Dan Wilson, S. E. Parker, Donald Rooum: Letters

Sir, I wonder if you realise that your extension of systematic ideology to the business of everyday living [1] – the ideologies surrounding a flying brick – marries up with hyperscepticism when it is applied to existence itself?

In hyperscepticism the viewer does not accept any proposition as ultimately true. Resonance: NIAT. There is a respectable logical rationale for this, which is that we are certainly aware at the least that our pantheon of concepts is less than infinite; and that being so, we can never know that any understanding we have of anything represents the ultimate. So it follows that the hypersceptic can only say to the proposition “we exist” – “Sez you!”

Philosophers, although I’m not well-read on the matter and could have missed some of them, appear to regard this attitude as deliberately perverse and an invitation to abandon logical thought. It is, after all, distastefully close to the common proposition of theology, that only God can comprehend an infinity of concepts, so as perpetual idiots we should not attempt to rationalise our way to faith. One of the ground rules for philosophising is that we exist in the first place to do it – Descartes’ “cogito, ergo sum.”

A hypersceptic avoids this charge by saying that of course there are local truths – which are not just the curious half-informed truths of, say, children’s tea-parties, of existence in totalitarian societies, or of flat-earthism, but of our own central existence. What hyperscepticism says is that (we may allow as a local truth) existence itself is nothing more than a reliance on ideology – the ideology that things exist, which if we did not inherit it and give it unconscious force, would result in our not existing.

This is only a hairsbreadth away from the proposition of mystical perception, that ultimate reality is formlessness and meaninglessness in which we have created an island of existence purely by virtue of our will to do so. A mystic believes this, but a sceptic cannot afford to (because nothing is believable) – but by allowing it as a local truth of our existence he can enjoy his gourmet meals like anyone else.

In a sense, then, (it is handy to allow as a local truth!) we are experiencing that universe that would exist if our particular ideology relating to it had truth. It follows from this that our ideology may be adjusted and we can if we wish pass into one of an infinity of adjacent universes where things may be markedly different and possibly much better. Irrational events such as paranormal phenomena are a clue that this idea may have practical force but is masked from most of us by our very assumption of that ideology. In practice, it is probable that our existential ideologies all differ to some degree, so it is misleading to talk of there only being one – but they are mostly logical and materialist because to adhere to illogical ones would result in a wholly unpredictable environment. Interesting?
Dan Wilson.
[1] See “Ideology of Every- day Life“, IC“>IC54).

Sir, The reason I did not reply to your second piece on Stirner that appeared in Freedom (August 24 / 7 Sept) was very simple. You implied that if I accepted Stirner’s view of “truth” then what I said would be impossible to take seriously. Since I do accept Stirner’s view of “truth”, it would have been clearly a waste of my time continuing the controversy.

Yours (as far as it is possible for me to be) sincerely

The piece Mr.Parker refers to quoted his statement that Stiner “regarded ‘truth’ as an instrument, not as some fixed idea one should serve”; it went on to point out that people who reject a commitment to truth cannot sensibly expect their statements to be taken seriously; his present letter does nothing to rebut that.

Sir, Two points arise from the short piece in IC54 discussing a quotation from Elisee Reclus.

Firstly, “Nothing is absolutely true” does not seem relevant to what Reclus is saying. Truth and falsehood are properties of propositions, and only of propositions. Tolerance, on the other hand, is a property of relationships. It may be meaningless to talk of “absolute” tolerance (in mechanical engineering the tolerances need only be “sufficient”), but that is a different argument altogether.
Secondly, the import of the quotation may be misunderstood. Reclus was a scientist by profession, and although Nineteenth-Century scientists often defined their aims and proclaimed their successes in terms of absolutes (announcing for instance that they had got to within four degrees of absolute zero temperature), they tended to think of absolutes as convenient mathematical fictions: end points, which like other points had locations but no dimensions. When Reclus wrote: “Fundamentally anarchy is nothing but perfect tolerance, the absolute acknowledgement of the liberty of others”, I suspect he was simply stating the theoretical endpoint of anarchist endeavours. It would have been against his style to dogmatise that the absolute was attainable.
Donald Rooum

Reclus advanced a proposition defining anarchy as an absolute. If NIAT then it cannot be absolutely true, and IC54 showed this for three of its possible meanings. Donald now suggests that Reclus meant something different from what he said, and IC is happy to agree that the revised version proposed does not contravene NIAT.

– – –

WHEN the television went down they switched on the radio and watched that.

SEPARATISTS of the world, UNITE!

from Ideological Commentary 55, Spring 1992.