The Metaphysical System
metaphysical assumptions control us, and how
to undermine this control...
Metaphysical musings about "what things
really are" have been called "meaningless"
by many modern thinkers. For example, consider
these metaphysical statements:
How do you verify statements about the
"true reality" (or "identity", or "essence")
of God, Saddam Hussein or modern art? According
to some people (eg the Logical Positivists),
only verifiable statements have meaning,
and metaphysics tends to produce unverifiable
For example, how do you verify that
modern art "is" (or isn’t) crap? Until
somebody invents a Crap-o-Meter, the "crapness"
remains a subjective evaluation – nobody can
objectively detect "essence of crap"
What about "God is a gas"? We can verify gas,
but not "God". And even statements such as "nitrogen
is a gas" look dubious, since nitrogen "is"
a liquid too.
Similarly, the statement "Saddam Hussein is
evil" seems unverifiable, and therefore meaningless.
So what can we verify? "Saddam gave an
order to torture X people on date Y". We could
verify that with documentary evidence. Prosecuting
people under international law doesn’t require
How Metaphysics Controls Us
For most of us, our habitual language expresses
unconscious metaphysical assumptions. And since
our language tends to program our beliefs about
"reality", we perceive reality in terms of metaphysics.
This makes us act stupid.
A lot of western metaphysics derives from Plato
and Aristotle. Let’s call this unfortunate Platonic/Aristotelian
legacy "essentialism". Essentialism views reality
in terms of block-like entities inhabited by
"true essences". So, for example, the essence
of "evil" inhabits the entity Saddam Hussein.
Therefore, Saddam "really is" evil.
Anything that makes us act stupidly without
knowing it, controls us. Essentialism makes
us act stupidly by the process of GIGO (Garbage
In, Garbage Out). If our incoming perceptions
consist of block-entities with "true essences",
our resulting thoughts won’t exhibit much complexity,
flexibility or subtlety.
For example, if we perceive a human block-entity
with a "dumb asshole" essence approaching, we
act accordingly (like a monkey smelling an enemy).
But if we perceive that this person merely behaved
in "asshole" fashion in the past, after having
a hard day, we might act more intelligently.
Abandoning the habit of metaphysical essentialism
not only raises IQ, it also helps us feel
better emotionally. Imagine being surrounded
by people who "really are" bastards, bitches,
liars, cheats, assholes, etc. Now imagine being
surrounded by people who contain no such "bad"
essences/identities, but who only behave
part-time in ways we dislike.
(Note: as an amateur
satirist, I can say that politicians "are"
Stupid Assholes without contradicting what I
preach in this article).
On a more serious note, many unpleasant "isms"
(eg fascism, racism, sexism) arise from the
perception that some individuals "really are"
just units of a group essence/identity. We could
eradicate all such "isms" at the level of
perception, given an education which removes
metaphysical essentialism from language – something
to bear in mind for people who think philosophy
"really is" nothing to do with the real world.
How to Undermine Metaphysics
"A change in language
can transform our appreciation of the cosmos"
Benjamin Lee Whorf
Over the last two centuries many strategies
have emerged for undermining the metaphysical
control system: Existentialism, Pragmatism,
Instrumentalism, Deconstruction, General Semantics,
Surrealism, etc. You could almost regard
it as the major intellectual "conspiracy"
of the 20th century.
Many fields besides philosophy have adopted
this trend to a greater or lesser degree: modern
science, psychology, sociology, anthropology,
literature, etc. Unfortunately the fields that
need it most – politics and religion/ideology
– seem to have ignored it.
Let’s look at two popular strategies, one difficult
and one easy: Deconstruction (difficult)
and E-Prime (easy).
In seeking "essential truth", metaphysicians
want a solid foundation, a fundamental
grounding of "truth" at a central point. With
this centre/origin fixed, they also need to
define its opposite: the false/peripheral.
Everything then fits into binary opposites,
with the first term articulating the fundamental,
positive, true, solid "ground" – and the second
term representing the negative, false, derivative,
deficient, lacking, "dilution" or "corruption":
Being – Non-being
Presence – Absence
Good – Evil
Life – Death
Cause – Effect
Light – Dark
Strong – Weak
Pure – Impure
Simple – Complex
In this metaphysical system, the "negative"
secondary term comes after the original
term. The "primary", the "good",
the "true" always comes first.
Then the corruption follows. Politically and
socially this translates into the belief that:
Like many 21st Century reactionaries,
Plato believed in an original "Golden Age",
with nothing but degeneration and corruption
to expect in the future. You can see how this
type of metaphysics might correlate with political
A metaphysics of binary opposites limits logical
reasoning to either/or choices. Either
something "is" strong, or it
"is" weak; either it "is"
good or it "is" evil, etc.
No in-between, no "maybe", no paradox,
Deconstruction subverts metaphysics by disrupting
its foundations and dislodging its certitudes.
How? By throwing a Zombie in the works. Zombies
don’t fit into the metaphysical either/or
categories of "alive or dead".
And what about "inside or outside"?
The force which controls a Zombie – "is"
it inside or outside?
Metaphysical difficulties arise not just with
"real" Zombies but also with glazed-eyed
consumers in supermarkets (for example). Can
you say with certainty whether zombie-like consumers
"really are" hypnotised? Do you know
anyone who "is" unhypnotised?
Deconstruction derails, destabilises, corrupts
and contaminates metaphysical language. And
that "really is bad" from the metaphysician’s
perspective. But only metaphysics asks what
deconstruction "really is".
"Whatever you say
a thing is, it isn’t"
English Prime, or E-prime for
short, arose out of General Semantics. It looks
like standard English, but with the words "is",
"are", "was", "would
be" (and other cognates of "is")
removed. Removing the "is" (of identity)
from language effectively eradicates metaphysical
statements about what things "really are".
For example, the sentence: "Fred is a commie"
would appear in E-Prime as something like: "I
regard Fred as a commie". E-Prime expresses
what we perceive and think about things,
rather than what things "really are".
E-Prime makes sense when applied to science
– eg the argument over whether an electron "really
is" a wave or a particle:
The two standard English statements contradict,
whereas the E-Prime statements seem complementary.
E-Prime makes sense of emotional "human" issues
With standard English, debates often degenerate
into hysterical "Yes, it is!",
"No it isn’t!!" type arguments
(monkey metaphysics). E-Prime seems to avoid
Who knows: in the future, E-Prime might even
help prevent a war.