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Episode #173 ... Simone Weil - The Need for Roots

2023-01-09 | 🔗

Today we continue talking about Simone Weil. Hope you love it.





This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello, everyone, I'm stephen west. This is philosophize. This thank you to the people who support the podcast on patreon, follow the podcast on instagram and tiktok. It philosophize this podcast twitter at I am stephen west today is part two of one of the realest people. I've ever had the privilege of reading Simone v. I hope you love the show today, so I was sitting in a coffee shop, one time and this random guy just started talking to me now, usually when this happens, my strategy is very simple. I just sprint for the door any possessions I may have at the table MIKE my computer phone whatever it is, I just leave it behind accepted as a loss start a new life at another coffee shop somewhere else, but on this petition, Today the guy starts talking to me and I look towards the door as I do, and I see that it's raining outside, like torrential downpour kind, around the reins, go and sideways against the window.
And I make an executive decision in that moment that I'm going to talk to this guy today I mean that's what human beings do on this planet right. They talk to people alright buddy, let's have a conversation and you should have seen it the guys. Interrupted me after every three words that I say he asked me about myself. I tell him I like philosophy. He asked me who my favorite philosophers I tell him at the time. I'm feeling Simone way this was years ago and he's asking what I like about her so much. So I start telling him. I tell him more or less what I told you people last episode at the beginning, that she was a moral sage on a level most people only think they can relate to died at the age of thirty four, because she wouldn't compromise her intense moral convictions. The guy interrupts me again. He says well, that seems like a waste. I say back to him: why would that be a waste He says: well, if she is such a profound person, like you say she is seems pretty dumb to be so irresponsible with her health and safety, I mean think of all the good. She could have gone on to do if he didn't put herself in harm's way, so much think all the
she could have written, think it alive. She could have gone on to shape with all the time that she threw away into the guy's. Credit the last time you interrupted me because for the next twenty minutes- or so I too, the guy. What am I tried to tell you, fine folks, on the episode here today, Simone veil might say back to this guy that maybe, when you keep yourself at sea, distance from everything that's going on in the world. It prevents you from ever being able to see the world in a truly clear way and lets say that's the case. You want to talk about waste, she might say, consider all the potential waste when someone says it's back inside of a warm classroom and spencer career writing about something they dont actually understand. Simone veil might want to give the example of someone like Karl Marx, when marks writes about something like the alienation of the worker when he writes these vast predictions about how the worker is obviously going to behave in response to these changes at their living and if some of marxist predictions ultimately turned out to be wrong
maybe Simone veil, might say that has something to do with the fact that he didn't really understand what it felt like to be a worker. He certainly was a great economist. He certainly understood what it felt like to read about being a worker, but remarks didn't know is It felt like the clock in every day, at four, a m with every joint in europe he aching, just praying forklift falls on top use. You can at least feel something on that fine tooth in the morning Simone veil wasn't ever going to be one of the ones that sat safe on the sidelines. Reading first hand accounts of other people just assuming she knew what was going on. She needed to feel this stuff for herself and to her it's like. What's the point of living forever? What's the point of writing every book in the library if you dont, actually understand what it is you even trying to write about, she was the kind of person that was gonna, make sure she did understand and you know you read her early journals and then you read her journals after she goes and works in these factories and something changes dramatically in her writing something changes about the way she's thinking when it
comes to ethics, see in her early journals when she talks about something- the alienation of the worker and she talks about what our potential response should be to all of it. Generally. The response always pretty closely resembles a traditional brand of religious compassion, there's nothing to out of the ordinary there. We ve seen it many times before. But after actually going and working in the factories feeling the affliction first hand the range of responses. She thought actually had the potential to make positive change shrinks dramatically. grows far more radical, the perspective that she writes from and the path forward that she carves out turns out to be something that is absolutely unprecedented and before you go thinking that what that means is she's going to call for some massive political revolution. I'll tell you right now. That is not what the end of this episode is going to be to get us to the end of the episode, though, for now it should be said that this skepticism that Simone bay had for people that lived,
their lives exclusively in the abstract instead of the real. This is a beautiful part of her thinking that you'll see mirrored in a lot of other areas of her thought what she realized. I think it's a people sometimes hide behind the abstract, there's a type of person out there that will sit around having philosophical discussions about nothing basically they'll spend years of their life just talking with other people like them about abstract philosophical questions, you know of what is consciousness? No, no, no, no, not not what is consciousness. What is it? What is the ultimate virtue upon which all other virtues rely? meaning what does any of this stuff around us even mean it's? Not. That Simone thought there was no place for conversations like this. Just the conversations like this can so easily devolve, and what sort of bourgeois nonsense that there's a whole lot of talking doesn't we're really accomplish much in all the while there are tons of real people that are out there who are starving universe. People who say they
