Friday, August 31, 2012

Thom Stark on Idealism and Nihilism

Amidst his anti-Republican postings on Facebook, Thom Stark waxed philosophical and landed this gem:
"I'm an idealist, but also a cynical nihilist. We should know and do what is right, not because it's going to make a lasting difference to the world, but because tragedy is truth, and there is no tragedy where there is no effort to resist. To be human is to resist; to be fully human is to watch everything we've tried to achieve crumble to ash as we destroy ourselves. Not until everything is destroyed is our human experience complete. Believe if you have to believe, but the outcome will be the same for everybody. The only question is whether you tried or gave up. Knowing we're going to fail is not an excuse to give up. Because the question isn't whether or not we're going to conquer our animal nature. We certainly are not. The question is whether or not we're going to resist despite it. That potential to resist, however hopeless the cause, is what makes us what we are. Will we be human, or just another animal? The answer to the second question is in our DNA. The answer to the first is in your very real, very imaginary soul."
This marriage of idealism and nihilism isn't far from my own outlook, and carries two implied imperatives. One is the long defeat, or the inevitability of evil/destruction despite our drive to do good. It's a Ragnarok eschatology, if you will, that urges moral behavior even knowing it won't make a lasting difference, only a temporary holding action. Lord of the Rings, for instance, is saturated with such hopeless heroism: Sauron was defeated, but the end of the Third Age was about everyone's defeat -- the failure of Frodo, the fading of the elves, and the foreordained deterioration of men. In our world, the long defeat translates into more gritty realities, such as environmental sovereignty and the immorality hardwired in our genes.

The other imperative is tragedy, and I'd be surprised if Stark wasn't familiar with playwright Eugene O'Neill, who wrote: "The tragic alone has that significant beauty which is truth. It is the meaning of life and the hope. The noblest is eternally the most tragic. The people who succeed and do not push on to a greater failure are the spiritual middle-classers." While I have no desire to seek out failure or tragedy (what fool would?), and while I'm confident that I fit the definition of a spiritual middle-classer, intent isn't the key. It's the plain result of tragedy, which is the garden of wisdom; it forces things on us we'd not take otherwise; it shrinks our learning curves exponentially; it's the ultimate extension of the pivotal truth, "no gains without pains".

Finally, Stark points to the "real and imaginary soul". Imaginary, because it can be neither seen nor proven, and may not even exist. Real because it feels real regardless, and drives us accordingly. Stark should expend more energy in these quarters, and perhaps a bit less redundantly bashing fools like Mitt Romney.


Blogger Thom Stark said...

Redundantly bashing fools like Mitt Romney, of course, is an exercise in not giving up. Just sort of a casual exercise in between windmills.

And yes, O'Neill is one of my heroes. Long Day's Journey is my favorite.

Nice post. Thanks!

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Redundantly bashing fools like Mitt Romney, of course, is an exercise in not giving up...

Yes, I had a feeling that's exactly what you'd say, though I was razzing you more than anything.

Blogger Thom Stark said...

Razz away!


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