is that my will has too much power! I can’t get it to do anything and it always behaves exactly as it pleases.
Two character studies from Shakespeare: Malvolio from Twelfth Night and Parolles from All’s Well That Ends Well. Malvolio is the humourless “puritanical” man whose kill-joy morality is the protective shield grown up around his injured but excessive self-regard; Parolles is the man of words alone, the coward who is aware of this flaw, but criticizes the very thing he is as a diversionary tactic. (Imagine a loony cartoon of a troupe of police men looking frantically with a flash light for a criminal; the criminal, instead of remaining hidden, picks up a flashlight and looks alongside them. They do not notice he is the man they are looking for because they are looking not for a man who is looking but for one who is hiding. Craftiness is craftiest when it steps into plain sight and thereby hides itself in the show of finding).
Malvolio is eventually humiliated by love, and Parolles by the consequences of his own cowardice.
Neither get along well with the Clown in their respective drama, though both are fools– unwittingly. Some are unknowing fools by flaw, others knowingly by art. It seems the latter is laudable, but whence is this latter fool derived? Is he an outgrowth from, is he the elevation and even the salvaging of the former?
The success of every new discourse invented by those who will benefit from it– either by being directly empowered by it because one belongs to its true subjects, or because one has befriended these new subjects by adopting the language favourable to them and posed oneself as a prophet, as a do-gooder and a man ‘in the know’– the success of every new discourse always involves a certain number of casualties. The privileging of a new (and perhaps heretofore) neglected subject will– won’t it?– inevitably come at the cost of the deformation or the abortion of others who find themselves, as it were, caught in-between the new allegiance demanded of them and the old one in which they imagined they were doing good, being good. Think of the person on the threshold of being fully “born” to himself just at the moment “NEW VALUES!” are proclaimed on the loudspeakers. He must now change or be consigned to the heap. He must fight the instincts that, until then, he was honing under the understanding he was being pious and reverent to the truth.
The matter of freeing some (or many) is always too pressing to take the time to be fair to every particular case. What’s more, every legitimate advance in perspective is the loss or diminishment of another. Some will gain a new voice, others will be silenced. Some will take consolation in the sudden ability of the culture to represent their pain. Others will be condemned to face silently and blindly a newly invented pain that did not quite exist before and as of yet has no legitimacy or language. There is probably no liberation that will not come at the cost of a few innocent souls. Every successful revolution has who knows how many unmarked graves. The victors should observe a minute of silence every year for those they never quite intended to kill.
It is necessary, yet vulgar, to proclaim “justice has been served” despite the deficit of knowledge from which every “trial” suffers; the deficit being any knowledge short of “absolutely everything.” How do we know that all parties are not ultimately innocent and justified on account of the fragmentation and irreconcilability of perspectives combined with the necessity of each being who he is? The concept of mens rea might be the most ingenious and necessary fiction of the system if we accept that every crime is really a type of madness or ignorance. To say that a person has a truly culpable mind is to say that he truly and fully knows himself and what is good for him and, despite this, does the contrary. Perhaps the only truly guilty criminal would be the fallen-philosopher, keeping in mind I’ve not yet heard anyone pronounce on the defectability of such a salvation. Even if this is not so, even if there is “true guilt,” how would we know unless the defendant in question was examined in the most minute, most atomistic units of his moral and spiritual composition; unless the court could conduct an anatomy of the soul and see “what breeds about [the] heart”? And even so, there remains the wherefore and the culpability behind such a sick breeding. What if moral sicknesses are not rather caught like a cold, or moral deformations inherited by blood?
All pronouncements of guilt and innocence are vulgar and premature, given that we are men and not gods.
