On knowing which way to go


Blaise Pascal
Pascal wrote: “The heart has reasons which reason does not know.” My problem comes when the two are in conflict. When reason argues, “I am right, and can give evidence for it,” and heart responds, “I have no evidence, but I still believe I'm right,” I won't be at peace no matter which way I decide.

Existentialists believe that we will be held completely responsible for the consequences of our decisions, but that we have no means of predicting whether our decisions are right or wrong. If this is true, we might as well decide by tossing coins into the air. I think that most of us, most of the time, decide by default, that is we imitate those around us. Otherwise, there would be fewer Mormons in Utah and fewer Baptists in Alabama. 

I have found within myself that insanity can be defined as the space between what one part of me says is true and what another part says is true. As Montaigne put it: “...what we believe we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.” And again, “There is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.”

Michel de Montaigne
I have also heard insanity defined as the space between what you know is true and what others tell you is true. Indeed, it’s a hard thing when the beliefs that define a person are said to be wrong by his neighbors. Our success lies in the fact that we are a social species, but our downfall, as individuals if not as a species, lies in the same fact.

I do know that, aside from ethical demands, I don't owe anyone an explanation for my faults, values, behaviors, preferences, inconsistencies, or anything else about me that doesn’t affect them directly. It's enough of a challenge to explain me to myself.

24 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

'It's enough of a challenge to explain me to myself.'
True. And even more of a challenge to get the same answer on consecutive days. Or an answer that either my head or heart (and more rarely both) will accept.

Furry Bottoms said...

Very well put! :)

lotta joy said...

You could ask ten people to tell you about me and every one would have something different to say, and they'd all be wrong. Ask me ten different times on different days and you'd get ten different answers. That's about it.

Stephen Hayes said...

Actually, I have no problem explaining me to myself. I'm not a complicated guy.

kj said...

A most thoughtful post, snow. I know I don't make decisions by default but I'm well familiar with ambivalence, which is what I think you refer to

I'm doing better accepting my mistakes and failures. What a relief

Love
kj

Snowbrush said...

"You could ask ten people to tell you about me and every one would have something different to say, and they'd all be wrong. Ask me ten different times on different days and you'd get ten different answers."

Would you also be wrong? (The preceding was an attempt at humor, by the way.) I think it possible that I understand you better than I understand most of my bloggie friends, and I don't think that I have many, if any, bloggie friends who care as much about me as you do.

"I have no problem explaining me to myself. I'm not a complicated guy."

I don't know what you mean. Do you mean to say that you either lack--or can easily resolve--inner conflict, that you find little if anything about yourself torturous, that you appear to yourself as a seamless whole, that decisions, emotions, regrets, etc. rarely if ever keep you awake nights? You've thrown at me a possibility that I hadn't considered.

"I know I don't make decisions by default"

How would you know? For example, I think it possible, if not likely, that 2/3s of Eugene adults under 35 now have tattoos. I take this to mean that they are almost surely imitating their friends, but if they were asked, I would expect them to say that their tattoos are expressions of their individuality. So is it ever with the young, but how much different is it for the not-so-young? I know I don't think of myself as a follower, but at the same time, I recognize the possibility that I might be just that in ways that I'm unaware of, so I'm wondering how you can be so confident.

"'It's enough of a challenge to explain me to myself...And even more of a challenge to get the same answer on consecutive days."

I undersand your point, but will just clarify that in writing about myself, I was thinking of conflicts that go on for years if not decades. For instance, why am I so tortured about religion; why can't I either shit or get off the pot in relation to seeking publication; why can't I find peace in my relationship with Peggy about behaviors that have plagued us for many years. As for the day to day issues, I'm actually unaware that I experience much of what you're talking about. It's rather what I might call the unresolved themes of my life.

Paula Kaye said...

I have a lot of trouble, too, explaining me to others. But to myself I just lie. And I always believe myself. You always give me lots to think about

mohave rat said...

good post Snowbush. I strive to reveal my existence over my essence in my writing. I want people to see me, not me doing an impression of myself? Being genuine is a battle worth fighting!

All Consuming said...

