Backing out from a wall
Gratuitous fears fall
Like a clearing
Heidegger’d be proud
Words now spoken out loud
Backing out from a wall
Gratuitous fears fall
Like a clearing
Heidegger’d be proud
Words now spoken out loud
I would never have pegged myself for the self-indulgent. But there you have it: I am. Not self-centred or selfish, mind you. In fact, on Aristotle’s scale I’d come out on the excessively self-sacrificing and accommodating side, and we all know those are vices that tamper with your well-being. But today I shall leave Aristotle at the door. Sorry dude! Today’s lesson kids (hehehehe) is about the desire to be understood. You’d think it a noncontroversial desire, right? For anyone whose composure isn’t being threatened by your all-too-innocent – angelic? saintly? (hehehehe) – insistence, sure! And there you are following him around from room to room to make your point, and as you do, his steps accelerate – I never knew he could walk so damn fast! – and eventually running out of places to go, the same rooms are visited …ad infinitum…. Okay so we did eventually get off the merry-go-round but even then the house still felt as if it were spinning. Funny how I never even noticed he was silent in all of this! WHAT?! Well, he was there, right? It’s not like he said: Shut up, lay off, leave me alone, go away, take your little spinning top and vamos!!!! Secretly I knew he knew I was right! (I know he did!!! 🙂 )and his silent “presence” seemed to confirm it to my little mind! ELEOS, Pirocacos, moutzes afthones! But not everyone wants their “world” shattered by the truth, and so however important understanding is, it is not….yes, Pirocacos…NOT….everyone’s priority. Truth does not always trump composure. Truth does not always take a front seat to serenity. Truth is not always his truth. (Notice mine is capitalized…NO, I’m not self-indulgent at all, and I take offence at the suggestion!) And so that cute, adorable, feisty, little spinning top looks slightly more like a dog chasing its own tail! Nuts, right!!!? The truth is (OMG, still I seek understanding from my anonymous audience…there is just no salvation for this woman!) …what was I saying? Oh ya, the truth is that “the truth” is never really an isolated state of affairs, and so stuck within the confines of one’s own comportment is not only illusory and self-indulgent, but it’s never quite experienced as truth until it is understood by your dialogical counterpart. So cut her some slack, people!
The calamity of life is boredom. Kierkegaard said so. His linguistic elocutions had better gait, of course, but his point was the same. As he too warns, idleness is not boredom. Inertia is different. It is kinda like passive aggression, it never quite poses for itself. Newton’s Law of Inertia basically speaks to the “inability of a physical body to change from a state of rest or of uniform motion, unless it is acted upon by an external force”. But it was Dostoevsky that understood the existential crisis brought on by this state. Inertia figures in Dostoevsky’s work Krotkaja (“The Gentle One” or sometimes translated “The Meek One”) where the running theme tragically narrated concerns a context, indeed that human-made context, of human understanding which is a coolly, mechanistic world determinate of laws of causation. Here then, inertia is not properly understood as actual inactivity, but activity determinant of a causal network of relations which are taken to define human activity. Much in the same way that objects are subject to laws of nature that determine motion, humankind self-identifies – well not consciously, people!!!!! – as a well greased machine, well at least when performative capacity is optimal. The suggestion is that the laws of nature in the physical world operate in precisely the same way with regards to humanity. Though the threat of determinism is imminent, suppose that this could be surpassed, it leaves free will at the mercy of a modus operandi that seeks out those governing laws of human nature according to which, or for which, any judgement should properly comply. Of course, the point would be that agency is tied up with goals, and the means by which these are fulfilled reflect the modus operandi.
The lucky ones – or maybe not so damn lucky!!! – discover this inertia that has seeped in and corroded all that is human, and despairing look to break out of their mundane. Don’t be fooled, the mundane is actively ( 😉 ) at work in the most sprightly, successful, and assertive lives! Was not the lives of the Greeks – Aristotle (though I will argue in my upcoming book that there is room here to manoeuvre) and notably the Stoics – aimed at virtue-building in accordance with nature, whereby one could learn to address all of those contaminates of the proper ordering of human activity, and live an active, prosperous, fulfilling life? The natural forces do not bend under the human will, mind you, rather it is the human will that learns to adapt and bend to the governing Will of the universe. As a result one would not futilely suffer over the events of one’s life but rather learn to live in accordance with them. As Epictetus famously says: Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.
