Delight Springs

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Freedom of the universe

Russell's chapters on boredom, fatigue, and envy are full of insight, once you get past his annoying repeated references to the generic "man" whose happiness is at issue, past his unwitting sexism, and past the revealing class attitudes that reflect an enlightened patrician's self-congratulatory patronage.  
He follows up on "parental feeling" in chapter 5: one of the sources of envy, which sabotages happiness, is "to have parents without much parental feeling... Some kinds of happiness are everyone's natural birthright, and to be deprived of them is almost inevitably to become warped and embittered." No doubt. People without an almost organic urge to nurture and guide the next generation really ought not to do it, the potential harm is practically limitless.

He has interesting things to say about the "separation from the life of Earth" of most everyone living the urban life, and of most children. The thesis of Richard Louv's "Last Child in the Woods" was already on Russell's mind, eight decades ago.

"A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live." Speaking for myself, it certainly must be quiet at dawn. And did you see Colbert last night, sticking his head out the window in mid-day Manhattan, going mildly insane from the noise?

"Most moderns lead a nerve-racking life, and are continually too tired to be capable of enjoyment without the help of alcohol." Maybe that's why so many were and still are always losing sleep, suffering "midnight madness" and "worrying topics at times when no action can be taken."

Russell sounds Jamesian, explaining how he conquered stagefright. He realized, finally, "it did not matter whether I spoke well or ill, the universe would remain much the same in either case. I found that the less I cared whether I spoke well or badly, the less badly I spoke... Our doings are not so important as we naturally suppose; our successes and failures do not after all matter very much... One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important." An important reminder for everyone, but especially so for scholars. We need not to take ourselves quite so seriously, "settling the universe's hash" as James joked. Joke's on us, if we really think we can do that. We must instead "enlarge [our] heart, learn to transcend self, and in so doing acquire the freedom of the Universe." 

5:30/6:22, 61/62

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