Tuesday, February 6, 2024

cell913blog.com #21

The very desire to be certain, to be secure is the beginning of bondage. It’s only when the mind is not caught in the net of certainty, and is not seeking certainty, that it is in a state of discovery. (Jiddu Krishnamurti)

The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers. …Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.(Erich Fromm)

For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but th4e sight of the stars makes me dream. (Vincent Van Gogh)

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. (Vaclav Havel)

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. (Voltaire)

The only certainty is that nothing is certain. (Pliny the Elder)

I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth and truth rewarded me. (Simone de Beauvoir)

The language of judicial decision is mainly the language of logic. And the logical method and form flatter that

 longing for certainty and for repose which is in every human mind. But certainty generally is illusion, and repose is not the destiny of man. (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.)

If I am a fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self-approved wisdom. (Lord Byron)

The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built of sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead. (Milan Kundera,1929-2023, Czech and French novelist, best known work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being)


Why the litany of quotes embracing the tension between creativity and tolerance on the one hand and certainty on the other?

We are listening, daily if not hourly, to and reading about the clash, not merely of ideologies, belief systems, moralities, facts v opinions, and the competing interests of advocates/enemies/nations/religions/and “isms” like globalism v nationalism, autocracy v democracy. Almost all of the verbiage in each of these combats has a kind of certainty, absolute-ness, conviction and rigidity that not merely disavows other views, but seems determined to obliterate/deny/explode/destroy those ‘other’ views, and along with that, obliterate those who espouse ‘other’ views. I recently heard one professional deeply immersed in the ‘probabilities’ of the future opine that, ‘the next fifty years could bring about circumstances the world has never faced.’ Underlying the words and unmistakably weighing not only on the speaker, but also on those in proximity, was the general fear and anxiety of uncertainty, apprehension, disorientation and in some cases, hopelessness.

In previous pieces in this space, we have glimpsed at the ‘certainty’ of the evangelical, fundamentalist religious movement (Dominionism, as noted by Chris Hedges) and the inference of fascism whose spectre is raising both angst and protests in many quarters. And while no dictum or epithet, or dogma, or even perceptual lens offers the whole truth to any situation or circumstance, there can be little doubt to the notion that, if we are to ‘start’ in any exploration of an idea, or an introduction to a person, or an investigation of a group or activity, from the point of ‘exclusion’ or absolute embrace, in certainty, we will have either avoided any encounter, or sabotaged any integration. The former amounts to denial, the latter to unbridled exuberance and naivety.

There is a veneer, albeit very thin, even analogous to the mascara of the mask, of confidence, that accompanies perceptions that we consider ‘certain’ and indisputable and demonstrably absolute. Such a perception and the opinion that the perception births, is so prevalent among the political class, as if to shout from the largest and most powerful megaphone, that, only in and through their conviction of certainties, can and will they ‘attract’ and secure votes (and voters, and dollars, and volunteers and victory) in the next election campaign. Corporate advertising, too, is replete with certainties of ‘friends and fun’ from the alcohol corporates, ‘pure skin without wrinkles’ from the cosmetic industry, ‘relaxation and restoration’ from the travel sector, and ‘economy and safety’ from some segments of the auto industry, and of course, ‘relaxation and calmness’ from the ‘weed’ sector. Religions, too, have their own corner on promises of ‘an afterlife in heaven’ for ‘converts’ and ‘doing God’s will in ‘pro-life’ campaigns, and ‘forgiveness’ from evil, for those fully engaged in confession and absolution.

Authority systems, by definition, generate words, policies, practices, enforcements and compliance with ‘certainty’ of at least the ‘administration’ of the ‘laws’ they are charged with enforcing. As one former lawyer put it within hearing range, ‘We have a legal system, but not a justice system’ (if you want justice, turn to a juror or jurors)’…..and such a perception, based on the fullness of life experience, has the capacity to warn, and to moderate any pre-conceived notions of justice and law being identifiable and/or equal.

