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The need for thinking and responsibilities for our way of thinking Print E-mail
Life – Consciousness

thought Filos 450(Part One)
As time passes and the crisis, local and world-wide, deepens, it becomes increasingly evident that none of the world's problems is going to be solved if man does not make up his mind to devote his attention conscientiously and intensively to the field of concepts. His responsibility is individual and cannot hide behind collective responsibilities or the responsibilities of politicians; and, moreover, awareness of this responsibility cannot be postponed, because of the urgency of current circumstances.

It must be understood that concepts are not useless theory, but what man perceives or considers as reality. This reality includes the whole of life, the self-definition, needs, aims, desires, convictions, and relationships of man, which are interconnected, changing in time, often conflicting with one another, which he seeks to understand, to correlate, and to direct. Belonging within all this are moral dilemmas and choices (if they exist), any conscious or unconscious world-theory, and, in general, all the inner workings of man. Revolving around all this dramatic reality are all his efforts and, for that reason, the way in which he understands determines his life in practice; and this is the reason why this reality must be given the attention it deserves and not thrown into the wastepaper-basket as something which is only theory. Thus, it needs to be explained why this is so necessary.

Concepts regulate the expressions of our life

First of all, it must be made clear that the aims of human beings, however humble and insignificant they, necessarily, have to do with concepts, that is to say:

1. Hidden behind every desire and individual or collective impetus of man is an aim, a minor one, perhaps, but one which determines the direction of his life. This aim lies in the choices which have gone before and which necessarily involve conceptual definitions. For example, animalish aggressiveness is connected with the tendency towards self-preservation and security, and this, in its turn, with concern with duration and the self. It is only that an animal cannot be aware of these concepts, or, in other words, it cannot be aware of its own nature and the reality of itself, even though these concepts have a determining function behind instincts, whereas man can be aware because of his marked self-definition and his mental development. Furthermore, the pursuit of the acquisition of money in our modern world is related, initially, with security and well-being - a fundamental concept - but is then distorted and replaced by superiority, and, in the end, domination,[i] which are distorted epiphenomena of security and well-being. Man is absorbed in a one-dimensional way in the ultimate aim of material prosperity, for example, (which is none other than a means for achieving the concealed objective of security and duration), but because of the one-dimensional nature of his quest brings about conceptual distortions which end in the circumvention of his fundamental aim, thus causing imbalance, and, consequently, inner conflict.

2. The aim is never a single one, but there are always more than one aims, conflicting with one another, in the same individual, as well as in society, where objectives of other people and of the collectivity itself unfold. But because the distortion described above occurs over a single aim in man, in the end other aims which are parallel or related are set aside. Well-being, in the end, is replaced by domination. Thus, though the initial, deeper aim is well-being at every level (material, psychological, mental), this by degrees is replaced by dominance, which is usually manifested by a major accumulation of means (money, material goods, reputation, etc.). However, dominance militates against other aims, even the aims of the same individual - for example, social harmony, which is necessary for him to be secure, and thus desire - a tendency towards dominance - causes inequality and imbalance, which, in their turn, will in the end cause conflict. This is the explanation for the fact that aggressive elites always end up imposing their will on others by policing them, with the ostensible aim of 'social harmony', because in the process of the fulfilment of their own, individual, aims insecurity brought about by the social imbalance and reaction they have caused necessarily occurs. This insecurity includes both the securing of the things they possess and the safeguarding of their life itself. Since, however, social harmony is essential for this security, they attempt, ex post facto, to replace it by establishing an imposed silence. Consequently, we can see clearly in what way conceptually undefined desire leads to fragmentation and contradiction of the fundamental aims of man, with the result that violence (or passivity as its complement) follows, in order to create a new equilibrium point between the various degrees of power, but this an equilibrium which is entirely spurious.

3. Cupidity, which is such a marked and deeply rooted characteristic of man (typical examples of it being over-consumption and the tendency towards an over-concentration of power), is an important complicating factor, because it gives rise to vast problems, not only on the part of those who rule (openly or behind the scenes), but also on that of the ruled, as it is a form of extreme dependence on the resources of the environment and an excess which leads beyond the limits of balance (both environmentally and psychologically), and, consequently, to an internal and external conflict over time. Of course, greed does not only have to do with the consumption of material goods, but can also act exclusively in the psychological field.

But in order for this important complexity to be understood and dealt with, we must concentrate on the concept of the basic aim (security, well-being, freedom, or anything else) which it seeks to serve by way of its desire (for acquisition), which ends up in being greed. And then we must discover whether there is a genuine logic connecting the end pursued (the basic aim) with the means (cupidity). In reality, greed is based on a warping of concepts and basic aims, and, frequently, points to the substitution of dominance for well-being and security, as we have said above. Where greed has great social influence, its connection with dominance (as in the over-concentration of power) is obvious; where, however, it has a small range, confined to individual everyday life, and, above all, when it is confined to the psychological field, it is not always evident because of its small magnitude or because it is not considered of any appreciable social account.

