Three Conversations 1) With a Rebel, 2) With a Modern Skeptic, 3) With a Futurist

Three Conversations

The three conversations presented here are:

I. With a Rebel
II. With a Modern Skeptic
III. With a Futurist

I. Conversation with a Rebel

M.H. Copenhagen. 11 Dec 2011. 8:26:26 PM

1. What is your reference?

I am the reference. Thinking is my reference. The world is my reference, but not one person or one book. 

World cited references are references to themselves as I am to myself. I reference the world but according to my understanding. That is me. At the end I was given a chance to this world to be myself, not to be the world or anything else. I try to be.

2. You should be pragmatic and concrete?

Very true. I try to be so by being myself, and without vanishing in being concrete as the other wants me. If it is my Self that benefits from pragmatism then I am pragmatic to myself, and open as long as I can to the world.

3. Are you on the right track?

No one is sure of one. Everyone is here to try. I try from my side. I grew up in a context, which shaped me. Later, I tried to deconstruct it, with the learning I accumulated. Certainly more has to be accumulated. I am not sure I have taken the right track, because none seemed very right. What I know is that what I do is right for me. As to what is right according to the world, we have to ask the world itself. It does not seem to have an answer itself. So, why should I tie myself to one discipline and line of thought? I am a rebel. I am a skeptic. That is how I want to find my own way. I have traced broad lines, whose limits I cannot know myself, but at least I have a frame of reference, which is not concrete. That is why am still on the way, to find the borders I think exist.

4. When will you stop this?

What do you mean by “this”?

I mean thinking!

Well, when I want to! I want to exhaust myself at this age, then I choose a way. None will be satisfactory for an open mind, but since we humans have just one life each, I will decide, hope, soon! Later in my age I will have reasons to defend my choices. I want to make wise choices. Later, my awareness may seem weak, ignorant, or whatever, yet, I will not have much left to think about, for I am doing the thinking now. Acting, pragmatism comes when I decide. Till then, let the world not miss out on my thoughts!

5. Are you a rebel?

Maybe yes, maybe not. It depends. Saying I am a rebel means I am revolting against certain established norms. Yes, I am rebelling against norms, for those outside these norms are not satisfied with them. Norms, categories and narrow thinking dumb the senses. That is dangerous for human well-being. I do not mean human material welfare. I mean human well thinking. No, I am not rebelling. I am nonviolently measuring myself in the world. Why should I abide by norms that are (arbitrarily) established, and which I did not contribute to. I want my norms to be heard to. I do not want to freeze them by establishing them. I just want them heard. I want them to be open, to enlighten myself first, and to discuss them with those who share the same line of thought. I am not a rebel here. I do not want to change the world. I want to understand it. I feel it is not understood yet. Human intellect is not mature enough to understand it. I am not saying I am mature. We die prematurely, that is certain. But we can die with minimum ignorance if we make efforts.

6. Do you plan to write your thoughts?

Maybe. But how can I write them if they are just thoughts. I record them. That is writing. No scholarly discipline may accept that, so my thoughts will remain in the margin for the rest, but for me they are central because through them I at least understand myself and my worldview. As to scholarship, if you live for it, you feed it, but it does not feed you that much. You lose yourself if you live for scholarship and publication. I want to live. Life is in the world, not just in books. Certainly I treasure archives and libraries. They are a big world. But at a certain age, I want to live what I think of. I want to challenge my thoughts in concrete life. So, if I write now, and publish now, my later me, self, may betray my thoughts. I may seem inconsistent. People forget that the past, the present, the future change. People forget that circumstances change. So, they will compare my current me with my future me. That is nonsense. There is no comparison possible. The criteria should be as updated as the thought and the realization of that thought. Only the self can do that. That is, the only critic to the self is the self itself. Any external critique can be good, but sure besides the line. Yet, that is good, healthy. Others can learn from that critique, even the self itself.

Brief, I can write my thoughts, but every thought is the result of the moment. Thoughts may have future repercussions, but they evolve, as time elapses.

7. Are not you inconsistent and contradictory?

Certainly I am. I warned you of that. No one is one thing. Everyone is inconsistent, according to time and place. The problem is not in that. The problem is in being aware of that. If you are aware of inconsistency, then it is a choice, a thought done willingly, and then the self can itself compare it to something else, and so it can defend that inconsistency. The danger is in ignorant inconsistency done out of confusion of thoughts or ignorance of the dimensions of time and place. I think the world´s troubles have to do with ignorant inconsistency.

8. Isn´t that a radical thought?

Of course all inconsistencies are radical because they just contradict the same thought they first speak of. Being radical is not bad. It is the most important thing one has to do when thinking. Of course one may be lost, and be radical in illogical ways. Yet, all in all, being radical means being a thinking object, which is good, and required.

