Desperation is pain expressed. Pain necessarily is totalitarian. It encompasses the whole of the person’s existence that experiences it. It demands the person’s full attention. It requires action. There is no free choice in the face of pain. There is only obedience. The person must find a way to stop the pain. Their continued existence depends on finding a way out. There is no `other’ in intense pain. There is no morality. There is no ideology. Rationality is meaningless. There is only the requirement to act immediately. The problem of pain may pose no solution. There may be no hope of surviving. The required action may have no goal other than a desire to stop the pain. The action may only find its termination in death. There may be no other way to return to the living, to the cessation of pain, to the place of rest and repose within existence – the place where the other can have significance.
When a person is in a fight for continued existence there is no `other’ that matters. There is only the imminence of pain. As pain increases the need to act increases. Conversely, the human capacity for the experience of the other decreases. The other as law, morality, concern, ideals, etc. loses its relevance to the person in pain. The self is necessarily projected to the absolute in intense, mortal pain until the self is extinguished in death and is no more. It is important to understand that there is a progression from extreme pain to repose in existence. In rest, the cessation of pain, we can be with others. We can attend to others. We can care. We can show concern. We can love. We can find meaning in being with others. We can sense the necessity of our collectivity, our shared identity, our debt to history via language.
These polarities, pain and repose in existence define our days as humans. There are perhaps those that for biological reasons we do not fully understand are not fully human. They have pathologies such as a serial killer that make them fundamentally different. They look human but they have no soul, no natural response to the other that most of us know and understand in our repose. Pathology, deviation from the norm is real but by definition it is not common. Therefore, it is not essentially human. It is more like a tornado or absolute non-recognition of human. It is totally oblivious to existence as human and owes no requirement for action to the human. It only follows its own necessity for action.
As human we exist in-between pain and repose. To the degree that we experience pain we resort to desperation. Thus, we become criminal. We become self-centered. We take advantage of others. We think more and more of ourselves. The other is sacrificed on the altar of me. The criminal by definition is totalitarian. The criminal is not obliged to act in any way other than its own desire. It has no ideology, no ideals, no concern for the other. It is us to the extent that we experience pain.
At this point, let me add that there is such a thing as phantom pain. There is the perception of threat that sets off all the alarms of pain, the adrenaline to fight or flee without any perceived pain by an outside observer. Anxiety may have no apparent reason to an outside observer. Phantom pain may have a biological component or imaginary. Biological pain that is not apparent to the outside observer can result from physical pathologies, deficiencies or deviation from norms that are purely cellular, hormonal, etc.. As human we have also have the capacity for imagination. Humans can project into the future. We can envision a future, an ideal and take actions to apprehend that future. This capacity also has the ability to deviate from a positive apprehension of the future to a negative apprehension of the future. We can dread the future. We can imagine that the future holds pain and despair. This may for example be at the psychological root of an addiction (not necessarily the physical, biological root of an addiction). We can project the future and apprehend it as negative, undesirable as pain. In this case, all the previously described dynamics of pain are present in the imminence of pain.
To the degree that we act, think, idealize from selfishness, from `me’ at the cost of the other, we express our capacity for suffering, for desperately attempting to alleviate pain. We are only concerned with our survival and not with anyone else’s survival. The driving instinct to self-survival blinds us to the plight of anyone else that may be suffering. For example, we may perceive that we are being taxed to death, threatening our ability to provide food and shelter to ourselves and our family. We may imagine that the future is bleak and we will be living on the street in freezing cold without food. We can do this all the while living in a comfortable 3000 square foot house with our family and a job that pays $75,000 a year. In the perception of this pain there is a need to act, to vote for politicians that we think will lower our taxes and thereby relieve our fears. However, the brute, realistic fact is that there are those that are living in freezing cold with no food. There are those dying in emergency rooms with no health care. There are those that are suffering in a real sense with real pain. The question becomes is my pain really more important than those that are much more apparently suffering?
The option to think this thought is not present for one that is in mortal pain but the possibility for suspension of one’s perceived pain is possible for less extreme situations. The possibility to suspend ones imagined fears for the sake of the other is part of human existence. This, for example, is envisioned in the act of Jesus dying for the sins of the world. We also have the capacity to “die for the sins of the world”. We can refuse to act automatically to our perceived pain and recognize the real pain of the other. We can judge our pain to be less important that the suffering, homeless child. This capacity is purely human.
