2012-04-30T23:05:56+01:00

The way we are

My notes from book The Way We Are by Allen Wheelis

  • p13 Where are you, friend to whom I could tell the truth without plunging you into despair?
  • p16 Because, in the evolution from animal life to human life, along with the gain in knowledge and awareness, we have gained also the ability to deceive ourselves. We arrange not to know our nature, not to see what we are up to. Our self-deceptions are so dense, piled on so thick, like layers of paint on a canvas already painted, laid on from school and pulpit and lectures and TV and Internet, that it is all but impossible to break through, to get a clear view of what we really are.
  • p16 We are in fact largely the opposite of what we think we are.
  • p17 To be human is to be false.
  • p23 We kill to take the female or the territory of a rival. A rival is one who has a female or a territory we desire.
  • p24 We are children of slime, our teeth break bone, suck marrow, we live on others; we devour their lives without ever seeing their faces. The magic of money and commerce keeps them far away, their screams unheard.
  • p24 Leather shoes and belt, mink coat, alligator handbag, gloves of calf, lizard watchbands, peacock feathers - how we deck ourselves in the skins and scraps - yet never strike a blow, never cut a throat. We push away our own destructiveness, make it alien, become finally unaware, see only the destructiveness of others.
  • p31 In animals, fear is episodic; in humans, because of their enlarged consciousness, fear is constant. Even in our pleasures, our triumphs, fear is a lurking presence. We are never safe. We live in vivid awareness of dangers not present but remembered or anticipated - drought and famine and predators, pain and pestilence and war. And something new; the awareness that we will die.
  • p34 It is the morality of individuals that makes possible the orderly life of aggregates.
  • p34 And the savagery that these collectives, these super-beasts in their super-jungle, are able to inflict on each other and on their moral constituents is so much more destructive than anything that could be done by individuals.
  • p38 As a viable social arrangement, anarchy is but a dream of the disaffected.
  • p38 All groups make rules that limit individual behavior. These limitations are deemed necessary by the group to secure its survival. That survival then depends on the ability od the group to enforce its rules. So begins morality.
  • p39 The rules that determine right and wrong, therefore, are made, not by the most inclusive group, nor by the wisest, nor by the one best qualified to judge such matters, but by the strongest. The rules that shape our lives defend the interests of the holders of power. In matters of conscience, warriors instruct priests. The draft resister claims a higher authority, but the state sends him to jail.
  • p41 Animals live within the limits of their lives as biologically given, within circumstances that are environmentally given. There is no separation of self from environment, therefore no sense of self. There is no knowledge of death, no watching of one's actual condition, hence no need to transcend that condition. Needs are immediate; when they are met the animal is content. There are no transcendent needs.
  • p42 What Christianity does for the true believer is given him strength to bear it. Redeems it. That's the word! The scheme of things redeems the way things are.
  • p43 Man searches for a scheme of things larger than his own life, with greater authority, to which he may belong. The hunger from which this search issues is profound and inalienable. If he can find such a scheme and make his life "mean" something in it, that is, contribute to it, makes a difference, he will have ferried something of his mortal self across the gulf of death to become a part of something that will live on. The doomed life must leave a residue of value. The carrier and guarantor of this value is a man-made scheme of things perceived as reality and presumed to be eternal.
  • p46 The rain swirls and beats. Lightning reveals a familiar schoolyard in a ghostly light. I feel a sudden poignancy. Images strikes my mind. The wind is the scream of a lost spirit, searching the earth and finding no good, recalling old bereavements, lashing the land with tears. Consciousness leaves my body, moves out in time and space. I undergo an expanding awareness of self, of separateness, of time flowing through me, bearing me on, knowing I have a chance, the one chance all of us have, the chance of a life, knowing a time will come when nothing lies ahead and everything lies behind, and hoping I can then look back and feel it well spent. How, in the light of fixed stars, should one live? So begins the hunger for meaning.
  • p47 Did Christ invented Christianity? I think not. He created disorder, led a rabble, was an irritant to existing schemes of things. The scheme of things which is Christianity, of which his teaching are the nucleus, was the creation of many people over a span much longer than his life. Indeed, by the time it could have been called Christianity it had taken on a character he would have repudiated.
  • p48 Should ever any scheme of things acquire absolute authority it would exclude from awareness anything beyond its limits. Nothing then could contend with it and no change could occur. It and the society it organized would be static and immortal. Each individual by allegiance to that scheme would share in that immortality. The dread of death would be overcome.
  • p48 We seek the larges possible scheme, not in a hunger for truth, but in a hunger for meaning. The more comprehensive the scheme, the greater its promise of banishing dread. If we can make our lives mean something in a cosmic scheme we will live in the certainty of immortality. The very great success of Christianity for a thousand years follows upon its having been of universal scope, including and accounting for everything, assigning to all things a proper place; offering to every man, whether prince or beggar, savant or fool, the privilege of working in the Lord's vineyard; and upon its being accepted as true throughout the Western world.
