Saturday, May 15, 2021
3:45 a.m. A fast glance at the next few sayings, and they seem to be easily grasped. But let’s see how they look when seriously examined.
[XIV. INSTINCT AND REASON.
[Innocent, the soul is quick with instincts of unerring aim; then she knows by intuition what lapsed reason defines by laborious inference; her appetites and affections are direct and trust-worthy. Reason is the left hand of instinct; it is tardy, awkward, but the right is ready and dextrous. By reasoning the soul strives to recover her lost intuitions; groping amidst the obscure darkness of sense, by means of the fingers of logic, for treasures present alway and available to the eye of conscience. Sinners must needs reason; saints behold.]
Though perhaps reality is a little more complicated than it appears to Alcott, still this saying is easily mastered. It says, simply, instinct (intuition) is instant and reason is laborious. He did not know of left-brain / right-brain distinctions; they would not be discovered till he was long gone. But he knew the difference, though he drew a different conclusion. Rather than seeing two means of perception – analytic v. gestalt, call it – he saw a superior and an inferior mode. But he saw true.
Guys? Additions or corrections to the minutes?
Not regarding this heading.
[XV. IDENTITY AND DIVERSITY.
[It is the perpetual effort of conscience to divorce the soul from the dominion of sense; to nullify the dualities of the apparent, and restore the intuition of the real. The soul makes a double statement of all her facts; to conscience and sense; reason mediates between the two. Yet though double to sense, she remains single and one in herself; one in conscience, many in understanding; one in life, diverse in function and number. Sense, in its infirmity, breaks this unity to apprehend in part what it cannot grasp at once. Understanding notes diversity; conscience alone divines unity, and integrates all experience in identity of spirit. Number is predicable of body alone; not of spirit.]
It seems to me he proceeds from recognition of this duality of perception. He says conscience reconciles the two.
Better stated, perhaps, that conscience is the “I” you experience. It is the sense of unity among the diversity that is you.
I’m seeing that it isn’t so easy to state what I sense here – not easy for me, and I guess not easy for you, which surprises me. Am I not awake enough?
No, it is that this core is a little more difficult than appears. Alcott’s obscurity is not entirely because of his being unhandy with a pen. In part it is because he attempts the near-impossible.
It seems to me this point, number 15, shouldn’t be so hard to express.
Well, these things can be too subtle to be both (a) concisely said, and (b) not liable to be misunderstood. Hence you wind up having to choose between long-winded explanation or a concise statement that many will find too cryptic to understand.
“Number is predicable of body alone; not of spirit.” I’m sure that was clarity itself, to Alcott, but I have to guess at his meaning. I take it, multiplicity is – dammit!
Well, there you are. You can see it; you can’t quite say it. try this: The senses see things as separate and distinct; to the intuition, “all is one.”
All right, but even there, something is slipping through our fingers.
That can’t be helped. That is, as they say, “lost in translation.” You have to rely upon people picking up more than they can express, just as you do, just as Alcott did.
[Ever present, potent, vigilant, in the breast of man, there is that which never became a party in his guilt, never consented to a wrong deed, nor performed one, but holds itself above all sin, impeccable, immaculate, immutable, the deity of the heart, the conscience of the soul, the oracle and interpreter, the judge and executor of the divine law.]
Our non-3D component, I take it.
True enough. Religious people would object that your way of seeing things somewhat overstates the human potential and understates the difference between 3D and non-3D (which way of describing things they would never consent to), but that is a limitation of their own viewpoint. Seeing conscience as your awareness of your non-3D’s opinion of your predicaments and decisions is perfectly valid.
[In the theocracy of the soul majorities do not rule. God and the saints; against them the rabble of sinners, with clamorous voices and uplifted hand, striving to silence the oracle of the private heart. Beelzebub marshals majorities. Prophets and reformers are alway special enemies of his and his minions. Multitudes ever lie. Every age is a Judas, and betrays its Messiahs into the hands of the multitude. The voice of the private, not popular heart, is alone authentic.]
