What Is Life?

George Harrison

Oh tell me, what is my life without your love
Tell me who am I without you by my side?
(George Harrison)

Many George Harrison lyrics are intentionally ambiguous. They can be read, and usually are read, as straightforward romantic boy meets girl songs. George, however, as a devotee of bhakti yoga, the Hindu form of spirituality which cultivates love for god in the form of his avatars such as Krishna, might well have been writing about his relationship with the divine rather than earthly things.

He may have left us a clue to his intentions in the title of this song. The lyric is ‘what is my life?’ but the title omits the ‘my’ giving the question a more universal twist. It may seem a small point but as someone who, in my own trivial, insignificant way, writes I can attest that sometimes a world of intention can rest on a single word (as in my use of the word twist just now) which readers may never notice.

Be that as it may, what is life? George implies that without the Beloved one may exist but one does not live. Humans cannot be fully human if their focus is purely inward. It is not a question of choice, it is the way we are made. We always are in relation to the Other (which may be singular or plural.)  If that relationship is one where we reject every possible Other it still remains the thing which defines us and dominates our thoughts and actions.

The most perfect form, however, which that relationship can take is to love the Other for its own sake. That is, it does not exist for us in order to be possessed and used by us. It exists in order to be itself and to freely do what it does. If that free action includes a reciprocal love given to us then perfection is added to perfection but whether or not there is reciprocation life, to be life, must involve for us an element of selfless love.

The Other may be a person or persons, for most of us it usually is, hence the romantic reading of George’s lyrics. It may be God or the divine however perceived. It may be an ideal or cause, patriotism, socialism, whatever. But it always involves a personal aspect. That is, we don’t love our country as an abstraction but for the good which it does for people; we don’t love socialism because its a beautiful idea but because it will (we suppose) make human lives better. If we love God it is not the deity of the philosophers it is a personal God, the flute playing Krishna, the crucified Christ, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

What is life without such love? It is closed in on itself. It is a constant unsatisfied desire for fulfillment from an object, ourselves, which can never fulfil ourselves. Hunger and thirst cannot be satisfied from within neither can our need to love and be loved. What is life with such love? It is open to the Other, to a source capable of filling it. We may be mistaken in our choice of object and suffer greatly thereby. But we will have learned from the experience. And the lesson is not to avoid the risk of loving it is to place our love upon the Other which is most suitable to receive it.


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My *other* blog is Catholic Scot

The picture is George Harrison taken by Barry Feinstein

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Manchester: This Is The Place

manchester vigil Leon Neal Getty Images

And these hard times again, in these streets of our city, but we won’t take defeat and we don’t want your pity.

Because this is a place where we stand strong together, with a smile on our face, greater Manchester forever.

(This Is The Place by Tony Walsh)

Less than a day after dozens of people, mostly girls and young women, were killed or injured by a devastating suicide bomb attack  in Manchester thousands of Mancunians flocked to a vigil of remembrance, solidarity and defiance. Central to this event were the words offered by the leading Anglican pastor of the city and by a performance poet known as Longfella.

A noteworthy thing about this is that the UK is one of the least formally religious countries in the world and practically no one reads, or at any rate buys, poetry. Yet in a moment of great stress and anguish as if by instinct these are the two things toward which people reached. At a more intimate scale the same thing happens innumerable times at funerals and other powerful moments in individual’s lives.

It may be that these two things, poetry and religion, have something about them which reach beyond a moment that may seem meaningless and clad that same moment with meaning and purpose. There is a human longing for things to be whole, and true, and peaceful and harmonious. We cannot ever encounter such harmony here in this life but the things of poetry and religion can transport us for a moment into a realm where we know that such things are and endure and will have the final victory.

There was much talk both in the poem and in the city of ‘the spirit of Manchester.’ By definition no such thing can exist in the material world. I highly doubt that it has existence in any spiritual realm either. A strict atheist would perhaps say that it is no more than a comforting fiction. But it is more than that. It is a mythological truth. A myth is a story we tell ourselves about ourselves. In the act of telling it and in the attempt to live it out we change ourselves, we try to make it come true ‘in the real world,’ and if we don’t fully succeed we do at least make the world we inhabit a slightly better place if it is a good myth.

And there’s the rub. Religion, poetry and myth can be perverted from their function of purifying us and put to the service of defiling us instead. The philosopher Simone Weil notedBrutality, violence, and inhumanity have an immense prestige that schoolbooks hide from children, that grown men do not admit, but that everyone bows before” When those things are mythologised we can see a vision not of harmony but of conquest and if we associate ourselves with the conquerors then we share in the prestige and worship they receive.

