Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Idea of An Invented World

Of course poets and artists (even scientists) do it (invent worlds) all the time, even if that is not what they think they are doing, and it has now become fashionable among those who want to think of themselves as 'post-modern'(without having tried to think coherently about the meaning of 'modern' or 'modernity') to say so at every opportunity. What the fashionably post-modern mean is that the idea of objective truth is a myth (or better yet, a smoke-screen) more or less deliberately constructed by the politically powerful classes in order to support the arguments that justify and legitimize their authority and their privileges. In Post-modernism, in other words, we encounter the last refuge--and hear the last gasps--of academic marxism.

It does not follow from the fact that the meaning of words like 'truth' and 'justice' is always in dispute that these words are meaningless or bait merely for the squamous minds of those who don't understand the ways of the world or can't tell the difference between benefits and injuries.

I want to think about the idea of an invented world without falling into post-modern stupidities. It is immediately obvious that honor and justice (for example) are human inventions which have commonalities in all human societies. In any society it is important to be a person of one's word; one does not earn honor or respect, as a rule, by failing to keep promises or telling lies or pretending to be what one is not. Charles Doughty, travelling alone as an acknowledged Christian among the Bedouins of Arabia, in 1870, never made excuses, always told the truth, always took the moral high-ground and was remembered there decades later as an honorable man.

The 17th century philosophers, Hobbes and Spinoza, could not be more different from each other in their assumptions and ways of thinking, but they agree about one very important matter (on which Hobbes strongly influenced Spinoza): people invent the rule of law and the state that enforces it because the alternative--the state of nature and what Hobbes calls the war of all against all--is intolerable, and they know that God is not going to save them from themselves if they screw up.

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