BETWEEN TRUTH AND ILLUSION –
A Dualistic Philosophy
Copyright © 2011 John O'Loughlin
PART ONE: ESSAYS ON A DUALISTIC PHILOSOPHY
1. The Interdependence of Opposites
2. The Conflict of Opposites
3. The Necessary Illusion
4. The Legitimacy of Stupidity
5. More Positive than Negative
6. Both Positive and Negative
7. Neither Angel nor Demon
8. No Good without Evil
9. Only Partly Wise
10. Perfect or Imperfect
11. Perfect and Imperfect
12. A Necessary Doubt
13. No Sham Wisdom
14. Only Absurd Sometimes
15. Not Entirely Sane
16. Not Entirely Insane
17. No Happiness without Sadness
18. Nothing Superfluous
19. Between Day and Night
20. A Mistake in Plutarch
PART TWO: LESSONS ON A DUALISTIC PHILOSOPHY
21. Wisdom and Folly
22. Truth and Illusion
23. Good and Evil
24. Happiness and Sadness
25. Profundity and Superficiality
26. Certainty and Doubt
27. Reasonableness and Unreasonableness
28. Cleverness and Stupidity
29. Success and Failure
30. Pleasure and Pain
31. Love and Hate
32. Virtue and Vice
33. Strength and Weakness
34. Interest and Disinterest
PART THREE: DIALOGUE ON A DUALISTIC PHILOSOPHY
35. A Dualistic Integrity
BETWEEN TRUTH AND ILLUSION signifies an attempt by me to return to basics in philosophy and understand the connections and indeed interrelations of antitheses, polarities, opposites, and other such neat philosophical categories in relation to the relativity of everyday life. It is not an express attempt to expound the Truth but, rather, a modest undertaking on my part to comprehend the paradoxes of the world in which we happen to live, and seek to unveil some of the illusions and superstitions which make the pursuit of Truth such a difficult, not to say protracted, task. Hopefully the result of this undertaking is a franker and maturer approach to those very paradoxes which were the inspiration for this work and which led to some of its most striking contentions.
If BETWEEN TRUTH AND ILLUSION cannot, by dint of its paradoxical nature, lay claims to being The Truth, it can at least be seen as the basis for a more realistic appraisal of the terms by which the pursuit of Truth is made possible.
John O'Loughlin, 1977 (Revised 2006)
PART ONE: ESSAYS ON A DUALISTIC PHILOSOPHY
THE INTERDEPENDENCE OF OPPOSITES: Work and play, love and hate, day and night, up and down, north and south, big and small, high and low, pleasure and pain, man and woman, sun and moon, yes and no, right and wrong, good and evil, health and sickness, in and out, hard and soft, hot and cold, old and new, war and peace, quick and slow, young and old, life and death, awake and asleep, rich and poor, tragic and comic, for and against, truth and illusion, etc.
The duality of life would seem to be an indisputable fact, a condition not permitting any serious refutation. For what happens when we isolate the word 'big', say, from the existence of its antithesis, 'small'? - Simply that the word in question ceases to be meaningful. By itself and totally isolated from the word 'small', our adjective is reduced to a sound, the simple basis of a new word. We could speak of a big bird, a big house, or a big garden but, not knowing what 'big' meant, we would be none the wiser.
Thus we can see how absolutely interdependent the words 'big' and 'small' really are, how they can only serve a useful function when used in a mutual relationship. Once the polarities have been established, however, it is then possible to conclude a bird 'big' in relation to a speck of dust but 'small' in relation to a man; 'small' in relation to a house but 'big' in relation to a moth, and so on.
It should therefore follow that unless we accept the dualities of life as being interrelated, part of a larger whole, and even, in a limited sense, the key to the metaphysical nature of reality, we shall be perpetually deluding ourselves. In other words, without hate there can be no love, without death no life, without sadness no happiness, without pain no pleasure, without evil no good, without illusion no truth, without realism no naturalism, and without materialism no idealism.
Thus it can be assumed that a society which strives to remove what it regards as a detrimental or undesirable antithesis to a given ideal condition or concept ... is inevitably letting itself in for a lot of futile and pointless labour. A tolerable world isn't a place where things don't go wrong or where conditions are always pleasant, people happy, work agreeable, and health unimpaired; for that, believe it or not, would soon prove to be quite an intolerable one. But in order that people may experience pleasant conditions, a degree of happiness, a sense of purpose, and the joys of good health, a tolerable world will also include correlative experience of unpleasant conditions, sadness, absurdity, and sickness - to name but a handful of possibilities.
Hence when a person is feeling sad, he ought to face-up to the reality of his situation by accepting its rightful place and thereby bearing with it as a sort of passport to the possibility of subsequent happiness. Indeed, if he is something of a philosopher, and can sufficiently detach himself from his immediate sadness for a few seconds, he may even think along such lines as: 'Without this moment or hour of sadness, what happiness could I possibly expect today?' In doing so, he will be acknowledging the validity of what might popularly be described as a means to a desirable end.
Naturally, I don't mean to imply that people should think like this when inflicted with depressing circumstances, but simply that they should learn to acquiesce in their various uncongenial moods without vainly endeavouring to fight shy of them. For the trickery too often advocated by people who foolishly strive to rid themselves of an unhappy mood, as though secretly afraid to 'pay their dues', strikes me as little more than a species of intellectual perversion. If we were really supposed to lead one-sided lives, life would have been considerably different to begin with, and it is doubtful that man would have conceived of the dual concepts of Heaven and Hell, concepts which, on a more concrete level, are clearly relative to life on this earth, and to a life, moreover, which prohibits man from ever dedicating himself to the one at the total exclusion of the other!
Therefore it can be deduced from the aforementioned contentions that man's fundamental nature is typified by its capacity for experiencing seemingly contradictory phenomena, viz. happiness and sadness, good and evil, truth and illusion, which, if he is to do justice to both himself and his kind, should be accepted and cultivated according to his individual or innate disposition.
An author, for example, who may well be 'great' by dint of the fact that he accepts himself as a whole man, should reconcile himself to the logical contradictions, cynical statements, brash generalizations, callous accusations, superficial appreciations, cultivated vanities, dogmatic assertions, etc., which frequently appear in his writings (and constitute manifestations of his negative, or evil, side), in order to safeguard his integrity as both a man and a writer.
THE CONFLICT OF OPPOSITES: My philosophy is neither optimistic nor pessimistic but a subtle combination of both optimism and pessimism. Perhaps this respect for duality, this acceptance of polarity, entitles it to be regarded as a metaphysics drawn primarily from life itself rather than imposed upon it by the whims or perversions of the human mind. Of course, its author is aware that he may think optimistically whilst experiencing a good mood and pessimistically whilst in the grip of a bad mood. But these separate inclinations are well suited to the purposes of this philosophy.
For example, if he should one moment secretly pronounce, after the fashion of Schopenhauer, that life is inherently bad because there is too much suffering and not enough pleasure in it, he will subsequently reflect, when the time and mood are propitious, that his previous oracular pronouncement was largely attributable to the persistence of a bad mood and/or uncongenial circumstances; that life was only 'bad' because he had been in a negative frame-of-mind, had set up a chain of negative reactions and accordingly dismissed optimism in the name of suffering, thereby passing judgement in a thoroughly one-sided manner.
If, however, he should sometime pronounce, after the fashion of Gide, that life is inherently good and bubbles over with joy, pleasure, intelligence, etc., he will later reflect, doubtless when the time and mood have shifted down a gear or two, that his previous oracular pronouncement was largely attributable to the prevalence of a good mood and/or congenial circumstances; that life was only 'good' because he had been in a positive frame-of-mind, had set up a chain of positive reactions and accordingly dismissed pessimism or, rather, affirmed optimism in the name of wellbeing, thereby passing judgement in a no-less thoroughly one-sided manner.
The claim that life is therefore both good and bad, according to the context of the occasion or circumstances of the individual, is doubtless a proposition that most fair-minded people would be prepared to accept. But to proclaim, like some philosophers, that life is either good or bad is surely to misrepresent or slander it in such a way as to render oneself contemptible to the more realistic spirits of this world! Let it be hoped that we dualists can see life on fairer terms than they did.
THE NECESSARY ILLUSION: Just as one must know one's truths if they are to remain valid as truths, so one must remain ignorant of one's illusions if they are to remain illusions. Whenever the spell of an illusion is broken one automatically becomes disillusioned, which is to say somewhat saddened by the realization that what one formerly took to be the truth wasn't really true at all but, rather, a misconception on one's part. Thus, by way of compensation, the shattered illusion then becomes a kind of negative truth, in that one can now see through it and thereby establish a truer opinion on the subject. So, in a sense, one's illusions are all sham truths until one becomes disillusioned.
But this realization, this process of creeping disillusionment, doesn't automatically mean that one is steadily getting closer to absolute truth, that one is 'cutting down' on one's illusions and consequently converting the knowledge of their fallacies into relative truth while simultaneously safeguarding one's inherent or acquired grasp of truth. For as everything exists in polarity, so must the newly acquired disillusionment subsequently make way for other illusions which replace those one possessed at the time of becoming disillusioned with a particular illusion, in order to maintain the balance of opposites.
A philosopher who categorically asserts his will to truth at any price, and thereupon declares himself to be the sworn enemy of illusion, is, unwittingly, the victim of an illusion which presupposes that truth can be acquired without a constant metaphysical price - namely of simultaneously maintaining and acquiescing in illusions which must, of necessity, enter into his work from time to time, thereby preventing the ultimate realization of his notably idealistic ambitions.
THE LEGITIMACY OF STUPIDITY: As each person retains his capacity for truth and illusion throughout life, so, likewise, does each person retain his capacity for cleverness and stupidity. That this is a just condition hardly needs proving; for were he not subject to the experience of both tendencies, he would have little or no prospect of maintaining either. Hence his illusion guarantees the continual existence of his truth, his stupidity the continual existence of his cleverness.
To lament, however, over the realization that even one's favourite philosophers, novelists, and poets display periodic manifestations of illusion or stupidity is, willy-nilly, to display one's own illusion or stupidity, since these authors must also be subject to the metaphysical coercion of the human spirit and therefore be equally incapable of ultimately transcending its dualism. Were a few of them to remain wholly consistent with one's own mode of thinking, were even one of them to do so, there would surely be reasonable grounds for assuming that the impossible had come to pass, that one had come face-to-face with one's double and somehow acquired exactly the same truths and illusions as had previously been recorded by a man who hadn't so much as even suspected one's existence.
Consequently, it will be no great surprise or hardship to an enlightened reader when he eventually comes to realize that his attitude towards each of his 'favourite' writers is bound to be ambivalent, to entail both agreement and disagreement, approval and disapproval, faith and scepticism. For as there has never been two people exactly alike in the world, so it is inevitable that one man's meat will continue to be another man's poison.
Even the greatest writers must, of necessity, be subject to the continuous prevalence of antithetical values, if they are to live as men and not degenerate into lopsided monsters! The pernicious idea of someone's being 'all too human' simply because he makes mistakes, acts stupidly, suffers from ignorance, fosters certain misleading arguments, etc., is clearly founded upon a superficial grasp of human reality (as though the person accusing another of being 'all too human' on account of such failings wasn't, in reality, 'all too human' himself for failing to detect their ultimate legitimacy!). But being 'all too human' is really an indication of human perfection rather than of imperfection. For a man who never made mistakes, never committed an illusion or absurdity to paper, would be highly imperfect - a sort of computerized robot, and therefore no man at all!
MORE POSITIVE THAN NEGATIVE: If illusions are only illusions insofar as man is basically unaware of their illusory nature, can it not be deduced from this that his real evil, stupidity, illogicality, injustice, etc., only come to the fore when he is basically unaware of the fact, not when he wills it? In other words, because the life-force is essentially positive, because everything arises in nature to fulfil itself, is not man's deepest inclination likewise to seek the positive rather than the negative, to aspire towards his individual truth, goodness, cleverness, profundity, logic, justice, etc. as an inherent inclination rather than towards their opposites which, being negative, are things that he is fundamentally unconscious of, i.e. in the sense that one is unconscious of an illusion until one becomes disillusioned with it?
Men aspire towards truth while still besotted with illusions, towards goodness while still fostered on evil, towards social order while still subject to the chaos of their individual lives. They often think they are doing the right thing when it subsequently transpires to being wrong; they often consider themselves to be acting justly when, to those upon whom they have acted, the consequences are manifestly unjust; they often imagine themselves to be doing good when, to those who are the recipients of their goodness, the main consequences are evil. It is only out of ignorance that they act wrongly at all, but it is a necessary ignorance which ultimately transpires to being justified, a fact which may well explain why the dying Christ gave utterance to the words: 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do', and why Nietzsche asserted: 'Man always acts rightly'.
Thus man is largely ignorant of his real evil, stupid, illogical, and superficial tendencies because his innate positivity generally leads him to treat every action as a good, no matter what its nature. He doesn't attack others, whether verbally or physically, simply for the pleasure of doing so but primarily because he feels justified in doing so, because, by a quirk of fate, context, experience, or life-history, he feels that to be the right thing to do under the prevailing circumstances.
From the viewpoint of the people he has attacked, however, his actions are almost certain to be condemned as evil. And for the very sound reason that whenever someone acts cruelly to us it offends our prevailing sense of goodness, causes us to feel outraged, engenders negative feelings, and is automatically translated into an evil act. Because it offends us we recognize it as an evil action, instinctively regard its perpetrator in a negative light, and straightaway succumb to a misconception, viz. that the aggressor is inevitably in the wrong. But even if it may appear so from our point of view, this is insufficient to make it so from his and, consequently, each side acting according to their lights, the antagonism continues.
If, therefore, man aspires towards goodness without ever becoming wholly good, whatever he does from ignorance or spite, wounded vanity or a sense of outraged innocence, the warrior impulse or self-defence, which can be interpreted as evil, can never make him wholly bad. And the same may be held true of all the other polar attributes as well. He will aspire to acquiring nothing but the truth without ever freeing himself from illusions. He will endeavour to boast of his cleverness without ever managing to completely rid himself of stupidity. But let us not add to that stupidity by bewailing the existence of these indispensable antitheses!
BOTH POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE: In speaking of antitheses we almost invariably put the positive attribute first and the negative one second, as the following short list should serve to confirm: good and bad, truth and illusion, pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, life and death, light and dark, love and hate, day and night, heaven and hell, man and woman, boy and girl, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, high and low, yes and no, etc. To say that man's nature is good would hardly constitute the truth; for in order to have any goodness at all he must have sufficient evil from which to create it, he must have one tendency balanced by another.
Granted that man is neither good nor evil but both good and evil (which should not be confounded with a combination of each), one can nevertheless assert that the positivity of goodness generally leads him to aspire towards the Good rather than towards its opposite which, being negative, can only take second place, as it were, to the 'leading string'. Thus, as an inherently positive phenomenon, life is geared towards goodness, but to a goodness which can only be maintained with the aid of evil.
Yes, Gide was right to contend that man was born for happiness, in that man's strongest predilection is to aspire towards the positivity of happiness rather than towards the negativity of sadness. Admittedly, this happiness ultimately depends upon the intermittent prevalence of sadness. But sadness can never become the 'leading string', or man's principal objective. For the essential positivity of our being does not induce us to pine for sadness when we are happy but, on the contrary, to immerse ourselves in happiness as if it were a natural condition, as if we had found our spiritual home. And this same positivity eventually goads us out of our sadness by causing us to pine for happiness.
Now according to Schopenhauer - who is virtually antithetical to Gide - happiness is merely the absence of pain and thus a negative thing, whereas pain itself he saw as very positive, a thing upon which life mostly depends. To follow Schopenhauer's reasoning here isn't particularly easy, but it should be fairly apparent to most people that he was somewhat mistaken. For as the accepted antithesis to pleasure, not happiness, pain is really anything but a positive thing, since we aren't driven by our essential being to pain but to pleasure, so pleasure must be the positive attribute and pain the negative one. Not being content to muddle these antitheses, however, Schopenhauer also saw fit to reverse their qualities and thus invest pain with a positive attribute - a thing hardly guaranteed to enlighten one or advance truth in this respect!
