Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Desperately Seeking Monadologies

Walter Kauffman, in Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, refers to monadologic as a way of thinking and writing, as exhibited by Nietzsche, in which specific aphorisms crystallize and throw light on "almost every other aphorism".

In other words, a simple, concise statement that contains a general truth can be in and of itself a microcosm. In a monadological phrase an infinite number of meanings can be applied to other concepts and simultaneously understood as truths whether those concepts are similar in nature or not.

Growing up, I attended Sunday School and church with my great-grandmother (my Grandmommy), a very pious woman who made it abundantly clear that were I to ever violate the word of God, I would burn forever in purgatory. No questions asked.

Despite my great desire to please my great-grandmother and my fear of being sent to eternal hellfire for any breach of the eternal moral code of conduct as set forth by God and delivered to humankind by Moses, I began questioning ~ not with the perspectives of an adult scholar who has dedicated a lifetime to self-analysis and reflection on the nature of the universe and our place in it, but with the innocence of a child, the place where the origin of philosophical thoughts are born.

One morning, our Sunday School teacher recounted to us the story of Abraham and God's request of him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, as an offering to God. I listened in utter horror as she softly read what was in my young, 5-year old mind, the most horrific tale I had ever before heard, and in church, no less! Still, I listened eagerly, waiting for God to change his mind, wondering all the while if God was not so good as we had been told. In the end, God provided the lamb. While all the other children cheered in relief, I asked, "What did the lamb do?"

As a teenager, this story haunted me... and one day, in the middle of church (a full congregation) I raised my hand in what I thought was an earnest epiphany: "I get it! I get it!" I declared, "God believes in substitutional atonement! We are praying to someone who will let you off the hook if you're willing to sacrifice someone else."

In their faces I recognized that my insight was not as enlightening as I had hoped. In my young mind, I thought I had actually figured out one of the greatest riddles in the history of the world and that the Pastor would praise me... and that maybe we would all get to go home early ~ and eat lunch ~ because we didn't need to be there anymore.

I continued attending church for a few years after this incident. I was even chosen to teach Bible Study to teenagers when I was 21-years old. Apparently no one else was eager to take on the "challenge".

In time, it became readily apparent that I was questioning Bible passages and the coherency in God's word as often as the teenagers in my class, if not more so. At this point, my own moral code took precedent over that of God's. Attending church was a violation of my own principles to stay when I was questioning God's authority.

Those concerns and many other questions led me back to philosophy, a subject I began exploring at the age of 14. While at the time I had actually established other academic goals in the hard sciences, it would appear that philosophical exploration was a natural inclination and the only one that could truly feed an insatiable curiosity regarding the nature of reality.

Admittedly, I entered the field of study thinking that all my questions would be answered. Perhaps similar in mindset to a religious upbringing that instilled in me the notion that the Bible could answer all our questions. Growing up I was told that if I formulated a question in my mind and prayed on it and then opened the Bible, the passage God needed me to read would be right in front of me. I remember testing this theory many, many times over, and it did appear, at the time, that they were right.

This brings me back full circle to the point of this article: Monadologies (love this word, by the way). In the above example God's living testament ~ The Bible ~ guides us to the correct passage despite what might appear as a seemingly arbitrary turn of the page, a monadologistic experience for sure in our ability to read into any passage that which we seek ~ part of a group of aphorisms I have been repeating  since I first heard them in my mind at age 14: "We find what we seek" and "We see in others what we first see in ourselves" and "Our opinions of others does not reflect who they are, it merely reflects ourselves in a period of growth."

The elusive quality of monadologies is exactly this reality. We do find what we seek. We do bend the word of God to meet our own preconceived notions. We do bend the words of others to fit into our worldview. We do speak and write in a way that is ambiguous, conveniently leaving room for broader interpretation. Therein lies one of the many difficulties in communicating clearly with others.

As the years went by, my philosophical inquiries resulted in a break from my theological background. It became abundantly clear that I was a thinker, not a believer. That I was more inquisitive than sentimentally attached to any particular outcome. By the time I was 23-years old, I declared to my friends that I had no true life agenda.

I should clarify that agenda does not hold the same meaning as goals in my mind. I have plenty of of goals, many desires, and an abundance of hope for many things, including the existence of a god irrespective of the physical truths and understandings our inquiries into the quantum nature of reality might yield. How does not answer why. This is not to say that I believe anything, but I do hope. It feels plausible that we can simultaneously suspend judgment and belief while still hoping.

My great-grandmother lived well into her 90s. For years, I communicated with her in a type of double-speak: using her religious words or words I defined as "neutral" in a way that would not violate my own thoughts and concerns about the nature of the universe without arguing or challenging her beliefs.

