On communitary engagement

The image so far of the practitioner of philosophy as a way of life, as depicted throughout sections to, is mostly of a person carefully considering every moment as a profound fractal of the whole of time and space; a person who actively concentrates on keeping at bay habitual, instrumental, and operational perception from infiltrating their perception of the world-as-world; a person who is participating in the unfolding of the universe without interfering by way of trying to ‘control’ it, a person who accordingly ‘treads softly’ (a deliberate evocation of Princen’s book, Treading Softly – see Chapter 4). In I offered a glimpse of the scenario where this person must, for example, engage in the activity of eating; accordingly, he acquires food and eats it, but in a manner that is in conformity with his Orphic ‘convictions’, if I may refer to them as such, rather than in a manner where the individual considers himself ‘Democratically free to consume what he likes, when he likes, how he likes, and as much of it as he likes’, which is an extreme instance of the Promethean attitude, but an instance encountered at an alarmingly high rate in contemporary consumerist society (a society unsurprisingly facing an ecological crisis that it has created under the mis-guidance of exclusive Prometheanism).

My personal experiences with some of these ideas have been ‘proof of the pudding’, so to speak. Specifically, when stepping back from the focus on replaying and analysing past events, and from speculating or worrying about future events, the outcome has been deeply peaceful. I become aware of my breathing, the air coming into my lungs and out again; the sounds emanating from that which surrounds me; even the beating of the heart, as mentioned in a quote in a recent sub-section. The narrative of the mind can be quieted; awareness of the ‘logistical self’ can be transferred to an awareness of the ‘perceiving self’. Cravings and desires (which are conditioned into people via habits) are noticed, but not reacted to. This is a state I consider to be very conducive for observation: observation of the self, but also observation of what is being perceived. That which is being perceived in this state is not under threat of negation due to the event of this kind of perception. This, as Hadot (1995:274) remarks, is only possible when some of the “tasks which must be kept in mind at each instant” are under ‘control’: “vigilance over one’s thoughts and consent to the events imposed by destiny” (Ibid). All of this does, for me, constitute a state of inner peace.

I would like to continue the personal tone slightly longer, and then return to some important food-for-thought offered by Hadot in closing of the current focus on philosophy as a way of life. The state of inner peace that has often been central in recent sub-sections, and which I have just commented on in a personal capacity, is obviously exceptionally positive as far as personal inner peace is concerned. However, I have had to ponder the extent to which personal inner peace is important in the context of the ecological crisis. I have already suggested more than once that a practitioner in his or her practice of philosophy as a way of life is a) stepping back from ecologically-problematic Promethean actions, and b) goes about the necessities of life aware of the interconnection of all of the cosmos and of the consequences of actions in an interconnected whole. These are obviously important factors to consider in that they are conducive to ecological ‘soft-treading’. But it simultaneously seems unlikely that philosophy as a way of life, or its Orphic consequences, will matter much to the average person, which is to say a person conditioned almost exclusively in the realm of the Promethean, i.e. in ACID. One can only hope that an Orphic-oriented way of life, with its concomitant ‘inner peace’ would have consequences that will mitigate the detrimental consequences of the Promethean.

Further to my most recent statement – more or less, that the average Promethean ‘man’ is unlikely to hear the call of philosophy as a way of life, or if he hears it, unlikely to do anything about it – I must add that the inner peace associated with philosophy as a way of life is, by itself, not the complete ‘story’ of the ancient philosophical way of life. Hadot (1995:274) makes it clear that there was a strong “communitary engagement” in the ancient philosophical sphere:

Ancient philosophy required a common effort, community of research, mutual assistance, and spiritual support. Above all, philosophers … never gave up having an effect on their cities, transforming society, and serving their citizens, who frequently accorded them praise, the vestiges of which are preserved for us by inscriptions. Political ideas may have differed from school to school, but the concern for having an effect on city or state, king or emperor, always remained constant.

