One thing which people seem obsessed with is the idea of Cartesian subjectivity, and the epistemology of perspective based truth. To bring you up to speed in case you’re new to philosophy: Rene Descartes was probably the inventor of simulation theory, he was the first to ask “But what if all of life is an illusion?” And then he asked, if it is an illusion, some kind of great Matrix-like simulation, then how do we know we exist? Thus, cogito ergo sum; I think therefore I am.
If you are a being capable of thought, then even if you are part of some great illusion, even if in truth you are perhaps a bird or a rabbit connected to some kind of machine that makes an illusion of the universe around you, then you are still conscious, and all conscious beings are alive.
Since then, subjectivity has been the reigning idea of what truth, reality and epistemology is limited by.
And it’s an understandable flaw of reason, but a flaw nevertheless. Because what Cartesianism fails to understand is precisely what life and experience is. It points to life as a primarily sensory thing, and proclaims that if we cannot trust our senses, then we cannot trust our lives.
It is a very rationalistic idea, that manages to indoctrinate its subjects into embracing a purely cognitive idea of what existence and experience is, and separate them from any other nuances in life.
But the problem here is that we do not live a purely sensory life, in fact, most species don’t. I’d say hamster and upwards have a little bit more to their existence than just what is sensory. A being that purely reacts to stimulus would be, say, a cockroach or a snail. Our species is more sophisticated, and is capable of higher reason which permits us to act against what is sensory. Hence kamikaze pilots and people who actually pay to watch Netflix specials.
What makes humanity such an extraordinary species is that we can examine things like pain, danger, fire, death, suffering and cruelty and say “I don’t think so, I’m still going to do the thing I wanted to do.” We’re not a species of needs, we’re a species of wants. We need food, but we want heroin, which is why you rarely encounter a fat heroin addict.
And we’re not the only species who does this. Elephants are known for eating fermented marula fruits which makes them drunk. Bees are similarly capable of making themselves intoxicated and will even be killed by other bees if they behave like derelicts. A sign of that a species has higher intelligence is their capacity to destroy themselves.
Only a smart animal is capable of convincing itself of how it is good to be stupid. Stupid animals have singular and non-contradictory modes of consideration, that’s why they behave responsibly and act according to what is common sense. Uncommon sense requires intelligence.
And the same is true about humans. In contemporary times especially we live as far away from the sensory aspects of life as we’ve ever had. Most things we do are very detached from the experience itself. Whether it is looking at the sublime through the screen of your phone so you can upload it on social media, or buying things that you should be crafting in order to enjoy them.
In fact, we’ve gotten very strange in our obsession with consumerism. Instead of doing work that is interesting, varied, fulfilling and contributory to the world such as crafting, mending, cooking, inventing, choring and similar things that makes the day interesting and nuanced, we instead perform singular and monotonous tasks in exchange for money, which in turn permits other service industry workers to perform singular and monotonous tasks on our behalf.
So instead of cooking your own food, you contract someone who is cooking everyone’s food. Instead of fixing your own car, you contract someone who is fixing everyone’s car. No wonder life seems so depressing. Because consumerism not only alienates us from our lived experiences, it also alienates us from lived experience. Little by little capitalism is making us helpless and stupid. That’s why so many people die in what is often very manageable tragedies.
What I am getting at is that we experience life as a series of appraisals. When you tell an idiot that smoking is bad for your health, then the idiot won’t smoke. But when you tell a smart person that smoking is bad for your health, then the smart person asks “But why do I need so much health?” That’s why smart people are so prone to making stupid choices.
The same is true about everything from crime and foreign enemies to voting and paying taxes. Stupid people love to follow the convention on these matters, it’s only smart people who question those things and get themselves killed by the government.
Because truth is that being an obedient idiot is a nice way to find yourself with a good job, decent education and a nice home and a quiet life in the middle of some idyllic planned community where most violence happen safely and quietly behind closed doors and drawn curtains.
It’s only smart people who pull at the loose threads and see how things lay themselves bare, who peek behind the curtain and see how things really work, and there’s no rhyme or reason to it, it is an inherently punishing experience which makes people destitute and oftentimes murdered.
So why do it then? If Descartes is right, then it makes no sense, because subjectivity is inconsequential, there’s no such thing as real truth, and at most we’re just playing a game badly. Rather we should follow the path of obedience and ignorance, because that is when we are rewarded by authority.
Why bother risking torture to expose war crimes? Why bother inventing technology that threatens corporate interests? Why bother helping those who suffer when those who suffer cannot give you anything in return? This is when Descartes falls flat.
When we see how there is more to life than thinking. The greatest and most human feats are those we perform when we act in spite of thinking, when every rational thought drives us in the direction of self gain, and we completely ignore it because we’d rather do the right thing.
And that’s because life isn’t actually sensory. So what if the play is fiction? That’s not what matters. The truth is in how the actors deliver their lines. The truth is the affection, evocation, the joy, the tragedy and the great and wonderful and extraordinary things which the performance gives to the audience.
The truth is the thing that is moving, that is sublime, that is beyond falsehoods and illusions because it renders us unto ourselves. All the world is a stage, but it doesn’t matter, because theatre is all about what it captures, not about what it performs.
Because the dirty little secret to subjectivity is that it is no more subjective than grief and bliss. It is just that when you try to reduce it to the sensory, then you blind yourself by what is a brutal omission. Rather, life is a very romantic thing, it is sentimental, it is only the sentimental truth which may be resonated to all.