Friday, 9 September 2016

Polyphemus & the Myths of Monomania

"Every clearing was called a grove, lucus, which meant that it admitted light, lux, like an eye... The heroic sentence, 'Every giant had a grove (lucus)' was originally true, but later it was misunderstood, altered, and corrupted. By the age of Homer, it was falsely interpreted as meaning that every giant had an eye in the middle of his forehead."
                                                                   Giambattista Vico, The New Science

One of the many problems facing humanity today is the prevailing belief in a single, objective reality. That is to say, the belief that one's own ideas and ideals are the only possible reality, and anyone deviating from this subjective ground state is a threat to civilised society. To witness this behaviour in action, simply go to the internet, anywhere there is a comments section, and start reading. Yet like Polyphemus, the Cyclops in Homer's Odyssey, if one views the world only through a single eye, it is all too easy for some other bugger to put it out with a well aimed stick. Monomania will only lead to darkness in the end.

Our monomania is largely the hangover from centuries of State imposed monotheism. Constantine converted the Roman Empire to Christianity in the 4th century in order to do away with elected successors and replace them with his own hereditary heirs. At one point, six men had claimed the right to be crowned Emperor, leading to years of civil war. Constantine emerged as the eventual victor and he set about replacing the various factions aligned around the various gods and religions with a single, all seeing, all powerful, God. One all powerful, all seeing God equals one all powerful, all seeing Emperor with one line of equally omnipotent successors. Constantine himself only converted to Christianity on his deathbed.

The Roman Empire split in two, then fell, but monotheism prevailed. The western half of the Empire became the Roman Catholic Church, the world's first international bank. As well as lending money to half of European royalty, Rome exported the idea that one God equals one Ruler, a model imposed throughout the Middle Ages to horrific effect, especially if you were Jewish, or a woman. In the 20th century, God is replaced by the State itself, so that even atheist Marxists can get in on the act, but this rarely works out as well. God is external, remote, unknowable. Tell someone God is perfect and there is little they can do to confirm or deny it. Tell someone that the State is perfect and all they really have to do is stick their head out of the window for a look see.

From the equality, One God = One Ruler, all else follows. One God equals one ruler and once line of succession, equals one nation, one religion, one race, one gender, one sexuality, one culture, one personality, one trade or profession, one place where you will be born and die. You shall be one thing, and one thing alone. Any deviation from the norm will be severely punished. This form of monomania comes from the belief in a static universe that is immutable and perfect for all time. It is the natural order of things. It is the way things have always been. Thanks to Hubble and Einstein, we ought to know better by now.

The idea that one should be one thing, and one thing alone, is pervasive.  Monomania is really an exercise in dualism and false dichotomy. There is me and mine, and there is everyone else. Everyone else is wrong and must be made to see the error of their ways, or be removed (see years 1914 - 2003 inclusive).

The extension to this is the delusion that "I" represents the archetype example of its demographic group. Again, refer to the internet. The one that bears their nations flag as an avatar is usually the least community minded of all. They promote patriotism, denouncing socialism in the process, failing to appreciate that the one is just a more diffuse form of the other (How can you have a country without first having a community? You commit socialism every time you step out the door.). They say things like, "I'm proud to be British." when what they really mean is, "I'm proud to be me." They equate the quality of being themselves with the quality of being British, disallowing anyone that doesn't think and act the same, disqualifying the rest of Britain in the process. They should revert to using a selfie as an avatar like everyone else. It would be a more honest expression of national identity.

Those on the left are arguably worse. They say things like, "What we've got to realise is that we're all one." Through the filter of monomania, this roughly translates as, "Why can't everyone just be reasonable, like me?" They treat things like unity and equality as absolutes, rather than approximations towards which we crawl, incrementally, with many setbacks along the way. I love liberally minded people (I am one), but too often we complain about the way things should be, rather confronting the way things actually are. It is a yarn spun by politician and preacher alike, about how wonderful Utopia will be when we finally get there with a little self-sacrifice; meantime, Utopia still lies somewhere over the horizon and the ship is springing leaks all over the gaff.

I suggest a modification to this monomania. An inversion, if you like, away from a single, objective reality, towards embracing one's own subjective reality, but seen as one bubble in an infinite foam of possible ideas, ideals, and interests. There are times when it is useful to have a single, objective reality. The fast lane of the motorway, for instance. Objectivity is essential for carrying out scientific research, but even Special Relativity tells us that there are many inertial frames of reference, but that no one frame of reference is more objective than any other. Most of the time, what a person does or does not believe is irrelevant. Everyone operates on varying levels of reality as measured against some agreed social norm, but the measure of where that average is raises over time. It was once acceptable to leave the bodies of executed criminals to rot on public display, for instance. Our idea of what represents acceptable society, or what constitutes acceptable reality, improves with each passing age.

The internet and social media have altered the world out of all recognition. Where once emigrating families would hold mock wakes before departure, because they knew they would never again see those they were leaving behind, today we can chat with people on the other side of the world as a matter of course via Skype. The smart phone in our hand has allowed us to broadcast our thoughts the instant that they occur, whether or not anyone is awake to hear them at the time. The dramatic reduction in the amount of time that a modern human needs to spend securing enough calories to survive means the replacement of such binary choices as friend or foe, food or mate, with more arbitrary decision trees like cats or dogs, City or United, Blur or Oasis, left or right, Leave or Remain, but with the same injection of fear as friend or foe. Which is precisely why you get the internet. A billion limbic systems bashing against each other, each with its own idea of reality and each hostile to any deviation from its self-reflecting state of equilibrium.