don't believe in god, because they like to believe in things that they can see smell in touch things in the here and now things that are empirically provable. Ok, she would say: here's something else. That's empirically provable, then the existence of their people around you and the fact that we have a moral obligation to them. Real people who are starving and not just starving in the usual way. We tend to think about starving, where they just don't have enough. Food people are out there starving to Simone veil on levels that are far less visible and far less appreciated as fundamental needs. If food, water and shelter can be called the needs of the body than simone veil things, people are also starving when it comes to what she calls the needs of the soul, and she places both these categories on equal ground when it comes to what human beings need to flourish and live a healthy
wife and, if you think about it, why wouldn't these be placed on equal ground? Our psychological needs, any less important than bodily needs for people may be. Your answer back to that is it's not that they're less important is just given the variance between people's psychological needs. It's much harder for our social structures to facilitate psychological needs like that. Still, though, hypothetically, let's say a country had a strategy for how they're going to run things and what that strategy produced was a popular some people that could barely get food, water and shelter. It would not be a surprise if there was pandemonium in the streets. It wouldn't be a surprise to people are asking. What are we even doing here? What kind of strategy can't even secure food for people? How about we find a way to do it better? All of this would be understandable if people couldn't get food, water and shelter.
Nonetheless the world is filled with societies that have strategies that more or less leave people to their own devices when it comes to their psychological needs, not only that some of these societies are structured in a way that makes it difficult near impossible for some people to feel psychological balance again, it was nearly impossible to get food pandemonium needs of the soul, though. Well we just see those needs is different, but Simone veil going to say that we should think of them. It's equally important. There are fourteen different needs of the soul that Simone veil writes about just an example of one of them, so we can start talking about. It is the human aid for something like order. Order is in need of the soul. To Simone veil has let's say he had all the food, water and shelter you could possibly carry in your backpack you're, never gonna go hungry. You can have a full stomach. in a roof over your head. But if you living in a world of total chaos, for you, don't even know which direction you should be applying any of your efforts are yet ever gonna feel like you're flourishing as a human being.
No again, it doesn't matter how much food you have. Your always feel this constant malays, like your starving at a different level of your existence, human beings need order to function just as much as they need. Food may may be thinking order. I guess I can see that, but what she called for here, totalitarian regime doesn't, so also need some kind of individual freedom, more liberty. Well, yes, good thinking, hypothetical, steve, you're right, that's exactly what she sang liberty is another crucial need of the soul and what you'll find if you read all fourteen of these is it Simone veil clearly believed that part of producing the conditions in society that allow for mutual self
spect between people requires us to balance certain values that, on the surface, appear to be opposites, order in liberty, obedience and responsibility, equality and hierarchy, ism security and risk. The list goes on. Point is any society that is over indexing on any one of these, too much how we gonna start to run into problems you overdo it on security and dole out people enough risk, that's how you get people dressed up like robocop on the street corner at eight, drones floating down from the sky talk india, return your home at once citizen then again
you overdo it on risk and you don't have enough security. Will that's where we get things like the financial markets or waffle house point is each one of these. Fourteen needs of the soul contributes to a different psychological need that people have and if people are living in a society where structured in a way that makes it impossible or extremely difficult to get any one of these, you can imagine a simone veil thought you'd. No doubt see population starving, indifferent ways than just hunger, no? She says the greatest societies of the past have made sure that they have some way of guaranteeing food, water and shelter for their respective populations. They did this because they real is that it doesn't benefit anybody to have a population of people who are starving, and this brings me to one of the biggest needs people have that Simone way thinks is not being guaranteed by society, based on its current set up
In fact, it's not only not being guaranteed, it is being actively and deliberately sabotaged. What I'm talking about is what Simone veil called the need for roots. Yes, that's roots, like a plant, has roots a couple of big points to understand what simone vimeo when she's talking about roots. First point Simone veil is living in the wake of a long history and western philosophy that says that what a person is at their core is an individual, rational, autonomous agent that is making decisions. Who I am is made up of a ton of preferences, intuitions independent things that I ultimately decide, but with people turning to ask around this time is. Can you give me an example of any human being that is truly independent of everyone else around them? This way of thinking says no. Every individual lives, while also being embedded into a society. Their relationship to the society is an important piece of who they are. You can't separate the two and be skeptical of.
