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but why division at all?

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Once I bought a beautifully simple, thick-paged, old-papered, leather-bound notebook.

I have carried that notebook ever since in most of my travels and it sits on a privileged spot on my work table.

I have not written a single word in it.

For a long time, I have known that I have a modest way with words. For a long time, I have known that I have a modest way with thought. For a long time, many people have asked me why I don’t write these thoughts. For a long time, many people have encouraged me to write these thoughts (only one succeeded).

But the fact that you think you know how to do something, the confidence that you have in your own abilities, is oft-times the worst enemy of their development. Such is the case for my writing abilities, to a certain extent such is the case for my thoughts, and such is the case for many more of my potential virtues.

The creation of this blog is my attempt to find an ally for fighting that skulking, treacherous enemy. To begin with, I wish to achieve nothing more, and nothing less, than to undam the stultified flow of my thoughts and of my words.

But that is only the first reason. The next is a bit more complicated, and I apologize beforehand for any opacity in what I’m about to unravel – I hope I will be able to explain myself clearly enough.

In a conversation with Isaac Asimov, Bill Moyers asked Isaac Asimov what he meant when he once wrote “We have to stop living by the code of the past”. This is what Asimov replied:

Only because times change. In the old days we didn’t worry about the future – and now we must. We have to worry about the future all the time, things are changing so fast.

Moyers played devil’s advocate and said “you and I may not be around when it arrives”. And Asimov exemplified what a cultural psychologist calls the distancing mechanisms (if you want to read the full article just email me):

Well, I imagine our children will be. Our grandchildren. And besides, the human race will be. And, uh, well let me try to make – I don’t want to sound like a foolish idealist, I don’t want to make it sound as though I just love humanity… but look! my books are going to survive me: I want the people alive to read them!

After which he laughed nonchalantly and went on to answer if he suffered from an excessive trust on rationality (to which he replied that he probably did, but that he hadn’t found anything better).

I was watching this as I tried to write this first post, which should (I thought) be dedicated to why I want to write, and decided I would phagocyticly link this interview. It is most relevant to my own views about the meaning of life and of our struggles, but more importantly, it is most relevant to my situation today.

My beloved is with child.

If worrying about the future was important yesterday, I cannot but think it even more important today.

The current state of the world is unparalleled, not only in human history, but also in the history of life on Earth. The impact that humanity has brought upon this planet, the changes that are taking place, are so staggering and deafening and overwhelming that thinking about the future has become not only an insidious, bothersome business, but also a sickeningly frightening one.

The depletion of natural resources, the alteration of the very fabric of the ecological relationships, the massive changes in global climate, the direction that humans as a species have taken (with greed and superficiality ruling over all other values), render any comprehensive attempt at foreseeing the future all but ghastly. It is not only the “dark side” of human nature that is unsettling, it is the relentless development and unfolding of its potential that makes things seem even more difficult to grasp, to accept, let alone to change.

Following Asimov (with an ironic turn), I don’t want to make it sound as though I just hate humanity (which I do), but I also don’t want to make it sound as though I love it (which I do), so sticking to a purely practical idea might pay off higher stakes here.

As I said above, I want to write just for the sake of writing, and developing and giving an outlet to my thoughts.

I also want to write in order to think about the future (hopefully not just worry about it, as old Asimov suggested).

I also want to write so that sometime, some day, someone may find something useful, provoking, enticing, or pleasant in my words, not differently from Asimov.

But above all, I want to write so I can help myself (and maybe others), to figure out how, and even why, this most turbulent of ages in the history of this planet may be steered into a less threatening prospect for my unborn child.

I want to write in order to bring myself to conceive of a way to find reasons why the unflinching rules that structure life in this universe are not so bleak, so ruthless. And when I cannot, when I am faced with the unswerving fate that awaits us all as living beings, when faced with the fact that, ultimately, all living entities in the universe must pass away and perish, after a life-long struggle, suffering and strife; when I am faced with these thoughts that undoubtedly dwell on the minds and hearts of all who have taken the hassle and gathered the courage to ask what all this is about, I want to find reasons that make it all worth while.

