Wednesday, April 07, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 25

Fate versus Freedom

Freedom has always been a contentious basic right among us human animals.  Unlike our brother and sister animals we have the freedom of choice, the freedom to travel, the freedom to express our views, the freedom of belief and so on.  We exercise this gift of freedom from morning till night, whether to get up or not, go to work or not and so forth.  Obviously there are limits.  If I have a family I have to work to earn a living to siupport them and this automatically delimits my freedom.  Freedom always has limits, and it functions within limits.  Society, obviously, is based on this principle.  If there were no laws (limits to people's actions) there would be no freedom.  Paradoxically, rules, order and laws are necessary to the exercise of our freedom.  In short, absolute freedom is a myth.

Then there are those common myths that we peddle to each other as we travel through life, like, "It's all in the genes and so it follows that we are predestined to have this or that IQ, this or that gift or ability or disability."  Another version of this myth would be, "It's written in the stars."  Both these myths are sheer fatalism really.  Deep down the rest of us know that there is more to life.  There are after all the not-so-subtle social influences on us as well as subtle and even less subtle psychological influences, and even our momentary whims to do this or that.  And then freedom lurks somewhere in the whole complex jungle that is our motivation.  Our being in the world, indeed our authentic existence in it is a much more complex thing than simply nature and nurture.  As we have seen Hillman argues for the influence of the mythical acorn theory, for this primordial influence of the archetypes in our unconscious.  There surely is much else at work, and to be a reductionist in the manner of attributing distinct causes to our being in the world is more than a little short-sighted.

Fate versus Fatalism

I had never before come across the distinction that Hillman draws between Fate and Fatalism.  This latter, Fatalism,  is the evil partner of the two mentioned here.  It is, our man argues, the blind belief that our futures are written in stone as it were, or in other words, "in the stars" as they say in common parlance.  Rather Fate, on the other hand, is a sort of wise hindsight, that sees a pattern or a route in our lives.  It is never a rigid this or that which will happen to X or to Y.  In short, it is the very opposite to fatalism and certainly opposite to superstition.  Let's listen to Hillman's own words here:

Rather, the Greek idea of fate would be more like this: Events happen to people.  "They cannot understand why it happened, but since it has happened, evidently 'it had to be.'  Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.  After the event (post hoc), we give an account of what made it happen (ergo propter hoc).  It is not written in the stars that the stock market must crash in October 1987.  But after it has crashed, we find "reasons" that clearly made it necessary for it to have crashed right then. 

For the Greeks, the cause of these untoward events would be fate.  But fate causes only events that are unusual, that oddly don't fit in.  Not each and every thing is laid out in a superior divine plan.  That sort of comprehensive explanation is fatalism, which makes for paranoia, occultist Ouija board prognostics...  (The Soul's Code, p. 193)
Ego versus Fate:

Another interesting comparison or contrast that Hillman alludes to is that of ego versus fate, which I find very interesting.  He illustrates this by taking an example of Amerca's original pioneers.  He talks about the "heroic ego" which landed on Plymouth Rock and was full of "testosterone" and followed the likes of the early pioneers like Daniel Boone into the wilderness with long gun, Bible and loyal dog.  This was the ego which led the early settlers to follow on in these pioneers' footsteps and eventually called the wagon trains  westward across the American plains.  And so man versus hostile nature, man versus opposition, man versus the competitors in life was born in the USA, or so our man Hillman argues.

Then we have the growth of that notion of life as struggle, competition for survival, or in more Darwinian terms, the survival of the fittest.  And so fatalism is the seductive otherside which allows us to dump all our struggles onto the shoulders of sheer superstition.  Fatalism, our man argues, would have us hand all responsibility over to fate - we would, with this crooked logic, cease to vote, cease to go to AA meetings, to fight for gun control, no need even to have a fire department, since shit happens anyway.  I remember years ago learning in the theology of prayer the dictum, "Pray yes, but do go to the Doctor and take the medicine prescribed."  I suppose by Fate, Hillman means the sort of thing expressed in the last dictum, that we must co-operate with our Fate, use our freedom within whatever limits are placed about us by the structures of the physical world.  Our man further argues that fatalism comforts us,  for it asks no questions at all.  The Fates would have us reflect on life and ask those questions of life that we should ask.  And so once again Hillman goes back to Greek myth and language:

The Greek word for fate, moira, means a share, a portion.  As fate has only a portion in what happens, so the daimon, the personal, internalized aspect of moira, has only a portion in our lives, calling them but not owning them. 

