The Necessity of Freedom and the Origin of Genocide in Western Civilization. (03/13/2001)
Freedom is a curious beast, one that has both its origin and necessity in the same ideological constellation, a fact which may not distinguish it from anything else but one that does account for the endless and tireless debate over whether it can be said to exist as a recognized aspect of human reality or not. The problem generated by the idea of human freedom in Western culture stems from the fact that its essential ground of being contradicts its possibility, on the one hand, while demanding its presence, on the other. This is true because the origin of, and necessity for, freedom emerges as soon as the idea of a supernatural Creator is posited as the cause for the existence of the world and for everything else that can be said to exist in it. The first thing that arises when an omnipotent Creator is cited as the cause of the existence of reality is the fact that everything in the world must be arranged according to a system of classification based on binary opposition. Since the supernatural stands at one end of the opposition, it becomes absolutely necessary to arrange everything else, everything He has created, at the other end of the binary structure. Every creature, and every part of creation, therefore, is distinguished from its Creator by the fact that it is not omnipotent, that it has just as much power as the All-Powerful Creator can divert from Itself and grant to that which It has created. To say that any diminishment of the All-Powerful Creator, by diverting any of Its power to something else, necessarily makes It less than absolutely powerful is to say what is only obvious.
In Western ideology, however, this "law" of inverse ratios, as it were, is never applied in this context because the "framers" of the ideology always meant to keep the All-Powerful precisely that and could not bring themselves to acknowledge the simple fact that when you subtract anything at all from the All it necessarily ceases to be definable as the All. It does not matter either how much or how little of anything is removed from the absolute to reduce it to a status that is no longer that. Even as much power as it takes to blink an eye, if removed from All-Power, will reduce It to less than omnipotent. In essence, of course, these "framers" of the ideology did not bother themselves over the obvious contradictions that came to exist in their perceptions of reality. What they argued instead was that the All-Powerful was not diminished by subtracting part of Itself for redistribution among aspects of Its creation, that the All-Powerful had a surplus of power, that It was more than All-Powerful to begin with, so that the redistribution of Its power did not diminish It in any way. Anyone who might object to such reasoning was simply informed that God and His character existed outside of reality, outside the reach of ordinary human perceptions, and was not susceptible Himself to the rules of nature that define everything else. The mystery inherent in God's supernatural power was cited as an explanation for why He was not bound by concepts like a natural law of inverse ratios.
Compared to God, then, who is All-Powerful, man was defined as being essentially powerless, even to the point that he/she individually and collectively could never hope to comprehend even the most simplistic characteristics of the Creator. The first, if not the most important, binary opposition that was derived from the essential disparity between God and His creation was the knowledge of good and evil. This is explicitly stated in Genesis after the first disobedience when God says: "See, the man has become like one of us, with his knowledge of good and evil" (2:22), where gaining that knowledge erases the distinction between the poles of the opposition. One must assume this opposition is the most significant because it has always been cited as the cause for the fall of man from his blessed state in Paradise to his damned state in the world (Genesis 2: 16-17). Furthermore, in terms of the way the ideology was framed, freedom becomes the first essential element in defining man's condition. This is true because God established a single condition for His creature's continued existence in a state of perfect bliss; that is, He prohibited man from gaining a knowledge of the first binary opposition between good and evil. Hence, man was defined by His Creator as being absolutely free with the single exception that he could not eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In other words, man was not free to know the difference between good and evil, to have knowledge of the primary binary opposition that created the disparity between deity and humanity, but he/she was free to decide whether or not to obey the single commandment that prohibited that knowledge. To say that freedom was born on the ground of binary opposition, then, seems only to assert what is most obvious about it.
