Post-Modernism Understood Through Aristotle’s Four Causes

Readers: bear with me on this one.  The next several posts will be a gradual fleshing-out of an idea.  This post will serve as an outline of sorts for many more to follow.

To “understand” a thing is much more complicated than it seems.  To understand a ball, for instance, entails understanding the materials it is made of, the shape, how it was made into that shape, and what it’s used for.  Moving onto a more complicated item, like a car, involves the same types of understanding, but with many more components, many of which interact with one another and have their own identities, which is to say they have their own materials, shape, origin, and purpose.  Understanding both the car as a whole and its properties, as well as the components and their properties, enables one to do things with and to the car.  At a basic, purpose-oriented level, understanding the steering, gas, and brake pedals enables the driver to drive it.  Understanding the windshield wipers allows the driver to drive in the rain.  On a deeper level of understanding, one begins to understand why the oil must be changed.  Deeper still is the knowledge to change the oil.  At the deepest level of understanding all the interactions, materials, shapes, and purposes, one can troubleshoot problems and repair defective items.

In a major way, the articulation of neoreaction involves indicting and rejecting post-modernism.  Yet, just as the car is much harder to understand, operate, manufacture, and repair than the ball, so are ideologies much, much more complicated than cars.  ‘Sphere writers frequently reference The Matrix as a shorthand for the total shift in worldview entailed by rejecting post-modernism.  And the writers address it from all angles.  Some point to present unpleasant symptoms.  Some extrapolate unsustainable trends.  Others point to current or inevitable injustices.  Still others speak not of current problems, but future possibilities and what it is we should strive to achieve.  These ideas relate in innumerable ways, and it becomes difficult to untangle causes and effects.

This is my attempt to bring order to these discussions.  The first step of this attempt is to discuss post-modernism from a high level, broken down as I see it according to Aristotle’s Four Causes.  Keep in mind, this is an incomplete outline.

1) The Material Cause of Post-Modernism.  The material cause of post-modernism is wealth.  Specifically, a society wealthy enough to easily provide a basic standard of living to all citizens even at less than full employment.  This is the inevitable result of civilization as a conserver of knowledge and culture, embodied in technology, which permits the work of few to easily support many.  (ie, cavemen couldn’t build bulldozers, but they built the things-that built the things-that built the things-that built bulldozers, and now one guy can do the work of 100’s.  Yet if the foundries and factories required to build bulldozers were forgotten or destroyed, we’d all be picking up shovels again, and there wouldn’t be enough people to continue construction at the rate currently enabled by bulldozers.)  A common theme among the ‘sphere is that the beliefs of the world-at-large seem to conflict with basic facts about reality.  I believe the root cause is this state of wealth.  The realities of budgeting and acknowledging costs and tradeoffs is often summed up by the expression, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”  Yet what meaning does this phrase have to someone looking at a cake bigger than he could possibly ever eat?  None whatsoever.  And if he were to somehow come to the end of that cake, he would soon starve, having no idea how to sustain himself after living a lifetime of being provided endless cake.

2) The Formal Causes of Post-Modernism.  An Aristotelian Formal Cause is essentially “the shape made of the material.”  A ball is a sphere made of rubber, a fence is a row of logs or bricks, etc.  It is the most nebulous of Aristotle’s forms, and a difficult concept to work with.  In terms of ideologies, a formal cause (as I will use the concept) is an idea “formed” in light of the material cause.  Post-modernism has two.

2a) Inability to Understand Cost (And Opportunity Cost).  This is one of two ways in which post-modernism’s roots in wealth are formulated.  Simply put, this is the state of mind of the man with infinite cake.  He eats when he’s hungry, and invites everyone else to join him.  The idea that this might mean less for him is only an abstract idea that he may or may not ever think about.  Having never been confronted with the lack of cake, it’s possible he may not understand it can run out.

2b) Inability to Understand Entropy.  This is the second of two ways in which post-modernism’s roots in wealth are formulated.  (This was, also, the “big realization” that spurred me to begin writing this concept down.  It is also the one I will expand upon most later.)  This is the second affliction of the infinitely caked man.  Not only does he not understand it is limited, but he doesn’t understand how it is made.  While eating his way across the countryside, he didn’t plant wheat for flour and raise chicken for eggs and cocoa beans for chocolate and so on; so far as he knows the cake is infinite, and it just appears ready-made.  The idea that some amount of energy input on his behalf is required to obtain an output for his benefit is a concept he has never been forcefully confronted with, and so is unlikely to learn and comprehend.

