Credo quia absurdum

[Christmas time, New Year, a year of near-deaths and a new grandchild, time to reflect on ‘faith’ perhaps… Here’s my attempt.]

Credo quia absurdum

– Or: Why I am a Democratic Eco-Socialist (non-violent Anarchist) –

Wikipedia in 2011 elucidates the phrase ‘credo quia absurdum’ as being

‘a Latin phrase of uncertain origin. It means “I believe because it is absurd”. It is derived from a poorly remembered or misquoted passage in Tertullian’s De Carne Christi defending the tenets of orthodox Christianity against docetism, which reads in the original Latin:
Crucifixus est Dei Filius, non pudet, quia pudendum est;
et mortuus est Dei Filius, prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est;
et sepultus resurrexit, certum est, quia impossibile.
— (De Carne Christi V, 4)
“The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful.
And the Son of God died: it is wholly credible, because it is unsound.
And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.”

The phrase is sometimes associated[citation needed] with the doctrine of fideism, that is, “a system of philosophy or an attitude of mind, which, denying the power of unaided human reason to reach certitude, affirms that the fundamental act of human knowledge consists in an act of faith, and the supreme criterion of certitude is authority.” (Catholic Encyclopedia).’

Meaning, Faith and Politics

Although usually not excessively reflected upon, most of us live our lives within some kind of framework of ultimate meaning, set of values or ‘faith’. This framework may be explicit or tacit, something as simple as a focus on one’s work and the well-being of one’s own family or something as metaphysically formalised as a religious belief system.

For those many of us without an orthodox religious belief system who seek some sense of meaning, hope and purpose beyond the private family realm, the task of developing such a secular framework is perhaps more difficult. Given the necessary limits, and final aridity, of the intellect in grounding its own ultimate values (a philosophical version of Gödel’s mathematical ‘impossibility theorem’), it would seem we need some form of critical ‘fideism’ that overcomes the secular/spiritual split. After the deserved post-war demise of the secular ‘grand narrative’ of ‘socialism’, it would seem that the only alternative to both dogmatic religion and post-modern incoherence, cynicism and despair must be some sort of secular and/or spiritual faith in humanity and/or nature.

For me, this trajectory leads straight into one’s conscious or unconscious attitudes towards human history, society and relationships with nature, and to what used to be over-triumphantly called ‘progress’. As these evolutionary phenomena are all, in the end, mediated not only by economics and technology but by questions of power, class and domination, they must in turn all lead back to a reflection on one’s own ‘politics’ in the widest sense of that word.

My own politics were formed in my early twenties within the context of the radically leftist German students’ movement and have remained, despite inevitable modifications and some possible shifts in emphasis, constant in their essential core. This concept of politics was and is anti-authoritarian, direct-activist and ‘anti-political’ in the sense of being deeply critical of (and exceedingly bored by) mainstream party politics and governments of any persuasion left, right and centre. This radical politics, for the most part creatively non-violent, spontaneous and unashamedly hedonistic, was and is interested in liberation, systemic change, the social generalisation of freedom, empowerment, creativity, dignity and equality, in ‘bread and roses for all’.

If pressed, and despite, or because of, an ingrained aversion to herds and –isms, I would see myself as belonging to a great, albeit mostly unknown, tradition of human freedom-seeking and anti-authoritarianism that begins with Lao Tzu, the Buddha and some of the Biblical prophets and culminates in the political philosophies of democratic or libertarian eco-socialism and non-violent anarchism. At their deepest levels these in turn, necessarily, shade off into something like an unorthodox metaphysics or socially informed mysticism. (More on this in my short essay ‘The Four Noble Truths of Spiritual Ecology’, blogged at memengineering in February 2011). I would argue that this anti-authoritarian great tradition may ground what humanist psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm has termed a ‘rational faith’ in humanity (in contrast to any ‘irrational faith’ grounded on emotional submission to irrational authority):