A second inevitable consequence of defining reality as the tension that exists between binary opposites is the equally inescapable idea that everything in the created world is ordered and organized according to immutable (by virtue of ordination by God) hierarchical structures. Not content with making reality a function of a single binary opposition between good and evil, God further divided everything into categories that run a scale of infinite duration from the absolutely Good (Himself) to the absolutely Evil (Satan). Put simply, since the "same" is always, and by definition, higher and better than the "other," in the same/other, good/evil, binary oppositional structure, the "same" has both the natural right and inescapable duty to oppress the "other." This fact, this action, is always justified by definition. Good must triumph over Evil. Good has the right and duty to oppress Evil. A natural and inevitable characteristic of anything or anyone who suffers oppression is a desire for freedom from it. Hence, and again, freedom is born on the ground of binary opposition and nurtured by the blood of hierarchy. These two things are literally and factually interrelated, inescapable consequences of creationist ideology. When the "other" manages to throw off the constraints imposed on its freedom by the "same," the two categories switch places, as it were, and what was once the "same," in its new clothes, becomes the "other" to what was formerly its opposite. The struggle, then, for freedom simply goes on, even infinitely. Calling creationist ideology something that was born in the mind of the Prince of Peace is simply a lie. Binary opposition and hierarchy, which are absolute conditions of Christian belief, absolute doctrines of virtually all Western, if not World, religions, do not foster peace; rather, they breed, then justify, genocide. The only peace such ideas generate comes after every standing member of the "other" has been annihilated.
A different aspect of this same ideology was inscribed in the work of the early church Fathers, Tertullian in A Treatise on the Soul, for instance, when he argues that Philosophy "assumes as her principles the laws of nature." Tertullian disputes Philosophy's claim by saying that he "could bear with her pretensions, if only she were herself true to nature, and would prove to me that she had a mastery over nature as being associated with its creation." The point to be taken here, of course, is that creationist ideology has always insisted on the notion that the Creator has an absolute and immutable "mastery" over nature, by virtue of having created it, and that other "entities," like Philosophy personified, cannot make that same claim for the simple fact that nothing else created anything. Man, however, has been granted some limited power over the natural world, since he/she must exploit it in order to survive beyond the walls of Paradise where everything necessary to life was supplied by God. I bring this issue to the foreground here because philosophy and science, which have always managed in one way or another to deal with things like the "laws of nature," have always been perceived as substantial threats to the legitimacy of creationist ideology. In Tertullian's day (200 A. D.), that threat was bound more to the source of a competing ideology in the pagan world (Greek) than it was to anything explicit in its ideology that could actually undermine the immense appeal that a promise of eternal life had for people living miserably in various kinds and degrees of oppression.
That same kind of characterization can no longer be said to apply now, however, since, for some people, life is not as miserable as it once was, even if that fact does not lessen anyone's irrational desire for immortality so characteristic of those who have been promised it, and since human knowledge and science itself, as opposed to pagan philosophy, has managed to formulate a credible theory of reality that truly does threaten the validity of creationist ideology. I mean here, of course, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and specifically E = MC2, which clearly states that the material universe has always existed as either energy (E) or mass (M) times the speed of light squared (C2). While it is always possible to dispute the concepts involved in this formulation, even if only because the Bible, as the only necessary text of creationist ideology, claims that God was responsible for creation, doing so in some vague and non-specific way that does not include a mathematical demonstration of fallacy in Einstein's calculations, cannot be taken as, and does not establish, a serious refutation of the principle that the universe has always existed and was never created. Also important to note is the fact that Einstein did not make his theory out of whole-cloth either; rather, he reconfigured calculations in Newton's Laws of Motion that eliminated anomalous predictions regarding the location of Mercury relative to the sun. Newton in turn based his calculations on the work of Kepler and Galileo who first demonstrated that planetary orbits were elliptical not circular in shape. That conceptualization was in turn derived from the work of Copernicus who established that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. What I am suggesting here is that Einstein can be overturned just as soon as Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, can be shown to have erred in their collective perceptions of reality.
