Thursday, June 6, 2019

Social Scrutiny and the Outsider

There is a drive in some people, and in our culture sometimes, to demand that every person be legible to the people around them. If you have some behavior, it needs to make sense to everyone else in your life, and to society as a whole. It needs to stand up to social scrutiny.

One benefit of this is the ability to hold everyone accountable. You could, in theory, have a world where everyone's thoughts were out in the open and no one could have any antisocial thoughts. And while that is Orwellian and frightening, it is also Le Guinian and inspiring. We could have a world of true fraternity-and-sorority. There would be no more barriers between people, as though each person had a passport into every other person's nation, into every nation on Earth.

A downside of this is that if there is anything that the unified human nation doesn't value, there's no space for anyone to think outside society's values to see whatever that other value might be. When social scrutiny is finally and fully implemented, that's it, unless someone who sees something different becomes a cultural terrorist in the eyes of the consensus, puts themselves outside society and attacks it.

We are getting a bit closer to a norm of social scrutiny as we go along. It goes along with humanism and humanistic purity . If everyone's nice to each other and friends with each other, there's not as much room to be mean and alone. Isn't it bad to be mean and alone? When people are mean, we need to know why, so we can make them not be mean anymore. When people are alone, though, they think things that we aren't let in on, become a person hidden from us. We want to understand people so that we know why they do what they do. Then we can trust them.

Analytic philosophy, with its emphasis on legibility, reigns over continental philosophy, with its emphasis on the reader submitting to the views of an outsider figure in society. The outsider might actually see God, but the crowd can only see what the crowd can see, and if the crowd can't see God, then God can't be believed in. There would have to be something antisocial about belief in God.

Is it possible for the crowd to see God? Arguably, this is the way things are or were in premodern cultures. It used to be that some kind of authority from fact, in sympathy with or enforced by social or political powers, would enable us to "see God", to have to break out of our sufficiency to open ourselves to what is deepest in personality. Tradition ruled over us (when Nietzsche's "God" was "alive"), but now we see through tradition and there is no one higher than the collective "we". So then, how can "we", as a (sufficient?) god recover our connection to what is deepest?

Naturally, being tolerant of (many) unusual people is a wise idea as a society. But also the crowd can begin to prepare themselves for this deepest by knowing that they do not know -- not with a safe agnosticism, but with a longing agnosticism, which still longs to know. The innermost heart of someone who is safely agnostic is the same as someone who thinks they know everything, but the person who longs for knowledge and knows their own lack of it has a different heart.

There is a conflict, perhaps a perennial one, between the outsider and the scrutinizer. The first has the task to see God, to see reality in itself, and the second has the task to preserve the social status quo, to make sure that every sheep is safely on the ark and that nothing bad happens to the ark, the only ark we will ever build. Why would anyone want to see a reality that the social order doesn't currently see? And yet some people want reality, just because it is real.

Further, the personality of an outsider is different than that of the scrutinizer. Scrutinizers want everything, not to be the same, but to be within a certain range. Outsiders index themselves to what they observe, without regard for remaining within range, sometimes staying within it, sometimes not. Scrutinizers like openness and sharing and connection, but outsiders are mistrustful and value aloneness and either disconnection, or connection with the ultimate and unseen; disconnection, or connection with the ultimate and unseen -- which is it?

The dream of social scrutiny doesn't have as much flesh if we have our eyes somewhere other than on earth, the world most straightforwardly legible to the social order. Both the outsider and scrutinizer will find their opposition to each other and to their intrinsic concerns set to one side by the connection with personal reality from beyond the social totality, when the totality itself seeks the reality beyond itself.

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