One hangover our culture has from modernity is the belief that the only way to achieve positive things in the world is by having an accurate view of the way things really are.* It seems like our churches, educational systems, and even the worldview of the so-called New Atheists all rely on this image of thought. Again, I find it ironic that Church Leaders and the New Atheists seem to obey the same logic.
To put it in Zizek terms, understanding the world as it really is, is the fundamental objet petit a, the “if only,” of American life. With a commitment to the view that “if only we understood as it really is,” the world would be better, comes “the world won’t be a better place until we reach the top of the mountain of understanding.”
This seems to be why New Atheists are so angry at religion. Religious people’s faulty understanding is keeping us from a better world. But that presupposition privileges the solution in a way that doesn’t seem warranted, cutting off all possibilities to see the multiplicity of solutions that are by-products of the process itself. It makes understanding some sort of savior.
This is why we privilege truth, as though it, and only it, will lead us to freedom. But propositions necessarily always and already inhere within the mind only. It is poor logic to assume that just because we understand the world, that something happens to make that world a better place. That is, there is an assumed mechanism between the truth of a proposition and a corresponding reality, one that has ethical implications. It’s like putting a quarter in a vending machine. The proposition is the quarter. The getting what “is best” (in reality, what we want or think is best) is the product that comes out of the vending machine, “in real life.” But where is the button? And where is the finger that pushes the button? People often assume that a propositional statement has within itself this mechanism, that it is the quarter, and the button, and the finger, and the relation, all in itself.
But that has not proven to be the case. Instead, our understanding is an insatiable appetite, a quest for control that limited human beings will never conquer.
So my, along with many others, modest request is that we must abandon the project of understanding the world as it really is, a violent project by definition, and begin to relate ourselves to the world, so that understanding is subject to a higher goal, that of the relation. The most important thing we can do as humans is not understand the world, but relate to it.
What do you think?
*Warning: heavy philosophy language. I am working at being less critical and more constructive. But in so doing, I have to go through the process of working it all out in philosophy-land before I begin translating it into everyday-speak. These ideas will show up again again but hopefully they will be more and more clear as I process. Thanks for bearing with me!