If nothing else, this site and all the work on it, serves a very important purpose: it is a snapshot of my mind at its best and worst moments, all my best ideas and best thinking preserved, in some kind of context, a kind of a lifeline to lead me back out of the occasional blind alley. I suppose that is one of the points of having a journal in the first place. Even deeper though, I have come to think of this place as a concrete manifestation of a guiding spirit. It is odd to be able to go back and hear my own voice telling me things I ought to know, and once did, but forgot.
If human history were just a matter of us learning things once and moving on, of a painfully slow yet incremental and one way ascent into the light of understanding, things would be drastically different for all of us. But of course, they are not that way at all. We receive lessons, then forget them, then struggle bitterly to win them back again, time and time and time again, until the world around us bears enough marks of the lessons that they become burnt into the very landscape, and we simply live in the space that has been carved out, whether we have ourselves actually understood anything or not. In a very real sense, it is not people who learn, but the world. It is the lessons embedded in the world that shape our behaviour.
It doesn’t matter if you understand how cars work, how electricity is generated, why slavery and child labour are immoral. Those lessons are carved into the social economic and even physical landscape. You are surrounded by cars, you use electricity and there are no slaves. Similarly, it doesn’t really matter how often you think you understand something, it isn’t until you reprogram the environment, that your actual behaviour changes in a lasting way. We are only weakly creatures of rationality, and very strongly creatures of instinct and habit. the best use of our fleeting rational faculties, of our transient willpower, is to change the world around us, to make into a manifestation of understanding. To make the world into an extended mind. Our guiding spirit.
Once you begin to see this, it is utterly clear why few positive changes get much traction, and what does happen appears often to be utterly inexplicable or orthogonal to our intentions. If all you do is think of choice and action, and the childish democratic calculus of getting everyone to think the same ideas as the only way to improve our situation, you will miss the way the manifest conditions override even the largest electorates. Millions of people protest the second iraq war before it even starts, net effect? Zero. Design a cellphone cheap enough that everyone on earth can own one? Sooner or later everyone will.
Philosophically speaking, I am closer and closer to be a thoroughgoing monist: whatever is going on here is all one thing, one fundamental substance. There is no point talking about matter and mind as separate things. In a very real sense, if you want to change enough minds, and it’s abundantly clear that is what we need to do, then it’s all about moving the right kind of material stuff around in a way that our collective extended mind has finally learned something in a way that sticks. Instead of letting ourselves get lost in mere rhetoric about justice, peace, freedom and evolution, while embedded in the material assumptions of corruption, warfare, coercion and stagnation, maybe we should struggle always to remember that justice will only be guaranteed when injustice becomes physically impossible. We should remember to ask ourselves what a manifest justice looks like, the same way we are often asked to visualise a ‘free market’. We should remember to ask what we look like in the mirror when our lessons are written in our very flesh, and the world itself has been transformed into our guiding spirit. The ‘true will’ only matters if it strong enough, for just a moment, to move us closer to that.