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 . 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 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.
To 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 worship, and the systematic undermining of
advanced culture, it is altogether doubtful that 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 day, the gradual ascendancy of
the Prussian-dominated Bismarckian state, with its
mounting preoccupation with industrialism, militarism, nationalism, politicism, etc., to the detriment of higher culture. It would indeed be a grave mistake to assume
that Nietzsche had a profound influence on the policies of Nazi
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!
LONDON 1977 (Revised 2012)