Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hegel and Helmets. Part One.

A long time ago a currently dead german took a look at history and came up with a story that strung everything together. He drafted a picture of the world across time where everything fit to perfection. He found a target toward which history was headed and demonstrated the deep necessity of this path. It was an enlightenment story, quite optimistic in many ways. And those who followed or rebelled against this style blazed a fire across the whole world. 

There aren’t many disciples of this great theory today, at least not like there used to be. But there are remainders. Bits and pieces of his perspective have been converted into lenses, through which we can refract a critical gaze. I own a set of those glasses. Let’s have a look at motorcycle safety. 

Human beings are unique, so the story goes, in that they can seek out the possibility of harm for no reason. We can risk our lives, not because we must in order to avert a greater danger, but because we think it would be a fun thing to do. I can jump out of an airplane, climb a rocky mountain side, or challenge Aaron Burr to a duel. I might do it for honor or simple exhilaration. Either way, the beasts of the field won’t empathize. 

Mostly, though, we make moves against bodily danger and toward security. Almost every feature of modern life is based on this principle. I mean, you can never have enough airbags in a minivan. 

But some of us still like to make a small concession from time to time. We will play an incredibly physical sport with a high probability of injury. Or, as in my case, we will choose a method of transport whose excitement is tempered by exposure to the elements of nature and the carelessness of those protected by front and side airbags. 

Now, very few choose danger in the hope of injury or death. The Samurai class was abolished long ago and there have not been eager replacements for that code. So most of use rock precautions. Like safety lines and gear. And helmets. 

Now, the dead german said that all of history is in fact one big story about human beings and their path to proper freedom. Every civilization, every conflict, every world historical event produces yet another piece in the puzzle that will yield humankind’s greatest reward. There are false starts and regressions, but the movement, the dialectic, completes itself and this completion is a new kind of awareness, a kind of self-consciousness on a world level. It’s Freedom baby. It’s the Absolute. 

The vehicle of this movement is the human quest for authority and the inevitability of contradiction. When a human being finds a possible answer, so the story goes, she will seek to affirm for herself that this is in fact the right answer. It may take a while, but the affirmation will eventually show its flaws and we will be thrust once again into a search for the right way to be, for the right expression and exercise of our freedom. 

But we will be wrong about our expression most of the time. We will think that we are completely free through hedonistic pursuits, only to learn that we have become enslaved by the whims of our base desires. Or we find freedom in following our hearts, the deep passions that make us who we are, only to learn that those passions themselves are the contingent deposits of a life history that we can neither understand nor justify through reason. Or, to pick up our theme, we can choose not to wear motorcycle helmets. Let us examine the failures of this moto dialectic. 


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