Saturday, November 13, 2010

Foxy Montaigne

'Man cannot make a worm,' wrote Montaigne, 'yet he will make gods by the dozen.'

This is quoted by Morris Berman in an essay entitled 'The Hula Hoop Theory of History' that reflects on our human capacity for conversion to the next new idea, convinced that we now have not an answer to a particular contextualized question but 'The Answer' that supersedes all previous answers (until, of course, the next Answer comes along)!

Montaigne is suggesting, I think, that rather than be humble in the face of reality, contemplating it in its complexity, enterprising after ways of seeing it that never foreclose, we are more comfortable with total solutions - better to create a god in our own image (or ideology) than contemplate the mysteries and actualities of a worm: that which is gifted, present.

I was talking to a friend on Friday who is a highly gifted consultant on organizational development (a description that comprehensively fails to do her justice) and she was lamenting how people would keep referring to the absence of a 'silver bullet' to resolve complex situations. 'This is such a complex situation, 'they would say, 'for which we have no silver bullet' as if complex situations are amenable to 'simple technical solutions or finding the answer' rather than needing to be lived into, and with, making adjustments towards more favourable outcomes, and continually adjusting on the way.

I am reminded of Isaiah Berlin's famous essay on Tolstoy's philosophy of history: 'The Hedgehog and the Fox' where the hedgehog knows one thing, the fox many. Certain thinkers (artists etc) wish to comprehend the world within a comprehensive system (hedgehogs) and others believe this is an impossible task, you can essay after the truths but never find 'the truth' (the foxes). Berlin wanted to argue that Tolstoy longed to be the former but the texture of his vision was towards the particular, the anomaly, the individual. He kept lapsing into foxiness!

Montaigne was of the fox's party and I find so am I. It may not be a question of finding the truth that sets you free but being freed from the need for 'the truth' that binds you up.



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