  • p49 When the ruling scheme of things comes to seem untrue or unimportant, one's efforts within it become meaningless. One's whole life becomes meaningless. The Heavenly City falls into ruins. The avenue to immortality ends on an abyss. One is cast back on his individual life, stares ahead through a transparence of days to death, which stands at the end.
  • p49 Life then is borne forward on waves of cynicism and despair. One seeks distraction, death-defying games perhaps which invoke the specter from which one flinches. By surviving the heightened risk one may achieve briefly the illusion of mastery. ... Sometimes the distraction is less desperate and may contain creative possibilities. What began as a distraction from the loss of meaning and the dread of death may come itself to have meaning and to protect against dread.
  • p53 The will to power is that quality of a living thing that leads it to grab hold of its environment, to take in what nourishes it, as much as it can, to shoulder aside whoever is interested in the same thing, to trample whatever stands in its way, to grow, to become bug and strong, and to multiply. There is no moderation; nothing is too much. The aim of the maggot is to make more maggots, to transform the entire universe into maggots. The drive is blind, knows no internal limit, will continue until stopped.
  • p55 To gain power is to gain respect; it is also - equally, inevitably - to be hated. He who is afraid to be hated is handicapped in his pursuit of power, for with each gain in power will come an increase in hatred. The greater the fear of this hatred, the greater the obstacle to the pursuit of power. One continues on a course of increasing power until fear calls a halt.
  • p61 The members of the group have become moral, they live within limits, while for the group itself there is no good and no evil.
  • p61 Morality is conservative, aims to preserve what is valuable in life. Meaning, therefore, must be antecedent to morality. For meaning establishes value. If life is without meaning, there is nothing worth preserving: All is equal, anything goes.
  • p61 What binds us together in a community is shared beliefs. Vital yet unnoticed, like the air we breathe, they constitute the meaning of life, tell us how to interpret our experience, determine what we experience. With them we grasp the world, make sense of what happens to us, find our place, arrange our lives into known patterns. We feel at home; we know how to live. They constitute our scheme of things.
  • p62 But something is left over. Something of bereavement or pain or mystery is unaccounted for, experience of which we cannot make sense, with which we cannot come to terms. This is the margin of terror. If we are loyal to the received wisdom, we look away, pretend it does not exist, is of no importance, a deviation, a neurosis perhaps; experience is falsified, but the scheme of things is not impugned. The received wisdom spreads its sheltering umbrellas. If one is loyal to deviant experience, to the pain and the mystery, one is apostate to the common faith and hence estranged from those who live by it, which is pretty much everybody. One finds oneself alone in a desert where one's specialness is scant comfort.
  • p63 Our holiest fictions designate what is right and what is wrong, constitute a scheme of things that redeems the way things are. The way things are is the will to power of groups. The scheme of things conceals the way of power behind a lofty and glittering facade. The whole system hangs on the efficacy of images and words, the keeping of promises, the observance of convention.
  • p64 Parts serve the whole. The organism grows larger and more powerful by virtue of finding better and better ways to exploit its constituents. Slaves may be made to man the oars and drive the galley, but it requires the constant attention of a slave master cracking the whip. But if the slaves can be converted to a faith in the ship and its mission, then no slave master will be needed - he will now be free to help with the cannon - while the ship slices forward ever faster, with power, more dangerous to its enemies.
  • p64 There is no alternative to power, no other position - not Christianity nor the Golden Rule nor brotherly love nor nonviolence; not self-sacrifice not the turning of the other cheek. For all these various abnegations of power by parts of a whole are, unwittingly, in the service of increased power to the whole; and the morality created by such renunciations is used by the aggregate to increase the power with which it then pursues more power.
  • p64 Good and evil come into existence as defined by power, and are shaped to protect power. They filter down from rulers, magistrates, educators, from bishops, priests, and Sunday school teachers to parents, who shape the conscience of children, imprint the limits, instill the guilt.
  • p65 The state claiming morality is like a murderer claiming innocence by pointing out that his hands and feet moved lawfully during the performance of the crime.
  • p66 But the group can never, as a group, govern itself, cannot organize and exploit its potential power. For this, leaders are required, leaders with a vision of how the group may become even more stronger. And such leaders can appear only if certain individuals within the morally organized collective are themselves immoral, break the rules in pursuit of personal power. So the greatest chance of survival falls, paradoxically, to that collective which has achieved solidarity by morality and, at the same time, contains within itself a leaven of opportunists who will exploit that morality for personal power.
  • p68 It comes about, therefore, that those individuals who are gifted and able, and who in the pursuit of power are not much burdened by loyalty to shared beliefs, who indeed are skilled at professing and representing these beliefs while at the same time violating them in pursuit of personal aggrandizement ... those people strive for and achieve leadership and come thereby to be in the position of controlling and directing the enormous power of the state.