One could say that, in a way, we have no other choice. No other choice than to find reasons to be happy, just as we have no other choice than to find reasons to feel sad. The very existence of feelings (positive and negative) seems to have played a crucial part in  the evolution of our species, as Antonio Damasio points out in his outstanding Looking for Spinoza. Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. So even if I didn’t want to, I would still find reasons to be happy, no matter how bad the world is going.

But as it turns out, I want to find reasons. I want to find reasons to think that some of us may do the right thing. Reasons to think there is, after all, a right thing to do in the first place. Reasons to think there is a way of telling right from wrong.

I am not too sure if I will succeed in this endeavor. I can think of a great many things that, by themselves, have made my passing through this life worth every ounce of suffering and despair that I have ever experienced and all that I shall experience until my life comes to an end (the music of Mozart scintillates above all).

Huxley’s work sheds some light as to how this may be accomplished in the last three paragraphs of the excerpt posted here of his Eyeless in Gaza. But right before those last three paragraphs he explains why we should even try (unlike Huxley, who was clearly a much more organized person, I wrote the how before the why. If you got to the latter before you read the former, please do so now!):

But why division at all? Why, unavoidably, even in the completest love, and, at the other end of the scale of being, even in that which is or seems to be below right and wrong, why must the evil of separation persist? Separation even of saint from saint, and separation even of mere physical pattern from mere physical pattern. One man cannot eat for another. The best must think, must enjoy and suffer, must touch, see, smell, hear, taste in isolation. The good man is merely a less completely closed universe than the bad; but still closed, even as the atom is closed.

And, of course, if there is to be existence – existence as we know it – being must be organized in closed universes. Minds like ours can only perceive undifferentiated unity as nothing. Unescapable paradox that we should desire that n should be equal to one, but that, in fact, we should always find that one is equal to nought.

Separation, diversity – conditions of our existence. Conditions upon which we possess life and consciousness, know right and wrong and have the power to choose between them, recognize truth, have experience of beauty. But separation is evil. Evil, then, is the condition of life, the condition of being aware, of knowing what is good and beautiful.

That which is demanded, that which men come finally to demand of themselves, is the realization of union between beings who would be nothing if they were not separate; is the actualization of goodness by creatures who, if they were not evil, would not exist. Impossibility – but nonetheless demanded.

‘Born under one law, to another bound.’

He himself, Anthony went on to think, he himself had chosen to regard the whole process as either pointless or a practical joke. Yes, chosen. For it had been an act of the will. If it were all nonsense or a joke, then he was at liberty to read his books and exercise his talents for sarcastic comment; there was no reason why he shouldn’t sleep with any presentable woman who was ready to sleep with him. If it weren’t nonsense, if there was some significance, then he could no longer live irresponsibly. There were duties towards himself and others and the nature of things. Duties with whose fulfilment the sleeping and the indiscriminate reading and the habit of detached irony would interfere. He had chosen to think it nonsense, and nonsense for more than twenty years the thing had seemed to be – nonsense, in spite of occasional uncomfortable intimations that there might be a point, and that the point was precisely in what he had chosen to regard as the pointlessness, the practical joke. And now at last it was clear, now by some kind of immediate experience he knew that the point was in the paradox, in the fact that unity was the beginning and unity the end, and that in the meantime the condition of life and all existence was separation, which was equivalent to evil. Yes, the point, he insisted, is that one demands of oneself the achievement of the impossible. The point is that, even with the best will in the world, the separate, evil universe of a person or a physical pattern can never unite itself completely with other lives and beings, or the totality of life and being. Even for the highest goodness the struggle is without end; for never in the nature of present things can the shut become the wholly open; goodness can never free itself completely from evil. It is a test, an education – searching, difficult, drawn out through a lifetime, perhaps through long series of lifetimes. Lifetimes passed in the attempt to open up further and a little further the closed universe that perpetually tends to spring shut the moment that effort is relaxed. Passed in overcoming the separating passions of hate and malice and pride. Passed in making still the self-emphasizing cravings. Passed in constant efforts to realize unity with other lives and other modes of being. To experience it in the act of love and compassion. To experience it on another plane through meditation, in the insight of direct intuition. Unity beyond the turmoil of separations and divisions. Goodness beyond the possibility of evil. But always the fact of separation persists, always evil remains the very condition of life and being. There must be no relaxation of the opening pressure. But even for the best of us, the consummation is still immeasurably remote.