anybody, putting intensive work, trying to figure out a way to force that separation between the society and the individual second point: if we're all embedded into a society. Well, what is a society or them relevant question during the time of Simone veil. What is a nation, let's say, there's a random group of people. They congregate together in a field somewhere at what point does at random group of people officially become in? organised nation, and there were a lot of different answers to this question, but one of them, formulated just before Simone veil was born- that she puts a lot of stockin is that a group of people becomes a nation when they one have a shared history of customs, mores and experiences that link them together, but for trying to preserve and who have a shared set of expectations and goals moving into the future, if any one of these two criteria fall off, you start to see a nation unravel
starts to less resemble a nation and start to more resemble a patchwork of warring factions, not a solidified group. This is why it is so important for an ostensible nation to be able to green on their history and agree on where they want to go into the future, and why something like misinformation, it's so good at dividing people within a country now back to the concept of roots, not unlike a plant Simone v would say a human being needs roots to be able to survive and to grow, but while a plant needs soil to grow in people get their roots from their quote, real active and natural participation in the life of the community and quote, in other words, people feel rooted when they can participate in the culture or the nation that they're a part of and more than that, there's a certain part of everyone, certain particular ways: a talk or act around other people that can only be expressed and really only make sense in the car
The text of the culture or nation that you're rooted in so to continue the metaphor of the plant. Let's say someone comes along and rips a plant out of the ground or tears up the soil that the plants growing in and when they do that, it's not surprising when that plant dies Simone veil would say that when we live in a world of rampant colonialization, where we destroy cultures for the sake of our political ends, we are essentially ripping people like plant out of the only soil they have, that allows them to survive and grow. Now. What does she referring to when she says colonialism, but remember she's, living in france at the beginning of world war? Two,
and at this point the nazis of already invaded and if the nazis, designed to let you live french culture from this point forward, is effectively subjugated and silence. If you are a former citizen of france at this point, you're told that you should be thankful to have the privilege of being the nazi now cause. Don't worry the nazis I'll tell you. This is a better culture than yours was before you should be thankful for it. Simone veil is gonna almost instantly make the point that no french person that here's this thinks, but the nazis are doing here- is ok but where's their bleeding heart for the hundreds of years of colonizing that france has done up until that point in world war. Two during the age of exploration. She says, France also subjugated cultures and told them. Don't worry, don't worry this, much better way of doing things were going to civilize you, you shouldn't be complaining. You should be writing us a thank you card right now and at the risk that somebody out there thinks colonialization is something that only went on a long time ago invading countries with the intent of doing
away with ideas that are quoting coat inferior to the ideas of the invading army? That's in the news today, in the news of the recent past aids in the united states, invading I rack it's in the soviets and their treatment of the culture of calves extend their so many obvious examples, historically, probably in all of our countries that still have echoes to this day. My point is this idea that, in order to help people, what we gotta do is in bade them and then transplant them from one cultural flower bed to another and then on the other side of that, tell them. Well, it's just a better culture. Should be grateful, find a way to make it work. Both human beings and plants. Don't work that way to Simone v when you take a plant and you tear it's roots out of the ground and you plant it in an entirely different type of soil, with a totally different micro profile that plant could die, or even worse, sometimes ten on living. Sad and withered will what happens when you do that with people colonial,
innovation is the cause of many of the problems that we face in the world right now to Simone veil and she's, not just talking, But physical colonization, where an army takes over a culture by military force, that's certainly part of it, but there are ways to uproot people through political force as well. Force. Remember is that concept we talked about at the end of last episode, because when you spend time in the factories, when you spend time on the front lines with soldiers, when you spend time with anyone living in this age of industrialization and rationalization, the society of the spectacle comes to mind for any one where human relationships have been reduced to moving images on a screen or monetary transactions or numbers. Wherever you can find afflicted people, you will find people who find it extremely difficult to feel rooted in the culture they geographically livin, because its extremely difficult to participate in a meaningful way.
