Amor fati and the hermits of the crowd

It is possible to respond to common apathy toward important matters and common ignorance about them with frustration, with discouragement, with contempt, with despair, or with the realization that what has been neglected and ignored becomes more important than ever.

Those with commitment to the most difficult questions (broadly, of philosophy) and pervasive problems (of psychology) and challenges (to human welfare and potential), and with the discipline to pursue them on all fronts through years of preparation—always too few among too many—must observe around themselves in the crowd a sea of blind concern for just the most superficial ramifications extending from the roots, or preoccupation with narcissistic attention and everyday distractions instead.

Any rounded human being attempting to live a participatory life inevitably becomes a hermit among the many, fascinated and drawn to identify with humanity, though he may also be repulsed by its discord. What Baudelaire wrote about poets applies to those given-and-sentenced to the philosophy of men:

Multitude, solitude: identical terms, and interchangeable by the active and fertile poet. The man who is unable to people his solitude is equally unable to be alone in a bustling crowd.

But, if he discovers it, compassion for the human condition plagues him with attachment. He feels bound to the results of all his efforts to intervene in the muddled course of broken men around him.

To the mobs and the masses concerned with minutiae, living miniaturized lives measured by minutes and material goods, the true humanitarian wants to say: “you can be whole men!” Their indifference to consequences obliges him to add, “And you are men, whether you like it or not.”

It is hopeless, he finds at length; he seems to argue with mindless forces of nature, and yet he is attached to empathy with minds among them. Responses are rare and disappointing. The human he once imagined yearned to be liberated and realized seems to be inchoate, resistant to becoming, hiding among bits and pieces, even clinging to them like panicked men drowning in flotsam.

He may be torn apart between his attachment and his effort, or he may find that only devoting his resolve to a higher and more profound compassion can mediate his premature attachment to fragmentary people.

For those who care profoundly, even those who practice the disciplines to know deeply and act with patience, this is probably the hardest of all lessons to learn and last of all abilities to develop: an enduring optimism so joined to making the future it can become inspired by fatalism concerning the present, instead of resigned.

“We are all drowning and there is the shore,” they cry, but the sea of men cannot hear. It is the most belated and contrary instinct that finally takes hold: let them drown, if they wish; though I must drown with them, the shore remains ahead of us.

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2 responses to “Amor fati and the hermits of the crowd

  1. Thank you for your deep and thoughtful composition. Since each one comes into this life alone, though he might be surrounded by love, and must proceed, at least in the highest things, as a solitary, what is the shore? Is it the far shore of the Prajnaparamita? A shared community? A body in love with its current conditions, however they are dealt? A unifying and progressive discovery, essentially untranslatable in its fullness? Wisdom seems to arise in individuals, and is washed away by time, as individuals are. The self that asserts wisdom is a frail thing subject to the countless whimsies of fateful play of the laws of form. The shared mind of those in the swim—who consent to share the exploratory use of spiritual names and objects— makes their common world a joyful or a joyless place. This too can be washed away by time. Who shall we wait for? Who will wait for us?

  2. Perhaps “the shore” is most or all of these things, but more, and more concrete and continuous than it might seem from a holistic posture.

    Yes, allusion to Mahayana bodhisattvas shares time here with a more explicit Nietzschean reference (love of fate, from the test of eternal return) and the immersive society of Baudelaire. But in all this I did intend for implicit comparisons to be drawn: between recurring cycles and the arrow of the modern, of change, of progress; between the religious, the linguistic and metaphorical, the physiological and material, the social, and the individual.

    One may be able to pronounce—without too much oversimplification—that any one mental perspective neglects details to be supplied by another point of view, and the many poses of spiritual or aesthetic or ecstatic experience are not exceptions.

    While perfection cannot be reached, and wisdom cannot be written and passes only in flux, the sutras were written. Why—if wisdom, like life, is washed away? To conserve and to teach. The reason why the artifacts of past attempts at wisdom should be left—though mere fossils of the experiences that assembled them—points also to this image to be conserved, of what might be ahead. Even those spiritual peaks of experience and awareness that can seem so fragile and vulnerable have seemed to some seekers to conjure eternal truth—an illusion, or a metaphor, not without some use.

    The promise of rescue *now* may also become that of renewal *in time*, in other minds. That is the promise of civilization—that some of what matters can be saved and contribute to future building atop the constant erosions of each generation and even passing moments of experience.

    But progress cannot be realized only in esoteric wisdom, but in progress unfolding in every way from the body outward and the mind-understanding-itself outward. Material and physiological progress is also at stake—it always has been—and material disaster. It must be forged in society, as well as solitary time for one-who-would-become to discover oneself. It is the heart as well as the intellect as well as visceral, animal nature. And so on. To make each life “whole” means to realize and follow all essential paths of human life in every form; to promote salvation in the real world means to discover what this means—specifically—and to promote it.

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