Musings On Suffering, Human Nature, and The Culture of Pathei-Mathos

0

Earth - Apollo 17 (NASA)
Musings On Suffering, Human Nature,
and The Culture of Pathei-Mathos
(Part One)

In respect of the question whether I am optimistic about our future as a species, I vacillate between optimism and pessimism, knowing as I – as so many – do from experience that the world contains people who do good things [1], people who do bad things, and people who when influenced or led or swayed by some-thing or someone can veer either way; and given that it seems as if in each generation there are those – many – who have not learned or who cannot learn from the pathei-mathos of previous generations, from the collective human πάθει μάθος – a culture of pathei-mathos thousands of years old – which reveals to us the beauty, the numinosity, of personal love, humility, and compassion, and the tragic lamentable unnecessary suffering caused by hubris, dishonour, selfishness, inconsiderance, intolerance, prejudice, hatred, war, extremism, and ideologies [2]. A world-wide suffering so evident, today, for example in the treatment of and the violence (by men) toward women; in the continuing armed conflicts – regional and local, over some-thing – that displace tens of thousands of people and cause destruction, injury, and hundreds of thousands of deaths; and in the killing of innocent people [3] by those who adhere to a harsh interpretation of some religion or some political ideology.

Do good people, world-wide, outweigh bad ones? My experiences and travels incline me to believe they do, although it seems as if the damage the bad ones do, the suffering they cause, sometimes and for a while outweighs the good that others do. But does the good done, in societies world-wide, now outweigh the bad done, especially such large-scale suffering as is caused by despots, corruption, armed conflict, and repressive regimes? Probably, at least in some societies. And yet even in such societies where, for example, education is widespread, there always seem to be selfish, dishonourable, inconsiderate, people; and also people such as the extremist I was with my hubriatic certitude-of-knowing inciting or causing hatred and violence and intolerance and glorifying war and kampf and trying to justify killing in the name of some abstraction or some belief or some cause or some ideology. People mostly, it seems, immune to and/or intolerant of the learning of the culture of pathei-mathos; a learning available to us in literature, music, Art, memoirs, in the aural and written recollections of those who endured or who witnessed hatred, violence, intolerance, conflict, war, and killing, and a learning also available in the spiritual message of those who taught humility, goodness, love, and tolerance. Immune or intolerant people who apparently can only change – or who could only possibly change for the better – only when they themselves are afflicted by such vicissitudes, such personal misfortune and suffering, as is the genesis of their own pathei-mathos.

Thus, and for example, in Europe there is a specific pathei-mathos that the years before the Second World War, and especially that war, wrought. A collective learning regarding intolerance, persecution, repression, hatred, injustice; a collective learning regarding the mass and the deliberate slaughter of people on account of their perceived or believed difference; and a learning, by a new generation, of the destruction, the suffering, the brutality, the horror, of a war where wrakeful machines and mass manufactured weapons played a significant role. Yet this specific pathei-mathos, containing the traumatic experiences of millions of people and forming as it now does an important part of the culture of pathei-mathos, has not prevented a resurgence in Europe of intolerance, prejudice, and a hatred based on perceived or believed difference; as witness my own doleful and suffering-causing decades of supporting and propagating the intolerance, the prejudice, the hatred, the violence, implicit in National-Socialism, and as witness the tens of thousands of others – perhaps the hundreds of thousands – in Europe who now support political organizations and movements which, while they are not overtly or even covertly National-Socialist, nevertheless seem to me to represent and propagate and encourage intolerance, and prejudice, and often the same type of hatred based on a perceived or a believed difference, be this difference a perceived ethnicity or a ‘foreign religion’ or a ‘foreign culture’ or a love for someone of the same gender. For it really seems as if the founders, the members, and the supporters, of such organizations and movements are, as I was for decades, immune to and/or intolerant of the learning that the culture of pathei-mathos makes accessible.

All this, while sad, is perhaps the result of our basic human nature; for we are jumelle, and not only because we are “deathful of body yet deathless the inner mortal” [4] but also because it seems to me that what is good and bad resides in us all [5], nascent or alive or as part of our personal past, and that it is just so easy, so tempting, so enjoyable, sometimes, to indulge in, to do, what is bad, and often harder for us to do what is right. Furthermore, we do seem to have a tendency – or perhaps a need – to ascribe what is bad to being ‘out there’, in something abstract or in others while neglecting or not perceiving our own faults and mistakes and while asserting or believing that we, and those similar to us or who we are in agreement with, are right and thus have the ‘correct’, the righteous, answers. Thus it is often easier to find what is bad ‘out there’ rather than within ourselves; easier to hate than to love, especially as a hatred of impersonal others sometimes affords us a reassuring sense of identity and a sense of being ‘better’ than those others.

