The Priority

by Ana Bazac

The idea of priority denotes a definite subjective origin of decisions and attitudes leading to new facts: which, first of all, are accomplished by humans. In other words, the feature of something to being a priority may never be confused with an objective and impersonal element or characteristic of reality. On the contrary, the priority is the result of a deep deliberation – even though possibly very rapid – and thus, it is both the result of a bifurcation in the development of ideas in the human reasoning and the starting point of a bifurcation.

What is a priority has obviously the objective ground of already existing facts and situations, but it crystallizes as an idea in the human mind. It is different from the inherent objective basis of sine qua non physiological phenomena: these ones are objective, many of them instinctive and, although the conscious will may impose for a while some extra-physiological constraints/stimuli in order to stop/perhaps even accelerate/ divert the physiological phenomena, actually it cannot do this absolutely, it cannot transform them without destroying the human being as such with its equilibrium of life. From this standpoint, physiology is a natural/objective irrepressible priority. For example, the priority phenomena – in the frame of other physiological phenomena as well as of psychical ones – even interfere in the course/logic of these other physiological and psychical ones, generating their momentary stops or inhibitions[1].

But in that case, the priority was/is not an idea, but a natural phenomenon. However, what is important here is just the conscious, ideal, constructed character of the priority.

Accordingly, the problem of priority pertains both to the philosophy deciphering the mind and arriving to the consciousness, and to ethics.

***

Concerning the first domain, the priority is an idea resulting from the complex system of reasoning, i.e. from subsystems within this system reflecting and being reactions/responses to the needs and stimuli related to each subsystem and also to the superior stimuli/needs related to the relationships and integration of all these specific needs/stimuli within a coherent whole corresponding to the unique unity of a certain body and mind, as a unique human being.

Therefore, the idea of priority reflects a succession of priority moments according to the subsystems of needs and stimuli which man is aware of. In other words, though there are – except the natural needs/phenomena which, although man is aware of, it considers them as different from those generated by the human will – many needs/stimuli which are all necessary and/ assumed by the human person:

  • on the one hand, they are considered as priority and are fulfilled/answered to them according to the order the need/stimulus occupies in the system of needs/stimuli generally assumed; in this respect, we may presume that all the assumed needs/ important stimuli for the human person – and for which it has the freedom to act for – are considered priority at the turn of each of them;
  • on the other hand, the fulfilling of needs/the answer to stimuli depend not only on the order these needs/stimuli occupy in a moment or another (for example, first I wash my hands and then I enter the kitchen to prepare the dinner: because a reasoning – already become a habit, thus realised through an involuntary act/”almost exterior” to my consciousness – took place, in this case much before my behaviour today, and that reasoning has weighed all the arguments and has arrived to a conclusion, that it is necessary to wash hands before eating, preparing meals etc.); but also on the selection and choice made by the human person between all the needs and stimuli; as well as between the needs and stimuli related to one problem; continuing the above example, if I come home, starving and too tired to allow to my consciousness to keep watching my behaviour, I may not wash my hands first, but I swallow a piece of cake (perhaps keeping it just with two fingers); the problem – or the most ardent need – was my hunger: thus, I chose to swallow something –  and I knew I had a cake, bought in the store near my block of flats – and to postpone my assumed order of actions.

But I knew that I made something wrong: does the fact that I kept the cake with just two fingers not prove this? And, certainly, that I was “correcting” me, because after the swallowing of the piece of cake, I went to wash my hands and to do all the known necessary actions when coming home. Thus, this simple example shows that the human actions are always accompanied by their awareness in the human mind.

