Oh, woe is the contemplative mind!




Oh, woe is the contemplative mind! Especially when it leaves the realm of, say, mysticism, or  even just aesthetics. 

A contemplative mind contemplating human affairs, cannot but exhaust itself in convoluted meandering thoughts.  Because the contemplative mind has this peculiar streak of naively looking for something like beauty, harmony; perhaps truth, even. 
Now try and get to beauty and truth in current affairs, which are made up of battles between individual or collective viewpoints and interests.
Try and be an impartial spectator, try and reach an overarching judgment that does justice to all viewpoints.  A nervous breakdown is what you are likely to get, losing yourself in pro’s and con’s, in thoughtfully weighing the respective grievances and aspirations of the battling parties, in anxiously considering what position might bring the greatest good for the greatest number (and even reconsidering whether that the latter is the ultimate criterion, and who is to be the judge of what that greatest good is) 

Far less mentally exhausting, then, to choose the straightforward course of purposeful thinking about one's self-interest – have the mind concentrating on what humans are fitted for: ensuring their own survival.  At best, maybe, enlightened self-interest, tempered with some “sympathy, generosity and public spirit” (Adam Smith). 

Ah, but how crooked this enlightened self-interest is ...


“Nothing, unfortunately, has so constantly been refuted by reality as the credo of “enlightened self-interest,” [...]. Some experience plus a little reflection teach, on the contrary, that it goes against the very nature of self-interest to be enlightened. To take as an example from everyday life the current interest conflict between tenant and landlord: enlightened interest would focus on a building fit for human habitation, but this interest is quite different from, and in most cases opposed to, the landlord’s self-interest in high profit and the tenant’s in low rent.

The common answer of an arbiter, supposedly the spokesman of “enlightenment,” namely, that in the long run   the interest of the building is in the true interest of both landlord and tenant, leaves out of account the time factor, which is of paramount importance for all concerned. Self-interest   is interested in the self, and the self dies or moves out or sells the house; because of its changing condition, that is, ultimately because of the human condition of mortality, the self qua self cannot reckon in terms of long range interest, i.e. the interest of a world that survives its inhabitants. Deterioration of the building is a matter of years; a rent increase or a temporarily lower profit rate are for today or tomorrow. [...]

 Self-interest, when asked to yield to “true” interest – that is, the interest of the world as distinguished from that of the self – will always reply, Near is my shirt, but nearer is my skin. That may not be particularly reasonable, but it is quite realistic; it is the not very noble but adequate response to the time discrepancy between men’s private lives and the altogether different life expectancy of the public world. “   
      

(from: Hannah Arendt “On Violence”)

2 comments:

* said...

somehow a notion or a way of expressing conflict is needed where it is possible to have conflicting ideas but to live them in a way that it doesn't lead to the annihilation of the opponent.
probably one of the most difficult things in the world...

Swann Ffflaneur said...

very wise words, A.

right now, it seems as if the different opposing parties of this world are only bent on annihilating one another ...