So do I therefore advise people against reading Schopenhauer? No, I don't, since there is much value to be gleaned from a serious perusal of his major works, including The World as Will and Representation. What I do advise people against, however, is being put off philosophers like Schopenhauer on account of their logical fallacies. There is not a philosopher on earth who could escape criticism for one reason or another, since there isn't one whose integrity as a human being exempts him from error. Where one believes the contrary, it can be assumed that one has been deceived by the mistaken assertions of the philosopher concerned without in the least suspecting the fact. No man is born to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Yet no man is born subject to nothing but illusions, either!
A man who is prepared to give his favourite philosopher's principal target of abuse (Hegel in the case of Schopenhauer) a fair hearing or reading would strike this philosopher as more enlightened than one whose willingness to do so has been severely compromised, if not completely negated, by too slavish an adherence to him.
NEITHER ANGEL NOR DEMON: We are neither angels nor demons but that compromise between them which is called man. It is as impossible to prevent man from doing evil as it is to prevent him from doing good. Even those people who imagine themselves to be what D.H. Lawrence described as 'lopsided on the side of the angels' are undoubtedly deluded in supposing themselves to be wholly good. How can anyone living in this world be wholly good when our metaphysical condition requires that we function according to the dictates of polar influences, and not degenerate into some kind of moral eunuch hardly capable of killing a fly?
Indeed, when one realizes that not even the saints can have been wholly good, what chance does anyone else have of eliminating their evil tendencies and thereby transforming themselves into something which transcends our physiological coercion to accept both good and evil as equally important, equally interdependent, and, above all, equally inescapable? One might as well try squeezing a camel through the eye of a needle.
But how, then, do I define good and evil? Simply by relating that which proceeds from positive feelings to goodness and, conversely, that which proceeds from negative feelings to evil. Thus a genuine smile is a good, a genuine scowl an evil. Pleasure is good, pain evil. Love is good, hate evil. Hope is good, fear evil.
Incidentally, one is indulging in evil every time one complains about anything, since the tendency to complain inevitably engenders negative feelings: anger, resentment, fear, or hate. One drops a hammer on one's foot and one experiences pain. Pain is a physical evil which causes one to curse. Cursing is the inevitable mental evil which results from pain. One's evil is justified.
NO GOOD WITHOUT EVIL: Just take a look at the history of philosophy, at the number of philosophers from Plato to Kant who have designated men as either good or evil without apparently realizing that a 'good man' or a 'bad man' can never exist, never, that is, so long as men are compelled to conform to their individual standards of polar exchange, which is to say so long as they live.
Naturally, certain men appear good compared with lesser men, whose basic intellectual limitations, social hardships, and poor breeding lead them to commit actions which a more fortunate individual could only condemn. But this is far from saying that those greater men are not susceptible to evils themselves, and to evils, moreover, which conform to their class, occupation, age, and physiological coercion as men.
No man can call himself good simply because his higher intelligence, better standard of living, and finer breeding enable him to refrain from what might broadly be described as the evil tendencies of a lower class. It is not enough simply to avoid torturing or murdering people, openly ridiculing, cursing, raping, or fighting them; for one can usually do that without too great a strain upon oneself if one is of a sufficiently independent and noble turn-of-mind.
No, to become a 'good man' one would have to give-up reading certain books, say, murder mysteries; give-up listening to certain albums, say, hard rock; give-up watching certain films, say, horror videos; stop thinking certain thoughts, seeing certain people, taking certain sides, having certain beliefs, saying certain things, feeling certain emotions, dreaming certain dreams, indulging certain fantasies, etc., and one would have to give them up and/or or stop them to such an extent, to such a point of exclusivity, that there would be very little left one could do!
But would this drastic strategy for the eradication of personal evil in one's life really make one good, holy, saved? No, it wouldn't! For if one could get rid of all one's evil inclinations, there would be nothing good to fall back on, there would be no good left within oneself, since one's good inclinations only thrive with the assistance of their opposites, not without them! One would simply exist in a manner approximating to that in which certain Oriental sages have traditionally aspired to existing: neither a good man nor a bad man but effectively a thing, devoid of life, sitting under the branches of a tree all day with the imperturbability of a rock.
Thus wherever the healthy tendency of a will to life is concerned, there must always be varying degrees of good and evil. Conversely, wherever the unhealthy tendency of a will to antilife (death-in-life) is concerned, there can be neither good nor evil but an existence betokening death - a sort of blasphemy against life.
ONLY PARTLY WISE: The world has never produced a single 'wise man', since the world is not geared to wise men but to men, who can only be wise with the aid of their folly. In order for a man to be capable of wisdom at all, he must also be foolish. For unless he is, there will be nothing for him to create his wisdom from, since he will lack the polarity that guarantees it. Even Nietzsche, wise man that he seems to have been on various occasions, was also a fool.
Do you disbelieve me, you 'wise' ones, you who grew out of folly? No matter, your disbelief will reinstate it. I am foolish, you are foolish, we are all foolish, but because of this we are all intermittently wise as well!
Indeed, whenever I see men aspiring to be wiser than everyone else, men who are usually afraid to live ... from fear that they should somehow transgress their wisdom, I see them for the half-fools they really are. They would even go so far, some of them, as to pretend to having acquired a victory over folly, which, in reality, would also be a victory over wisdom; though they, being such half-fools, couldn't be expected to know that!
But there you are: that, in simple light-hearted language, is fairly typical of the human condition, of that very logical condition which induces us to be wise intermittently rather than permanently, so that, to revert to D.H. Lawrence again, we can avoid being at 'a perpetual funeral'.
PERFECT OR IMPERFECT: What, in the final analysis, is the chief distinction between a perfect and an imperfect man? Is any man perfect at all, or is human imperfection the eternal rule, the condition to which all men must be reduced if they are to survive?
Some people would have us believe in the moral imperfection of man as though it were an indisputable fact, one derived from his 'sinful' nature and consequent need of salvation.
Others would contend that man is mentally imperfect, and that his frequent mistakes, stupidities, superficialities, illusions, contradictions, deceptions, etc., emphasize this condition all too plainly.
Yet others, probably a minority, would contend that man is usually mentally perfect, but that only a small number of men are ever permitted to actually realize their perfection, the rest of mankind being reduced, through economic and political tyrannies, to a state of spiritual, moral, intellectual, and social deprivation.
Finally, there would be those who, whilst acknowledging that man is usually mentally and physically perfect, would contend that some men are either born or become mentally or physically imperfect: that a person with a spastic body, a crippled limb, a mental disorder, or a heart disease is undoubtedly imperfect when compared with somebody whose body and mind are hale.
Yes, this latter case is probably more relevant to most people living today than are any of the others. But let us take a closer look, if only from curiosity, at what these other cases are saying.
To begin with, the church in virtually all of its denominational manifestations, though especially the Catholic one, believes quite emphatically that man is a sinful and, hence, imperfect creature. The clerical servants of the church believe in the imperfection of man, in what they take to be his perpetual backsliding into sinful habits like sex and alcohol. Through regularly confessing these sins to a priest, a man may secure forgiveness from God. But, if he is to be logically consistent, he must confess everything, not forget to mention anything or allow himself to overlook something which he might foolishly regard as trivial and therefore hardly a sin at all. For God, being omniscient, can still see into his mind and will know if there was anything which should have been confessed to but which, for one reason or another, was overlooked.
However that may be, both the Catholic and, to a lesser extent, the Protestant clergy believe in man's imperfection and, thus, perpetual need of redemption. They have, it seems to me, a somewhat partial view of man. They do not want to accept him in the round but only in the part, with particular reference to his 'sinful nature'. For if they once accepted the dualistic integrity of man, their conception of his imperfection could soon dissolve under pressure of the following fact - namely that man can only be good because of his intermittent evil, since his sinfulness, whatever form it may take, is fundamentally the sole guarantor of his goodness.
But such an acceptance of man's whole nature would not be to the lasting advantage of the clergy! For if a man's good actions (those stemming from positive feelings) are fundamentally dependent upon the periodic manifestation of his evil actions (those stemming from negative feelings), how can one possibly maintain that he should strive to eradicate as many of the latter as possible or, alternatively, confess what wrong he has done in order to be forgiven? Undoubtedly a ticklish problem for the clergy to address, particularly since their justification as priests largely depends upon the contrary idea which, if pushed far enough, tends to divide a man against himself, making him hostile towards his dual nature.
However, it is not for us humble philosophers to attempt to change their views, since that would certainly be to overlook the power of tradition and entrenched dogma. As a freethinker living in a country which permits free thought, I shall simply put my case before the public tribunal and pass on.
Which leads me to our second conception of man's imperfection - namely to the assumption that his periodic mistakes, stupidities, superficialities, contradictions, etc., are all clear examples of it. Indeed, it is not only clergymen who maintain this belief, but people from just about every walk of life. If they are figure clerks, then a wrong addition or misplaced numeral is obviously, if regrettably, another instance of human imperfection. If they are teachers, then an inability to trace a certain date, name, or reference in their memories may subsequently lead them to draw similar conclusions, though not in front of the class! If they are philosophers, the assertion of a particular contention that they imagined was true, but which subsequently transpired to being false, will probably trigger off a similar barrage of self-condemnation. In truth, the numbers of possible instances are endless, though they all point in the same direction - namely, the assumption that our respective mistakes, failings, delusions, etc., are conclusive proof of human imperfection.
But is man a computer, we may object, that he should be exempted from error? Is his evolution directed towards some future mastery of himself, some grand epoch when the likelihood of a wrong addition, a memory failure, or a fallacious contention will be rendered impossible? If so, then I must confess to having serious misgivings about man's future! I can well appreciate his use and development of computers, but I do not believe that he should subsequently become computerized as well!
If a man makes occasional mistakes, then let us at least have the insight to assume that he didn't commit them on purpose (for no genuine mistake can be made intentionally) but, rather, that they happened in accordance with a deeper law of his being, which effectively proclaimed the justification of an occasional mistake as a means of maintaining his overall efficiency and general ability to avoid making mistakes at certain other times.
And the same may be held true, I suspect, of his many other failings, each of which exists primarily to protect and maintain his overall efficiency. So I do not believe that a man should necessarily be classified as imperfect because he makes mistakes from time to time. Classify him imperfect if he never makes mistakes, has no faults, is without stupidity, superficiality, illusion, or contradiction, if you like. But the condemnation of his natural condition is something of which I do not see the sense.
However, let us now progress to the third possibility which, as we saw earlier, concerns the alleged perfection of the Few and the imperfection of the Many. To some extent, it is of course fair to suggest that most people are crushed or moulded by fate into a particular way of life which can only be described as constrictive. They may be obliged to earn a living in uncongenial circumstances. Their health is gradually undermined, their imagination becomes increasingly circumscribed, their senses are dulled, their intellect becomes progressively more stultified, their opinions become stereotyped, their spirit atrophies, and their willpower, initiative, and self-confidence sustain an irrecoverable loss. Yes, it is probably fair to suggest that these sorts of misfortunes have befallen a great many people; though it is probably also fair to suggest that a majority of them don't seem to worry very much about it. After awhile they take their condition for granted, not really being in a position to do much else.
Indeed, for some people stultification of one degree or another isn't at all a bad thing; at least it prevents them from worrying or suffering too much in consequence of an acute awareness of their deprivation. But, for others, it is virtually the end of the road, a ghastly horror from which they recoil, as from a poisonous snake. Probably no-one can escape a certain amount of intellectual stultification, dulling of senses, atrophying of spirit, etc., even under the best of circumstances. Yet there are those who regard such a prospect or actuality with great dismay, much as though people were thereby rendered imperfect and consequently unable to live as they should. It is a great evil of society, they claim, that so many people should be crushed down for the sake of a minority who are enabled to live to the maximum of their ability. It isn't right, they say, that a majority of people should be compelled to live a sort of living death for the sake of a privileged few.
Undoubtedly, this is the kind of viewpoint one would ordinarily associate with certain types of communist revolutionaries and social agitators. But I cannot personally grant it much credence. It seems to me that those who think like this are insufficiently aware of the temperamental, social, psychological, and intellectual differences between people. A person who does what you or I might regard as a dull job isn't necessarily worse off than one whose job is more exciting. It depends entirely upon the nature of the person concerned. For if one isn't very intelligent to begin with, then a dull job is not only the best thing, it is the only thing, and anything else would be unsuitable. But if one is pretty intelligent to begin with, then, conversely, a dull job would be unsuitable. Now one cannot seriously contend that a person born to a dull task has been deprived of an opportunity to realize his perfection through, say, one or other of the fine arts, higher sports, or professions, when it wasn't given him to realize his perfection in that way. Yet this is precisely what certain communist revolutionaries and social agitators are apt to overlook, whether intentionally or unintentionally, when they speak in terms of social inequality.
Frankly, one cannot really contend that a majority of men must lead imperfect lives for the sake of a lucky few, when the lives they lead are the only possible ones that they could lead anyway. Is a man to be pitied because he wasn't born with the potential of a poet, musician, writer, artist, or philosopher when, by accident or design, he was born with the potential of a carpenter, builder, plumber, tailor, or car mechanic instead? Would you demand of car mechanics that they become playwrights in order to realize their perfection to the full, irrespective of the fact that they may prefer being car mechanics and can better realize their perfection in that way?
No, nobody but the most unreasoning of persons would demand any such thing! For there are as many ways of realizing one's perfection as there are people, and what would suit one type of person could well prove the ruination of another.
So I do not believe that people who are unable to discover themselves in the more creative or authoritative spheres of life should be considered unfortunate for having to do comparatively mundane or servile things instead. Each man has his own problems to live with, whether he be a king or a beggar. Indeed, there is at work in this world a vast levelling process which adds something here only to subtract something there, which renders every occupation, no matter what its nature, subject to certain drawbacks, limitations, or hardships, and no-one in his right mind would really pretend otherwise, no matter how unfortunate he thought he was, or how many uncongenial experiences accrued to his particular occupation. Even in the most boring office jobs one may be able to converse with one's fellow workers on occasion - a thing an artist, writer, philosopher, or poet is seldom if ever in a position to do, bearing in mind his solitary circumstances. But even boring work is better than no work at all, and most people would rather be bored at work than bored or, worse still, lonely and without purpose from being out of work.
Thus, in returning to my original theme, I do not agree with the notion that society requires a large percentage of imperfect men in order that a small percentage of the total population should be able to develop their potential to the full and thereby realize their perfection. Where a man is insufficiently intelligent or talented to do a highly skilled or responsible job, he has absolutely no business doing it. Where, on the contrary, he is sufficiently intelligent or talented, then he will do his best to get himself accepted for it and, eventually, he will probably succeed. Whether he becomes a bookbinder, a sculptor, doctor, judge, architect, or novelist, whatever he does will be right for him. There could be no question of coaxing him out of it. For if all men were born to do the same thing, the world would collapse in no time. A few billion artists would spell the ruination of art, a few billion doctors the ruination of medicine, and nobody would be able to realize or even discover his perfection at all.
But that a man should consider himself a failure because he is not a poet or an artist or a musician ... is as stupid and illogical as, for the sake of argument, it would be for a tortoise to consider itself a failure because it is not a hare, or a mouse to consider itself a failure because it is not a cat! Let a man do what he can do as well as possible, let him live according to his capacity, and he will soon discover his true worth. A person can be as satisfied in the humblest or lowest-paid job as dissatisfied in the most exalted or highest-paid one. It entirely depends upon the nature and circumstances of the person concerned.
But let us now leave the above aspect of the problem and turn, finally, to the more obvious criterion of perfection and imperfection: the difference, namely, between a person with a sound, healthy body and mind, and one, by contrast, who is afflicted with some serious mental or bodily deprivation. Here we do touch upon the essential distinction, the glaring inequality, between the normal and the abnormal, the healthy and the sick.