9. You said illogical— is there logic in thoughts?

Good point. Sure there is, but when one questions established norms, and becomes a rebel, as you call it, then logic seems to disappear, if defined from the already existing norms. A new logic is born. There is logic, but it evolves and changes. Reasoning is illogical by nature. If logic is stagnant, then it is the very end of thought. That is the end of man.

10. Do you mean there are ends, limits, of thoughts?

Certainly not. Those who claim that simply do not think, or they think with limits, pragmatic limits. Thinking is not pragmatic. It is human. It becomes pragmatic when fixed. It is human because it helps man understand himself first, instinctively first. People now hardly question things. When they start to think, academically unfortunately, they become prisoners of their thoughts, for they become pragmatic, and they measure their thoughts with the benefits they get from that, mostly material. The crisis in thought is the institutionalized thinking, that which tells you how to think and on what topic. That is frustrating. People become thinkers of an already established agenda. That is limited thinking, material thinking. I care more about existential thinking. Existential thinking is not institutionalized. It is self-oriented, society-oriented, world-oriented. Existential thinking understands man better than institutionalized thinking which categorizes man and society and understands them within that narrow scope. That is good to establish political peace, etc. but not enough to establish human internal peace, which has to be always alert, in the process of becoming, before doing, and not vice versa.

11. Could you be more concrete if you become a teacher for instance?

I am concrete. Do I say something not human? Being concrete means to say things related to this life which humans can understand. I may not give examples but still I believe I am concrete. As to ideas and thoughts, they are intrinsically concrete, though just abstractions in the first instance. Most, if not all, that is thought of, can be materialized, so thought is concrete.

As to explanations to students or an audience, for instance, they are of this world— they can understand, and if they do not yet, they still can understand. They just need to think, too. If they manage to think, they will understand whatever I say, however confusing or simple that may be. I am not saying something out of this world. I am articulating thoughts, though unsystematic.

12. Do you live with these thoughts in daily life the way you think of them?

That is another level of thinking. It is the conceptualization of concepts and thoughts that enters here. It is the most challenging aspect in the process of post-thinking. It is part of what we referred to earlier as concretion and concrete manifestation of thoughts. Again, most thoughts are concrete from the moment they are thought of, for the mind invokes them in reality as in thought whenever the occasion allows that. That means that even before they are realized in practice, they are already in the back of our minds, and we invoke them constantly whenever we feel not happy about a certain aspect in life that we see or experience. We dream of them because we see them as better options for what is there. But let us push this a bit further. In daily life, you interpret your thoughts again and again, as if they were not yours, for the moment is different, and so may be space. You have to be clever enough, I should say open enough, to live the thought in its minimum aspects of realization, as far as the context helps you. If you believe in your thoughts, which become part of yourself, if not all of it, then you have to find ways to live them, directly or indirectly. If you do not live them, then those thoughts are either amateurish thoughts that you played with at a certain moment, or are thoughts that are not of this world, and thus not suitable for human societies. These are then fantasies, not human thoughts. I should not stop here to explain the difference, but briefly, fantasies are thoughts, but they can be whimsical, and mostly temporary, and materialist in a sense. Thoughts try to understand man and the world; fantasies try to satisfy just some of these thoughts that can be either realistic or not. Back to interpretations of thoughts in daily life. Failure to live up to one´s thought is a failure in forming good thoughts for reasons that can be as various as one may think of. If one tries and fails, then that is not failure, but a work to applaud effort. If one does not try to live up to one´s ideal thoughts, without the least effort, then that is a betrayal of one´s thoughts and the past.

13. Are you saying that thoughts when lived make one live with certain values?

Yes, yes. That is where it should lead it, I would say. It depends on the thinker. There are those who think for the sake of thinking, and keep life and the interaction in daily life apart from these thoughts. I do not see myself in this type. I see a connection, a strong connection between the ideal and the lived. If thoughts do not end up in picturing a clear worldview, a clear way of life, then something might be wrong in the process. I may again seem contradictory. What clear worldview if one is always asking , thinking, and questioning! I know, it is not easy to settle down, but there is a moment, I would assume, where one has to feel either to have exhausted one´s mind, or at least to limit oneself in asking less dangerous questions and narrow them down to more real life questions, for one needs to be in touch with life, with family, with humans, and so questions as broad as they may first be have to be linked to this world. It is at the end this world that enchants and disenchants us, so we have to be close to it and live in it. One may end up being lost and still keep feeling and living so. One may end up being lost and give up such thoughts, for they are torturous. One may end up living the opposite of the thoughts one built up and considered high and great. And one may end up living most, if not all, of the ideal thoughts one might have thought of earlier in life when building a framework for the self. It depends on what one wants to get from thoughts and life. To answer your question then: yes, I believe that thoughts shape a worldview, and a worldview cannot be described as one if it does not root itself in certain broad guiding lines, which we call values, human values that give sense to life and meaning to the world, and to the self. When one on purpose turns against one’s thoughts to live a life devoid of the meaning these thoughts could give to the self and life, then the value system within which this self operates can be shaky, unstable, easy-going, and diffident.  This world does not accept diffident selves. Thoughts are for the confident selves that can accommodate them. Thoughts and values are useless if they do not see their way into real realization, minimum realization in the least.

