Reality, Concepts, The State, and God
January 9, 2010 · Posted in Philosophy
Reality vs Concepts
Objects are tangible things in within the universe, for example a rock, a tree, a chair, or a human being. We humans can observe the attributes of such a thing and place it in a group with other similar items.
For example, there are different types of rocks, big ones, small ones, granite, marble, or limestone. But they all share the characteristics of being more or less solid pieces of accumulated, rather inorganic mass, they all behave in similar ways when touched or thrown, none of them possess the ability to act, etc …
Thus we group all those things into the concept of “rocks”. But the concept is a mere imaginative category of thinking. Grouping things into concepts helps us establish rules and expectations as to how certain things will react when their present state of nature is changed. For example, we deem it proper to use a hammer to work on rocks in mine shafts. We would certainly not evaluate the same action performed on a human in the same way.
But a concept does not exist in the universe, except for in the form of neurological reflexes in our brains, which to date we are still unable to fully capture and understand. A concept only emerges once we can actually observe objects that we can group into it. Thus empirical observation of objects always precedes and trumps over the concept itself. The concept is only a helpful construct if the objects that we conceptually assign to it by and large possess the attributes established as part of the concept.
For example, if we see something that looks like a rock at first, but then it starts moving around and turns out to be an organism, we would never maintain that it be a rock, but rather determine that it belongs to a different concept, say, that of seashells.
But it is completely counterproductive for us humans to establish a concept and group into it objects that don’t at all possess the attributes established in the concept. Just as it is completely useless, even harmful, for us to establish concepts that can’t be assigned any empirically observable objects whatsoever.
When I say there are solid objects on planet earth that vaporize once a human looks at them, I am proposing a concept, say “That Which Vaporizes Upon Sight”. But it is a completely useless concept as long as I don’t find observable objects that fulfill this criterion.
Whenever I claim that there is something that exists, but can’t point to any (at least yet) observable objects or instances, then I am proposing a mere concept. But it is an empty, meaningless concept. To give any meaning to it I need to go about and find empirical and observable objects that possess the attributes I ascribe to that concept. For as long as I don’t, the concept I am proposing is empty, meaningless, unproven, and thus simply false.
It is in the nature of such a fuzzy, meaningless concept, that man can ascribe to it any attribute he wants. For since there is no empirical and reasonable proof for any instances of this concept, there also isn’t any proof that the attributes assigned are false ones. Once can always claim that once the object is discovered it will possess all those attributes. To be sure, it is completely irrelevant whether or not the attributes are false, because, as long as it is unproven, the entire concept is already false to begin with.
When I establish such a fuzzy concept, yet manage to convince people that in order to be “good” they need to believe that this concept exists, need to worship it, bow down to it, and follow its decrees, I have free reign to make them do whatever I want. Why? Because as I outlined above I can assign whatever attributes I want to it.
The Concept “State”
As explained, some concepts are either falsely described or are assigned the wrong objects. Such is the case with the belief in the state. The state, in most people’s minds, is a false concept. It possesses all the good and virtuous attributes we can think of. It regulates, curbs our greed, re-distributes unjustly earned incomes, represents the “common good”, prevents pollution, maintains the peace, and protects us from harm. How could anyone object to such a glorious concept? The problem is that actually there is no such thing as that state. You can’t go up to the “state” and shake its hands. You can’t have a conversation with it. You can’t take a picture of it, touch it, etc.
What does exist in society as observable objects are people. And some of those people possess guns, bats, tanks, grenades, prisons, etc. They tell us to give them our guns and money because they will do good things for us. Surely we would be willing to voluntarily hand over our money if this was true. But unfortunately there is no such choice. For if we don’t pay them our tribute on a regular basis they will throw us in prison or shoot us in case we raise a gun to defend our property.
This is what people do under the sublime cover of the “state”, plain and simple. (To anyone who disagrees: feel free to refute this statement.) We call those people “the state”. But what they actually do has nothing to do with the concept “state” that most people have been raised to hold in their minds. This is of course not a surprise. For those same people who threaten us at gunpoint to hand over our property, also happen to run the public school system and determine its curriculum, subsidize higher education facilities, and grant or revoke concessions to utilize the airwaves for radio and TV stations, in other words fully or partially control all the means of communicating ideas about the concept “state” to the majority of those who carry the concept, the people.
The implications are predictable: If the concept of state embodies all that is good and just, then naturally, every action taken by those who are considered to belong to the state are considered good, heroic, and justified, no matter how cruel, base, or immoral they may be. One person taking money from another by use or threat of violence is theft, but when the minions of the state do it it is just taxation. A man who takes money to invade other people’s homes and shoot at them because someone told him to is a heartless hitman. But put a helmet and a green costume with a state coat of arms on him and he is a heroic solider.
All proper perception of reality is lost when concepts overshadow it. Any excuse will do. “The people who are the state are stealing and murdering? Well, we voted for them so it is just by majority rule.” This again is a concept that immediately breaks down when examined from a realistic view point. For how does an unjust act become justified just because more people have agreed to it than objected? If I am not justified to kill my neighbor and take his property, then does it become just when all other people in my building agree that I may do it? I hope not. Does it become just when the entire world agrees? Of course not, quite the opposite, it turns into mass tyranny.