‘Like the faith in the child, it is based on the idea that the potentialities of man are such that given the proper conditions they will be capable of building a social order governed by the principles of equality, justice, and love. Man has not yet achieved the building of such an order, and therefore the conviction that he can requires faith. But like all rational faith this, too, is not wishful thinking but based upon the evidence of the past achievements of the human race and on the inner experience of each individual, on his own experience of reason and love. (Man for Himself, pp. 207-208)’

This is not the place to elucidate the precise content of the terms ‘eco-socialism’ or ‘non-violent anarchism’ at any length. Much will become clear through the points listed below. Suffice to say that in deep contrast to the historical forms of state capitalism and totalitarian tyranny masquerading as ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’, the libertarian strand of socialism is radically anti-authoritarian and insists that there can be no real socialism without freedom and self-management, i.e. without a radical, decentralised, grassroots democracy of self-active, cooperative citizens and producers. The ‘eco-‘ prefix of course marks the relatively new awareness of the centrality of ecology within any social system that has been gained since the 60s. In these matters democratic eco-socialism is basically identical with anarchism.

I would also argue that both the history of anarchism’s confused and self-contradictory attitude to the revolutionary use of armed violence (often wrongly assuming that violent means or war can ever bring about non-violent ends or peace) and, justified or not, its frequent association with terrorist forms of violence in the popular mind mean that today only a non-violent form of anarchism is in fact compatible with its own theory and ethos. Violent anarchism has now become an oxymoron.

Like most of my comrades, I am a democratic eco-socialist or non-violent anarchist for a range of ethical, aesthetic and philosophical reasons. These reasons are of course interdependent as, in my view, conscience (or spirit or soul), the senses and the mind cannot really be separated.

The fact that these reasons are in my view eminently rational does not mean they are based on reason alone, however. I am no rationalist or positivist and do not believe in the supremacy of the intellect in human thinking and affairs. Since the Enlightenment we have learned that our rational minds sit on top of, and are largely driven by, huge non-rational, emotional, intuitive forces within us which are as much ‘us’ as our intellects. We are drawn to certain rational arguments and ethics, and repelled by others, because deeper parts of us want to be. A feeling for what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’ precedes, and guides, rather than follows rational thinking about such matters. Rationality is largely a rationalisation of non- or meta-rational impulses that come from deeper layers of our beings. These deeper layers are forms and expressions, individual and collective, of both evolutionary ‘deep time’ and the spiritual timelessness of our original ‘Buddha nature’. The psycho-spiritual formation infusing these deeper layers may be seen as a basic ‘faith’. To argue for this perspective is not a romantic ‘irrationalism’ that denigrates rationality but a meta-rationalism that includes it.

However, as soon as we turn to rational discussion and political debate on these issues, there is no way around the patient and tolerant negotiation of our shared and differing understandings. The following are my arguments for this kind of political and philosophical faith in a very compressed, dot point form.

Ethical Reasons

I would argue that

• It is not right that some live in luxury while many are deprived of the essentials for a dignified existence and most live in exhaustion and misery

• It is not right that the production of useless junk and luxuries can take precedence over the fulfilment of basic human needs for food, shelter, health and education

• It is not right that about 5-10% of people can own about half a nation’s wealth

• It is not right that about 20% of the world can monopolise about 80% of the world’s resources

• It is not right that about 200 billionaires can own as much as 40% of humanity

• It is not right that the rich world can live and waste at the expense of the poor world and the ecological health of the planet

• It is not right that small oligarchies of the rich and powerful can have the economic, political and military power to dominate the lives of billions of powerless people

• It is not right that the power elites and their agents can commit heinous ecological, economic, social and military crimes with complete impunity

• It is not right that power elites and their media can manipulate people for their purposes using the age-old means of fear, scapegoats, wars and nationalism

• It is not right that economic and political decisions affecting the well-being of billions of humans and non-humans can be made secretly and undemocratically

• It is not right that economies are organized irrationally, i.e. in the interests of power, profits and markets, that ‘things are in the saddle and ride mankind’ (Emerson)

• It is not right that people have to sell themselves to others in order to survive