One of the apparently puzzling things about some of the murders and rapists who have associated with Islamic State and other jihadi groups perpetrating horrors like the Manchester bombing is that they have long histories of petty crime and/or substance abuse but practically no history of religious practice. They are, as President Trump would put it ‘losers.’ The puzzle is solved if we see them worshipping the prestige which brutality confers more than the ostensible cause which that brutality is supposed to advance.

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the USA Pope St John Paul II saidTerrorism exploits not just people, it exploits God: it ends by making him an idol to be used for one’s own purposes.” The version of God, the Moloch, that Islamists offer up is a god of conquest, of victory without end, a juggernaut that crushes everything in its path. It is not a god that most people, Muslim or otherwise, recognise as the Creator of beauty as the transcendent source of life. But it is a god who has enough prestige to attract those who are losing in the struggle of life and want to hit out with the tenfold strength and prestige that this idol of brutality provides them with.

Simone Weil went on to say “For the opposite virtues to have as much prestige, they must be actively and constantly put into practice. Anyone who is merely incapable of being as brutal, as violent, and as inhuman as someone else, but who does not practice the opposite virtues, is inferior to that person in both inner strength and prestige, and he will not hold out in a confrontation.” Against their evil poetry and evil religion and evil myth we must muscularly assert good poetry, good religion and good myth. Not just in response to attacks but as attacks. The good does not drive out the bad by default it does so by struggle. We cannot defeat darkness by loving light, we must positively be light to achieve that victory.


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My *other* blog is Catholic Scot

The picture of Manchester is from NBC and by Leon Neal / Getty Images

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ISIS, Napoleons of Crime

When more or less abstract ideas begin to be translated by believers in them into facts on the ground then it behoves those of us who are the objects of this activity to pay some attention to the ideas in question. Channel 4’s film ISIS: The Origins of Violence by the (very) English historian Tom Holland looks both at some extremely grim facts already created by Islamic State and at the abstractions which have prompted them.

Early in the documentary Holland makes a statement and asks a question and these two things define the purpose of the exercise. The statement is that within the corpus of ancient Islamic texts, the Quran and the stories about its founder, are unexploded bombs waiting to be detonated. The question is why are they being detonated at this precise point in time?

There are two popular narratives about this. One supposes that Islam is an inherently violent body of thought and that every few generations a charismatic leadership emerges which follows the internal logic of the faith to its obvious conclusion and finds a sufficiency of followers to spread mayhem far and wide. Opposing this is the idea that jihadi violence has nothing to do with Islam as such but is an inchoate expression of rage against, on the one hand, Western colonial aggression in Muslim lands and, on the other hand, racism and Islamophobia experienced by Muslims living in Western lands.

Ton Holland can be interpreted as saying that neither of these hypotheses as they are normally understood is true. Neither in ancient texts nor in recent events can we find the deep causes of the current crisis. If, however, we consider the first sanguinary encounter between the Enlightenment West and the Muslim world, the conquest of Egypt at the end of the Eighteenth century by Napoleon as the origin point for jihadism then, in a sense, both narrative accounts become true.

The crucial argument here is that in occupying Egypt the French revolution not only attempted to hold land but also to colonise the minds of the people who lived on that land. Holland argues that the stories which Muslims tell themselves about themselves and, more particularly, about their prophetic founder changed in character as a result of this colonisation. Muhammad was reimagined as being himself a Napoleonic character with a will-to-power which gave a direction and purpose to his actions, particularly in Medina. This contrasts with an earlier understanding of him as a more otherworldly figure who is only reluctantly involved in the practical details of daily life.

Few of us know enough about pre-Nineteenth century Muslim biographies of their founder to be able to assess Holland’s thesis fairly. Proponents of the ‘Islam as inherently violent’ narrative would point to outbreaks of savagery against unbelievers long before the Egyptian conquest. Holland, I would guess, could contend that these were episodic and local whereas jihadi ideology is programmatic and international.