I can relate to Pascal's quote there, but any conflict I ever have does not last long. I like to think logic always prevails but I know that's not true. I do believe my decisions are the right ones ultimately and base this entirely on my past history and people's reactions to them. In other words I'm great and right all the time pretty much. I do consider myself very lucky not living with inner turmoil all my life. I don't know if I care about you as much as Little Lotta, but I think it's a close one.

lotta joy said...

I don't think I've ever received a more wonderful compliment or one so well appreciated. I DO care for you, about you, and believe it is mutual. We work well together.

Snowbrush said...

"You always give me lots to think about."

Thank you. I'm so glad to see you "out and about" as it were. I didn't expect it so soon after your loss.

"I want people to see me, not me doing an impression of myself?"

I try to be honest about my opinion of myself but not so much about my opinion of others because I don't see telling someone else what I think of him or her as an instance of me being genuine.

"I like to think logic always prevails but I know that's not true."

At what point does logic become an idol? I sometimes wonder this about atheists who attempt to submit other people's thoughts and actions to a logic test just as rigidly as some believers submit them to a dogma test. When Pascal wrote: “The heart has reasons which reason does not know," I think he could have more accurately said "cannot know" rather than "does not know."

"I don't know if I care about you as much as Little Lotta, but I think it's a close one."

I don't know either, but I wouldn't doubt but what you do.

Strayer said...

I talk to my cats extensively, defining and defending and explaining my behaviors and motivations and beliefs or lack of. Until Deaf Miss Daisy whacks me across the face and others exhibit irritation consistent with boredom over my failure to crack a can of wet food or pull out the laser pointer.

In exasperation I conjure up images of the ants, praying harder to their own saviors, as I march out mornings, with the teapot of boiling water.

When I think of cats, I think of you Snow, because of your refusal to abide by the rules of thought, convention, government or even your neighbors.

Linda said...

Acculturation is why there are so many Baptists in the South...lol. There are forces that are all but irresistible in our lives. Likewise, assimilation makes us who we are for better or for worse.

Linda said...

Cannot vs Won't/don't

http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/cant-vs-wont-a-deliberately-controversial-post/

This is the second of two parts.

The post was humorous. I was smiling. However, there is so much truth to what you say.

rhymeswithplague said...

Everyone is a bundle of contradictions. I like to say that I don't live my life by majority opinion, but some days I'm sure I do. I also like to say that when the whole world is advocating A, I try to consider the merits of B. This is more or less a constant approach with me.

We are more alike than different, and also more different than alike. I have no idea what I'm saying; it's too early in the morning.

It's a wonder that any of us can get along with others at all.

Helen said...

SO .. we're down to the nitty-gritty. Who loves Snow more? A serious contender, I throw my hat in the ring. (I don't like it when I'm faced with explaining myself to myself .. a bit of short term depression usually follows, followed by the I'm gonna change mantra, followed by I'm OK - you're OK.) ~ and life goes on.

Helen said...

... please don't think me glib about so serious a topic.

Linda said...

Undoubtedly, I love him more than all of you put together.

PhilipH said...

Perhaps we are all schizophrenics?

Dunno really; I'm in two minds about it.

possum said...

“Existentialists believe that we will be held completely responsible for the consequences of our decisions, but that we have no means of predicting whether our decisions are right or wrong.”
Buddhism suggests that we will be held responsible for the consequences of our intentions… our Karma is determined by our actions based on our true motivation for those actions. As long as we live wishing to do no harm, we should be all right. Sounds easy, but I promise I will kill a mosquito or a tick if given the opportunity. But understanding what my motivations are when dealing with humans is not always as easy. How often do we just react based on the programming done to us as children either by our parents or (shudder) the church, temple, mosque in which we were raised. “Onward Christian soldiers” and all that hateful rubbish… and the programming many of us received that those who did not look like or worship like us were less than human and like the mosquito I swatted this morning are not worth having around.
Nuts… there goes my serenity for today!

Helen said...

We need a "like" button for comments!!

ellen abbott said...

I make my decisions based on what I think is right, what I think is important, and what I want or don't want to the best of my ability with the information I have at the time. we age and grow and so those parameters are fluid. And then I must learn to live with the fallout of the decisions I have made.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

"It's enough of a challenge to explain me to myself."

I have the same issue!

The Blog Fodder said...

Decisions by default. I love it. Explains a great deal of my life.