It is not only in the immediate, literal sense that certainty is a block on creativity, tolerance, and transformation in a personal sense. It is also arguably a deeply embedded, and haunting ghost of what many call the patriarchy….this notion of the power of the alpha male, and the authority that is both emitted from such ‘certainty’ but also the charisma and adulation such certainty attracts and even seduces. We can be relatively ‘certain’ that today, February 6, 2024, is Tuesday on most calendars in the West. However, we cannot be certain that our world will accept and act upon the glaring challenges of climate change and global warming, military conflict and authoritarianism. Nor can we be certain that, from that single encounter with another human being that prompted some ill-ease in us is altogether the ‘responsibility’ and ‘result’ of that other person. What did we contribute to that ‘feeling’ of unease? Who is that person, as a surrogate for someone else in my past life? What is the aspect of that other person that seems to find an ‘itch’ in me that I can never seem to be able to cease or avoid scratching? What is it about that voice, that facial expression, that body posture that evokes images in my mind that seem to somehow take me back to somewhere else, long ago forgotten, or even never even experienced, in a documented, literal, empirical sense?

Most of us likely feel certain that we identify with the assessment of the currently proposed immigration-Ukraine-Israel-border-protection bill that is about to be aborted by the House of Representatives on the Republican side who cower in the face of the trump vengeance. There is a kind of consensus, among many in the middle of the political spectrum, that Ukraine must not fall to Putin, that Gaza must not fall to Netanyahu or Hamas, that Taiwan will not fall to Bejing, and that temperatures globally will not rise above 1.5 or at worst 2 degrees centigrade. Those ‘certainties,’ however, are more preferences, hopefuls, wish-fulfillments, and not necessarily either scientifically supported or supportable. Images of conventional ‘visions’ of a ‘better world’ inhabit those recesses of our imagination, as do those images of what the world might become if our ‘visions’ of hope and clean air, water, and land are thwarted. And we all “know” if that were to happen, ‘who’ those who oppose our ‘vision’ are: the fossil fuel companies, the right-wing political class, the authoritarian wannabe’s, and those who actually believe that global warming and climate change are a hoax, or a figment of some scientists’ imagination.

“China flu” was a vicious epithet hurled by the former president at COVID-19, when he irresponsibly recommended dangerous chemical treatments while stone-walling on ramping up procurement of medical equipment like ventilators, masks, and social-distancing guidelines. And, we are still, years later, waiting for a complete accounting of the ‘source’ of that pandemic. Likely our wait will become almost interminable, in that disclosure of the relevant facts will also be so countered as ‘lies’ fabrications, distortions and international interferences. Even those last two sentences are little more than ‘perceptions,’ ‘views,’ and tentative observations based on what we heard, read, consumed and shared during and following that horrible health scourge.

We each ‘inhabit’ both a space in our offices, cars, kitchens, gyms, arenas, sanctuaries and forests and beaches and coffee-shoppes, in a physical sense, primarily exercising some function as worker, driver, cook, diner, body-conditioner, team player, worshipper, wanderer, swimmer….continuously engaged in some kind of ‘activity’. At the same time, we also inhabit another space, within our mind/imagination/memory/nervous system, in which space considerable ‘activity’ of a different sort is continuously moving. Images, as in a film or dream, are peeking, hovering, haunting, elevating, depressing, setting, releasing, exacerbating, exciting, worrying and even ‘painting’ their colours on the screens of our psyches. A social creatures, we have language and permission to use that language to detail some of those activities we share with others, or even those aspects of our ‘private moments’ that we feel safe and comfortable to share with those we ‘trust’….another of those ‘variables’ that, like most ‘abstractions’ we act as if we ‘know’ whom to trust, so that we can and do build walk-ways, connections, ‘friends’ and colleagues.

And, aligning with trust is our ever-present ‘scepticism’ or doubt, both about our capacity to trust, and the ‘other’s’ capacity and willingness to reciprocate our trust. Trust/scepticism, two-headed eyes, ears, mind and body of our complex humanness….and even those ‘names’ are themselves surrogates for similar notions like safety and fear. And, although we all act and react to those ‘inner’ messages, almost every moment, with some degree of ‘certainty’ and ‘doubt,’ we would prefer our world to be generally safe, receptive, welcoming, affirming, and supporting and sustaining….as, in our own imagination, we would also prefer to offer the same ‘quality’ and certainty of experiences to those we encounter.

