“Je lui disais que c’était bien quelque chose, notamment à ceux comme lui d’éminente qualité sur lesquels chacun a les yeux, de se présenter au monde toujours bien tempéré, mais que le principal était de pourvoir au-dedans et à soi-même; et que ce n’était, à mon gré, bien ménager ses affaires que de se ronger intérieurement: ce que je craignais qu’il fit pour mantenir ce masque et cette réglée apparence par le dehors.” Montaigne, Essais Livre II, Chapitre XXXI, folio classique, editions Gallimard, p; 488.
[Amateuristic English translation below: “I told him that it was quite something, certainly in those – like him – of eminent quality on whom everybody has their eyes, to present oneself to the world as always well tempered – but that the important thing was to provide for oneself internally; and that it was – to my taste – not a good way to manage one’s affairs to be eating oneself from the inside: which was what I feared he did to maintain that mask and that temperate appearance on the outside.”]
[Re-posted from The Old Site original dd. 14-07-2009. Finally Montaigne again, I’m not so sure about my translation so don’t rely on it. I should look for a quote on impatience, I really should.]
Let me be clear: I’m fed up with all this excitement and passion and live fast stuff – even if I wouldn’t mind the ‘die young’ bit. We’re acting like the bunch of pubescent boys that we probably are at this time of the evolution of human culture. I like cool; from temperature over jazz up to lifestyle. All this frantic waving about and ‘expressing one’s emotions’ and being really committed is just a load of crap kept alive by those that can’t sit still for a moment if their life depended on it. Them lot which would go into sudden disintegration and molecular collapse if they were put in positions in which it would be unavoidable to question their own motives.
But, and forgive me the unphilosophical rant, if even Montaigne is confused the matter can’t be solved so lightly. Clearly, if you are fuming inside the smoke should be clear on the outside. Anything else is hypocrisy and (never even mind the others) that is not at all a good service to your self.
So what’s the deal?
Do we need to be completely and utterly dispassionate or should we accept as unquestionable all the typical 90s mess of burning ambition, sense of emergency and over-all impatience with … anything, really? As you might have figured: I thought about this. I came to the below dispassionate conclusion which, or at least I’d hope so, I will be defending vigorously, with a passion befitting the subject.
The conclusion is this: the issue is the familiar one of form/content confusion. What I see is that people want to be perceived as having strong convictions on what needs to happen and simultaneously want to appear relatively indifferent as to how it comes about. They have it backwards.
One should be passionate in the discussion but rather indifferent to the outcome of it. The outcome after all is the result of what can be reasonably expected to be the case, after discussion. The discussion itself however needs to be ferocious, because only if we’re ferocious in making sure that all arguments are weighed in properly can we ever be sure that the discussion will have been a real one, and hence can in fact be expected to be followed by a reasonable conclusion. That clearly doesn’t imply that one needs to gesticulate, shout, slam tables or push people around but it does imply that if any of it is really required to ensure the discussion is a proper one: by all means, no holds barred, except of course those preventing people to bring arguments.
[The last thought clearly cancels out most gesticulation, shouting and slamming so the end result is rather more civilized than suggested here originally.]
It specifically requires passion (biting sarcasm, creation of general uneasiness, …) to bull-dozer out of the way any emotions that are tied to a specific position being beyond discussion (or, on a more human note, tied to the benefits of a specific individual or group of individuals). I mean it: we should treat fixed opinion with the most complete and utter disrespect, and should never refrain from laughing away any strong convictions that are thought to be beyond such treatments.
That’s the role of passion, excitement, madness; to preserve the due process for us to arrive at conclusions. Once arrived at it we have to apply the conclusions without the least amount of passion (as Montaigne rightly councels in this Essai). In other words – the judge should be ‘all in’ when he shouts ‘order in the court’ but once sentencing is there he should deliver the sentence modestly, knowing he can be wrong but cool, as he will be sure everything has been done to ensure he has it right.
Let’s broaden it up a bit. We all know that fundamentalists of any kind are the most passionate in defending what they happen to be convinced of. They do this up to a point of denying the mere possibility of any discussion about the reasons for their beliefs. On the other hand, when we confront holocaust-deniers, creationists (and the rest of this sorry lot of people content to be sophisticated machines ‘in the service’ of some, or other, grand idea) we may (make that: must) expose them as wankers but we’ll always do this ready to give our reasons
for exposing them as such.
(consider this a footnote: ‘Sure, you’ll readily find wankers passionately defending perfectly honourable points, without any inclination to get into their reasons; they’re idiots squared, as dogmatic as fundamentalists and on top of that discrediting what they defend by passionately believing in it instead of argueing for it. But it isn’t because sheep can also dress in wolf’s clothes that, once undressed, they can’t – make that: shouldn’t – be exposed for the idiotic sheep they are).
Ouf! I can keep my passion and eat it too.
Coming back to the quote: let it all go before you come to the conclusion but by all means, restrain yourself once you have come to it. We are not just beasts any more, after all. Clearly you wouldn’t want to make love dispassionately (the scariest people are those that do want to have dispassionate sex, actually) but you wouldn’t want to conclude passionately either; the competition for the best idea should be of the fiercest sort but the outcome should be accepted with equanimity.
[This certainly applies to democracy. The fierce discussion should go in how it is organized but meanwhile we should accept its outcomes as legitimate. The only thing that makes a democratic outcome illegitimate is if the democratic process itself is broken.]
[Whilst writing this I was listening to Jean-Jacques Perrey and Luke Vibert, ‘Moog Acid’.]