At what cost Dostoevsky? At what COST! The shrilling sounds vibrate in my mind and arrest my feet. I stand motionless, I am inertia! A double paradox presents. Once there, there seems no where to go, and hence the overwhelming, indeed fossilizing, experienced as angst. Recovery finds its way in the 2nd paradoxical state as vexed resistance: resistance to change.
Zen is not an option. Serenity, αταραξία, is a self-annihilating state. But subliminal peace is too potent to resist and so back to the running wheel disguised as a road spanning over the vast and unyielding beauty of nature. Resist and condemn yourself. Yield and loose yourself. Troubled are the waters not for the Phelpses (Micheal Phelps was a US Olympic decorated swimmer) of the world, but the circus clown! 🙂
More often than not people profess that one should not regret anything one has done because, after all, it got me to where I am now. And strangely even when ‘where one is now’ ain’t so great, bizarrely one draws inspiration from the idea that I would not be who I am were it not for everything that preceded, and I guess not profoundly embracing this notion is blasphemous dribble suggestive of self-annihilation. I don’t agree. I’m so totally with Kathryn.
Do you honestly believe that Biban Janković does not regret slamming his head against the goal post (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boban_Jankovi%C4%87) that caused his paralysis and premature death? What if the late Jyoti Singh (see India’s Daughter) could turn back the clock and not enter the bus from hell? Would she not have chosen to? You can be sure that Stanley Tookie Williams ((http://www.biography.com/people/stanley-tookie-williams-476676) regrets his delinquent ways! Indeed, it was his regret that moved him to change his ways, and though from a prison cell, inspire young hooligans on the fast track to a life of crime, to learn from his mistakes! Regret implies agency – Kathryn is right about this, no? We cannot regret what we cannot change. I can’t regret being born into a world bent on (still lingering) patriarchal sentiments, any more than I can regret the vicious tragedy that befell the lovely Jyoti Singh. These events were not within my power to effect. But this is not the same as decisions made under my watch, as I surveyed my life. The premise is fallaciously employed retroactively to suggest that because I cannot change the past, and therefore have no control over altering events already transpired, that regret is a futile occupation. Of course, I did have agential authority over events that, despite the initial suggestion, one quite naturally evokes a sense of regret for (“Damn I wish I hadn’t eaten that 2nd piece of cake!” or “Shit, I wish I hadn’t betrayed my wife and pissed my family away!”) which is obviously not the case with regards to those events over which I never had (or could have had) such authority over. Still, many might argue that what is done is done. The past cannot be undone. I cannot claim (or be assigned) agential authority over that. True enough. Except for one thing. Regret is an emotionally charged response to a situation which is perceived to have been under one’s control to effect. This is why often cries of self-admonition – “I wish I hadn’t!!!!”- can be heard over and over again. Sometimes regrets linger and are replayed ad nauseam as one wrestles with the emotional overtures of events one could (often easily) have altered….but didn’t. Regret does not reflect one’s impotency to change the past, but one’s weakness, ignorance, idiocy, delusion, to have acted in a way that one now understands to have been under (or could have been) one’s control to do otherwise. That’s why I don’t regret what is perceived to have been beyond my control to act otherwise (eg. under coercive threat).
And we do actually believe this. Regret is the moral backdrop (perhaps) of all organized human life where moral culpability plays a fundamental role in the assignment of blame and incurring punishments and penalties. We don’t send sociopaths to jail because they are deemed ill-fit and devoid of the moral sentiments from which a sense of moral culpability is drawn. The point is twofold: (i) Iff one is sound in mind, is one assigned moral culpability (eg. mentally challenged, temporary insanity, psychoses, etc.) ; and (ii) only in cases such as these does one recognize in oneself acts of wrong doing and the ensuing predictable (and I dare say, expected) feeling of regret! The corollary of this view is that such individuals (especially those suffering from psychoses) are beyond rehabilitation because they are beyond redemption. Herein lies the crux of the matter: regret charges one with both the responsibility and motivation to alter one’s ways. It says, in effect, I could have acted differently, if only I had known x, believed y, was willing to see or accept z, and/or had the courage to act accordingly. With foresight in my grasp, I can now tend to these shortcomings in self, and begin my journey towards my own transvaluation of values (well not quite as Nietzsche might have hoped, but perhaps Derek Vineyard’s existential plight in American History X offers some insight – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsPW6Fj3BUI) and the negotiation of self (so very unlike that more convenient idea with which this blog began where one embraces who one is just because this is how I happened to turn out!!! 🙂 ) more authentically and viscerally realized. It is as Kathryn says, regret only means that I acknowledge in myself the power to be better, the emotional stability to accept my fragility, and the desire to change and make past wrongs right.
