Conversations September 3, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010

4:50 AM. Still pursuing the statement that any given level does not depend upon or affect other levels — and yet does.

Clever of us to put it  just that way, apparently. It holds your interest and it holds continuity.

All right. And I have it in mind that you intend to illustrate your point by way of inner biography.

Yes but not quite in the way you are expecting. That will come more as you structure the book, or the serial, or however you end up shaping the material. You will find it inherent in what you have learned and will insert it yourself.

I will insert what I don’t know?

You will see in the facts examples of principles we have given.

Now then —

The central theme here is that no matter what level you examined, the same process is going on. Your friend’s analogy of continual evolution is not wrong as an analogy, but it is, shall we say, a bit overdramatic. What’s wrong with saying, merely, that life at any level is continuous growth and change? But it isn’t necessarily growth and change in a particular direction, as if God were mending china, or as if life were nothing but evolving without equivalent devolving. Can there be all construction and no destruction? One end toward which everything is striving? That can easily be so from a given viewpoint, only. From another viewpoint, all that progress is so much wasted effort resulting in destruction.

I get it. How about phrasing it this way? Progress in building a city is — from another point of view — progressive destruction of the natural world.

Yes, that is the idea. One man’s progress is another man’s progress towards the devil. It depends upon values, and viewpoint. That being so, how could you expect that the universe would see things in a way that any limited viewpoint would see them, value a goal as one viewpoint would value it?

Thus, any given goal one might choose may be a perfectly valid expression of one’s own values — but those values can never be absolute for the universe. Indeed, it might be said that the reason you/we are in physical and non-physical form together is so that each may express the values inherent in our makeup, the whole being the sum of so many contradictory and complementary parts.

“Nothing is good or bad, save thinking makes it so.” Not an exact quote, but that idea?

We hesitate to talk about “good or bad” because it brings in so many emotionally charged eddies. Let us say provisionally nothing is pleasing or displeasing but thinking makes it so; that’s closer to the point we want to make. And, to stick to the argument about evolution, no goal is desirable absolutely; it would mean that competing or contradictory goals were undesirable absolutely. That just isn’t so. Life is far bigger than your idea of it — or ours, either. It isn’t a train schedule, or a jigsaw puzzle, or a long-distance race, any more than it is a grab bag or a terrorist’s bomb of random and destructive energy. That is, it isn’t all plan; it isn’t all randomness.

Now that may seem a diversion, that critique of the emotional underpinning of the idea that life is evolution toward a particular goal, but it isn’t a diversion, it is one more boundary of our investigation. One more fence marking our field of inquiry, if you prefer. It is this idea of evolution as an absolute that gets in the way of seeing life as it is, entirely as much as the idea of an all-seeing directive God. (And by the way, the former concept serves the exact emotional need that the other did, and developed in reaction to the discrediting of the latter amid the recognition that a purposeless life is an absurdity and is in any case impossible in practice.)

To see any new conception it is necessary to suspend belief. But it is also necessary to suspend belief in contradictory schemes such as meaningless chance, or a God who sets rules and then judges, or a mechanistic or even a purposive process aimed toward one goal, however ultimate the goal.

Note, this is not an attack on any of those beliefs. Each will serve some and not others. But each is a belief, and needs to be recognized as such if it is not too assume undue importance in an individual’s life. The word “undue” is, of course, a value judgment on our part.

All right. This is very persuasive to me, for whatever that’s worth. I suppose you couldn’t very well bring in ideas I violently disagreed with, and I suppose that my ideas have been shaped as I went along by your input — for I can dimly remember having been an evolutionist a la Shaw and Wilson many decades ago.

Of course one’s own guys will have views compatible with their own downstairs expression. It is tautology. That doesn’t mean we won’t sometimes startle you — but it’s true, we are unlikely to present to you the opposite of strongly held views, because we ourselves are unlikely to hold such opposite views, or we wouldn’t be resonating with you. There is an exception here, to be noticed but not followed up this morning: Sometimes a view may be contradictory when approached from one direction (or along one line of thought or emotion) and not contradictory along a different kind of approach. Bookmark that for another time.

So all of this is to clear the way to express how life changes by (for the moment) clearing away the question of why — for what purpose — it changes.

You — in your life — change in several ways. You fluctuate, you progress, you grow, you discard, you lose ground, you incorporate, you express first this then that aspect of your total person-group. Each of these processes is different in nature, and shall be examined. And notice and remember, as we do so, that what is said of any level equally applies to other levels — the processes are the same and the conditions as experienced are more or less the same — and in this way a close examination of the life you know sheds light on the life you cannot know.

You fluctuate. At some times in your life a given thing has a more central place in your consciousness than at other times, then it fades and returns and fades again. So, perhaps you have a long-term interest in fishing, but then other things intervene and you spend years without wetting a hook — Hemingway in his early years with Hadley is a rough example — and then circumstances change and a new kind of fishing attracts you, or the previous kind again becomes important. Not only the expression in action but the relative importance emotionally may fluctuate along the years. Still it remains a permanent or seemingly permanent star in your sky.

You progress. You master one stage of life or one skill in life and the mastery allows you to tackle the next stage, and so on. You don’t forget how to tie your shoes. You don’t forget how to ride a bicycle, or add a column of figures, or any skill you have learned and built on. Your ability to perform the skill may be lost over time, perhaps, but the progress was made and is not reversed. One may still know after one can no longer do.

You grow. You build upon what you are, and the net result is an organic growth, as the growth from cells to embryo to newborn child to adolescent to grown-up to elder. This is not a fluctuating process nor one dependent upon your ability to learn. And the very breakdown of the body that happens unless the life is truncated suddenly is part of the growth process, though not commonly seen that way — for otherwise one would attain a stage and get stuck there (which, in the guise of “eternal life” is some people’s somewhat shortsighted daydream).

You discard. Life is more than the process of addition. Addition without subtraction is not wealth, but clutter. You prune as you grow — old ideas, values, friends, associations, habits. Discarding is as much a form of shaping your life as acquisition.

You lose ground. Progress in one area may amount to regress in a complementary or a contradictory area. An adolescent loses the spontaneous charm and coordination of the child, and has little of value to replace it with until the process is completed and the child has been replaced by the adult. But, more than that, high ideals at one stage of life may prove too expensive at another stage, and be lost however regretfully. Or the nectar of life that is sipped at youth may fade into the common light of day — a la Wordsworth. These things may or may not be avoidable, but certainly they are not necessarily progress.

You incorporate. Something comes your way and you say “this is for me!” How long, Frank, did you read Thoreau before adopting him body and soul, so to speak? One chapter in Walden? Less? This influence came to you and captured you, and you captured it, and you were permanently changed. John F. Kennedy, the same, and a decade earlier. Lincoln a few years before that. You see? Not skills, not growth; sudden incorporation.

You express various aspects of yourself, of the person-group that you are.

Let’s stop here. It’s 6 AM and that last one sounds like a major topic in itself.

It is. Very well, till next time.

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