Race and Individuality in The Philosophy of The Numinous Way

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The Day's Consecration: A painting by Richard Moult

Race and Individuality in The Philosophy of The Numinous Way

Introduction

The intention of this essay is to provide an overview of The Numinous Way in relation to matters such as race, individuality, change, and what is sometimes termed ‘the civilizing process’.

Given the social and political importance of these matters, and the interest in them by those curious about my philosophy of The Numinous Way, I considered such a summary might be useful especially since my treatment of these topics is contained in many separate essays written over a period of some years, with many of those essays making use of terms from Ancient Greek [1].

The Ethics of Empathy

Empathy, and the natural humility that arises from empathy, may be said to be essence of The Numinous Way, and the ethics of this Way result from individuals using their faculty of empathy [2]. That is, such ethics are,

“… a consequence of the insight and the understanding that empathy provides for individuals in the immediacy-of-the-moment. This insight and knowledge is of how we are not isolated human beings, but rather only one fragile microcosmic nexion and thus connected to all Life, sentient and otherwise, human and otherwise, of this planet and otherwise. Consequently, there is a cosmic perspective – a cosmic ethic – and compassion: that is, the human virtue of having συμπάθεια with other living beings, and the feeling, the knowledge, that we should treat other human beings as we ourselves would wish to be treated: with fairness, dignity, and respect.” [3]

This numinous morality is thus a personal and direct one, free of dogma and assumptions, and does not require any faith or any belief, political, social, or religious. Hence it is individuals who possess certain virtues – such as compassion, fairness, tolerance, and honour – who represent, who are, the cosmic ethics of The Numinous Way.

What is ethical is therefore what is compassionate, fair, tolerant, respectful, honourable. Thus it is unethical – unfair – to prejudge a person without knowing and interacting with them personally; immoral to judge someone on the basis of some prejudice or on some assumption about them such as their appearance or what others may have said/written about them. Thus it is wrong to judge someone on the basis of their perceived or their assumed ethnicity, or on their perceived or their assumed or their stated sexual orientation/preference.


The Question of Race

As I saught to explain in my essay Empathy and the Immoral Abstraction of Race, race is a causal ideation, an abstraction, and, as a manifestation of the causal separation-of-otherness, it contradicts empathy and the intuitive knowing of and sympathy with the living other that individual empathy provides or can make us aware of.

In essence, the notion of race separates, divides, human beings into manufactured lifeless categories which nullify the empathic knowing of individual human beings.

Such assignment of individuals to a posited abstract category – some assumed ‘race’ or sub-race – is irrelevant, since individual human beings are or have the potential to be unique individual human beings, so that such an assignment, whatever the alleged reason, is a dehumanizing of those individuals. For our humanity is expressed by an individual and personal knowing of individuals, by a personal interaction with others on the basis of respect, tolerance, reason, and honour, and which personal knowledge of them renders their alleged or assumed ethnicity or ancestry irrelevant.

In addition, to ascribe some value or some worth – how/low, civilized/uncivilized, evolved/primitive – to these abstract categories termed ‘race’, and thence to the individuals alleged or assumed to belong to such categories, is immoral because value and worth are themselves lifeless un-numinous divisive abstractions which cannot, should not, be applied to human beings, or to any living being. Which in essence means that all life is numinous, worthy – and cannot and should not be sub-divided into categories of value or worth.

Similarly, to judge – prejudge – individuals or some group on the basis of the assumed or the alleged ‘character’ or generalized nature assigned to some ‘race’ is immoral because dehumanizing, usurping as such prejudice does the personal knowing of individuals that is the human, the empathic, the honourable, the moral, the right, thing to do.

In practical terms, this means: (i) that the concept of ‘race’ is not only irrelevant but an immoral aberration; (ii) that the alleged or the assumed ethnicity of a person is irrelevant; and (iii) that treating/mistreating people, hating people or causing suffering to people, on the basis of their alleged or assumed ‘race’ is immoral, reprehensible.

For what matters is the person, the individual as an individual human being who is unique or who has the potential to be unique. What matters, what is human and moral, is a personal knowing of individuals and treating others with fairness, and tolerance, on the basis of equality.

Destiny and The Civilizing Process

The idea of and the belief in some individuals having a special personal ‘destiny’ – or being chosen by ‘fate’ or by the gods or by God in some way – is a pernicious immoral abstraction, a great cause of suffering. For the person so believing this assumed destiny always assigns to themselves and their judgement a higher value than they give to other human beings and thus they treat or end up treating others in an uncompassionate, dishonourable, way. In addition, in order to achieve ‘their destiny’ or accomplish their ‘mission’ such people will use brutal force and, almost invariably, resort to killing and to war.

Such a personal belief is a manifestation of hubris, of the tyrannos. From Hitler and Stalin to Napoleon to Ivan the Terrible to Genghis Khan to Peter the Hermit to Alexander of Macedon and before, the immoral pride and arrogance of such men has caused immense human suffering. As has occurred when the concept, the ideation, of destiny – or fate, or some ‘divinely sanctioned mission’ – is or has been assigned to some other abstraction, such as a nation, a people, a race, or a religious group. Thus the chosen abstraction – the alleged chosen instrument of fate/destiny/god – is believed to be superior to others and believed to empower those belonging to it with ‘the right’ to dominate, kill, and if necessary subdue with force, other nations/peoples/races/groups, with the classic examples being racism, the nazi doctrines of Hitler, and The Inquisition.

