Trust and Fear

It’s hard to write an autistic history of philosophy. History is such a conventional concept. I don’t know whether I really get it. Maybe history is the product of philosophy instead of it being the other way around. If so, good riddance to the Kantian idea philosophy has to make progress just like science does. Science only makes progress in the room created by philosophy in the first place. There you have it: an autistic thought that makes a problem of its own starting point. Like a dog chasing its tail I have already condemned myself to a project that can have neither start nor end. A project that as well could have been called an autistic philosophy of history.

It’s hard to write an autistic philosophy of history. Philosophy, according to Descartes, is about clear and distinct ideas, but whether there can be such a thing is a matter of fierce debate. Maybe ideas are just a product of history instead of universal and timeless things to be discovered. I don’t know whether I really get that either. It would seem there are as many ideas as there are histories and that surely makes ideas too shady to be of any use at all. For instance, why not say that the tail is chasing the dog? Or indeed that the kidney of the dog likes to swirl. This project could then as well be relabeled as ‘history of autistic philosophy’ being apparently about brains, like mine, that are prone to swirl.

You might fear this may go on endlessly. This presumably is why some philosophers, like Hacking, deny any reality to autism. And one can also obviously deny that, if there’s such a thing, I am it; because whatever the status of the concept autism, it was not meant for a person attempting to articulate why he fails to be able to articulate his idea in a clear and distinct way. So at this point I can only ask for your trust in charitably trying to interpret, with a mind open to the possibility of fusing our horizons, what I’m trying to convey. This betrays Davidson and Gadamer, respectively, as my historical philosophical inspirations – and my conviction that any true philosophy should be a philosophy of trust.

The question for me then becomes why so much philosophy is preoccupied with fear. As an autistic I know a thing or two about fear. And so I have stumbled on my method after all: meticulously collect the dichotomies produced by philosophy and inspect how they’re the truly productive element of history. Making problems to enable new solutions, if you will. As an exercise I start with trust and fear (or certainty and uncertainty for those who prefer analytical parlance) as they are items of a specific phenomenological relevance in my lived experience as an – if you allow me – autistic person.

Philosophies of fear carry the day. Hobbes enlightened us to this dark truth: our world is a wolf-eat-wolf world. In this he agreed with most religious people. Trust is to be gained, much in the way paradise is. It is eating the apple of reason either way, except that in the secular version we need to – proudly – eat more and in the religious tradition we need to – humbly – ask to be pardoned for having eaten some of it at all. Nietzsche provokes us into being fearless but that simply means we should not act like trusting naïve sheep. It’s fear first for these philosophers and in this they may have killed God but left his watching eye hanging over us in judgment of an individual ability to live up to collective expectations. We might rename it the invisible eye of free market competition. Anyway, it is something to be feared and only the strong are independent enough to deal with it.

But does this make sense? How can anything be first (is Derrida’s question)? And if it can, can fear be first (sure, Derrida would answer, what else could make things matter)? Does a prey fear its predator? Or does it trust its herd instincts to increase its chances of some escape? Maybe the real question is whether we humans are prey or predator first? Some philosophies are philosophies of the human predator herded into a collective obedience. Some are philosophies of human prey banding together to build traditions defending us from the threat of individualistic predators (most of whom are, arguably, alpha humans). Probably this is why Nietzsche called us sick animals forever stuck between hunting and gathering; causing fear that burns us on to build a trust that’s always precarious because it tries to defeat nature by scientifically carving it up in order to better control it.

It seems like a chicken and egg situation so about the right time to enter Hegel and try to see the whole of it. Surely fear and trust are two sides of the coin of freedom. We simply – but preferably in murky German – should see the bigger picture. There is just a smal snag in seeing the bigger picture: human beings become mere vehicles for a totalitarian view. Whether right wing authoritarians or left wing collectivists (or indeed those believing in the undeniable cultural superiority of the Western enlightenment tradition), the vehicles are invariably to be held in fear (even if only the fear that the trust they enjoy in their in-group is threatened from positions outside of their ethnocentric perspective).

Dichotomies are misleading. Follow one, define another and before you now it you have a fractal of opinions. Dichotomies are made of fear. Transcending the dichotomy is just a path to transferring that fear to the everyday life of each individual – hoarding them into a behavior that is deemed healthy and trustworthy (for instance: acting like a member of a wolfpack). The only way to avoid that conundrum is to acknowledge there can’t be fear without trust, no misunderstanding without understanding etc. and so forth.

Or at least such is the ambition I have in working this out.

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