Reason and Freedom

Again, one reverts to Nietzsche in characterizing and describing the state of the social world as it stands at the moment: “No herdsman and one herd. Everyone wants the same thing. Everything is the same; whoever thinks otherwise goes voluntarily into the madhouse.” And as Max Horkheimer said decades ago: “The world is mad and will remain so. When it comes down to it, I find it easy to believe that the whole of world history is just a fly caught in the flames.”

But on the flipside, madness and irrationality unleash an opposite effect, namely, reason and thought. As Horkheimer said: “The only thing that goes against my pessimism is the fact that we still carry on thinking today. All hope lies in thought. But it is easy to believe that it could all come to an end.” After all, and as Newton said, for every action and force there is an equal and opposite action and force.

Moreover, reason and thought are caught in the crosshairs of the unwieldy and turbulent transition from one historical epoch to another, namely, the transition from the modern age to the postmodern age. At first, Europe and the rest of the world had to transition from a medieval age to a modern age. Now, there is a transition from a modern age to a postmodern age. Thus, the turbulence and tumult of the social world stem from the individual and collective difficulties and troubles in trying to “orient” oneself to this transition, both on an individual level and on a collective level. As the American sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote:

“I mean that when we try to orient ourselves – if we do try – we find that too many of our old expectations and images are, after all, tied down historically; that too many of our standard categories of thought and of feeling as often disorient us as help to explain what is happening around us; that too many of our explanations are derived from the great historical transition from the Medieval to the Modern Age; and that when they are generalized for use today, they become unwieldy, irrelevant, not convincing. I also mean that our major orientations – liberalism and socialism – have virtually collapsed as adequate explanations of the world and of ourselves.”

In turn, reason and rationality are often conflated with conformity to the conventional ideas of the modern age, namely, liberalism and Marxism. Freedom is then conflated with either liberalism or Marxism. However, that logic is now “moot.” As Mills wrote:

“The ideological mark of [postmodernism] – that which sets it off from The Modern Age – is that the ideas of freedom and of reason have become moot; that increased rationality may not be assumed to make for increased freedom.”

Thus, rather than taking alternative and eccentric ideas with a grain of salt and viewing them with fear and suspicion, the postmodern age we are now headed towards means that such alternative and eccentric views are to be considered and perhaps even embraced over the course of time. Perhaps the only way by which humanity can overcome the turbulence and tumult in the social world is by considering and embracing alternative and eccentric ideas, even if they are deemed alien or are marred by the misinterpretation, lies, and spin of American mainstream discourse and thinking. Moreover, being “normal” can be boring, and no one is entitled to playing God by defining and determining what is normal and proper and what is not, especially in an age where virtually everything is up in the air and is hanging in the balance per se.

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