            The human thoughts are also accompanied by their awareness in the human mind: even though we are not conscious of this. But if we are questioned about them – be they related to scientific theories or to the description of persons or of our attitudes towards them – we can explain why we did think this or that.  Many actions – if not all of them – are preceded by their mental planning (specifying their reasons, the succession of their elements, the relationships with other actions). Even the actions which became habits or which seem to be unconscious or which are intuitive have as background entire series of inferences, of reasoning in the system of thinking; only that some series lay in the deep down of the consciousness and the corresponding actions seem to be either unconscious or intuitive. But if we force ourselves to articulate the reasons and logic of these actions, we can do this. Anyway, the neuro-physiological researches have demonstrated the ability and plasticity of the elements of the human brain to fulfil the function of mirroring and being aware of the performing of the sketch/algorithm/picture they construct as responses to the interactions of man with its surrounding milieu. And if some people cannot or are not at ease to put in words, fluently and coherently, the reasons and logic of their thoughts and deeds this is not because of the structural incapacity of the human mind to express its function of awareness, and neither because of the inexpressible singularity of intuitions and unconscious actions, but because these people were not taught to do this and to be aware of the indestructible intertwining of thoughts/deeds and their awareness.

***

And yes, perhaps they were taught that what would be important is the execution or accomplishment of deeds signalled by the mind, “the rest” – “problems of consciousness” – being postponed and/ passed to other people, maybe “professionals of these problems”: as if the reason to be of the human mind would be only the “technical” planning of actions (a demand of the adaptation to the environment, thus of survival, right?), the consciousness of this planning/of all the functions subordinated to this function  being something superfluous.

But if we know very well that this conception is issued from and reflects historical contexts and social origins, we still must emphasise that it is related to the fear of personal responsibility and thus, to the lack of responsibility that is the pattern aimed at by – letting aside the millennia of history – the present education in the present domination-submission based society.

Is this assertion not funny, since a pillar of education in schools is just the goal to form the children to be responsible? Unfortunately, not. That goal is related rather, or even only, to the correct accomplishment of “technical” tasks (to learn, to make all the lessons, to compete, to win, to behave in a correct and pleasant manner) and to respond for their deeds related to these tasks.   But this education is not accompanied by the teaching of children to ask their consciousness, to consciously and in an expressible way deliberate, and to watch “from without” the fulfilling of “technical” tasks, i.e.   as if they/their will to decide would be outside the decisions as such to do this or that; this is just “the voice of consciousness” but, as Socrates said long ago[2], the consciousness is not outside the will of the person, it includes it, then not something different from the will of the person would say/impose something, but just the person, its will.  The voice of the consciousness is just the right reasoning after/in the course of deliberation. But if the horizon of children is margined by the obligation of “technical” tasks – decomposed in n “technical” sub-tasks – and by the entertainment desired many times as if it would be the first “technical” task, and if the demands and questioning from behalf of the consciousness are annihilated by the transfer of responsibility towards the others to the responsibility in front of God (considered by many as the most important compensating force of the ego mobilised, not by conatus, but by the modern egoism), just the responsibility towards the others is very weak. Neither the express individual tasks for the benefit of the others – recommended by all types of religion – do not counter the egotistic standpoint that, we underline, is not tantamount to the original conatus as will to persist and, certainly, in an as good state as it is possible: because, on the one hand, they are or may appear for the individual as tasks more or less imposed from without, and on the other hand, they may well fit with egotistic reasons, as Kant has showed.

***

This aspect of consciousness is not mentioned here so as we divert from the essentially rational characteristic of the decisions of humans: neither the “consciousness” is something ineffable and full only of feelings and nor the decisions are only the manifestation of temper and the result of unquantifiable emotions; but in all these components (feelings, emotions, decisions pushed by temperament), the basis is that of reasoning, of logic which sieves different judgements/different types of judgements, i.e. related to different emotions and experiences.

 Their result is, obviously, the ad hoc construction of successions of tasks and projects: where some tasks and project inherently occupy a priority position. But if we want to understand which tasks and projects and why, we arrive to the necessity of a criterion: their amplitude, not concerning the personal ambition, but the level or space of humanity they have in view. Concretely, the tasks and projects may have in view individual aspirations and social ideals: namely, everything decided by the individual in order to accomplish his/her individual aspirations and social ideals.

We thus have arrived to the ethical standpoint about priority. But, as Kant taught us, ethics pertains to the practical philosophy. For this reason, the ethical standpoint is related here to the concrete sociological and political one.

