Spinoza respected emotion in the way someone who spends a lot of time outdoors respects thunderstorms or black bears — a powerful, awe-inspiring force that can wreak great damage before you know what hit you. And like storms and bears, he believed they couldn’t be controlled. They could, however, be understood. In fact, to do so was the only way to obtain any sort of freedom in a world he viewed as devoid of free will.
It was beyond heretical in the mid-1600s. To even say such a thing was monstrous. But I’m fairly certain — in fact, I stake my reputation on it — there’s a reason Spinoza was so tight-lipped about his most personal side. That reason? He was gay.
Pish posh, my old friend says. If you’re uncertain about a thing, be uncertain. Sit with it. Don’t flatter yourself into thinking that feeling hopeful about it will make it any better. Or that by worrying yourself into a heart attack, you can stop it. Those are different flavors of ignorance.
Spinoza’s philosophy, with its insistence that everything has already been determined and none of us has free will, gives rise to a lot of Really Big Questions.
It’s really no testament to the man’s work skills or general camaraderie that no one cared that he had vanished from the office for six years. No one raised a stink until he failed to show up to get a longevity award for keeping the same job for so long. Which, you know, is makes this a masterwork of irony.
This philosophy isn’t a cure, or at least, it hasn’t been yet. But it is a help. Especially, I find, with things that are far beyond my influence, such as the upcoming election. It’s comforting to find a way to let go of some of that anxiety. And that, at least, is something.
What is Spinoza’s G-d up to, anyway? What’s G-d good for, if not meddling about in the affairs of mankind? If G-d’s not going to help me on my upcoming statistics test, what the heck do I need a G-d for, anyhow?
“Equal by Design” is a documentary dealing with the affordable housing crunch in the UK and people who are working to solve it. And a running theme throughout the film are the philosophical beliefs of Spinoza, including ideas such as equality, ratio, reason and wellbeing.
Cause and effect is a law of the universe. No one questions it. No one, it is, until our big brains get in the way and ego gets involved. All of a sudden, the idea of free will enters the picture and the primacy of cause and effect flies out the window. Or does it? Let’s take a look.
In this series of posts, I’ll take a look at Spinoza’s concept of determinism and attempt to explain how it’s possible to balance it against an innate sense of self insisting we have free will.