Moira derives from the root smer or mer, meaning to ponder, to think, meditate, care.  It is a deeply psychological term, requiring us to scrutinize events with respect to the portion that comes from elsewhere and is unaccountable, and the portion that belongs to me, what I did, could have done, can do.  Moira is not in my hands, but moira is only a portion.  I can't abandon my actions or my abilities and their realization - and there frustrations and failures - to them, the gods and goddesses, or the will of the daimonic acorn.  Fate does not relieve me of responsibility; in fact, it calls for more.  Particularly, it calls for the responsibility of analysis.  (Ibid., p. 195)
Causality versus Teleology

These two terms I have come across many times in my study of theology and philosophy back in the 1970s, but it is somewhat refreshing to have a psychologist interpret them, rather than a theologian or philosopher.  Causality is that theory by which classical philosophy, mainly through Aristotle, attempts to answer the question, "what started this whole action off?" or "What began X or Y?"

Teleology is basically about where things are heading.  The Greek word "telos" means the "end" or purpose of something.  To that extent, it gives a purpose to life, or, if you like, a pull.  If causality pushes us, then teleology pulls us forward towards a goal or an end.  It provides a rational acoount of life's long-range purpose.

Events and the Soul

We all remember what Maurice Harold Macmillan (1894 –1986), erstwhile PM of the UK, said when asked  by a journalist what was most likely to blow governments off course: "Events dear boy, events."

Well, events do happen, and unexpected ones at that.  Oftentimes those events are sheer crises, like we had at school some three years ago where one young boy of 15 dropped dead, one of eighteen was murdered on his graduation night and another died tragically at 16 after a night of wreckless drinking.  These were all tragedies and events totally unexpected.  There are numerous less serious events that happen us all on a daily basis.  Hillman reminds us that the acorn is more concerned with the soul aspect of events, "more alive to what's good for it [the acorn]than to what you believe is good for you."  Now, that's hard to get the mind around.  But, Hillman might say that we are more than just a "mind," whatever that may be!


At the moment I am reading the beautiful, if tragic, novel of Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise, and in that there are so many tragic accidents, all too real as they were obviously based on her personal experience of the fall of France and its occupation by German troops during World War 2.  It's written with passion and obviously in haste as Irene was to die in the Auschwitz death camp.  In all of this, where lies the soul and where lies the acorn?  In the tragic lives of everyone recounted in these two short novels their acorn was seeking to make sense of events for them. 

Once again Hillman quarries biograpohies and autobiographies for stories of accidents after which individuals set a new course in life in keeping with the influence of their acorn.  He mentions accidents from the lives of Bette Davis, Pierre Franey, James Beard and even Winston Churchill.  He argues that the young Winston found himself intellectually at 18 years after badly injuring himself playing heroic battle games.  James Thurber was blinded in one eye, and this helped his creativity and led to his unique way of cartooning.  Likewise, with the likes of the writer of fantasy, J.M. Barrie.

Hillman reminds us of all the synonyms for acorn, viz., image, daimon, calling, angel, heart, acorn, soul, pattern, character, and indeed we do need reminding.

The acorn theory says that Churchill's fall, Thurber's lost eye, Barrie's mother's mourning, Coco Chanel's monastic  adolescence belong appropriately to their acorns.  These accidents in youth were not foretold by the acorn as if laid down in a divine plan, nor were these untoward events determinants of alater career, focing it forward along a defined path.  Rather they were necessary accidents, necessary and accidental both.  They were means for the soul's calling to come forth, ways the acorn expresses its form and formed their lives. (Ibid., p. 207 - 208)

Now I find it very hard indeed to get my mind around the idea of necessity.  Necessity with a capital N, which is the English name of the goddess Ananke as she appears in Plato's myth of Er.  It is she who decides what is necessary for our acorn or for our soul.  But surely this is fatalism?  No, it's not, it's necessity.  For Plato there was two great cosmic forces, viz., Nous or Reason or Mind and Necessity or Ananke.

When something doesn't fit, seems odd or strange, breaks the usual pattern, then more likely Necessity has a hand in it.  Though she determines the lot you live, her ways of influencing are irrational.  That is why it is so difficult to understand life.  Your soul's lot comes from the irrational principle.  The law it follows is necessity, which wanders erratically. (Ibid., p.p. 208-209)
So Necessity is the Irrational principle in life, in some sort of healthy tension with Rationality or Nous.  Scientists might call the principle of Irrationality by the name Chaos and supply their very own myth for this reality, i.e., Chaos Theory.  It is "a wandering off track,"  a breaking into consciousness and living of "something else;" it is the mentors' sudden perceptions of the beauty and potentiality of their students.  This is all the work of Ananke who, as Hillman traces its etymology, literally takes us by the throat ("narrow passage"), holds us prisoner and drives us like a slave.  This is where Hillman interprets Jung's famous saying as summing up all we have said in this paragraph: "The gods have become diseases."  The point is there is no escape from necessity.  It will not yield, cannot submit: ne + cedere.

Then, Hillman finishes this chapter with a paragraph on where necessity and death entertwine, where the soul and death consort.  The truer we are, he argues, to our own daimon the closer we are to the death that belongs to our very destiny.  And this, my friends, is a destiny we are fated to make alone.

Above a picture of the evening sky over Malahide, April 2010

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