Regret at will, I say! It is the healthy choice. And make no mistake, this too is a choice! 🙂
A parable exhaustively announced as if something novel and true. Yes, yes, unless you believe in the transmigration of the soul whereby identity remains in tact (I don’t know about you, but if I’m somehow assured an afterlife with a prelife I have no knowledge of, sign me up for cremation!) you only live once. Got it. Mostly people advocate (insert long heavy sigh) “you only live once” to make a point about doing their utmost to live this one life. It is one of those thoughtless motivational ploys to get people off their asses and really live! I get that. I do. But really? Is anyone ever really moved to live life to the fullest beyond a somewhat transient, flippant, arms flying in the air, “take me now’ mode of being when making such banal pronouncements? There is as much oomph, as much gumption in these words as there is in the goo goo ga ga of mothers’ first words to their (presumed idiot) offspring!
This does more to obfuscate than illumine insights into the human condition. Only the obtuse would enjoin the thoughtlessness that accompanies this prescriptive journey. The reflectiveness of the conscious, or perhaps as Sartre rightly suggests, self-conscious, more brightly sways placating anxieties to turn their wavering heads from indulgences – even those requiring some configured determination, usually of the more physical variety – to festering inner struggles wherein the Subjective looms. Living life to the fullest is not something one simply does, it is an orientation of life that is unsettling as much as it is motivating, disturbing as much as it is enlightening, defeating as much as it is empowering, painful as much as it is moving, crippling as much as it is igniting. It is not a simple task, a monochromatic way of being. It is polychromatic, strangely infused with a cacophony with harmonic hues, which fall deaf on unassuming ears. Being-towards-death is a nonrelational, hence intimately subjective, if lonely, experience, and most importantly it cannot be outstripped, for death is the “possibility of impossibility”. Do the work, if you’re going to make the talk!
Fragile Me is not clinically depressed, nor is she unhappy. Fragile Me discovers the alienating and self-annihilating experience of addressing oneself as a kind. Whenever one speaks to how anything is, one immediately speaks in terms of kinds. Elly is munificent describes Elly as the type of person that exhibits munificence; so if I wanted to know what kind of person she is, I could get a sense (since this is only a contingent claim…though, some have argued that it is a necessary one! 😉 ) of this, knowing what it is to be munificent. This is unavoidable. To evade such utterances is to end up saying nothing at all! (A case in point is the philosophy of Parmenides who deduced Esti as the only truth-preserving utterance, of which nothing can be said.) That won’t do, of course. Why is this self-annihilating and how can it be avoided?
It is self-annihilating because it asks that I turn in unto self (Sartre, of course, has argued that all consciousness is self-consciousness, but that complicated philosophical story for another day – unless you venture to read my Between Shock and Awe) adopting a spectatorial view as a disengaged rational subject as championed by science, but in this scenario I am both onlooker and specimen. I literally become an object unto self (a Cartesian problem which Sartre aimed to address and resolve), so that in an attempt to better understand myself, I think of myself in terms of ‘a human being in x, y, z circumstance’, and thereby circumvent all internal and external inhibitions blocking my ability to properly assess myself in my situation. In effect, I consider myself as anyone who could befall the selfsame predicament and offer consult to oneself as anyone might. So, Fragile Me argued that,
an objective onlooker could identify causes of both the extrinsic and intrinsic variety; a trained scientist of the human condition – a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, neuroscientist, even psychologist, take your pick – could tell you all sorts of objective facts about your suffering. A psychiatrist, along with the neuroscientist, may tell you that there is a chemical imbalance in your brain – something about the neurotransmitters found in depressed people. A psychotherapist may tell you that certain cognitive and emotional (in the case that the emotions are not considered cognitive states) states are the cause. And all of these objective assignments may accurately illustrate your state of being. But none of them, I repeat none of them, can capture what it is to be uniquely in the throws of despair. These facts mean absolutely nothing to one in despair. None of these facts address me; fragile me. Looking upon this state of being, or any other, as one who suffers despair, is literally to supersede and cast as irrelevant the experiencing subject!!!! When invited to look upon my own anguish objectively, scientifically, if you like, and dispassionately, I can not be aware of myself as an existing individual. Indeed, I am asked to be an object unto self, and in effect, to forget myself.
