This is how you start a Stoic kerfuffle
In true agnostic style, I continually waffle on whether I think the universe is benevolent or not. I do think the idea of a benevolent universe is a bit in conflict with the Stoic concept of Amor Fati. If fate will do what it likes, then the universe will also! In his book Probable Impossibilities, Alan Lightman talks about how highly improbable self-aware consciousness is and sees it as an accident of evolution.
I also think the whole idea of humans having some sort of divine right is part of the cause for the mess we find ourselves in with climate change. Living with nature according to Nature needs to encompass caring for the earth, and we definitely haven’t been doing that for the past few centuries.
Have you read Blind Sight, by Peter Watts. Kind of an exploration of this kind of thing. Worth a read if you don't mind a bit of sci-fi in your life...
Hey Tanner, I love that you are prepared to debate these issues. If we are not prepared to critically examine our own precepts, we are off to a poor start as Stoics! For me, Stoicism is a far healthier philosophy with debate and diversity in its practice. We do not need to agree on all things to share a worthy objective.
I like to consider consciousness and our capacity for reason as an emergent property. Our capacity for choice is a defining aspect of our Nature. I agree that our origins lie in Nature albeit not the Traditional notion of an intelligent, conscious and providential entity. When prescriptive purpose is linked to descriptive observation, errors of intention result. What if we consider consciousness to be the unintended consequence of countless biological and environmental interactions rather than an aberration? Not all that Nature produces is successful and there is no guarantee that consciousness, complete with its capacity for Reason and choice, is a winning form.
When we stop looking for intent in our design, we free ourselves to focus on what is really important – we have Reason so how should we use it?!
This debate began over divergent readings and application of Stoic ideals. I think it would help if Traditional and not so Traditional Stoics take a look at what unites us. Reason is a process acted on through a set of ideas and we all agree that a code of ethics is the lens through which Stoic Reason is best focused. We can choose to accept that Virtue is the only Good with a secular or more spiritual explanation for the origins of Reason. It would be a shame if a more Virtuous population was lost to argument over a backstory when there is more than one Stoic path to a better character.
I’m really interested in this topic! In my opinion, it’s not our consciousness that leads to our misalignment with Nature, nor our Reason. After all, agrarian societies have, by necessity, always acted in accordance with Nature. Before Industrialization, western societies lived within the rhythms of the seasons, and the dictates of sunlight. Native and aboriginal cultures continue to live in this way, when they can, and yet we would never argue that they lack our ability to reason nor any less our consciousness.
In the ‘80s there was a film, a documentary of sorts, called “Koyaanisqatsi,” a Hopi word, we’re told, that means “life out of balance.” Devoid of narration, it shows city life; traffic, high rises, Wall Street traders shouting, and then will pull back, showing the city as a grid, that then becomes a circuit. The anxiety of the ‘80s, that we were becoming ghosts in our own machine. With a landmark score by Philip Glass, the film was so popular it has a sequel, though obviously we didn’t take much warning from it.
Our challenge, then, is to figure out how to live in accordance with Nature within western society, within commercialism, within Capitalism. Which, I think it can be shown, is impossible.
I think human consciousness is an emergent phenomenon related to our ability to problem solve and it has gone wildly awry. I don't think there's anything special about our place in the universe, we're simply capable of observing it a manner unique to animals; there's nothing divine about humanity. So, I agree with you, Tanner. Humanity's consciousness is an aberration considering the whole of the animal kingdom.
Intriguing perspective, Tanner. Your thoughts on human consciousness and its role in our alignment with Nature provide much food for thought. Thanks for the insights.
A.A. Long, in his book Hellenistic Philosophy, states, "To one class of animals, men, Nature gives a share of it's own essence, reason, in an imperfect but perfectable form."
I take this to mean that we, as humans, have a nature that is rational and conscious, but not in a perfect sense. This imperfect state is why we need to constantly work on ourselves to come into line with Nature, to make us more perfect, like the Sage