It might be asked why Muslim minds found this new way of telling their founders story so congenial instead of rejecting it as wholly alien to their tradition? As if in answer to this the film goes back to look at the regime of Terror in the French Revolution, from which Napoleon emerged as its master. Many of the features found by Holland in his trip to Iraq, beheadings, desecration of corpses, destruction of monuments could also be found in the France of the Jacobins (and he might have added, but didn’t, the genocidal fury against Yazidis by ISIS had a French parallel in the Vendée)

What does this demonstrate? Tom Holland suggests that enlightenment liberalism and Islam share a common vision, deriving from the Apocalypticism of the ancient Middle East, that there will be a final and total victory of truth and right accompanied by a final judgement upon the enemies of truth. That is, both liberalism and Islam have universalist aspirations and a conviction that they are on the right side of history. While Islamists are perfectly clear about this for liberalism it is an unexamined first assumption which may not bear too much scrutiny.

Is Holland as right about this as he is in some of his other campaigns to save hedgehogs and preserve Stonehenge? I think that as abstract ideas which may themselves be translated into facts on the ground they merit scrutiny and consideration. The forming of snap judgements never afterwards re-examined or revised is one of the problems which Holland encountered it would be too ironical to treat his ideas in the same fashion. Let us think about them before we praise or condemn them.


On my *other* blog I’ve written about Tom Holland’s earlier foray into Islam “In The Shadow of Medina

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Secularism: What Is It Good For?

Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV doing penance to reverse his excommunication by Pope Gregory VII

There is a rare consensus among Western intellectuals that the best form of governance under all circumstances requires that the State be secular. Yet it is somewhat less clear what the word ‘secular’ concretely means in this context. The bumper sticker summary proclaims “separation of Church and State” but the actual content of what is often proposed goes radically beyond that deceptively simple slogan.

The notion of secularism which first developed in medieval Europe was that the Temporal and the Spiritual powers had distinctly different realms within which they could exercise ultimate authority free from the controlling interference of the other power. The realms overlapped so this naturally led to jurisdictional battles and, moreover, each attempted to influence the other within its own proper sphere. But influence, of course, is different in degree from control.

The Enlightenment, following the shock of the ‘Reformation’, changed the terms of the debate. Monarchs, ably backed by enlightened intellectuals like Voltaire, favoured an Absolutism whereby all power, spiritual and temporal, was held by the national State. This gave Princes the authority to appoint Bishops and to determine dogma. An approach which national churches were powerless to resist but which Rome and her daughters throughout the world unhesitatingly defied. Contrary then to what is popularly supposed the Divine Right of Kings was a doctrine inimical to Catholicism when it became associated with Enlightenment liberalism.

At the beginning of the 21st century the liberal position remains absolutist. That is, behind the demand for separation of Church and State is an understanding that the Spiritual power is subservient to the Temporal at all times and in all things. So, to liberalism secularism now means driving religion out of the public square and into private circles, like that of stamp collectors or homing pigeon racers.

To the modern mind the questions may be ‘why not?’ ‘the laws should be the same for everyone why should religion get an exemption?’ Leaving to one side the possibility that absolute power may have an absolutely corrupting effect there is another argument to deploy. All human societies are divided between those whose dominant interest is in this visible material world and those who focus on the invisible spiritual world which they are convinced exists. The first group are invariably more numerous yet historically have recognised the need, in the interest of a healthy society, for the second group to exist and to act freely.

To put it another way, the Temporal and Spiritual realms were acknowledged to exist as more than organisational structures within the world. They were powerful abstract realities which were determinants of human action. All human life proceeds from Mind and some minds are governed by Temporal and some by Spiritual concerns (many, of course, are influenced by both at different times.) That being so they each required formally constituted organs through which to function in the world and translate their impulses into concrete actions and forms. Secularism then emerged as a de facto recognition of the necessity of these powers to co-inhabit the same space, to function alongside each other, to influence each other but ultimately to be sovereign within its own proper domain.

Contemporary intellectual opinion in the West, however, fails to see the need for such a modus vivendi. For them spiritual belief is simply an opinion about an unprovable assertion. The emphasis is upon the demonstrability of the belief itself. However what is most important from a societal point of view is the power with which the belief is held not how true it might or might not be. Those with a spiritual faith live and move and have their being in and through that faith in a way which those who adhere to opinions about, say, politics or sport or music do not. You do not have to accept or even respect their particular faith but good sense requires you to see its power.

In pluralist societies a separation of Church and State makes some sense but the subordination of all Spiritual power to the dominion of an Absolute Temporal power does not. The realm exists, it is inhabited, those within it govern their lives according to the spiritual dictates which form their consciences.  Acting as if it did not exist or as if its inhabitants are only at odds with the wider world through perversity is an approach which can only lead to persecution and repression or at least exclusion.

