Spinoza's God, Individual Choice and Society

by James Craig Green

The following is a bit of philosophy inspired by the Dutch philospher Spinoza, modified by my own interpretation and experience:

NATURE is everything. There is mass, energy, atoms, molecules, life, thought, people, societies, galaxies and perhaps even multiple universes (pure speculation). But there is nothing outside nature, including spiritual visions and other phenomena we don't yet understand. If they exist, they are part of nature.

Spinoza asserted that for a concept of god to make any sense at all, it must simply be nature. That is, god cannot be something outside nature that controls it, but must necessarily be part of it. According to Spinoza, God IS nature. While Spinoza was excommunicated from his Jewish community in Amsterdam and condemned by Christians as well for being an atheist, he was very devoutly religious. He saw the traditional anthropomorphic (man-like) god as an abomination, completely rejecting the wonder of nature, from which life comes. To Spinoza, nature is the true expression of God. And each of us is part of it. Unfortunately, his highly technical, mathematical style of writing limited widespread appreciation of his work.

The point is, we all come from our environment, live for a while, and return to it. Nothing magical or mystical; just nature and all its various expressions - most of which we do not yet comprehend.

A person is just a temporary expression of the environment that takes on certain characteristics such as consciousness, selfishness and a need for certain feelings of independence. However, because we each depend on our environment for air, food, companionship, etc, (as well as our parents for our genes and initial upbringing), we can never be completely independent of it. Nor would most of us want to be.

A society is a collection of individuals. It can be organized in a variety of different ways, and is always changing. A static society is virtually impossible, because its composition of unique individuals is always changing. Just like the atoms and molecules in our bodies are always changing - but always organized by our genes and certain processes into this thing we call "self."

Now, for the short time each of us exists, we are a unique, but dynamic collection of "hardware" and "software." Not only are the information, value and belief systems we hold constantly changing; the body and brain themselves are constantly changing. This is partly due to aging, partly due to stress, happiness and a variety of other factors we are only beginning to understand - and many others we may never understand.

Each of us views the world from our own selfish perspective, which has been molded by our genes and environment, including relationships with others. An abused child may turn out to be a criminal. It doesn't do any good to moralize and talk about how bad that person is and how much (s)he should be punished for killing or robbing someone, although that is 100% of the focus of all legal and judicial systems. What matters is how we each make the lifestyle choices to keep our lives sane, happy, productive and relatively safe. There is no guaranteed safety, job, investment, trend or society. There are only millions of individual choices people make to try to make sense out of their lives. What we know as "truth" today may be proven fantasy tommorrow. That is the nature of an honest search for knowledge. And, as uncomfortable as this conclusion might be to some, the essence of science is uncertainty.

Some people get what they want by cheating or manipulating others. I don't like it when others do this to me, but it is my responsibility to detect this, confront it and if necessary, to do something about it. "Bad" people exist and "good" people exist, but none of us can agree on what these two confusing words mean. So it's up to each of us to make choices we think will make our lives better. Our individual choices of which associations to belong to are a fundamental part of this. We make decisions based on which of these associations we feel will help us meet our goals. Few of us agree on the value and usefulness of any particular association.

Now, why do we need a single super parent to tell us all what to do? Why do we need words on parchment and confused, misinterpreted agreements between a few people who lived a long time ago to regulate our daily lives? Some would say because it's always been done that way, and we can't buck tradition.

That's fine with me. If someone wants to live their life by different rules than me (how could they do otherwise?), let them make the rules, get together with those who agree with those rules, and make whatever society or association they want. And if they believe a big bad wolf is going to come down from the mountains and eat them, then they can work very hard to built a fence, hire a guard and protect themselves from it. But why should they force people who have different views of the risk to pay for it? And why should people who think that pollution, or population growth, or communists, or trilateralists, or Rush Limbaugh, are the most evil things in the world be forced to pay for someone else's view of what is most important? Don't we all evaluate this differently? And have different risk assesments?

The power of individual choice is stronger than any collective seeking to supress it, but only among those who have discovered it and have learned how to express it.

Each of us shares to some extent a common environment (planet earth), and few of us can live well or happily as hermits or complete non-conformists. We drive on one side of the road and stop at lights because it's in our interest to do so, not because the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain said to do it. In fact, we often disobey laws we think are trivial or stupid, and more of these exist every day. If enough of us change our minds about what is in our best interests; believe me, the pathetic old man behind the curtain will have no choice but to go along. And yet many of us think he is in charge, and has unlimited power and knowledge.

Like Rodney King said, "Can't we all learn to get along?" I would add, "Can't those of us who think the rest of us should live like them, just lighten up a bit?" And show a little respect for the TRUE tolerance and diversity of individuals?

Some of us are strong and smart. Some are weak and dumb, and all possible variations in between. But in my biased view, accumulated through the information and values I currently have stored in my cerebral database, my life can be most happy and productive when I respect the differences between us, accept everyone for what they are (even criminals), and simply take the action I need to take to further my own interests. I don't do this at the exclusion of everyone else. But I do it recognizing that my life is more important to me than it is to anyone else. And I have absolutely no apologies to offer or any feelings of guilt because I do not put aside my own interests to work for "society" or anyone I may choose not to associate with, for whatever reason makes sense to me.

I am not blinded by the fantasy that some collective association is going to look out for my interest before its own. The people who run every organization are probably just as selfish as I am, but often won't admit it.

I knew a wonderful man named Karl Hess. He was once asked, if given a chance to save the universe or his wife Therese, which he would choose. "Therese, of course" he said. "The universe can fend for itself."

A plea for sanity in human society:

Theft Is Not Fairness

Coercion Is Not Compassion

Revenge Is Not Justice

Aggression Is Not Defense

NOTE: If you would like to provide feedback on this essay, use the email link on the main LIFEPOWER page.

More information about LIFEPOWER:

Back to Main LIFEPOWER Page
SEEK Joy | CREATE Value | LIVE Free
LIFE is Egocentric | No Absolutes | Small Profitable Steps
SECRETS of Harmony and Abundance | ORIGIN OF CONFLICT/Spontaneous Justice
ADVOCATES, SKEPTICS & SEEKERS | How Do I Know? (about knowledge)
LIFEPOWER Graduate Study (Read last!)

Return to Waterwind