Interesting, the very word “Theocracy” sets my teeth on edge. It brings up a vague specter of the religious right in America, or the Ayatollahs in Iran, or the Inquisition in Spain or the Puritans in early New England (or in old England, for that matter, till the Restoration removed them from power). Yet these social expressions of intolerance are the exact opposite of what Alcott describes.
Yes. Alcott is the true Protestant, arguing for the absolute moral supremacy of the inner voice.
More a Quaker, though, than a Puritan.
Of course. We do not encourage anyone to drift off from a strictly personal application to a social one.
There we go again. Let’s try it again. You just meant, I think: In studying these sayings, we should apply them to ourselves, as individuals (and as representatives of humans in general, I guess), and not give in to the temptation to start thinking in terms of social abstractions.
Isn’t that just what we said? But Alcott could make the same reply to our explanations: “Isn’t that what I said?” But you see, the potential for misunderstanding is so great! The one word “theocracy” had the ability to send your thoughts off in a direction having nothing to do with his point. In fact, sent them in a direction somewhat contradictory to his point. You have to be on guard against just such unconscious reactions.
It is, in a way, robots diverting our thinking process, by interposing an automatic reaction that shunts our train of thought onto another track, so to speak.
It happens way more often than you realize. It is more easily seen in other people’s thought, but it happens to everybody. You aren’t nearly as logical as you think you are, for just that reason.
And if we are not, are you?
We can be diverted too – you have often seen it – but the process is different because the operative forces are different. In non-3D one is not moved by emotion in the same way, for instance.
But in all this, we have yet to comment on Alcott’s simple and profound point. “In the theocracy of the soul majorities do not rule.”
This seems to speak precisely of the conflict between individual conscience and social pressure.
It is true externally: “The voice of the private, not popular heart, is alone authentic.” But what of the fact that you are each communities?
Yes, I was wondering about that. Seems to me equally valid, though I don’t know if Alcott meant this. Within ourselves we may find many conflicting voices. It is up to us to find the one that is truest. Is that a true statement, do you think?
What is more important is what you think. But for what it is worth, we think that is an accurate reading of the 3D human soul’s situation. You are faced with many voices, and it is your duty to choose among them the one that will govern your conduct, even if that “one” appears to fluctuate from one moment to the next.
[There is a magic in free speaking, especially on sacred themes, most potent and resistless. It is refreshing, amidst the inane common-places bandied in pulpits and parlors, to hear a hopeful word from an earnest, upright soul. Men rally around it as to the lattice in summer heats, to inhale the breeze that flows cool and refreshing from the mountains, and invigorates their languid frames. Once heard, they feel a buoyant sense of health and hopefulness, and wonder that they should have lain sick, supine so long, when a word has power to raise them from their couch, and restore them to soundness. And once spoken, it shall never be forgotten; it charms, exalts; it visits them in dreams, and haunts them during all their wakeful hours. Great, indeed, is the delight of speech; sweet the sound of one’s bosom thought, as it returns laden with the fragrance of a brother’s approval.]
And now you begin to move from the nature of the individual per se to the individual’s place in the 3D it finds itself in.
Yes. This one reminds us of our ability to encourage others, merely by speaking the truth.
Alcott would be interested to hear you interpret it that way. It is accurate enough, but notice that his emphasis was on what you can receive rather than on what you can give. Still, as we say, your reading is accurate as well, it’s just a matter of point of view.
And perhaps we should pause here, again so as to avoid the temptation to skim over the surface; it is always a temptation of even slight weariness. Remember always, you can only do as much as you can do. There is no reproach in having limits. Everyone does. Recognizing them and allowing your conduct to be governed by them is prudence. Only, be sure to discern and not to merely seek excuses.
Very well. Till next time, then, and our thanks as always for your accompaniment and assistance in this and in life in general.
Frank DeMarco, author
Papa’s Trial: Hemingway in the Afterlife, a novel