I have been trapped in the USA on business with only a Mac, my mum’s 2002 iBook, no less, for the past week. The fucking thing wouldn’t let me post, that idiot browser program, Safari, kept crashing. Anyway, lots happened, great thoughts rippled across my frontal lobes, and I was unable to blog any of it. And seeing as how useless my dear colleague Bento is, you have been left alone, poor people, without your Spinozan guides.
First up, I note we are too negative in our categories here; Stupid Cartesians and Barbarians are everywhere, but what if we come across someone who Got It, who we would want to applaud and encourage? We clearly need a new blogging category. May I suggest “fellow Collegiant”? In C17th Holland, the Collegiants were a grouping of disaffected Remonstrants, Mennonites, and other non-Calvinistic believers who met at formal biweekly reunions called “Colleges”, to discuss and pray in a wholly non-authoritarian, unstructured context. It is important to note that Spinozists do not equal Collegiants. Spinoza had a core group of devoted friends, many of whom seem to have met in Collegiant circles, who started off as members of an informal Cartesian discussion group. Nadler writes:
. . . the scientia nova was a frequent topic of conversation among his circle of friends in Amsterdam. They seem to have met on a regular basis to discuss philosophical and religious ideas, with Spinoza — perhaps because of his recent experience at (the University of) Leiden, but also simply because he was their intellectual superior — acting as a kind of resident, if often critical, expert on Descartes’s thought
Among the increasingly close, protective and devoted circle of intelligent, freethinking, curious people — disciples, really — who coalesced around Spinoza and surrounded him for all of his productive life were Jarig Jelleszoon, Jan Hendrik Glazemaker, Jan Rieuwertz, who published the Ethics after Spinoza’s death, Lodewijk Meyer, Simon de Vries, Franciscus van den Emden, and many others. Not all of them were Collegiants, to be sure, but we can be pretty positive they would have circulated socially and intellectually with them. As Collegiants were more exactly members of a religious sect, Spinoza would almost certainly not have counted himself as one, and a true Spinozist could not in all conscience either. I think of Collegiants as the C17 equivalent of today’s beardy, tambourine playing birkenstock wearers, and so might the harder-edged Spinozist disciples. The Spinozist “College” would have, I imagine, discussed philosophy much more than the varieties of the Christian faiths, and there is as much use praying to the Spinozan deity as there is asking quantum physics to guarantee world peace. In the eyes of contemporaries, however, especially the more conservative ones, Spinozists and Collegiants might have been pretty much conflated. You could argue that many Collegiants, in terms of their ideas of freedom of conscience and thought, were Spinoza’s fellow-travellers. However, as became clear in the years following his death, Spinozan thought was much more virulent, and dangerous, than the Collegiants were to prove to be.
So a “Fellow Collegiant” would be someone who is on the right track, who reaches similar conclusions about Reason and or science, politics and or religion, who gets roughly to the same place for a time, but perhaps from a different path. Not quite one of us yet, but someone we could sit down with and find a lot in common.
For our first Fellow Collegiant, then, I nominate Al Gore, whose latest work The Assault on Reason, looks like it was cribbed from our “About” page, and then massively padded out with a lot of extra words. I haven’t bought it yet, but plan to. In the words of the NYT reviewer:
Mr. Gore’s central argument is that “reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions” and that the country’s public discourse has become “less focused and clear, less reasoned.” This “assault on reason,” he suggests, is personified by the way the Bush White House operates. Echoing many reporters and former administration insiders, Mr. Gore says that the administration tends to ignore expert advice (be it on troop levels, global warming or the deficit), to circumvent the usual policy-making machinery of analysis and debate, and frequently to suppress or disdain the best evidence available on a given subject so it can promote predetermined, ideologically driven policies.
Sounds about right to me.