Et Veritas Liberaverit Vos
That the world changed drastically in the 20th century is something commonly agreed upon in the 21st. Where the progressives of Western civilization would see the changes—various and at times contrary though they are—as representative of some fundamental alteration and improvement in man, an evolution of his nature, any realist would have to disagree vehmently. While great scientific advancements have been made over the past hundred years, fallacious ideologies have undermined truth, liberty, and even society itself, so thoroughly contorting and realigning the moral tendons of Western culture that its technological and medical muscles are choking out man’s innately teleological intellect. A man can now carry a thousand books in his pocket; but what wisdom is to be garnered from Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer? A business man can find directions to his next presentation by speaking to his car; but what purpose is there to such a meeting if all he has to sell is bread and circus? An exchange student in France can call home to Burbank with almost no delay while simultaneous writing an email to Japan; but what betterment of society is given by instantaneous worldwide communication if no one has anything truly worthwhile to say? A non-denominational pluralistic religious service can have its message of peace, love, and hope broadcast globally; but what is merited through an act that merely signifies interior benevolence and fails to incite divine beneficence? An insular materialistic perspective sees these capabilities as enhancing modern man’s freedom and as liberating society from the mores of antiquity because it fails to understand both the nature of freedom and of society.
True freedom, today so commonly misapprehended as license—the removal of social, moral, and technological limitations on self-directing activity—consists of man being given the opportunity by his society to pursue with as little interference as possible the fulfillment of his nature in the engagement with truth. The conditions and results of this engagement are progressively cyclical; man’s potential for encountering truth is attained most fully in the rightly-ordered society; man is most fully engaged with society when he is most freely a part of it; and man is most free when he is imbued with the truth. It is thus the responsibility of those who have attained freedom through the truth to not sit back and allow society to deviate from its truest purpose, but to lead others out from the obfuscation of the real by the inundation with the spectacular—the means by which the intellectual powers of the West are being atrophied—that presently suffocates the life and soul of Western society.
Part I: Society
What do men mean when they say “society”? Though the word is used diurnally by millions of people, it is nonetheless used with great ambiguity and vagueness. The average individual will speak directly about society, quite often in the West about how much it is repressive to his “life-style,” but ask him what it is and he will almost inevitably give a thoroughly unsatisfactory answer, lifting his hands and indicating everything about him, because he does not know where to begin or what to include in its definition. Enumeration of all the objects and actions which could be said to compose society would take time beyond reckoning. The word has such a broad denotation, in fact, because it deals not with particular individuals or particular individual acts, but with the whole framework of man’s activity with other men. “Society” applies to polite conversation and formal discourse; to haggling over milk at the local market and a multi-billion dollar corporate merger; it applies to the systematic and calculated violence of the Nazi Holocaust and to the compassionate hand of Mother Teresa. Yet while such examples can demonstrate a plethora of truths of society, none provide an essential definition of society itself. Certainly it is through such instances that man knows society, but their diversity and breadth of possible configurations shows that, they are merely instantiations of the societal essence, and not the essence itself.
What is society simpliciter? How is it to be defined? Is it a concept that exists merely by some form of regionalized commonality, an abstract framework existing outside of individuals and into which man instills concrete conventional, guiding patterns of interaction, that is, in laws, buildings, currencies, entertainments—the tangible results of the associations of individuals for the production and attainment of some good? Or is it something more fundamental, essential, human, real? If society is merely the former, then the only ways to alter it is through altering the conventional patterns: radical restructuring of legal systems and the entire physical composition of a given locale, in its architecture as well as its means of interaction, such as its literature, currency, and systems of signification, like traffic signs. Such a notion is clearly absurd; for it is obvious that society itself does not exist on paper and in contracts, regardless of how much one may respect what those papers and contracts signify, nor is it to be found in the architectural or economic paradigms of a particular region. Every concrete physical instance, or abstract communal convention, of what is commonly considered a social element is dispensable without destruction of society itself; none are essential. Neither is their totality, for nothing comes from nothing, and at some point in human history there was no systematized society: no currency, no buildings, no laws, no entertainment, no organized religion. One aspect of society which, however, is essential and which has always been, a self-evident aspect, is the active plurality of participants; a society cannot exist without willful participation by more than one individual. All of the aspects commonly, and rightly considered to be a part of society—mercantile exchange, legal systems, political structures, urban development, artistic cultivation, academic institutions, religious institutions, even language itself—are dependent upon a usually considerable measure of personal interaction.