Will it therefore require another thousand, or two thousand, or three thousand years – or more or less millennia – before we human beings en masse, world-wide, are empathic, tolerant, kind, and honourable? Is such a basic change in our nature even possible? Certainly there are some – and not only ideologues of one kind or another – who would argue and who have argued that such a change is not desirable. And is such a change in our nature contingent, as I incline to believe, upon the fair allocation of world resources and solving problems such as hunger and poverty and preventing preventable diseases? Furthermore, how can or could or should such a basic change be brought about – through an organized religion or religions, or through individual governments and their laws and their social and political and economic and educational policies, or through a collocation of governments, world-wide; or through individuals reforming themselves and personally educating others by means of, for example, the common culture of pathei-mathos which all humans share and which all human societies have contributed to for thousands of years? Which leads us on to questions regarding dogma, faith, and dissent; and to questions regarding government and compulsion and ‘crime and punishment’ and whether or not ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’; and also to questions regarding the efficacy of the reforming, spiritual, personal way given that spiritual ways teaching love, tolerance, humility, and compassion – and virtuous as they are, and alleviating and preventing suffering as they surely have – have not after several thousand years effected such a change in humans en masse.

I have to admit that I have no definitive or satisfactory answers to all these, and similar, questions; although my own pathei-mathos – and my lamentable four-decade long experience as an extremist, an ideologue, and as a selfish opinionated inconsiderate person – incline me to prefer the reforming, spiritual, personal way since I feel that such an approach, involving as it does a personal study of, a personal transmission of, the culture of pathei-mathos – and a personal knowing and a living of the humility that the culture of pathei-mathos teaches – is a way that does not cause nor contribute to the suffering that still so blights this world. A personal preference for such a numinous way even though I am aware of three things: of my past propensity to be wrong and thus of the necessary fallible nature of my answers; of the limited nature and thus the long time-scale (of many millennia) that such a way implies; and that it is possible, albeit improbable except in Science Fiction, that good people of honourable intentions may some day find a non-suffering-causing way by which governments or society or perhaps some new form of governance may in some manner bring about that change, en masse, in our human nature required to evolve us into individuals of empathy, compassion, and honour, who thus have something akin to a ‘prime directive’ to guide them in their dealings with those who are different, in whatever way, from ourselves.

David Myatt
2013

This is an extract from a written reply, in September 2013, to a personal correspondent. It has been slightly revised for publication, with some footnotes added, post scriptum, in an effort to elucidate, for a wider audience, some parts of the text.

Notes

[1] I understand ‘the good’ as what alleviates or does not cause suffering; what is compassionate; what is honourable; what is reasoned and balanced. Honour being here, and elsewhere in my recent writings, understood as the instinct for and an adherence to what is fair, dignified, and valourous.

[2] I have expanded, a little, on what I mean by ‘the culture of pathei-mathos’ in my tract Questions of Good, Evil, Honour, and God.

[3] As defined by my ‘philosophy of pathei-mathos’, I understand innocence as “an attribute of those who, being personally unknown to us, are therefore unjudged us by and who thus are given the benefit of the doubt. For this presumption of innocence of others – until direct personal experience, and individual and empathic knowing of them, prove otherwise – is the fair, the reasoned, the numinous, the human, thing to do. Empathy and πάθει μάθος incline us toward treating other human beings as we ourselves would wish to be treated; that is they incline us toward fairness, toward self-restraint, toward being well-mannered, and toward an appreciation and understanding of innocence.”

[4] Pœmandres (Corpus Hermeticum), 15 – διὰ τοῦτο παρὰ πάντα τὰ ἐπὶ γῆς ζῷα διπλοῦς ἐστιν ὁ ἄνθρωπος

As I noted in my translation of and commentary on the Pœmandres tract, “Jumelle. For διπλοῦς. The much underused and descriptive English word jumelle – from the Latin gemellus – describes some-thing made in, or composed of, two parts, and is therefore most suitable here, more so than common words such as ‘double’ or twofold.”

[5] qv. Sophocles, Antigone, v.334, vv.365-366

πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει…
σοφόν τι τὸ μηχανόεν τέχνας ὑπὲρ ἐλπίδ᾽ ἔχων
τοτὲ μὲν κακόν, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἐσθλὸν ἕρπει

There exists much that is strange, yet nothing
Has more strangeness than a human being…
Beyond his own hopes, his cunning
In inventive arts – he who arrives
Now with dishonour, then with chivalry


Part Two is this text available to read here – https://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/suffering-human-nature-and-the-culture-of-pathei-mathos-part-two/


Image credit: NASA, Earth from Apollo 17