Posts Tagged ‘Jane Addams’

Does Placidity Elevate Always? Hell No! On Spinoza’s Slumber

February 23, 2020

Do Cows Have Higher Minds? Spinoza’s Philosophy Condemned For Apathy

A famous leitmotiv of Baruch de Spinoza: “Man soll die Welt nicht belachen nicht beweinen sondern begreifen”. The quote (originally in Latin) is from his Tractatus theologico-politicus. English translation: “one should neither laugh at nor lament the world, but only understand it.” That sentiment has been much lauded, by those who want to feel elevated. It’s wrong in more ways than one.

Spinoza’s idea is that one would not associate the world with negativism, or positivism, tragedy or comedy, but just, well, understand it. Thus one would avoid categorizing, prejudice, bias, etc. which reminds us to avoid the tendency to categorize and judge other people or ideas (as if there was a different way of thinking than categorizing and judging stuff). 

Instead, Spinoza calls for an openness to learning, akin to what Jane Addams called “affectionate interpretation” in A modern Lear, her (flawed) interpretation of the lethal plutocratic events in Chicago in 1894. There was a strike, strikers were executed in a plutocratic plot, plutocrats won. Around 30 workers were murdered by railroad agents and their allies. Conveniently Ms. Addams depicts the malefactors as in need of “affectionate interpretation”. Quick! A Nobel Prize! 

Jane Addams: “good citizens actively pursue knowledge of others—not just facts but a deeper understanding—for the possibility of caring and acting on their behalf.” Depict suspected criminal against humanity Joe Biden, telling us “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys…billionaires are actually nice guys”.  

Addams was famous for “Hull House”. Co-founder Ellen Gates Starr said of Jane Addams, “if the devil himself came riding down Halsted Street with his tail waving out behind him, [Jane Addams would say] what a beautiful curve he had in his tail.” Of course, Addams, as a good agent of plutocratic affectionate understanding, got the Nobel Peace prize in 1931 (she had also advanced “colored” people, etc…)

The idea is often attributed to HARVARD professor Santayana … probably because Hardwart is so superior. Actually Santanaya didn’t hide Spinoza’s influence on himYes, well, sometimes, the best citizens line up their U.S. Navy Dauntless dive bombers on that gigantic red sun on the yellow decks of the Akagi and Kaga plunging and waiting until the last second to drop their 1,000 pound bombs. In five minutes three large Japanese aircraft carriers from Pearl Harbor were on fire, shaken by explosions, and their elite aircrews were roasting… never to be replaced, as Japan, differently from the USA, didn’t have the plane-smart manpower, and gasoline, to train replacement aviators. 

Affectionate interpretation” as an advanced intellectual doctrine should have stopped long before it led to Auschwitz. The moral imperative is the exact opposite, when in doubt.

Now Baruch (“Blessed” in Hebrew) Spinoza had reason to play the passion-less violin, in times when people were executed for opinion on a routine basis by fascist autocrats such as Louis XIV, the Pope, the catholic Inquisition, and countless lesser tyrants throughout Europe. So, I excuse Spinoza, then. But I don’t excuse the same benevolent attitude to the world, now. Although I do use benevolence on a routine basis, I don’t make a religion of it. Actually, I made a religion of overruling it. 

Some view this method as the way to reject dogma and insist on reason. One couldn’t be more mistaken… A proof, as usual, was the apathy with which German Jews received Hitler: they got too busy trying to understand Hitler… affectionately, for the best. Thus they became not just victims, bt his accomplices 

The quote (originally in Latin) is from his Tractatus theologico-politicus, but the general idea recurs throughout his Ethics. It’s actually not so much a “should” as it is Spinoza’s attempt to describe his own method–what he’s endeavored to do through his philosophy.

Friedrich Nietzsche picks up on Spinoza’s method in The joyful wisdom (aka, “The Gay Science”, La Gaya Scienza). He emphasizes that the issue is not to replace emotions with reason, but actually to realize that reason grows from the emotions (hence their name, hey!):

“What does Knowing Mean? Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere! says Spinoza, so simply and sublimely, as is his wont. Nevertheless, what else is this intelligere ultimately, but just the form in which the three other things become perceptible to us all at once? A result of the diverging and opposite impulses of desiring to deride, lament and execrate? Before knowledge is possible each of these impulses must first have brought forward its one-sided view of the object or event.”

Nietzsche is right, and Spinoza (whom he admired), at best, naive. Spinoza tried to deny our psychological motivation, as if intelligence was a castle in the air. Instead the deep emotions are the groundwork, the foundations, of logic. This is what Nietzsche noticed. Amusingly, René Descartes, contrarily to repute given by some cheap US author (Demasio), was not like Spinoza at all: Descartes was very aware, when constructing its magnificent advance in mathematics, of the psychological reasons to do so (I read the originals). To achieve constructive understanding was more satisfying he said, and thus he proceeded to make mathematics which could do so.

Spinoza was a great philosopher. To do so, he had to keep on polishing lenses (that killed him), refusing a belated university job. He had his reasons, that the times forced on him. He lived in a time where tyrants ruled Europe, and the world. The choice for free spirit was to be burned alive in Europe…many printers were, a century earlier, even in France:… or being eaten alive in the Pacific (no refrigeration!)

Nowadays, though, we have no excuses. The likes of Obama and the plutocratic leaders of the world dare say we need leaders, but, in truth, we need to be led by the best ideas, and that means the best cognition, no secrecy a la Xi. In that direction our moral trajectory curves.

Those trains of thought which advocate to collaborate with evil from “affectionate interpretation” should be rejected, so should Spinoza’s official lack of understanding upon how his mind worked. .

Patrice Ayme

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