Wednesday 27 January 2016

Superstitious fear of nemesis thwarts joy and hope - Colin Wilson, William Arkle and optimism

The superstitious attitude assumes that there is some cunning and perverted consciousness presiding over all our acts and, if we fail to keep to the special and secret rules, this presiding entity causes unpleasant things to happen to us and our loved ones.

From 'Justice' in William Arkle's Geography of Consciousness (1974).

This above passage struck home hard with me, and I have returned to it often; since it describes a besetting problem of mine - which is that I fear to speak explicitly and honestly about my happiness and hope, or my appreciation of the goodness of things, for fear that this will be seen as arrogance (hubris) and will attract retribution form some kind of 'cunning and perverted consciousness' - that I will be punished for my presumption - I and those I love will suffer the nemesis of the gods.

This attitude runs deep: very deep.

I seem to worry that displaying a sunny and optimistic aspect will attract cosmic schadenfreude, and will get me noticed and singled-out for humiliation and degradation and torment -- that I will be like a butterfly broken on a wheel - and the wheel could be any one (or more than one) of so many hazards and horrors of the world.

Yet this fear-full, dread-full, superstitious attitude may itself be one of the major hazards in the world. If (as I believe) the world is alive and responsive to our attitudes - full of sentient entities, many benign; then this attitude of suspicion and supplication cannot fail to bring out the worst in our environment.

Of course, nobody wants to be 'taken for granted' - but on the other hand we want our good intentions to be appreciated - and if despite we are treated as cunning, perverted, hostile; if we are treated as an implacable foe looking for any excuse to inflict harm - then we are likely to be wounded and dismayed even if we are the most virtuous of entities, and be irritated and angered and proviked if we are neutral.

I have therefore come to recognize a great courage in explicit declarations of joy and hope.

Our culture tends to admire the cynic, the pessimist, the hard-boiled, slyly-corrupt hedonist - the anti-hero. But I feel that the greatest Christian hero is the one who really believes in the goodness and love of God such that full value is accorded to those moment of joy, hope, beauty and inspiration which come our way.

It was a subject that Colin Wilson worked-through over many decades: the difficulty of being an overall-and-in-the-end optimist in a culture which regards pessimism, nihilism and assertions of the meaninglessness and purposelessness of life as being deeper and truer. Wilson got himself called naive, childish, shallow, insensitive - but he was right; and he was braver than his critics.

William Arkle took this optimism even further such that he started even Wilson (the two men were friends). Arkle had been in war, he knew about the harsh, tough and terrible things of life; but he would not allow himself to be deflected from his deepest convictions that this is a benign world, set up by loving Heavenly parents; that we are surrounded by helpers; and that in the end, so long as we strive and stay true, so long as we don't succumb to bitterness and despair, we will be given a prize, a situation, a world more wonderful in its scope and nature than our sweetest dreams.


Nicholas Fulford said...

It was a subject that Colin Wilson worked-through over many decades: the difficulty of being an overall-and-in-the-end optimist in a culture which regards pessimism, nihilism and assertions of the meaninglessness and purposelessness of life as being deeper and truer. - Bruce Charlton

This reminds me of a bit of bizarre silliness out of the Star Trek episode, "Mudd's Planet"

MCCOY: (in a monotone) You offer us only well-being.
SCOTT: (in a monotone) Food and drink and happiness mean nothing to us. We must be about our job.
MCCOY: Suffering, in torment and pain. Labouring without end.
SCOTT: Dying and crying and lamenting over our burdens.
BOTH: Only this way can we be happy.

Some people do not recognize the humour as witness by their addictions to self-destructive nihilist behaviour, because, "Only this way can we be happy".

Rich said...


I suffer from the same superstitions and have to work very hard to not give into them. Thanks for these words of encouragement I will remember them the next time I get the feeling that I should hide my enthusiasm.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ads - The worrying thing is that they are probably actually counter-productive; not just a waste of life, but even worse!

Rich said...

Most definitely counter productive. Having any kind of negative bend towards the world, at least in my experience, tends to reflect back at you. And this negative feedback loop, where by you expect bad things and bad things happen because you're looking for them or you're closing yourself off to good things happing, has the potential to drag one into a state of despair and away from love and God. Just awful.

One of the more important reminders in life that often gets overlooked. Thanks again for bringing it to my attention today!

Anonymous said...

360 Decrees here, still having trouble with Open ID:

At the natural level, the cause is most likely Pavlovian. That "cunning and perverted consciousness" is little more than the voices of the wing-clippers encountered from earliest childhood still ringing in our ears: the disgruntled elders, hipper-than-thou classmates, wordlier-than-thou upperclassmen, and all others who peddle bad news and pessimism as a form of one-upmanship via personal contact or the mass media.