13 August 2008

A life more ordinary

At the best of times, I cannot keep up with responses to all the blog posts which demand them. Unreal Nature alone has, since I last wrote here, caught my attention with more items than I can keep up with. Which to pick, which to let pass? This week, I've had an extra and unwelcome call on my time which made one particular Unreal Nature post, "The Funny to Frightening Continuum", the one that gets lucky.

Not that I personally find anything either funny or frightening (nor anywhere on the continuum between) in the examples given. Sadness, anger, indifference, incomprehension, were my own reactions rather than humour or fear. That's not, in any way, a criticism: just a recognition that we are all different and see things differently. However, that's not my reason for writing. Whatever the reader's reactions or labels, they are irrelevant; the examples were given in illustration of "talking about violence and death".

Pursuant to which, they end with the question: "So why can’t I imagine an interesting world that is without violence of any kind?" I can think of at least three answers – all of them, I think, true, and none of them excluding others equally valid.

  1. Because we are animals whose biology and psychology are, despite the adaptive wonders wrought by comparatively recent socialisation, shaped by survival in a dangerous forest margin environment fraught with predators. Our whole biology is tuned to danger of violence and death. When there is no tension, there is no stimulus to which that biology can respond. Fear of violence and death are not the only causes of tension, but they are the most obvious and the most accessible.
  2. Because we suffer from failure of imagination. Each generation passes on its memes to the next, subject to experiential modification. Those memes, in both instruction and art, are dominated by violence and death – and there are enough real events, temporally and spatially, to keep them fresh.
  3. Perhaps because violence and death have, I hope, remained ultimately external to your life. Those unfortunate enough to have them become routine either (a) acquire addiction to them or (b) find that life without them becomes very interesting indeed.

5 comments:

Poor Pothecary said...

This is very difficult. It's perhaps pretty strange that - despite our radically different backgrounds (mine, I know, has been vastly "safer" than Felix's) - I have exactly the same reaction, nowhere on the funny-to-frightening continuum, as Felix.

As to the question "So why can’t I imagine an interesting world that is without violence of any kind?": I can. At some level, I'm a complete geek and find all kinds of trivia interesting, and many topics of that kind are at JSBlog, where my employers give me free rein to indulge my interests.

That said, a good many of these topics (however literature-inspired) are about violence, death or the edge of sexual and disgust taboos. Primarily I go with Felix's first category: that we're animals, and these are intellectualised animal concerns.

More perhaps on this later ...

Felix Grant said...

PP> ... we're animals, and these
PP> are intellectualised animal
PP> concerns.

That sums up my excessive verbiage beautifully :-)

PP> More perhaps on this later...

I shall look frward to that.

Julie Heyward said...

You missed the italicised emphasis in my blog post. It's on the word interesting. I don't like violence. I don't want violence. What I am saying is that the possibility of violence is necessary for me to imagine an interesting world.

In response to your three answers, to (1), yes, obviously true in our real world of limited resources. However, the question was about imaginary worlds.

To (2), I think not, but see below.

To (3) -- unfair and unkind, but I will take it as an expression of your heartfelt feelings on the subject.

My statement was "So why can’t I imagine an interesting world that is without violence of any kind?"

"Interesting", to me = possibilities/the unknown = uncertainty = possibly unhappy, painful, violent consequences.

But equally uncertainty could = great joy and intense pleasure. The possibility, the uncertainty, for me = interesting.

Possibilities and the unknown always = uncertainty. As far as I can imagine, (the possibility of) violence is inherent in an interesting world. Find me a world where interesting does not equal uncertainty/unknown and you will prove me wrong.

My awareness of the possibility of failure/violence is what makes something interesting. Not nice, not enjoyable, not fruitful, not virtuous; interesting.

Felix Grant said...

JH> You missed the italicised

JH> emphasis in my blog post.

JH It's on the word interesting.


No, I didn't. I may have misunderstood you, I may have completely missed the
point, we may be at cross purposes ... but that italicised interesting
was at the heart of, and the whole reason for, my response.


JH> I don't like violence. I don't

JH> want violence. What I am

JH> saying is that the possibility

JH> of violence is necessary for

JH> me to imagine an interesting

JH>
world.


Yes - that's exactly what I understood from your post, and was the basis for
my response.



JH> ... (1), yes, obviously true in

JH> our real world of limited

JH> resources. However, the

JH> question was about imaginary

JH> worlds.


I'm not sure what limited resources have to do with it ... my position would
be that it is true regardless of resourcing.


And imaginary worlds are not, cannot be, divorced from real ones ... our
imagination, however freewheeling, takes its building blocks from our stored
experience ... and that, in turn, from sensory input.



JH> To (3) -- unfair and unkind, but

JH> I will take it as an expression of

JH> your heartfelt feelings on the

JH> subject.


I'm genuinely sorry that it seemed so - that was never my intent. It was an
observation about everyone, not personal. I'll leave it here, and follow it up
separately in order to try and rectify my big feet.


JH> My statement was "So why can’t

JH> I imagine an interesting world

JH> that is without violence of any

JH> kind?"

And my replies were serious attempts to answer exactly that.

JH> As far as I can imagine, (the

JH> possibility of) violence is

JH> inherent in an interesting world.

JH> Find me a world where interesting

JH> does not equal uncertainty/unknown...

It seems to me that you make a false link there: uncertainty/unknown does not
equate to violence. Uncertainty and the unknown can be found in, for example, a
set of mathematical equations or a game of snakes and ladders.



JH> My awareness of the possibility of

JH> failure/violence is what makes

JH> something interesting.


You make a new connection, between failure and violence, which I can't
immediately see. Remove the word "failure", and what remains is what I already
understood to be your thesis - and to which I was responding in all seriousness.
I don't think you are unusual in this relation of interest to danger; it is true
of everyone in some measure, and I think the reason for that lies in my answer
(1).


JH> Not nice, not enjoyable, not fruitful,

JH> not virtuous; interesting.


Yes - exactly what I understood you to mean. It never occurred to me to think
that you meant enjoyable, fruitful (though I might, myself, posit a linkage
between "interesting" and "fruitful") or virtuous. I took the italicised
interesting
as the sole and crucial point.

Julie Heyward said...

I'm convinced that you give such perfectly organized responses just to shame me into making an effort to organize my own (doesn't work ,as you can see, but I do feel a momentary twinge). Where are your purported mind weeds when I need them?

Back to the topic: No possibility of violence means no competition. No risk-taking. No pushing the limits. It means staying in the middle. Don't go near the edges. Don't act on your desires. Don't resist. Don't assert. Don't think, "I wonder what would happen if I do this..." and then act on it -- because all of these activities might lead to someone getting hurt.

If I were living alone on a desert island, I'm sure I would still manage to climb up a tree and fall out of it. If I were confined to my room (not on a desert island), I would read stories about people who are in danger of falling out of trees. I am not going to sit in my room and read stories about people sitting in their rooms reading stories.

[Limited resources give traction to natural selection. Unlimited resources removes the necessity for (violent) competition.]