The Shock of Your Own Emptiness, Jamming, 08/11/2017

Sorry I never updated yesterday. It’s just been busy, hectic, a little stressful at times, and a long Facetime conversation with my colleague on the horror film project got away from me.

I was originally going to make another pass at the idea I was talking about over the weekend. How Medieval Christian Europeans* found themselves adrift and alone in the universe, once they understood how much they needed technologies to pry open the world.

Christian European culture experienced a profound culture shock as
people slowly began to realize that the only friends humanity
could have in the world were the friends we made ourselves.
* Arendt, in The Human Condition, talks about mankind and humanity here. But she’s only ever referring to a Western and European cultural transition – tracing conceptual continuity from Polis-era Greeks to Medieval Christian Europeans to Industrial Capitalist Europeans. That was her area of expertise, but it’s important to keep the concepts’ limits in mind.

Our intuitions and perceptions weren’t adequate to the way the world really was. The guarantee that the world was God’s creation and so was made for us disappeared. Culturally, Westerners came to a terrible realization – God was not looking out for them. They were on their own.

This is what proper atheists mean when we say that God is dead. These aren’t the reductive, arrogant, idiotic r/atheism crowd who thinks Stefan Molyneux is a genius. I'm talking about the atheists who understand that there could be and likely is a divine presence in the world, but admits to herself that God is indifferent to us.

That’s a much more profound atheism than the more popular, “Religion is stupid! And you’re stupid!” style of atheism. An atheism that God herself would respect. Atheism as a challenge to God – Why do we matter nothing to you?

Here’s another idea that Arendt traces from this shock – technophilia. Here’s how she does it. When we could think of the world as creation, our intuitive ways of exploring it – everyday experience and contemplative meditation – were adequate to that world.

An artist's rendition of Isaac Asimov's Trantor – a planet whose entire
surface was covered in a vast urban cityscape. A world made
wholly into a human creation.
Throw that out, and you realize that our only grip on the world is with our technology. It’s a tentative, desperate grip, but it’s better than nothing. When God is dead (to you), you can’t rely on any kind of natural harmony between humanity and the world. When you realize that there never was any harmony at all, your senses and thoughts feel very unreliable.

Here is where you understand that René Descartes’ thought experiment of radical doubt wasn’t arising in a cultural vacuum.

The image of radical doubt – a conception of our world as a fundamentally mysterious place, where we’re at a deep and serious disadvantage even for survival – was the beginning of existentialism. It was an empty world, where we had no friends but the ones we made ourselves.

Worse yet, if we were alone in the world, then we owed no one in the world our loyalty or trust but ourselves. So instead of looking after a creation that was made for us, we came to think of ourselves as masters of Earth. Chew up the world and build a human creation from it all.

If the world as it appeared on its own wasn’t really made for us, we’d make the world for us ourselves. Yeah, that’s working out well.

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