The Copernican Revolution Again, A History Boy, 06/04/2016

Politics can’t be only about each of us and the proper boundaries of our individuality, of the realm proper to ourselves, anymore.
Coming to grips with the nature of globalized society and economy would have the same social shock – and similarly transform how we conceive of ourselves and the world – as the Copernican Revolution. A Copernican Revolution for our entire self-conception.
Where have I heard that before?
What came first – the metaphor or the idea? At minimum, I got a bachelor’s degree in philosophy ten years ago, and I paid enough attention to have read Immanuel Kant. He brought that metaphor of the Copernican Revolution for thought into the tradition. And you can’t make that metaphor anymore without invoking him.

"The spectacle of the Tartuffery of old Kant,
equally stiff and decent, with which he entices
us into the dialectic by-ways that lead (more
correctly mislead) to his "categorical
imperative" – makes us fastidious ones smile,
we who find no small amusement in spying out
the subtle tricks of old moralists and ethical
preachers." – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond
Good and Evil
Which stinks, because very little about Utopias will have to do with Kant, or pay much fealty to him. It shows how much my own position has changed since my younger days. I first got into philosophy taking courses in a department with a higher concentration and percentage of Kantians than I think exists at any other university in Canada.

If we go by the simple expectation that your first teachers determine your perspective and priorities, I should be a pretty dedicated (if not necessarily very orthodox) Kantian. 

But Utopias is deeply influenced by Antonio Negri and Henri Bergson, and Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity’s main ancestors are Arne Næss, Aldo Leopold, Félix Guattari, and Gilles Deleuze. So you can tell that I’m not all that into Kant anymore. 

So what’s going on? Why would a metaphor so important to the Kantian project arise spontaneously* from my reflecting on the egotism of liberal individualist political thinking?

* And it seriously was spontaneous! I wasn’t even thinking about Kant at all when I described human self-centredness with a metaphor of Ptolemy’s Earth-centric cosmology. I was searching only for a cosmic metaphor for how profound human selfishness and self-centredness has become.

As with any set of works that have made such a powerful break in epochs (and so many epochs) Kant’s ideas are complex as all hell. And their precise meanings are open to literally centuries worth of debates. But here’s my very simplified take on what Kant’s Copernican Revolution was about: the powers of human knowledge.

The fulcrum of Kant’s whole system was a concept that human knowledge was fundamentally limited in its powers. We could never know the true nature of God or the true meaning of the cosmos itself. Those cosmic kinds of knowledge were mediated by humanity’s positionality and the structure of our minds.

Knowing the ordinary stuff of Earth worked fine because it was enough like us, ordinary stuff of Earth that could think about stuff. But God isn’t earthly or ordinary in human experience. So the frameworks of human knowledge perverted and twisted how we understood God until it became nonsensical blend of dogmas and hallucinations. 

Only when reasoning about morality could we actually establish any genuine knowledge of the divine, because our moral reasoning is the only part of human nature that approaches divinity.

Gilles Deleuze's simple diagram of Kant's
image of human nature and knowledge. I
assure you, it's very simple. Extremely.
That's some really fast Kant and I missed a ton of the details. But that doesn’t matter. The question is, why is this nothing like the Copernican Revolution I described yesterday in humanity’s conception of its own politics?

The image of Ptolemy’s cosmology is literally the entire universe revolving around Earth. As the metaphor rolls, liberal individualism sets all of human politics revolving around the freedom of the individual from outside powers. 

But there are so many vectors of oppression that work so differently from centralized authorities trying to assert command and control over individuals.** Dealing with all those vectors in thought means reorienting our politics to view the free individual as just one type of political ideal among many that can guide us along different routes to different kinds of freedom. 

** Though it’s not like those authorities are going away anytime soon.

A map of the universe where Earth is one planet among many is more complicated than the geocentric spheres. But it’s more accurate, and a more diverse and fascinating universe to explore than a geocentric reality could ever have been.

So it goes for the more complicated political universe with many diverse, intersecting, and conflicting axes of freedom and liberation. It’s much more complex to navigate. If you thought easy answers were tough in the liberal individualist model of politics, then this model with so many different axes of freedom is even harder.

But the diversity of that complicated world is amazing. Its freedoms are more rewarding. Its lives are more complex and profound. And it is more true.

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