Perspectivism, Thinking, and the Self-Interest

One of the things I’ve noted about climate change deniers is their assumption that all thinking is mere self-interest. In those terms, climate scientists are beholden to the self-interest and so have confabulated the climate crisis for self-interested reasons of monetary gain.

Once you assume that all thinking is just self-interest (except that of their own — the “righteous mind” — of course) then you must assume there is no such thing as “objective truth”, but only self-interested “points-of-view”. “Truth” becomes whatever self-interest decides it is. This is also an aspect of the egoic “isolation” of the perspectivist consciousness structure, ie, the “point-of-view” consciousness.

The political principle of self-interest — and the “pursuit of rational self-interest” — was a development upon the invention of perspectivism itself which, as Gebser has pointed out in The Ever-Present Origin, intensified the experience of self-consciousness in the point-of-view and, so, abetted the development of an aggressive individualism which has now decayed into ego isolation. It was against this principle of the self-interest and the isolation of the ego in the point-of-view that John Donne penned his famous poem “No Man Is An Island“.

There’s a huge element of double-think, of course, in the assumption that your thinking is all self-interest, while mine is not — mine is pure. That’s what makes for what Haidt calls “the righteous mind“. And it’s for that reason that Gebser sees the mental-rational consciousness as having become “deficient” and counters that intensification of deficient self-interest with his “universal way of looking at things”. And it is something also addressed by Rudolf Steiner in his book The Philosophy of Freedom, in which thinking is reconsidered as a “spiritual activity” that can approach authentic universality.

To a certain extent, then, what Gebser means by “aperspectival” consciousness and an authentic “universal way of looking at things” can be seen, in utero as it were, in Steiner’s Philosophy of Freedom.

But, for the time being, at least, we seem stuck with this very aberrant form of perspectivism that sees the narrow self-interest as the sole determiner of what constitutes — or even should constitute — truth. Truth is whatever my self-interest says it is. That is the basic problem of Blake’s “Urizenic Man”.

It has become rather evident that the self-interest has become the sole judge and final arbiter of what is truth, leading into today’s problem of “fake news”, “alternative facts” and “post-truth”, reflecting that atomisation and isolation of the ego-consciousness that marks the deficient mode — the decadence — of the “modern mind”.

It’s in connection with this hyper-trophy of the self-interest that “freedom” — and especially “Free Speech” — also takes on a sinister aspect, being no more than an excuse for libertinism and self-indulgence — the freedom of the self-interest from all proportionate, moderating constraints or obligations that is implied in the meaning of “post-rational” as the immoderate, the unmeasured, and the disproportionate.

Of course, climate change deniers (amongst others) all deny that they themselves are motivated by self-interest, which results in a lot of lip-service to “principle” or “higher truth” and such rationalisations for their own duplicity and mendacity. The real problem of the “righteous mind” is that it sees self-interested or narcissistic thinking everywhere but in itself.



11 responses to “Perspectivism, Thinking, and the Self-Interest”

  1. Charles says :

    I agree. You wrote,

    It has become rather evident that the self-interest has become the sole judge and final arbiter of what is truth.

    This is also a function of being defined as homo economic. The ideology of the market commodifies all its participating entities so there in no organic or intrinsic connections. I always found it fascinating that the “social contract” is written as major progressive idea, but the flip side is that it negated community. There is a connection between the scientific view of atoms in space that just collide and the marketplace where humans conceived as atoms just act as part of a big machine.

  2. don salmon says :

    In the area of science where I often focus, the challenges to materialism/physicalism, etc, you find this double standard to be virtually unanimous. Here’s one that’s typical: Scott Lilienfeld, a psychologist, seems to take almost vicious delight in puncturing what he believes are the myths and false beliefs that the public has about psychology. The funny thing is, all of the myths he challenges are those that in some way conflict with a materialist view.

    Michael Shermer is this way also. Then there’s the whole spate of neuroscience books claiming to show – based on “good” neuroscience” – that human beings are constantly fooling themselves into believing things that just aren’t true. Whenever I see an article or book on this subject, no matter how hard I look, I can never find an example of the author telling about something that he (it’s always a “he,” for some reason) was fooled by. It’s always his righteous mind self-righteously discovering other people’s errors. (not that I ever suffer from such arrogance:>))!!