• It is not right that the drudgery and structural violence of patriarchy, wage labour, class and market economies can thwart the majority of people from realising their creative human potentials

• It is not right that formal democracies are in fact plutocratic oligarchies and so-called socialisms are in fact state-capitalist or McStalinist tyrannies

• It is not right that elite oligarchies or so-called radical or revolutionary minorities of whatever persuasion try to violently impose their views on majorities

Aesthetic Reasons

I would argue that

• Cities dominated primarily by corporate and speculative Capital and its economic needs are essentially inhumane and thus, for the most part, ugly and depressing

• Cities formed by Capital’s needs and exploding demographics are no longer cities but sprawling urban conglomerations of standardised ugliness and boredom

• Cities dominated by state capitalist (Communist Party) tyrannies are inhumane and thus, for the most part, even uglier and even more depressing

• In industrial, capitalist cities vibrant public space is alienated from the public and radically monopolised by Capital, the hectic ugliness of its self-marketing and its private car culture

• In industrial, capitalist cities the beauties and spiritual vitality of nature and wildlife are absent or restricted to the odd manicured park or reserve

• Malls, the frantic temples not of human interchange but of the Commodity god, alienation and manipulation, are inhumane and thus ugly and depressing

• The countryside of capitalist agriculture is primarily formed by the pursuit of profit, industrial economies of scale, and standardisation (monocultures) and are thus anti-ecological and monotonously ugly and depressing

• Many or most products (including celebrities and the ‘beautiful people’) of the corporate media and culture industry are standardised, pseudo-individualised commodities of habitual phoniness and depressing ugliness

• Beauty or aesthetic form without a vibrant culture of creative commoners democratically shaping their lives and environments (i.e. anarchism) is doomed to elitist impotence, commodified self-indulgence or helpless protest

• Anti-authoritarian, democratic socialism or anarchism is not elitist high culture versus industrial pop culture (Orwell’s ‘prolefeed’), but rather the integral overcoming of both aristos and plebs in a creative community of strong and equal individuals democratically shaping their environments and collective futures

• An anarchist society of self-aware creators would, by definition, be a more human-scale, ecologically embedded, beautiful and poetic one: there would, finally, be bread and roses for all

Philosophical Reasons

I would argue that

• Human evolution has developed as a spiralling movement outwards and ‘upwards’ of overall material and mental progression interspersed with long periods of stasis, collapse or regression

• Gains in many areas have been offset by losses in others: e.g. gains in intellectual capacities and cosmopolitan urbanity have been gained at the cost of diminished sensory capabilities, general vitality, and alienation from natural systems

• On the ecological basis of our weed-like human ‘species-natures’ as generalists and opportunists, the overall development of human material and mental evolution has been from narrow to wide, simple to complex, tribal to cosmopolitan, local to global, particular to universal

• However, the ‘higher’ we evolve, the lower we can also fall; as our potential for social liberation and conscious, universal association increases, so does our potential for barbarous enslavement, total alienation and dissociation, for ecocide

• Human history has moved from a narrow, usually xenophobic, form of primitive anarcho-communism in hunting and gathering through the many liberations, oppressions and alienations of agricultural-patriarchal and then industrial class society to the current phase or turning point era

• In our era humanity seems poised to either leap into a post-industrial and post-affluent form of conscious, free anarcho-communism or else collapse into ecocide and regress into varying forms of authoritarian neo-feudalism and militarism

• Although gained via overwhelming ecological and social suffering (e.g. colonial plunder and genocide, imperial wars and oppression, ecological degradation, social fragmentation), the democratic and ethical ideals of secular capitalist society have also brought great progress

• This progress is evinced in phenomena like anti-authoritarian doubt and scientific rationality, individualism, the abolition of slavery, the notions of universal human rights and equality before the law, of racial and gender equality, the reduction of patriarchy, the beginnings of international law

• However, these democratic and ethical notions can only remain flawed and unrealised ideals within capitalist society because their realisation is blocked both by the very nature of this society as one of class power, domination and economic disparity and by a general lack of consciousness on the part of the majority of citizens

