Philosophy, Photography, Politics: A rational case for universal humanism
While Concrete & Light aims to be an online publication for art and philosophy with contributions from a wide array of creatives, for a time entries will be solely from the editor as viewership and interaction grows. To learn how you can be a contributor, click here
An added note: as timing would have it, the launch closely coincides with the conclusion of a contentious U.S. election. While this piece is obviously political in nature, it is nonpartisan (as the title might suggest, it's anti-partisan), and art and philosophy are focal points here.
Before we begin, a clarification - philosophy as it is discussed in this and future articles, will not be defined here as a personal outlook (as the word's more usual meaning may have diminished toward in modern social use) but the exploration of truth as it relates to human existence and the physical universe.
That being clear, when discussing philosophy as it relates to politics here, we approach the subject not by looking at the merits or shortcomings of a specific politician, party, policy, or group of policies or even how they may affect the citizenry. Instead we'll attempt to succinctly discuss the value, perhaps even a pressing necessity, of building in each one of us a rational humanist foundation so that we might find cause to create then maintain an intelligent framework for governance, and more importantly that we cultivate societal paradigms which may establish and sustain a healthy, robust human populace with a desire that it may maximize its collective potential. That it may free itself from the historical cycle of perpetual self-destruction and regrowth to work with appropriate urgency toward something truly smarter, better. Steering out of the circle and into a sharp and sustained upward trajectory.
The exercise here is done as pragmatic action and not for the cause of manipulating sentiment; though it is worth relaying that the messenger sincerely hopes the process might resonate with the reader's deepest sense of humanity. It is, after all, a substantial part of why we have chosen art as the vehicle with which to promote this philosophical discourse.
So with all that in mind, we open by sharing this photograph that perhaps had a cloudier context at the time of production, but one that seems to have solidified in the recent days of political and social turbulence.
Even within the ever-deepening divide in the current political environment, this frame admittedly holds a great deal ambiguity. Is this the frustrated, angry, and afraid symbolically red right-wing voter lashing out at the change that has backed their traditionalist ideals into a corner? Is this the progressive suffocating in a sea of red, right-wing intolerance? Is this the militant in a bloody rage? Is the the pacifist helpless under a sanguine tide? Are they calling out to the viewer? Are they appealing to their peers to break their myopia in a cry for empathy? Is this a stranger? Is this the viewer? Is this the photographer?
That at once all of these seemingly averse possibilities would occur to the viewer, in the end may serve to expand the near-palpable frustration of the subject to a broader scope - that this sense of despair is so familiar on opposing "sides" and even among neutrals indicates within humanity a collective failure and in turn, our own individual failure. That any self-aware individual sees another as an opposition of their own personal welfare rather than an ally of a cumulative universal endeavor is a deep metaphysical chasm. That we see this as prevalent, even commonplace, might then be viewed as a self-inflicted and life-threatening disease upon our whole existence.
That is not to say this is a call for "middle ground". If we are serious about seeking truth of any sort, we must listen in all directions intently, but never concede to the lazy conclusion that truth lays at the midpoint of aggregate human opinion. One must not be stubborn in conviction, but pliant to reason and rational discourse from within or without. But one should only be swayed by the argument, never by the number or even purported expertise of those making it. Most importantly, we must rationalize not for the benefit of our own comfort, but for an earnest advocacy for the entirety of human life. And if we are serious, we must be unrelenting in our questioning, especially with regard to ourselves.
Humanity does not inherently progress with the passage of time as we are sometimes wont to expect. Progress is philosophy at work. When ambitious, a march toward profundity, meaning, and truth. When sluggish, a proactive effort for survival. Slower than that, well...
So we must each search for answers, and in searching we tend to travel backwards. We work from the most immediate causes and if we utilize the best of our inquisitive rationality, keep moving backward - searching for causation and what caused those causes, and so on, and so on, wary to discern them from the mirages of mere correlation. We may begin the search by finding fault in individual politicians, then perhaps the parties they belong to and those who elected them, then perhaps even the underlying system. If we keep going, however, we must be willing to direct questions toward our culture, our society, our collective ideologies, and our individual ones that, whether it was our intention or not, contributed to our current collective reality: one in which the frustration, neglect, and anger seen in the subject are all too familiar. This photograph is not an offer any solutions, it only attempts to press the viewer toward asking those questions. If in this they accede, they may by their own volition embark upon or be re-energized in their expedition to seek out betterment on behalf of society. That some unequivocal, perfect solution exists only as an apparition does not make the search futile - but it may come to mean that the best possible outcome for the human race will only be achieved when every individual in it takes a serious, rational, philosophical approach before, not after, any political speculation is made.
Perhaps then we may see that the entirety of humanity is our constituency, that we each have an individual responsibility to it, and that each of our actions or lack thereof holds an effect upon it.
E.E. Norris is a photographer, founder-editor of Concrete & Light, and director of The Art Cart NYC. He would like you to look - intently and in every direction - so that you might share the profound joy that may come from observing the infinite complexity of the physical universe and human potential.