Hadot (Ibid) continues – and I must quote the entirety of this extract due to its importance:

… an essential place is accorded to the duty always to act in the service of the human community; that is, to act in accordance with justice. This last requirement is, moreover, intimately linked to the two others. It is one and the same wisdom which conforms itself to cosmic wisdom and to the reason in which human beings participate. This concern for living in the service of the human community, and for acting in accordance with justice, is an essential element of every philosophical life. In other words, the philosophical life normally entails a communitary engagement. This last is probably the hardest part to carry out. The trick is to maintain oneself on the level of reason, and not allow oneself to be blinded by political passions, anger, resentments, or prejudices. To be sure, there is an equilibrium – almost impossible to achieve between the inner peace brought about by wisdom, and the passions to which the sight of the injustices, sufferings, and misery of mankind cannot help but give rise. Wisdom, however, consists in precisely such an equilibrium, and inner peace is indispensible for efficacious action.

So, in nurturing cosmic consciousness and quieting habitual perception (which requires concentration on the present moment), an inherently valuable state of inner peace is achieved, wherein the world can be perceived ‘qua world’; this state is necessary for the kind of self-mastery associated with wisdom and reason, which (as seen in the above extract) is “intimately linked” to “the duty always to act in the service of the human community”. The inner peace and cosmic consciousness acquired in the practice of philosophy as a way of life then allow for an “equilibrium” to be maintained between “the passions” and inner peace; this equilibrium, as Hadot states, is the domain of wisdom. Interestingly, Hadot ends the above extract with a curious remark: “inner peace is indispensible for efficacious action”. I call this curious because it suggests an instrumentality, which makes sense if one re-considers something Hadot (1995:265-266) says, which I have already quoted but must here re-quote: “First and foremost, philosophy presented itself as a therapeutic, intended to cure mankind’s anguish”. The individual, in practicing philosophy as a way of life as it has been revealed in this chapter, acquires a state of inner peace, thereby ‘curing’ her own anguish. Added to this first sense of instrumentality is a second sense: the individual’s state of inner peace makes it possible for the equilibrium referred to above to be achieved, which in turn makes her more of an effective participant in “the service of the human community”, especially when one is faced with the “injustices, sufferings, and misery of mankind”.

The ecological crisis, which, in Chapter 2, I showed to be directly caused by human actions in a dispensation dominated by Promethean attitudes, is most assuredly one where humankind is faced with all manner of “injustices, sufferings, and misery”. Loss of biodiversity demonstrably results in the eventual collapse of ecosystems on which human beings depend for their own sustenance; loss of topsoil creates desertification and the accompanying intensification of hardship for communities of people who live in such conditions; climate change displaces island and coastal communities; and so on. Added to this are “injustices, sufferings, and misery” in the non-human world, some of which were glimpsed in Chapter 1. I have commented already that the issues surrounding the ecological crisis seem like issues worth worrying about, but the most recent train of thought about philosophy as a way of life raises an important question about “efficacious action” (Ibid) in the context of ecological crisis – are worry, fear, anger, and resentment the best motivators of and means to “efficacious action”? Surely the answer to this question has already been glimpsed in this chapter: inner peace, it has been seen, occurs when focus is directed towards the living present and away from “the burden and prejudices of the past, as well as from worry about the future” (Hadot 1995:259). With the conviction bestowed upon one by the call of justice (as alluded to by Hadot in the recent longer quote about ‘communitary engagement’), and with the equanimous state of inner peace nurtured by practicing philosophy as a way of life as traced by Hadot, one seems well equipped to deal with “the blows of fate” (Hadot 1995:264) and the “events imposed by destiny” (Hadot 1995:274). The individual practicing philosophy as a way of life, therefore, ‘does not suffer’ in the context of suffering (or, at least, suffers less than if perceiving ‘habitually’), and accordingly interacts in a ‘wise manner’ as suggested by Hadot when he writes, as already seen, that wisdom “consists in precisely such an equilibrium, and inner peace is indispensible for efficacious action” (Ibid).