The psychiatrist is no more in error regarding neurotransmitters (well maybe since no one is infallible, right?! 🙂 ) than the physician is regarding death, or even the psychologist might be with regards to the human experience of death. But nothing the psychiatrist or the psychologist has to say captures the existential relevance of despair or death for me. These are interesting assessments of kinds, namely kinds of experiences and probable causes (insofar as this causal framework adheres to accepted laws of movement and human understanding thereof). Indeed, as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross writes in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, humankind can be described as negotiating death in 5 stages of mourning. I may even find myself somewhere amidst these stages. This too, speaks to death – my death, your death, John, Mary, and Jane’s deaths, indeed anyone’s death – as something that we all experience similarly or in common. But can we experience death by proxy? Isn’t it always quite distinctly my death which washes over me with utter confoundment and surprise! Do I lack rational understanding of death? Did I not know of my own mortality? Rhetorical questions to be sure! “How could this be happening? Why now? “, we ask. We look for reasons, but none are forthcoming! There is no reason that we should die, and that we should die when we do. There are causal events that lead up to this ultimate event, as with all others, but there is no ultimate reason for it – for any of it! It is in this primordial state of abandonment, and self-doubt that I comport myself to self in an existentially meaningful way. And it is thus that I may find myself in the throws of despair as described by Fragile Me. But though this despair is an inescapable mode of being towards authenticity, it is not without great reward.
In another blog It’s the Little Things, Fragile Me, says:
It’s the little things. A penetrating glance. A stream of light. Preparing a meal. Writing a blog. A child’s smile. The joy experienced is owed not to the glance, the streaming light, the meal or the child’s smile. For just as words can fall on deaf ears, so too can sights fall out of focus. Everything that is anything is something because we make it so. You see beauty in the creases of the rose-pedal, are mesmerized by the droplets that like a suspended bubble sit indifferent to the raging wind on a leaf, watch as a child’s hand slowly fastens the outreaching arm of his mother. The world suddenly slows down and grows quiet. It is as with the reverence spoken in silent humility upon entry into the House of the Lord.
Beauty, joy, happiness don’t belong to the world for they can not be discerned by the spectator’s lens. I do not stand and face the world. I am always in-the-world. Here I become intermingled with the being of the “objectively present” not related as two separate and distinct entities, but affectively I take in the world with caring attention and personal investedness and I see everything that’s anything!
These little things are sensory data to which I am causally related; but they are only merely sensory data to which I am causally related when all that comprises my world is existentially irrelevant. Poetry, any art form really, may communicate the incommunicable individuality of that concretely individual experience that was my own, not science.
Fragile Me is a troubled being, but for all her trouble, she is finely attuned, and fully immersed in her world with others. Or more colloquially: all is good in her world! 🙂
Fragility is not always esteemed a virtuous quality. We value strength. We tire of people harping on their loss. Deplore public displays of existential anguish. Though we’re sensitive to external forces – natural, socio-economic and political disasters – that can ravage lives. Some of us even practice charity. Some reach out to their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram people to sensitize them to the travesties of others. And we may weep for them. Yet, those inner turmoils, especially in the absence of identifiable forces, are entertained only so long as they sync with that invisible timeline of respectable comportment. “Get over it.” “Move on.” “Get a grip.” If you absolutely have to suffer, do it quietly, with composure. Have some self-respect. Be Stoic-like and turn that rational propensity for clarity unto self and address your life, your life-circumstance, as one emancipated from wildly unrestrained emotions that govern your anguish. This onerous and ubiquitous sighting of objective vision asks that we suppress, oppress, obliterate, annihilate what is uniquely, and concretely you. For sure an objective onlooker could identify causes of both the extrinsic and intrinsic variety; a trained scientist of the human condition – a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, neuroscientist, even psychologist, take your pick – could tell you all sorts of objective facts about your suffering. A psychiatrist, along with the neuroscientist, may tell you that there is a chemical imbalance in your brain – something about the neurotransmitters found in depressed people. A psychotherapist may tell you that certain cognitive and emotional (in the case that the emotions are not considered cognitive states) states are the cause. And all of these objective assignments may accurately illustrate your state of being. But none of them, I repeat none of them, can capture what it is to be uniquely in the throws of despair. These facts mean absolutely nothing to one in despair. None of these facts address me; fragile me. Looking upon this state of being, or any other, as one who suffers despair, is literally to supersede and cast as irrelevant the experiencing subject!!!! When invited to look upon my own anguish objectively, scientifically, if you like, and dispassionately, I can not be aware of myself as an existing individual. Indeed, I am asked to be an object unto self, and in effect, to forget myself.
