Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Will to Will the Will Away (A Rant)

There were once so many wills in philosophy, and are so many ills in life.  Are they related?  Is the relationship causal, or is it merely that we associate them with each other?  The Will to Power, Will to Believe, the Will that is the World.  Will must have been a big thing back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and was evidently such a big thing that it was thought necessary to define not merely life but the universe as a function of will.  Or perhaps it was a case of there being a philosophical sucker born every minute, eager to reduce all to a single--will?  Desire?  Need?  Urge?

It hardly matters, as long as it is something, some single thing, preferably, something simple and dramatic.  Something, that is to say, that will sell by assuring, comforting, by making things easy.  The World as Shills and Simplification, by Ciceronianus, Esquire, J.D.  We used to, and still do, long for the One Answer, the Prime Mover, the Magic Elixir.  That which will tell us what to do and what it's all about.  Will is a particularly convenient Answer, as it is personal in the sense that it's human; what we strive for, what we need, what we want.  What could be better than that?

Some find it in religion, some in philosophy.  It seemed that philosophy had for a time renounced its pretensions to know what is really real, what it's all about, but I think that time is ending.  Now, perhaps, those who are called quietists are rendered silent, and some philosophers will seek to take their place in the great circus, the carnival of life, the spectacle, from the Latin spectaculum.   It's a most appropriate derivation, the Romans using that word to describe especially the shows put on in the arena, beast fights, executions, and gladiatorial contests.  The Spectacle of the Real.  Brought to you by speculation, of course.

This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, as in the absence of philosophers others have rushed to take their place in the business of Will.  Politicians, pundits and priests (well, clergy let us say, ministers, pastors, some self-appointed).  These latter don't even seek to plausibly maintain their bold assertions, as lawyers do according to Aaron Burr ("The law is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained"--those were happier, simpler times), and as philosophers would do, presumably.  Or let us in any case hope so, and that the effects of quietism will at least work to mitigate the Sturm und Drang that has characterized the Great Discoverers of Reality in the past.

Sadly, thinking, and especially thinking critically, is both difficult and humbling.  Humbling because honesty requires that we apply it to our own pretensions.  As such it is something we avoid, as much as possible, in all things.  Those who work themselves into a frenzy over our President, shrieking "tyranny," have abandoned thought as it would require them to consider what tyranny actually is; far better to shriek.  Those who attach themselves to heroes, idols, cannot think, for in doing so they would understand that all should be questioned, the great as well as the small should be subject to scrutiny which would mean there would be no heroes, just other people--a dismal prospect for many of us.  Those who seek the Answer and, worse, believe they've found it won't think either, I'm afraid, as by thinking they'll doubt and those who know the Answer don't doubt.

Undoubtedly we're creatures who have urges and desires, and whether they're to be satisfied and the extent they should be satisfied is a matter for judgment in particular circumstances.  Whether it's necessary to reduce them all to one in particular is something I question, particularly when it is power that becomes the alleged basis for our lives--that sort of thing sets hearts pounding and feet marching.  That's in the nature of an urge, I suppose, but it isn't at all clear to me that our urges should triumph over much of anything and certainly not our reason.   There is nothing inherently wrong with them, but to declare them as fundamental in some philosophical sense is simply to abandon responsibility for our conduct.  It is, in short, an excuse.  An excuse not to think.

We are perpetually dissatisfied and that dissatisfaction is caused by great, and thoughtless, expectations.  Disappointed that the universe doesn't meet those expectations we do just about all we can do except recognize there is no basis for such expectations and so no reason for our disappointment.  That's due in part, I believe, to the fact we overestimate the significance and effectiveness of our Will, which is to say, broadly speaking, what we want.  Want what we will, there are times, many times, when we won't get what we want.  This should teach us something about ourselves, but teaches us nothing about the universe beyond the fact we're a very small part of it.

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