The Purpose of the State

The state is a depository of man’s greatest plans and ambitions. The State is not the result of top-heavy bureaucratization – this comes later in its development. But rather it is the space to promote individual, future-oriented goals.

This is a summary of Ortega y Gasset’s position – the classical liberal one. John Kenneth Galbraith also says this in his The Good Society: the Human Agenda.

I hardly need say that liberalism is dead – and conservatism is trampling on its corpse.

I worked for a top-heavy bureaucracy once: The Federal Aviation Agency. The last time I was in DC, visiting the Smithsonian, I saw the FAA headquarters – two huge, impressive buildings right across the street. I said to myself “I know what is going on there – nothing!”

But it is in no danger from budget cuts because it is part of the corporatocracy:

Corporatocracy, in social theories that focus on conflicts and opposing interests within society, denotes a system of government that serves the interest of, and may be run by, corporations and involves ties between government and business. Where corporations, conglomerates, and/or government entities with private components, control the direction and governance of a country, including carrying out economic planning (notwithstanding the “free market” label).

The government is not of the people, by the people, and for the people – because the people no longer matter – because they no longer exist.

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People Are no Longer Interested in the Way Things Really Are

I am still reading Ortega y Gasset – or more accurately a book about him by Pedro Blas Gonzalez. He was born in Cuba, but his family immigrated to Florida when he was six. His English can compete with any other philosopher’s – you frequently need a dictionary to understand him. The chapter I am on now is about borrowed opinions (page 120).

In a strict sense, the debate today turns on whether truth is manifest in the individual, in one person, or in the collective life, in the people.

For mass man – for nearly everyone, that is – the answer is resoundingly clear: in the people – in everyone else’s opinions.

However, and this is a really tricky point – everyone believes he is an independent thinker, and refuses to see the obvious: that his opinions are simply those of the crowd. People are not interested in the way things really are – they are only interested in what everybody else believes they are. This is the nature of mass man – or as I prefer to call him: post-modern man. Here is Ortega himself:

Mankind is not spontaneously open, predisposed, or receptive to evidence. Instead this predisposition is what an intellectual struggles to cultivate in himself: it is his technique and his craft.

However, another kind of intellectual is also much in evidence: people who lie cleverly. They tell the people what they want to hear – not what they should hear.

I buy so many books from Amazon, they often notify me of other books I might be interested in. Recently they sent me a list of recent philosophy titles. Almost all of them were pseudo-philosophies – often blatantly so.  But they are selling well, because this is what people want: to be confirmed in their opinions.

I am also listening to Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, a summary of the latest developments in Physics. Listening to it (or reading it) you can see how scientists ARE interested in how things are – and actively engaged in learning from each other.

And, with a little thought, you can see why most people have rejected science. The search for truth does not interest them.

He goes on to show how mass man determines most of today’s political events. More on that later.

Collective Banality

I love the word banal because I have suffered from it so much – while it did not bother anyone else at all. It’s nice to have a word ready-made for use. The following may give you a feel for Ortega y Gasset’s style:

The adoption of meaninglessness as a form of existence is a sign, Ortega goes on to argue, that the twentieth century life, especially that of the post WWII period, is enthralled by a spurious rejoicing in the form of banalities. This is why Ortega argues in several places that today man lives for the moment and all our cures are merely designed as temporary patch jobs. Ortega ties in the inability of the mass man to create or achieve anything substantial with…post-modern theorizing.

He spends some time analyzing this post-modern theorizing, but it boils down to a rejection of reason and values – and an elevation of vulgarity.

What it Means to Be Really Human

There is a difference between being human and being really human.

Back in the Sixties, when the Human Potential movement was active, this difference was clear. My guru at the time started the Real People Press when he was into Gestalt Physiology, and I lived for one summer with his second wife on his desert ranch in Utah. I also did time in a Mexican jail for being a hippy, was deported from Mexico and told to never come back. As far as they were concerned, I was too real for them.

Being incurably stubborn, I persisted in being me and ended up being kicked out of Heaven – or what many people considered Heaven at the time: Silicon Valley. Perhaps this makes me Lucifer, but in practice it only makes me an old duffer living on my Social Security in rural Costa Rica.

An old duffer with an overstuffed bookcase, that is. I do read, and read a lot – another sign of my moral depravity. Yesterday, as I was digging through my book pile, I came across three books by Ortega y Gasset that I had forgotten. This guy, once described as “the greatest European writer after Nietzsche” by Albert Camus, has since been forgotten.

Today I am quoting from his book Man and Crisis, chapter two. He is an unusual philosopher, one that has depth and also clarity – as you will see:

Man is a most strange entity, who, in order to be what he is, needs first to find out what he is; needs, whether he will or no, to ask himself what are the things around him and what, there in the midst of them, is he…

The essence of man..lies in the fact that he has no choice but to force himself to know… to resolve the problem of his own being and toward this end the problem of what are the things among which he must inexorably have that being. This – that which he needs to know, that whether he likes it or not, he needs to work on to the best of his intellectual means – is what undoubtedly constitutes the human condition.

Does he really understand with the required fullness of intelligence, does he really know anything with a complete and unshakable knowing? If we ask ourselves this, we note very quickly that the matter is highly dubious and problematical. On the other hand, I repeat, it is beyond question that man needs to know.

Man does not busy himself in learning, in comprehending, simply because he has talents and intelligence which enable him to know and understand, but to the contrary; for the very reason he has no choice but to try to comprehend, to know, he mobilizes all the abilities of which he stands possessed, even though for that necessity these may serve him very badly.

That task, as we have said, is called “living”; the essence of living is that man is always existing within an environment, that he finds himself – suddenly and without knowing how he got there…

Here he is on solid existentialist ground, as Heidegger says, we are thrown into the world – and left to sink or swim on our own. His main point, I repeat, is that man needs to know – and that is part and parcel of who he is.

However – and this is something no one seems to see, but is the paramount fact of our time:

Man is no longer able to think for himself, or about himself – or to put it bluntly: is no longer able to be human. And he is unable to realize this.

Don’t take it from me, take it from Ortega y Gasset, who explains it much better than I can.