We can do this because in our repose we can experience ourselves as community, as necessarily understanding ourselves with others. We certainly see proof of this necessity in language. Language fashions how we understand ourselves and the world. Language enables us project into the future, make sense of our past and even make sense of our present. Yet, we did not invent language. It was given as a gift. It already assumes a history, those that went before, those that forged words and thoughts that are essential tools we were freely given.
Aristotle said, “Of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved.” The reason he said this was because as humans in repose, as essentially a “we” we have the ability to defer to the other. We can make judgments that suspend our desires, our pain and act to relieve worse suffering of the other. This does not mean we always choose this course of action. Pain whether real or perceived pulls us under at times and causes us to act selfishly. This is also purely human. Many philosophers have traditionally thought of our necessary capacity for repose in existence as our higher self. What they mean by this is that we have the innate capacity for acting to relieve the suffering of the other. We can project this capacity into a future and act accordingly. We can think, fashion ideologies that reinforce our higher self. Conversely, we can fashion ideologies that project into the future to reinforce our fears and the need to act selfishly from our pain. We are the ultimate arbiters of how we envision our future. We can indulge our fears or we can hear the cries of the other. We can vote for politicians that we think will appease our suffering or we can vote for politicians that will ask us to sacrifice for the sake of the other. What is required in how we make these judgments is wisdom.
Wisdom is true judgment. Wisdom weighs all the elements of decision correctly. Wisdom is very difficult. For example, we may think all politicians are only out to alleviate their suffering by using politics to enrich themselves and not alleviate the suffering of others. This is the wisdom that true conservatism would teach us. Genuine conservation has the goal of conserving precious resources not for selfishly, perceived goals but for the good of society; so that suffering is addressed efficiently and effectively. When conservatism beats its chest to the Darwinian drum of Ayne Rand1, the Machiavellian war of all against all in defense of an isolated self, a “me” that conquers all and merely takes absolute pride in the destruction of the other for my sake, it sanctifies pain. It does not merely react blindly to pain but it fashions an altar to my right to act only for me even in repose. The question that should be raised here is not moral, altruistic, based on shoulds and shouldn’ts but based on wisdom – how we find ourselves in existence pitched between pain and repose.
As necessarily human we live in the regions of language and desperation, concern for the other and the absolutism of immanent pain and suffering. We are not pure unattached egos, gods free of necessity. We certainly have the capacity for absolute and even necessary selfishness as evidenced in mortal pain but we also have the necessary capacity for collectivity, being with others, love, compassion, concern even at our personal expense. Weighing the outcome of our vote in line with the necessity of our repose, our collective obligation may at times concede that a particular politician is acting for their own pain based reasons but the result of their policies may have opposite consequences. They may be individually, morally reprehensible but they may put programs in place that effectively address real suffering. They may also be individually, morally admirable but put programs in place that only protect their constituents perceived pain (i.e. taxes) while turning a blind eye to millions suffering without health care or basic needs. There are many permutations here but the point is that wisdom requires one to weigh the nuances such that the true outcome is obtained, the goal to alleviate suffering in this case2. Let me also state that this is not a simple matter of Republican or Democrat, it is a matter of recognizing who we are necessarily as humans and requiring that our actions are in line with our projected goals. I have used politics as an example but this discussion has extensions and impacts in many areas not simply civic responsibilities.
We are all accountable to ourselves, our higher selves, our essential capacity to defer ourselves for the other. Again, not due to some perceived altruism, moral obligation, demand from a god or an ideology but because to deny the suffering of the other is to deny the repose of our existence. We need not make repose bourgeois. Neither do we need to make our pain absolute as egoism. A guilty conscious is not called for here at all, only the clarity of wisdom and the actions that necessarily follows.
1 While Ayne Rand stated “I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason” her “reason”s stopped at egoism and the economies of a pain based ideology and could never account for the an equally necessary “we” that is in every way just as much who we are as human as selfishness is in mortal pain. Reason without wisdom goes against who we are, how we find ourselves and fails to truly judge who we are, to see what is in front of us, to take into account the necessary ways we find ourselves in existence.
2 I have also made a similar case in another paper with regard to the free market war of all against all and multinational corporations versus the government. In this case, the interest of repose is best served by their mutual regulation and limitation (see http://mixermuse.com/blog/2010/01/04/free-market-eitheror-government/).