Sunday, March 31, 2013


Reality is a question
of realizing how real
the world is already.
-Allen Ginsberg.

When you look at all of the different philosophies, they essentially come down to two---idealism and realism. The first---grounded in the teachings and ideas of Plato---asserts that what you see is not all that there is, and that reality is essentially unknowable (except perhaps to the few). The second---grounded in the teachings and ideas of Aristotle---asserts that what you see is essentially all that there is, and that reality is knowable---and very real.

Some (including my good friend John Z), say that the idealism/realism debate, and its close cousin the rationalism/empiricism debate, are more and more yesterday's concern, but I respectfully disagree. As I see it, the two schools of thought are saying very different things about the world and our place in it. They are saying very different things about knowledge, and how we come to know things. Idealism is the cornerstone of faith, belief, revelation, traditional religion—and even rationalism (which is just another form of idealism). Realism is the cornerstone of free and independent inquiry, true reason, doubt, skepticism, and empiricism. Both schools of thought claim to see and describe things-as-they-really-are, but only realism has both feet firmly on the ground. Realism uses logic, the latter being about things, not thought, and how things are related. Idealism relies upon faith in ideals and ‘things unseen’---some supposed higher order or level of reality. Having said that, I think we all would be the poorer if we hadn’t had the inestimable benefit of having both schools of thought.

My own journey from idealism to realism coincided with, or perhaps was the result of, my recovery from alcoholism. Actually, the more I think about it, embracing realism was perhaps the catalyst for my recovery. You see, alcoholism---indeed, any addiction---is a disease of ‘self-ism’, which, I assert, is an idealism of sorts. The alcoholic or other addict needs to undergo a ‘Copernican revolution’ of the self---that is, come to realize that the world does not revolve around … me. Self-obsession, self-absorption, self-centredness---that is the essential problem of the alcoholic or other addict. Selfishness---and self-ism. To again quote Allen Ginsberg [pictured above], I have known …

the feeling of being closed in
and the sordidness of self,
the futility of all that I
have seen and done and said.

Eventually, when the pain got too great, I got real. Like the Prodigal Son, I woke up, came to myself, and saw myself---that is, the person that I am---as I really was. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Recovery has been ‘a question/ of realizing how real/ the world is already’---and it has been wonderful.

True, recovery requires a ‘power-not-oneself,’ for, as I have often written the problem of addiction is one of ‘self,’ and self can’t change self, hence the need to rely upon a power ‘not-oneself.’ That may sound like just another form of idealism, and perhaps it is---for some (for example, those whose ‘power-not-oneself’ is of a supernatural, theistic kind). However, my ‘power-not-oneself’ is the person that I am, as well as the energy of association with, and the power of example of, like-minded people (other recovering/recovered addicts). In that regard, I am greatly indebted to the writings and ideas of the British philosopher P F Strawson [pictured right] who, in his famous 1958 article ‘Persons,’ articulated a concept of ‘person’ in respect of which both physical characteristics and states of consciousness can be ascribed to it.

Yes, each one of us is a ‘person among persons.’ We are much more than those little, false selves---all those waxing and waning ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’---with which we tend to identify, in the mistaken belief that they constitute the ‘real me.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Freedom comes when we get real, that is, when we start to live as---a person among persons.

Life is not easy, indeed it is damn hard. Pain is real, so is death, growing old, addiction, and sickness of all kinds. Here's Ginsberg one more time ...

For the world is a mountain

of shit: if it’s going to
be moved at all, it’s got
to be taken by handfuls.
There are only facts, they are very real---but they are more than enough. Know this fact---you are a person among persons, you are in direct and immediate contact with what is real, so don’t let anyone---including yourself, that is, the person that you are---put any goddamn barriers between you and all else that is real.

So, get real---now!

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