A similarly pernicious, though less obvious, immoral abstraction is that sometimes termed ‘the civilizing process’. This was the abstraction, for example, that was the raison d’etre of European colonialism. Inherent in this disruptive abstraction is the ideation of a linear progress. This ‘civilizing process’ involves:

“…constant change and a continuing development. This is the acceptance of the idea that there is ‘something’, in some future – near or distant – that can be and should be striven toward, and this ‘something’ is always some ideal, or more perfect, form of something that either already exists or which, it is alleged, can be manufactured (brought into being) if certain things (within one’s self, or within society, for instance) are changed in accord with some other manufactured idea or abstraction, or deriving from some -ism or some -ology (be these deemed to be political, social or religious). ” [4]

As I also mentioned in On The Nature of Abstraction:

“…the very notion of ‘civilization’ is unethical, because it both classifies, and excludes, based on some abstract criteria, some abstract non-empathic judgement of others; that is, of who and what is deemed to be ‘civilized’ […] The very notions of ‘progress’ and of some ‘civilizing process’ are unethical because they predispose individuals toward the unbalanced disruption of and the striving for some type of perfection or ideal, and which striving (because it is a causal striving) always entails placing that ideal or that abstraction before the compassion born of empathy, and which always tends toward creating suffering, and always involves a loss of numinosity: of that delicate, reasoned, balance that an empathic awareness brings to we human beings. “

In brief, this ‘civilizing process’ – this desire for some assumed progress – usurps the individual empathy of the immediacy of the moment, and the compassion and the wu-wei that naturally arise from such empathy. Both the ‘civilizing process’ and the desire for some assumed future perfection (progress) are or lead to ὕβρις, to the disruption of the natural balance and which disruption inevitably is the genesis of suffering and strife.


Individuality, Morality, and Change

As outlined in the essay Authority and Legitimacy in the Philosophy of The Numinous Way, empathy and thence the morality that derives from it implies an individual judgement and an individual authority. That is, that The Numinous Way establishes a new type of authority, and thence a new type of legitimacy, different from those assumed by the modern nation-State, by governments, and previously assumed by monarchs, potentates, and tyrants.

This is the moral authority and the moral legitimacy of the individual manifest in self-responsibility and honour. There is therefore no desire for – or ultimately no need for – authority over others but rather the inclination toward self-reliance, toward the authority, the freedom, of the individual and a respect for the freedom, the self-reliance, of others.

In practice, this means no desire for rapid exterior change, or change based upon some abstraction. Instead, there is wu-wei, and the necessary inner change of individuals:

” The Numinous Way approach to the problems of society – to reform and change – is an individual one, deriving from the faculty of empathy, and from the uniquely individual authority and personal judgement that empathy and a personal knowing reveal in the immediacy-of-the-moment.

This means that reform and change is personal, direct; of and involving individuals who are personally known; and begins with the necessary inner change in the individual. That inner, personal, change – in individuals, of their nature, their character – is understood as the means to solving such personal and social problems as exist and arise. That such inner change of necessity comes before any striving for outer change by whatever means, whether such means be termed or classified as political, social, economic, religious. That the only effective, long-lasting, change and reform is the one that evolves human beings and thus changes what, in them, predisposes them, or inclines them toward, doing or what urges them to do, what is dishonourable, undignified, unfair, and uncompassionate.

In practice, this evolution means, in the individual, the cultivation and use of the faculty of empathy, and acquiring the personal virtues of compassion, honour, and love. Which means the inner reformation of individuals, as individuals.” [6]

Conclusion

Empathy inclines us – by its revealing of others, its revealing of ourselves as we really are, its revealing of us as an affective and effecting connexion to other human beings and other life – toward humility. Thus we are moved away from prejudices and prejudgement and hate toward gentleness, kindness, love, compassion, and fairness; that is, toward the virtues that express our humanity and thus toward the cessation of suffering.

Empathy by its personal, immediate, nature manifests a new type of authority; that of the individual whose concern is not power over others but rather over themselves through the development and exercise of those virtues that express our humanity.

Empathy also inclines us toward wu-wei; toward interior reflexion, toward neither acting with haste nor on the basis of abstractions and unbalanced feelings. It moves us instead toward a knowing that real change is interior, personal, change – of character, of behaviour, of feelings, of thought, of intent; of removing prejudice and intolerance.

Thus there is, in The Numinous Way, a complete rejection of the intolerance of racism, of authoritarianism, of violent political, social, or religious, change, and instead the individual interior way of a quiet desire to live numinously, ethically, harmoniously, in accord with wu-wei, in accord with the natural balance of Life.

