TGU on “Able or Unable?”

Friday, May 7, 2021

5:30 a.m. Yesterday you deferred until today the question of what makes us able or unable to do something great. So, you’re on.

Remember, this question is in the context of a feeling you have had, a feeling of uneasiness, of your being not quite likely to do something great, only something was stopping you. [I was surprised to see, transcribing this, that this sentence seems garbled. At the time, I got what they meant, but it could be better expressed, “You have had an uneasy feeling that you ought to be able to do something great, only something was stopping you.”] That is not quite how you phrased it, but that is the reality. It is an unconsciously based conviction, mingled with doubt. Like Lincoln’s.

Like Lincoln’s, though of course I do not pretend that whatever it is could be of the magnitude of Lincoln’s.

People will not understand the reference, and we expected you to provide it.

Of course. Lincoln was convinced from his earliest years that providence or something had set him to accomplish one great task, for which his name would be remembered. As a very young man and novice state legislator, he thought for a while to become “the DeWitt Clinton of Illinois,” which of course was never in the cards. The feeling was right; the venue, the nature of the deed, the circumstances, were not only unimagined, they were unimaginable. He felt, deeply, that he was destined to do something; he had no idea, though, what it would be, and was as much at sea as anyone is, what his career should be. Like anybody else, he had to feel his way.

DeWitt Clinton being –

He was the Governor of New York State responsible for the cutting of the Erie Canal, that connected New York to the interior, via the Great Lakes, and resulted in New York City growing into the most important commercial and trading hub of the new country, supplanting Boston and Philadelphia. Lincoln, as a Whig, was a believer in what they then called “internal improvements” and we would call “infrastructure” – first canals and improvement of harbors, later railroads. That would naturally lead him to think of Clinton as a model for his own legislative career.

But, factually, not a reliable model.

That’s putting it mildly. As one of the “Long Nine,” he was as responsible as any for the economic fiasco they brought on in Illinois, being too ambitious and too little practical. I’m sure people are finding this history riveting.

They may not be as bored with it as you suppose. We didn’t encourage you to sketch the context merely out of idle impulse. It illustrates something important. Lincoln had a strong feeling; he didn’t have (could not have had) the data as to what his great deed might be; he used his faculties along congenial lines, thus winding up in politics and – holding his consideration within the political context – he envisioned a possible role for himself which was, objectively, entirely in error. Nonetheless his footsteps led him unerringly on. To summarize: a feeling; the exercise of his talents; mistaken conception of what his real business was, so to speak; sure-footed if unconscious preparation for his great task.

It’s the same for any of us.

Only don’t expect to save the Union or free the slaves or – more to the point – free the country of an incubus that had weighed it down for “the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil.”

Other men’s lives may provide inspiration; they will never be able to serve as road maps. Their lives were lived as blind to the future as yours. But more to the point, we use historical examples merely because you will have heard of them. How could we use Julius Caesar’s aunt’s servant as a model, when history is entirely unaware of her or him? the potential drawback here is that the people history makes note of are, by definition practically, exceptions. Just as in your day, so in anyone’s day, a million live lives unnoticed by history for any one it remembers. Thousands live their lives for every one that happens to make the newspapers, or the TV or the internet. Most people live their lives unnoticed by any but their personal acquaintances, and that should tell you that being noticed cannot be the point of a 3D existence, or else most would have to be considered failures.

And I just got what this has to do with “able or unable.” You guys are clever.

Thank you. we try.

“We all try. You succeed,” to quote Rick in “Casablanca.”

It is an intuitive leap from what we just said to your realization of why we were using Lincoln’s career as an example. You should spell it out.

Well, it is simple, if we were to apply that question to Lincoln’s life, the answer wouldn’t exactly be “Which you?” but “Which goal?” Was he able to become the DeWitt Clinton of Illinois? No. Was he able to become The Great Emancipator and the man who saved the Union? Yes. But he could only imagine himself in the first role, as the necessary conditions did not exist and could not have been imagined, for him to foresee the role he would actually play.

Exactly. Are you – any of you – able to do what you may feel in your bones that you are here to do? Maybe, maybe not: It depends upon whether you have seized upon the right idea. If not, no. If so, yes.

“Yes” and not “Maybe”?

We are discussing “able,” not “willing.” You might always choose to frustrate yourself, for reasons of your own that you might or might not be aware of.

You say that and I think of young men who give up their career in farm-club baseball to pursue some more practical career.

It may look like – may feel like – a regrettable necessity. May feel like irretrievable loss, even perhaps to the pitch of catastrophic loss. That doesn’t mean their assessment of things is very astute.

They couldn’t all be Willie Mays.

No. And Willie Mays couldn’t necessarily be a doctor or architect or even a real estate salesman or life-insurance salesman or whatever.  The lives they led after baseball may had nothing to do with what their conscious ambitions had been, and yet it may be entirely on track first to last. Indeed, we would say it had to be.

In that we all express our nature, and anything we do may be considered right for us.

It may be easier to paint the negative space. That is, you can hardly live without experiencing your nature. You could hardly do anything that is not right for you – although, this last statement needs a little reframing. It does not mean, “Anything you do is fated,” nor that “All paths are good” in the sense of “Do wrong knowingly, it’s not a problem.” You know there’s something wrong with that idea, even if you can’t spot why.

Do elucidate. “All paths are good” does feel right, and “Do wrong knowingly” does not, and yet the latter would seem to flow logically from the former.

It is because you aren’t paying attention to the unspoken context. To do wrong knowingly means, if it means anything, to do what you know you shouldn’t, or to not do what you know you should do. Well, where does that knowing come from?

Our innate sense of right and wrong.

That renames, but does not clarify.

Hemingway says good is what you feel good about having done, and evil is what you feel bad about having done.

The question remains: Where does the knowing come from?

Seems to me this “knowing” bundles several things. It could be our echoing our own training as children, or following society’s understandings, or merely responding to robots unstilled in one way or another.

Then let us narrow the field. Confining our discussion to feelings based in conscious consideration, then what?

Can feelings be based in conscious consideration?

Not based in, but they can be available to such consideration. And we remind you, it is conscious consideration that allows you to turn robots back into actively participating present-tense psychic components.

The fact is, you do know right from wrong in practical terms, moment by moment, and you can choose (and indeed must choose) as you go along. “Right” and “wrong” here refer not to effects, which may not be foreseeable, but to your intent, which can become clear enough to you if you are willing for it to be so.

Now, your hour is up. We propose to continue at another time with the question of how there can be right and wrong if all paths are good, and how as a practical matter you are able to distinguish between them. But we have said what needs to be said about “Able or unable”; It is more a matter of seeing what you are living, than of finding resources. Till next time.

Till next time, and our thanks as always.



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