We live in an age where there is almost no philosophy; yes, academics joust over whether the verb "to be" has made us feel uncharitable toward the dispossessed, but there is no assertive discussion of philosophy as a means of assessing values systems, because to discuss such things would mean that someone in the audience finds his or her values are seen as illogical; then not only is tenure threatened, but future book sales are hovering near dubious. As a result of this aphilosophical thought structure, most of the terms we could use to describe certain aspects of a worldview are not only without definition, but have been loosely associated with such absolute, kneejerk behavior as to make no sense.
One good example is "nihilism." This originally described a frame of thought where nothing was seen to, pre-existingly, have any value; it had both active and passive examples, with the latter ranging from stoicism to fatalism. In our current time, even the educated have trouble comprehending nihilism as something less ominous than "evil," as their minds work through absolutes, in which case even the verb "to be" is threatening: nihilism = no value, no value = ("therefore") no values; in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, nihilism = really bad, like "evil" but more scientific.
This runs in contrast to the healthier values of the ancients, who believed that if you looked deeply enough into any system of thought, you could find where it approximated the same set of eternal truths and values, things which did not "exist" but were perceivable and thus, although "subjective," were consistent. The modern disease is to like a machine see categories as impassable divisions, and thus to miss this, in part because our society grew up believing in gods in other worlds who sorted every object, person and idea into exact, immutable categories like "good" and "evil." This is the false absolute that persists today; when we have enough data to associate an idea with an existing extreme, we assume that it must "equal" that extreme and thus discard all of its contextual thought.
Obviously, this is defective, as it has us imposing barriers where none exist, such as between "subjective" and "objective." We assume that subjective is one polar extreme of thought such that all subjective things are arbitrary, and not only do not need to correspond to reality, but are "choices" and not analysis, interpretation, or logic. This shield of the subjective helps us tolerate the neurotic and schizoid ideas of others, as we gaily say, "Well, that's subjective," and thus approve of no analysis being applied to belief which is seen as entirely separate from thought. Similarly, we take it for granted that anything "objective" - usually statistics, scientific categories or digital output - is not at all influenced by the arbitrary beliefs of its human handlers, and is thus an absolute truth which rules our world. It hasn't occurred to these people that all perceptions are subjective, even those filtered through scientific instruments, but that as all subjective knowledge is interpreted from a consistent world, if the subject is not insane or in the grips of some insanity like absolutism, the subjective data can very accurately describe the world.
In a time like this, it's thus nearly impossible to categorize one's own belief. If you say you believe in what is ancient, the braindead mob begins chanting that it wants something new, as what is past has failed. If you say you believe in something from the future, the braindead mob starts agitating for "proof" of an "objective" nature that what you say will work, which if you look past the smokescreen of their bad psychology is more likely a demand for inaction, because inaction offends no one. Inaction affirms that what exists now is just fine and that everyone in it is fine and no one will be seen to be in logical error, because after all, their arbitrary life choices - taking heroin, spending all their free time playing video games, having lifestyles based around recreational shopping - should be "subjective" and beyond criticism. In the light of this chaotic and broken mental state, it is important we analyze misanthropy.
Many great thinkers are said to be misanthropes, usually because they did not embrace all people around them as the greatest thing since sliced bread (which is actually a terrible thing: it massively reduces flavor if you keep it more than a day, which the shipping process by very nature imposes). This enables us to write off their opinions as "subjective," with an airy wave of our hand and the all-knowing proclamation, "You know he was a misanthrope" or "Her misanthropy kept her from knowing the good in humanity." This dismissive outlook is designed to protect the meek among us, who might be offended by the knowledge that recreational heroin use is actually a somewhat illogical outlook (to avoid absolute categories, we say "for most," since for some people, dying of heroin addiction is the best solution). Misanthropy goes into the file with evil, terrorists, hackers, Nazis, pot smokers and Montana cabin-dwellers - people who have rejected society, and thus cannot be trusted.
Whenever one looks deeply into the definition of the word, there is always some loudmouthed segment of the crowd that can be found pointing a stubby finger at a book and saying, "No. You're wrong. It says right here that misanthropy is 'hating humanity," as if that settles the issue. They view the dictionary as an absolute, just as they'll view the words of a scientific proclamation as an absolute, without looking into the categorical structure of that scientific thought; declare that birds are closer to reptiles than mammals, and these types will call birds reptiles and scream at anyone who does not obey the same simplistic thought. It is profitable however to break "misanthropy" from this mold, and realize that instead of meaning "hating humanity" it implies a generalized hatred of how humanity as a mass behave. Misanthropes rarely dealt with no people, meaning absolute zero, but they were selective, and this is a sin to the voting public.
It is offensive behavior because it bridges the subjective/objective line that has been established by popular consent for the purpose of protecting each individual from criticism. This is how you form a crowd - tell them that they can be individuals because the crowd protects the absolute form of the individual, and then in order to secure that individual "right" and "freedom," the crowd will turn on any who do not obey such a division. In crowd-logic, all choices are "subjective" and all data is "objective," because this makes personal choices immune to criticism. Selectivity means that you refuse to socialize with some people, and in fact judge them as destructive, by their "lifestyle choices," and that you esteem others more highly for intangible things like character, intelligence, and emotional outlook. As with any belief that ranks some above others, this is offensive to the groupthink entity of "individuals," who would prefer that absolute barriers exist toward criticism of any individual choice.
Misanthropy is thus, like nihilism, something that initially seems like a blanket condemnation of a category - humankind or values, respectively - but turns out to be a highly selective system of finding only the meaningful in those groups by denying their objective absolute status as law. Some would call this "elitism," but what is elitism except a form of meritocracy - picking the best and holding them up as an example to the rest? The crowd is fine with that when you pick the best by wealth, or looks, but when you start picking them by character, they feel threatened. They should. For several thousand years now, our society has made the assumption that people of any character can be shaped by external rules and made to function as a social machine. Now that civilization is fully plunging into its self-created abyss, the few thinkers who haven't been killed by the crowd are looking more critically at that idea, and instead electing once again to esteem the internal values that, a long time ago, made our civilization reach for higher concepts. These higher concepts have been dragged into the mud by the fear of the crowd, and it is selective and cynical philosophies like misanthropy and nihilism that oppose this.
February 9, 2005