This is not to say, of course, that reasonable and intelligent individuals have not attempted to dismiss the implications of Relativity since its introduction into the field of human consciousness in 1905. In fact, it is safe to say that a relatively large number of people, for one reason or another, have objected to the idea that human perceptions of truth can be subjected to classifications largely determined by appeals to relativity. Since Einstein argued that time cannot by precisely synchronized between two observers moving at different fixed rates relative to each other, it becomes possible to assert that other perceptions of reality are equally susceptible to question and doubt. While it might seem natural to list this problem under the general category of human fallibility so popular among religious thinkers as a means of creating a basic distinction between God's perfection and man's utter lack of the same thing, doing that has always been rejected out of hand for the reasons listed above concerning the need to maintain a firm belief in basic principles of creationist ideology whose credibility is threatened by relativity. If human perception of reality is so frail that two people looking at the same thing (a time-piece) cannot even agree what it registers, and cannot even resolve so simple a difference, how then can, and why would, anyone embrace a notion as bizarre as the one that claims the universe was created by an All-Powerful God who can divide Himself up into countless other pieces of force or power without, at the same time, diminishing Himself in any way whatsoever? The latter half of that proposition, in fact, sounds like something a relativist might argue; whereas, the first part cannot hope to stand in the face of E =MC2.
One problem with popular views of Relativity, even those that have been argued by philosophers, is a tendency to believe that the theory itself states that one idea of reality and truth is just as good as another. This belief apparently has grown out of the observation that two observers moving at different rates cannot say with absolute certainty precisely what time it is if both have different time-pieces in their possession. Attempts to discredit Relativity, however, simply because it does not uphold and reinforce a theorist's desire to make unequivocal pronouncements about the necessity and reality of binary opposition, oppositional thinking, various kinds of dialectical reasoning, and the existence of natural hierarchical structures, all of which are derived from creationist ideology, must lay up more than a statement or two against its position about how terrible it is that science has brought man to a point where he/she must learn to live and think without recourse to opposition and hierarchy as the only means we have of rationalizing our collective condition.
One Marxian theorist who has not lived up to that challenge, and for obvious reasons too since Marxism is also called "dialectical materialism," is Theodor Adorno. In Negative Dialectics, which was meant to redeem Marxian ideology from any number of its insupportable assertions, Adorno has said that
"Relativism, no matter how progressive its bearing, has at all times been linked with moments of reaction, beginning with the sophists' availability to the more powerful interests. To intervene by criticizing relativism is the paradigm of definite negation." (37)
This statement does little more than set a stage for further commentary. What is clear from it, however, is that Adorno rejects "relativism," if not Relativity itself, on the ground that it makes it too easy for philosophers to respond to "moments of reaction," and/or reactionary intellectual movements, by switching sides from a position of genuine opposition to oppression and injustice to one that is aligned with "more powerful interests" that may, and probably are, the actual cause of the oppression in the first place. The point here is that, if one idea or position is as good as any other, then there is nothing to prevent anyone from switching sides whenever "more powerful interests" are brought to bear against resistance to the oppression.