Then there are those who say that we humans are just too selfish, greedy, stupid, immoral, sinful, dangerous, base, and filthy to be left without oversight from the state. This argument is self-refuting. For who is it that sits in the state apparatus? Are they super-humans? Would anyone dare to argue that out of all people politicians are mankind’s shining beacon, society’s prime example of perfectly altruistic, humble, intelligent, moral, virtuous, and trustworthy human beings?
Most people who are for the first time in their lives confronted with these ideas will try to do one simple thing: bend reality. They will come up with excuses such as the one above or things like “taxation is really voluntary because we chose to live here”, “we have entered into a social contract with the state”, “but someone has to do it”, “public goods can only be provided by the state”, etc.
This is of course understandable. Again, if one has been raised for his entire life with the idea that the state represents the common good, it is hard to accept the exact opposite, no matter what meets the eye when peeking through the foggy concept. It is important to realize that one can always concoct an excuse for any act one performs, no matter how immoral it is. Any excuse will do. Most people will thus choose to shrug at the facts above and find excuses, they will try to bend and mold reality in order for it to fit into their form of the concept “state” as they know it and as they want it to be.
It is not my objective to convert those people right here and now. To believe I could do that would be completely foolish. All I intend to do is give them an opportunity to question established concepts, use their own best judgment, and to lift the veil for at least a few seconds. Who knows, maybe I am wrong? In that case I would be truly delighted if someone can point out what I missed and help me improve my theories and ideas. However, what I do have little patience with are arguments that have been long refuted and that introduce nothing new at all into the debate.
The Concept “God”
As explained, some concepts don’t find any instances in reality whatsoever. Such is the case with the concept God, “the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshiped as creator and ruler of the universe”.
The well known contradiction of this concept is of course this: If a being is perfect in wisdom this implies that this being knows all its future actions beforehand. But if it is perfect in power then it should be able to alter the course of action it will take in the future at any point in time. But then it can’t be perfect in wisdom.
But it doesn’t just end there! God cannot be detected materially, yet possesses consciousness (which is by definition an effect of material brain matter), and exists (while the definition of existence is the consisting of one or more particles). God is alive, yet has never been born and will never die (while the definition of being alive live involves birth at least), etc.
Thus the commonly understood concept of God faces a whole array of insurmountable logical contradictions.
Furthermore, there are no observable objects that can be placed in that category whatsoever. There is no evidence that would prove that this (contradictory to begin with) concept is a derivative of observable matter in reality.
Thus, whenever humans talk of God they are not talking about any specific thing, they are referring to an empty, unproven, logically inconsistent and contradictory concept.
One can arguably say that the proposition of the existence of God is the most unfounded, contradictory, illogical, and bigoted proposition ever advanced and defended in the history of mankind.
Thus, agnostics who take the high road and say “What’s so difficult about saying I don’t know?”, need to be aware that in that in uttering such a statement they are rendering the word knowledge completely and utterly meaningless. If you can’t even say you don’t know whether the most ridiculous, contradictory, and unproven proposition is false, then what in the world can you actually know?
There are certainly differences in degree in the empirical proof of concepts. The galaxy, distant stars, planets, black holes for example are rather remote objects which we humans believe to observe via helpful devices. But they remain distant and unclear. We believe to know what the attributes of a black hole are, and we base those ideas on strenuous research and we try to obtain as much information as humanly possible, yet remain open to differing theories.
But it is quite striking to see that many people are so sure that a “God” exists that they will make their religion the moral compass of their lives, while not even that low a level of evidence exists to support their beliefs.
Some will say that God is outside the universe and thus not open to such base human inquiry. But by saying that something is outside the universe, one may as well say that it doesn’t exist. It is impossible for someone to say that a thing is outside of the universe, yet it exists. Anything that is outside the universe is by definition and for all practical purposes non-existent.
The point is that those who ask people to worship God, claim that God does interfere inside the universe. But by making that claim they do concede that their claim is that God does exist, at least partially, inside the universe which then again most certainly opens the concept up to human inquiry.
The Bible, just as one example, is full of stories where God talks to humans and asks them to do things. If that was the case, then surely there should be at least the slightest empirical evidence, before one unconditionally submits oneself to such a being as God.
Seeing Through Concepts
This is not an assault on concepts per-se, it is a reminder that not all concepts are valid by the virtue of their mere existence and acceptance in the minds of most people. An object is an object, and a concept is a concept. A concept helps explain the attributes of different objects, but it can never become an object in and of itself.
In order to understand one’s surroundings, explain phenomena, make proper decisions in life one needs to understand what is behind the concepts that most people commonly accept in society. So long as false or empty concepts remain in one’s mind as such, it will always be difficult to make sense of complex historical and present phenomena.
It is, for example, impossible to truly come up with an ethical framework that tells us what is good and what is bad in human society without applying observable facts about human beings in the process of arriving at such a framework.
Use your own nature given capabilities of human reason, question existing concepts, make sure they match up with reality, and you will know what is good for yourself and your fellow humans.
Try to look for concepts that have seemingly morphed into actual objects in people’s minds, and you will quickly discover the roots of all evil in society.