Sotto Voce.

"Qui plume a, guerre a." — Voltaire

An Important Journal Entry

Today I’m offering a trascription of an entry from my diary. This entry, from February 4, 2002, builds on some of the issues discussed in the Tutorial School dispatches, specifically the concept of “right organization.” This concept has been a subject of much interest to me as I have sought to articulate my personal philosophy.

The diary entry discusses how a better understanding of our relationship to institutions might help us come to terms with the concept of guilt. Being a recovering Catholic, this is an issue of no small weight for me. As with all future diary entries, the text is presented with all the convolutions and stream-of-consciousness style of the original, with commentary at the end to bring the ideas up to date, clean up the structure, and relate the ideas to other offerings on Sotto Voce.

Diary Entry for 2/4/02
Chicken Soup, Guilt, and Right Organization.

Interesting how balance fits into it. I had a great massage today and K and I talked a lot about balance. A lot about my foot healing [from a 1999 car accident] has to do, it seems, with balance on my two feet. She shared/shares that sense of needing to “put things right” whether it’s something on a mantelpiece or in life. For example, this weekend, MJ and I went to Easton for a fun writer’s conference, and I’m taking today off to write — to bring balance back from the hectic workload compunded by our getting sick last week.

Balance has to do with us listening and doing what we must, at each moment, be doing. It’s like playing your part in keeping the harmony.

Which to me leads, in an interesting way, to Right Relationship and institutions. K and I also talked about guilt — us both being raised Catholic, I guess. What struck me was that guilt seems like an institutional response to imbalance. Can I explain this? Why, yes!

A person who is “in touch” enough to know what to do and when, also knows when they haven’t done it. Things happen — or don’t — out of kilter. And you respond “by touch” accordingly. But an institutional response provides a formula for action, and one of the responses to a non-programmatic action is guilt. An action is an action: “I brought my sick brother chicken soup.” The “opposite” of that in a non-programmatic setting is its absence, simply and nothing implied. But in an institutional, programmatic setting, “bring chicken soup to your sick brother” becomes an object in its own right — an imperative, or something that “grounds” the action in the electrical sense of letting all the energy drain out of it. Instead of the immediacy of the “mesoupbrother” relationship, the programmatic response creates a dictum or an instruction or a standard, which, as a codification of behavior, means that it is grounded in time and removed from uniqueness.

Guilt, then, is the awareness of, or fear of the consequences of, the transgression of the code of expected behavior — just like someone is “guilty” of breaking the law.

I am reading Alan Watts’ The Spirit of Zen now and he wrote about how the writing of “The Buddha” is an act of explaining something that is happening to the writer, but for the reader to try to use that writing as a guide for him/herself is silly. It’s like trying to describe a fire using ashes.

I can almost hear Krishnamurti saying “Every thought process imposes this.” Even language-structured thought has rules — minor infractions are guarded by grammarians and for really flagrant violators we have mental hospitals. If you see or experience nouns as anything other than nouns — if they melt or put roots into verbs — you’re either a poet or insane (or both), depending on whether you’re socially functional or not. I love it when I become delirious when I have a high fever, because I see things that simply can’t be shoehorned into a linear, sequential communications dynamic. Not that anything is more or less “real,” it’s just that as a writer, and a communicating and thinking human, I like experiencing something that goes beyond my tools of communication and interpretation.

As R.D. Laing once said, “They are playing a game…” Games require rules, of course. Almost everything you see and hear and read in “the media” reinforces the call to conform in some way, praises and rewards adherence and hints at (or out and out threatens) the personal and social consequences of behaving otherwise. Guilt is a very powerful tool for inducing adherence. But in action that is outside the programmatic sphere, there is no guilt, only relationship — even if you don’t bring your sick brother chicken soup! Then, it’s not that you’re not bringing him chicken soup; you’re simply not doing one out of an infinite number of things. You are instead doing something else. There’s no expectation because there’s no requirement.

Post Hoc:

So, in other words, if bringing chicken soup to one’s sick brother is required or expected by some code of conduct, then not bringing soup is an action that goes against the expected behavior. In a relationship not governed by expectation or requirement, not bringing soup is a non-action that has no connotations outside the act itself. Guilt arises as the result of acting against expectation or requirement, whether imposed from within or without.

Regarding the “imbalance” concept that I mentioned: in a system that operates in a binary way (like most of our institutions), the expectation of bringing chicken soup to one’s brother is like a weight placed on one pan of a scale. The expectation can only be counterbalanced by the act of bringing the soup. The non-bringing of the soup does not balance out the system. The perpetrator of this act of soup non-bringage (heh heh) is guilty of not balancing the system, and thereby not fulfilling his/her role.

This doesn’t mean that in a “non-programmatic” setting the person would be immune from the consequences or results of that non-action. The choice would (ideally) be made with an appreciation for the spectrum of consequent events, but it would be free of the fear that the choice involves a “right/wrong” dichotomy, or that the chooser is “good” or “bad” for making the choice they did.


Categorised as: Life the Universe and Everything

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