you, don't have to colonise and up route people if they never had routes to begin with, some societies are systematically designed in a way that makes it difficult for the average person to feel rooted in participating within it. Now again, if a society was set up in a way, whereas really difficult for people to get food aid would almost seem like a human rights violation when it comes to routes, though well we feel differently about that kind of thing, but should we be When Simone vs writing about the need for roots, she is assuming that hitler's going to lose the war and assuming that france is going to have to rebuild the nation after this whole thing's over and while she doesn't envy anyone, that's going to actually have to do that. Rebuilding she definitely thought this would be an opportunity. Rethink the priorities we have moving forward for her? Among other things, it was gonna, be to think of these needs of the soul and the same levels we think of the needs of the body. You know.
Yeah. I heard by now that Simone vague, quite famously was not a big fan of discussions about human rights, but that statement in itself is kind of misleading and one offer a bit of context as to where she's coming from there again Simone veil, living during world war. Two and understandably, when people here about, what's being done to people in the war out there there's a lot of talk that starts going on about human rights. Should there be lines that nobody ever crosses? Should there be a baseline of human dignity that we can quantify that everybody gets regardless of what side of the battlefield europe can we rightly he's down in a very clear way, so that the campi misunderstood. Can we all shake hands and agree to follow them in the future seems like a noble pursuit, we'll just like what the abstract philosophical discussion, it's not simone. They thought there was no room for conversations like this. I'm sure she's a go at random down
chisel into stone these standard for human rights, but she'd say isn't that in some ridiculous way missing the point of why we care about these human rights in the first place? First of all, she would say right these human rights down on a piece of paper. All you want, but the next hitler that comes along, isn't going to honor them any one willing to invade a country like that. Isn't going to care about your little convention that you had or the letter that going to send them telling them how mad you are at them. It's like having your criminal justice strategy, be that when someone breaks the law now, we'll just have them sign a contract saying they won't be a criminal anymore. Secondly, it just misses the point of why we care about human rights in the first place. In our modern societies. We think so much in terms of law in economics that we think that it is right that stuff down and shake hands on it and make a deal that we're doing something about it but Simone, they would say, all you're really doing its transfer
I being human dignity into the language of commerce and law, and that's missing the point. She gives a great example in one of her journals. Slight paraphrase here, she says: imagine a farmer who goes down to the farmers' market every weekend to sell as eggs the eggs are for ninety nine, a dozen customer comes up to him and says: hey look! I'm only going to give you one. Ninety nine, a dozen farmer says at no you're, not there for ninety nine, a dozen customer says. Why do you think you can just charge for ninety nine? A dozen farmer says because that's my right. I have the right to charge as much as I want for them, and I have the right to go out of business. If people don't like it, all of this makes sense in the context of a farmer's market in commerce, but then Simone v says contrast that example with some one who forces a woman into prostitution. Now I'm going to go out on a limb and say that one hundred per cent of people listening to this would find that to be wrong, and if I were to ask you why it was wrong, would you say back will it's wrong because it's that woman's right to not be a prostitute,
if she wants to, she has a right to choose other courses of action in her life. It's like no, no, that is ludicrous, Simone veil rights and are journal the idea that that's the reason why it's wrong, no obvious lee. We all know the reason it's wrong is something far deeper than just her legal rights, something much more universal. This isn't a farmers telling his eggs anymore? This woman's very person who is being robbed from her another example picture a person next year starving withering away, clearly hours from death, you're standing next to them, and you got a sandwich in your hand and you're, not exactly that hungary there begging for the sandwich. Would you give it to them again? I'm gonna go out on another limb here and say that a hundred per cent of people listening would give it to them, and why is it because it's it's the right to not starve death, what you don't to violate their rights or if we talked about in terms of rights, would that be missing something or at least obscuring something important about this
whole process. This is why Simone veil didn't hate human rights by any means. She just prefer to talk about human needs rather than human rights. Rights are legal listing and commercial needs recognise that there's something deeper here that there is an underlying moral obligation that we have to our fellow human beings and whether a person has been uprooted from their culture by history, by society or by military force mon they thought the more accurate way to be looking at. It is not as a human rights violation, but as a violation of their very person, hood, a theft of a ton of important things that go to make up their self and identity, so, in other words,
when someone is denied their ability to feel rooted within their culture. This is not just oppression to Simone veil. This is dehumanization and which he has this realization. She has a moment where she finally recognises the true extent of the problem of affliction. She also recognizes why so many academics can talk about the experience of the unbounded person from the sidelines and never really understand what you're talking about they just can't see it, because you ve never had to experience it. They can't see that this is not just a bunch of workers being used as economic ponds, and they just now.