And yet fragility is not weakness. One must be strong to actually endure the psychic upheaval of a fragile spirit. Something acutely experienced when one is subjectivity. And yet, even in subjectivity, most also anguish over being understood. Often this never comes as time is arrested in the fragmentary distillations formulated by those distant, and not so distant, others.
*At the recommendation of my daughter “13 Reasons Why” has been part of my days. I’ll admit to being a little like Clay. Hannah killed herself. She was a fragile soul; hypersensitive to the goings-on in the world and the manner in which her being was implicated, compromised, by others. Again, fragile me got missed. Careful you/we don’t end up on Hannah’s tapes.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – they’ve made us a society of stalkers, and some eagerly turn their little lives into a reality show! Basta! More than ever before, privately lived moments are all the more real, all the more authentic, all the more precious. There is something especially disingenuous and shallow about shouting to the virtual rooftops!
This is a sequel entry to my Soulless Faces: An Exercise in Self-Criticism. That original monologue entered the public arena, not unwittingly I might add, in an effort to simultaneously negotiate a crisis of identity brought on by my experience with Facebook, that would at the same time create a public space for its appropriation, itself not susceptible to potential virtual contaminants. Not all social media are created equal!
Now some may protest that it’s not the fault of Facebook that I came away feeling so existentially compromised for we are autonomous beings with the freedom to choose which comes with responsibility. So it’s no good blaming anyone but myself. In part I agree. But I’m no Kantian when it comes to morality. Autonomy is not found in a vacuum, nor is it built on sand; autonomy is always relational. It is acquired within an acknowledged field of intrusion, over-against, or at least with or amongst others in the world. So we always choose within a playing field and I have the sense that I, and perhaps many others, inadvertently superimposed the field of actual life onto this virtual life. I find it is akin to engaging that anonymous bartender, or taxi driver where you imagine a protective shield of silence to vent and share your inner most concerns, and walk away feeling completely understood. And yet, like any confessional space it relies on anonymity, and so when you return to your “anonymous” bartender and book a ride with your “anonymous” taxi driver, you come to see a “friend”. “Friends” on Facebook are sometimes that “anonymous” taxi driver. Friends, however, are those people that are part of your life; they don’t just drop in and leave on a whim. Life plans are built around these people, decisions include and impact their lives, your direction is routed and re-routed to accommodate them because they’re not just venting or confessional partners. Intimacy is built not simply on sharing private information – it is in being intimate through everyday engagement. Intimacy is tied up in the understanding of oneself as authentic. Sartre argues that inter-human relations are inherently frustrating and with that I would not disagree, albeit for semi non-Satrean reasons. Authenticity is not found in some ultra-earthly zone or dimension. It is not discovered when you peel away all that has been acquired, as if the self is a fruit with some delectable pit at its core. Authenticity is not gained in a moment and held for eternity. Though some have gained eternity felt in a moment! 😉 It is a constant process that motions towards unsettling oneself, tearing away from all that has nestled up close which designates that place of comfort in which one feels most welcome or “at home”.
