How People Learn

2003-03-02

Nietzsche said (Will to Power ยง144):

Moralities and religions are the principal means by which one can make whatever one wishes out of man, provided one possesses a superfluity of creative forces and can assert one's will over long periods of time -- in the form of legislation, religions, and customs.

This feels like a precursor to two quotes that I first connected in my essay Artist Shrugged:

The writer is the engineer of the human soul.--Josef Stalin

Art is the technology of the soul.--Ayn Rand

Both Rand and Stalin expressed this thought without compunctions, but Nietzsche did so out of criticism (he was, after all, an avowed immoralist and irreligionist). There is a connection here, I think, to Stewart Brand's distinction between high-style architecture and vernacular building. Rand and Stalin were high-style ideologists, who refused to admit that what one learns from the experience of life could lead one to add any rooms to the intellectual houses they built. I don't have first-hand experience of Marxism, but I do know that Rand and her orthodox followers are all too often the philosophical equivalent of her hero Frank Lloyd Wright, who when visiting the homes of his clients would rearrange the furniture if the residents had moved things around -- after all, only the architect himself knows best where things belong. Never mind that the roof leaks: nothing must change in a Frank Lloyd Wright building. And nothing must change in the mind of a true-believing Randian, either. God forbid that based on personal experience you should find a need to rearrange your mental furniture! Heresy! Apostasy! Abject irrationalism!

Unfortunately, ideologists consider intellectual consistency and moral purity to be more important than love of wisdom and passion for truth. Thus they miss the essential insights voiced by Yevgeny Zamyatin:

The world is kept alive only by heretics. (Tomorrow, 1919)

Heretics are the only (bitter) remedy against the entropy of human thought. (On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters, 1923)


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