Adorno moves his argument along to the consideration of perceptions associated with a perceived different between the essence and the appearance of things. This again, of course, is another binary opposition so favored by Western thinkers. The essence of a thing is a transcendental "whatness" of it that exists beyond the reach of ordinary reality in a realm of its own. The transcendental existence of that essential "whatness" permeates reality and supplies the ground on which individual objects in the real world derive specific characteristics ("appearances") that enable us to distinguish one thing from another, a chair from a table, as it were. In Western religious ideology, the essence or "whatness" of a thing exists in the transcendental mind of God. In Western philosophy, the same idea resides in Plato's realm of ideal types and in Aristotle's conceptualization of the soul. Adorno clarifies his objection to Relativity by appealing to the necessary existence of essence as a higher and more significant reality than any that can be applied to mere appearance. He refers to the philosophy of Nietzsche to contextualize his comments by saying that Nietzsche was "the irreconcilable adversary of our theological heritage in metaphysics, [and] had ridiculed the difference between essence and appearance." He goes on to assert that people who prefer the realm of appearance as the final and only authority there is for determining the nature of reality must cover up essence and that
"to deny that there is an essence means to side with appearance, with the totality ideology which existence has since become. If a man rates all phenomena alike because he knows of no essence that would allow him to discriminate, he will in a fanaticized love of truth make common cause with untruth." (169)
The "totality ideology" Adorno refers to here I take to be the one derived from scientific analysis, Relativity especially, because science argues that the material universe is a closed system that does not, and cannot, depend on anything external to it as a means of explaining why anything behaves in the way that it does. There is no transcendental cause, like God or Angels, that moves celestial objects in relation to one another. Celestial objects move in the way that they do because material reality is governed by laws of nature, like Gravity, especially in Einstein's formulation of its configuration as E = MC2, which defines the relationship between energy and mass as they are manifested by the sun and the planets revolving around it. There is no essence here. There is nothing in Einstein's formula that transcends material reality because there is no need for anything mysterious or otherworldly to account for the way that one material object moves or exists relative to another material object. Since the same formula also excludes the possibility that material reality was created, there is also no place in the cosmology for an omnipotent otherworldly Creator.
Given the cold, hard fact that contemporary scientific perceptions of reality, which are so far irrefutable, excludes both the necessity and the possibility of the existence of the transcendental, what harm can there be in persisting in the comforting notion that there is an omnipotent Creator anyway? Einstein himself refused to abandon that possibility even in the face of his own evidence to the contrary. Adorno supplies the answer to that question when he states that man, left without essence, loses his ability to discriminate between one thing and another and runs the risk of making "common cause with untruth" in his "fanaticized love" of its opposite. That seems to be such a noble sentiment. It is also one that has persisted in human consciousness, relative to this constellation of ideas, since the beginning of its time. Faith in God, belief in the existence of the human soul, acknowledgment of binary opposition and hierarchical structures, have always been credited with transforming human beings from mere animals into higher and better, more noble and caring, creatures than they were thought to be when first fashioned by their omnipotent Creator, at least in terms of what they became after the Fall, after they appropriated knowledge of the primary distinction between good and evil. The existence of the transcendental, in less religious terms, makes us better than we are.
Unfortunately, over the long history of the ideology expressed in the context of the same and the other, the choice to discriminate between one thing and something else has always existed, not so much as an innate ability of human consciousness, but rather, as the granting of a virtually limitless permission to do it. The difference between a passive acceptance of binary opposition expanded upward and outward through systems of hierarchical structure, on the one hand, and an active pursuit of their enforcement, on the other, surfaces early enough in Scripture to make their existence as definitive characteristics of Western ideology both obvious and irrefutable. In Deuteronomy, for instance, Yahweh speaks to the Jewish people on their journey out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land by describing their destination in the following terms:
"But Yahweh your God is bringing you into a prosperous land, a land of springs and streams, of waters that well up from the deep in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines, and figs, of pomegranates, a land of olives, of oil, of honey, a land where you will eat bread without stint, where you will want nothing . . . . You will eat and have all you want and you will bless Yahweh your God in the rich land he has given you." (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)
There are only a few problems with this statement, ones that may not jump from the page in the mind of anyone thoroughly indoctrinated in Judeo-Christian traditions perhaps, but ones that bother the rest of us quite considerably. To begin with the most obvious point: if there is no transcendent Creator, then who exactly is it that makes this speech? This question matters on its face because the land "Yahweh" describes is obviously one that has been cultivated to produce wheat and barley, which are annual plants that require plowed fields and deliberate planting before they can produce anything. Also true here is the fact that grapes (from the vines presumably), figs, pomegranates, and olives, while they are produced by plants that exist in the wild, generally become much more productive when they too are cultivated and nurtured. Since the people being addressed by "Yahweh" in this statement are outside the Promised Land, and do not already live there themselves yet, who is it that had planned and labored and created this cultivated land of milk and honey? Not God, obviously, since He has never been accused of being a farmer as far as I know. Not the Jews, certainly, because they have never set foot in the place either.