The instances of human imperfection are numerous, but they all revolve around severe mental or physical anomalies. Schizophrenia, mental retardation, and various forms of advanced insanity are typical of the former; blindness, deafness, deformed or crippled limbs, obesity, and various internal malfunctions are typical of the latter. But, whatever the anomaly may happen to be, there lies the basis of human imperfection. It has nothing whatsoever to do with 'sinning against the Light' (unless, however, one's 'sins' are of such a grave and frequent character that there is a strong justification for regarding them as the direct consequence of some mental or physical disorder). Neither does it have anything to do with making mistakes (unless, however, one does little else). Still less does it have to do with the type of work one does (unless, however, one would rather not do any work at all and simply rot away in sordid isolation). No, the phenomenon of human imperfection is always chiefly characterized by such anomalies as those to which I have referred, never or rarely by anything else. For if you are reasonably sound in body and mind, you are as perfect as you need to be. And a 'perfect man' isn't usually the exception; he is the rule!
PERFECT AND IMPERFECT: You claim, my critical reader, that we are not perfect because we make mistakes, commit stupid acts, suffer from ignorance, succumb to the flesh, make war on others, twist truth into illusion, condemn others for things we sometimes do ourselves, fail to live up to our ideals, give way to sloth, contradict ourselves, forget what we ought to have remembered, and remember what we ought really to have forgotten. Why, then, do I pretend otherwise?
But I don't pretend, I know otherwise. I know, for example, that one cannot be good without also, though at other times, being bad, since one's goodness depends upon periodic evil (irrespective of the fact that one may often be quite unaware of exactly what this evil is or what form it takes). I know, too, how important stupidity is in maintaining my intermittent cleverness, how profundity only thrives because of superficiality, wisdom because of folly, truth because of illusion. Without my body I would have no spirit, and without food for this body my spirit would be sorely troubled; in fact, it would be sickly preoccupied with my body, and then, in a sense, I would be quite imperfect. For spirituality only thrives with the aid of its opposite, not without it!
Oh, you say, but there are ugly people, retarded people, spastic people, crippled people, stunted people, blind people, and many other kinds of unfortunate people who, even given your questionable criteria, are anything but perfect. What do I say to that?
Yes, I reply, you are right. And that is precisely where real human imperfection lies. It isn't so much in what one does as in what one is. A hunchbacked dwarf, for example, is clearly quite imperfect by normal standards, as is a cripple, a deaf-mute, or a spastic. We are usually somewhat disturbed by the imperfections of an ugly face or, alternatively, of a face covered in sores, boils, pimples, scars, etc., and, to be perfectly honest with ourselves, we have every reason to feel disturbed. But, since most of us have some failings along these lines, since most of us can point to some physical malady or deformity which regularly troubles us in life, is it not evident that a majority of us are both perfect and imperfect, and that our perfections, far from being completely independent of our imperfections, are dependent upon them for their continuous participation.
But now I am confusing you, I hear you object. First I speak of human perfection, then of imperfection, and finally, to complicate matters still further, of perfection and imperfection. Surely there is a contradiction here? Surely there is some fundamental misconception here?
No, not at all! For if we have to pay for our truths with the coinage of illusion, can it not be contended that, except in those above-mentioned unfortunate instances where physical imperfection is too severe, our overall spiritual integrity, or perfection, must likewise be paid for with the coinage of physical imperfection, whether this imperfection be internal or external, transient or permanent, of the brain or of the body? If one man has an ugly face, another may have a handsome one riddled with spots, boils, sores, etc. If one man is short-sighted, another may be long-sighted. If one man has greasy hair, another may have greasy skin. If one man suffers from his lungs, another may suffer from his heart. If one man is too thin, another may be too fat, and so on and so forth. The instances of physical imperfection are many, but they all seem to point in the same direction - namely the overall integrity of the spirit.
According, therefore, to this contention we are both spiritually perfect and physically imperfect. When one is both clever and stupid, wise and foolish, profound and superficial, logical and illogical, etc., one is spiritually whole, integrated, perfect! When, however, one contemplates the anomalies of the body (of which the brain is effectively a part), it is patently obvious that, in a majority of cases, the body isn't perfect. For short-sightedness, B.O., greasy skin, obesity, boils, warts, moles, cysts, sties, headaches, bone diseases, bladder trouble, and the thousand-and-one other things which constitute physical imperfection can't exactly reflect the same kind of integrity as is to be found in the duality of the spirit, and so, not being able to establish the body's perfection by the very fact of their existence, these imperfections must indirectly contribute to the perfection of the spirit as the legitimate polarity to it.
So a 'perfect man' should be one whose physical imperfections contribute to his overall physico-spiritual integrity, rather than one without any imperfections at all. It is only when his physical imperfections are of such a magnitude as to detract from his overall physico-spiritual integrity - as, for example, in the case of spastics - that one is really justified in regarding him as 'imperfect'.
A NECESSARY DOUBT: When a person says: 'We can have no certainties, no-one can be certain about anything', he is unwittingly displaying his tendency to illusion, ignorance, and stupidity. For were he not inclined to this kind of self-deception, he would know that certainty and doubt are antithetical, that the one cannot exist without the other and, consequently, that there must be a degree of certainty in the world.
When I say: 'Mr Smith is a man and Miss Brown a woman', I am absolutely certain about the nature of their respective genders. Even if I didn't possess the concepts 'male' and 'female', I could still be confident that they looked fundamentally different, and that would constitute a certainty. Similarly, when I say: 'The sun provides the heat and light upon which the survival of natural life on this planet so heavily depends' I am again expressing a certainty. Were I to call it a doubt, other people would have sound reason to consider me mistaken.
But there are, of course, things about which it is impossible to be certain, like changes in the weather, who we will bump into on the pavement, what we will dream in our sleep, where we will be in ten years' time, how much money we will waste over the next six months, and so on. The doubts we have about these 'uncertainties' effectively enable us to be 'doubtless' about the various certainties about which it is absolutely imperative to be certain. Otherwise one may eat the poison berry.
NO SHAM WISDOM: This philosophy would indeed be vain, stupid, and meddlesome if, instead of putting me on the path to enlightenment, it goaded me towards a refutation of our natural tendencies, i.e. of being stupid, deluded, illogical, unjust, sad, evil, presumptuous, superficial, etc., when the need or inevitability of such tendencies was indisputably manifest. For me to set out on the path of endeavouring to eliminate whatever idiosyncratic predilections for folly I may possess would be the height of folly! To imagine myself on the road to profundity by making an earnest endeavour to eliminate what superficiality I may possess would likewise constitute a similar absurdity, making me superficial rather than profound.
If knowledge is to serve any useful purpose, it must free me from the constricting prevalence of false wisdom, render me increasingly aware of the obligations imposed upon a healthy life, and lift me above the intellectual fog invariably engulfing the technical nature of wisdom, morality, religion, politics, art, truth, metaphysics, etc., which blinds so many people to the essence of reality. It is all very well for a man to seek wisdom, to require of philosophy that it teach him how best to live. But if that wisdom subsequently conflicts with his deepest predilections as a human being and thereby transpires to being little more than a caricature of wisdom, a metaphysical misunderstanding, an inversion of terminology, a mere shadow play, a medicine where there was no sickness or, worse still, a sickness where there had been no ill-health, then it were better that he dispensed with philosophical formulae altogether and learnt to follow his natural inclinations again - the very inclinations which, in the final analysis, constitute the real sagacity of life.
ONLY ABSURD SOMETIMES: There are certain modern philosophers and writers, not least of all from the so-called 'existentialist' school of thought, who regularly conspire in contending life to be absurd and, consequently, an imposition one would be better off without - a contention which does, in fact, engender sympathetic connotations when, under the prevalence of various 'trying' circumstances, one genuinely feels oneself to be plagued by a farce and secretly longing for oblivion.
Regardless, however, of the periodic validity and current prestige of this philosophy, it nevertheless occurs to me that one doesn't normally feel life to be absurd when, for example, one settles down to listen to some choice record, read a highly engrossing book, eat a savoury meal, drink a delightful drink, watch an exciting film, sleep an eventful dream, ponder a selection of enlightening thoughts, kiss a pretty woman, or take a well-earned rest. For the mind is usually too preoccupied with what one is doing at such times to be in any way seriously concerned with the then-largely irrelevant notion of absurdity. As a standing maxim, one might conclude that when one is content, the notion of absurdity is strictly taboo!
But life does, however, seem absurd sometimes and, whether or not we like this fact, it is probably just as well. For without the intermittent prevalence of absurdity, how could one possibly be expected to take pleasure in life's reasonableness? Without absurdity, there would doubtless be no reasonableness, just as without illogicality there would be no logic, without illusion no truth, and without sadness no happiness. A book dedicated to the hypothesis of an absurd existence would appear to be a somewhat one-sided and essentially absurd book. Indeed, it might even suggest a distinct tendency, on the part of its author, to incorrect living!
NOT ENTIRELY SANE: Our sanity depends upon the regular support of insanity. Why, you may occasionally wonder, do we act as we do, rarely bothering to consider the essential nature of so many of our activities, but mostly pursuing them as though blinded to their consequences, unaware of their 'actualities', of how strange, diverse, and persistent they usually are? Clearly, because we are insane as well as sane, because it is natural for us to exploit our insanity in the interests of our sanity, our unconscious mind in the interests of our conscious mind. How on earth could we dare to call ourselves 'sane' in the first place, without its antithesis to support us and grant our sanity a reliable foundation? How could there possibly be any sanity in any of us, without the aid of its opposite? A 'sane man' per se can never exist.
Why, then, do we classify certain people as insane if, to a certain extent, we are all mad? Simply because we are largely ignorant of the matter? Possibly. But, more probably, because we habitually associate insanity with notions of incompatibility, irrelevance, superfluity, extreme eccentricity, unrelatedness, ostracism, delusions of grandeur, etc. A person who talks to himself is generally considered mad because custom and common sense normally prohibit us from following suit, since it would make us conspicuously anomalous in a world where most people talk to others. When a man persistently talks to himself in public places he not only draws attention to himself, whether compassionately or critically, but he makes it difficult for other people to communicate with him. Thus he is regarded as a madman for having employed his sanity/insanity relationship in a manner deemed to be incompatible with society's requirements, instead of keeping it moored to an established norm like normal conversation, thinking, reading, writing, humming, whistling, etc., according to accepted standards of procedure. Yet the man who talks to himself is probably no 'madder' than the one who thinks to himself; his 'madness' is simply more conspicuous on account of its audible nature, which might well indicate that the 'madman' in question is simply more extrovert or less intellectual than the habitual thinker.
However, as for those who generally do their best to 'keep in line' and remain fairly consistent with society's demands and standards, which includes the great majority of people, we shall continue to regard them as 'sane' without entirely believing it. For if they are to remain sane in the world's eyes, they must continue to cultivate their insanity as before, i.e. by taking things more or less for granted and keeping uncritical track of social requirement, as effecting and pertaining to both themselves and society in general.
As a sort of afterthought to the above, it ought to be clearly understood that insanity (as represented here by an unusual arrangement of the normal duality) and a mental breakdown are two entirely different things, since a mind which literally ceases to function - as in the cases of Baudelaire, Maupassant, and Nietzsche - should not be confused with a mind which continues to function, albeit in a highly personal and irregular way - as in the cases of Swift, de Nerval, and Pound.
NOT ENTIRELY INSANE: What is a 'madman' if not a being whose sanity/insanity duality has ceased to be of any use to society and become a hindrance rather than an aid? That we are all mad to some extent is, I trust, a proven if not self-evident fact. For even the most heroic of us are regularly susceptible to delusions, illogicalities, stupidities, idiosyncratic anomalies, obsessions, fears, perversions, passions, exaggerations, uncritical obedience, irrational conformity, etc., which rarely fail to puzzle or startle us when we regain our critical discernment.
Fortunately, however, we usually learn to live with our individual oddities, just as we learn to live with their several manifestations in other people's lives, to regard them as a fact of life, to forget about them whenever possible, and to get on with our daily tasks not only as a means of securing a living and keeping ourselves preoccupied, but also of regulating our actions and keeping ourselves on the rails, as it were, of society's track. The three things one doesn't do is to question their validity, worry about their consequences, or set about trying to regulate them in a manner guaranteed to disturb the natural polarity of sanity/insanity within. Living with the brakes on is like driving a car too slowly and carefully. Sooner or later there may well be a serious accident and a screaming neurotic will be dragged out from where, previously, there had been a stable, healthy and normal human being.
What, then, is this person who no longer is of any great use to society but must be kept under regular supervision or, alternatively, left to fend for himself in a world where, at best, he can only expect to do very menial jobs? Is he someone who is all insanity and no sanity, someone who has tipped the polar balance so far in favour of insanity that little or no sanity remains discernible? Could any man be all of one thing to the total exclusion of its opposite under any circumstances, that is to say under any permanent as opposed to transient circumstances? No, I do not believe so! For to be all of one thing would be to destroy it, to cancel the polarity and thereby render the remaining side without definition, substance, or reality as an integral component in a dual relationship.
Thus if, as generally understood, madness is essentially a question of degree, it is by no means a total obliteration of sanity but, rather, an expression of the basic duality in a manner deemed to be incompatible with average standards of behaviour. This, I believe, suffices to explain why those deemed to be insane are usually unaware of their madness, take matters for granted, and are more inclined to consider others insane by their standards than to accept the standards which have been imposed upon them by society at large.
Consequently, to remain sane in society's eyes one must play the game as broadly understood by the majority, no matter what that game may happen to be, in order to remain intelligible within the confines of a given context and thereby pass muster as a being related to others. A surrealist painter will be considered sane so long as he continues to function efficiently within his particular sphere of creative activity and doesn't foolishly encroach upon other, unrelated spheres. He may, for example, paint pictures of elephants with telephones on their heads, women with moustaches, beetroots with legs, or mice wearing pyjamas. But as soon as he seriously contends that people should dress their pet mice, bankers order telephones for lunch, or office clerks stand on their hands all day instead of doing any work, he is likely to be judged insane for having stepped out of his professional line and made a public nuisance of himself.
Now if it is perfectly natural to refer to a man who talks to himself or insults strangers in the street as a 'madman', it nonetheless ought to be understood that, in the final analysis, there is really no such thing as a mad man, any more than there is really such a thing as a sane man, a good man, an evil man, a happy man, a sad man, etc., since men are always a tension of polarities, a meeting-point of opposed though mutually interdependent tendencies, and therefore cannot be wholly one thing or another. Naturally, we are compelled to simplify things, to define them in a way that will be intelligible to the vast majority of people at any given time. But from a philosophical standpoint, wherein the mind is determined to make a conscious effort to get to the bottom of things, such pragmatic simplifications afford us a worthwhile vehicle for analysis - indeed, constitute the very justification behind our attempts, as philosophers, to investigate life in a more detailed, resolute, sincere, and profound manner. Consequently, we must not take them at face-value, like the majority of people, but should concentrate on digging beneath the objective surface of life, if only because we are intent upon 'unearthing' some unique revelation, lifting it clear of obscurity, and thereupon exposing it to rational investigation.
Now just as we contended that a man cannot be wise without also possessing a degree of folly, so we also contend, in inverting our thesis, that he cannot be mad without possessing a calculated degree of sanity, since a mad man per se is more a figment of the imagination than a genuine reality.
NO HAPPINESS WITHOUT SADNESS: On the subject of happiness, I believe John Cowper Powys, the exponent of what has been called 'elementalism', makes a serious mistake in regarding thoughts as highly as he seems to, both with regard to the struggle against sadness and the cause of its outbreak in the first place, as defined, for example, in The Art of Happiness, one of his most accessible books. For is it not regularly the case that a person feels sad without having particularly gone out of his way to think himself into it, or to involve himself in hostile circumstances. That he feels sad simply because our metaphysical condition as men requires a degree of sadness, in order that we may remain integrated as human beings?
Now if this is so, how much more so is it the case when a person feels sad because he has a damn good reason to, since he can point to the fact that the weather is depressing, or his financial circumstances are unfavourable, or his health is poor, or his hopes on a particular subject have been dashed? Yet in a world where dualities, disparities, conflicts, and tensions are the very stuff of life, it would seem plausible to contend that sadness plays as legitimate a part in the birth of happiness as happiness in the death of sadness, and that we can no more aim for the one at the total exclusion of the other ... than hope to stay awake without getting any sleep!
Instead, therefore, of waging an all-out war on sadness, as some people would seem only too foolishly inclined to do, would it not be wiser to accept the condition for what it really is - namely the obverse side of a dualistic coin and, hence, the price we pay for our happiness. 'Yes, I am sad,' you say, 'but this sadness will subsequently give way to a degree of happiness which, through an unwritten law of my being, is largely a consequence of it.'
