In a perfectly manicured estate beside the Thames in Central London, he came to the conclusion that life, as such, did not matter so very much.
Wrapped in layers of wool, shod in the thickest hiking boots and wearing a large felt hat with a wide brim, he made a curious spectacle. Warmed by the sun, the air was nonetheless winter cold, but drifting in an internal world, consensus reality passed him by.
In some distant land, yet another brutal dictator had unleashed Armageddon on an innocent neighbor. In England, the ruling political party had been accused of a cash for access scandal. He was dimly aware of the whine of police sirens somewhere on the other side of the river. Overhead a ceaseless stream of jets spread poisonous fumes on their way to land at a grim airport, sprawling somewhere in the industrial wasteland west of the city. Helicopters chopped through the air on their way to Battersea heliport, carrying the self important and impatient, the mindless automatons who believed life was a race to collect more, do more, be more.
The newspapers of the day carried frenzied tales of murder and intrigue. Pundits opined on impending disaster in financial markets, the ecosphere, and politics.
Business, in other words, as usual.
“The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
Thus wrote some ancient scribe in the Palestinian desert but few seem to have the time or inclination to heed such nonsense in a world full of getting and doing. Few can comprehend that all is chance.
As the same fellow noted, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
The historian might appreciate this truth, but few others will as they grasp and strive and struggle through the same endless circles of life.
Let it pass he thought. Let it go, on and around and through, up and down and beyond. Let the people do what they have ever done, let them strut their stuff.
Wrapped in his bubble in a safe corner of the world, perhaps he could afford such nonchalance. And yet he was coming to suspect that he would feel much the same way wherever he sat. In less comfort perhaps, shorter maybe of the necessities of life. In greater danger from the insanity which raged throughout much of the planet.
Maybe. And yet he would not be seen manning the barricades. Rioting held little appeal nor did the thought of railing against cruelty and injustice on the soapbox or in the press.
He looked at reality and decided that it was not. Not real that is. Not important, meaningful or worth the bother.
He did not feel unmoved by the plight of those great masses so very much less fortunate than himself. Quite to the contrary.
And yet he had come to believe that, in a sense, what he saw happening around him was a play of some sort. A charade perhaps, rather than a calamity. People suffered and died. Physical “reality” was no less cruel than the human flotsam it had spawned. For every brutal tyrant and torturer was matched by a famine, an earthquake or, occasionally a meteor strike. In which case it was probably game over. No winners, no losers at the end of the day. Just a continuum.
Did his realisation lower his spirits? Did he cower under the bench rather than sit on top of it. Was he depressed, let down, disappointed.
None of these things. No. He had reached a stage when his only ambition was to quietly observe the chaos and to withdraw. Into a different reality which seemed to exist within his own mind. Or elsewhere – perhaps his mind was showing him a different place, another plane where life on earth seemed increasingly irrelevant.
Fight the tyrant by all means he thought, but you do so in vain. Defeat one brute and another will soon enough spring up to take his place. House the poor and feed them. An admirable goal he felt and yet unachievable in a world which was so very far from an age of post scarcity.
“Chance happeneth to them all”, he said to himself. There is nothing new under the sun.
And so he chose to see a different reality and hoped that it was true. Sometimes he had glimpses of such a place, such a state and he longed to dwell there. And sometimes, dwell there he did. When the dark clouds receded for a while and a sense of unity and omniscience replaced doubt.
But true or false, he needed to make a choice as Pascal had once done. Increasingly he felt he had made such a choice and with that, the reality he believed he saw was a very different one.
Peace, he knew, could only come from making that choice and acting upon it.
Consider adding “Been There, Done That, Now What?” by Ed Young (NOT the one by Dawn Brown! 😄). It is an excellent exposition of Ecclesiastes, where the author who concludes, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with[d] every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Some wag said that the bible was the most loved book never read.
I find much pleasure in both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes – not for the god stuff but because the view of human behaviour and the way the world works is so utterly correct.
The question is then begged: what to do about it.
On the grounds that change is most unlikely, the only answer is to resign and ignore it.
Perhaps there is a deity, perhaps no. If there is, he or she (or it – being woke) does not seem much interested in our plight!
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Perhaps there is a deity? Well, it is true that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
And actually He IS very interested in everything happening on earth, and specifically to us… to you. (Matthew 10:29)
One of the best pieces I have come across lately is a guest blog here: https://flipside261282990.wordpress.com/2022/02/26/bad-stuff-happens/
But there are many others that express the same basic idea: When we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.
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adding = reading; duh.
