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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Philosophical Anthropology; Part 3: The Will to Power



Evil Troll, by Brian Froud

This post is a part of the online book Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien.

The One Ring is the will to power. The will to power is desire. You can say, that there are three main forms of desire: sensuality, worldliness and personal immortality: 1) Sensuality is the satisfaction of the senses. 2) Worldliness is the desire after progress and wealth. 3) Personal immortality is the personal power and fame. 

This painful conflict between good and evil, hope and fear, love and hate, the observer and the observed, has arisen from our striving after achieving something, acquiring something, becoming something. And this striving gives itself expression in sensuality, in worldliness, or in aspiration after personal fame and immortality. So, we create the conflict through our aspiration.

This is one of the most remarkable themes in philosophical anthropology, and one that flabbergast and discombobulates many people, rather like Plato´s Theory of Ideas in metaphysics. The point is that the self is not a given, an object, whose essential nature is unchangeable. Triangles can never be non-triangular, and rocks are always guaranteed to be rocky, grass grassy, and dogs doggy – but humans can be inhuman. We alone can fail to achieve our nature. Our nature is a task to achive, not a fact to receive.

The existentialist philosophers have emphasized this theme the most, and some (notable Sartre) have attached to it questionable corollaries: that we have no essence, or meaning, that life therefore is meaningsless, that we must create our own values, that we are gods, and that all conformity and receptivity are threatening and dehumanizing to our freedom. But the point does not require any of those corollaries. It is quite traditional and is as old as Boethius´s Consolation of Philosophy:

Whatever is must also be [ontologically] good. And it follows from this that whatever loses its goodness ceases to be. Thus wicked men cease to be what they were…To give oneself to evil…is to loose one´s human nature. Just as virtue can raise a person above human nature, so vice lowers those whom it has seduced from the condition of men beneath human nature. For this reason, anyone whom you find transformed by vice cannot be counted a man [or a Hobbit: Gollum is an ex-Hobbit, a failed Hobbit, as the orcs are ex-elves, and the Ringwraiths are ex-men, or un-men]…The man who is driven by avarice…is like a wolf; the restless, angry man who spends his life in quarrels you will compare to a dog. The treacherous conspirator who steals by fraud may be likened to a fox; the man who is ruled by intemperate anger is thought to have the soul of a lion. The fearful and timid man who tremples without reason is like a deer; the lazy, stupid fellow is like an ass. The volatile, inconstant man who continually changes direction is like a bird; tha man who is sunk in foul lust is trapped in the pleasures of a filthy sow. In this way, anyone who abandons virtue ceses to be a man, since he cannot share in the divine nature, and instead becomes a beast.

We cannot help desiring to be other than we are because we do not yet have our true being; we can gain it or lose it. Our very being is trembling, not stable. We can lose our selves. Nothing else can. The scary about the Mythology of Authenticity is that it directly helps people to lose their selves. The 666 Conspiracy. I will return to this in the chapter on Philosophy of History.

This innate desire, this reaching beyond ourselves, can lead us to our true selves and to God, our Author. But it can also lead down darker paths of desire: idolatry and fetichism. When the object we desire is God, or that which God is (truth, goodness, and beauty), the object is not posseable. And paradoxically, only then are we fulfilled, when we do not possess the object we desire but it possesses us. But when we make anything other than God our object of desire, when our goal is possessable, we are undone. This dark path began in Eden. Once we laid hands on the fruit we desired, the horrible effect took place immediately: it laid its hands on us. The self was “unselfed” – not filled but emptied, not enhanced but devastated. The object grew into a god, and we shrank into slaves. We exchanged places: we became the objects, the its, and it became the subject, the Ego. We found our identity in what was less than ourselves, in what we could possess. We were possessed by our possession, or by our possessiveness. We who began as the Adam (Man) became the golem, the “Un-man”.

Frodo and Sam illustrate one half of this paradox, Gollum the other. Frodo and Sam attain and save their selves because they give themselves away for others, for the world. And not for some abstract cause but for each other and for the Shire. In contrast, Gollum is obsessed with his “cause”: possessing the Ring. His selfishness is no self-devouring that he almost has no self left. He talks to himself more than to others; he often makes no distinction between himself and his “Precious”; he is confused about who he is. He speaks of himself in the third person. (“Don´t let them hurt us, Precious!”) It is the Ring that is now the Precious, and Gollum has lost his preciousness, his value. He has become its slave, and it has become his master. In fact it has become the self, the person, the subject, the actor, and Gollum has become its passive object, its IT. He has placed his soul inside the fetish (as Sauron did when he made the Ring), so that without it his soul is literally torn into two. He is nothing without the Ring. He cannot distinguish himself from the Ring. He is the Ring. The person become a thing. He has lost his soul.

When Sauron forged the Ring, he put into it some of his power, and therefore some of his identity, since power is what he identified with, or found his identity in. Thus for him, as for Gollum, to lose the Ring is to lose his self. And one who has lost his self, who has only emptiness and ashes for his self, will always demand to reduce all other selves to emptiness and ashes. This is why Sauron must reduce all Middle-earth to ashes: to his ashes, to himself.

And this is what we do whenever we “identify with” our stuff.

Sauron is uncomfortable familiar. He is only an exaggeration, a caricature, an enlargement of ourselves or, rather, of one possibility for ourselves. Down that road we find the Lieutnant of the Black Gate of Barad-dur: “His name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: ‘I am the Mouth of Sauron’” (LOTR, p. 870).