NOTHING SUPERFLUOUS: That everything is interrelated, interdependent, interfused ... would appear to be the eternal rule of life, a rule which makes it necessary for us to despise here in order to admire there, to hate there in order to love here, to condemn here in order to praise there, to reject there in order to accept here, to scowl here in order to smile there, and so on throughout the entire range of human experience. When one realizes that everybody is a part of the whole, a consequence of the whole, and that to consider certain parts of the whole superfluous is effectively to turn against it, then one can only conclude the people, creatures, and things one dislikes to be of significance in so far as they make it possible to maintain the people, creatures, and things one likes.
Similarly, if one values admiration one can only conclude the people one despises to be of such significance to the welfare of one's admiration that one would never be able to admire anybody without them; that unless one despised, one would never be in a position to admire in the first place, so that the despising is forever justified, forever sanctioned by the lure of admiration.
But this is the case, it may be argued, for every single sentiment a man may have, a case which ordains the absolute legitimacy and necessity of his acting the way he does in order to maintain his opinions, his prejudices, his predilections, and, above all, his integrity. Let him curse this or that as much as he likes; for unless he does so, he will never have anything to bless. Even if you remove whatever he happens to be cursing, even if you do away with it altogether, don't let that beguile you into assuming that you are necessarily doing him a favour or improving his lot! On the contrary, would he not then have to find something else to curse, in order that he might continue to bless?
BETWEEN DAY AND NIGHT: Let us not delude ourselves into imagining, as too many philosophers have done, that life is either difficult or easy when, in reality, it is both difficult and easy, though, admittedly, not usually at the same time. Let us not delude ourselves either, in the manner of the most pessimistic stoics, that life is both war and suffering when, in reality, it is both war and peace and pleasure and pain. Still less do we wish to consider life an absurdity when we cannot help noticing its reasonableness too, and can only conclude those who can't to be either poor-sighted or the victims of rather serious mental aberrations.
No, we are not worshippers of the moon, we dualists, and neither are we worshippers of the sun! It doesn't become us to serve the one at the expense of the other but, rather, to serve or, at any rate, acknowledge them both. If we give a little more attention, as men, to the sun than to the moon, is it not because we are basically unable to do anything else, since something buried deep inside our dual natures responds to the ultimate sovereignty of the active over the passive, and thereby sets our bias in that direction?
Ah, but we do not pretend, for all our natural inclinations, that the moon is unworthy of our attention. We aren't sufficiently extreme, perverse, or deluded, in such matters, to suppose ourselves capable of thriving without them both, and, to be sure, we have never heard anything from either of them to the effect that we should. But when we temporarily turn our faces away from the light of the one, is it not in order that we may better learn to appreciate the light of the other, that we may so shine ourselves, and in such a way as to do absolute justice to each? Truly, it is not for us to detract from the positivity of the one by foolishly belittling the negativity of the other! There are quite enough misunderstandings in the world already.
A MISTAKE IN PLUTARCH: For those readers who may be interested in the possibility of my theory being mistaken with regard to the interrelativity and inevitability of both positive and negative antitheses within the individual, there is a strong attack on such a theory in Plutarch's dialogue The Cleverness of Animals, wherein the character Autobulus, cast as Plutarch's father, puts forward to his old friend Soclarus a refutation of the said theory by emphasizing what he takes to be the impossibility of two completely contradictory elements within the same person. Hence, according to Autobulus, the rational and the irrational cannot exist side-by-side, since the latter would eliminate the former or vice versa. 'If,' he goes on the say, 'to make sure that Nature is not curtailed in any way, someone maintains that the part of Nature which has a soul must comprise both a rational and an irrational element, then someone else is sure to say that what has a soul must comprise elements capable of imagination and incapable of imagination, capable of feeling and incapable of feeling. The idea would be that these opposites, these positive and negative antitheses about the same thing should be kept, as it were, in equilibrium. But when we consider that all things which have souls must necessarily be capable of feeling and of imagination, it will appear absurd to go looking, in this class of living things, for antitheses between the feeling and the unfeeling, the imaginative and the unimaginative. And in just the same way it is pointless to find in living things an antithesis between the rational and the irrational ...'
I have quoted the best part of the paragraph under surveillance in order to make quite clear to the reader just how Autobulus' reasoning is wrong. For, having come this far in my theorizing and placed more than a little confidence in the authenticity of my argument, it is not something that I would like to hide away, refer to obliquely, or leave myself in any doubt about, particularly in dealing with a master like Plutarch. The mistake, then, clearly lies in the coupling of elements which are in no way antithetical but, with the exception of the rational and the irrational (which is paralleled by me in the essays entitled NOT ENTIRELY SANE and NOT ENTIRELY INSANE, as well as having been dealt with in considerably more detail by Carl Jung in his analyses of the compensatory relationship between the conscious and the unconscious minds in the totality of the psyche), distinctly contradictory. Instead of forming durable antitheses, they would spell the elimination of each other. Thus to be 'capable of feeling and incapable of feeling' is tantamount to saying 'to be capable of truth and incapable of truth' or 'to be capable of love and incapable of love' or, again, 'to be capable of goodness and incapable of goodness' when, in reality, it is truth and illusion, love and hate, good and evil, which form the antitheses, not the direct contradiction of the positive element achieved through the total elimination of the negative one!
So Autobulus' reasoning, although it may seem feasible at first glance, is really specious, in that it posits false antitheses as real ones. Rather than the refutation of feeling by unfeeling, why not the coupling of sympathy and callousness? We are all sympathetic in some contexts and callous in others, as well we might be.
PART TWO: LESSONS ON A DUALISTIC PHILOSOPHY
WISDOM AND FOLLY: Where wisdom and folly co-exist, there, too, is perfection; and you will see that every wise man is also a fool, every fool also wise. But how could it be otherwise? A man always learns wisdom from his folly and, just as often, folly from his wisdom. Is it any disgrace, therefore, to know and foster both of these qualities?
Beware, you wiser men, the 'fools' who pride themselves on their wisdom, the 'champions of wisdom', quite as though they had transcended the human condition by securing a permanent victory over folly! They will not help you to understand yourselves. If you tell them what you know for a fact, they will probably take you for a fool and either send you away or, worse still, attempt to reform you.
And beware also, you wiser men, the 'fools' who mock man's wisdom and would reduce us all to the level of clambering apes if they thought they could get away with it! Avoid these 'champions of folly' whose reasoning powers have succumbed to the tyranny of cynicism! They won't help you to understand yourselves, either. Each of these types is too extreme to be praiseworthy; they acknowledge either the sun or the moon, but never both! That is their greatest misfortune, you wiser men.
But you need not be ashamed of your folly or embarrassed by your wisdom. They are not enemies but close partners in the business of life. You are wise enough to be realists and foolish enough to know why.
So see to it, you wiser men, that your integrity doesn't desert you when it is most needed, i.e. when pitched against your enemies - the lopsided!
TRUTH AND ILLUSION: What is truth but the refutation of illusion? And what is illusion but the foundation upon which truth is built?
You truthful men, you who hate nothing so much as self-deception, see to it that you develop your illusions as a means to new truths!
Beware, you truthful men, the enemies of illusion, the pigheaded 'crusaders for truth', who make war on illusion as though from a sense of duty. Often enough they are chasing their tails, but more often still their tails are chasing them and they are destroying their truths in the heat of the battle! For where one cannot respect one's illusions, one sacrifices one's truths.
So see to it, you truthful men, that you are not drawn over to your enemy's camp!
And see to it, too, that you do not become a mocker and doubter of truth, a 'prophet of illusion' and the immateriality of the world. The 'illusions' of these people are every bit as obnoxious as the 'truths' of the others, and therefore should be avoided by all enlightened men.
But make certain, you lovers of truth, that you do not neglect your illusion!
GOOD AND EVIL: And what is the word 'good' without the word 'evil' but a hollow sound without a meaning?
Beware, you good men, the hollow sounds of the 'preachers of goodness', those sounds that never ring true when heard by a sound ear. There is something false, cracked, lopsided, irresponsible, and spurious about their message, and more so about them. It is not the calling of a good man to denounce evil, but to make use of it for his own benefit. Denouncing evil is tantamount to renouncing good; for were it not for the existence of evil, a man would have no opportunity of doing good. But nothing can be got from a bell without a clapper, and if a man isn't good, which is to say sound, healthy, strong, realistic, and honest, he can only be bad, or unsound, ill, weak, unrealistic, and dishonest, which is to say - spurious!
So beware, you good men, the 'preachers of goodness'! They will not help you to understand yourselves. And neither will they give you a sound definition of evil; for a sound definition isn't something that comes from a cracked bell.
And beware, too, you good men, the 'preachers of evil', lest you become pale and atrophied like them, and gradually wilt away in their winter negativity. They are not strong enough for your goodness, but would rather croak their frog-like evil from a swamp than climb into the light, where they could be seen by every eye.
Yet their 'evil', like the 'goodness' of the 'preachers of goodness', is more a caricature than an actuality; a mean, sickly thing that pales to insignificance when placed beside the authentic life-giving evil which springs from necessity and not from the impoverished obsessions of a sickly dabbler. For a man can no more be evil if he isn't also good, than he can be good if not also evil!
So beware, you good men, both the 'preachers of goodness' and the 'preachers of evil', since extremities are equally fatal and it is not your fate to become either a cracked bell or a croaking frog. See to it that you remain a man, and a good one, too!
HAPPINESS AND SADNESS: But you happy men, you to whom the word 'sadness' is an invitation to happiness, a bridge and not an obstacle to your subsequent happiness, a reprieve and a homecoming at the same time - see to it, you happy men, that you do not lose track of happiness in the jungle of your sadness!
Beware those men who would have you cut back on your sadness to a point where you can hardly discern your happiness because there is all path and no jungle. They are very often the 'teachers of happiness', but their teachings are such that the man who follows them becomes sadder than he would otherwise be, and eventually loses himself in their complications. Instead of setting out simple rules for the guidance of the student, they set his path with tricks and traps which only confuse him the more. Instead of showing him the way to greater happiness, they bind him to formulae which prevent his discovering it. Instead of making him happier, they teach him to cut back on his happiness so that he may become less sad. Such, my readers, is the wisdom of the 'teachers of happiness'!
But you have no need of such lethal advice, you happy men, for you do not fear sadness and neither do you wish to escape it. You know that without sadness there would be no happiness, and that he who wishes to be happy must first learn to accept sadness and not foolishly endeavour to escape it.
Sadness, you happy men, is not the enemy of your happiness but its closest friend. It is 'she', and no other, who gives you happiness and then takes it away when you have had enough, in order that you may have more when you deserve it. It is 'she', and no other, who gives meaning to your happiness and, by breaking it up, prevents you from becoming bored with it. It is 'she', and no other, who makes happiness possible, and whom you ought to thank for it. So what is a book on happiness to you happy men, but an excuse for merriment at the expense of some dupe's illusions?
Be careful then, you happy men, that you are not led astray by the 'enemies of sadness', else you may quickly lose track of your happiness as well! It is not your fate to become a living corpse!
PROFUNDITY AND SUPERFICIALITY: Now you men of profundity, who often strive after the core of things at the expense of the husk - take care, you profound men, that you do not forget how to be superficial, that you do not forget how to honour the husk!
There are many so-called profound men who absolutely abhor superficiality and, conversely, many superficial men who abhor profundity, but one shouldn't pay them too much attention - not, that is, unless one is so superficial as to be deceived by them. For if a man is truly profound, he will certainly know how to use superficiality to his own advantage!
So beware, you profound men, the 'enemies of the superficial'! And if a man is profound but still an enemy of the superficial, you can be pretty sure that his antipathy is a delusion, that he certainly knows how to be superficial all right, but doesn't know exactly when he is being so.
But 'the superficial' themselves are your greatest threat; for although they are not altogether lacking in profundity, their profundity is almost invariably incompatible with yours. It is a profundity from which you instinctively shy away, as from an immense hurdle or grisly nightmare. It is not a profundity you greatly admire but, more often, something that strikes you as being akin to a coffin in the market place, so disagreeable are the cadaverous connotations which rise from it, like the foul stench of a putrid corpse.
So beware then, you profound men, the profundity of 'the superficial', since it will not help you to understand yourselves! See to it that you do not forget how to cultivate your superficiality in antithesis to theirs, lest you endanger the intermittent sovereignty of your profundity as well!
CERTAINTY AND DOUBT: One never has doubts about one's certainties, one has doubts for them. Without the intermittent prevalence of doubt, what certainty could one be expected to have?
Am I not certain that I am a human being with two arms, two eyes, two ears, a nose, a mouth, and walk about on two legs? Yes, of course I am! And do I not have doubts, from time to time, about the future, the weather, my health, work, the nature of my dreams, etc. Yes, of course I do!
But there are those who contend that we can have no certainties, can never be certain about anything since, according to them, certainties are merely illusory - a contention from which we ought to conclude that doubts are, too! Yet isn't the theory that we can have no certainties fundamentally a certainty? It definitely sounds like one anyway, even if it happens to be false.
Whatever we hear, however, no matter how fantastic, there are still many amongst us who firmly believe in the reality of certainty and in the equally pervasive reality of doubt. And if one is to retain one's certainty, one must assuredly know how to doubt! For the latter is, after all, the legitimate foundation upon which the former is built.
So see to it, you certain men, that your foundations are secure, else the 'doubters of certainty' may uproot your doubts as well!
REASONABLENESS AND UNREASONABLENESS: Now you men of reason, whose moderation becomes you in such an extreme age, I have read something to the effect that man is not a reasonable creature but only capable of reason - a remark which didn't greatly impress me when I first came across it but, nonetheless, one which has since caused me to speculate more thoroughly on the nature and extent of human reason and, if you'll forgive my saying so, to draw conclusions remarkably similar to those elicited by Jonathan Swift.
Indeed, it was a great blow to my ego to suddenly find myself confronted by such an apparently stark interpretation of human life, all the more so since I had previously been assured by an author who happens to be humanist that man is a rational creature.
Yes, a great blow indeed, but one from which I have since recovered, if you reasonable men will again forgive my saying so, to return to life with renewed zest!
Ah, what a liberation to know that man is not a reasonable creature but, as the aforementioned satirist rightly contended, only capable of reason!
And do you know why he is not a reasonable creature, you reasonable men? Yes, of course you do! For you are reasonable men, not ignorant, uncouth, bigoted, narrow-minded, bad-tempered, obsessed, or extreme men, and consequently you know as well as I do that reasonableness has to be paid for with the coin of intermittent unreasonableness!
Yes, you know that well enough, and that is why you are reasonable and not fantastic, like the 'preachers of reason'. They would condemn your periodic unreasonableness as a failing, a crime, sin, weakness, etc., over which you have total control but against which you refuse to struggle. Like all other lopsided creatures, the 'preachers of reason' have little respect for your integrity as men, since they do not see man in the whole but only in the part, and that, you reasonable men, is their chief unreasonableness. Instead of leading to an acceptance and understanding of man, it inevitably leads to a condemnation and belittling of him.
So beware, you reasonable men, the insidious calumny of the 'preachers of reason'! See to it that you do not become like them; for they are not even idealists, these lopsided creatures, but misguided realists of a pernicious disposition!
And beware, too, you reasonable men, the unreasonable cynics of whose tribe Jonathan Swift was certainly not a member. For they are as great a danger to your metaphysical integrity as the 'preachers of reason', and will do whatever they can to undermine your complacency and drag you down to the murky depths of their despair. These men will not help you to understand yourselves, you reasonable men, and neither will they do much to help you improve your self-image. Those who preach that man should always be reasonable are usually deluded types. But these 'preachers of unreason' are mostly a low breed, and therefore should be avoided.
One doesn't become a higher man, you reasonable men, by mixing with the low, so see to it that your reason doesn't desert you when it is most needed!
See to it, too, that, for the sake of your reasonableness, you don't forget how to be periodically - unreasonable!
CLEVERNESS AND STUPIDITY: Now you clever men, you whose talents scale the heavens, you whom the world recognizes as wise and competent men, the damnation of some and the salvation of others - see to it that you are clever enough to endorse your stupidity!