I do believe in the 1% rule. Most people are either neutral or good, leaving 1% of absolute arseholes, or gobshites as we say up here.
Take my street, there are roughly 100 people that live in the 40+ houses, and there is really only one gobshite in my opinion (hopefully that’s not me!)
So the stats play out, the trouble is that one gobshite doesn’t have power over the street, over the community, and has no control over the order of things. As we go wider, to the village, to the town, to the city, to the county and then to the country, the 1%ers congregate under clandestine operations to take, to steal, to overpower and to control things and people.
The sorry is the same the world over. There is talk of the “white hat” cavalry coming to our aid to overcome the 1%ers but I can’t see it happening as they don’t have the mechanics to do with the marauding machine.
Where does that leave us? Like you say, go back to the individual, the family, the street, the local community and operate at the level, anything beyond that at present is a total waste of time and energy.
On a positive note, I restocked my apocalypse bunker yesterday, so if you are ever in need of batteries, loo roll or Vegetable Cup-A-Soups, give me a shout 😀
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“Gobshite”! Love it. Had a friend from Glasgow who was very keen on Gobshite and Irn-Bru
Yes you are probably right, although small troubles seem to pervade every place where humans gather – the parish council for instance. And certainly the local church.
But I guess the small people have not got the push or impetus to spread the Gobshite on a large scale and impose their will on others. The reason for my resignation is that I do not think it will ever change – globally, or at the level of the local church or parish council. And I simply can’t be bothered with it all.
Fighting against such a powerful force as human nature does not seem worthwhile.
Historically some good eggs have tried to convince us all to behave better, but their messages have gone unheeded. And so the carnage continues. Perhaps I had better stock my bunker. We really did have a nuclear bunker when living in Switzerland – every house had to have one!
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I must say, Anthony, that while you seem mostly resigned to acknowledging the sorry state of the world, both globally and locally in some cases, the manner in which you expressed your thoughts in this instance was quite compelling and summed up the circumstances of the world currently clearly and accurately in the main. Seeing clearly is the first step needed to resolve any challenge one might encounter,
Whether or not circumstances globally or locally will ever improve to the point that you might find them less daunting or more worthwhile to address is clearly unknown at this point, but the fact that you not only seem to see through the muck and the mire, but are also able to articulate the conundrum in such compelling prose seems to indicate to me that your voice might just be the very thing to bring around those who might be able to serve up some possible remedies for it all. I would recommend your post to anyone who might need some clarification of just how bleak the outlook seems to be heading.
The reality is that Pascal’s choice ultimately wasn’t really about the question of God’s existence, but more precisely dealt with the ultimate justification for living a good life, doing the right thing, and not doing what so many are doing now, in spite of how much suffering they cause for others. At some point we have to reflect on our choices and decide what sort of person we wish to be, regardless of whether or not we might have to face some sort of consequence in the afterlife.
We can choose to give up on doing anything about our problems, globally or locally, or we can look for ways to support our fellow travelers who might be able to do something about them. I’m envious of your opportunity to walk by the Thames and love the image which accompanies this posting. Even the bitter cold winter weather we are enduring currently here will eventually become just a memory once the Spring arrives. Here’s hoping your Spring outlook will be as equally clear-eyed and compelling as your winter doldrums seem now.
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I think John that resignation is right as regards my attitude. We live better lives these days than we did 700 years ago as my wife and I noted while looking at 14th Century houses the other day in beautiful Sandwich.
We have the rule of law (often broken admittedly), legislation to prevent the worst excesses of the bold and bad, and in many countries a welfare system of sorts.
I think and hope that the next 1000 years will bring further increases in wellbeing for sentient entities on this (or other planets) and I feel that scientific advances will probably be accompanied by a betterment in behaviour.
As for Pascal’s choice, exactly so. I do not as such believe in a deity and hence have nothing to fear from his displeasure should I choose not to behave myself. I am coming to believe however in the possibility of a different reality from the consensus that we all agree on. Not necessarily on some metaphysical plane but even perhaps in the physical world which surrounds us. I have altered my consciousness and continue to do so. For the better. I sense things that perhaps the busy and the acquisitive fail to see. Eventually we may be able to refine our consciousness at will and in such times, it is to be hoped we alter ourselves for the better.
And so, like Pascal, I choose increasingly to live my life as if it matters (or may matter) to be “good”, even if, strictly speaking, it does not.
“I am coming to believe however in the possibility of a different reality from the consensus that we all agree on. Not necessarily on some metaphysical plane but even perhaps in the physical world which surrounds us. I have altered my consciousness and continue to do so. For the better.”