3) The Efficient Causes of Post-Modernism.  The efficient causes are the mechanisms by which the formal cause is brought into being.  They are the sculptors making the stone (material) into a statue (form).  This is where the ideological rubber meets the physical-world road.  This is where the inability to understand cost leads to an “Affirmative Care Act” which requires insurance companies to provide more services, yet promises the services will cost less.  This is where inability to understand opportunity cost creates a generation of highly-educated women with few children who can’t find men of higher status to marry up to before encountering fertility problems.  This is where we spend money on insanely expensive in-vitro fertilization treatment on these women, as the cost of them putting off having children past their prime.  This is where affirmative action places students in colleges over their ability levels, making them less likely to succeed, not more.

This is the ‘Sphere’s bread and butter.  This is where all the social commentators point of the symptoms of the disease.  This is where the Matrix begins to glitch, indicating that all is not as it seems.  This is where the Doublethink is required to square the ideologies, beliefs, opinions, and desires formed by those who know only the wealth they have seen, with the realities of the world we live in.  This is where thoughtcrime happens.

4) The Final Causes of Post-Modernism.  An Aristotelian Final Cause is better known in English as “purpose.”  It is a cause in that the desire to fulfill the purpose is what led to the creation of the outcome.  Post-modernism arguably has two – one explicit, one implicit.

4a) Explicit Final Cause. Post-Modernism seeks to, through implementing its efficient causes, create an equalitarian world.  It believes that a snapshot of inequalities can be taken at any moment, and a sudden redistribution of wealth and privilege would then set the world right.  It believes that, if everyone were to be placed in the same material conditions, they would all be in an equal state of justice.  In fact, they might all act the same.  And to remain equal, they must remain the same.  In the name of such optimizing for the individuals, post-modernism ironically creates the optimum individual.  It cannot tolerate dissent.  It can’t tolerate Christians and Jews and Muslims abusing their equal freedom to choose to do different things; everyone must respect and celebrate Christma-Hanna-Kwanza-dan. (This is in contrast to structuralists, who believe in an optimum society, in which there are roles and places for all sorts of truly different people!)

Yet after everyone is made the same, everyone must also forget about the time period before this redistribution.  First, because this concept ignores the fact that the forceful redistribution would have impacts on the people of the world as well; creating or destroying incentives, rewarding or punishing various behaviors, and so on.  Second, because the roots of injustice in this worldview are a form of blood-guilt, which can never be properly atoned for or overcome according to post-modern progressivists (barring, of course, this mythical one-time redistribution and memory loss).

4b) Implicit Final Cause. Post-modernists realize that the above scenario is impossible.  So they openly advocate Utopia, and thereby gain support (after all, who doesn’t want to be in a place that’s sunny and 75 with infinite cake?!)  Meanwhile, they attempt to achieve equalitarianism piecemeal.  This tends to take the form of assigning a value to the opportunities an individual may have been deprived of through circumstance of birth, and then forcing someone else to pay compensation.  It can come in the form of a student rejected from a university to make room for an affirmative action admission.  It can come in the form of restriction and ridicule of speech by one party to give another party a larger platform.  It tends to take the form of men subsidizing women’s ability to pretend to be men.  In the end, it looks a lot like Harrison Bergeron; a lot of work is being done, but it is done with the aim of bringing people down.  Nothing is made better, everything is made worse.  Entropy sets in.  The system falls apart.

So, this was very theoretical and heavy.  However, I think it was important to start here as a big-picture view because subsequent articles will be filling in details and their significance could easily got lost without a reference point.

Further, the “glitches” are what lead one to suspect an illusion, but the illusion itself is not merely a collection of glitches.  Nor is reality merely the removal or repair of those glitches; it is something entirely separate and different from the illusion.  It was important to lay out what how the illusion relates to reality before continuing on to discuss individual aspects and problems of the illusion (lest it seem like the end goal was merely to repair the glitch, rather than use it as a handle to tear the whole thing down.)

Continue to Part 2: Post-Modernism, Wealth, and Entropy

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