Well, it is not everyone that wants to philosophically probe the depths of our ‘mind’ where the production system lives that brings us our everyday view of the world, but it usually happens that those who do want to, have an energy for doing so that is intense and persisting. So it was with the wife of the son of an old friend visiting these parts when they stayed with me over the past few days. Our discussions started each morning and lasted for hours, recommencing in the afternoon when we came back in, got the fire going in the woodstove and poured a glass of wine.
There are always points of agreement (and disagreement) in these discussions, as might be expected, and in this case, there was lots of agreement but it was curious that one of the points of strong agreement turned out to have, within it, a point of disagreement. That is, we both acknowledged that the action that ‘actually happens’ is the combination of the male assertive aspect and the female opening of possibility aspect, as in examples like the throwing of a cigarette into the forest, and the example of Hitler’s inflammatory rhetoric and the tensions in Germany relative to the European powers (the couple are from Holland).
Ok, we both agreed that things don’t happen without the opening of spatial possibility, and that our culture tends to commonly, mistakenly attribute all of ‘what happens’ to a purported ‘causal agent’; i.e. to say ‘the careless smoker caused this’ (a burnt out forest) and/or ‘the aggression of hitler’s nazi regime was the cause of WWII’. That is, the real situation is more as Pasteur and Béchamp put it, “le microbe n’est rien, le terrain est tout’ (the purported causal agent is nothing, the opening of spatial possibility is everything). If the forest is not dry and ready to go, tossing a cigarette into will do nothing, and, similarly, the intended ‘inflammatory rhetoric’ of the politician, will not take ignite the populace if the accrued potentials are not ‘in place’.
The subtle point of ‘disagreement’ was, if I am not misinterpreting where she was coming from, that the changes that we wish would come about in our society are in the process of coming about ‘on their own’ (by way of a zillion small developments) and that, like Gandhi, we need only to ‘be the change that we wish to see in the world’. Yes, I support the attempt at ‘walking the talk’ but at the same time, I think the ‘talk’ is important for the change it can bring about, call it the ‘skyhook effect’ or whatever. When we hear that phrase of Gandhi’s, it has power and influence in it, that does not depend on Gandhi having walked the talk (young people reading the phrase may have no idea of who Gandhi was and the life he lived, but their behaviour can be influenced by his message.).
Words (the ideas they inspire in us) have power and influence to bring about change and thus we must take responsibility for our use of words since they are continually influencing the unfolding world dynamic. As Jean-Paul Sartre pointed out in his 1946 essay, ‘La responsibilite de l’ecrivain’ (‘The Responsibility of the writer), there is a responsibility associated with all creative acts, because such acts do not begin and end with the kinetics of the act itself, the kinetics transform the ‘spatial potentials’ (e.g. they introduce tensions) in the manner of sandgrains in the building of a sandpile; i.e. if one person says; ‘Saddam Hussein is the cause of all of our problems’, one feels a certain tension, but if that is said over and over again by tens of millions of people, each one of those utterances can be like a grain of sand building the spatial potentials to the point of avalanche.
Sartre cites Dostoyevsky “Tout homme est responsable de tout devant tous” (‘Each of us is responsible for all others before ourselves’), alluding to the power of love that can be unleashed in our actions and utterances, reminiscent of the ‘Boddhisattva’ ethic of Buddhism. (Click here to read the key passage from ‘The Brother’s Karamazov’).
The message is not that we should simply ‘hold our tongue’ if we have nothing good to say. Silence is a commons and one can’t sit back and let it be ‘taken hostage’ by those who ‘do not take responsibility for their utterances’. In the Dostoyevsky quote, there is an implicit advocacy to speak out (responsibly, lovingly), as is the ‘effect’ of Dostoyevsky’s own writing, regardless of his personal behaviour.
Does the creative act of utterance have ongoing influence? It would seem so in the case of writers like Dostoyevsky, so why not in general. Dostoyevsky is like a boulder on the pile, but each of us less talented utterers can be like sand-grains whose ability to build potentials (for one thing or another) will eventually surpass even the huge talents of creative individuals.
In her essay The Russian Point of View, Virginia Woolf says: “The novels of Dostoevsky are seething whirlpools, gyrating sandstorms, waterspouts which hiss and boil and suck us in. They are composed purely and wholly of the stuff of the soul. Against our wills we are drawn in, whirled round, blinded, suffocated, and at the same time filled with a giddy rapture. Out of Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading.”
Dostovevsky’s was clearly not an advocate of ‘politically correct’ utterances (He was emprisoned for his ‘liberal’ utterances that were threatening to Czar Nicholas I and received a death sentence from which he narrowly escaped). Dostoyevsky, while fighting for equal rights for Jews in Russia, was at the same time the author of the following critical comments;
“Thus, Jewry is thriving precisely there where the people are still ignorant, or not free, or economically backward. It is there that Jewry has a champ libre. And instead of raising, by its influence, the level of education, instead of increasing knowledge, generating economic fitness in the native population—instead of this the Jew, wherever he has settled, has still more humiliated and debauched the people; there humaneness was still more debased and the educational level fell still lower; there inescapable, inhuman misery, and with it despair, spread still more disgustingly. Ask the native population in our border regions: What is propelling the Jew—and has been propelling him for centuries? You will receive a unanimous answer: mercilessness. He has been prompted so many centuries only by pitilessness to us, only by the thirst for our sweat and blood.” … “And, in truth, the whole activity of the Jews in these border regions of ours consisted of rendering the native population as much as possible inescapably dependent on them, taking advantage of the local laws. They have always managed to be on friendly terms with those upon whom the people were dependent. Point to any other tribe from among Russian aliens which could rival the Jew by his dreadful influence in this connection! You will find no such tribe. In this respect the Jew preserves all his originality as compared with other Russian aliens, and of course, the reason therefore is that status of status of his, that spirit of which specifically breathes pitilessness for everything that is not Jew, with disrespect for any people and tribe, for every human creature who is not a Jew….”
