Friday, 23 February 2007

An Intellectual’s Apology III: Pain

And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

The problem

Don't worry. This is not going to be an adolescent rant about suffering and pain. Just a rant about suffering and pain. Because of intelligence. But you'll be glad to know that I'll deal witht he other side of the topic very soon indeed.

Fergus will be pleased. I intend to deal with this topic by using a number of quotations. I'll try to reference them all. This is because of the fact that, simply, it's been discussed before.

I shall first return to the words of 'The Preacher':

So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.

Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.

Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.(ii)

This, albeit in archaic language, is the root of the problem. Look around at the world. Look inside yourself. Look at other people. Do you see good things? Or do you see suffering, anger, pain, and injustice? I mean those words in their strongest sense. Not in our modern political language. I mean 'the evil work that is done under the sun'.

My perspective

If I may be so immodest, I would like to show you - as I can - my perspective. Remember, as always, that it is not a final voice. And do forgive me if I offend: for once, I will be more frank than usual. I'll try and keep religious ethics out of it, but such underlying principles may slip in occasionally.


The esteemed writer, Mr Rice, recently wrote: 'I hate to sound like a dinosaur, but it really does seem like the moral standards... of this generation are apalling. People seem to be advancing the liberal agenda and "sexual revolution" as an inherently good thing'(iii)

The comment caused a small amount of controversy amongst commentators. But I would tend to agree with him. Hedonism is our way of life. Not just now (not really 'decline'), but our 'enlightened' age is irresponsible. Our duty is to ourselves above others. We can do what we want.

The consequences

What are the consequences of this? Well, to take sexual morality alone:

  • Broken marriages
  • Suffering children
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • 'Sexualised' children at an ever-younger age, striving to be too mature

To use the example of what would have previously been called avarice:

  • World poverty
  • Local poverty
  • Pride

But when people earn money, do we object? No. And do not say that we should. Yet increasingly, money has become a means to an end. This means people become obsessed with numbers, not people. Status, not other human beings.

The point

No doubt you will have heard all of this before. But the problem is that it's always there. in everything I see, there is human fallability. We are all so flawed. And it's always there. It's rather depressing.

Now, most of the time, it can be borne. I'd always rather be intelligent and painfully aware than dim and happy. Ever wondered where the phrase 'ignorance is bliss' comes from? It's often used to suggest that there's something that someone doesn't want to know. But actually, it's not that:

'Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more, where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise' (iv)

'Thought would destroy their paradise'. That, I think, is the point. Dostoyevsky, 'Notes from the Underground':

'I want now to tell you, gentlemen, whether you care to hear it or not, why I could not even become an insect. I tell you solemnly, that I have many times tried to become an insect. But I was not equal even to that. I swear, gentlemen, that to be too conscious is a disease - a real, actual disease. For man's everyday needs, it would have been quite enough to have the ordinary human consciousness, that is, half or a quarter of the amount which falls to the lot of a cultivated man of our unhappy nineteenth century, especially one who has the fatal ill-luck to inhabit Petersburg, the most theoretical and intentional town on the whole terrestrial globe... (v)

That, I think, is enough of my rant. To return to Ecclesiastes:

'And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.

I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.

And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow'. (vi)

I should add, of course, that there are advantages. I shall turn to them next.


(i) Ecclesiastes, Ch. I vv. 17-18
(ii) Ibid., Ch. IV vv. 1-4
(iv) 'Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College', 1749, Thomas Gray.
(v) 'Notes from the Underground', Fyodor Dostoyevsky
(vi) Ecclesiastes, Ch. I vv. 13-18


Gavin said...

I didn't read the whole thing, but sounds like good stuff.

Apocalypticat said...

I agree with you. Just because it's been said before doesn't make it any less valid, especially when put so eloquently. Hedonism is indeed the new world religion. Only the other day I was getting angry about how nobody seems to 'care' any more.

I find the sexualisation of children particularly disturbing. Innocence is blissful; it shouldn't be escaped too soon.

Tom said...

Self-destruction is the most painful of vicious cycles. It has been said before, and in our history to be written, it shall be said many times again. Our "superiority" does not alone allow us merely to excel in technology, art and spiritualism; It allows us also to excel in confusion, despair and pain (perhaps the last stemming from the other two). I believe in very few things, but the one thing I have never found any reason to doubt, but through skepticism, is that we are our own worst enemy. Nobody but ourselves can make us truly suffer.

Those of us that choose to be sexed up, drugged up and idiotic (if you choose to view it as such) are nothing more than dreamers. Reality is too real for them, and so they hide in their fantasies. Why should they do otherwise when your "advancements" in technology protect them from reality.

This is such a huge topic of discussion, it really is. I don't dare try to incorporate it in a single comment. Like I said to Chris B-H, we'll be walking along the same road 50 years from now, discussing the same problems that we discuss today, and we will still be no closer to an answer, and yet we will have passed those 50 years regardless of an answer.