Truth, nevertheless, has a way of paying little or no attention to our preferences…and often, as one man put it, “I got a slap on the side of my head, from someone, that I only realized I needed, long after the relationship had ended! At the time, I was thoroughly pissed! The certainty of the moment, after reflection and distance, and the hurt had dissipated, gave way to a very different ‘truth’ and reality.

So, not only are we experiencing both an inner and an outer (intrinsic and extrinsic) combinations of experiences, in all of our senses, emotions, imaginings, perceptions and beliefs and attitudes, we are also part of an ever-flowing river of a family, a workplace, a town or village or city and country…all of in a period of time…that is, itself, never static.

Still photographs, on the other hand, put a ‘stop’ to that confluence of images in a deliberate and often highly creative composition of a nano-second of time and space, both of which, themselves do not exist except as ‘notions’ or ‘ideas’ or ‘abstractions’ to which we pay considerable attention as if they really were ‘literally empirically and tangibly ‘real.’

Our Western thought foundations, as we are increasingly aware, emerged from mostly male minds, through the experiences of mostly male actors, soldiers, lovers, writers, theologians, scholars and inventors and engineers. This is a perception that is, for some, more than a little frustrating if not actually angering. For them, mostly men, to have to bear the responsibility today for those thousands of years of attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and theories, as if they were all conceived and delivered as a way to ‘oppress and abuse’ others, seems a little unbalanced. Nevertheless, we live with the remains of centuries of male dominance, no matter how we ‘see’ that dominance. And it is not only women who have endured that dominance; men to have been the perpetrators of dominance over other men, as a ‘way’ of being and of inscribing our laws, our ethics, our faiths, our cultures and our medical health establishment.

Science, the physical world, interpreted and studied and curated from a literal, empirical, nominal perspective, is a dominant legacy of conventional Western life. Not that this approach is totally flawed and totally unworthy of support and study. However, the ‘right brain’ activity, the imagination and the longer-term view, that seeks relationships, connecting the dots, and is far less dependent on competition as a modus operandi, has experienced a decline in social acknowledgment as well as in the professions, and especially in the institutional planning and building enterprises.

Scenarios in which fathers are house-husbands, single parents, co-equals with their wives in all aspects of parenting, domestic activities, and extending into the expression of a highly taut imagination are no longer rare or strange. Indeed, each of us, we are learning and accepting, has elements of both genders within our psyche…and while that piece of ‘information’ may seem counter-intuitive to many, its gift awaits its discovery by each of us.

And, fortunately, that notion of androgyny, a gift from Jung and his disciples, is another of those ‘images’ that, if acknowledged and accepted and embraced, can and will only ‘free’ both men and women from any intransigent determination to compete with the opposite gender. And even that last sentence, itself, is a proposition, a proposal, a vision of a different kind of relationship between men and women, in a culture and time when such issues have found a prominent place in public discourse and thought.

It is admirable to consider an individualistic tolerance and appreciation of every person’s right to embrace a faith both in content and in process, unique to each. It is even more honourable to support and sustain the commitment to live and to work and to worship in such an ethos of love and tolerance. And, the model of that unique, individual path to spiritual fulfilment, tolerated and embraced and sustained by others, is a beacon a kind of ‘light-house’ blinking in the dark of the cloudy, stormy, threatening and endangering kind of ‘existential’ night many of us seem to envision and even to fear that our ‘ship is already rolling, pitching and yawing, surging and heaving in turbulent waters. And that light of stepping back from our ‘certainties’ and our intransigent convictions and dogmas, is fragile, flickering, running out of fuel and needing tender care and protection.

In his recent “On Being conversation’ with Krista Tippett. David Whyte reads his meditation on vulnerability:

Vulnerability if not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity. To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is a lovely illusionary privilege the prime and most beautifully constructed conceit of being human and especially of being youthfully human, but it is a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given us, as we approach our last breath. The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never walking fully through the door. (from themarginalian.org) 


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