 

For my sake, for the sake of my beloved, and for the sake of my child, I will demand of myself “the achievement of the impossible”.

 

 

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Una vez compré un cuaderno bellamente simple, de hojas gordas y papel viejo, encuadernado en cuero.

He llevado ese cuaderno en muchos de mis viajes, y ocupa un lugar privilegiado de mi escritorio.

No he escrito una sola palabra en él.

Desde hace mucho tiempo, he sabido que tengo una modesta facilidad para las palabras. Desde hace mucho tiempo, he sabido que tengo una modesta facilidad para pensar. Desde hace mucho tiempo, mucha gente me ha preguntado por qué no escribo lo que pienso. Desde hace mucho tiempo, mucha gente me ha animado a escribir lo que pienso.

Pero el hecho de pensar que sabes hacer algo, la confianza en tus propias capacidades, es a menudo el peor enemigo de su desarrollo. Ese es el caso de mi talento para escribir, hasta cierto punto es el caso de mis pensamientos, y también es el caso de muchas otras de mis potenciales virtudes.

La creación de este blog es mi intento de encontrar un aliado en la lucha contra ese enemigo camuflado y traicionero. En primer lugar, no deseo lograr nada más, y nada menos, que retirar el dique que atenaza el fluir de mi pensamiento y mis palabras.

Pero ese es solo el primer motivo. El siguiente es algo más complicado, y pido disculpas de antemano si en el proceso de desentrañarlo lo hago con opacidad; espero ser capaz de expresarme claramente.

En una conversación con Isaac Asimov, Boll Moyers preguntó a Isaac Asimov qué quería decir cuando escribió que “Debemos dejar de vivir según el código del pasado”. Esto es lo que replicó Asimov:

Solo porque los tiempos cambian. En tiempos pasados no nos preocupábamos por el futuro; pero ahora debemos hacerlo. Tenemos que preocuparnos por el futuro constantemente, las cosas cambian muy rápido.

Moyers tomó el papel de abogado del diablo y dijo “puede que usted y yo no estemos aquí cuando llegue”. Y Asimov ejemplificó lo que un psicólogo cultural llama los mecanismos de distanciamiento (si quieres leer el artículo completo escríbeme un correo):

Bueno, imagino que nuestros hijos sí estarán aquí. Nuestros nietos. Y además estará la especie humana. Y, ehm, bueno déjeme hacer… no quiero sonar como un tonto idealista, no quiero que suene a que amo a la humanidad… pero ¡mire! mis libros me sobrevivirán: ¡quiero que haya gente viva para leerlos!

Tras lo cual se rió de forma desenfadada y prosiguió contestando a la pregunta de si tenía demasiada confianza en la racionalidad (a lo que respondió que probablemente la tenía, pero que no había encontrado nada mejor).

Estaba viendo esta entrevista mientras trataba de escribir esta primera entrada, que debería (pensaba yo) dedicar a explicar por qué quiero escribir, y decidí enlazar fagocíticamente esta entrevista. Es totalmente consonante con mi propia visión sobre el sentido de la vida y sobre nuestras luchas, pero aún más importante es que es muy relevante respecto a mi situación hoy día.