Yahweh names them, of course, as the "Anakim" (Deuteronomy 9:2) and one must presume, by virtue of the absence of evidence to the contrary in the text, that they are the people responsible for the bountiful condition of the land Yahweh has promised to his chosen people. At the same time, of course, Yahweh does not seem to be overly concerned by this apparent impediment to his will. He informs his chosen people that the Anakim are "wicked," in a first example of the application of the innate and immutable right to discriminate between the same and the other that has always characterized Western ideology. This discrimination is the same one Adorno refuses to abandon in the face of Relativity. Since no reason is actually given for the "wickedness" of the Anakim, one can presume they are what he claims because they do not believe in him. In other words, they are not his chosen people. Yahweh also assures his people that they have nothing to fear from the Anakim. He tells them that he "will go in front of you, [as] a devouring fire that will destroy them, and he himself will subdue them for you; so you will dispossess them and destroy them quickly as Yahweh has promised you" (Deuteronomy 9:3-4). To say that this statement raises a few questions, even if it were true that something like a "Yahweh" could be said to exist, is to point clearly at the kinds of problems adherence to concepts of binary opposition and hierarchy have always created in human relationships and in human civilizations.
Since there is no valid reason to assume the existence of God, of a Creator who chooses one group of people over another, then gives His chosen ones the right to annihilate the others, simply because He promises them possession of that which they have not produced themselves, a virtual paradise won from the wilderness by the labor and care of an indigenous people, it must be true that someone else is responsible for the existence of this myth. A more likely progression here, if any of this story can be taken as true, is that a land-less and dispossessed people, fleeing from enslavement in Egypt, invaded the territory of an indigenous and well-settled population and with superior numbers driven by sheer desperation to survive, which by no means justified what they did, overwhelmed and annihilated their weaker adversaries. Whether the invaders were monotheistic or not at this point, whether they possessed any consciousness of law or not, whether they embraced any formal religion or not, stands to the side of the fact that they then invented an All-Powerful God who claimed He had chosen them as His people, promised them the land they had just conquered, and granted them His permission to annihilate the indigenous population of Canaan. In this way, of course, the chosen people allow themselves to be forgiven for the crime of genocide they have committed against the other.
This same model of conquest and annihilation was employed by European Christians against the indigenous population of the Western hemisphere beginning in the 16th Century and extending forward to the present moment. The idea that creationist ideology elevates people who adhere to its laws to a higher plane of morality is true, if at all, only in the sense that they are given permission to become mass-murders whenever and wherever they find a population that controls what they cannot produce themselves. Freedom for such people, to return to an earlier concern, consists only in being free from ever having to face the justice and guilt their actions deserve. Their Creator, after all, is the One who allows them their crime and, since He does not exist, there is little chance any of them will ever be punished for their free-ride down the road to the annihilation of the other.
The hope for freedom persists in the face of unpunished crime and God-justified mass-murder for the simple reason that it is a genuine aspect of the human condition. Without God and His fabricated structures of binary opposition and hierarchy, which are meant only to restrict and constrain human potential, if only by demanding and then justifying genocide against the other, people cannot be anything else except free. This is true because in the real world there is nothing that elevates one thing above another; there is nothing that permits false discrimination between this and that. Native people have always known this. We have always lived free. Not even the whiteman's prison can take that away from us. Freedom cannot be taken. Freedom cannot be given. Freedom, in the absence of God, in the absence of creation, will last as long as the universe does. Relativity defines freedom. For those of you who believe that a science of relativity inspires immorality and license, you should first look in a mirror to see what is looking back at you before you accuse the other of failing to live up to the standards your own beliefs have fostered.