In the space of this lack of obtainable knowledge, of which every acute soul is aware, human culture in its prudence has created, or if you will, intuited, the concept of “Last Judgement”: that day when all will be naked and seen for what they really are; when the divergence between the seeming and the actual, appearance and reality, will be revoked. Much could, and I’m sure has, been said on the significance of nudity in the judgement depictions. My point is that the Last Judgement is wrongfully read as springing solely from ressentiment. While it may be appropriated by envy, it does not spring from there. The import of the eschatological nudity of souls is a standing comment on the insufficiency of secular justice on account of the inevitable deficiency of human knowledge pertaining to the unique and ultimately mysterious trajectory of every particular life. While frequently maligned as a damaging invention of Christian moralism and a tool of spiritual blackmail (not untrue), it can likewise be read in a better light; as the acknowledgment that each individual is as mysterious in his own inner clockwork as the unfolding cosmos itself. Our judgements on one another are, at best, opinions trying to approximate the truth. What the broad hammer of Justice so called unjustly bludgeons will be righted on the Last Day, where the difference between the secular approximation of the just society, and what such a society truly is, will be squared. We might go so far as to say that the idea of the Last Judgement is indispensable to the integrity of the concept of “justice for all.”
Christianity has bastardized the purity of this concept by its unfair insistence on the creedal content of its faith, but that does not mean it deserves less credit for delivering the concept to the popular mind and making it more than a vain abstraction. It gave to what might otherwise be a dead and mostly useless philosophical discovery (the impossibility of justice), or at worst a destroyer of social trust, a currency in the favour of a largely decent social order.
You didn’t begin to become suspicious and resentful of that word “justice” until you began to suspect all the different sorts of injustices that that singular word “justice” might conceal. Just as the singular conception of “Truth” might have been invented to cover over a host of multiple truths, so might we say the idea of justice serves to resolve a situation into a manageable (false) simplicity in order to preserve the idea that giving people their due is even possible: Justice as a bludgeon weapon against justices, as the claims of a mob against individual dues in fear of the chaotic tearing up of collective power that giving such dues would mean. The logic of the quest “justice for all” is not something many have yet had the courage to doubt. But what if “justice for all” is not possible? What if every “regime of justice” expels certain experiences, certain injuries, certain crimes, from the possibility of articulation? What if, like language, it has to deface, even create, its object in order to have something to point at? What if some people have to be given unfair treatment and, most importantly, deprived of the ability to call it unfair treatment, so that the very idea of “fair treatment” can be preserved and we not all collectively despair? What if justice is another hammer of hegemony trying to flatten out a plurality of irreconcilable truths? Is one not then justified in seeking out one’s tribe and preparing for war?
But this means that a deep suspicion of the pronouncements of justice might be an outgrowth of the deepest desire for justice. Now, are you really so pure?
To see politics as a drama of machiavelian schemes, as a web of self interested power plays, to see everything noble and good in ambition as a mask over the thirst for glory and subtler versions of gain— this feels good, especially at present. We, who feel powerless, might even wish this is how politics unfolds. Then, at least, the powerless are the pure.
That the going awry of good motivations, the incapacity to co-ordinate well intentioned but bumbling and crooked wills stands behind our folly might be too unbearable a thought; that things go wrong because people are ultimately corrupted, because of the mystery of evil, is perhaps better a thought than the notion they go wrong because we are ultimately incomprehensible to one another and to ourselves; not able to really see what the other needs nor what we ourselves need; that we’re together all a game of bumper cars without the drivers. The most cynical evaluations of the exercise of power as the domain of evil spirits could be looked at in this light, as a defense mechanism against a more disturbing possible truth: that the problem is less than sheer conniving self interest but rather more the fundamental lack of skills, the absence and permanent impossibility of a divine social technology that could co-ordinate the actors of this comic stage into a solemn and victorious drama.
This, in fact, would be a naked presupposition of progressivism shorn of the cloak of progress: no evil, yet no hope of harmony either.
It might be better to believe in the inescapable ruin of our plans by the mystery of something so solemn as evil than the absolute thoroughness of our mediocrity.
Beauty is the goldfish the idle cat claw-caught swimming by.
The river too is running and will never pause. And he catches because it swims past, and not because he happens to be hungry…even if he happens to be hungry.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Yes, but just as important is remembering the journey is not accomplished with the first step; that one remembers the first step is, of a thousand, merely and only the first.
This “wisdom” is poison for those addicts of beginnings, condensing as it does a thousand miles into a foot, and great experiences into their anticipations by rewarding the start with the grandeur of the whole. Better not to count, nor think where or how far one is going, better to forget that endings are contained in their beginnings, less we become little birds feeding ourselves on seeds rather than on ripened fruits.