I will not hear it said of you that you have no stupidity, for such a callous accusation would surely detract from the indisputable evidence of your periodic cleverness. Genius, be it noted, is entitled to greater mistakes than ordinary men, and for no small reason has genius traditionally been conceded the benefit of the doubt.
But men of genius have often been ashamed of their stupidity, which is no small mistake. For it is stupidity which has regularly convinced them that they ought not to tarnish their reputation for cleverness with stupidity, and it is stupidity which has so often turned them against themselves. The unhappy genius, so often a man who is not sufficiently clever - to himself!
Oh, but there is a salutary lesson to be learnt from such unhappy geniuses, you clever men, a lesson that will not turn us against our stupidity. For even if we are momentarily angered by it when caught unawares, even if we imagine ourselves succumbing to its insidious influence more often than we ought, even if we do or say certain things in the heat of the argument which, on reflection, we are later ashamed of, let us at least have the gumption, you clever men, to recognize it as an indispensable component in the human condition, the very justification of our cleverness, and therefore not something that ought to be entirely eliminated for the sake of our intellectual improvement.
Alas, how many of us would actually be improved by the elimination of a component which guarantees our cleverness? Not very many, I will wager, unless, however, there are some amongst us who see cleverness in the inactivity of a motionless 'sage' sitting under the branches of a tree all day.
But we who pride ourselves on a daily activity, no matter how sedentary, can hardly expect to fare well in the world without maintaining a degree of cleverness, and a degree of cleverness, moreover, which is largely dependent, I tell you, upon the intermittent co-operation of our stupidity.
And yet, you clever men, there is something about your competent, fastidious, deliberative, methodical, sober, and shrewd dispositions which has intimated to me that you are not very willing to acknowledge your stupidity, irrespective of what the latest philosophical oracle may have to say on the subject, when, as far as you are concerned, there is very little evidence of stupidity to be found. You have grown weary of philosophical presumption, you clever men, and now you doubt whether a philosopher can still be trusted, particularly when what he says has some truth in it, and he is therefore no less in danger than anyone else of succumbing to the legitimate influences of illusion or stupidity.
Very well, I concede you the right of disputation, you sceptical men, since you have every right to believe what you consider to be of most relevance to yourselves. But it is still my firm contention that your cleverness and stupidity are interrelated, so that the one cannot exist without the other, and that, whatever you may think, you regularly succumb to stupidity without in the least being aware of the fact! Hence, you are naturally disinclined to endorse a view which seems totally contradictory to your various activities - activities you mostly take for granted, in any case.
However, whatever the final opinion of you clever men may happen to be, see to it that you are not undone, like the unhappy geniuses, by your stupidity. There is surely enough cleverness in you for that!
SUCCESS AND FAILURE: But you successful men, you whose memories are stacked with failure, have you ever considered how important it is to you and your successes that you should continue to experience failures?
Truly, there is hardly a man amongst us who isn't regularly prey to some kind of failure, and most of us could certainly draw up a long list of our most memorable failures - the very ones which we are privately least keen to remember!
But what would we do, you successful failures, if we had never failed in anything? Would we be able to boast of any successes?
Alas, I cannot see that we would! For it seems that our successes are fundamentally dependent upon the intermittent prevalence of our failures, and that without these failures, no matter how hideous or demoralizing some of them were, we should be deprived of even the faintest intimation of success. But who would be able to tolerate a life without some kind of success? Who, with the possible exception of the most unfortunate, would ever be in a position to know what a life without some kind of success was like anyway?
To be sure, one need not be a celebrity to experience such a fundamentally common feature of life. One need only get up at the right time in the morning, prove to be fairly competent in one's work, enjoy a good meal, read an interesting chapter of a worthwhile book, solve a particular problem, maintain congenial relations with one's associates, neighbours, friends, family, etc., or win a raffle, to experience the essential feeling of success, a feeling which isn't restricted to only a 'privileged few', by any means!
So if you value your successes, you successful men, see to it that you aren't ashamed of your failures. For they are not as great an obstacle to your successes as you may at first imagine. On the contrary, they are your greatest incentive to leap ever higher!
PLEASURE AND PAIN: Without pain, you men of pleasure, what pleasure could you possibly hope to obtain from life? For is not the absence of pain somewhat pleasurable to you and, conversely, the absence of pleasure somewhat painful?
Naturally, you do not care to speak very highly of pain, considering that you have hitherto found the subject rather painful and more like an obstacle to your pleasure than a goad to it. But you would not forsake your pleasures all the same, you shrewdly pleasurable men, since you are no fools when it comes to knowing where your advantage lies. For who, having just crossed the bridge which leads from pain to pleasure, has ever cared to look back over his shoulder to survey the opposite bank - the bank of his pains?
Of course, pain is a terrible thing, a real monster to deal with. But tell me, you shrewdly pleasurable men, how could we possibly flee from it if it were not so terrible, if its aspect were insufficiently disagreeable to send us shrieking to our advantage on the other side of the bridge?
Fortunately, it is far too negative a monster to ever cross the bridge after us. But, all the same, it is far too big and crafty a monster for us to destroy. Yet it knows its limits, this 'monster of pain', and it will not transgress these limits while the 'guardian of pleasure' sits beaming on the opposite bank and protects the bridge. For it knows that the 'guardian of pleasure' is ultimately the strongest, since it is to pleasure that all mortals daily aspire.
Just watch this 'monster of pain' slink away into the depths of its pitiless jungle when 'the guardian' sits beaming on the opposite bank, his countenance radiant with the positivity of his kingdom, one in which the monster's negativity has no place. For the 'guardian of pleasure' is no mean host, and his guests know that they will receive a warm welcome, once they enter the kingdom from which all negativity is eternally banned.
But you men of pleasure, you whom nature has endowed with a preponderance of the positive over the negative, you know well enough that you aren't wholly satisfied with pleasure alone, and that something deep inside your dual natures inevitably calls you back to the other bank, the bank of your pains and the longing for pleasure.
Yes, you would soon grow tired of pleasure if you had no means of getting away from it, if there wasn't a bridge in evidence across which your wisdom could lead you so that, newly strengthened by your recent pleasures, you could once more enter the kingdom of pain and grapple anew with the monster from which you must eventually flee.
But it is not for the 'monster of pain' to give you a warm welcome, you pleasurable men. For everything in its kingdom is negative, everything subordinated to pain, and it knows you for what you are, for the born enemies of pain that you are. It knows that you have only come back to use it as a means to your subsequent pleasures and, having no pleasure itself, it mortally loathes this fact. For it is secretly jealous of 'the guardian's' power over you and will do everything it possibly can to make this jealousy known, even though it knows itself to be forever chained to a secondary role, from which there is no escape.
And you won't hesitate to do battle with this loathsome monster, you pleasurable men, once you realize that your future pleasure depends on it. For you are shrewd and know where your advantage lies. And even while you are defending yourselves, you will still cast an occasional glance back over your shoulder towards the opposite bank, the bank of your pleasures, to see if 'the guardian' is sufficiently radiant with the positivity of his kingdom to warrant your return.
Oh yes, I know you, you pleasurable men, considering that I am also of your tribe and, likewise, only too willing to glance back to my advantage.
But beware the prophets of false wisdom, the dead-and-dying prophets of the all-pleasure-and-no-pain or the all-pain-and-no-pleasure schools! They will not help you to understand yourselves, since they are akin to one-sided creatures, and man is not, by nature, one-sided.
So beware all extremists and false prophets, you pleasurable men, and see to it that you do not give up the fight with pain too quickly, before the 'guardian of pleasure' has had sufficient time in which to rejuvenate himself!
LOVE AND HATE: Although it is an odd thing to confess, I have heard so-called men of love proclaim their hatred of hate without in the least being aware that they were still hating.
Yes, they have made it their duty to hate hatred for the sake of love because, according to them, to love hatred would be to acquiesce in it and thereby tarnish their reputation for love. They do not see, these 'preachers of love', that hating hatred is still hate, and that one cannot love without hating. They would like us to believe that they are solely men of love, but we aren't really convinced. We shy away from their doctrine of love when it outlaws hate, much as we shy away from all other crooked and one-sided doctrines. And we do not take a man seriously when he proclaims one thing and does another!
But to whom am I addressing myself if not to the natural, liberated, and honest men? Yes, it is to you natural men that I address this message, since you are not so fantastic as to believe yourselves capable of outlawing hate in the interests of your love. Neither would you deceive yourselves by imagining that a hatred of hate wasn't hate. On the contrary, you are far too honest and strict with yourselves to allow that kind of self-deception to take root in you!
But the others, the hypocrites of love, are the ones against whom you will most have to guard your integrity, if you don't wish to become victims of their love. For this love is a changeable thing, full of multifaceted appearances, and many are the times when they have grown so accustomed to regarding themselves as men of love ... that they have confounded love with hate and termed this latter 'love'.
Just watch how their love will shine in their eyes, once you begin to criticize a doctrine that excludes hate! They will certainly know how to love you then, especially when they perceive how much pleasure your criticism brings you. And if you then inform them, you loving men, that their love is often hatred in disguise, be prepared to witness a 'bonfire of love' in their eyes from which you may well have to shield yourself, so great an emotional conflagration will it engender!
But everything that flares up must eventually die down again, and their 'bonfire' is no exception. They will soon go back to loving you, once they see how incorrigibly unrepentant you are. For they won't have it said that they are mistaken, once they have convinced themselves to the contrary!
And you loving men, who are too strict to deceive yourselves on this issue, will know that they aren't really wrong in practice but only in theory. For this 'bonfire of love' in their eyes is all the evidence you could need to judge of their practical authenticity. It is only their theory which is spurious. They have set themselves a standard to which they are unable to attain (though, between ourselves, that is just as well, since, if they could attain to it, we would soon be obliged to follow suit!). But, in a majority of cases, they are really natural men in disguise, men who are secretly ashamed of their humanity and would rather hide it behind a spurious theory. They are not honest enough to be like you, because they aren't liberated enough to be that honest.
So beware then, you loving men, the 'preachers of love', whose mendacious value-judgements will not help you to understand yourselves!
And beware also the equally mendacious value-judgements of the 'preachers of hate', whose basic attitudes I do not even wish to discuss, since they are just as one-sided in their insistence upon hate as the others in insisting upon love, and neither of these types represent man as he really is!
But see to it, you loving men, that you do not forget how to hate what it is necessary to hate, in order that you may continue to love!
VIRTUE AND VICE: There are in this world people who claim to be virtuous by avoiding vice, a strange breed if ever there was one, but a breed which can be found in virtually every country on earth.
To be sure, there are often among their number many virtuous men, but that is only because the men in question are not ashamed to indulge in certain vices which they mistakenly describe as virtues. Indeed, when it comes to theorizing, they know only too well how to condemn vice as they understand it, which, in a world where one man's meat is often another man's poison, is hardly surprising!
But it is not enough, my virtuous friends, to condemn the vices of other types of people, and thereupon imagine that one has condemned vice altogether, when one is still apparently virtuous enough to possess certain personal vices, and to find these vices so acceptable that they conveniently pass for virtues. For the virtues of these rather priggish individuals exist by dint of the vices of the other types, whereas, in reality, it is only by dint of their own vices that they have any virtues at all.
It is ignorance of the exact nature of their personal vices which has gradually led them to see virtue in terms of condemning the vices, or assumed vices, of other types of people. But this is a very limited view and, if I may be so bold as to say, one which ultimately does a grave disservice to the concept of virtue! For virtues are seldom found in a person without any vices.
However that may be, let us do what we can to cultivate our vices, you virtuous men, and see to it that the relationship between virtue and vice is maintained, in the honourable name of our most esteemed virtues, the continuous prevalence of which more than adequately attests to a well-balanced partnership!
As, however, for those 'hypocrites of virtue' (though some of them are less hypocritical than simply deluded), I don't specifically intend to deprive them of the pleasure they evidently obtain from the vice of condemning other people's vices, but I should certainly feel that some progress had been made if they subsequently came to inquire a little more thoroughly into the nature and extent of their own vices, in order to safeguard their virtues all the more!
So beware, you virtuous men, those lopsided creatures who would have you remove your vices in the interests of your virtues, believing that a man can be virtuous without the assistance of vice!
See to it that you are not led astray by such men. For it is not your fate to become fragmented, but to remain whole!
STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS: Were it not for his weaknesses a man would be unable to boast of his strengths. Is it clear to you exactly what is being implied by this statement, you strong men? Do you not see that boasting is a weakness which enables a man to draw attention to his strengths?
Yes, of course you do, and that is precisely why you are all boasters, you strong men, because you are insufficiently strong to be able to manage without your weaknesses.
But boasting is not your only weakness, nor even your worst, and some of you boast far less than others, in order to cultivate different weaknesses the more!
Indeed, there are so many weaknesses about you that it is often difficult for one to know exactly where a weakness ends and a strength begins. You fool others as much as you fool yourselves, you strong men, and sometimes, at the height of an unreasonable or vainglorious mood, you are even audacious enough to pretend to not having any weaknesses - a foolish pretence if ever there was one, since your strengths aren't sufficiently independent to be able to manage without them!
But, even so, it is not altogether surprising that your weaknesses should occasionally lead you to disown your strengths. For you are not meant to be all strength.
And neither are you meant to pay attention to those who would have you eliminate your weaknesses for the sake of your strengths, since such people will not help you to understand yourselves, you strong men, and will probably make you weaker than you should be. They do not see, these shallow 'preachers of strength', that man isn't meant to be all strength, and so every weakness they detect in another person is inevitably magnified out of all proportion, as though it constituted a real danger to strength.
But their refusal to tolerate weakness is the only real danger to strength, you strong men, so beware the enemies of weakness!
And beware also the enemies of strength, the self-righteous 'preachers of weakness', lest they cheat you out of your self-confidence and reduce you to the base level of their cringing servility! Man isn't meant to live by strength alone, but neither is he meant to be entirely weak!
So see to it, you strong men, that you remain both strong and weak for the sake of your strengths!
INTEREST AND DISINTEREST: But now, as a final contribution to this series of lessons on a dualistic philosophy, it is time for me to consider the most interesting men alive, the men of interest, and to offer them some timely advice on the subject of disinterestedness, the key to their interest.
For I have lately heard it said that men can only remain interested in a given interest for a limited period of time, as also for a limited time within each day, and that they must afterwards turn to fresh activities or, failing that, to no activities at all. And it was also said, not entirely without justification, that they must turn their backs on many high and worthy matters for the sake of their interest, in order not to dissipate their daily quota of intense concentration on subjects less than relevant to their respective occupations.
Now this same wit, whose words I easily overheard, was very much of the opinion that highly cultured people must often allow themselves to be taken for philistines by the adherents of a different culture or interest, since this wasn't only expedient in terms of the prevention of unnecessary argument but expedient, moreover, in terms of the maintenance of their respective interests as well. For if, to cite this worthy logician, they 'aspired to being more interested in matters not wholly pertinent to their strongest predilections than they should, they could soon find their natural quota of sustained appreciation expended long before they were in a position to return to their real interests, to those matters formerly regarded as virtually sacrosanct'.
And this delightful wit, who was also a sort of moral philosopher, admitted most frankly, and with the greatest relish, that he was 'not in the least ashamed to eschew all the most important art galleries, museums, concert halls, theatres, and cinemas in the world in the interests of [his] philosophy', but that he would willingly be branded a philistine 'ten times over' if it guaranteed him, during the course of each day, that he would always have 'the energy and inclination' to return to his 'beloved theorizing', the interest, par excellence, of his cultural life!
So take care, you men of interest, that you do not forget how to cultivate disinterestedness for the sake of your interest. For your culture can only grow where there is sufficient indifference towards culture in general, and your culture is more important to you than anyone else's.
Thus speaks the voice of self-interest!
PART THREE: DIALOGUE ON A DUALISTIC PHILOSOPHY
(A Dualistic Integrity)
PHILOSOPHER (Addressing himself to his young interviewer): So you have familiarized yourself with my latest philosophical contentions, and now you wish to ask me some questions concerning them?
STUDENT: That is correct!
PHILOSOPHER: Well then, what can I do for you?
