Archive for November 28th, 2017

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November 28, 2017

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Blindness

November 28, 2017

Foggy morning. Visibility is limited. But that’s always so, until we notice and correct for our condition.

William James said “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings,” which we’re looking at in Happiness, was one of his own most important and gratifying essays. It calls out our self-inflicted and obtuse “ancestral blindness” in failing to grasp or even acknowledge the interior lives of others. It celebrates the often-inexpressible delight of being human and having a human interior. It pleads for mutual respect and toleration, in recognizing that each of us possesses a singular station and perspective. It says my pursuit of happiness must empathize with yours, or else it becomes as egoistic and dumb as it is blind.

It anticipates Carl Sagan’s cosmic wonder at our uniqueness. “Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”

It shares Richard Dawkins’s deep biologically-informed gratitude for life. “The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia.” We’re so lucky to have the opportunity to open our eyes on this sumptuous planet, so tragically short-sighted not to.

It celebrates the self, every self, all selves,

celebratory of the self as a locus of intrinsically valuable experiences… he appreciates the marvelous diversity of ways in which human beings find the world interesting and important, ways that “make life worth living.” The fact that one person’s very reason for being leaves another cold and uninterested is at the heart of what he considers the enduring mystery of happiness and is part of the larger mystery of life. William James’s “Springs of Delight”

It concludes with a stern “Hands off” warning: “neither the whole of truth, nor the whole of
good, is revealed to any single observer, although each observer
gains a partial superiority of insight from the peculiar position
in which he stands.”

Failure to respect a multiplicity of
interpretive insights would be an instance of the deplorable but
natural “blindness” by which we so frequently misconstrue one
another. James did advance a striking vision; but one great fact
about him, and the most arresting thing about it, is that his
vision (like Emerson’s “thousand-eyed present”) defies every conceivable attempt to
reduce it to a single point of view, including his own. It is “self-reliant” only to a point. I read it as an ultimately optimistic vision. We’re blind, but we can (if we will) see that we are, and therein lies our hope.

“Take our dogs and ourselves, connected as we are by a tie more intimate than most ties in this world…” This passage resonates more for me today than it might, having just said a sorrowful farewell to our constant canine companion of the past dozen years. How often old Angel sat at my feet, doubtless rehearsing (in her way) something like James’s fox-terrier’s lament:  “To sit there like a senseless statue, when you might be taking [her] to walk and throwing sticks for [her] to catch! What queer disease is this that comes over you every day, of holding things and staring at them like that for hours together, paralyzed of motion and vacant of all conscious life?” Sorry, old girl. You tolerated so much, asked for so little, provided so much joy.

Joy’s the word, as Stevenson said, “the personal poetry, the enchanted atmosphere, that rainbow work of fancy” we miss if we objectify and neutralize things by reducing them to their surface externality. Our springs of delight lie beneath the surface, our inner lives are out of sight. We’re each tasked to “find out where the joy resides” and honor it. In the case of departed friends, it resides in pleasant precious memory. Pixar’s Coco gets it right: remember.

11.3.15. 6 am/6:13, 59/75
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