As we know, the theories framed within the dominant ideology consider the individual aspiration as much more important than the social ideal and opposed to each other. Thus, the individual has different priorities – projects and decisions of tasks – concerning the satisfaction of needs we know at least from Maslow’s pyramid (1943). And since the supreme needs are those of esteem and self-actualization, their fulfilment would end the human individual’s striving and reason to be. Hence – these theories continue – “either” the reasonable individual aims at realising his/her individual aspirations “or” the individual is no longer reasonable, but a more or less dangerous dreamer, a “utopian”.

This dominant point of view has the shortcomings of liberal and conservative image of man: where the human is only an individual and thus, has only individual, no matter how selfish, criteria of the thoughts and deeds performed even indifferently towards the not too close other humans. And since this is the inherent “essence” of man, the only measure countering the clashes of individual appetites is external: the complex of “social contract”, carrots and sticks.

However, the essence of man is not decreed, but is the result of its existence (Marx, Sartre): and since this existence is social, too, the essence of man – that explains its behaviour – cannot be reduced only to the satisfaction of individual needs, and the human reason cannot be considered only an instrument of this satisfaction. The criteria constructed during the historical experience of man are also social, and this means even the possibility/the consciousness to conceive universalizable criteria in the behaving of people (Kant being the creator of these criteria, deduced from the rational feature of the human beings). The assumption of social ideals – this position being always conscious and, inherently, critical – is at the same time the assumption of universalizable criteria. And even as a result of these criteria, the individual aspirations and the social ideals are, au fond, intertwined: and the individual has an active role in both these goals; the first manner to manifest this role being the conception where both are priority.

***

Although the dominant message of the present dominant ideology/pattern found in all the dominant theories channels all the “respectable” interests toward the component/means of emotions, feelings and unconscious through which the humans choose and decide, actually not only that these means have at their basis the reasoning or logic that sure enough may be one of the emotions as such (we speak about “the logic of emotions” that is not a rational approach of the most consistent arguments, but inferences from specific – and unquestioned – premises) but that, irrespective of this phenomenon, is the logic  that include the rational validation/invalidation of premises and thus emphasises consistent, namely universalizable inferences. Indeed, the valid character of logical arguments/logical reasoning is given not only by the form/logical consistency of inferences, but also by the content, i.e. the universalizable feature of the entire procedure: of premises and inferences, too. Well, the reason (rational argumentation, logic) is that which is universalizable[3] and it lays at the basis of all emotions, feelings and unconscious. It was constituted as the first instrument of the human species to survive/to have sustainable answers to its environment, and the consciousness retains this historical origin of its reason just through the development of complex mechanisms of mirroring the particular logics of different responses to needs/stimuli or to actions, of remembering, of permanence and presence of the logic of actions. In this sense and despite all emotions, people are always/in the last instance aware of the rational reasons of facts and behaviours: and this is proved when they feel in their deep down that they are cheating.

Yes, and though we are aware that we are cheating or we assume only “the logic of emotions”, we nevertheless continue to proceed in this way. But this behaviour – determined by both psychological and social causes, therefore no type of causes has to be ignored – is different and has different meanings and consequences when the individual decides something related only to  his/her person and when the decision concerns directly other humans and even masses of humans. Obviously, as personal as it may be, every decision has trans-individual consequences, but when it concerns directly other humans, the responsibility of the decision-maker is different than the one of the impulsive individual choosing something for him/her. We may dupe ourselves when we simulate to make our exercise exercises – we have another priority in that moment – but if we have for a while this attitude, we will feel less in good physical shape. And certainly, this will affect people around us, but not in a decisive malign way.  But when the politicians choose policies dismantling the social welfare, escalading war and the aggressive bombardment of irrationalism, the results are on long term and decisively malign on the whole humankind. When these policies are the means to attain the priority of absurd wealth of the 1%[4], the entire logic of this behaviour has to be questioned.

