Sunday, October 31, 2010

Qoheleth's Defence

The slim Book of the Preacher runs to only twelve chapters. We moderns call it Ecclesiastes, and it is the most entertaining defence that the ancient world ever put up against anomie, mainly because it starts by facing it head-on.

Here is the first chapter, eloquent in its best-known version. That one chapter has donated to the English language a wealth of idiom — 'all is vanity', 'earth abides forever', 'there is nothing new under the sun'. The eponymous author points out that people forget history, that psychology is nonsense, that attempting to use quantitative methods on abstractions doesn't work. He also points out that all the wisdom in the world will not save you from anomie, and that humans are forever going in circles.

And that's just the first chapter. In fact, it goes on like that a lot. It goes through every major philosophy of human existence (you should read his stuff on Epicureanism and hedonism, for example), and trashes the whole lot with fatalism of some sort — 'but time and chance happen to them all'.

Yet, in the final analysis, he points out that one major thing might be good to try: be at peace with your Maker, in the assumption that there is one. After all, if you are a Making, then your entire purpose revolves around your Maker. And if you are a Making, it is unlikely you can understand all the doings of your Maker.

That is why the wisest man on earth realised that the circle of human knowledge will never encompass the answer to, "What is the point of it all?" unless you assume there is a point and that you can't know it. Humans are never satisfied, and having a Maker who refuses to satisfy them on their terms is a great pain.

It is from this that humans get most of their angst and intellectual suffering. You can find a lovely illustration (tongue-in-cheek) of that here. The day ahead is All Hallows' Eve. It is a day full of related significance.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother always considered me a fatalist.

I like to think of it more as an acceptance of things, with the ability to move on from there.


Monday, November 01, 2010 5:10:00 am  

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