It’s been 6 months since I last wrote an article for this journal; that is quite a while, and my inactivity is no mere product of haphazard. I have been explicitly reluctant to author anything, which I now no longer am – clearly – but, before I commit myself to once more put thoughts on paper, I desire to (a) explain my hitherto reluctance and (b) describe what I have learnt in those five months: that my thoughts ought not be taken seriously.
Writers and thinkers are, in their endeavours, usually limited to specific genres and fields of thought – some express themselves through poetry and novels, others through essays and treatises; some concern themselves with metaphysics and ethics, others with social theory – not because of any grand motive but simply because their minds are naturally inclined towards particular fields and genres. In my case, all the writing and thinking I perform share one essential characteristic: they are observations and critiques about social phenomena, which usually regard illogicalities and suboptimalities I discern in society, such as the aliberalness of contemporary liberalism, the tension between self-interest and kindness in capitalist society, and the legitimacy of philosophic civil-disobedience
Yet in the past five months I have learnt a lesson – one of great significance – which has successfully discredited every notion I have held and ever will hold, namely that social phenomena and philosophic matters are untellingly complex. The social world, the realm of interaction between individuals, is one marked by staggering complexity, viewable from countless-many angles, which cannot be captured by the mere minds of mortals. Instead, we are doomed to mere glimpses of the whole.
I began to espouse this form of skepticism upon reading, for my philosophy class, about Karl Marx’s conception of history. Put at its most succinct, Marx believed society to progress from one distinct era to another according to developments in productive technology (i.e. capital), for different technology requires a different arrangement of social relationships; “the windmill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist”. I found this theory utterly astounding, because it attempts at explaining the whole of civilizational development – our entire human history – in terms of material progress. This is something I would personally never have considered, it is an angle my mind did not even know was there, a level of complexity of which I could not even hope to grasp the surface.
As such, I learnt that there is much that my eyes fail to see, more than what my eyes do in fact see. I am doomed to grotesque oversimplifications of the truth; what I – or anyone else for that matter – think I believe, I do not truly believe, for my view would be easily swayed if only I gained more knowledge and understanding thereabout. And there is always more knowledge and understanding to be gained – one often falls victim to the fallacy that, because he possess not that further understanding, the ‘further understanding’ exists not (or is of no importance).
The initial result of my newly-acquired skepticism was to take it to an extreme, following Pyrrho of Elis – the earliest known Western skeptic – by wholly suspending the act of judging, of forming thoughts; for, if they are bound to be oversimplifications (i.e. wrong), why even try? That is why I did not wish to write; I would necessarily be wrong in my observations. Yet, after all, it is (a) too difficult not to try – we are inquisitive animals, despite our intellectual shortcomings –, and (b) although I will never be right, I may hopefully be a tiny-bit less wrong each try. And that will have to do.