    • Scott Preston says :

      Post-modern deconstructionism is largely all about exposing the “‘subjective values” (ie, the self-interest) that is implicit in all “grand narratives” or pretenses of “objective” or “universal” truth. Thus there is no “truth” as such but only infinite fragments/perspectives or points-of-view. And in those terms “truth”, as such, dissolves. In effect ‘self-interest’ and ‘point-of-view’ are synonymous.

      To a certain extent, this true. But it’s also a man-made truth (and it also precludes revelatory truth). It becomes circular — the ego-nature specifies what is to be considered ‘human nature’, and this ‘human nature’ is self-interested, and so self-interest specifies the ego-nature. It’s a tautology. The tautology is called “bubble of perception”, and this circularity is Blake’s “dark Satanic mill” and “mind-forg’d manacles”.

      It’s also signified by the quote from Blake that graces the masthead of the Chrysalis: “for man has clos’d himself up till he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern”. Blake, in those terms, agrees that thinking is self-interested and narcissistic, but that this is an aberrant condition, and not the way things truly are. “Selfhood” is Satan, but by “Selfhood” he means the self-interest.

      All that is left at “the end of history” and with “post-historic man” is the raw self-interest. It follows from the death of God, through Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as society” through Fukuyama’s “end of history” that nothing is left but self-interest and, in those terms also, a rather perverse understanding of “self-realisation” that is largely narcissistic — self-aggrandisement, self-importance, and “the Me Brand” and so on.

      There is a dissonance, then, between reason and revelation — between man-made truth and revealed truth. This is what Gebser attempts to reconcile with his notion that we have to know when to “let happen” and when to “make happen” — revelation and reason are those two terms, and we might say they correspond to McGilchrist’s “Master” and “Emissary” modes of perception.

      So, I’m not surprised we’re in a period of “post-modern dictatorship” or “managerial democracy”. It follows from the fracturing and atomisation of truth into mere “points-of-view”.

  3. mikemackd says :

    A poem I have valued for years now is “The Place Where We Are Right”, by Yehuda Amichai:

    From the place where we are right
    Flowers will never grow
    In the spring.

    The place where we are right
    Is hard and trampled
    Like a yard.

    But doubts and loves
    Dig up the world
    Like a mole, a plow.
    And a whisper will be heard in the place
    Where the ruined house once stood.

    That place where we are righteous has been around for millennia, but was made particularly powerful by the so-called Enlightenment’s mechanical metaphor of each man as an atom.

    That such views were exclusive to the Enlightenment is as much a fantasy as Mumford described in his 1934 “Technics and Civilization”: “the notion that a handful of British inventors suddenly made the wheels hum in the eighteenth century is too crude even to dish up as a fairy tale to children”.

    From his Gebserian framing, Eric Mark Kramer contextualises the fairy tale of the hard, trampled-like-a-yard “individual” in his introduction to his dimensional accrual and dissociation, which I have referenced here before.

    It’s important to see what goes missing when that is trampling is done; it amputates the whole, and leaves us only with a sum of parts.

    Being whole includes, but is not limited to, noticing and being able to accurately intrinsically value how different you become with a gun in your hand to how you are without one, or how you feel in your new Mercedes when you pull up alongside a clapped-out kombi, and what a low intrinsic value those feelings have. It’s an awareness of what’s happening when we transfer reproach and transfer vanity, and how valuable or not those processes may be to the whole. It involves the insights, similar to Kramer’s, that Li Young Lee expressed in that video that Steve linked (albeit without any apparent reference to Gebser).

    Gebser was not dogmatic: he was a pointer to what anyone may grow into. If one has been trampled like a yard, one needs doubts of one’s omniscient rectitude and implacable hates, those of the ape of God. Then love can enter, first as a whisper, and then life flower, finding its way up through cracks in the hard surface until we can laugh, dance and play in a garden again.

    • mikemackd says :

      Both Erik Mark Kramer and Li-Young Lee work from the framing that we are all communities, inside as well as outside – a position in harmony with modern research.

      Still, Margaret Thatcher had a point when she said there is no such thing as society, but neglected to mention that same point means that there was no such thing as her either.

      Neither societies nor Thatcher are things. Personalising things and thingifying people (Bateson’s Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity 1979, p. 112) are delusions: sometimes useful crutches, but always to be realised and accordingly valued as only delusions. As Bateson put it:

      “The alternative to the freedoms introduced by paradox is the rigidity of logic”(Bateson in Heims “The Cybernetics Group” (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), p.109. … “The truth of the matter is that every circuit of causation in the whole of biology, in our physiology, in our thinking, our neural process, in our homeostasis, and in the ecological and cultural systems of which we are parts, every such circuit conceals or proposes those paradoxes and confusions that accompany errors and distortions in logical typing (Bateson 1979, p. 121).