STUDENT (Consulting his notes): You have contended that a man cannot be good without also being intermittently evil - in short, that goodness cannot exist without the aid of its opposite. How, then, do you differentiate between good and evil in relation to people?
PHILOSOPHER: Very simply! Whatever proceeds from positive feelings is good and, conversely, whatever proceeds from negative feelings is evil. Thus when you transmit the former you are doing good to someone, you are making a person feel happier, as well as making yourself feel happier, whereas when you transmit the latter you are making both yourself and someone else feel less happy or possibly even sad, and are therefore doing evil.
STUDENT: So every action committed in anger is evil?
PHILOSOPHER: Yes, because anger invariably engenders negative feelings and thereby makes people feel wretched.
STUDENT: Hence we can always know whether we are doing good or evil simply by taking account of the nature of the feelings that we are transmitting at the time?
PHILOSOPHER: Precisely! For example, if you were a thief engaged in cracking open a safe somewhere, you would know yourself to be doing evil simply by taking account of the way you felt. You would probably feel very tense, very 'on edge', very nervous in case anything went wrong. And if, by ill-luck, anything did go wrong, like you were caught, say, in the act of opening the safe, you would probably either lose your nerve altogether and give yourself up or panic and, assuming it was within your powers, attempt to escape. But the negative feelings would give you away all the time.
STUDENT: Yet none of us can avoid doing both good and evil, even though the evil needn't entail cracking safes?
PHILOSOPHER: No, we are made for both and, as such, we are compelled to accept both. Try to imagine a life without any negativity, a life without any worries, pains, angers, frustrations, doubts, aggressions, tensions, regrets, hatreds, prejudices, disparities, etc. I rather doubt that you would be able to live such a life under normal circumstances.
STUDENT: Yet Christ taught men to 'resist not evil', which, broadly speaking, means to 'turn the other cheek', to ignore the evils of others, to live and let live, to resign oneself to the ways of the world and not offer any opposition to one's enemies or potential enemies, so that one can remain calm and continue to experience 'eternal peace', or the 'Kingdom of God' within the self. That was what he taught and also what he demonstrated during the final days of his earthly life, when he showed an apparent indifference to his fate and allowed himself to be pushed around from hand to hand without making any attempt to defend or justify himself.
PHILOSOPHER: Yes, that is perfectly true. But comparatively few men are permitted to lead a Christ-like existence, especially when, not being itinerant philosophers or religious preachers, they are obliged to earn a living in such a highly competitive and potentially hostile world as this one! Unfortunately, there is often a marked lacuna between a philosopher's teachings and their actual applicability to daily life. It is all very well for Christ to preach particular doctrines, for he slots into the world as a preacher, he earns a living by preaching, whereas the vast majority of those to whom he preaches aren't really in a position to follow suit, to abandon their respective tasks and lead a similar life. So they are inevitably compelled to ignore or, more accurately, fail to live-up to certain of his teachings. The only true way to lead a Christ-like existence would be to become a wandering, self-employed, self-responsible, self-styled preacher. But what do you think would happen if everybody 'down-tooled', as it were, and followed Christ's example?
STUDENT: There would be far too many preachers in the world, leading, ultimately, to chaos.
PHILOSOPHER: Yes, chaos is indeed an apt description! If everybody led a Christ-like existence, there wouldn't be anyone left to preach to and the human kind would quickly die out. Without butchers, bakers, farmers, fishermen, builders, shop assistants, clerks, doctors, etc., everybody would be dead within a few weeks or, at most, months. So without intending any disrespect towards the messianic vocation, one can see how absolutely imperative it is that a majority of people always refrain from following in Christ's footsteps too literally. And if they must refrain from doing so on the grounds that a few billion preachers would ultimately lead to chaos, they must also refrain from taking some of Christ's teachings too seriously - a thing which, as history adequately attests, has never proved too difficult for them anyway, Ghandi-like exceptions notwithstanding. Therefore, in returning to this problem of good and evil, it is not wise, in my opinion, to resist too much evil. For unless one is someone who has purposely gone out of his way, like Christ, to preach that kind of thing, or is part of a vast crowd of people who can bank on the strength of the finite number of club-wielders eventually running out, one could easily become a living corpse pushed hither and thither by all who have more strength, audacity, willpower, or authority than oneself. Yet for a time, as you well remarked, Christ virtually made a living out of being pushed backwards and forwards from hand to hand. But it seems quite obvious to me that a majority of us certainly couldn't make a living out of it, so one must learn to stand-up for oneself and be natural too, you know! People often resign themselves to a kind of death-in-life after they have been seriously disappointed in some way.
STUDENT: How do you mean?
PHILOSOPHER: Well, when one lives fully, vigorously, naturally, impulsively, and adventurously, there are always a correlative number of dues to be paid. Usually, the more one lives, as opposed to just exists, the wider becomes one's spectrum of emotional involvement on both the negative and the positive sides of life, and it is this latter fact in particular which generally proves an immense stumbling-block to such people as I am alluding. When one settles down, as the saying goes, one is usually curtailing one's spectrum of activity to a level or degree that won't unduly disturb one, won't cause one to suffer too much but, on the contrary, permit one a sort of Buddhist imperturbability. In short, the more one lives, i.e. the more vigorous and adventurous one is, the more suffering will have to be accepted as the inevitable price one pays for one's pleasures. Now if, because of various personal problems, you don't wish to suffer beyond a certain point, you must endeavour not to live beyond a certain point, though the point in question will depend upon the nature of your personal circumstances. I mean if, for example, you are used to a hectic life and then suddenly switch to a slower one, it will probably bore you to tears because of the contrast. You will probably suffer more from the slower one, to begin with, than ever you did from the hectic one previously!
STUDENT: Yes, I seem to recall a similar experience myself, and I was terribly bored. But, tell me, is there really no way of avoiding boredom? People are always complaining about it, no matter where you go.
PHILOSOPHER: It is virtually impossible to entirely escape from the intermittent prevalence of boredom, and altogether futile to attempt such an escape, in any case. Boredom has a very legitimate place in life as the opposite of excitement. Now perpetual excitement, assuming it were possible, would be an insufferable hardship for even the most excitable of people. It would either wear them out or wear thin eventually. But, fortunately, there is always boredom to fall back on, to act as a reprieve from excitement and, conversely, from which to create excitement afresh after one has grown tired of it. So if you value excitement, I am afraid that you must learn to accept boredom. For the one is as important as the other, and they are inextricably linked together throughout the course of your life. There is no defeating boredom by a determined attempt to escape into excitement when the latter isn't justified, hasn't been paid for, as it were, by a sufficient preliminary degree of boredom, whether that boredom takes the form of manual work or intellectual work or, indeed, no work at all. People who attempt to cheat themselves out of boredom very often become bored with what they foolishly imagine will excite them, thereby defeating their objectives. They may be excited for a time with whatever they happen to be doing, but such excitement soon pales to insignificance, and even though they carry on with their respective pursuits they will really be bored to tears.
STUDENT: You sound very wise.
PHILOSOPHER: Don't believe it! Perhaps I seem a little wiser than others because I have more time in which to think. I spend the greater part of my day thinking, teaching, and writing, whereas a majority of people have to do an office job, a factory job, a shop job, or a service job. But they aren't necessarily less wise than me! If a man doesn't want to write and speak these kind of thoughts, what would be the point of his doing so? He would be a fool, wouldn't he? Oh no, everybody has his own tasks to attend to and, as such, everybody is as wise as he needs to be! If I have any wisdom at all, it should prevent me from imagining a philosopher's task to be the highest, the one and only task to which a man should aspire if he wishes to regard himself as an intellectual success. But, naturally, there are philosophers who pride themselves on such an arrogant attitude; men who fatuously consider most other people to be either superfluous types or failures, which, if my wisdom counts for anything at all, they are very unwise to do! Indeed, one may be excused for assuming that an element of envy enters into their attitude, that it may be a form of unconscious compensation for the fact that they find their philosophical tasks so difficult, and therefore aren't altogether convinced of their own personal or professional superiority. But God forbid the establishment of a world exclusively geared to the production and aggrandizement of philosophers! Truly, there is much to be said for an attitude of mind which knows how to be ruthlessly selective in its choice of reading matter! For not everything that goes between the covers of a book passes for wisdom or truth. There are many so-called serious writers, thinkers, poets, prophets, etc., who imagine that they are writing wisdom or truth when, in reality, nothing could be further from the case! And one is sometimes fooled by these pernicious influences, is one not?
STUDENT: Yes, I'm afraid so! Thus you are cautious as to the extent and authenticity of your own wisdom as well?
PHILOSOPHER: Up to a point. For what I would particularly like to impress upon you is a knowledge of the fact that no-one can be wholly wise, and hence a 'wise man', least of all those who generally purport to being such. One becomes wiser on various issues primarily on account of one's folly, so, fundamentally, it is the folly that guarantees one's wisdom. In other words, without being intermittently unwise one could never hope to be wise at all. Consequently one can never be really wise except in the sense of also knowing oneself to be a fool. Yes, that is a true wisdom - knowing oneself to be both wise and foolish without ever standing a chance of becoming exclusively either. Therefore I shall permit you to refer to me as a 'wise man', though only on the condition that you also privately take me for a fool. Is that acceptable to you?
STUDENT: You embarrass me slightly.
PHILOSOPHER: My dear friend, there is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about! Learn to see me as a person rather than as a repository of ultimate wisdom or truth. I do not wish to be regarded as an infallible philosopher, still less a guru. Don't put me on a pedestal, even if it brings you a certain amount of pleasure. It is better that we converse as man to man rather than as god to man, isn't it?
STUDENT: Yes, you are doubtless right there! Although it is pleasurable to have someone to admire. It seems to be a natural tendency in man.
PHILOSOPHER: Then disregard my foolishness and continue to admire me, if that is what you want. I shall do my best to bear with it and not disappoint you. I shall allow you a degree of pleasure at my expense, just as you allow me a degree of pleasure by being both my interlocutor and student. For all tutors require students if they are to remain relatively sane. So I respect you as my student.
STUDENT: And I respect you as my tutor.
PHILOSOPHER: Well then, is there anything else you wish to ask me?
STUDENT (Consulting his notes again): Yes, as a matter of fact, I am deeply intrigued by your theory of insanity, which I would like to explore in greater detail. Why is it that, according to you, we can never go entirely insane? Surely life provides ample proof to the contrary, as any lunatic asylum would demonstrate.
PHILOSOPHER: I must have been partly insane to have contended such a thing in the first place! But, curiously, that is really the fact of the matter. You see, we are all partly insane from the time of our birth to the time of our death. If we weren't insane as well as sane, life would prove more insufferable than it generally does. As beings of polarity, we contain elements of sanity and insanity within us throughout our lives. Thus if one is already partly insane, it is quite impossible to actually go insane. All one can do is cultivate the normal polarity to a point of incompatibility with majority standards. Take the case, for example, of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. An average person would surely be tempted to consider Joyce insane on account of the obscure style and eccentric nature of much of its content. It is extremely difficult for even the most literate of people to understand, and proves virtually unintelligible to anyone not well-acquainted with a variety of European languages. Yet Joyce is generally regarded as sane and, in my opinion, rightly so. Notwithstanding the extraordinary fact that the novel took him some eighteen years to complete, due in part to his failing eyesight and numerous eye operations, he kept to the task and consequently remained intelligible to people within the context of writer.
STUDENT: But if you contend that we are both sane and insane, why do you now contradict yourself by considering Joyce sane?
PHILOSOPHER: Ah, but I was speaking on the world's terms rather than on my own, in order to remain intelligible within the framework of a wider context! The world treats sanity and insanity as entirely separate phenomena which, under the prevailing circumstances, it is perfectly entitled to do, since one must be able to communicate generally as well as particularly, in terms intelligible to the non-philosophical generality as well as in terms engineered by the philosophical individual. The 'sanity' to which I was alluding has its analogue in the 'wisdom' of the foregoing conversation. It is a sanity of one's being more or less compatible with majority standards, rather than a sanity which wholly excludes the possibility of a concomitant degree of insanity being involved in one's life. Thus Joyce's 'sanity' can be established on the basis of the fact that he remained a writer and eventually had Finnegans Wake published. Had he destroyed the typescript instead of having it published, there would of course be a real case for considering him insane, though, once again, only on the world's terms.
STUDENT: This is all rather confusing! However, I think I'm just beginning to understand you, even though I am by no means convinced that you are right. I mean, isn't the eccentricity of Finnegans Wake, coupled to the fact that, even with serious eye trouble, it took Joyce so long to complete, sufficient indication of insanity - at least in the world's eyes? Surely no-one would have spent so much time on the creation of a work which, if memory serves me well, is not even 600 pages long.
PHILOSOPHER: Not unless he was both highly individualistic and virtually blind. But, even so, is it really any stranger or 'madder' to dedicate oneself to writing a certain book for eighteen years than to work in a peanut factory for as many years, to teach simple arithmetic to junior-school children for several years, to give a few thousand performances of a particular play in a variety of theatres, to give as many performances of a given piece of music in a variety of concert halls, or to drive a bus around on the same route for several years on-end? When one begins to consider the vast number of human activities, their apparent eccentricities, and the number of times or years people carry on doing them, there would seem to be sufficient grounds for considering everyone partly insane, not just the comparatively small number of eccentric writers, musicians, or artists one happens to know about. Indeed, why should we not regard a mathematician, an acrobat, a clown, a comedian, a priest, a politician, a racing-car driver, a footballer, a soldier, a pilot, or an actor to be just as crazy or eccentric as Joyce - assuming we were disposed to regarding Joyce in such a light anyway? For instance, can you imagine Joyce preaching about Biblical miracles all his life?
STUDENT: No, I don't think the mumbo-jumbo or occult side of religion would have greatly appealed to him, if books like Ulysses are anything to judge by!
PHILOSOPHER: Indeed not! And he would have been as justified in assuming the preaching of miracles to be a waste of his time as, say, a priest would be in assuming the writing of a novel that took eighteen years to be a waste of his time, considering that, to some extent, everyone seems foolish to everyone else. But one must stick by one's habits if doing so makes life more tolerable, if not enjoyable. Most people are incapable, in any case, of being highly individualistic, of being a writer or an artist, because too much of their own company, too much solitude, and too great a demand on their personal initiative would sooner or later lead them to worry about their sanity, about the possibility of their slowly going insane without anyone being there to help them. For a time even I worried about this, when I first started out on a writing career. But it gradually dawned on me that, provided one kept at it and didn't become too lazy or careless, writing fairly intelligible information all day wasn't really any weirder than doing particular clerical duties all day, or teaching infant-school children to read, or working on a newspaper team, or playing professional cricket every day. What really matters is how one feels about doing it! Yet it is truly amazing how a majority of people will cope with just about any task so long as they have colleagues, co-workers, mates, or whatever who do similar things and thus keep them company. Then it appears that they feel protected against themselves, against the responsibilities of creative individualism.
STUDENT: So it no longer worries you, as a writer and teacher, that you are now going your own way?
PHILOSOPHER: Occasionally it still worries me, though not as much as before. When I feel self-doubts as to the validity of my work or the nature of my calling, I generally console myself in the knowledge that it takes more courage to 'do your own thing' than to 'run with the herd', and that I must be mentally brave to be doing what I do, rather than something which can only be done in the company of others and, as often as not, under their command. Then I consider the nature of the many things which various other people either have to do or choose to do. Yet they don't normally consider themselves going mad on account of the nature of their respective occupations. Far from it! It is the occupations which prevent them from imagining that they are on the verge of insanity, even though what they do may well be less sane, or rational, than what I am doing ... judged from an individualistic point-of-view. However, the important thing is to remain preoccupied.
STUDENT: So Joyce was evidently preoccupied with the creation of Finnegans Wake for some considerable period of time?