What is required is a delineation which clearly sets the limits of both powers. For the most part the laws of the land relate to purely temporal, material matters and all citizens must obey them. Yet it is reasonable to realise that given the existence and effects of spiritual faith on the minds of a minority the qualitative power of that belief must be acknowledged and a space created where the absolutism of the State is limited by the needs of many of the State’s citizens. Good governance is not about creating smooth streamlined ideal systems it is about finding ways to accommodate the diversity of the human condition a diversity which expresses itself in ways much more complex than the race, sex, sexuality and culture currently allowed for.


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My *other* blog is Catholic Scot

The picture is The Emperor Henry IV doing penance before Pope Gregory VII at Canossa by Tancredi Scarpelli

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Religious Belief & Pink Unicorns

There are, in what passes for discussion on the internet, a significant group of atheists who rail against Christianity in principle but display a remarkable degree of ignorance about it in detail. Faced with the suggestion that they learn more about the subject which they spend so much time talking about their response is usually along these lines-

Some people believe, without proof, in the Christian God and some people believe, without proof, in pink unicorns. Why should I waste my time investigating one absurd belief more than another?” Which is rather like saying that since some people say that Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language and others give that honour to Jeffrey Archer we must assume that there is no superlative writer in English.

In this case, though, we can see that one position is advocated by highly educated, highly intelligent specialists in language and literary criticism whereas the other comes from an unverified purchaser on Amazon reviews. That being so pairing the two claims as if they were of equivalent force, value and merit is a mere superficial playing with words. The reason to consider one claim more than another rests not simply in the claim itself but in the sheer weight of expertise and knowledge which can be found among the claimants.

The matter, of course, is not capable of being proved in a scientific sense but it can be demonstrated within the terms of its own category whether one proposition is more likely to be true than another. When deciding which claims to investigate it makes no real sense to refuse to examine any on the grounds that there is more than one such claim. Some claimants simply possess more authority than others and while this doesn’t in any way prove their propositions it should at least render them worthy of intelligent consideration.

Returning to the subject of Christianity. The advocates of Christian belief, past and present, include some of the greatest intellects in the whole history of Western thought such as Augustine, Aquinas, Erasmus and numerous others. The case made in favour of pink unicorns lacks such intellectual heft. To compare the two beliefs as being of equal value and thus equally to be ignored simply because they exist side by side is a logical fallacy.

At this point an atheist might argue that I have fallen into the trap of argumentum ad populum, suggesting that something must be true because many people believe it to be so. That is not, however, the case. I am appealing to the consensus sapientium, the consensus of the wise, where what is crucial is not quantity but quality. It is not an argument from numbers, nor is it for that matter an argument from authority, it is simply a suggestion that if many of the wise think that a proposition has great merit then that proposition is probably worth investigating independently.

What, I think, lies behind the internet atheists refusal to investigate is an a priori assumption that no spiritual belief can be true because no spiritual belief can be proved scientifically. It is worth noting that the statement ‘no spiritual belief can be true’ is itself not capable of being proved scientifically; it is at best an hypothesis. If a person’s basic first principle is an unprovable hypothesis then they do well not to act upon it as if it were an eternally true dogma.

The real problem lies in a confusion of categories. The scientific method is the gold standard for investigating the material universe and the objects which it contains. If a claim about this subject cannot be proved or at least studied scientifically then it is reasonable to doubt it. But the universe inhabited by humans is more than material. Even leaving aside claims about Spirit people live and move and have their being in the worlds of ideas, poetry, music, art, literature, philosophy, political economy and so on. Certainly each of these manifest themselves in the material realm but they take their origin in the abstract activity of Mind. Science cannot demonstrate what is beautiful in art or true in politics and scientists give or withhold their approbation in such matters in the same way that humans did in the pre-scientific age; by using category-appropriate criteria.

Where the internet atheist errs is in extending tools useful to investigating material objects into fields where they are simply not applicable often then assuming that anyone who disagrees with their arbitrary re-categorisation is an intellectual inferior. The simple fact is, though, that every one of us gives our intellectual consent all the time to scientifically unprovable propositions because if we didn’t human societies would cease to function. We do not refuse, for example, at an election to consider any claims by a political party on the grounds that there is more than one such organisation. Instead we, most of us anyway, look at the ideas of the more credible parties and leave the fringe ones to their own devices.

I would suggest the same approach applies to the matter of religious belief. Yes, some people believe in pink unicorns and yes some people believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ but they are not equivalent belief systems and if you disagree with the more credible of them then you have some responsibility to investigate it more closely before you become a public advocate for its destruction.