It seems that deviations from the correct approach to different ideas or concepts (which constitute, as we have said, the reality of the self and of relations) along general lines narrow the consciousness (and therefore the understanding of concepts and of reality) and lead gradually to dominance to the illusion of power, that is, as a substitute for the missing consciousness. This is because these deviations from what is correct mean an anti-social attitude and creation of idols. These idols are static and promote competitiveness as well as rejecting the evolutionary dynamic of the consciousness, even when they relate to a specific phase in its time, like, for example, youth and the memory of it. Idolisation, however, as a static state, is always an expression of power, and, moreover, of competitive power, cut off from the subject. Moreover, lack of consciousness in general also reduces self-awareness, and for that reason an attempt is made at replacing self-awareness with power as an acquired quantity, such as in the case of the identification of the self with its reputation or image. This is the case in spite of the fact that in such cases we have a strongly projected self, but always with reduced self-knowledge, something which ought to make us think about the quality of our self-awareness. We are speaking, of course, about that kind of power which tends gradually to act as domination over others (given that it is of its nature competitive) and is cut off from the depth of subjectivity.

4. The way people operate psychologically is by direct or indirect reference to concepts, even if those concepts relate more to emotion and instincts than to intellectual perception. Since a fundamental aim of mankind is freedom, human beings must understand their self and concepts in order to be able to rebut whatever has a distorting effect on them and imprisons them, such as, for example, a superficial and misleading political discourse.

Concepts are to be found everywhere and constitute the nature of our life. For example, what does the prosperity which politicians promise include? It includes security, material and psychological, and the free development of the personality in the light of the cultural level of the time (which, of course, includes the material goods necessary for this development). Often, however, by these terms, something indefinite and irresponsible is meant both by the politicians and by the citizens themselves, without anyone worrying about the how or the why or its consequences, or about the degree of this development, by which, in any event, could be meant that it is permitted to be unrestrained, in which case it will be neither prosperity nor freedom, but irresponsibility.

Common sense tells us that if my ideas about something are mistaken, this has a negative effect on my life and I must seek to change for the better. This is generally accepted, but only exclusively as regards the personal life of the individual, and for this reason, new improved interpretations are often again distorted, because sight of the total picture is lost. When, however, the erroneous notions relate to the life of society and the whole, then man obstinately refuses to concern himself, regarding this as something alien to him. In major crises, of course, he is forced to do this, but then he is unprepared to understand and to react correctly.

But if man wishes to be free and to solve his problems, whether these are personal or problems of governance, or social, he must necessarily first understand their nature - not their technical stratification, but their nature. For example, quarrelling among political parties is a play-acting and technical juxtaposition of the course of their responsibilities and interpretations exclusively at a level of party mechanisms, which in no circumstances touch upon the real problem, and so it is perpetuated without anybody learning anything from the whole of this repeated process. This is a piece of 'theatre' which increases the passivity and blindness of citizens (even though the opposite is believed to be true because of the existence of tensions), but, furthermore, it causes oblivion of their individual responsibility for what goes on in society, since the political parties are, in a vague way, the only bearers of responsibility. The fact that there is a disproportion in the correlation of social forces between the elites and the many, in which in the end the elites gain the upper hand, is not sufficient to cancel the responsibilities of the many, nor - above all - their individual scope for self-definition, and, at the same time, for responsible social involvement.

If, however, an understanding of the nature of the concepts which are involved in human desires and aims is reached, man will be able to discern the existence or the absence of logical cohesion between what he does, what he expects and what others, such as politicians, say or do.

Moreover, logical cohesion or consistency is also moral cohesion, because there is no morality without logical cohesion in the field of social developments. The common sense of self-interest is something entirely different, because it refuses the cohesion or interrelation of different aims with one another and simply pursues a specific result regardless of whether it is right or not. For example, corrupt political favours have as their aim the safeguarding of the interests of a single individual, but, at the same time, they are not in a state of logical cohesion with justice, which everyone wants as social security, and thus, over time, they lead to the rotting of society and to conflict, such as has already occurred. The expectation of justice, social peace, and security is not, therefore, compatible with these practices. Here we have conflicting aims; but to understand them, we must concentrate on the field of meaning and not act blindly.

The average person is able to do this, because he has the intellectual capability. Unfortunately, passivity and a tendency towards complacency, the ease of the instincts and blind emotional impulses, as well as the selfishness of everyday life, get in the way of a necessary and natural function.

[i] Ioannis Zisis, 'Justice and power on the road to Peace'.

Ioanna Moutsopoulou, Lawyer
Member of the Secretariat of Solon NGO

Photograph by Wikimedia

For further reading:
The consequences of refusal to think in the field of concepts (Part Two)

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