PHILOSOPHER: As a matter of fact, he became increasingly fastidious in his approach to writing. For as Ulysses will confirm, fastidiousness had long been a major concern of his. So it doesn't particularly surprise me that he brought this concern to a veritable head in Finnegans Wake. Someone who had arduously read-up on Joyce once informed me that on average he was writing a line a day, but a line replete with subtle puns, symbolic innovations, hybrid words, and complex intellectual connotations - in short, a very pregnant line! So his creative fastidiousness had brought him to that peak of perfectionism or professionalism or eccentricity or extremity or foolishness or brilliance, or whatever else the voice of your personal judgement would like to call it, to the utter astonishment of the many less-individualistic natures. Had he lasted beyond his fifty-ninth year, and thus started work on another book, we may be forgiven for doubting whether he would have lived long enough to complete it, so deeply engrained would his fastidiousness have become by then! One can imagine an 83-year-old Joyce half-way through a potentially 300-page tome, a tome of such arcane complexity as to appear utterly unintelligible.
STUDENT: Have you ever felt yourself slipping into a tendency towards such fastidiousness in your own work?
PHILOSOPHER: Nothing comparable to Joyce, I can assure you! Though I have found reason to criticize myself on occasion. The only remedy for such a tendency would, I suppose, be to give oneself over to something comparatively slapdash, that is to say slapdash according to one's own exaggerated standards rather than by general or, so to say, journalistic standards. Such fastidiousness is probably one of the main reasons why certain authors are always so dissatisfied with their writings. For instead of cultivating a fairly readable and spontaneous style of prose, they become bogged down in a swamp of self-criticism which, in any case, is probably irrelevant to their requirements.
STUDENT: You mean a writer may coerce himself into becoming so self-critical, with regard to his work, that the habit gradually overrides his natural pride in and enjoyment of it until, in becoming a sort of obsession, it causes him to lose faith in himself. Instead of being there to serve his work, the critical sense becomes so over-developed as to become a hindrance to it, and a kind of madness is the illogical result.
PHILOSOPHER: Yes, that may well be the case. For nothing will satisfy him so long as the critical sense remains intrusively paramount. But if one doesn't at least enjoy one's work to some extent, how can one possibly expect other people to enjoy it at all? A writer in that situation ought either to give-up writing altogether or learn to cultivate a less self-critical approach to it until, eventually, he can strike a balance between the two fatal extremes - that of the over-fastidious and the slapdash. If he loses a little pride over the reformed nature of his style, he may gain some additional pride on the strength of his subject-matter, which should be meaningful to him. No-one requires an over-refined style of writing these days, though it has to be said that very few people would care to wade through something so perversely slapdash as to be totally devoid of either artistic professionalism or meaningful content. The greatest and most accessible works are usually found somewhere in between the two objective/subjective extremes. However, if memory serves me well, I believe we were discussing the paradoxical relationship between sanity and insanity, weren't we?
STUDENT: Yes, and I was somewhat puzzled by it actually. If I have understood you correctly, it would appear that one can go insane in the world's eyes but not, apparently, in yours, seeing that one is already partly insane in consequence of the intrinsic dualism of life. Yet despite this, you are prepared to accept both attitudes, depending on the context, as equally applicable.
PHILOSOPHER: You have understood perfectly mon ami and, as such, I must congratulate you! For what one has to do, in this regard, is to forget the world's classification of insanity and concentrate upon the dual concepts of sanity and insanity within the individual, which is more or less tantamount to concentrating upon the theory of the regulative relationship between the conscious and unconscious parts of the psyche as defined by Carl Jung in various of his writings, as well as perceiving in the distinction between, for example, traditional theology and modern science a cleavage in the psyche between irrational and rational predilections, the latter somewhat more evolved than the former. Naturally enough, this will also lead one to forget the world's classification of sanity ... centred, as it usually is, on the relationship of the individual to society and the degree of his integration within it. For a being composed of both tendencies can hardly be described in terms of one or the other, can he?
STUDENT: Not unless you remain consistent with your teachings and call a man 'sane' in view of the fact that sanity is the positive, and hence principal, attribute of his dual integrity. In other words, there is more sanity than insanity to life simply because the latter attribute, being comparatively negative, is eternally destined to play the secondary role, like the Father vis-à-vis the Son, or, for that matter, illusion vis-à-vis truth, evil vis-à-vis good, and sadness vis-à-vis happiness?
PHILOSOPHER: Excellent! So now you are getting closer to the truth of why, for instance, it is impossible for a man to be wholly sane, rational, good, happy, etc., on account of the necessary interplay of their contrary polarities, and therefore why the world is what it is - i.e. apparently without sanity, reason, goodness, happiness, etc., when you happen to be in an insane, unreasonable, bad, or sad mood and, often enough, when someone else is, too! Quite apart from the fact that without insanity there would be no sanity, one must give insanity its due as a means to making life tolerable, since without it one would virtually be unable to do anything.
STUDENT: You mean insanity makes it possible for us to take so many things for granted, to go about our daily lives without all the time wondering what in God's name they're all about?
PHILOSOPHER: Yes, to a certain extent. I mean, just look at yourself, at some of the things you do, at many of the activities that you take for granted without particularly questioning them or waking-up to the realization of their inherent absurdity. I needn't run off a whole list of them, but there are certainly enough things in this category to keep us talking for some time to come! For example, take those musicians who play an avant-garde style of jazz on their saxophone. Now some of the sounds they make with that instrument are so disagreeable and disjunctive as to cause one to doubt their sanity or integrity as musicians. In fact, if a state-registered lunatic was actually released from an asylum one day specifically to play sax or piano or guitar in one of the more avant-garde jazz bands, do you imagine that he would sound any weirder or madder than most of his officially sane colleagues? No, a wholly sane creature would be unable to live as a normal man. One needs a certain degree of insanity in order to live at all. But in order to live wisely, shrewdly, and 'sanely', one must keep the essential duality of the psyche in line with society's demands at large, not condition oneself to becoming a public nuisance by allowing one's irrational tendencies to become too concentrated around a single theme or context at the expense of one's overall psychic economy. Needless to say, there are many such public nuisances who, despite their strange behaviour and even stranger opinions, are regarded as relatively sane in the world's eyes or, at any rate, in particular sections of it. But that is quite another story, and one which we can safely postpone for another time. I trust, now, that you will have something else to ask me? Or perhaps I should ask you? For instance, are you by any chance interested in getting rid of your fears?
STUDENT: Yes, I am actually! But I don't honestly see how that can be done.
PHILOSOPHER: Neither do I. For a man who deliberately strives to get rid of his fears is as stupid as one who strives to rid himself of his hopes. You will never succeed in doing so, even if you occasionally kid yourself, during a spell of apparent good fortune, that you did. However, you have doubtless succeeded in outgrowing certain fears and replacing them with others?
STUDENT: Yes, I have to admit to that fact. Though these other fears seem every bit as bad as the earlier ones.
PHILOSOPHER: That is only to be expected. For in order to become fears at all, they have to attain to a certain intensity of emotional effect. So, in the long run, one fear is going to be pretty much like another. But fears have their use, all the same, since they help keep us in line.
STUDENT: What, exactly, do you mean by that?
PHILOSOPHER: Simply that they generally prevent us from doing something extremely rash, like, for example, throwing oneself under a car, jumping out of a tenth-floor window, swearing at strangers in the street, breaking shop windows, throwing all of one's money away, or murdering one's neighbours. If you weren't secretly afraid of what could happen to you, were you audacious enough to follow one or more of these regrettable courses, it is highly doubtful that you would be here today. You would almost certainly be dead or, at the very least, in gaol. Fortunately, however, you fear various things and situations as much as anyone else, and thereby safeguard yourself against the possibility of experiencing them. One might contend that, except in exceptional cases or circumstances, fear keeps us fairly orderly and ensures that we do our best to keep others fairly orderly as well. As a singer in a rock band, for instance, you would endeavour to sing as well as possible, in order to win the audience over and keep it on your side. Fear of ridicule, in the event of a poor performance, would be an important consideration in that context. So you would behave in an orderly fashion, in accordance with the high standards of the better rock bands, and sing well.
STUDENT: Supposing I am afraid of not fully satisfying a particular young woman's sexual desires.
PHILOSOPHER: Fear of not satisfying her will motivate you to make sure you do satisfy her, as well as satisfy yourself. Without this fear regarding a particular female, you might become over-complacent or sexually lazy, and lose her to somebody else.
STUDENT: Then I won't strive to eradicate my fears - at any rate, not those kinds of fears which we have been discussing!
PHILOSOPHER: You will never succeed in doing so anyway, especially with regard to that kind of fear which arises from an unforeseen situation and has absolutely nothing to do with any rational preconceptions one might have. Like boredom, fear is one of those things which, in all its manifold guises, we have to live with for our own good, since without it there would be no hope.
STUDENT: And without sadness?
PHILOSOPHER: How could one ever expect to be happy? In reality, there is no more any such thing as a 'happy man' per se than a 'sad man' per se. Throughout life man is inevitably both happy and sad, for he would never know what happiness was unless he also had regular experience of sadness. Admittedly, some people may seem happier than others and, conversely, some people sadder than others, since such distinctions often depend upon the individual's temperament, intelligence, beliefs, circumstances, profession, and facial characteristics. But to pursue happiness by attempting to eradicate all sadness as a matter of policy, the way certain philosophers would have us do, is sheer folly, and only results in self-deception. We must accept them both, which, in any case, is what most people do, considering that they have little or no choice in the matter. Circumstances are continuously changing, and so, too, are our respective moods and opinions. When one is angry, depressed, frustrated, bored, tired, or frightened, i.e. in the grip of an evil condition the negative vibrations of which are all too apparent, one cannot very well be happy, can one?
STUDENT: Of course not! But then the evil condition passes after awhile and one generally feels better about life, particularly in the evening.
PHILOSOPHER: True, and from knowledge of this fact I have often found it expedient to push oneself into doing something, even though one's mood doesn't really ordain or encourage it at the time, so that, with a little luck, one will be fully committed to this activity by the time one's mood changes for the better.
STUDENT: Give me an example.
PHILOSOPHER: Well, I may force myself to take a walk somewhere. I leave home feeling somewhat dejected at the prospect of having to catch a bus to another part of town in order simply to walk around the streets there for an hour or two. In this glum mood it occurs to me that I haven't really got anything else to do; that the bus ride is relatively expensive and takes me through a dilapidated part of town; that I haven't got anyone to meet when I get to my destination; and that I know the streets there too thoroughly to be greatly thrilled by the prospect of traversing them once again. It may even be overcast or drizzling as well. Thus I leave home without feeling any real enthusiasm for this excursion.
STUDENT: What time is this?
PHILOSOPHER: About 6.00pm. Prior to then I have been struggling to get my philosophy onto paper all day, so it is necessary for me to rest my eyes and brain, escape from the intellectual life in the oppressive atmosphere of my room, get some exercise, and just relax a little. So I set out for this other part of town, which is usually more interesting to me than the part where I live, and when I eventually reach my destination, some thirty minutes later, it occurs to me that my glum mood is slowly changing for the better, since the new environment is beginning to work its spell on me and I, for the most part, am beginning to respond to it in a positive manner.
STUDENT: So you enjoy your walk.
PHILOSOPHER: Precisely! If the weather isn't particularly disagreeable, and I have acquired a fairly complacent conscience from a good day's work, I find that the new mood made the trip worthwhile. So I begin to enjoy life again. Now if, by contrast, I had set out in a good mood, there would have been a fair probability of things turning out the other way, that I would have reached my destination only to experience a negative mood. But such is life, and what I have just been saying may in itself be transmuted into yet other possibilities, some of which would entirely contradict it. As the old adage goes: 'What one gains on the roundabout, one loses on the swings.'
STUDENT: Yes, all this sounds very much like my experience too, since the moods keep on changing. Yet the irony of it all is that one can sometimes be quite happy walking around in the rain, provided that one was due for a positive mood change.
PHILOSOPHER: To be sure, which only goes to show that weather and environment aren't always the principal reasons for determining the nature of one's mood. One can be as sad in the best of environments as happy in the worst, depending on the circumstances.
STUDENT: Personally, I'm not sure that I wouldn't be happier in a medium-sized town blessed with clean streets, pleasant gardens, and easy access to the country, than in a gigantic city cursed with excessive traffic pollution, overcrowded pavements, and graffiti-ridden walls! Surely there is something about the influence of environment which transcends the transient prevalence of our various moods?
PHILOSOPHER: Of course there is! But it largely depends upon what one has been accustomed to, what one views as the golden mean or ideal, and the subsequent psychology established in consequence of the tension - or lack of it - between this ideal and the reality confronting one. For example if, as a provincial, you are thoroughly convinced that the big city isn't for you, then you would be quite foolish to remain in it. Yet this problem depends so much on the individual, as on individual circumstances, that it is really a matter for him to decide for himself. Let no-one trick you into believing that what is good for one person is necessarily just as good for another! If you seriously believe that moving to a smaller town will make you happier overall, I can see no reasons - apart from the obvious material ones - why you shouldn't do so. But living in a big city can be as much fun, if not more so, than living in the most picturesque town or village, and, once one has grown accustomed to living in the city, it is unlikely that one would ever want to move down to some less artificial environment which, by contrast, could well appear extremely boring. However, now that we have dealt with another subject, is there anything else I can do for you?
STUDENT (Consulting his notes afresh): In point of fact, I had intended to ask you this earlier but we or, rather, you jumped the gun, as it were. Do you believe in sexual equality or, put more bluntly, in the notion that men and women are equal, or, in light of your dualistic philosophy, is it simply a delusion which has been taken too seriously in recent decades?
PHILOSOPHER: I suppose if you were an old-fashioned misogynistic male, it could seem such. But I can't, in all honesty, believe that to be the case since, in attempting to answer your question obliquely, I assume that a majority of young women usually refrain from being unduly competitive with men in the interests of their intrinsic femininity. When women are pretty, they have a natural predilection for the decorative and supportive role which, in accordance with the fundamental nature of their sex, is only proper to their psychology and interests as women. For the world is always geared to men on account of the positivity of the male in relation to the negativity of the female, a fact which will still remain the same whether you endeavour to turn the world upside down in theory or not, since it is ruled by practice. So, with few exceptions, it is usually the male who plays the leading role and the female the secondary one. Now if attractive young women ran the risk of becoming less attractive as women from taking too much power and responsibility upon themselves, I am quite convinced that, in nine cases out of ten, they would reject it and revert to charming or seducing males instead. As a rule, it appears to be the older or less attractive women who are more willing to compete with men in the world of professional responsibility, whether in business, law, the arts, medicine, or whatever. Though there are always exceptions to every rule.
STUDENT: Therefore, according to that theory, which didn't fully answer my question, a majority of the really influential women in literature, art, music, business, politics, the civil service, the armed forces, the police, the teaching profession, etc., are likely to be less attractive as women than their less ambitious counterparts?
PHILOSOPHER: In general. Though perhaps the really powerful women are closer to being female hermaphrodites than might at first meet the eye! I mean, just as some men are effeminate and rather subservient, so there are women who are manly and domineering to a degree which makes them more powerful than the weaker men. The modern world is amply stocked with such paradoxically androgynous cases, and it is a well-known fact of Jungian psychology that, after they have passed their middle years, people become increasingly like the opposite sex to which they literally belong, both physically and mentally. However, to answer your question more fully, the evidence of the senses would indicate that men and women aren't literally equal, or the same. But I don't see why that fact should necessarily preclude women from being granted equal employment opportunities to men and paid a similar wage, relative to age and experience, for a similar day's work. Discrimination in such matters is largely obsolete these days, though there are still some employers who, for one reason or another, openly discriminate against women in slavish deference to male traditions. Naturally, there are some things which women can't do as well as men on account, primarily, of their slighter builds - like playing football, rugby, and cricket, or boxing and wrestling, or throwing the hammer and putting the shot, or playing drums, electric guitar, electric bass, and certain other instruments in a hard rock or modern jazz context, or manipulating heavy weapons, lifting heavy weights, driving heavy vehicles, and doing various other kinds of heavy or dangerous manual work. But even so, there are probably very few heterosexual men in the world who would prefer women to be capable of doing all or most of these sorts of things at the expense of such natural endowments as beauty, elegance, and charm. So a supportive role would still appear to be the prerogative of all those naturally attractive young women who, even in an age of rampant materialism, are more interested in becoming wives and mothers than in advancing their careers.
STUDENT: Therefore, though men and women are physically unequal, they should be treated as socially and professionally equal?