(An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent by John Henry Newman looks at some of the philosophical issues outlined above, well worth a read)

thoughtfully detached has a Facebook page

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The painting is a watercolour pink unicorn poster from zazzle.com 

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Good Friday, The Longest Day

In the 1962 film The Longest Day about the Normandy Landings there is an, for the era, harrowing scene showing the disastrous airborne assault on Sainte-Mère Église. American paratroopers were killed in large numbers by well prepared German defenders. Later in the picture John Wayne, playing a commanding officer, arrives in the village which has become the scene of a fierce firefight. He sees dozens of bodies still attached to their parachute harnesses dangling from trees and buildings. They have not been cut down because the fighting troops had other priorities on their minds. Wayne peremptorily orders that the dead soldiers be immediately got down and decently disposed off.

There are no doubt sound military reasons for this, it would be bad for morale to have the casualties on such undignified display. However, the emotion conveyed by Wayne was something more visceral. The dead heroes merited to be treated with respect and no price was too high to ensure that this was done. Some 2400 years previously a similar idea preoccupied the Greek writer Sophocles when he wrote his tragic play Antigone. The central theme is the determination of the eponymous heroine to give her brother Polyneices a decent burial and the equal determination of the State to deny him such a privilege. Since this was Classical Greece not Hollywood everything ended unhappily with all round weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

That a common theme can be observed across such a big arc of human history suggests that there is something fundamental to our nature as a species contained within it. The desire to show respect and honour to the mortal remains of those whom we love or value is deeply rooted. Since humans are such perverse creatures the opposite also holds, that we wish to disrespect and dishonour the bodies of our enemies and those whom we despise; which is why Polyneices was left to rot in the first place.

Both of these elements can be discerned in one of the stories which has been central to Western civilisation for 2000 years, the crucifixion of Jesus. The central character in this subplot is Joseph of Arimathea described by the Evangelist St John as “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38) Yet St Mark can say of him that he “went in boldly to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43) That is, the Arimathean was willing to take more risks for Jesus dead than he had been when Jesus was alive. Why was this?

From the point of view of funerary rites a crisis point arrived with the death of Christ on the Cross. The authorities would have disposed of the corpse with the contempt reserved for criminals unless a figure of the stature of Joseph, who had political and financial clout in Jerusalem, came forward to claim it. Faced with the dilemma of, on the one hand, public exposure as a sympathiser of the executed subversive or, on the other, the undignified disposal of a teacher whom he revered the Arimathean opted for the risk of making himself personally vulnerable in order to give respect to the bones of his master.

There was nothing uniquely Jewish or Christian about this response but it is very characteristically human. Given the near universal phenomenon of our attachment to the physical remains of the beloved dead it is worth asking how well the currently dominant Western worldview, secular liberal humanism (SLH), addresses this need. I have some personal experience here as both my parents had humanist funerals although I cannot pretend to have been a calm dispassionate observer in either case.

The format of the ceremony, readings, music, eulogies was strictly derivative of Christian rituals (or at least Protestant ones anyway.) What was different was that the focus was entirely upon the life of the recently deceased and their legacy. Most people were perfectly comfortable with the absence of references to resurrection or eternal life since they didn’t really believe in such things anyway. The approach, then, works well in the intimate setting of a single funeral. Its imitative nature does lead one to think that it is a case of supply meeting demand and that from within its own inherent logic SLH would not have evolved a supply in order to create a demand.

Be that as it may death is not always an exclusively private, individual matter. Societies need to provide for collective grieving over the consequences of war, terrorism or disaster. And, indeed, the remembrance of those of our nation, tribe or clan who have died over the years and whom we come together to recall. SLH is above all an outlook which prioritises individualism which is why it can adapt so easily to cater for the death of a single person but how can it adapt to many deaths?

Traditional approaches look to continuities that link the present of a community to its past, to its future and to eternity. Religious and spiritual beliefs have a certain built in advantage here but nationalisms and messianic ideologies like communism can also provide such linkages in emotionally powerful and satisfying ways. SLH, by contrast, is fairly anaemic in its ability to respond. The only strategies it can offer are to highlight individual stories as being somehow representative and/or stressing the continuity of The Idea over time.

The first approach is weak because no individual is truly representative and anyway SLH will automatically choose figures who are precisely not representative, ethnic minorities, migrants, gays, in order to further their philosophical purposes. However worthy and heroic such figures as Polish Battle of Britain pilots might be the descendants of  20 generations of English yeoman stock will not see them as being authentically representational of the glorious dead 1939-1945.