to organise and rally together and rise up workers rights. That's the answer. No, this existence at their living every day is soul draining it creates a deterministic vacuum. It robs them of a piece of wood, even makes them human, knowing that what person immersed in these circumstances is in any sort of place to start a revolution, as marks predicted, what's gonna happen from his perspective, the only what you could pretty. That is, if you didn't understand their spot. Simone veil, like many young people, certainly had a bit of a revolutionary face, but after seeing the problem for herself first hand, she realized the truth of the matter. Revolution was the new opiate of the masses, a car, she says that people believe in whole heartedly they often die for it with you.
Usually very little ever really coming out of it. Mostly superficial changes, barring rare exceptions. The path forward for Simone veil was not going to be a political revolution. It was gonna, be, as I said, before, a new way of thinking about ethics that emerges in her writing after going into the factories and seeing the face of the problem- and this is where we need to return back to that concept of attention that we talked about in the first episode in very simone veil fashion. Once she goes into the factory, she starts to explore new questions about old questions and one of the one she spends a lot of time. Thinking about as this that moral obligation that we feel towards our fellow human beings wearing
Exactly does that begin and end like what makes a human being a human being, what makes each person irreplaceable in the language of Simone bases, going to ask what makes a person sacred, let's brainstorm a bit like she did if the nazis invaded someone's country and they rob someone of their culture and they feel that sense of rootlessness, as though a piece of them has been taken. Is that person still human? Are they still worthy of dignity and compassion Of course, they are ok. Well how about when you go into a factory or any modern scenario where people feel rootless within their own culture, because its extremely difficult to participate is that person still worthy of respect? Well, of course, they are in fact, Simone veil, as the only reason we allow these sorts of situations to go on it, because you don't get a look at them every day. If you had to look at the factory worker or the person in the inner city everyday, your magically wouldn't feel so complacent about it. So what is it then is what makes somebody sacred and
humans. Something physical about them are empirical, like all human beings have two arms, two legs and a head, but that can't be it because if you chop off someone's leg, I still care about them. The same, could it be their personality? These are all examples that were offered at the time by the way I swear I'm not coming up with these, but could it be their personality that what makes somebody sacred and irreplaceable is the unique confluence of personality traits that makes up who they are that they're not like any one else out there? Well, that can't be it either to simone First of all, if two people, for whatever reason happened, have the exact same personality, it would make either one of them less sacred. Second, she would say people may often help out certain personalities over others just because they like the more but
cause. I, like one personality over another, doesn't make them necessarily any more deserving of attention or love to some one way. Then what makes someone secret must therefore be something impersonal about them, which is to say that it must be located somewhere outside of anything that is personal to them, and all this discussion so far has been to build this philosophical foundation for the ethical strategy she's going to offer moving forward, and here it is. She would say that we have big problems that face us in this world. We have, millions and millions of people living lives, feeling completely uprooted and a soul draining state of affliction. We have colonialism robbing people of their cultures and their person hood. We have the structure of society, making it more difficult than it has to be to meet the psychological needs of the soul The way out of this is not a political revolution, though the way forward first is gonna have to be a spiritual revolution in the individual
and the main weapon this revolution is going to be fought with is the cultivation of a totally different kind of attention. We talked last time about this new kind of attention, as it relates to our general thinking. Simone v described it, as quote our thought should be empty waiting, not seeking anything but ready to receive in it's naked truth, the object that is to penetrate it, in quote, but another way of thinking of that is that this is a momentary suspension of anything