Racially we can look at ourselves only one of two ways. Either we are all one race, in that any human can mate with any other human of the opposite sex and produce offspring that is itself capable of producing offspring. Either that, or we take the neurological view that the human brain has become so sophisticated and discerning, immersed in a society now offering so much choice and diversity, that we have each, essentially, become our own unique race. And as technology evolves, and the boundaries widen of what society can provide, and deems acceptable, the process of speciation will only accelerate.

You can demonstrate this to yourself by thinking of a close friend. What's their favourite food? Favourite restaurant? Favourite film? Favourite book? TV show? Artist? Sport? Team? Designer? Label? Car? Colour? Pet? Peeve? It doesn't take many data points to start to show considerable divergence between the choices of close friends, family members, even twins.

The behaviour witnessed hour by hour on the internet is evidence of a prevailing belief that everyone should be one thing and the same. Except that where once everyone was expected to believe in the one, true Christian God, now we are all expected to think that 9/11 was an inside job, or coconut milk is the universal panacea of immortal life, or that this week's female celebrity hate figure is a bitch, cunt, whore for [insert spurious, inadequate, self-pitying reason here].

Some gay people view bisexuals in much the same way as some heterosexuals see the gay community, further evidence of our latent monomania. This is one of the reasons why I think that if we are going to define someone's sexual status, we also need to define their social status. For instance, someone can be heterosexual, but homosocial, in that they spend the majority of their time in groups of their own gender, only seeking out members of the opposite sex for sexual gratification. Sexuality is like skin tone. Monomaniacs over the centuries have tried to reduce humanity to a series of binary moral judgements like, gay and straight, black and white, wrong and right, rather than the 8 billion shades of grey that we truly are. No one is one thing all the time (I am left-handed, but play guitar and use a mouse right-handed). Everyone has off days, and even the most cautious of person will occasionally do something that is unexpected, outside of their comfort zone, even dangerous. To be human is be in a constant state of flux.

We are analogue creatures living in a digital world and we need to learn how to digitise. We've tried the "we're all one" approach time and time again and all it really leads to is Belsen, Siberia, or Guantanamo Bay. The ultimate failure of all monomaniacal ideologies is the failure to realise that there is no one Venn diagram that encompasses all of humanity. We live in a universe that expands and creates. The yearning to fragment and diversify is encoded in our DNA. Constantine embraced Christianity to do away with sectarianism in the Empire, but within a few centuries the sects of Zeus, Mithras, and Apollo had been replaced with the Franciscan, Jesuit, and Benedictine orders of monks. Then, first Martin Luther broke with Rome, then Henry VIII, and sectarianism reasserted itself in Europe with a vengeance. Monomania seeks only to enforce convergence upon a divergent species. It is always doomed to fail.

Individuality is an indication of intellect. They are also proportional. Where one rises, the other is sure to follow. A monomaniacal order allows for little or no social mobility. Apart from anything else, if one outsources the decision making process to an external like God,  Immigrants, or the State, then the power to positively affect one's direction in life is severely impaired. The individual becomes tethered to one station in life. Only by accepting responsibility for one's actions can an honest assessment of one's strengths and shortcomings be performed. Only then can we be sure of our true course. Only then can we break free of our moorings and explore.

It is also incredibly freeing. I am an atheist. Once, I would have described myself as a militant atheist, but not since I started to enjoy floating in my own little bubble of reality. All that I can now say for certain is that God does not exist in my universe, as I have no need of any being more supreme than myself. If I were to find out that there were such things as gods, my only real question would be, "Where do I apply?" However, I can offer no opinion on who does or does not exist in your reality. I have no empirical experience of being you. I am happy to discuss and compare our varying perspectives, but I have no wish to convert you.

Moreover, if our beliefs are so at odds that we can really find no common ground, well, we live in an infinity of cyberspace, where we need never lay sight on each other unless we really want to. There is more than enough room to accommodate the realities of all the world's Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Beliebers, Trekies, Mets Fans, Geordies, Dungeon Masters, Chefs, Vegans, Transsexuals, Pansexuals, Bikers, Ballet Dancers, Belly Dancers, Writers, Actors, Gamers, and a billion other demographics besides. Yes, there are real world problems like climate change to be dealt with, but this is exactly the kind of thing that monomania perpetuates. In the monomaniac's world, there are only two opposing views and they should each be given equal time. In the pan-dimensional order of things, there are 8 billion opposing sides and most of them are firmly for believing in anthropomorphic climate change.

Paganism has returned to the world. Actually, it never really went away, but it's been keeping a low profile for the last thousand years or so, what with all the persecution, ducking stools, and pyres of burning bodies. Today we have the potential to build a world that is a broad, continuous spectrum of happy mediums. There will still be those at the margins that we will have to take care of for their own sakes, or for the sake of others, but this is so much easier to achieve when you view people as a standard distribution of possible personality types, rather than as a flatline.

Obsession and monomania can be a good thing when it's something that one is passionate about for the thing itself. Without obsessives we wouldn't have medicine, technology, transport, or most of the rest of the modern world. Me, I'm in to books: buying books, and reading books, and thinking about books, and talking about books, and rereading books, and writing about books. I like society. Society is a fine thing, and I am happy to contribute to its continued existence. However, what I really want for us to do is to figure this shit out, so that I might finally get around to reading The Count of Monte Cristo. At the moment it seems that my only hope is to follow it on Twitter.

Having opened with Polyphemus, I can only conclude, once again, with words taken from the Cyclops chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses:

But it's no use, says he. Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it's the very opposite of that that is really life.

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