Confrontation with “meaning”

I ran across this intriguing post on John Crow’s Treasure House of Pearls.

It starts with (wait for it) a couple of Crowley quotes concerning the protection of the “unfit” and how it “degrades” society. Mr. Crow then goes into a short essay which seems oddly Collectivist for the tribe of Fundamentalist Crowlians he has allied himself with.

The thing that caught my eye in what is mostly a “look at my bad ass being true to Crowley” post was the following:

Unlike in Christianity where simply being alive makes you one of God’s children, Thelemic values look at what the life is doing to judge whether it has meaning or not.

Meaning eh? Odd perspective from which to judge a life absent some normative standard of the type Crow and his ilk criticize on a regular basis. One would think that if the individual were key, that individual’s quality of life would be paramount, not some arbitrary “meaning.”

Perhaps this will make more sense if we read on:

Is the person doing their will? Are they doing the will of another person or group? These activities give meaning to life. However, if the person is not doing their own or the will of another, or worse, incapable, then that life has little meaning.

Now, there are many theories as to the “meaning of life.” If this is Mr. Crow’s submission to what is arguably the most hotly debated topic in the history of philosophy, I should find myself quite sad.

He seems to be saying that the meaning or purpose of life is to do someone’s will. Anyone’s, apparently, since I am at a loss to think of another possible source of volition outside the triad of Self, Other, Group. How this is “Thelemic” also escapes me. If I remember correctly the line is “Do What Thou Wilt” not “Do What Either You, Someone Else, or a Group You Belong to Wills.” Perhaps it would read differently in Greek?

Besides, there’s always the chance that someone could do the will of someone else who is “inferior” or a group of relative “inferiors.” The statement as to the origin of a life’s meaning above gives no qualifiers, so if one was intended the omission is huge.

Mr. Crow continues:

I am hardly a proponent of killing people, even those born weak, deformed or underdeveloped. However, I do not think it is society’s job to support them. If a family has a retarded child that will never get past the intelligence of an 8-year old, I have absolutely no objection against that family caring for and supporting that child. If that is their will, so be it. However, it is not the responsibility of society to care for that person.

This introduces an entirely new question: what is society’s “job” or responsibility to the individual? One would think some sort of answer would be forthcoming. We would expect it to be something in the vein of aiding the individual to do someone’s (anyone’s) will. Yet:

And this is where the hard realities of nature emerge and the conflicts arise. “In the good old days there was some sort of natural selection; brains and stamina were necessary to survival. The race, as such consequently improved.” This is the essential point and highlights how Thelemic and Judeo-Christian (and Humanistic) values clash.

Apart from the fact that this in no way follows from or expands upon the point attempted in the first part of the paragraph, it introduces another set of debatable propositions to tackle. Throwing questionable interpretations of Darwin into the mix does absolutely nothing in terms of answering the questions raised, or even clarifying them so they can be answered in a cogent fashion.

What seems to emerge from the entire mess is the idea that society will be “improved” by people who are able to do their will, or someone else’s, or that of a group they belong to. Maybe one they don’t belong to as well. In their spare time. Therefore, we as a society have a responsibility to “cull the herd” in order to remove people who… can’t do anything. Consequently, “the race will be improved.”

Among the hundred or so unanswered questions that arise from this, including the apparent advocacy of Enlightenment notions of “progress” (“the race was consequently improved ect.) the values implicit in this post seem to be skewed toward a set of perceived collective interests. Toward “humanity” the “race” or “society” and how it can be “improved.”

As I said earlier, it would seem that, when judging a person’s life, it would make more sense to judge based on quality rather than meaning. “Meaning” in this instance either requires some collective agreement, or is totally subjective. Even if there is such a thing as an objective, absolute meaning (an argument beyond the scope of this post) such would have to be agreed upon in order for a society to take it as an operating principle.

“Quality” on the other hand, has a component which can be assessed with some degree of clarity. Does a person seem to be able to enjoy their life? Are they relatively self-sufficient? Is there a niche they can fill and be happy and productive? These kinds of subjective and intersubjective assessments seem geared more toward the individual than grandiose statements about the “race.”

Further, if we’re going to discuss what role society has in the matter, why not start with something that society has the power to do? For instance, developmental disorders tend to have some form of industrial pollution at their root. This means that regulation of said industries (corporations are not people, no matter what the courts say, and thus have no rights) could lessen the number of people with developmental problems and other health issues. It also means that the victims of said pollution would be entitled to compensation, possibly for life. So, we avoid both caring for life simply because it exists and allowing people to die because they have diseases caused by modern production.

Of course, there are whole groups devoted to producing propaganda with as little content as Mr. Crow’s post “proving” that such regulation is unjust. It all depends on who you wish to listen to, and why.

What we have in Mr. Crow’s post is a series of rhetorical bon-bons, intended to be consumed by people who already buy into his ideology, and spat out by those he thinks will be offended by them. In terms of how Thelema looks at life and its value, we have nothing.

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