Advancing the notion that The Idea has been a continuous thread in our particular collective group history is simply not true. Historians tie themselves in knots trying to pretend that figures as diverse as Socrates, Julian of Norwich and Martin Luther were proto liberal democrats. The melange that is SLH is of recent origin and people will not be fooled into thinking that their forebears died on the beaches of Normandy in defence of the policies that lost Hillary Clinton the last US presidential election.

Collective acts of remembrance have to be inclusive in the sense that they include, without judging or condemning, the past as well as the present. Included too must be a hope for the future that all those engaged in grieving and remembering will see the lives of those they have left behind reflected positively in the lives of those yet to come. SLH with its habit of condemning the past in toto (excepting those supposed proto liberal democrats which it mythologises) and its project to socially engineer the future is not in a good position to meet these human needs.

If a worldview cannot find a way of meeting the deepest longings of its John Wayne’s, its Antigone’s and its Joseph’s of Arimathea then its foundations are desperately shallow and it may find that it is not as long for this world as it supposes.


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Beware of Darkness

George Harrison

Beware of darkness
Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head

(George Harrison)

There is a line in the Gospel which I’ve always found somewhat enigmatic “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt 6:22-23) I guess that it points towards the same idea that Gautama Buddha gives as “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage” (Twin Verses 1)

It is, I suppose, characteristic of the differences between Christianity and Buddhism that where Jesus begins from the external world and works inwards Buddha begins from the internal realm and works outward. Whatever the initial mechanism might be in any event the suggestion is that the thing upon which we most focus becomes fused with ourselves to such an extent that we cease to be in any way independent from it (like Gollum and the One Ring.) In times of great societal stress like that experienced in the time and at the place where I am now writing (the United Kingdom, March 2017) the temptation to obsess about world-changing events is huge.

Much of what I see on social media appears to be produced by people who have developed a Gollum Syndrome. Almost everything they observe, think over and comment upon is filtered through what they feel about their particular Precious. I use the word feel advisedly since it goes beyond mere intellectual analysis. They have become so invested in what, perhaps, in the beginning was simply a reasoned opinion that reason, thought and intellect have become junior partners in the coalition between mind and emotion.

One consequence of this is that highly intelligent, extremely well educated and normally empathetic people will believe (and retweet) the most egregious nonsense without any evidence whatsoever provided it weakens the other side in some way. Normally sharp critical faculties and analytical tools which are still used effectively in other contexts get abandoned in such cases as the powerful feeling that this thing must be right becomes an all sufficient proof that it is right.

The parallel with the One Ring is not precise because humans possess the capacity to transform that which is light in itself into darkness within the person who looks at it. That is, an object may be good in itself, a peaceful Europe, a socially just America, but once it has been processed by a passion-distorted consciousness it becomes something else; a bludgeon aimed at enemies rather than a philosophy intended to effect social and political improvements.

The only remedy for those afflicted with Gollum Syndrome is, I think, detachment. There is nothing wrong with passionate commitment to a cause, emotion gives an energy which desiccated intellect on its own would lack. Yet these things, thought and feeling, should always be held in a good working balance. If you suspect that your superior centres of reason are being overwhelmed by waves of passion then remedial action becomes an urgent necessity.

Detachment does not mean distraction, taking your mind of the issue for a few hours by listening to music, going for a run or doing some gardening. Nor does it necessarily mean abandonment, giving up your cause altogether. What it does mean is immersing yourself, your whole self, in some activity which transcends the limitations of any one political or social struggle, however important it may be, and doing this for an hour or two every single day, preferably at the start of the day. As a Catholic when I say this what I mean, of course, is prayer and meditation but other options are available. However that may be once you have done so you can return to your cause of choice anew with a different and more dispassionate perspective upon it. This will enable you to use to the full the analytical and critical skills which you have been holding in abeyance. Thus detachment not frenzy provides your greatest chance of success.

George Harrison knew what he was about when he used words like linger and winding, the process he describes is insidious and pervasive. It can creep up on us without us noticing it. When we do realise, though, it is important not to justify ourselves by reference to the supreme importance of the issues. Defective tools will perform defective work doing more harm than good. We will best serve the thing we love by detaching ourselves from it in order to re-form our Self.

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My other blog is Catholic Scot

The picture is George Harrison taken by Barry Feinstein

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