PHILOSOPHER: Providing the circumstances warrant it, I don't see why not. For, although men and women are made of different stuff and have predilections relevant to their respective sexes - men being the positive and hence impregnating pole of a dual integrity, while women are the negative pole which is imposed upon with due regard to its wishes - they are equally important to the survival of mankind and shouldn't be regarded as existing in an inferior/superior relationship. When you fall in love with a woman you aren't thinking in terms of inferiority then. Quite the contrary, you absolutely adore her, and would be more inclined to regard her as a sort of superior creature to yourself than vice versa. Admittedly, you may, as an individual, have cogent reasons for being a misogynist or even a homosexual, but it is altogether doubtful that you will ever have cogent reasons for considering women biologically inferior - other, that is, than in the strictly philosophical sense whereby they form the negative pole in a duality where the positive one will usually dominate. Strength, however, isn't everything, and neither is beauty! If we are superior to them in certain respects, we are quite inferior to them in certain others. And if they have any talent for charm, it is obviously in their best interests to dedicate themselves primarily to the art of being a woman, which, for a majority of them, has never proved too difficult anyway. In all probability, the really attractive women will stand to gain more from being relatively unambitious, both commercially and professionally, than they would otherwise gain by competing with men. For arduous competition can quickly detract from a woman's natural charms, you know, turning her into someone who is anything but attractive, and thus preventing her from properly fulfilling herself as a woman. However, we have discussed sexual equality long enough and must not allow the fact of social equality between the sexes in terms of employment, housing, democratic rights, etc., to blind us to the personal inequality which exists between men and women - and, indeed, men and men as well as women and women - in both physical and psychological terms. But perhaps we can talk some more tomorrow?
* * *
PHILOSOPHER: So what can I do for you today?
STUDENT (Consulting his notes): I would like to know what you consider to be the main evils of the philosophical life?
PHILOSOPHER: Well now, there are undoubtedly quite a few! Though I suppose one of the most common 'evils', as you somewhat harshly put it, involves one's committing thoughts to paper without really paying that much attention to their essential nature.
STUDENT: Can you be more specific?
PHILOSOPHER: Oh, endeavouring to escape from boredom, unhappiness, the outside world, self-doubts, emotional conflicts, etc., through a relatively superficial because over-spontaneous employment of words. This is a grave and common danger to all who wield the pen, especially in philosophical terms, since, as we both know, the pen can be mightier than the sword in its long-term effects on society.
STUDENT: I wish I could believe that!
PHILOSOPHER: Well, mistaken thoughts have still been the ruination of many an earnest intellectual, politician, soldier, teacher, priest, and artist, to name some of the more prominent categories of human endeavour.
STUDENT: Do you sometimes commit words to paper without having thought very carefully about them and weighed the possibility of their being misleading, simply because you, too, are anxious to set the pen in motion and thereby escape from the tedium of a physically inactive existence through the medium of a degree of practical philosophical preoccupation?
PHILOSOPHER: To be honest, I sometimes do. Though I am also shrewd and knowing enough to revise my writings fairly extensively, in the interests of a more credible not to say professional presentation. If, during the course of your intellectual travels, you have heard the teaching profession described as a necessary evil, it may not surprise you to learn that philosophers sometimes think of themselves in such terms as well; though, between ourselves, there is little reason for us to suppose that other types of writer are necessarily any better. As beings of good and evil, truth and illusion, reasonableness and unreasonableness, cleverness and stupidity, profundity and superficiality, wisdom and foolishness, strength and weakness, etc., we are all prone, in varying degrees, to similar failings. The philosopher, with his love of wisdom, is simply more intellectually conspicuous than most other men. He sticks his neck out in the honourable names of truth, knowledge, wisdom, and reason, but if these qualities also involve him in a recognition and, within limits, an acceptance of man's intermittent capacity for illusion, ignorance, folly, and irrationality - then so be it! One will see that his 'truth' is more comprehensive, and even compassionate, than the lopsided truths of a majority of his philosophical precursors.
STUDENT: Ah, this sounds remarkably similar to what you were arguing yesterday, about the wise life incorporating an acceptance of both wisdom and folly, and therefore not being a futile exercise in one's vainly striving to eradicate the latter.
PHILOSOPHER: Yes, my 'truth' is also double-barrelled, so to speak. It incorporates an acceptance of illusion, i.e. the necessity of one's having illusions for the sake of one's truths. Now although I am essentially geared to truth, on account of the positivity of its relationship within the illusion/truth dichotomy, I have as many illusions as truths, of that you can rest assured.
STUDENT: Such as?
PHILOSOPHER: Oh, but a man can't really know all his illusions, since he would then become disillusioned with them and not disposed, in consequence, to maintaining them as illusions any longer!
STUDENT: Then what kind of illusions do you suppose you are likely to have, if that is not too hypothetical a question?
PHILOSOPHER: Well, I may have a false opinion of myself on various issues. I may think more of my intellectual abilities than I really should, in view of a variety of intellectual shortcomings which I am either loathe or unable to recognize. I may imagine a particular talent in myself which, in reality, isn't really there. I may consider myself to be a better philosopher than various people who are really better philosophers than me. I may be entirely wrong to consider myself a serious philosopher in the first place. I may make statements which seem perfectly true to me but which, in reality, are really quite false. I may have a false opinion of someone else. I may be inclined to overrate the talents of certain artists, musicians, actors, or writers, and, conversely, to underrate those of certain other artists, musicians, actors, or writers. I may be inclined to denounce the theories of various other thinkers simply because one of my 'favourite' philosophers did, without fully realizing that that is really all I am doing. I may be inclined to imagine myself a worthwhile artist when, in reality, I lack the necessary ability, and, conversely, I may be wrong to imagine that I lack the necessary ability to be a worthwhile artist. I may think that I am better-looking than I really am or, by contrast, that I am worse looking than is really the case. I may think a certain woman doesn't like me when, in reality, she does and, conversely, I may think a certain woman likes me who, in reality, holds rather an unflattering opinion of me. I may consider myself to be less intelligent than I really am or, by contrast, to be more intelligent than is really the case. I may imagine myself to be a victim of someone's malevolence when there is no clear evidence of it and, conversely, I may imagine myself to be the recipient of someone's benevolence when benevolence was the last thing on his/her mind. I may have a mistaken notion as to how a certain foreign word should be pronounced and, conversely, I may think I am wrong to pronounce a certain foreign word the way I do when, in reality, I am pronouncing it correctly. I may accentuate a word one way which should really be accentuated another way and, by contrast, I may find myself criticizing someone for accentuating a word differently from how I believe it should be accentuated when, in point of fact, he is accentuating it correctly and I am simply deluded. I may think it is easier to get published in this country than in fact it is and, conversely, I may imagine publishers to be more unwilling to publish certain types of books than in fact they are. I may think I am spelling a certain word correctly when, in reality, I have spelt it incorrectly, and so on.... I suppose the list could continue to flourish for some time, were I seriously to set about confessing to all of my potential or possible illusions! Yet these tendencies are often dependent upon the nature of the mood one is in at any given time, the particular context in which one lives, that is to say whether alone or in company, the psychic changes one undergoes, the state of one's health, the nature of one's daily pursuits, and one's powers of analysis and introspection, so it is quite impossible to ever entirely master them, to know them for illusions and then foolishly strive to eradicate them ... doubtless under pressure of another illusion. But we all suffer throughout life from our illusions, just as we likewise suffer from our truths, and whether our 'truths' are sometimes illusions or our 'illusions' sometimes truths, there is no altering that fact. If you could get rid of all your illusions, you would quickly lose all or most of your truths. So consider yourself fortunate that you can't!
STUDENT: Therefore people are wrong to consider themselves imperfect because of their faults or hypothetical faults, such as illusions, stupidities, fears, doubts, and superficialities?
PHILOSOPHER: They are philosophically wrong to consider themselves spiritually imperfect on account of the intermittent prevalence of such negative attributes, because these attributes aren't isolated obstacles to human perfection but the very things which guarantee the intermittent prevalence of one's positive attributes - namely truth, cleverness, hope, certainty, profundity, etc. - and thus constitute an overall part of one's psychic integrity. Whenever you hear a so-called well-educated or enlightened person bemoaning the apparent fact that none of us is perfect, you should dismiss him as a deluded ignoramus, since he is undoubtedly ignorant of our spiritual integrity. In general, a man is spiritually perfect and, to varying extents, physically imperfect. If you have faults, in the proper sense of that term, they are fundamentally physical. But they are not superfluous, since, by their existence, they guarantee our spiritual perfection.
STUDENT: Because body and spirit are antithetical, the one is imperfect and the other perfect! To be sure, you are no sham teacher, but a great enlightener!
PHILOSOPHER: Personally, I don't think too highly of the sycophantic arts, since I have my own negative attributes to live with, including stupidity, superficiality, illusion, etc. When a man comes to realize his dualistic perfection, he also comes to accept his darker side, or shadow-self, and this side duly informs him that his perfection will lead him to make mistakes, tell unconscious lies, mislead people, and commit much folly over the years. So be on your guard against me, my young friend! I have taught you to be cautious of philosophers, to regard them as men rather than gods. Perfect but not infallible - a paradox if ever there was one!
STUDENT: You remind me of Nietzsche when you speak like that.
PHILOSOPHER: To be sure, Nietzsche was a great teacher, a tremendous intellect, a courageous spirit, and a philosophical revolutionary. But he was no more infallible than you or I or anyone else. There are many mistaken assumptions and contentions in Nietzsche's works, and you would certainly be led astray if you allowed yourself to be fooled by them. In a sense, he was as perfect a spirit, prior to his collapse, as ever lived, but a great spirit and, like all such spirits, capable of propagating worse mistakes than lesser men. Do you disbelieve me, you who are still a prey to the lure of great philosophers and not yet your own philosopher?
STUDENT: No, I don't disbelieve you. Though I find it rather difficult, in view of my admiration for Nietzsche's immense philosophical achievements, to be overly strict with myself here. But you are doubtless correct to advocate a certain amount of caution, since Nietzsche's writings have been shamefully exploited and corrupted, to the ultimate detriment of European man. One need only think of the Nazis.
be sure, Nietzsche may have been of some use to
them in terms of stirring-up a glorification of war and struggle. But as for such concomitant factors as the
'Master Race' ethos, anti-Semitism, imperialism, occultism, state
the systematic undermining of advanced culture, it is altogether
the Nazis could have derived much encouragement from him at all! Didn't Nietzsche declare himself to be an
enemy of the Germans time-and-time again?
Certainly, he was an enemy of the German imperialism of his own
gradual ascendancy of the Prussian-dominated Bismarckian
state, with its mounting preoccupation with industrialism, militarism,
nationalism, politicism, etc., to the
higher culture. It would indeed be a
grave mistake to assume that Nietzsche had a profound influence on the
STUDENT: And weren't such writers as James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, John Cowper Powys, Knut Hamsun, Henry Miller, Hermann Hesse, and W.B. Yeats also deeply influenced by him?
PHILOSOPHER: So I believe, though I would hesitate to regard them as socialists. For the most part, they were much too preoccupied with individual, spiritual, moral, and literary values to justify any such political description. However, it often happens that an author receives a label for a particular work or stance which he subsequently grows out of, only to discover that he is still popularly associated with it in later years.
STUDENT: An unpleasant discovery, I shouldn't wonder.
PHILOSOPHER: Indeed! Although every occupation has its drawbacks, including the literary one. An author acquires a reputation, let us say, for a given philosophical contention, like the interdependence of opposites, and then a fair proportion of the reading public continue to identify him with it even after he has modified or outgrown it some years later. You write something which seems quite credible to you at the time, only to look back on it with horror or regret, at a later date, that you could have committed such a flawed idea to paper in the first place.
STUDENT: Presumably because you have evolved in the interim and acquired a deeper or truer perspective in consequence?
PHILOSOPHER: Precisely! Because you have 'woken up' to the fact that you were previously asleep to something you blandly took for granted, and have accordingly become disillusioned with it. We are probably asleep together now, because we allow ourselves free play in this discussion and aren't unduly concerned by the likelihood that such an event may cause us a degree of mutual embarrassment or even bewilderment in the future. Perhaps, by then, you will be through with the whole idea of interviewing philosophers and I shall be through with the idea of allowing myself to be imposed upon in such a way. Maybe you will have stopped reading philosophy and I shall have stopped writing or speaking it. We will both have 'woken up' to new possibilities and, having changed, we shall then be in a position to return to sleep again.
STUDENT: You amuse me.
PHILOSOPHER: I am glad to hear it, since philosophy has too often been an extremely glum affair, like the philosophers themselves. There have been too many weeping philosophers, too many stoics, ascetics, cynics, and pessimists of one kind or another since the dawn of philosophy. But we don't need another Heraclitus now, nor another Marcus Aurelius, Epictitus, Pascal, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Spengler, Sartre, or what have you! God knows, Nietzsche was right, for all his faults, to be exuberant! At least he doesn't bore one. Philosophy requires a certain amount of humour and ironic self-detachment now more than ever. In fact, I think Plutarch, Montaigne, Emerson, Carlyle, Nietzsche, John Cowper Powys, Bertrand Russell, and Albert Camus are the kinds of philosophers the intellectual world has greater need of, if it isn't to sink further under the insupportable burden of depressing philosophy!
STUDENT: Perhaps that is one of the reasons why philosophy is generally so little read these days?
PHILOSOPHER: You may be right, though I rather think that the complexity, obscurity, obfuscation, compartmentalization, and esotericism of so much of it is really more to blame for this lamentable state-of-affairs than the absence of humour. Like poetry, philosophy has tended to be a minority and even an elitist pursuit, which, in a way, is rather a regrettable situation. But if society requires people to stand over machines in a factory all day, to dig trenches in the road, punch holes in tickets, sweep the streets, deliver milk, file letters, or put peas into cans, then you can't reasonably expect them to show much interest in the works of Locke, Kant, Hume, Berkeley, Heidegger, Bergson, or Jaspers in the evening. What is good for one man, remember, isn't necessarily good for another! We may live in the age of 'the herd', the great democratic collectivity, but, without it, there would be no higher culture at all. Noble and plebeian - an indispensable antithesis! To be sure, anyone who condemns 'the herd' unwittingly condemns himself as one who has transcended it, been fostered on its shoulders, and thereby exists, in his relatively noble integrity, because of it, like a flower growing from the earth. There are no superfluous men because, irrespective of what Nietzsche may have had to say on the subject, all men have a task relative to their capabilities and, as such, they slot into the framework of society as a whole. Nietzsche probably knew this as well as anybody, deep down, but that didn't prevent an irrational prejudice from obscuring the light of truth from time to time. For man, remember, is not a reasonable creature; he is only capable of reason!
STUDENT: So if you are into the notion of superfluous men in consequence of having read books like Thus Spoke Zarathustra, there is every chance that you have been led astray by one of Nietzsche's fallacies concerning 'the many-too-many'.
PHILOSOPHER: Yes, but don't forget, my good friend, that fallacies of whatever sort contribute, fundamentally, to our overall perfection as human beings. We may disagree with Nietzsche on a variety of issues, we may even be able to prove him wrong, but that doesn't give us the right to condemn him out-of-hand, since to do so would be to turn our backs on the metaphysical legitimacy of fallacious reasoning and to seek the impossible - namely, the faultlessly lopsided. This is what I have to teach you, this is what I want you to understand. No longer imagine that a philosopher has failed for not having sufficiently adhered to reason, truth, goodness, etc. He has not failed! No longer imagine that a philosopher is imperfect for having committed a given number of unintentional fallacies or sophistries to paper. He is not imperfect! If the fallacy lies anywhere, it lies with you for expecting the impossible - an illusionless truth, all truth, and nothing but the truth, when you are just as incapable of achieving that as anyone else. Naturally, your mistaken viewpoint is just as legitimate, in the final analysis, as the fallacious contentions of the philosopher under scrutiny. For how can I not expect you to be as spiritually perfect as him, and thus entitled to your fallacies? But perhaps, in assimilating all this information, you will allow your foolishness, ignorance, malice, superficiality, etc., free play elsewhere, becoming wiser on this issue and simultaneously less wise or even more foolish on certain other issues? That, however, is something about which I cannot be absolutely certain. But if you have really understood what I have just said, then it isn't altogether impossible. After all, you have all the makings of a 'perfect' philosopher!