This logic considers the social polarization – and concretely, the socially induced sufferings, the waste of life of billions of people, the untimely death of millions, including children[5], and through all these processes, as well as through the aggressive irrationalism as state policy almost all over the world, the reduction of the base of creation (though creativity is the feature and potentiality of the human reason) – as a “normal” price for the concentration of wealth. Actually, the above-mentioned processes even do not exist for the beneficiaries of this logic, since what is important for them is the “health of the global economy” consisting of “changes in corporation tax and capital gains tax”[6], i.e. the big reduction of taxes of capital, namely the definitive destruction of the welfare policies for all.  Their priority covers a crazy logic (where nominally more and more money gained in the process of financialization of the world economy are disconnected from the use values made worldwide) whose result is not only more concentration of wealth – and more polarization, socially induced sufferings and destruction – but also deeper unsolvable contradictions, not only in society that is not important for this logic (or it is important only to the extent that it may put brakes to the enriching of the “chosen individuals”) but  just in economy: that is the source of profit and “the Truth against social requests”.[7]

The insane character of this logic is emphasised not only by all social, including ecological, consequences, but also by the teleological question (Aristotle) – what for/what is the reason to be – related to the individuals who concentrate such a wealth: since it’s about the 1% opposed to the 99% – this is a metaphor, certainly, but very probative – and since the confirmation of this opposition does not bring with it any doubt, and since the individual pleasure always legitimises itself with reference to the others, what is/what are, from the viewpoint of just these individuals, the ultimate reasons of their behaviour?

This is, obviously, a rhetorical question. But the reminding of the teleological question is neither rhetorical and nor naïve, but a decisive argument, ignored by the mainstream ideologies.

***

The development of the human species was and is social. The human consciousness grew as a product of socially created and verified processes of answers to the environment, and an illustration of this phenomenon is just the “halving” of the consciousness in the part of the consciousness of the different situations the humans are in and have to resolve/ the consciousness of the answers, and the part of the consciousness/”mirror” of the first part. Simpler: we are conscious that we, inherently consciously, have thought or made this or that. We are aware even of having, or not, reasons, and which are they.  “The voice of the consciousness” is just this second part, although these parts are intertwined. And just “the voice of the consciousness” emphasises the social, namely universalizable character of logic/reason: it is as if the entire humankind would ascertain, or confirm or infirm, the logic that led one individual or another to think or behave as he did.  This “voice” is permanent – though it is silenced through different methods, especially nowadays – and it’s it that tinkles: “take care, don’t cheat, you are about to make mistakes”. Obviously and as Socrates has observed, if we consider this “voice” to being external to us, it does not shows the right way, it’s us who must choose it; but since the “voice of the consciousness” means also deliberation, it is only a reduplication of us/within us: and thus once more appears that the human consciousness in its entirety is responsible for our decisions and choices, just because its core is reason. Our consciousness is responsible for our tableau of priorities.

Consequently, even though the idea of priority signals its subjective/mental construction, it is not the result of random and ephemeral emotions, it is not a subjective judgement based on inclination alone and nor a subjective judgement based on a supposed community of taste (let’s remember Kant’s characterisation of reflective judgements in Critique of Judgement, 1790). The idea of priority is the result of logical reasoning: and thus it comes rather from a determinative judgement (if we want to continue Kant’s distinction), namely from the subordinating of a particular fact to universal criteria. And since we are aware, when it is the case, that it is about a judgement based on inclination, or based on something transcending this inclination, once more not our emotions and tumultuous feelings would be guilty for our adventurous feelings pushing us to choose something bad, but us, our consciousness, our morality or us as moral beings. And for the humans are moral because they are social beings, they cannot abstract from the problem of being responsible for their choices. To choose the suitable priority for the biggest number of humans possible[8] is the sign of responsibility towards the others and thus, of a high level of reason and education of rationality.

***

Since there is a so huge discrepancy between the priorities of opposed social classes – and here ethics is social (let say, political), beyond abstract normative claims – and since the dominant strata impose their priorities, what remains to the working masses would be only the request, the begging?  As it is known, the phrase vox clamantis in deserto[9] was used both on its own and figuratively. Essentially, the most widespread position of masses was and is that of vox clamantis. But, since to the old request to follow political priorities which are (also) those of the broad masses – and thus, of every unique individual of these masses – the answer was that of priorities even savagely opposed to that request, and since the consequences of this attitude are malign for the Earth and the majority of humankind, can one remain in the play of vox clamantis?