Thus, in any human society, there are always two essential elements: persons and personal interactions. But what sort of actions are unique to persons as interactive? What actions of human persons form a human society? Animals do not have trade, laws, politics, buildings, art, education, or religion; but some evolutionists and psychologists would reduce these traits in man to elaborated means of extending his physical, emotional needs, and the argument boils down to an insoluble quibble, so long as the principles are fundamentally divided. What makes these aspects of human society distinct from the baser animal needs, however, is their essentially linguistic mode of existence; for although many animals have something like language, it is merely the signification of something external, an instance of stimulus and response. Man’s language, contrariwise, points to something not merely outward, to external objects, but also inwardly, to thoughts that encompass the phantasmal imagery of the particular instance of physical existence within a broader dimension. The institutions of society are built through this the immediate ability of articulated words to signify the internal word, the “knowledge come to life in the mind,” and to lead someone else, another mind, to that same knowledge. This ability to present and demonstrate to others his internal self, his intellectual self, and to receive others’ internal, intellectual selves—to act intersubjectively—is the essence of the human society. Every aforementioned tangible aspect of human society, as well as its intangibles, its morality and faith, are possible only through the intersubjective exchange of individuals.
Knowing a technical definition of society, however, is not really knowing what society is; for everything is ultimately determined in its essence by its end, and judged in its quality by how fully it participates in its essence, by whether or not it attains its end. Society is not merely a tool for the individual, but an essential part of his being. Only through man’s actualization of his inherent intersubjectivity is he fully a man, for in such consists his rational development and improvement. Thus, as society exists amongst individuals, as part of them, its end is in their end—namely, their full development in this life, through both liberty and education, for the sake of the next. In looking at today’s society, however, what one sees is not a society which is conducive to the development of the individual, but one which, through its gross perversion of educational structures and norms, closely resembles Plato’s cave.
Part II: Ducere ex Captio
In his seminal though easily misunderstood work Being and Time, Martin Heidegger writes that man has “the character of directionality.” Man’s intellect, like his physical senses, is always directed at something particular. He is always looking at, hearing, smelling, and touching things as wholes; he is always thinking of wholes, even when he is thinking of them as parts of some other whole; his focus is always upon the one. But his focus is not static, for it is directed towards things in order to know those things themselves. This directionality, the innate and inextricable orientation of the self for-the-sake-of knowing something, which will be revisited later on, reveals an essential characteristic of man; he, like the rest of the universe, is intended for activity. This raises a question: if man is always active, then insofar as he is man in this world, he is within the sort activity natural to man; though as a creature, he is subject to conditions of possibility and actuality, and therefore has various degrees to which he participates in this essential activity. What is the activity in which man begins his life, into which he is naturally born? All of his faculties are, in fact, engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, the only end that is sought for its own sake. Thus, the innate directionality of man, that towards which his whole being ought to be oriented, is the truth. Plato, however, through his allegory of the cave, states that man is born into societal slavery, in which his directionality is forcefully pointed towards vague shadows, deceptive representations of the real; in a way, this is true, particularly in the contemporary age wherein few men of the West are not born into a world that immediately inundates them with sensory spectacle—the shadows upon the wall of the cave are plain to see in the lit screens of televisions and computer monitors. Yet while such enslavement is inarguably involuntary, and many men go their whole lives so habituated to it that they never escape, freedom is—through a fundamentally societal medium, education, the proper function of society—offered to most.
Sadly, amidst the overwhelming possibilities of modern, corrupt society, freedom is seldom accepted; for in addition to overcoming the thought-condemning tide of modernity, man must also overcome his own weakness of will. Attaining freedom is not merely a matter of recognizing the falsity of the shadows on the wall, but also the willing to accept a proposed directionality towards the truth of the things themselves. Paradoxically, it is only through exposure to the truth that man may turn himself towards it—there must be some violence to man’s fallen nature to instigate its rectification. Thus, man’s directionality is not simply an errant condition whereby he is pushed by himself and others to various ends, but a means in need of guidance to a particular, specific end: the truth.