Mi amada está embarazada.

Si preocuparse por el futuro era importante ayer, no puedo sino pensar que es aún más importante hoy.

El estado actual del mundo no tiene parangón, no solo en la historia humana, sino en la historia de la vida en la Tierra. El impacto de la humanidad sobre este planeta, los cambios que están produciéndose, son tan sobrecogedores, ensordecedores y abrumadores que pensar en el futuro se ha convertido no solo en un asunto insidioso y fastidioso, sino en un asunto horriblemente aterrador.

El agotamiento de los recursos naturales, la alteración del tejido mismo de las relaciones ecológicas, los enormes cambios en el clima global, la dirección que ha tomado el ser humano como especie (la avaricia y la superficialidad priman sobre todos los demás valores), hacen que cualquier intento exhaustivo de prever el futuro sea espantoso. Lo inquietante no es solo el “lado oscuro” de la naturaleza humana, es el implacable desarrollo y despliegue de su potencial, que hace que las cosas sean aún más difíciles de asimilar, de aceptar, no digamos ya de cambiar.

Siguiendo a Asimov (con cierta ironía), no quiero que suene como si odiara a la humanidad (aunque la odio), pero tampoco quiero que suene como que la amo (aunque la amo), de modo que lo más provechoso parece ser ceñirse a una idea puramente práctica.

Como he dicho antes, solo quiero escribir por el mero hecho de hacerlo, y desarrollar y dar salida a mis pensamientos.

También quiero escribir para pensar así en el futuro (esperemos que no solo preocuparme por él, como sugería el viejo Asimov).

También quiero escribir para que en algún momento, en algún lugar, alguien encuentre mis palabras de algún modo útiles, provocativas, atractivas o agradables; en eso no soy distinto a Asimov.

Pero por encima de todo, quiero escribir para ayudarme a mí mismo (y tal vez a otros) a averiguar cómo, e incluso por qué, pueda darse a esta la más turbulenta era de la historia de este planeta una perspectiva menos amenazante para mi hijo.

Quiero escribir para obligarme a pensar en una forma de encontrar razones por las cuales las inquebrantables reglas que dan estructura a la vida en el universo no son tan funestas y despiadadas. Y cuando no pueda, cuando me vea enfrentado al férreo destino que nos aguarda a todos los seres vivientes, cuando me enfrente al hecho de que, a la postre, todas las entidades vivientes del universo deben perecer tras una vida de lucha, sufrimiento y conflicto, cuando me enfrente a los pensamientos que indudablemente pasan por la mente y el corazón de todo aquel que se tome la molestia y reúna el coraje de preguntarse de qué va todo esto, quiero encontrar razones que hagan que todo haya valido la pena.

Se podría decir que, de algún modo, no tenemos elección. No podemos elegir sino encontrar razones para ser felices, de la misma manera que no podemos sino encontrar motivos para estar tristes. La misma existencia de los sentimientos (positivos y negativos) parece haber jugado un papel central en la evolución de nuestra especie, como señala Antonio Damasio en su maravilloso Looking for Spinoza. Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. Así que, incluso aunque no quisiera, y por muy mal que vaya el mundo, encontraría razones para ser feliz.

Pero la cuestión es que quiero encontrar razones. Quiero encontrar razones para pensar que puede que algunos de nosotros hagamos lo correcto. Razones para pensar que existe tal cosa, “hacer lo correcto”. Razones para pensar que hay una forma de diferenciar lo correcto de lo equivocado.

No estoy demasiado seguro de tener éxito. Se me ocurren unas cuantas cosas que, por sí mismas, han hecho que todos y cada uno de los momentos de sufrimiento y desazón que he experimentado y que experimentaré hasta el fin de mis días hayan merecido la pena (la música de Mozart centellea por encima de todas).

