Wednesday 20 January 2021

Fear of 'making a fool of myself' blocks creative thought and true insight: "The cursed conceit o' bein' richt that damns the vast majority o' men"

The fool card from Gareth Knight's Tarot

The great Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid wrote a profound phrase in his A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle when he vowed to avoid "The cursed conceit o' bein' richt that damns the vast majority o' men". 

The dialect bein' richt = being right and you see this 'cursed conceit' everywhere; in real life and on the internet. It is what fuels the evil of cynicism (and cynics make the best bureaucrats, all senior managers are recruited from ex-cynics).

It is also the habit that blocks so many Christian conversions. An atheist feels that people would regard him as stupid, naive, gullible if he was to accept an 'obvious' fairy tale ('flying spaghetti monster') like Christianity. 

Supposing, he thinks, I anm wrong about this? What will happen?

Then everybody will think I am a fool, and nobody will ever 'respect' me again! 

For intellectuals, especially, not being thought a fool seems to be the prime motivator. 

Yet, being prepared to be thought a fool is the basis of genius

A genius essentially does not care if 'people' think he is a fool - because his motivations and convictions are inner (and divine). 

Being prepared to be thought a fool is also the basis of sainthood

Most real saints were widely regarded as fools (or else frauds) - some even courted the status - but they did not allow that fact to stop them doing what they regarded as most important. 

For anyone publicly to affirm the side of God, Good and creation; of truth, beauty and virtue; of spirit, soul and the supernatural - is (nowadays) to be generally regarded as a fool (as well as evil). 

We should not be deterred by the fear of making a fool of ourselves in the eyes of Men - otherwise we have already joined the other-side. 

Nearly everybody I respect as being on the right side in the spiritual war is, or would be, regarded as a fool by most. 

All truth-seekers and truth-speakers must (here, now, 2021) be prepared to make fools of themselves: this is not an option. 

Conversely those who regulate their behaviour so as Not to be regarded as fools (and who advise others to regulate their behaviour likewise) are - by that fact - self-destined for damnation.


Rich said...

This is an important message that I needed to hear. I find I regulate myself around extended family to avoid uncomfortable conversation. No more!

Avro G said...

It's not that the fool (for God) doesn't care what people think but that when he is sitting at the Master's feet material concerns dim and quieten down. Like the genius, there is something he can see that other people can't and which is so compelling that he may forget what most people call reality.

"But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

– Luke 10:42

Joseph A. said...

Yes! The player cannot play when he's nervous about being a poor player in front of others.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TYM "It's a lot easier if people tend to think you're a fool, anyway."

I've always had that advantage.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Totally on board with this -- obviously!

Otto said...

The topic of this post is elaborated in Keith Johnstone's (very good) book "Impro: Improvisation and the theatre":

Suppose an eight-year-old writes a story about being chased down a mouse-hole by a monstrous spider. It’ll be perceived as ‘childish’ and no one will worry. If he writes the same story when he’s fourteen it may be taken as a sign of mental abnormality. Creating a story, or painting a picture, or making up a poem lay an adolescent wide open to criticism. He therefore has to fake everything so that he appears ‘sensitive’ or ‘witty’ or ‘tough’ or ‘intelligent’ according to the image he’s trying to establish in the eyes of other people. If he believed he was a transmitter, rather than a creator, then we’d be able to see what his talents really were.

We have an idea that art is self-expression—which historically is weird. An artist used to be seen as a medium through which something else operated. He was a servant of the God. Maybe a mask-maker would have fasted and prayed for a week before he had a vision of the Mask he was to carve, because no one wanted to see his Mask, they wanted to see the God’s. When Eskimos believed that each piece of bone only had one shape inside it, then the artist didn’t have to ‘think up’ an idea. He had to wait until he knew what was in there—and this is crucial. When he’d finished carving his friends couldn’t say ‘I’m a bit worried about that Nanook at the third igloo’, but only, ‘He made a mess getting that out!’ or ‘There are some very odd bits of bone about these days.’ These days of course the Eskimos get booklets giving illustrations of what will sell, but before we infected them, they were in contact with a source of inspiration that we are not. It’s no wonder that our artists are aberrant characters. It’s not surprising that great African sculptors end up carving coffee tables, or that the talent of our children dies the moment we expect them to become adult. Once we believe that art is self-expression, then the individual can be criticised not only for his skill or lack of skill, but simply for being what he is.

Schiller wrote of a ‘watcher at the gates of the mind’, who examines ideas too closely. He said that in the case of the creative mind ‘the intellect has withdrawn its watcher from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does it review and inspect the multitude.’ He said that uncreative people ‘are ashamed of the momentary passing madness which is found in all real creators … regarded in isolation, an idea may be quite insignificant, and venturesome in the extreme, but it may acquire importance from an idea that follows it; perhaps in collation with other ideas which seem equally absurd, it may be capable of furnishing a very serviceable link.’

Bruce Charlton said...

@Otto - Hmm. The idea of artist as a medium for something (and the specific nature of that something) is also culturally bound; and it isn't how modern geniuses feel.

I regard this as an aspect of the evolutionary-development of human consciousness. The future is not going to be a return to the passive-medium idea of creativity - even if we wanted it to be.