Friday, 22 June 2012

Akrasia and Rationality

“No one goes willingly toward the bad” ~ Socrates, in Plato’s Protagoras.

Yes they do, they do it all the time, constantly, be it through drink, drugs, cigarettes, cutting off their very noses, or even killing themselves. But there is always a good reason for it.

Akrasia means the state of not being in control of oneself, and acting against ones best interests. It encapsulates that state of mind that forces our unwilling witnesses to scratch their heads, and ask Why?

Everything in the universe is ultimately rational. The Enlightenment was correct on that score, at least. The problem is, for us, to see rationality in human-sized lumps. We cannot grasp quantum mechanics or bubble-universe theory as our broken spar in this stormy sea. No solace there, even if the indescribable scribble of numbers can adequately explain existence.

No, we need ‘truths’ to be palatable. I cannot eat an ox at one gulp. Scale is the thing. Akratic perspective: an act that seems crazy makes sense when you broaden your viewpoint. Lie on the ground in a riot, and it all seems senseless, chaotic, the feet flashing by hither and thither in a tumult of madness. Recline on a lofty peak, and see the currents of sense, flight, fight, tremulously rippling through the dynamics of that crowd.

Simplest example:

A) I smoke. It is killing me.

B) Why? That’s crazy.

A) It helps me avoid killing myself.

B) That’s even crazier!

A) Blame the history of the universe for that, my friend.

Ah, see, scale again. I could blame parents. I could blame grandparents. Great-grandparents. I could blame the Wars, both I & II and every one before. Not good enough - not personal enough.

Take a recent example. I and my lover only spend half our time together out of practical necessity due to family and geography. We cope with being apart with a variety of fictions: the need for space, freedom, emancipation from the tired old institutions tainted with gendered property-ownership etc etc ad nauseum. These are all useful lies, and sometimes half-truths too. They are actually very positive and virtuous (in a modern sense) ideals. However. We sometimes unconsciously punish each other for the fact of being apart. So natural, and so counter productive. Why?

Rationality says: because you are communicating your anguish against your better judgement. It would be better if you both were honest and clear about your emotions, but the practical nature of life means the pasteboard fictions are better, easier crutches to lean on, despite the negatives that bite your feet in the murky, turbulent waters.

It is grotty to realise that we go through life as if it is a game. We know the rules are arbitrary. We know we are strutting on a stage. We know there are a couple of shelled-crab-creatures, naked and whimpering under the sun and the beaks of the stabbing birds. Pretence is a survival instinct, despite the lie.

Oh Walter Raleigh, where are you for our times?

Enough. Take care all. X


by: Sir Walter Raleigh

O, Soul, the body's guest,
Upon a thankless arrant!
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant:
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Say to the court it glows
And shines like rotten wood;
Say to the church it shows
What's good, and doth no good:
If court and church reply,
Then give them both the lie.

Tell potentates they live
Acting by others' action,
Not loved unless they give,
Not strong but by a faction.
If potentates reply,
Give potentates the lie.

Tell men of high condition
That manage the estate,
Their purpose is ambition,
Their practice only hate:
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell them that brave it most,
They beg for more by spending,
Who, in their greatest cost,
Seek nothing but commending:
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell zeal it wants devotion;
Tell love it is but lust;
Tell time it is but motion;
Tell flesh it is but dust:
And wish them not reply,
For thou must give the lie.

Tell age it daily wasteth;
Tell honor how it alters;
Tell beauty how she blasteth;
Tell favor how she falters:
And as they shall reply,
Give every one the lie.

Tell wit how much it wrangles
In tickle points of niceness;
Tell wisdom she entangles
Herself in over-wiseness:
And when they do reply,
Straight give them both the lie.

Tell physic of her boldness;
Tell skill it is pretension;
Tell charity of coldness;
Tell law it is contention:
And as they do reply,
So give them still the lie.

Tell fortune of her blindness;
Tell nature of decay;
Tell friendship of unkindness;
Tell justice of delay:
And if they will reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell arts they have no soundness,
But vary by esteeming;
Tell schools they want profoundness,
And stand too much on seeming:
If arts and school reply,
Give arts and school the lie.

Tell faith it fled the city;
Tell how the country erreth;
Tell manhood shakes off pity;
Tell virtue least preferreth:
And if they do reply,
Spare not to give the lie.

So when thou hast, as I
Commanded thee, done blabbing,--
Although to give the lie
Deserves no less than stabbing,--
Stab at thee, he that will,
No stab the soul can kill.

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