This is the ‘responsibility’ of the writer showing through, which seems impossible in today’s world where the pressures of political correctness are so strong.
To put Dostoyevsky’s above comments in perspective, the following further comments from Wikipedia;
“Steven Cassedy, for example, alleges in his book, Dostoevsky’s Religion, that much of the depiction of Dostoyevsky’s views as anti-Semitic omits that Dostoyevsky expressed support for the equal rights of the Russian Jewish population, a position that was not widely supported in Russia at the time. Cassedy also notes that this criticism of Dostoyevsky also appears to deny his sincerity when he said that he was for equal rights for the Russian Jewish populace and the Serfs of his own country (since neither group at that point in history had equal rights). Cassidy again notes when Dostoevsky stated that he did not hate Jewish people and was not an Anti-Semite. Even though Dostoevsky spoke of the potential negative influence of Jewish people, Dostoevsky advised Czar Alexander II to give them rights to positions of influence in Russian society. For example allowing them access to Professorships at Universities. According to Cassedy, labeling Dostoevsky anti-semitic does not take into consideration Dostoyevsky’s expressed desire to peacefully reconcile Jews and Christians into a single universal brotherhood of all mankind.”
If one has love in their heart and is coming from this writer’s responsibility “Tout homme est responsable de tout devant tous” then does this not liberate one’s tongue? Jesus did not commit to holding his tongue about adultery when inspiring those who were about to stone an adulteress, to look into themselves and seek transformation (the social terrain is the source of adultresses) rather than attempting to fix what’s wrong by judging and punishing others as if we, the judges, are uninvolved. To cite from that link to the Brothers Karamozov mentioned earlier;
“Hate not those who reject you, who insult you, who abuse and slander you. Hate not the atheists, the teachers of evil, the materialists — and I mean not only the good ones — for there are many good ones among them, especially in our day — hate not even the wicked ones. Remember them in your prayers thus: Save, O Lord, all those who have none to pray for them, save too all those who will not pray. And add: it is not in pride that I make this prayer, O Lord, for I am lower than all men….”
To summarize, … my impression is that political correctness has silenced our tongues, which, to me, is not consistent with ‘walking the talk’. Most of us are not going to be able to ‘walk the talk’ in the sense of perfecting our everyday behaviours. Even if we want to transform ourselves, in many cases we will likely continue to be drinkers, gamblers, adulterers etc. but this should not negate our heartfelt aspirations.
Jesus did not say; ‘Let those of you without sin cast the first words of criticism, else hold your tongue’, what he was suggesting was to put transformation of the social habitat ahead of purificationist strikes against ‘those sinning others’ (whose behaviours are inherently the product of the social habitat-dynamic). And how do we deal with transformation if we keep our mouths shut about what needs to be transformed?
If we are coming from a sense of inclusion in a common brotherhood/humanity, so that this transformation of the social collective is inextricable from the transformation of oneself, then the criticism of others is at the same time the criticism of ourselves, as appears to be the case with Dostoyevsky.
Not all of us are going to ‘walk the talk’ in the manner of a Nelson Mandela or a Mahatma Gandhi however intently we aspire to it, but this should not quiet our tongues (silence our ‘writer’s responsibility) and prevent us from ‘talking the walk’. The reason that ‘talking the walk’ has been discredited is that it is too often coming from a sense of ‘self-other’ exclusion so that when we criticize, we are [or are seen as] coming from the sense of separation of ‘self’ and ‘other’ so that the fault we see in the ‘other’ has now’t to do with ourselves. This is why Obama’s preacher Jeremiah Wright is not allowed to say that 9/11 was a case of ‘US chickens coming home to roost’, since people assume that he is splitting himself out in this finger-pointing process, which says something about the popular view of the ‘self’, it being commonly seen as a ‘local agent’ that is fully and solely responsible for its own behaviour (as Enlightenment representation and our western system of Justice would have it).
The writer’s responsibility of Dostoyevesky assumes that we are all in this together and that open criticism does not indicate a desire to isolate, judge and punish particular ‘others’ whose behaviours we understand to be mutually exclusive of our behaviour. If we assume, as Pasteur and Béchamp contended that ‘le terrain est tout’, then the social habitat-dynamic includes us all and thus, as Mach says; ‘The dynamics of the habitat condition the dynamics of the inhabitants at the same time as the dynamics of the inhabitants are conditioning the dynamics of the habitat’.
I realize that this blog has had a lot of words in it, but it seems to me that in this era of political correctness, a defence of ‘talking the walk’ requires quite a few words. The ‘bots’ that roam the internet could easily pick up my citing of Dostoyevsky’s critique of Jewish tribal habits as ‘anti-semitism’ and blacklist this site since it is commonly assumed that when one criticizes others, the critical ‘observer’ is not understanding that he is, at the same time, the ‘observed’. Yet, this website is permeated with the same ‘inclusional’ ethic as is embraced by Dostoyevsky, where the ‘observer’ understands that he is, at the same time ‘one with the observed’.
So, here’s to an early return to ‘talking the walk’, as a skyhook to help winch us towards where we know we need to be, even though the likelihood of attaining ‘perfection’ (walking the talk) is not a practically ‘realizable’ objective. The friendly driver in the busy flow of the freeway puts his movements in the service of sustaining harmony in the flow. Such an approach builds ‘resilience’ into the habitat-dynamics unlike the fault-intolerant character that associates with striving for precision walk-the-talk movement of each and every inhabitant (‘part-icipant’).