Just as there are two opposite magics in The Lord of the Rings, there are two opposite longings, or deep desires. There is, of course the desire to possess the Ring; and that corresponds to the magic of power, and technology. More subtly and sweetly, there is also another desire, a longing whose object cannot be defined, much less possessed. This longing sweeps through The Lord of the Rings like a wind over the sea. In fact, the sea is one of its symbols, especially for Legolas (see LOTR, p. 935), as it was for Tolkien and many island-dwelling Englishmen. We talked about this longing already in the beginning of the chapter on Metaphysics: the longing after the Great Vision.

Tolkien himself was haunted by a recurrent dream of the sea. He speaks of

My Atlantis-haunting. This legend or myth or dim memory of some ancient history has always troubled me. In sleep I had the dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quite sea, or coming in towering over the green islands. It still occurs occasionally, though now exorsized by writing about it. It always ends by surrender, and I awake gasping out of the deep water (Letters, no. 257, p. 347).

Any mystic or any surfer would understand that. Of course it is not literally the sea, or the wave, but the thing they symbolize. And that is obviously God, and Heaven or Paradise, or union with God. It is no accident that when Lewis writes about an unfallen planetary Eden, it is an ocean planet of floating islands that must be ridden like waves.

Let us look closer at the two kinds of longings, which we could call the will to power and passion.

In his book The Good Life Mogens Pahuus writes, that if you ask about, what the old Scandinavians saw as the highest and the greatest in life, the ecstasy of life, then the answer would be, that it is self-assertion – the assertion of oneself and the family. He also writes, that you in Christianity find a diametrically opposite view of self-assertion, – both in its Catholic form as in Protestantism. In Saint Gregory and Thomas of Aquinas haughtiness/pride/self-assertion was the first and greatest of the seven so-called deadly sins. And in Luther self-assertion nor was a goodness, but the vice over all vices. It is the seven deadly sins Dante in The Purgatory must look in the eyes one after one, in order to be able to progress. He must use the discrimination, which is the purification process, where you look your destiny in the eyes and do penance after having realized how your perspective distorts reality.

So self-assertion is a vice. Self-assertion is a kind of self-interest, where everything turns around the Ego, and therefore makes the mind mediocre. To live in a world, which is controlled by self-assertion, without being self-assertive, means, truly, to love something for its own sake, without seeking a reward, a result; but this is very difficult, because the whole world, all your friends, your relatives, struggle to achieve something, to accomplish something, to become something.

Today self-assertion once again is considered as a virtue. The gurus are the many advocates for the market and the economical competition, as for instance several management theorists. And the education-instrument is the personal development movement. The disciples are the consumers; that will say, that this outlook of life obviously is shared by most people in our society: that it is about becoming something, to get success, to conquer a place on the top of the mountain, to become a winner. But Mogens Pahuus believes that the modern ideal about becoming a success, a winner, is a perverted ideal. The society praises a self-assertion, which has gone over the top, and there dominates a self-assertion, which is a vice, because it both spoils the life of the self-assertive, and the lifes of those, whom the self-assertive measures himself in relation to, and whom he wants to overpass.

Pahuus mentions some of the forms of self-assertion: 1) Vanity, which is a vice, because the vain-full always is bearing in mind, how he or she looks like, or is considered like, in the eyes of others. 2) Ambition, which is a vice, because you here constantly are on the way forward, or upwards. 3) Haughtiness, which is a vice, because you here, in your feeling of own superior value, look down at others, are letting others feel their inferiority; that is: because haughtiness is unethical. But also in the arrogant himself, haughtiness is destructive: it isolates. 4) Joy of power. The ethical seen most violating form of self-assertion is the joy of having power over others, of controlling others, or oppressing them.

Pahuus quotes Alfred Adler and says that the above-mentioned forms of self-assertion are attack-characterized. But there also exists a non-attack characterized form, as for instance the hostile isolation, anxiety and bashfulness, which you see in the Underground Man in Dostojevskij´s small novel Notes from an Underground.

The vice in the different forms of self-assertion is that it leads to an unreal life; what we earlier have examined in the section about the will to power. This is the desire for the One Ring: the will to power.

To understand and be free from self-assertion, and to do something, which you really love to do – regardless what it is, how small or how little remarkable it is – awakens a spirit of greatness, which never is seeking others´ approval or reward, and which do a thing for its own sake, and therefore possesses strength and ability not to lie under for mediocre influences. That is the other desire, namely passion.

Because it is not self-assertion when you do something you love to do. When you write and paint – not because you want prestige, but because you love to write and paint – it is assuredly not self-assertion. Self-assertion occurs when you compare yourself with other writers or artists, when you want to distance them. This would be the will to power, and the will to power is self-assertion. But it is not self-assertion, when you do something, because you really love to do it. This is passion. And passion is love.

Will to power and passion is in this way two different things. The will to power is feeded by the thought, is stimulated by the thought, it grows and becomes a reality in the thinking, until it is bursting in its own violent forms of fulfilment. Passion is something entirely different; passion is not a thought-product, nor the memory about a past incident. Its dynamic is not due to a lack of fulfilment, and it has nothing to do with boredom. It has something to do with joy of life and self-forgetfulness, which not are lust.

In lust (which can´t be compared with philosophical refined pleasure) there always is an ingenious form of striving – there is sought, hunted, requested, fought – so that you can preserve it, achieve it. In passion there is not the slightest lack of fulfilment, and therefore there can neither be disappointment or pain. Passion is freedom from the Ego, the centre for all lack of fulfilment. Passion requires nothing, because it is.

Passion is the strict simplicity of self-forgetfulness, in which there is no ego, that places itself outside life. Therefore passion is the innermost essence of life. It is that which is moving, creating and living. But when the thought introduces all the problems – to acquire, have and preserve – then passion ceases. Without passion there can´t be created, and everything goes in dissolution. Precisely what happens in society today.

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