14. Few more questions before closure. How can you define life and death?

The difference between the two is thought. Life thinks. Death rethinks. Rethinking in death does not mean that one can summon life thoughts and change them. It is mere convention for revision without redoing. Life thinks and has space for doing and redoing the thoughts. Death rethinks without redoing. Death reminds the self of its thoughts and deeds, i.e. it rethinks, but it does not allow the self to activate its thoughts or rethought. That is, death is the finality of the thoughts thought of in life. In other words, life is the space of thinking and acting, and man lives this process as a way towards becoming a full man, a man with minimum capabilities of choices that come through thinking.

15. So, how can you define man, how can you define yourself in brief terms?

Man is a free and responsible agent. I am a process. My self-processing is fed with free and responsible thoughts.  In this sense, no one is. Everyone tries to be. I try to be. I exist but I try to be. I try to be a free and responsible being.Top

II. Conversation with a Modern Skeptic


III. Conversation with a Futurist

MH, Copenhagen 22/dec/2011 3:27 AM

A: After two days’ break, we resume our conversation on the modern. This time I am not insomniac in the sense that I could not sleep. I have not gone to sleep yet, so am rather nocturnal, my preferred time, rather than insomniac; it is more or less the same time, 3.30 AM. I received some feedback, from the Orient, Egypt, which allow me now to continue and clarify some points. I will be brief today, and we go on with this later, again.

B: Good, so, do you have any note to add which you think you wanted to say last time but you didn’t?

A: Conversations don’t have reasonable beginnings and ends. So, I can start afresh from whatever angel you want us to start. Even the modern (as a closed system of thought, and not as a dynamic process which I endorse) we are critical of starts somewhere before the modern, but still we stick to certain periods and make them our only reference. It is always good to have spots of reference to go to when lost or in dilemma. The modern has tried to do that, by defining a beginning, and an later on an end, and it is in being clear about the end that made the modern no longer modern, but archaic, limited, and traditional. So, the traditional in the sense of the non-modern can now work with the traditional modernity, i.e., with the early modern which was very sure of itself and which is now being revisited. That makes the boundaries blurred.

B: Shall I understand from your talk that the modern and the traditional are now in the same historical stage of tracing new beginnings, though intellectually they have decades or centuries as a gap between them?

A: Yes and no. good you got my point! I start with explaining the no. The idea of gap between the modern and the traditional is true; the idea of saying that the modern is centuries ahead of the modern is problematic, because it is the very same idea that kept the traditional traditional, simply because the modern was looking down the unequals as unequals, and not as potential equals, contrary to the ideals of the modern itself. That made the distinction difficult. At the same time the traditional could not think of itself outside the box the modern has made for it, so the mindset of both the modern and the traditional got stuck in the muck for some time, and only now, I mean recently, there has been a real debate on the finalities of this duality.

B: Allow me to interrupt. But you have started to talk about the traditional without even a short definition?

A: It is already defined by the modern once the modern starts talking. Anyway, the traditional is that mindset or thought that remained for centuries unable to move beyond its ordinary and mundane way of life based mostly on certain religious beliefs, be they divine or not, shamanic, pagan, etc. Certainly any traditional society must have gone in the past through some fundamental changes mainly when they first emerged, but as time goes by the spirit that brought a particular way of life to a particular society dies because of internal and external factors: society gets tired of constant thinking, because that makes, and especially in the past made, political, social, and economic life unstable. Not all societies have the ability to be dynamic forever or for longer centuries. Exhaustion happens, that is why religions and empires, for example, get tired at some point, and they stop being seen as revolutionary and new, and their adherents get down to lazy life, and with time they become the same for other centuries. At this idle times of some societies, other societies in other places start to stir up, again for internal or external reasons, be they intellectual, political, or economic, and they start to shape a different worldview that becomes to its people and the rest as new, and thus modern. So, the modern and the traditional in history are repetitive in the sense that the terms are always there, but their components differ, and this gives them different names anyway; not all human history can be called just modern and traditional, so other concepts are used.

B: So, when traditional societies try to move on again and either compete with or just be modern, do you think they do that the same way as the existing modern system or they do that differently?

