Discover more from Stoic Observations
Unbelonging, Indifference & The Apocalypse
Illusions of brotherhood and a path towards equanimity.
Author’s note: This is an updated essay from 2012. A few things have been edited for clarity. The quote from Bloom is new for the sake of completeness of context. I need to reference it for a future work. It needs to be here.
What I have dealt with, as a subconscious theme of most of my writing, is whether or not we belong and how we should. You can see that this implies that I've always believed that we do belong and that we should in a particular way. Now I'm not so sure.
For most of my youth I took a certain generational imperative for granted. In a certain way, I was correct to do so. But since most of that has been accomplished, it leaves me with a sense of apartness, which is something different from alienation in that it is not a gap that can't be bridged, but one that bespeaks a non-trivial, respectful distance. Oh, I see you way over there.
The Illusion of Brotherhood
There is no single way to read well, though there is a prime reason why we should read. Information is endlessly available to us; where shall wisdom be found? If you are fortunate, you encounter a particular teacher who can help, yet finally you are alone, going on without further mediation. Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you, because it is, at least in my experience, the most healing of pleasures. It returns you to otherness, whether in yourself or in friends, or in those who may become friends. Imaginative literature is otherness, and as such alleviates loneliness. We read not only because we cannot know enough people, but because friendship is so vulnerable, so likely to diminish or disappear, overcome by space, time, imperfect sympathies, and all the sorrows of familial and passional life.
— Harold Bloom: How to Read and Why - 2000
Perhaps I am mistaken to take the cue from Harold Bloom, but the fact that he speaks of an absolute limit in getting to know others relieves me of a great insecurity in as much as I have always felt both a need to explain myself and a frustration with the overwhelming majority who still don't get it. In a way, it puts me back to what I rather obsessed over in my late 20s, the marvel that people understand each other at all. Now I accept that we don't, instead we mob up over common inside jokes. We sing the lyrics to a familiar song and we feel as though we are in communion, but we are not, we merely are similarly focused for the moment. And as I think of it, games are the same way, the point guard knows when to slow down on the fast break and knows when the forward will pass him and on what side, the no look pass is getting to know better but it is still connaitre not savoir.
So we don't actually belong. We create the illusion of cultural imagery and attempt to share it in defiance of misinterpretation. But in our dreams, we only dream of our true intimates. We only dream of our childhood homes. Every other dream is a kind of Fauvist wackyland of monsters and lovers you never actually meet. Well, for me anyway.
I am taking it that Victorian manners and the excruciating tedium of the unambitious pace of a sclerotic aristocracy enforce the closest approximation of intimate cultures within society. Anti-liberty creates the bondage of intimacy. I feel that in Dickens as I felt it in Breaking Bad; this sense that literature creates the sort of symbiosis that I do not possess in life. In addition to reading literature, I also spend many hours in the virtual dramascapes created by videogame authors. There too I have learned wisdom.
The Power of Indifference
As I approached the highest levels in Kingdoms of Amalur, resolving the ultimate faction quest of the sages, I battled the Archsage's mental demons one of which was Ambition and the other Indifference. Having won, I got to choose which of these mental demons would serve at my behest. I chose Indifference as a power.
Indifference is the power of equanimity.
I know it contradicts Ayn Rand, but perhaps now is the time to consider disinterest. For years since my 40s I have been waiting for all the kids to eat first and being a river to my people with the pride of earning and giving away. But now it all starts to feel more and more like Indifference because it surely is not Ambition. Ambition is a tool to make one's river wide and deep. Indifference serves wisdom best. It makes one confident in judgment. The Judge may be equitably critical, but need not belong.
Indifference is the mark of the Logarithmic Shadow. It is the virtue of the broad minded. It is the acceptance of the alternate paths. It is the recognition that people adapt and little is predictable. It makes the honesty of the well-wisher that much more powerful. It is a robust acceptance of the broad variety of human experience possible. In fact Indifference is anti-fragile to actual and profound difference. It nullifies the ambition inherent in the politics of difference. Because it never seeks to flatten, it allows that which is personal prejudice and bias to be transparent.
The Judge will not belong, yet the Judge approaches savoir.
Two Films. Two Flavors.
The Cabin in the Woods, is the bloody explication, by the way. The Book of Eli is the dénouement. The Cabin in the Woods throws innocence in a calculated way into the lava pit of self-destruction for the purpose of satiating that which would destroy the world. The innocents, not knowing the world worth saving, have to go and just let it die. (awww Foo Fighters). That's a kind of naive indifference bordering on apathy. But it is righteous in whatever way youth is - the destruction of youth is as evil as any.
In this manner the youth represent the indifference of naïveté. Infants and young children possess this indifference, and it is their power to tell the indifferent truth without fear of favor. Then soon they learn to lie for all of society’s reasons and the power of their indifference fades over time. Yet there is more in the universe than our social philosophies have dreamt, thus the supernatural evil of Cabin in the Woods brings its youth abruptly into wisdom.
On the other end of the spectrum of world-weariness, The Book of Eli shows indifference to the pain which must be born and dealt with when liberation of enduring truth is at hand. The Walker is indifferent to individual suffering and does not belong because he bears the burden of lifting the survivalist intimate bondage. People have been reduced to animals and they know each other's stink all too well. There is no disinterest in the post-apocalyptic world, everything is too claustrophobic. Everything and everyone has become deadly. To have a mission of truth requires the impartiality of indifference. When survival hangs by a thread, there is no charitable seduction of the marginal gift. There is only life and death and a very narrow margin between them. Indifference may be the only empathy when life is narrowed to a zero-sum affair.
The truth doesn’t set you free. It burdens you with its implications.