Marvellous! But it seems to me you are still hell bent on being a participant, not an observer, Anthony. That’s a huge stumbling block for a Seeker on the way to the next step – becoming a fully detached observer.
However, encouragingly, I see signs of the detached observer emerging.
Onwards and upwards. All Is Well.
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No, I don’t think you need to worry for me on that score! As I say I have no intention or desire to participate: I will not be manning the barricades nor will I be entering politics or campaigning for a better world. I was merely sitting quietly in my club, meditating and “noticing” that the state of the world (the human world) never changes and should be ignored. You are right – fully detached observance is all that is necessary.
As I said to John, I am “resigned” to the world as it is and am leaving it well alone. Things may change over the next thousand years, but things have changed little over the past ten thousand. In terms of human nature.
There is nothing new under the sun. But perhaps “reality” itself is wreaking slow and barely perceptible changes. Call it evolution if you will.
Either way I will observe rather than participate. Far better in any case for my state of mind and wellbeing. There is little point in fretting over the course of history past, present or future.
What will be will be.
Your position is so strongly and clearly expressed, Anthony. I agree, nothing to worry about here!
Your writing is always much appreciated.
With the continuing horror of the invasion of Ukraine in mind, and after checking out a book of hollow waffle about finding our purpose in life that a friend recommended, I returned here to your blog, where I’ve not been for some time, Anthony. I appreciate your thoughts, and agree with them up to a point.
My view is perhaps bleaker, lacking much interest or faith in inner worlds. In the short term, I see that people’s behaviour stays much the same, but there is as much ancient wisdom in the opposite view that there is only change (or nothing lasts). And I prefer the complexity of modern science and reasoning, which always trumps poetic simplicity. And central to that scientific view – not knowing anything absolutely. Hence, I’m left trying to make temporary meaning within the confines of my little life.
Still, for the normal – as opposed to psychopaths – the joy of life is in trying to help all of us live better, and selfishness is a living hell.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
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John, how nice to hear from you. I hope that you are well and enjoying life. Wonderful lines from Shakespeare – I keep meaning to read some of his plays but never seem to get around to it. In a sense “inner worlds” or in particular our own inner world is all that any of us actually have. Our own consciousness if you like, our awareness. And increasingly I seem able to direct my inner world to focus not on worrying about the day to day savagery of human behavior but seeing that it is, in a sense, “an insubstantial pageant”. I find increasingly great value in poetic expression whether in music, visual art or literature. I do not find science incompatible with “knowledge” gained through introspection and meditation although I believe that science will increasingly enable us to alter our inner world, should we so choose.
Many have seen through meditation or drugs or some other physical intervention the possibility of experiencing the world in a different way. Ancient Christian mystics might see their god through asceticism which brought on the required chemical changes in their brains to help them see through base reality. Starvation introduces a different set of chemicals to work on the brain, as does meditation. I suspect that science will eventually enable us to “see” things or experience things as we choose. To enhance our hedonic set point for instance, to increase happiness, or, if we so chose, misery.
We may be able to transfer our consciousness to virtual reality for instance, or alter our DNA to see consensus reality in a different way.
And so I am not being entirely poetic when I describe the inner world that I sometimes dwell in. Increasingly dwell in. A couple of hours meditation a day has helped. Helped me to alter my consciousness. Psychedelics can do the same for some people, and an unaided “mystical” experience might do the same for others.
And so I am saying that yes, my “inner world” has changed, and continues to change. Part of that is the development of detachment from consensus reality – to accept that I have little or no control over the external physical world but that I can exercise a good degree of choice over my own inner world – my consciousness. How I experience the “reality” outside my own head, how I react to it, enjoy it. Or not.
We know that what we “feel” internally, what we think we know, is governed by chemical actions in our brain and our body. We do not know with any degree of certainty what our senses show us – what reality is, what is out there.
Is the vision of a mystic “real” in any sense? Is the sense of non dualism experienced during meditation or an ayahuasca trip “real”? Or not? Science can play its part – in altering what we feel and sense. For better or worse. To the experiencer, such experiences are certainly “real” – they happen. They are experienced and so, to that extent at least, they are “real”.
I do not believe that science can, as yet, explain all. Or, in particular explain “why”.
Thus I continue to develop my internal world (which is all I have) but retain a very open mind about what is “really” out there. Sometimes I may have a glimpse through William Blake’s doors of perception. Often as not what I see is a reality which may be less absurd than what I see around me in more normal moods. Perhaps “the great globe itself” will indeed dissolve. Perhaps consensus reality is less solid than it seems and is itself just “a baseless fabric”.
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