      We therefore should be alert to that, and that all nouns are slow verbs, and that thingifying is heuristicing, which paradoxically may be useful, and may also be bricks in our mental apartheid’s walls, Blake’s caverns, Plato’s caves …

      Or ruins. I found this poem by following up Steve’s link to Li-Young Lee. It’s interesting to bounce it around with Yehuda Amachai’s poem above (I’m only quoting the beginning and the end, but the middle is relevant too):

      With Ruins – Poem by Li-Young Lee

      Choose a quiet
      place, a ruins, a house no more
      a house …

      It’s a place
      for those who own no place
      to correspond to ruins in the soul.
      It’s mine.
      It’s all yours.

  4. Charles says :

    Mike, Good thoughts from Bateson. I agree that we are all communities.

    Scott. There was series of books on
    “constructive post-modern thought” edited by David Ray Griffin.
    The thought in this series could be called constructive or revisionary, in that it does not want to eliminate all worldviews, but seeks to construct a “postmodern worldview through a revision of modern premises and traditional concepts.” The editor David Ray Griffin writes: “Going beyond the modern world will involve transcending its individualism, anthropocentrism, patriarchy, mechanization, economism, consumerism, nationalism, and militarism. Constructive postmodern thought provides support for the ecology, peace, feminist, and other emancipatory movements of our time, while stressing that the inclusive emancipation must be from modernity itself.”

    Postmodern thought would synthesize the good ideas from both modernism and pre-modern societies. Each essay articulates how we evolved to the present, and how we can transcend the present. David Ray Griffin defines spirituality as follows: “the term is used here in a broad sense, however, to refer to the ultimate values and meanings in terms of which we live, whether they be otherworldly or very worldly ones, and whether or not we consciously try to increase our commitment to those values and meanings.” In the same paragraph, “Everyone embodies a spirituality, even if it be a nihilistic or materialistic spirituality.”
    Postmodern thought is not the deconstructive or eliminative which “overcomes the modern worldview through an anti-worldview,” which “eliminates the ingredients necessary for a worldview, such as God, self, purpose, meaning, a real world, and truth as correspondence.” This deconstructive postmodernism leads to nihilism.

    There is the ego and the Self. For those who are able to accept ambiguity and paradox, answers to the questions of the meaning of life don’t have to be literal.

    • mikemackd says :

      Thanks Charles,

      The TV was blaring away as about one-state or two state solutions as I read your comments. Still going.

      That situation is an externalization of the above, like the wall dividing off the West Bank.

      For over 20 years now, I have pointed out (including to Israelis and Palestinians) that technically it is easy to have occupants of premises pay their taxes et al to one state or another within a common boundary. No-one considers the point practicable, which means that it isn’t.

      The reason for that is not technical though, not the machine: it’s what the machine has hugely empowered: the above.

  5. abdulmonem says :

    When the divine contract is replaced by the social contract and the empathetic communal self is replaced by the egoistic serving interest self , one should not be surprised to face all these diseases. It is the law of paradox in operation. Truth is the sole domain of the god, human made truth is falsification par excellence. It is the calamity of those who do not know their limit. Oppression sent, will return to hits its source, like a boomerang. It is the prophecy of Nietzsche. We all know the two antagonistic forces of our world the negative and the positive, the two stairs,one leads to the basement of the self and the other leads to the attic of the self. It seems our civilization has chosen the stairs that leads to the lower self through the thingification of the human as well put by Bateson, the cog in the machine without forgetting others who said the same in different phrases and those who are trying to figure out a way up.The faulty conception of separating the world as a moral spiritual process from the world as physical process, the physical process which is in essence, god words in action those who separate the subjective from the objective, those who kill the whole in name of studyng the part.We are living in a world where the process of puncturing outpaces the process of amend and consoling. Amid this confusion and commotion those who know te divine game feel at rest and never loss patience, knowing the final world is to god ,the one whose mercy and goodness dominate everything despite the apparent so-called chaos that covers the world. No wonder all those who challenge the status quo are accused of insanity in the same way the title of insanity has been ascribed to all prophets who have come to challenge the status quo. It is the rocking sand and the status quo again.

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