnation, the antagonism reaffirms you ambivalence to such acts and perhaps inspires reaction against those who are consumed by righteous indignation against such acts.

In such a manner, antagonism shapes our sense of self and allows us to grow and develop, defining and redefining our view of the world, and how and why we believe what we believe. What cannot be taught, it seems, is how the rational mind may detach itself from the sense of personal attack which is engendered by such antagonism. For, indeed, it is possible. One may, with an air of enlightenment, remove one's personal opinions and beliefs from the argument. The unfortunate consequence of such indifference is a kind of apathy that, in extreme, is very detrimental to the furthering of humanity. If one is to maintain an enlightened detachment, one must remember that it is important to be tethered to some set of personal beliefs, elsewise the individual may retain a cold indifference to the kind of extremism evident in Nazi Germany or other totalitarian regimes where the ruling junta brutally executes the opposition while the supposedly enlightened middle and upper classes sit idly by.

It is therefore imperative for the radical moderate to maintain a stance of lawful neutrality. That is to say, one must adhere to some sense of duty or justice, defined as the "law," but to also remain neutral in the argument against one's beliefs, so that compromise and cooperation may be fostered.