Here's an antidote to radical pessimism: reaffirmation of the will, as articulated by Robert Richardson in his 2010 talk at the William James Society's gathering in Chocorua, New Hampshire.
"Will You or Won't You Have It So?" is our "most probing question," James said. "We answer by consents or non-consents and not by words." Consent isn't just talk, it's volitional action drawn by the vision of something better than the status quo, by refusal to surrender to fate. Richardson finds great inspiration in James's imploring challenge to teachers, as urgent now as ever:
Spinoza long ago wrote in his Ethics that anything that a man can avoid under the notion that it is bad he may also avoid under the notion that something else is good. He who habitually acts sub specie mali, under the negative notion, the notion of the bad, is called a slave by Spinoza. To him who acts habitually under the notion of good he gives the name of freeman. See to it now, I beg you, that you make freemen of your pupils by habituating them to act, whenever possible, under the notion of a good. Get them habitually to tell the truth, not so much through showing them the wickedness of lying as by arousing their enthusiasm for honor and veracity. Wean them from their native cruelty by imparting to them some of your own positive sympathy with an animal's inner springs of joy. And, in the lessons which you may be legally obliged to conduct upon the bad effects of alcohol, lay less stress than the books do on the drunkard's stomach, kidneys, nerves, and social miseries, and more on the blessings of having an organism kept in lifelong possession of its full youthful elasticity by a sweet, sound blood, to which stimulants and narcotics are unknown, and to which the morning sun and air and dew will daily come as sufficiently powerful intoxicants.And then, to illustrate, Richardson tosses off an allusion to Emily Dickinson that speaks directly to the peripatetic soul. The aspect of good that draws us walkers and cyclers out into the open and rejuvenating air of morning, day after day, is an intoxicant without painful residue. It leaves us better than we were, un-hungover, moving forward. An "inebriate of air" is positively addicted, happily dependent, and free. There's nothing wrong with leaning on the sun.
I taste a liquor never brewed –Related posts. Chocorua... Stonewall... More footsteps... 95 Irving St... A pleasing confidence... R.I.P. WJ... last stand... flickers & twinkles... in transition... James bio 8... WJ 8.1... John Kaag, The philosopher and the thief (Harper's)... Summers and semesters (Harvard Magazine)
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol! Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro’ endless summer days –
From inns of molten Blue – When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door –
When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” –
I shall but drink the more! Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –
And Saints – to windows run –
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the – Sun!
Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886