The difficulty of rethinking

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By FLÁVIO R. KOTHE*

We need to overcome what we have been indoctrinated in the family, at school, in the media, in the State

More decisive than the external appearance of freedom of being able to say what one thinks – which is much less effective than one supposes, as it tends to be inversely proportional to the receiving public – is the internal freedom to open spaces to rethink fundamentals. If they are not rethought, they are not thought: they simply repeat routines of understanding, which may be less true the more institutionalized they are. We need to turn around what has been indoctrinated into us in the family, at school, in the media, in the State. There are different forms of servitude, none of which are voluntary, but generally accepted as normal.

Snakes shed their skin every year so they can grow. We need to refresh ourselves from within whenever circumstances induce us to see things from new angles. Friedrich Nietzsche said that you never enter the same river twice, but he knew many people who always entered the changing river the same way. This is called coherence, but it can be an insistence on error throughout mistakes.

To read texts and contexts – contexts as if they were texts –, the discernment of their semantic gesture, the direction of their speech and the politics underlying the varied surface structures, the contrast of the shadows projected by their profile is necessary. To indicate paths, it is necessary to see which routes were avoided, which potential goals were left aside. The statement is made as an implicit denial of something else that could have been said and was not. Failure to wash your hands, but not everything washes off with water. There are denials in every statement. Speeches not made in the speech made.

Nothing needs to be as it is. If so, it is so for several reasons, never just one. Such reasons may be irrational, but there are causes in them, which are in turn caused. Uncovering the reasons for being, however absurd they may seem, is a way of suspending their immediate effectiveness within the scope of theory, making the thing a kind of phantasmagoria that allows one to approach its thingness. One thus dives into the gray area between reason and rationalization, as if it were between truth and lies.

The concept of truth needs to be reviewed, as its traditional definition, the coincidence or adequacy between mind and object, is not true. What is in the mind is never the same as what is thought. The principle of mathematics is equivalence: X = Y. But X is not equal to Y. So X would be = X, and Y =Y. God would be the guarantee that 3 + 2 = 5, as Augustine said and Descartes repeated, whether we are awake or asleep. Also 2 + 3 = 5. In theory, as in practice it is known that the order of facts or arguments can change the result.

To simplify, we would say 1 = 1, and 2 = 2, as well as 2 + 2 = 4. Everything is fine. In theory. In practice, I can eat 2 + 2 jaboticabas, but not 2 + 2 watermelons. When I say 1 = 1, the first 1 is the subject, while the second 1 is the predicate: the second 1 is what gives the identity of 1 to the first 1; therefore, the first 1 comes as 1 after the second 1. They are not identical, according to Hegel. If I say that 2 + 2 = 4, it is as if two nests, with two eggs in each, were equal to a nest with four eggs, which is contrary to the facts.

By making similar something identical, differences, which also exist, are discarded. The conceptualization of truth as adequacy (ad aequum) makes what is not equal. It reduces the world to quantity, discarding quality as if it were just subjective, not a way of being of the thing, the state in which it finds itself. “Science” ends up being calculation.

Americans established dictatorships throughout Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, under the pretext of preserving freedom and democracy. Now Joe Biden is asking the American Congress for a fortune to pay for three war fronts promoted by him, but all to preserve peace. The Brazilian media only refers to Hamas as terrorists, while Israel has the right to carry out genocide. It makes Gaza a ghetto and now a target practice and extermination camp, as if the Warsaw ghetto or Auschwitz had never existed.  

More comfortable than the effort to rethink fundamentals in two ways is to remain in the apathy that now dominates streets and minds, letting the brainwashing underway in the media run rampant, devouring souls as if they were carrion of lost neurons. Apathy ends up paying the price of alienation: things don't stop happening, no matter how much denial. The price to pay will always come. You can ignore geopolitics, but it ends up knocking on the door.

To capture the being of things outlined in background of his non-being, the subject has to deny himself, discover himself subject, to break the cocoon in which he finds himself, then flap his wings and at least become a butterfly. It seems good to achieve this epistemological trick, which in allegory seeks to make a dialectic of a dichotomy. He can, however, forget the division between being and beings.

But what is being? It can be the being of the being, the generic that is in it and that is concretely in it like the cavalry in the horse, the essence of that being, to take up Hegel; it can be the totality of beings, something that no one knows what it is; it can be, for Christians, the most essential of beings, God himself, even if he has to perform the miracle of being a being and at the same time the being of all, something that Aristotle thought impossible; it can be man when he calls himself being in something like “to be or not to be, that is the question”; it can be whatever has the most validity for us, whatever it appears to us as being. These various senses mix and confuse each other.[I] The first problem is that in all these ways of understanding “being” we are always determined by the metaphysical tradition.

We can return to Aristotle to show that no being can be the being of all beings, as it is a logical error to suppose that an entity can contain in it the being of all beings, but belief does not care about that. Even if there is cavalry in any horse, none é cavalry itself, no matter how awarded it may be. Even the last specimen of a species is not THE species: it is just the last specimen.