How are inter-human relations authenticated then? I don’t know. That’s the shorthand answer. The longhand answer is, maybe I have a sense of what doesn’t. If we begin with the understanding that self-understanding is fashioned upon discovering oneself in context and is constantly on-its-way, then ossifying, sterile, unilateral relations are the enemy. Congenial (Face)friends, often our anonymous bartender, are not our friends. Authentic inter-human relations are confrontational, they are disruptive, awakening oneself to stagnation, and opportune self-transformation. Friends can sometimes mouth our unspoken words, caress our fragile egos and some of us could hibernate there for a lifetime. Does it get any better than this? Hahahahaha The pleasantries of congeniality sometimes bare teeth, often with the over-indulgent (Facebook)users, who open their “bedrooms” blinds, eager to share what in one’s actual or real life would remain private, so that when “cartoonized” or caricatured, they are left feeling trampled, their egos compromised, and angered at being misunderstood. And yet, I would contend that neither of these polar relations are inherently in-authenticating (well I’m still on the fence regarding the latter scenario…but that for another blog, on another day). There is nothing inherently compromising about friends being kind, supportive, and agreeable. The problem lies elsewhere. For these friends are one-dimensional, if you will. They are only ever experienced on your flat screen, and engagement is often more imaginary than real. For those that know you not in your real, invested, multi-layered, historicity can speak a kindness in earnest response to a fragmentary moment, or in virtual tongue, to a Facebook post, but it is one’s own mistake to presume a residing friendship. So that when many of the same friends make judgment on the presumption of friendship, and hence on the presumption of “knowing” oneself, existential anguish can overwhelm. I doubt that Nietzsche would have anything but disdain for those who walk away from such platforms when public scrutiny borders on abusive; misplaced blame comes to mind. But empowerment and riding on the momentum of self-appropriation also does not invite swimming in a cesspool of invasive and presumptive characterizations either. 🙂
Still this social space is in the imagination of many more real than their actual lives; or rather, their actual lives become more meaningfully lived with the facade of public interest. We’ve cooked a lovely meal for just the two of us…but wait…click the pause button …let’s take a picture. Place the plates just so, angle the light, conjure a clever line, upload…okay we’re good…press pause again to resume your life. Hey, how ’bout a quiet evening at home..but we’ll let every know, right?….they’re waiting…quick, stop your fidgeting, sit still, comb your hair, look casual…good….there…click…upload. Out on the town….my friends will want to know where I am…check-in….hey wait, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m all alone…tag friends…phew…good….persona in tact, now let’s get on with the festivities. Home alone? That won’t do. Snap…clever line….see I’m never really alone. Damn look at all those likes!!!! Let’s mix things up a bit. A pic with my dog; my cat; my fish, Martha, walking; running; skipping; cycling; skiing; swimming; in (casual 😉 ) loving embrace; on the phone…computer…the can (dude, really!!!!??), sleeping!! Hey, say what?! See what a full, varied, interesting life I have!!!?? Secretly I wonder who is ever around with the patience to snap all of these uneventful events?!! A, the mysteries of life! Perhaps these are those greater mysteries of life people are always haggling over! Still, not all social media are created equal – compare the anonymity of Twitter, and G+ (though again these platforms are distinct in important ways) – I’ll give you that; but then not all users are created equal either. To say that everyone is equally vulnerable to this addiction is no different than saying everyone is equally vulnerable to alcoholism, gambling and drug addiction. Certain personality-types, life circumstance, not to mention issues of self-appropriation and conceptual frameworks make all the difference – point is, this needs to be negotiated. (Disclaimer: it would be disingenuous to disavowal any truth to these mysterious illustrations, but that is not to say this fragmented extraction of such moments could not with equal zeal be applied to any one of my pics and posts; the point being, as this blog intends, that we are more than our social media parts. So, though amused (as I often am with myself, especially when I am the object of my own criticisms), these are nothing more than caricatures of possible hidden truth. Chill! 🙂 )
Facebook friends march to their own drummer, and it is in learning to keep in step that these relations can be appropriately negotiated. I have found my rhythm, and my Facebook place amongst Facebook friends and those blended relations that move between real and virtual worlds. Mostly, I have learned to leave my real friendships at the virtual door. Which is not to say that some of my friends are not my friends but that nothing is rehearsed on this platform that does not belong on this virtual stage. It is my sense that those out-of-step will relegate their indulgent tendencies to platforms such as Twitter, G+, Instagram and more, leaving a trail, now within a confessional space explicitly anonymous, with the hopes of evading their cartoonized personas and existential anguish, if only because their friends and their friends shall remain silent. I have found a place amongst my Facebook friends but have nonetheless opted out of its use, and long held a tiny niche for virtual (double entendre….hehehehe) engagement on Twitter, but it is with acknowledged risk that I do so. 🙂
Disclaimer: Some of my Facebook friends have come to be wonderful friends to me – they stood by me in times of peril (you know who you are); and some friends lost in the vortex of their virtual lives vanished without a trace. This just to say that the technology of self has become an increasing complex affair and this brief exposé is nothing more than a personal anecdote that some may find insightful.
