What Is Wrong With Reflexive Philosophy

Igor_Stravinsky_as_drawn_by_Pablo_Picasso_31_Dec_1920_-_GallicaWhen my mom was a girl, her brother, a smoker, died of lung cancer. This event affected her deeply, and I believe that it eventually caused her to develop a particular prejudice against smoking. As a child, I remember always hearing about the evils of smoking. If asked, I would most likely have listed smoking as one of the most deadly sins, and I probably would have said that you weren’t a Christian if you smoked.

For some reason, however, all of us kids loved to pretend smoke. We would take crayons, sticks, and just about anything else which could be used for the task, and we would sneak out of the house and pretend to smoke them. Mom was always furious when she discovered us, but even so, we would risk it.

As I look back, I think I now know why we did it. For us, pretending to smoke was essentially our way of saying, “I am my own person. You’re not the boss of me. I can do what I want.” It was how we practiced our autonomy.

In hindsight, I realize that we could have practiced our autonomy without rebelling. We could have said, “I am my own person, but I choose to obey you, mom, because I know that you love me and want what is best for me. I can do what I want, and I want to do what is good, and this is good.” Indeed, by automatically doing the opposite of what we were supposed to do, we did not practice autonomy. Instead, we allowed our decisions to be made for us. You say no, so I say yes. You say do this, so I do the opposite. It is reflexive action. It is thoughtless.

When I look at history, the last few hundred years look a lot like this. The rise of modernism, especially, looks a lot like this. Much of Christianity had become nothing more than a cultural, traditional thing, as had much of  art and philosophy.

People began to do things, not because they were right or just, but because everyone else was doing them and had been doing them. In America, Christianity became an “American” thing. You followed Christ because you were American. Individualism, too, had become a patriotic practice, rather than a recognition of man’s inherent rights.

As these things became part of the culture, people began to question why they ought to be done at all. Instead of looking for truth, however, many simply said, “That is tradition, tradition is not inherently right, so reject it.” When asked why things ought to be done a certain way, many had reached the point where they would simply say that they ought to be done that way because they’d always been done that way.

These answers were not good enough, and so, not seeing the reason behind the traditions, many decided to do things their own way. This led to cultural revolution. But sadly, this revolution was not based on truth, justice, or reason. Instead, it was based on the reflexive mindset that tradition was unfounded and so men should chart their own paths.

The modernists made the same mistake that I made when I was younger. They based their actions on a reflexive mindset. They did what they did, not because it was good or right, but because they saw no reason behind the established order. Consequently, we have not progressed, as many of them intended. Instead, we have continued to act for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way.

What is wrong with having a reflexive philosophy is this: you do not do what is best. Instead, you take the opposite or alternative path. When someone doesn’t like you, you don’t like them. When someone hurts you, you hurt them. When someone tells you to do something, you do the opposite. When the weather is gross, you are unhappy. Acting reflexively is not exercising your ability to govern yourself. It is merely allowing the world to govern you.

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