Not least, let’s add that in the present society the dominant priorities are not only those strategic for the upper strata/structural for the modern society, but also the tactical ones, i.e. the assumption of the privileges of former dominant categories – although modernity means just the abolition of privileges, is it not? –: because these former dominant categories are the only allies of the present capitalist upper strata. When thousand of churches, including an absurd mega-cathedral, are state financed in a country like Romania, but not underground parking unities, not unitary nationwide selective collection of waste, neither ecological storage and processing of waste, briefly, a modern and ecological management of secondary output of the anthropogenic processes, neither drinking water systems and ecological care for water nationwide, and when the former royal family is financed by the state (in a republic!) like when it reigned, it is not about ‘mismanagement’, but about a conscious choice of priorities by the conjugated upper strata.

So, what to be done?

***

Philosophy – this means also logic – is that which warns and shows at least epistemological solutions. In order to not err from the rational consistency when choosing priorities, we must relate things (causes, effects, inside and outside the system/problem[10]), i.e. we must not consider them separately, and thus we must infer/ratiocinate all the way, namely beyond the “technical” task/problem that requires its normal technical priority.

Well, philosophy is not only – or it’s not enough to say only that it is – the emphasis of the whole: but it is the argumentation of ways to come nearer the whole, the critique of both the ways and the whole, and the lucidity in front of the argumentation; the questioning of all the criteria.

Is it not for this reason that philosophy is subversive?

[1]  For a synthesis of the neuro-physiological mechanisms and processes, see Ana Bazac, “Anticipation: Learning from the Past. The Russian/Soviet Contributions to the Science of Anticipation”, International Journal of General Systems, Volume 47, Issue: 04, pp. 374-393.

[2] Plato, Apology, 31d (in Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966): “it is a sort of voice that comes to me, and when it comes it always holds me back from what I am thinking of doing, but never urges me forward”.

[3] Continuing Aristotle (Metaphysics, Translated by W.D. Ross, A, I, 980a: “All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves”), see Descartes, Discours on the Method  (1637), Translated by Jonathan Bennett, 2005, Part. 1: “Good sense is the best shared-out thing in the world… the power of judging well and of telling the true from the false—which is what we properly call ‘good sense’ or ‘reason’—is naturally equal in all men; thus it is also evidence that our opinions differ not because some of us are more reasonable than others, but solely because we take our thoughts along different paths and don’t attend to the same thing”.

[4] Ultra Wealthy Analysis: The World Ultra Wealth Report 2018, https://www.wealthx.com/report/world-ultra-wealth-report-2018/#downloadform.

[5] Eric London, A record $31.5 trillion hoarded by corporate oligarchs, 8 September 2018,  http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/09/08/pers-s08.html: according to the most credible analyses, “* Half the world lacks access to healthcare and 100 million people are forced into extreme poverty each year due to healthcare expenses (World Health Organization, 2017).

* 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity (Rockefeller Foundation, 2017).

* 2 billion people use a drinking water source that is contaminated with feces (World Health Organization, 2018).

* 8.6 million people die each year from lack of healthcare or poor quality healthcare ( The Lancet, 2018).

* 750 million adults do not know how to read or write (UNESCO, 2017).

* By 2020, 1.6 billion people will lack access to secure, adequate housing (World Resources Institute, 2017).

* 50.5 million children under the age of 5 are “wasting” due to malnutrition (World Bank, 2018).

* 850 million people suffer from “chronic undernourishment” (UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 2016).

* 4 billion people do not have internet access (UNESCO, 2017)”.

But see also the impoverishment of the world middle classes (except China), although they are defined as classes which drive consumption individually, namely directly spending more money (even though this money are the result of debt), and not also indirectly, through the medium of social safety nets (state subsidies for health care, education, culture, scientific research). For this mainstream rejection of consumption assured through social spending of states – and thus for clear assumption of consumption realised only with individual money/consumption leading to both the profit of industrial corporations and banks, see Homi Kharas, The Unprecedented Expansion of the Global Middle Class. An Update, Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institution, 2017.

[6] See the Wealth Report 2018, Knight Frank, p. 19.

