Alexander M. Wegner
Sensation, Order, Change
MAN CANNOT BE SOLITARY; in order for him to be, he must–or cannot not–contextualize himself. Indeed, what is the significance of any ‘I’ in the absence of any ‘Other?’ Can any ‘I’ attain significance, absent any ‘Other?’ And, fundamentally, is ‘I,’ if ‘Other’ was not? Though seemingly peripheral, such inquiry may really be central to discourse.
Though any and each of these prompts necessitates extensive discussion, I suspect that potential responses to any and either of these would suggest that man is, and can only be, through the existence of all that, which he reasons not to be. Yet, and as noted by Alan Watts, man is all there is; in other words, man differentiates himself through form, but not through essence. Regardless, what renders man distinct, is his ability to recognize his form. In doing so, man is prone to declare his freedom, thereby likely to aspire to power, and prone to justify its use through his self-proclaimed uniqueness.
Cognition–as a seemingly internal process–is, indeed, contingent upon all that which is external to man. Man, therefore, is solely free as the slave of his senses; all that he sees, hears, physically feels, scents, and tastes is processed through cognition, turns into perception, determines perspective, and prevails as impression, both through the act or occurrence of conscious and unconscious or subconscious recollection. Man cannot liberate himself from the influences of sensation–nor can he deprive himself thereof, without prompting cognitive demise–but he can learn to mitigate or preempt its effects by learning to process prevalent sensations sensibly, that is, by evaluating moderately.
Processing translates into judgement, which presupposes morality. Morality, though often deemed absolute, is a relational concept. Thus, the internal processing by man of what is external to man, really is an externally conditioned process that unfolds internally. Once more, this speaks to elusive freedom with which man deems himself endowed, and the unparalleled might of sensations to which he is subjected. Morality will, thus, depend on the particulars of social space, will be in flux, and must be learned.
Curiously, the contextual character of cognition reveals that freedom–as longed for by the likes of Rousseau–is not solely elusive, but illusory, and really non-existent. Dependent on context, man will seek to and–so to become (an infant at birth, ignorant of himself and others is incapable of knowing) and remain cognitively sane–must associate with others. Such association, in turn, cannot not be regulated; first, the longing for regulation will render morality appealing; second, its cultivation and preservation will provide impetus for the establishment of order. Arguably, it is the perceived but non-existent freedom of man that at last turns its very cessation desirable.
While order may be preferable to anarchy–as an order of freedom, but order nonetheless–it brings forth a dauntingly complex reality, that is thought to be formally governed–through the many specifically crafted bureaucracies, which can but need not to assume democratic characteristics–but is likely to be determined informally, through the implications of interactions for the cognition of man, which is–as previously noted–contextual in character. Though order is derived from cognition that aspires to the ideals associated with a morality that can only be learned, and gradually constructed–having always-already been solely as part of the survival instinct inherent to man–it assumes its own dynamism, in consequence of the interactions that it inevitably entails. Hence, regardless of how systemic order may appear at first glance, and however neat it is often declared to be, it really is a self-perpetuating force, whose end cannot be known.
Order, moreover, poses a peculiar and twofold danger. First, it increases the manufactured sensations its constituents confront; these entail the explicit and implicit duties, brought forth by the various roles order prescribes (through the societal benefits these promise to bring forth), and imposes (due to their sheer necessity for the preservation of order). Second, it deprives its constituents of the always-already prevalent sensations, as these pervade cognition to a lesser degree than the manufactured kind; these include the phenomena induced by the four elements (earth, water, air and fire) as well as the interplay with beings distinct from the form of man.
Manufactured sensations threaten to render man fatigue–given their abundance–cynical–when realities fall short of expectations–solitary–due to a longing for quietude–and egoistic–due to the-‘Other’-denouncing perspectives brought forth by cognition; these ominous tendencies will, moreover, be reinforced and sustained by impressions acquired and the recollection thereof. The deprivation of always-already prevalent sensations, in contrast, will prompt man to misinterpret his significance amid what is, rendering him likely to cling on to order, in the belief that he can compose, and conduct life, as he deems fit, despite various indications to the contrary. Man, thus conditioned–viciously denouncing the state of affairs, but fiercely defending his responsibility to order them–reflects the unsocial-sociability that Kant recognized, and evermore rapidly forgoes his seemingly most potent sense, namely, the sense of his own significance.
What, then, are the prospects of change, and what is meant by change in the first place? Though change is neither necessarily positive nor negative, it appears to have been subsumed by notions of a historical trajectory toward an ideal, or at least optimal, state of affairs. Of course, the very idea of a ‘state of affairs’ is misguiding, as affairs represent a continuity; they are, in other words, always dynamic and, thereby, in constant flux. Affairs cannot be static; they may resemble stasis, being inspired by a persistent set of ideals. Aspiring toward ‘a state of affairs,’ rooted in an understanding of justice as an end, rather than committing to a particular modus operandi, reflective of procedural justice–which, in contrast to the former, indicates the relativity of morality–is an elusive quest. Change should, therefore, not be perceived as an eventual objective, to be attained at some point in the future, but as a mere reality to be lived each day.
The societal basis for change–as gradual but continuous improvement–is, therefore, the recognition and acknowledgement of its contingency upon sensation and cognition–as well as the direct and indirect interaction–that both processes entail. As a prerequisite man must foster his sense of self, so to grasp others, and come to terms with the world as it is, which in turn necessitates the learning of morality, through exposure to past experience, and the insight derived therethrough. The notion that each of us is capable of prompting change may, therefore, neither be symptomatic of idealism nor an overstatement. On the contrary, this notion is likely to be accurate, as the perception and perspectives of man–and the conduct derived therefrom–is brought forth, first, through sensation, and, second, through cognition, which I have argued to be of contextual character. Man, thus, comes to be responsible for himself and others, yet dependent on others, and partakes in the determination of his fate through his deeds.
Nonetheless, in order to assume this responsibility, man will have to turn to his peers, conscious of those who lived, those who are, and those who will come into being, including all those beings whose form is distinct from that of man, but which man–being conscious–cannot not regard. Yet an understanding of change, so configured, may demand more of man than he is likely to be capable of, as intellect is enlarged through labor alone; such labor can, however, not be undertaken by all, both due to natural differences in the capacity of men, and due to impediments induced by roles that order necessitates. It may, therefore, not be change that sculptures the world in the image of bright visions, but the hope for change that leads man to first improve himself, and, in doing so–one encounter and one instance of cognition at a time–the world within which he engages. Faith is likely to buttress change thus understood, enabling men to remain steadfast amid grim conditions, and humble at the peak of mighty Mount Sinai.
Whereas progressivism leads men to be restless, without ever attaining the salvation for which he longs, faith comforts man with the grace of God, whom he can doubt, but whose will he cannot comprehend, and thereby transcend. So long as men dwells on this planet, he will tread amid uncertainty, and never attain the Arcadian state of mind, for which he so eagerly longs. Philosophy may enable him to navigate perilous roads and daunting cliffs, but can solely illuminate the world amid which he is. Theology, on the other hand, can enable him to transcend himself, and serve amid the world as it is–for his own sake and that of his kind. Whereas cognition resembles a torch amid a shadowy maze, faith represents the composite that fuels this torch, and–in the spirit of Plato’s Allegory–the beauty granted, yet so scarcely noticed, and never fully grasped.
Human self-consciousness is a high tower looking upon a large and inclusive world. It vainly imagines that it is the large world which it beholds and not a narrow tower insecurely erected amid the shifting sands of the world. -Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation, Volume 1 – Human Nature