Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Like twilight on a harsh landscape

Routine comes down like twilight on a harsh landscape, softening it until it is tolerable. The complexity is too subtle, too varied; the values are changing utterly with each lesion of vitality; it has begun to appear that we can learn nothing from the past with which to face the future — so we cease to be impulsive, convincible men, interested in what is ethically true by fine margins, we substitute rules of conduct for ideas of integrity, we value safety above romance, we become, quite unconsciously, pragmatic.
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Beautiful and Damned (1922)

Behind the endless debates and controversies of the public arena there is a cold and passionless reality. We experience the complexity of it all as intelligence, reason, debate, honesty, dishonesty, integrity, lies, errors, laughter, tears, jokes, tragedies and so on and so on. This is the joy of living, of discovery, of understanding that harsh landscape which is the only one we'll ever know. Apart from those invented to deceive us of course.

As Baruch Spinoza knew, a defence against deception is our ability to observe the workings of natural law. We observe and are influenced by what we see and feel. Those influences feel like intelligence, curiosity, decision making, choice, debate, compromise and options but they are all of these things and yet none of them. They are the effects of natural law.

Only when we understand natural law do we get closer to that harsh landscape because by understanding it we adapt to it and come to know and even love it. Our understanding is an integral factor in its passionless workings, even down to the long forgotten trajectory of a flint tipped spear. That is all the freedom we have but it is enough. In spite of all our limitations it has dragged us from that spear to where we are now.

Elites know all this at an instinctive, grasping, predatory level. They know that if they limit our curiosity and our consequent understanding of natural law then they also limit our freedom and our ability to participate in the way things are and the way they have to be. They limit our ability to distinguish true from false.

To my mind this is why the public arena has become so peculiar, so riddled with emotional blackmail and obvious drivel. Reason has finally become inconvenient, a hindrance to government by elites. They need to preserve their social distance but for some time natural human curiosity has been eating away at the mystique on which their puny Olympus sits.

So they substitute rules of conduct for ideas of integrity.
And they encourage us to value safety above romance.
And we cease to be impulsive, convincible men.


Sackerson said...

Beautiful quotation. Perhaps Fitzgerald was doomed by seeing too clearly. What an irony. The wisdom of drunks.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - perhaps the clarity caused the drinking. I'm sure there is a link, but not for everyone and not the other way round.

Demetrius said...

My senior aunt had a "bloody men" theory of life. When asked what is the basic plot of a ballet or opera, I often say that it a "bloody men" one for simplicity.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - it may come full circle such that a "bloody women" theory of life is mostly pretty accurate.

James Higham said...

Natural law, yes ... but also personal spirituality.

A K Haart said...

James - for Spinoza that would be the same as understanding natural law.