I know most people say “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” (how adorable….sorry, mom), some even following in the footsteps of Socrates, and many that followed after him, said that knowledge is virtue and virtue will ultimately lead to human happiness. But what exactly does all this mean? If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, perhaps a lot of knowledge is an even more dangerous thing. That is, if the meaning is that one is an expert in her field. For after all, an expert in the field of atomic physics is far more capable of designing an atomic bomb than one with little relevant knowledge. What about an expert in the field of human psychology? Such a person could manipulate people to do their bidding, plus all sorts of other atrocities. One with little knowledge would likely be shooting in the dark and sometimes be successful and sometimes fail abysmally. Seems those of little knowledge also, of course, have equal chances of fumbling the job of the psychologist who aimed to enhance potentiality, liberate the feeble from forces of coercion and more, just as the physicist could use her knowledge to create devices for peace rather than mass destruction. It would seem then that Plato might have had it right. The issue of knowledge is really a moral issue. You can have all the knowledge in the world and use it for good or for evil; the greater one’s expertise the greater the likelihood of success. But this does not in itself reduce the risk of danger, rather short of a moral compass, it increases it.
But then there is the added issue of self-deception to which both Nietzsche and Sartre spoke, though in an entirely different vain. Nietzsche, of course, offers a diagnostic narrative to account for various forms of self-deception (ressentiment amongst the decadent, for instance) which is not reserved for the plebeians since many philosophers (oh, my!!!) also erected false idols which for centuries would rob humanity of any chance at authentic living; whereas Sartre would argue that because all consciousness is self-consciousness, and hence always being and nothingness in that it is always lacking the being that it intends. Hence, self-deception is the result of experiencing oneself as an enduring self through all of one’s manifestions.
It was pointed out to me that:
The original quotation, or something very like it that substitutes the word “learning” for “knowledge,” is originally from Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Criticism.” If you look it up on Wikipedia, you’ll get the full quotation with an explanation.
His main point is that you should either pursue deep knowledge or not study at all. The benefit of no study at all is that you at least know that you’re ignorant. The problem he’s attacking is the illusion of knowledge without the substance of it, which makes people confident in their opinions when they really aren’t that worthwhile. He wasn’t talking about literal dangers, like developing a nuclear weapon, but primarily the dangers of vanity and stupidity.
In Pope’s lifetime, technology didn’t create nearly as many problems as it solved, so there would be less ambivalence about the attainment of knowledge than we have now. I think attitudes began to change at least by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which was not quite 100 years later.
To which I replied:
So I read from that point of reference and, of course, found it powerfully written with many references that would have to be properly invited to give insight into the full significance of his meaning. In any event, the first lines: “A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring: There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.”, suggest, that a little learning is dangerous because it can mislead one into thinking one knows (intoxicate the Brain) more than one does, and as a result draw invalid conclusions, upon which one might act hastily. The psychological aspect regarding overconfidence, to which you refer – one which Socrates too was concerned with – may lead to undeserving airs of vanity and arrogance, but as unbecoming as these airs are they aren’t actually “dangerous” in any sense of the word. So I just wonder how the illusion of knowledge counter-set against substantive knowledge could be making any significant point were we not to consider it in the context of the role of knowledge personally, inter-personally, morally, politically and so on.
Though it is not this original text that I had in mind when I wrote this post – it was inspired by a conversation, frustrating at that, with a family member and a former student – it is not, in my mind far off in meaning. For though Pope may not have been concerned with the consequences of illusory knowledge, especially in the context of technology (only a chanced example used to illustrate my point) a disdain for smugness and arrogance could be off-putting because it obstructs the possibility for further learning (again Socrates would have made this point) and hence the dangers of remaining in a state of ignorance, or it may be off-putting only when it springs from a position of ignorance, unless, of course, such airs unlikely find the truly knowledgeable, humility being the true mark of knowledge.
(I had originally posted this on G+.)