But how is this directionality guided? How is the person freed from the increasingly Huxleian enslavement of modern society? The man as an individual cannot free himself; such is not the nature of man. Rather, it is done through a fundamentally intersubjective act. In Plato’s allegory of the cave, it is the noble man, who, having escaped the illusions and discovered the truth, returns and does all he can to liberate his fellows by developing their intellects, by turning their minds’ eyes away from the distractions of a superficial society to the truths of things themselves. In all societies, this man is the teacher or educator. What does it mean to be an educator? What is education? Etymologically, the word derives from two Latin roots: ex, “from,” and ducere, “to lead.” To be an educator, then, is to be a leader, not necessarily to some definite end, but certainly away from something. If the good at which man is innately aimed is knowledge of the truth, the things themselves, then the good educator is the man who leads others away from the opposite of true knowledge: deception. Such education is done by exposing to others the essences of things, through the proper use of language (a mere deluge of factual information about things is comparable to programming a computer: capable, powerful, but without a properly functional self-directionality), for what the teacher knows is the essence of a thing’s reality, and this, the internal word, the knowledge come to life in his mind, is signified by the external word. Of course this process is slow and painful, for the inexperienced mind, knowledgeable only of the superficialities with which it has been inundated, must overcome the certitude of its own insular knowledge and perceive the greater truths which are demonstrated to it, often beginning with aspects of the limited world seen but never fully recognized, never formulated into the internal word vivified through conversation with another. Yet the expansion of real knowledge in the mind of the individual has something of a snowball effect; the more truth accretes in the mind, the more quickly and the more it is capable of taking in.
It is thus, through exposure to the reality of things, that man is given freedom. It is strange that in a modern society so thoroughly enthralled with professional and collegiate sports, where rules ensure that individuals are not interfered with in the utilization of their talents, that true human freedom is not understood to consist of the very same paradigm. Pure possibility, a lack of guides and restrictions, induces nothing but paralysis. A man cannot play a sport without knowing the rules that guide his ability to play it; and a man cannot live a free life without knowing those things that enable him to fulfill his nature. Knowledge, true knowledge, always produces restriction against self-detriment. The man who knows that a certain mushroom is poisonous is restricted from blamelessly eating it; a man who knows that adultery is immoral, and particularly he who knows why, is, with few exceptions of barely mitigated culpability, entirely restricted from blamelessly indulging in acts of lust. Yet being inhibited from eating the mushroom saves the man’s life; being inhibited from adultery saves his soul; seen positively, both, as do all restrictions of known truth, enable him to the fulfillment of his nature: the attainment of and repose within truth. One thinks of the 8th chapter of the Gospel according to John, not merely for its best-known line, “And you shall know the truth: and the truth shall make you free” (8:32), but for the whole discussion of truth, the word, and freedom (8:31-47). It is through the intersubjective beneficence of Christ, His teaching, that the Apostles came to know the truth, and through knowing the truth that they were made free, and through being freed that they were able to follow Christ, the Logos, the Truth. Thus, it is through knowledge of the truth that man comes to be free and it is through freedom that man comes to further knowledge of truth: a man can be lead to the Pierian Spring, but only he can choose to drink of it.
If a man drinks deeply of the Spring, as Alexander Pope admonished, he is more fit to be a teacher of others; his capacity for intersubjective exchange, the yet-unvocalized articulation of the internal word, the vivacity of his intellect, is greater. It is not thus difficult to see how education, which leads to freedom, leads to a better society, one permeated with truth and thus freer, and thus more inclined to truth, each expanding the possession and possibility of possession of the other ad infinitum. Consequently, the proper enacting of the innate intersubjectivity of the educated individual, the fulfillment of the end of society, the teaching of others, is an essential act of every man so fortunate as to have been himself the recipient of truth from another; apathy in the face of pervasive deception is perhaps the greatest vice when facing the monstrosity of the contemporary spectacle-based society.