Accepting Perplexity

The area dividing the brain and the soul
Is affected in many ways by experience —
Some lose all mind and become soul:
Some lose all soul and become mind:
Some lose both and become:

— Charles Bukowski

Let’s stoke the flames

The war-party is assuredly right in affirming and reaffirming that the martial virtues, although originally gain by the race through war, are absolute and permanent human goods. Patriotic pride and ambition in their military form are, after all, only specifications of a more general competitive passion. They are its first form, but that is no reason for supposing them to be its last form.

Men are now proud of belonging to a conquering nation, and without a murmur they lay down their persons and their wealth, if by so doing they may fend off subjection. But who can be sure that other aspects of one’s country may not, with time and education and suggestion enough, come to be regarded with similarly effective feelings of pride and shame? Why should men not some day feel that is it worth a blood-tax to belong to a collectivity superior in any respect? Why should they not blush with indignant shame if the community that owns them is vile in any way whatsoever?

Individuals, daily more numerous, now feel this civic passion. It is only a question of blowing on the spark until the whole population gets incandescent, and on the ruins of the old morals of military honor, a stable system of morals of civic honor builds itself up. What the whole community comes to believe in grasps the individual as in a vise. The war-function has grasped us so far; but the constructive interests may some day seem no less imperative, and impose on the individual a hardly lighter burden.

Fearing the Enemy vs. Fearing Ourselves

LDS & Evangelical Conversations

This quote is from one of my favorite pieces from William James. He seems to deeply get the superiority of Tolstoy’s (and later Ghandi’s) militant pacifism. He also recognizes that it is better to marshal our forces to fight the patent enemies outside of us, than to be controlled by our fear of our own weaknesses:

“[M]ankind was nursed in pain and fear, and that the transition to a “pleasure economy” may be fatal to a being wielding no powers of defence against its degenerative influences. If we speak of the fear of emancipation from the fear-regime, we put the whole situation into a single phrase; fear regarding ourselves now taking the place of the ancient fear of the enemy.

Turn the fear over as I will in my mind, it all seems to lead back to two unwillingnesses of the imagination, one aesthetic, and the other moral; unwillingness, first, to…

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From one of my favorite Kafka Stories


A Report to an Academy

“You have done me the honor of inviting me to give your Academy an account of the life I formerly led as an ape.

I regret that I cannot comply with your request to the extent you desire. It is now nearly five years since I was an ape, a short space of time, perhaps, according to the calendar, but an infinitely long time to gallop through at full speed, as I have done, more or less accompanied by excellent mentors, good advice, applause, and orchestral music, and yet essentially alone, since all my escorters, to keep the image, kept well off the course. I could never have achieved what I have done had I been stubbornly set on clinging to my origins, to the remembrances of my youth. In fact, to give up being stubborn was the supreme commandment I laid upon myself; free ape as I was, I submitted myself to that yoke. In revenge, however, my memory of the past has closed the door against me more and more. I could have returned at first, had human beings allowed it, through an archway as wide as the span of heaven over the earth, but as I spurred myself on in my forced career, the opening narrowed and shrank behind me; I felt more comfortable in the world of men and fitted it better; the strong wind that blew after me out of my past began to slacken; today it is only a gentle puff of air that plays around my heels; and the opening in the distance, through which it comes and through which I once came myself, has grown so small that, even if my strength and my willpower sufficed to get me back to it, I should have to scrape the very skin from my body to crawl through. To put it plainly, much as I like expressing myself in images, to put it plainly: your life as apes, gentlemen, insofar as something of that kind lies behind you, cannot be farther removed from you than mine is from me. Yet everyone on earth feels a tickling at the heels; the small chimpanzee and the great Achilles alike.”

“I repeat: there was no attraction for me in imitating human beings; I imitated them because I needed a way out, and for no other reason. And even that triumph of mine did not achieve much. I lost my human voice again at once; it did not come back for months; my aversion for the schnapps bottle returned again with even greater force. But the line I was to follow had in any case been decided, once for all.”

To be pitied above all people

Paul Argues in 1 Corinthians 15:

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 

I can see why Paul draws this conclusion, but I don’t understand this as a good argument for the resurrection of the dead.  Does our joy in Christ prove that the joy will last?  I am not sure that this makes sense.

Tolstoy on Art as infection

“The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man s expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it. To take the simplest example : one man laughs, and another, who hears, becomes merry; or a man weeps, and another, who hears, feels sorrow. A man is excited or irritated, and
another man, seeing him, comes to a similar state of mind. By his movements, or by the sounds of his voice, a man expresses courage and determination, or sadness and calmness, and this state of mind passes on to others. A man
suffers, expressing his sufferings by groans and spasms,  and this suffering transmits itself to other people ; a man expresses his feeling of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to certain objects, persons, or phenomena, and others are infected by the same feelings of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to the same objects, persons, and phenomena.

And it is on this capacity of man to receive another man’s expression of feeling, and experience those feelings himself, that the activity of art is based.

If a man infects another or others, directly, immediately, by  his appearance, or by the sounds he gives vent to at the very time he experiences the feeling ; if he causes another man to yawn when he himself cannot help yawning, or to laugh
or cry when he himself is obliged to laugh or cry, or to suffer when he himself is suffering that does not amount to art.

Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling,  expresses that feeling by certain external indications.”

From What is Art

William James on Sadness

What single-handed man was ever on the whole as successful as Luther? yet when he had grown old, he looked back on his life as if it were an absolute failure. –

“I am utterly weary of life. I pray the Lord will come forthwith and carry me hence. Let him come, above all, with his last Judgment: I will stretch out my neck, the thunder will burst forth, and I shall be at rest.”- And having a necklace of white agates in his hand at the time he added: “O God, grant that it may come without delay. I would readily eat up this necklace to-day, for the Judgment to come to-morrow.”- The Electress Dowager, one day when Luther was dining with her, said to him: “Doctor, I wish you may live forty years to come.” “Madam,” replied he, “rather than live forty years more, I would give up my chance of Paradise.” –

Failure, then, failure! so the world stamps us at every turn. We strew it with our blunders, our misdeeds, our lost opportunities, with all the memorials of our inadequacy to our vocation. And with what a damning emphasis does it then blot us out! No easy fine, no mere apology or formal expiation, will satisfy the world’s demands, but every pound of flesh exacted is soaked with all its blood. The subtlest forms of suffering known to man are connected with the poisonous humiliations incidental to these results.

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