Going it Alone (2/11/11)

What comfort can my companions (those of them who are not ready to make the sacrifices demanded of a rigorously philosophical life) really avail me? At best, it is like the ambiguous comfort that innocent and unbroken little children offer to their all-too-knowing parents. In other words, their sweetness momentarily distracts us from the saltiness that we must abide with most of the time. The sweetness is a welcome respite, a fleeting distraction from the solitary burden of our starker, subtler, and far less ‘innocent’ consciousness. But such short-lived and—let us admit it!—skin-deep comforts are gently mocked by the sobering individual consciousness that we voluntarily pledged to deepen and extend long ago. We did not know then—how on earth could we have?—where our burden would carry us. We did not anticipate how many of those companions and fellow travelers who started out on the journey by our sides, would drop off, turn back, abandon us, and even turn against us—wrongly assuming that we abandoned them rather than the other way around! We had to learn, did we not, that bewailing and smoldering over these painful losses, betrayals, and disappointments would only freeze us in place and bring an end to our own journey, if we were not careful. We were destined to be alone from the start precisely for taking the side of the ‘individual’ in us over and against the herd animal—against all that was mere species in us, with all its noisy commands and its delicate seductions. It is this transformative recognition and slow digestion of our inescapable aloneness that ultimately helps to free us from the resentment and self-pity which would otherwise surely embitter us and swallow up what remains of our by no means limitless vitality. We have to give up our hopes in others before we can be liberated from our despair of them. They cannot save us from our difficult and solitary path with their promises, but neither can they prevent us from resuming that path after they have broken the promises they could never fulfill in the first place. In any event, they cannot take our ‘cup’ from us.

Jean Paul Sartre wrote ‘Hell is other people’—and to the extent that he actually believed this, he was perhaps unequal to the crucifixion that must be willingly endured by the would-be individual if he is to be transfigured—to achieve a decisive triumph over all that is merely collective and merely ‘species’ in himself. Of course, he does not seek to kill these parts of himself any more than the accomplished horseman seeks to kill the horse he rides upon.

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