Sometimes I feel a cringe of guilt associated with not sharing with her my own truths in a more clear and easier to understand fashion. But that would have violated a principle I adopted in my early 20s.

To put this principle into perspective, I'll borrow first from Nietzsche so that my disagreement with his logic is perhaps more contextual.

"It also seems to me that the rudest word, the rudest letter are still more benign, more decent than silence..." ~ Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.

I do not agree with Nietzsche. The rudest word and or rudest letter are based on subjective opinions and judgments regarding the beliefs or behaviors of others. Since we cannot know the true nature of the universe, since we cannot separate ourselves from inside it; since we cannot know why but at best how we came into being, we cannot fully grasp any concept and turn that grasp into a belief. Therefore, projecting our beliefs onto others, negative or positive, is an attempt to persuade them toward our own subjective experience.

This animation is an example of parallax.
As the viewpoint moves side to side, the objects in the distance
appear to move slower than the objects close to the camera.

While it could argued that it is "kinder" to use our subjective influences to persuade someone toward happiness or accomplishment, the origins of this persuasion are no different than those persuasions or ideas that might otherwise cause the person discomfort or mental anguish.

It is difficult to communicate any subjective idea without superimposing its contextual structure onto another person, so when in doubt, I personally utilize worlds that are either neutral in meaning (monadological) or positive.

This brings me to another philosophical theory with wich I have experimented and ruminated on at length, namely that the effects associated with positive interactions yield practical as well as preferred results: more enthusiasm to reach further, better results, a great sense of happiness and well-being, and a more philanthropic or charitable inclination toward others.

Adopting a monadologic style of communication with others is not the same as being ambiguous. One is still speaking one's truth. We cannot control how others interpret our words, but we can control which words we use to convey our thoughts, and we can most certainly control which thoughts we share.

In the end, we have to ask ourselves if we are sharing to relieve our own tension or if we are sharing in an earnest desire to help others toward a truth we ourselves have come to believe. Even in the latter example, it is our subjective belief rather than a truth. Once we clearly express to others that it is our subjective belief rather than objective opinion, we can then be free to  share knowing that the burden of belief rests with them.

The burden of what we share rests on our interpretation of social responsibility. 

*Kaufmann uses the word monadologic to explain Nietzsche's style of writing, "which is so characteristic of Nietzsche's way of thinking and writing, [it] might be called monadologic to crystallize the tendency of each aphorism to be self-sufficient while yet throwing light on almost every other aphorism. We are confronted with a "pluralistic universe" in which each aphorism is itself a microcosm. Almost as often as not, a single passage is equally relevant to ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of history, theory of value, psychology, and perhaps to half a dozen other fields." 

My own use of the word is notably based on a more broad reaching exploration of the term in relationship to the concept of double speak, not to be confused with George Orwell's 1984 concept of "newspeak" or "doublethink". 


Bob Bruhin said...

Love it! I very strongly identify with your tale of teen-aged recognition of truths the adults surrounding you were unwilling to see or talk about. The "double-speak" you used with your great grandmother is also very, very familiar to me. I remember years of using such filters with my family at large. I was probably nearly forty before I decided to stop hiding and speak openly and honestly with them about what I believe.

The outcomes of THAT choice led to another interesting ride!

Bob Bruhin said...

Oh! I also meant to ask you, speaking of Monadologies, if you ever read Jung's "Answer to Job."

Soph Laugh said...

Hi Bob!

Thanks for commenting and sharing your own experiences. I am happy to know that you found your way to what sounds like a comfortable space with yourself. I think that is one of the greatest comforts we can have in life, knowing oneself irrespective of whether or not we (can) know why we exist.

With regards to "Speaking one's own truth", this wasn't as important to me as communicating in a way that I could find common ground with my great-grandmother whom I so very much loved.

Also, I should add that at no time did I actually hide my own thoughts, I simply found creative ways to express them using language she would understand. In this way, I actually discovered more commonality than I would have otherwise realized existed.

In the end, as I said in the article, I think deeply before sharing my beliefs because I am still growing and formulating them, but mostly because I do not feel comfortable judging any belief system as higher than any other.

Who am I to say what is correct when in my mind we cannot know from within the system... lol

Thanks again for commenting! :D

Soph Laugh said...

Hi Bob,

Given that my course of study was philosophy and Jung's work was in the field of psychology, I have not yet made a point to read his work closely (it is on my ever-expanding reading list).

I am, in general terms, familiar with the key concepts from his work. Which point did you wish to discuss?