A: That is the question! The question is not whether to be or not to be, but how to be! Generally, every society shapes its own modern movement ahead in history, but still no society does that without learning and using the intellectual and mechanical means of the already existing modern system that is in place. There is definitely a kind of acculturation, influence there. Its manifestation depends on the way the traditional society wants to evolve: it can do that either through learning from the modern or mimicking the modern. Traditional societies that have a glorious past would generally tempt to learn, and rebuild themselves, for that gives them value among themselves, and restores part of their heritage. That requires that they have a strong intellectual past, which makes their potential for change possible. There are, on the other hand, traditional societies that do not have a past that was once intellectually influential.  These societies are weak and generally would not have the energy to resist the modern, so they resort to mimicking it, and they keep from their traditional society just the folkloric sense that tells them they are still the same though they have changed.

B: Does this apply to our world now?

A: Certainly yes.  Our world was once hegemonic, and still is, because the modern was the leading power intellectually, economically, and politically. The modern in this sense influenced the rest immensely. So, every traditional society must have learnt something from it, and that is the credit the modern world has. At the same time, because the modern was not always an angel, some societies that have a strong past and tradition stood to confront it, not necessarily to overcome it, but simply to assert themselves in the modern world and have a respected voice. This needs decades to be shaped and built.

B: We are now witnessing a more pluralist world. At least there are signs, though it is full of contradictions. That is why we have to keep shouting to fix what we can fix!

A: Means of communication, transport, tourism, immigration and economic interests have turned the world into a small village, and though small its variety is immensely rich and beyond measure. This makes the modern as a dogmatic concept or way of life vague and challenged. Its era is over. The traditional also is over. There is a different world taking place. Let me just say that no all people are aware of this movement of the world, because some see it just one way: either the same all over, or not the same whatsoever happens. Both views are challenged. There is no doubt that at this age of more interaction, more challenges are there, and people though interested in knowing the world can feel scared and alienated because they come to know that they cannot limit this quest for knowing more, simply because the world is so rich. Even if you try to communicate with all the world all the time, either through books, through the media, or through travelling you can still never limit the world to just few things. The infinitude of the world is still vast, and this can cause fear and alienation for some since they want to preserve their identity and values, while the world is moving as if arbitrarily for them and that endangers their values, culture—their worldview, simply. This is one reason behind fear.  As to those who feel alienated, they too fall into the trap of this vastness of space and limitless space and freedom, and with time. If they do not build a frame for their action and thought, they would feel lost and confidence is something they at some point enjoyed and cherished. These two scenarios have their justifications, and without doubt the economic side can make it worse for both!

B: So, how do you envision the transformations the modern and traditional societies are going through?

A: I think the world will be from now on built on this mixture of political, social, economic, and intellectual worldviews, and the challenge is that each society has to be always dynamic in its view of the world, otherwise it would miss the chance of taking part in the world and history the way it is. When I say societies I certainly have my eyes on individuals.

B: What do you mean?

A: I have a point to make here, worth considering by everyone. Agency is moving to the individual. Empires, religions, philosophies, and ideologies reigned in history for a long time. With the modern which gave more autonomy to the individual, agency has shifted to persons and not to states, empires, religions, etc. You will tell me that the individual is still shaped by the state apparatus and ends doing what he has been taught to do, in a way or another. That is true, that is the challenge now all for the individual, the family, society, the state, and the world that is very well connected now. Though the individual is shaped in the beginning by some worldview, s/he can still be drifted in this transforming world either because of fear or alienation, market, etc.

B: The coming world depends on the values individuals have more than ever before.  Future conflicts will be on the perception of the individual and the world.  That is why we have to think seriously about what values we have to teach to the coming generations. The modern and the traditional here help a lot. There should be a way of communion by which the individual can be cosmopolitan, pluralist, and universalist, and at the same time rooted somewhere so that he can feel he has a meaning, identity, and values to go to whenever the challenges of the market, fear, and alienation visit him. It is not an easy task though it may seem easy, for people would judge from current or past experiences. The future world is different. It will remain human, but how much human will remain of it then is the question. These are primordial, existential questions put into prospect, and everyone has to take them seriously.

A: You raised many points, and your last visionary and farsighted view of the world seems interesting to think about collectively though it centers the individual.

B: Yes, it centers the individual, because decisions at the end are in the hands of individuals, but this challenge cannot be solved individually, some serious collective work is also needed.

A: I think I got the point, but still more has to be said about it. Shall we talk more of that in the nearest occasion possible?

B: Sure! Top

Cottage Reader 11/12/2011

Scholar of Islam, contemporary Arab and Islamic philosophy and theology, Islam in Europe, European Islamic thought, Moroccan thought, and religion and politics in the Arab World.

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