[7] See only some  economic vicious circles developed by the dominant strata:

  • the search for profit led to the delocalizing of production in countries  with cheap labour force and “friendly business environment” (i.e., easy privatisation of national assets,  big reduction of taxes and even subsidizing of “investments”); but this diffusion of productive forces and production led to the increase of harsh competition  between productive capitals and between countries, i.e. the reduction of profit of the traditional Western capitals; and the “repatriation” of capitals is a difficult thing, because without advantages given by the cheap labour force these capitals go bankrupt; and yes, the huge pressure of reduction of spending with the labour force especially in Western countries but also worldwide – reduction made especially through the demolition of welfare state/reduction made on the indirect income of people, but also through the tiny periodical increase of wages, this increase itself being annulled by the rising prices – may perhaps assure for a very little time a stimulus for capitals, but in fact does not work: not only because of the mass oppositions against this reduction, dangerous for the preservation of the system itself since it’s about is centre countries, but even because people have  far too little money to buy the more and more goods in order to fuel the profits; and neither the debt of ordinary people can be supported endlessly by banks; maybe the conditions that the states bail in the bankrupts banks in another 2008 crisis will not be met, will they?
  • the financialization of capitalist economy – meaning the massive transfer of capitals from productive investments to banks promoting “financial innovations” – i. e. creation of money ex nihilo and development of debt in various forms – has led to an enormous amount of money but, since the competition in production does not assure a competitive rise of profit, they are used to invest forwards in finance, to buy more assets and to invest in war/war industries: not only because the war is the ultimate means to preserve the status quo, but also because the states pay all costs and thus these investments in war are the most profitable; but, on the one hand, to wage war is more and more risky today, since not only the opposition against war becomes more efficient but also the war itself may lead to changes unpleasant to capital, while on the other hand, if the destruction made by the war is not or there are not full conditions to “reconstruct” the destroyed countries and thus to obtain profit, the investments in war are unsure, are they?
  • The development of trans-national capitals, so having labour force and markets no longer only in their national states – through the process of concentration and centralization, well-known from the Marxian analysis, but which transcended the national frontiers and became from the 60s of the last century on, definitely trans-national – has led not only to the autonomy of these capitals from the (national) states, threatening them that they will fly if the states do not accept “friendly business environment”, but inherently to the weakening of states in a way leading to economic and political uncertainty within their confines; thus, the states becoming totally subordinated to the trans-national capital, have deregulated as much as they could/they could neutralize the class opposition (i.e. have both reduced, directly and indirectly, the cost of the labour force), have privatised as much as they could and have made an as “friendly business environment” as they could. Certainly, not only for the benefit of the trans-national capital, but also for that of the national one; but while the trans-national capital had as safety valve the fly to other countries, the national capital had not and it remained to bear all the consequences of the behaviour of the state: and though it also benefited from privatisations, since through privatisations the state has lost revenues for public financing, i.e. for indirectly contributing to the purchase power of ordinary people, and since the increase in the cost of utilities (mostly already privatised) hit the national small and medium producers too, it once more results that no economic policy was and is without contradictory consequences for both the national and trans-national capitals; because the latter once more may fly from a country where the consume is not at all enough for their appetite for profit.

Certainly, there are more economic vicious circles, all of them intertwining.

[8] Something as already John Stuart Mill said in 1843 (“in the comparatively humble sense, of pleasure and freedom from pain, and in the higher meaning, of rendering life, not what it now is almost universally, puerile and insignificant – but such as human beings with highly developed faculties can care to have”),  The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume VIII – A System of Logic Ratiocinative and Inductive, Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation (Books IV-VI and Appendices), ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by R.F. McRae, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974, Book VI, Chapter XII, http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=247&layout=html#chapter_40043.

[9] Isaias 40:3 Biblia Sacra Vulgata (VULGATE): Vox clamantis in deserto: Parate viam Domini, rectas facite in solitudine semitas Dei nostri/ The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God.

[10] Ana Bazac, “Three concepts in the history of the knowledge of the world (cause, consequence, telos) and a conclusion”, Biocosmology – Neo-Aristotelism, Vol. 7, No. 2, Spring 2017, pp. 155-177.

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