• Thus the ‘logical’ next step in human evolution is the unblocking, or practical extension and realisation, of bourgeois democratic ideals in the form of a free eco-socialism or anarchism

• On a very general level, the realisation of these ideals would include the social introduction of direct democracy and the decentralisation of power in economic and technological decision making, of wealth redistribution, of universalised social, political and cultural human rights and the rule of law, of the lifting of tribal-national consciousness into one-world consciousness and ecological responsibility for the biosphere commons that supports all life

• As the world continues to further integrate economically and culturally, all these realisations are already being approached and sketched in various evolving ways in a plethora of social phenomena and fluctuating movements all over the planet

• Democratic eco-socialism or non-violent anarchism can, by definition, not be enforced from above by some so-called elite but can only be realised by the self-conscious actions of a majority, or at least large minority, of citizens

• Democratic eco-socialism or non-violent anarchism is the only coherent philosophical and political alternative to the failed, now obsolete political
philosophies of neo-liberalism, fascism and orthodox Marxism

• Now minoritarian, it is the next spontaneous step in the evolution of human consciousness and spirituality, even though it may yet take many further decades to become generalised on a planetary scale and possibly only after the collective experience of massive social and/or ecological collapse and regression

For those wishing further information and inspiration, the following (in roughly chronological order) anti-authoritarian thinkers, mystics, poets and activists in the Great Tradition that underlies the above arguments might be worth exploring. In differing, often contradictory, forms shaped by differing times and cultural contexts, here is the one spirit breathing through the minds of many men and women throughout the ages, in east and west. It is this spirit that grounds my faith in humanity and the universe.

Lao Tzu
Chuang Tzu
Gautama the Buddha
Marcus Aurelius
Adi Shankara
Hui Neng (Eno)
Joachim of Fiore
John Ball
Meister Eckhart
Jalaludin Rumi
Jakob Böhme
Etienne de la Boétie
Gerrard Winstanley
William Blake
William Godwin
Mary Wollstonecraft
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Pierre Joseph Proudhon
Karl Marx
Michael Bakunin
Henry David Thoreau
Walt Whitman
William Morris
Leo Tolstoy
Peter Kropotkin
Gustav Landauer
Erich Mühsam
Oscar Wilde
Rosa Luxemburg
Errico Malatesta
Emma Goldman
Alexander Berkman
Rudolf Rocker
Anton Pannekoek
Otto Ruehle
Karl Korsch
Paul Mattick
Herbert Read
A.S. Neill
Mahatma Gandhi
Charlie Chaplin
The Marx Brothers
Erich Fromm
Herbert Marcuse
T.W. Adorno
Paul Tillich
Hans-Joachim Heydorn
Guenther Anders
Paul Goodman
Cornelius Castoriadis
Maurice Brinton
Kenneth Rexroth
Lewis Mumford
Alan Watts
Jiddu Krishnamurti
Vimala Thakar
Shunryu Suzuki
Ivan Illich
E.F. Schumacher
Guy Debord
Colin Ward
Julian Beck
Murray Bookchin
André Gorz
E.P. Thompson
Adrian Mitchell
John M. Swomley
M. Conrad Hyers
Thich Nhat Hanh
Wei Wu Wei
Gary Snyder
Howard Zinn
Noam Chomsky
Joanna Macy
Maria Mies
Vandana Shiva
Rebecca Solnit
Ted Trainer


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on December 29, 2011.

3 Responses to “Credo quia absurdum”

  1. This is a wonderful post! The list at the end is a particularly excellent idea. I recognised many souls I already know and love, but many more I’ve yet to become acquainted with (I’m still quite young, that’s my excuse 😉 )

    One minor suggestion (feel free to ignore me, it’s your list!): I was fully expecting to see Leo Tolstoy’s name, but didn’t find it there. Do you have some reason for leaving him out? From what I’ve read of his ‘political’ essays, he would seem to me to belong with the others.

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