Lincoln from the outside

Monday, February 10, 2020

6:10 a.m. Very well, to continue on Lincoln’s life as it affected others, and was experienced by others.

Bearing in mind, as we go along, that this is an example for each of you, to show you how your lives are experienced by others. That is, your life as part of the shared subjectivity that others experience as “objective.”

Writing that, I was thinking, I wonder how the words “shared subjectivity” will be interpreted. It’s a simple concept, merely an unfamiliar viewpoint. But people do trip over words, losing sight of what is being pointed at.

Nothing to be done but to continue to try. What is misperceived today may be better understood tomorrow.

I always think of my being unable to understand Be Here Now for so long, but able to understand whatever that text was of Hegel’s, in graduate school, when to others it was incomprehensible. I instinctively understood what Hegel meant to say, not because I was smarter or better educated than these fellow grad students, but because my mind and experiences had gone very different ways from those school-bound people around me. The following year, I did not understand Ram Das, because he was trying to get me to see from an unaccustomed point of view. It had nothing to do with intelligence or schooling, and much to do with an ability to instinctively grasp another way of seeing things. It was a long time until I could do so..

Fortunately, you each have awareness that extends beyond 3D limitations, and when the times align for you, your world expands to the degree that you desire and have prepared. So let us talk about how people experienced Abraham Lincoln, remembering that everyone’s life is at the center of circles of different depth and extent. There is the you your family knows, and your closest friends, and those who know you young or old, and those who know of you only second-hand, and those who may not even hear your name but are affected by those you have affected. You are the center of all these circles, but you are certainly not experienced the same way by them all, or indeed by any two of them.

Lincoln grew up in an extremely constricted world even by 3D standards. He knew his family and a few neighbors. He was a young man on his own before he came to live in a town. In this his experience was no different from tens of thousands of backwoods pioneers in those days. Relatively, his world was much more his family and his daily chores and the natural world around him – and his vague longings and inner promptings – than any but perhaps the most introverted among you know by your own experience. This of course is why he cherished books, as soon as he could read them, and to the extent that he could find them. This you know, or let’s say know of, because this too is part of the myth of Lincoln.

“Myth” meaning not “made-up tales” but “personal history that transcended the personal to become or share in an archetype.”

Yes. But have you ever thought of young Lincoln as he affected the few others he lived among?

His stepmother loved him dearly, said their minds ran together. “What little I had,” she said. He seems to have been a natural leader among the kids he knew. He was known as honest, sincere, kind-hearted, according to the stories we have been told. He himself told of having caught a fish as a very young boy and giving it to a man he met, a soldier returning home from the war of 1812, because his mother had told him they should be kind to soldiers.

All this, but he was a reader and what used to be called a self-improver, remember. That would have set him apart from those he lived among.

His father and he clashed, I gather, in temperament. Lincoln would have looked lazy to Thomas Lincoln, because brainwork and speculation were invisible, and Thomas Lincoln apparently counted only the work he could see the results of. And Lincoln said, much later in life, that his father had taught him to work, but had never taught him to like it.

Now, as we do this, notice how difficult it is to keep focus on the people around him, rather than upon Lincoln himself.

I do see that.

Biographers’ dilemma. Only by showing a life’s effect on others can you show it in its proper coloring and context, but the more you look the more you see it from that life’s point of view (real or, more likely, at least partially imagined). But it is worth the effort.

So his few neighbors experienced him as sociable, friendly, unaffected, kind, fun-loving, maybe dreamy.

Additionally, his immediate family, including the Hanks family, experienced him as properly dutiful to his father, loving to his stepmother, and both fitting in and not fitting in among his peers. So what is his impact upon the world around him, so far?

Just that, I suppose. One of them but with something different in him.

Yes, and that “something different” would have appeared to be more of an idiosyncrasy than anything meaningful. Everyone is a little different one way or another; that doesn’t mean their life is going to be particularly memorable beyond their own circles.

No, of course.

So Lincoln attains his majority and strikes out on his own. He finds New Salem, and makes his home among simple country people who are nonetheless a greater world for him. Now he is not living isolated on a hardscrabble farm, being rented out by his father to earn money for the family chopping wood. Now he is a storekeeper and a postmaster and a man of many small jobs open to one without special training. And he fits in, becoming one of the community. So how is he seen? How does he interact? What is his effect upon others?

Just as you say. He is one of them, a pleasure-seeking young man among young men. Still the man who is one of them, but with something different that shows itself in small ways from time to time.

He learns to become a surveyor, as he will later learn to become a lawyer.

One more skill in a world of do-it-yourself because the established forms of society are so skeletal.

He becomes a lawyer, a state legislator. Has a small part in the Black Hawk War. He is a part of a larger world than before.

I think I see your theme. What the people around him experience is always who he is, expressed by how he is, much more than what he is doing, or of course what he will become.

That’s right. Again, it is easier to concentrate on Lincoln as the center of whatever he was doing and wherever he was living (and this of course is not an error), than to focus on the world he lived in and how it experienced him. His neighbors, townsmen, and constituents, and eventually his legal clients, experienced him as the able energetic young man who had made his way up in the world. How could they see how far up he had yet to rise? His life, as everyone’s life, impacted those around it at any given moment, not as a generality or in light of future events.

You see? His effect upon the world was by what he was, more than by anything he did. Now of course who you are will express by what you do, and often it is only what you do that people will have as evidence on which to judge you (that is, to weigh who you are), but the point here is that your lives are not defined by what you accomplish externally, but by what you accomplish as a result of who you make yourselves infernally. And this is only taking a very superficial view of the interaction, as if you were marbles in a pan sitting next to each other. The truth is much more complex and interesting.

And we haven’t even gotten Mr. Lincoln married yet, let alone into Congress.

All in good time, unless we go in some different direction. Call this “Lincoln from the outside”; that’s as good a title as anything. And, as you say, there is much more to be said.

Our thanks for this, as always.


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