Freedom?

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Here is another excerpt from Thomas Merton’s Book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.

I love his writing, he uses big words and makes me think and shit. lol

A curious fact that calls for study: the part played by the myth of momentous choice in our current moral crisis. Our image of ourselves (constructed of cultural and subcultural elements) is that of firm, enlightened, decisive men and women who, when we are faced with the momentous choice, quickly calculate the pros and cons, decide, and then advance resolutely to carry out our decision. At the same time we assume that these momentous decisions are to be faced at every turn. We are always making momentous decisions- says the myth; we stand at the crossroads two or three times a week, and decide on a new course. The traffic problem resulting from this would defy imagination. Fortunately there is no such problem:

it just doesn’t happen.

We do not make momentous decisions. They are made for us, and we either accept or not, with good grace or not. The myth the man or woman of decision, enlightened, determined, calculating the pros and cons, jutting out his or her jaw and ready to go–this is our consolation for being passive, petulant, confused, ineffectual, dominated by routines.

All right then. But at least we try to be decisive, determined…Maybe that is the source of the trouble.

The time has perhaps come to ask ourselves if this myth has not finally become so unreal, so unproductive, so paralyzing that it ought to be altogether discarded for some more honest and workable image, as a center of a more realistic scheme of meaning.

Why do I ask?

Because this myth has reached its ultimate absurdity in our image of ourselves as men and women of decision, determination, etc., etc., with our fingers on the button which can let loose nuclear destruction on our civilization. The demonic ironies of this pitiable image of ourselves ought to alert us to the fact that there are unsolvable contradictions in our present scheme of meanings. These ironies ought to alert us to the fact that while we have been talking our heads off about freedom we have in fact surrendered to un-freedom.

Our myth of ourselves as men and women of momentous choice is then simply a disguise for the more basic falsehoods that corrupt our real motives. What are they? Who knows?

My guess is that instead of being men and women of decision we are in fact men and women of velleity. And our pitiable confusion is due to our total submission to desire: not desire in its strong and passionate form (as we would like to imagine), but desire in a weak, erratic, querulous, resentful, subhuman caricature. This desire seems strong because it can express itself in a symbolic use of powerful machines (the high-powered car), but in reality it is flabby and dependent on things, on commodities, on money, on artificial stimulation.

The myth of the momentous decision cloaks our pitiable lack of identity and of autonomy.

But we cannot free ourselves from this illusion simply by making another momentous decision. For then the vicious circle begins all over again.

Where do we begin? Perhaps by learning to admit values which we fear, from which we are trying to escape. Values like solitude, inner silence, reflective communion with natural realities, simple and genuine affection for other people, admission of our need for these things, admission for our need for contemplation. But at every step we confront the same vicious myth, because we have forgotten how to “let things alone,” and live first of all by simple trust. Naturally there is much more involved than this: but this might be a conceivable point of departure, a preparation for a recovery of freedom. Then “decision” would once more have a meaning.

(Note: we live in a society in which for many people the values I have mentioned are for the most part completely inaccessible.)

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