David Myatt
February 2012 ce

Notes

[1] As I mentioned in the Preface to the compilation Prolegomenas to The Philosophy of The Numinous Way:

“I have sometimes used terms from Ancient Greek because such terms, in my view, are informative and comparative, with there thus being a link between the philosophy of The Numen and the weltanschauung of early Hellenic culture, embodied in and manifest as this was by the works of Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Heraclitus, Sappho, and many others. Thus, it would be fair to assume that the ethos of my weltanschauung is both indebted to and a development of the ethos of that Hellenic culture; an indebtedness obvious in the centrality, in the Numinous Way, of personal honour and notions such as δίκη, and a development manifest in notions such as empathy.”

[2] Terms such as empathy are explained below, in the Appendix – Notes on Some Terms Used. In respect of humility, see – for example – my essays (i) Numinous Expiation, (ii) Humility, Abstractions, and Belief, and (iii) From Aeschylus To The Numinous Way – The Numinous Authority of πάθει μάθος

[3] War and Violence in the Philosophy of The Numinous Way.

[4] On The Nature of Abstractions.

[5] Authority and Legitimacy in the Philosophy of The Numinous Way.

[6] Society, Social Reform, and The Numinous Way



Appendix

Notes on Some Terms Used

Abstraction

An abstraction is a manifestation of the primary error of conventional causal thinking; that is, of assuming only a causal linearality – of using causal reductionism: that simple cause-and-effect that excludes the acausal knowing that empathy provides and which knowing the numinous is a manifestation of. Implicit in abstractions is the notion of – the illusion of – the separateness of beings.

An abstraction is the manufacture, and use of, some idea, ideal, ‘image’ or category, and thus some generalization, and/or some assignment of an individual or individuals – and/or some being, some ‘thing’ – to some group or category with the implicit acceptance of the separateness, in causal Space-Time, of such being/things/individuals. The positing of some ‘perfect’ or “ideal” form, category, or thing, is part of abstraction.

Abstraction-ism – and the ideation that derives from it – can be philosophically defined as the implementation, the practical application, of ὕβρις.

Compassion

The English word compassion dates from around 1340 ce and the word in its original sense (and as used in the philosophy of The Numinous Way) means benignity. Hence, compassion is being kindly disposed toward and/or feeling a sympathy with someone (or some living being) affected by pain/suffering/grief or who is enduring vicissitudes.

The word compassion is derived from com, meaning together-with, combined with pati, meaning to-suffer/to-endure, and thus useful synonyms for compassion, in this original sense, are compassivity and benignity.

Empathy

Etymologically, this fairly recent English word, used to translate the German Einfühlung, derives, via the late Latin sympathia, from the Greek συμπάθεια – συμπαθής – and is thus formed from the prefix σύν (sym) together with παθ- [root of πάθος] meaning enduring/suffering, feeling: πάσχειν, to endure/suffer.

As used and defined by The Numinous Way, empathy – ἐμπάθεια – is a natural human faculty: that is, a noble intuition about another human being or another living being. When empathy is developed and used, as envisaged by The Numinous Way, it is a specific and extended type of συμπάθεια. That is, it is a type of and a means to knowing and understanding another human being and/or other living beings – and thus differs in nature from compassion.

Honour

The English word honour dates from around 1200 ce, deriving from the Latin honorem (meaning refined, grace, beauty) via the Old French (and thence Anglo-Norman) onor/onur. As used by The Numinous Way, honour means an instinct for and an adherence to what is fair, dignified, and valourous. An honourable person is thus refined: that is, they are noble and cultured and hence distinguished by virtue of their character, which is one of manners, fairness, natural dignity, culture, and valour.

Hubris ( ὕβρις )

ὕβρις is the error of personal insolence, of going beyond the proper limits set by: (a) reasoned (balanced) judgement – σωφρονεῖν – and by (b) an awareness, a personal knowing, of the numinous, and which knowing of the numinous is provided by empathy and πάθει μάθος.

Hubris upsets the natural balance – is contrary to ἁρμονίη – and often results from a person or persons striving for or clinging to some causal abstraction.

Pathei-Mathos ( πάθει μάθος )

The Greek term πάθει μάθος derives from The Agamemnon of Aeschylus (written c. 458 bce), and can be interpreted, or translated, as meaning learning from adversary, or wisdom arises from (personal) suffering; or personal experience is the genesis of true learning.

Wu-Wei

Wu-wei is a Taoist term used in my philosophy of The Numinous Way to refer to a personal ‘letting-be’ deriving from a feeling, a knowing, that an essential part of wisdom is cultivation of an interior personal balance and which cultivation requires acceptance that one must work with, or employ, things according to their nature, for to do otherwise is incorrect, and inclines us toward, or is, being excessive – that is, is ὕβρις. In practice, this is the cultivation of a certain (an acausal, numinous) perspective – that life, things/beings, change, flow, exist, in certain natural ways which we human beings cannot change however hard we might try; that such a hardness of human trying, a belief in such hardness, is unwise, un-natural, upsets the natural balance and can cause misfortune/suffering for us and/or for others, now or in the future. Thus success lies in discovering the inner nature of things/beings/ourselves and gently, naturally, slowly, working with this inner nature, not striving against it.


cc David Myatt 2012 ce
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Image Credit:
The Day’s Consecration: A painting by Richard Moult