personal, that you may be projecting onto reality or in other words, to pay attention in this new way, is to renounce the eye ass. She says or to renounce the ego which, to her ultimately meant to accept the death of everything personal about yourself, so that you can better sit listening in that place of passive activity that we talked about last time, poised, ready and more capable than ever to receive the world in a more universal, impersonal way. She said practising this skill is to practise what she called a type of de creation. We are de creating the biases privileges, judgments assumptions that we usually bring to bear on every experience that we have, which then leads us more open to experiencing people on impersonal terms to master this
oh, but accomplish a few different things to Simone veil, all of which would account for nothing short of a spiritual transformation and most individuals for one it would allow you to connect with any other human being on a level that isn't dependent upon your personalities getting along you're cultures being similar, you looking are sounding the same. There's a feel as though within this impersonal can Action can be something that links all human beings together, irrespective of culture something that maybe we ve forgotten in our modern society will be abolished, essentially become pawns in some elaborate political chess game. Second, this new kind of attention. But allow you to make another person, maybe somebody deep in the throes of affliction and their own life, it would allow you to make somebody else feel seen and heard on a level that maybe they barely experienced and their entire life. We compared it last time to be catholic sacrament the baptism allowing this person to feel a sense of renewal and hope that otherwise wasn't available to them. Like a catholic priest, you would be somebody able to administer that to another person, but lastly, what this attention,
I offer people Simone veil. Things is very similar to the catholic sacrament of the eucharist, where you consume the body and blood of christ and a piece of god supposedly becomes a piece of you. What does she mean by that? Well, if we think of this new form of a engine as a new lines that were viewing people through then imagine taking that linz and then pointing towards the rest of the world Imagine seeing the world not in terms of how it relates to you or some personal project or set of assumptions you have about it where, instead of always being in the past,
us of creating new schemas and new knowledge about it. You were just open passively active waiting for the universe to disclose something to you consuming like the eucharist taking in what the universe has to say and making it a part of. You may be listening and waiting for the moral truth of the universe to offer itself to you and the language is a moan bay. He was simply become an intense for god to communicate with people say talkin to god. Oh, how convenient these not jobs. Overhear apparently talk to god every day. But silly me, I can't seem to get the guy to return a text. God doesn't talk to me. He apparently has better things to do well what if there was a frequency that was being broadcast all the time that you just aren't paying attention to, for the more secular minded out there like myself. This is a metaphor. What if there was an experience available to you, where you would feel a closer connection to the
universe but you're, just not open to it fact. Is you wouldn't even know if it was there or not? If you weren't willing to be open to it in the first place, another what to say That is that, unless, if you put in the work on yourself and on cultivating your attention, haired your mind in a way that allows it to be open to certain experiences, you will never have any other experiences than the ones you do. This is the meaning of the title of her most famous book called waiting for god and as for how to practice attention. As for what she thinks that moral truth may be and how we can further understand our place alongside other people in this world. That will have to wait till next episode, but I guess to answer the guy at the coffee shop at the beginning of the episode. Was it a waste for simone vaid to put herself in harm's way? Maybe it could be argued that there's some sort of happy medium that she could have walked during her lifetime. But then again it's not like she's,
I set out to die that day that she did at the hospital. She was just that morally consistent more than that, though, happy medium isn't exactly the term I'd use to describe some one way, and sometimes I wonder, could anybody out there sitting in a classroom ever have arrived at the conclusions that she did? Could anyone ever have had these insights if they didn't live as fully, and yes sometimes as dangerously as Simone veil lived? It's almost as if the universe discloses more about itself to those who are daring enough to not stay at a safe distance. Thank you for listening I'll talk to you next time.
Transcript generated on 2023-04-12.