  • p72 Most significant power now is power over people. The ability to win the respect, the belief, the support, the allegiance, the following, the obedience, of people - this is power.
  • p72 Neurotics are those who are crippled in the pursuit of power by internal constraints, impediments build into character by childhood experiences. All of us start out weak in the hands of the strong, and a parent inclined to exploit that discrepancy can teach a child that any transgression of rules will yield pain and humiliation.
  • p78 Force, like a heat-seeking missile, finds out those who lack the will to use it.
  • p79 We can stand evil and cruelty; what we cannot stand is lack of order. If the reigning scheme of things is intact, that is, believed in, and thereby endowed with authority, then we can tolerate murder and mayhem to uphold it. But if the scheme of things falls, leaving us un unlimited freedom, we churn about in chaos until rescued by some other creed that claims our allegiance, takes our freedom, and restores order.
  • p80 The greater evil is wrought by those who intend good, and are convinced they know how to bring it about; and the greater their power to bring it about, the greater the evil they achieve while trying to do it. Not content modestly to oppose evil, they in their arrogance undertake to eliminate it completely, thereby creating greater evil. The war to end all wars prepares the way for bigger wars, for destructions more vast.
  • p80 An animal lives its life according to its nature and its circumstances, and therefore is never in the position of having to conclude that it has wasted its life. But a human being, out of fear of breaking the rules, may waste his life, may observe himself being afraid to live it.
  • p81 Because we are afraid, we live in groups. Alone one is weak; in the crowd one will become strong. If the crowd grows rapidly and achieves great density, a moment of discharge will arrive, leveling hierarchies of power, making all equal; there will be no one above giving order, making us fell weak and afraid, because everything above will be destroyed; we will surge through the streets, smashing windows and doors, overturning police cars, burning palaces.
  • p83 The extent to which the individual is committed to the shared beliefs of his community measures the extent to which he has been willing to give up individual power in the interests of community. When shared beliefs are firm, the collective wields great power, its constituents correspondingly less. When shared beliefs are destroyed, the collective loses power.
  • p85 Morality is not a vision of ends, however desirable, but a system of restraints in the pursuit of any end.
  • p89 There is, therefore, a constant struggle between the individual and the state. For the state to gain power, individuals must lose power. The state would like to eat up all individual power, all independence, discretion, freedom, autonomy. The individual opposes this demand, insists that the state not take any more. In times of danger to the state, however, individuals can be persuaded to relinquish additional bits of freedom, since the security of the individual rests ultimately with the security of the state. In a crisis we vote war credits and military conscription. And the state, knowing this, is always tempted to create crises that will justify arrogating to itself additional increments of the independence of its components.
  • p101 When life has meaning, desire is held to its proper place - "proper" being the shape and scope and authority allowed to it by the interlocking structure of values that constitutes the meaning of life. When life is without meaning, desire is a wildfire out of control.
  • p102 To desire nothing is to be dead. The glory of life - and there is no other - lies in the desiring of something so much that one will do one's utmost to achieve it, spending the self, going all the way, holding nothing back.
  • p105 Desire is endless and unappeasable, is most intense where most forbidden, and is never far from despair.
  • p111 Well, then how much? What is the rule to guide us in the judicious breaking of rules? What is a wise measure of violation?
  • p113 May God have mercy on those whose fate is in my hands.
  • p116 The observance of rules, with a wise measure of slippage, coupled with the violation of rules, with an ironic measure of prudence, creates flexibility, strengthens the group, and thereby creates the possibility of nonviolent change in the social order.
  • p120 How to live? Who knows the question knows not how. Who knows not the question cannot tell.
  • p120 Those who live for themselves alone, unburdened by the needs and rights of others, observing the rules only yo the degree required to stay out of jail, always in a running skirmish with the group but never in conflict within themselves, they know how, know without ever having known the question: Fuck you, buddy! I've got mine, now you get yours.
  • p121 But the question that cannot be answered cannot, either, be shelved.
  • p128 Love and the end of love, like life and death, must be praised as one.
  • p131 Falling in love is madness. No treatment is required, indeed none is effective. It is self-limited in time, recovery is certain and spontaneous. In the aftermath, however, one may find oneself joined for life to a partner one would not in any normal state have chosen.
  • p133 Concurrently, as we grow older, we become less and less able to love others, and if we live long enough we become incapable of loving at all, out concern reaching then no further than our pains and malfunctions. Irritably away of the diminishment of love coming towards us, we tend not to notice that we, equally, are giving less to others.
  • p133 Two things I know for sure about love: no one ever gets enough, and you can't get more by asking. To the beggar for money a few real coins may fall, but the beggar for love is a fool. Into his upturned hat, along with the humiliation, will fall only scraps of guilt and duty falsely labeled as love. The only way to get more love is to give more love.

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