Developing Thomas Aquinas' notion, it can be said that God would have gone through several stages: (i) alone, with nothing; (ii) alone, coming up with ideas of how things could become; (iii) giving materiality to these pure forms of his mind; (iv) governing this cosmos and discovering that a supreme being was missing; (v) making Adam from clay, breathing into him a soul and then making Eve from his rib, because it is not good for man to live alone; (vi) naming all things and managing paradise, to invent work as punishment; (vii) making appearances here and there to the people chosen by Moses to preserve monotheism, which had fallen into disgrace in Egypt, and to invade other people's lands, carrying out massacres; (viii) seduce a maiden with the help of an angel and make a child; (ix) following his son's wanderings, as if a father's greatest sign of love was letting his son be tortured and killed; (x) abdicate the throne in favor of his son, generating a new era.

What we see is a god who changes, who is, therefore, within time and cannot be eternal. He behaves like an entity, not like the being of everything. Thomas Aquinas thought the Holy Spirit arose from the Father's relationship with Christ, but he was a monk.

It can be argued that the belief in a god who serves as a guarantee to take possession of someone else's territories or at least a piece of land in the sky is the projection of a desire, the truth of which is that it is a projection and desire, but not proof of the existence of that god nor of achieving what is desired, but arguments will be of no use in the face of unshakable faith, of absolute desire. One can continue to argue that this Freudian “desire” is a modest version of Artur Schopenhauer’s “will” and the more assertive Nietzschean “will to power”, but that would be to continue believing that logical argumentation can have more force than belief, with your desires encapsulated.

It would be like one belief opposing another belief: it would result in in dubio pro reo. Everyone keeps to themselves, always thinking the other person is to blame. The very concept of guilt would be overcome by double negation. Logic be damned.

Immanuel Kant may have realized that his scheme of the mind reproduced the figures of the divine trinity, but he did not want to leave the Lutheran perspective. He thought there was a universal (indeed European and colonialist) reason for dictating behavior. He even said that democracy was the tyranny of the majority over the minority. He forgot to add that aristocracy was the tyranny of the minority over the majority and that a despot is never enlightened (no matter how cultured the flutist Frederick II was), but that he is always the tyranny of one over all the others. Even a constitution is not above those who give themselves the right to interpret what is contained therein. The law ends up saying what he wants it to say.

If the believer sees himself as a “chosen one” simply because he is a believer or because he belongs to a class or ethnicity, there is no point in praying arguments for him to come down from the pedestal on which he has placed himself, because for him only what he wants to hear is useful. . Thus, he is given the right to exercise “the rights” that his superiority confers on him. This arrogance will not suppress the strength of the facts, but it is a form of denialism, which tries to exorcise the unwanted, and of narcissism, which prevents recognizing deficiencies and mistakes (except to become even stronger). The rest, the unwanted, “does not exist”. If it exists in any way, it needs to be exorcised. In exorcism you don't kill: you just expel the demon...

The believer acts according to his “truths”, he is “faithful”, whether by going to mass every Sunday to go to heaven, or by taking the land that he believes was destined for him by a certain divine will. In both cases, it is a problem of literary criticism, a way of reading and interpreting a text. Elevated to the category of sacred, it is no longer seen, however, as literary fiction. It becomes a notary document. It is believed that everything happened as told. In one case, at the time of collection, the holder of the supposed right is dead and can no longer claim; in the other, it is preferred that the infidels die.

Anyone who believes they are better also believes they have the right to do whatever serves to prove this condition. The worst actions will then be blessed, turned into virtues. The more the subject does, the more obsessed he becomes and willing to continue. He cannot recognize errors in his wanderings: he thinks he follows the ways of the Lord. He transforms sins into virtues. The further he goes, the more he will want to continue following, the less he will be able to rethink his fundamentals, listen to the hoarse voice of reason. Belief is stronger than thought.

If the supposed reason is the voice of another, that other being an “infidel”, someone who is not part of the community of the elected, it will be read as rationalization, propagation of interests, manipulation, never as the unveiling of “personal desires” that lead to belief, to the projection of desires through belief. This projection of desires is not just a subjective drive: it is driven by concrete external interests. It goes over contradictions. Americans imposed dictatorships across Latin America under the pretext of preserving freedom; Now President Joe Biden is asking Congress for an immense military subsidy, under the pretext of preserving peace, pointing out three war fronts, where others will fight for them. If this amount were applied to preserving nature, fighting hunger and promoting health, there would be more peace than this Roman pax.

There is no point trying to convince the sectarian through arguments. His faith is unshakable. It passes through the waters of facts and arguments like a duck through the waters of a pond. Nothing touches him. Everything serves to always reaffirm the same thing. He is capable of projecting onto others what most characterizes himself, and seeing himself the less the more he thinks he is seeing. His stubbornness has no end, he thinks it's persistence.

There are efforts to prove, once again, that the human species is perhaps a mistake of nature and deserves to be extinct. It cannot bear to live without wars, it is still dominated by the desire for domination, destroying the pretext of building. This has been proven so many times, it doesn't need to be demonstrated any further.

Nature is, however, merciful to us: we all have a limited time of existence, no matter how denier we are. There is no fear or anguish that can save us. With "Anxiety” or without, nature ends up being right and imposes its “will to power” on everyone.

* Flavio R. Kothe is a retired full professor of aesthetics at the University of Brasília (UnB). Author, among other books, of Benjamin and Adorno: clashes (Attica). [https://amzn.to/3rv4JAs]

Note


[I] HEIDEGGER, Martin. Schwarze Hefte 1948/49 – 1951. Gesamtausgabe Band 98, Frankfurt aM, Klostermann Verlag, 2018, p. 361.


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