Las palabras de Huxley pueden arrojar algo de luz sobre cómo se puede lograr esto, especialmente los últimos tres párrafos de este extracto de su Eyeless in Gaza. Pero inmediatamente antes de esos tres párrafos, explica por qué deberíamos siquiera intentarlo (al contrario que Huxley, que era sin duda una persona mucho más organizada, yo escribí el cómo antes que el por qué. Si llegaste al último antes de leer el primero, ¡te sugiero que lo hagas ahora!) (no he encontrado la traducción en español: si dispones de ella, házmela llegar):

But why division at all? Why, unavoidably, even in the completest love, and, at the other end of the scale of being, even in that which is or seems to be below right and wrong, why must the evil of separation persist? Separation even of saint from saint, and separation even of mere physical pattern from mere physical pattern. One man cannot eat for another. The best must think, must enjoy and suffer, must touch, see, smell, hear, taste in isolation. The good man is merely a less completely closed universe than the bad; but still closed, even as the atom is closed.

And, of course, if there is to be existence – existence as we know it – being must be organized in closed universes. Minds like ours can only perceive undifferentiated unity as nothing. Unescapable paradox that we should desire that n should be equal to one, but that, in fact, we should always find that one is equal to nought.

Separation, diversity – conditions of our existence. Conditions upon which we possess life and consciousness, know right and wrong and have the power to choose between them, recognize truth, have experience of beauty. But separation is evil. Evil, then, is the condition of life, the condition of being aware, of knowing what is good and beautiful.

That which is demanded, that which men come finally to demand of themselves, is the realization of union between beings who would be nothing if they were not separate; is the actualization of goodness by creatures who, if they were not evil, would not exist. Impossibility – but nonetheless demanded.

‘Born under one law, to another bound.’

He himself, Anthony went on to think, he himself had chosen to regard the whole process as either pointless or a practical joke. Yes, chosen. For it had been an act of the will. If it were all nonsense or a joke, then he was at liberty to read his books and exercise his talents for sarcastic comment; there was no reason why he shouldn’t sleep with any presentable woman who was ready to sleep with him. If it weren’t nonsense, if there was some significance, then he could no longer live irresponsibly. There were duties towards himself and others and the nature of things. Duties with whose fulfilment the sleeping and the indiscriminate reading and the habit of detached irony would interfere. He had chosen to think it nonsense, and nonsense for more than twenty years the thing had seemed to be – nonsense, in spite of occasional uncomfortable intimations that there might be a point, and that the point was precisely in what he had chosen to regard as the pointlessness, the practical joke. And now at last it was clear, now by some kind of immediate experience he knew that the point was in the paradox, in the fact that unity was the beginning and unity the end, and that in the meantime the condition of life and all existence was separation, which was equivalent to evil. Yes, the point, he insisted, is that one demands of oneself the achievement of the impossible. The point is that, even with the best will in the world, the separate, evil universe of a person or a physical pattern can never unite itself completely with other lives and beings, or the totality of life and being. Even for the highest goodness the struggle is without end; for never in the nature of present things can the shut become the wholly open; goodness can never free itself completely from evil. It is a test, an education – searching, difficult, drawn out through a lifetime, perhaps through long series of lifetimes. Lifetimes passed in the attempt to open up further and a little further the closed universe that perpetually tends to spring shut the moment that effort is relaxed. Passed in overcoming the separating passions of hate and malice and pride. Passed in making still the self-emphasizing cravings. Passed in constant efforts to realize unity with other lives and other modes of being. To experience it in the act of love and compassion. To experience it on another plane through meditation, in the insight of direct intuition. Unity beyond the turmoil of separations and divisions. Goodness beyond the possibility of evil. But always the fact of separation persists, always evil remains the very condition of life and being. There must be no relaxation of the opening pressure. But even for the best of us, the consummation is still immeasurably remote.

Por mi bien, por el bien de mi amada, y por el bien de mi hijo, me exigiré el “logro de lo imposible”.

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