Monday, February 16, 2009

Seeing Trees by Louis Evan Palmer

In this article, the trees are virtues and the forest is the whole from which they emerge.

Generally, a virtue is good, and a vice, which is opposed to a virtue, is bad. We, typically, don't see them existing on their own without relationships or connections or contexts. For example, seeing courage and loyalty as ideal independent virtues similar to Plato's ideal solids.

Because virtues are personal attributes, the sire of any virtue is the sense of self. A person, or personhood, manifests a virtue.

Sense of self, in turn, needs memory. The traditional memory but also tendencies, instinct & other innateness, each with their own memories possibly connected to the main traditional memory or other memories, possibly isolated. All enmeshed in a reality, an enormous web of relationships and laws transfixed by time and cravings.

This idea of memory is anchored in an uncharted ocean of speculation and ambiguous experimental results. There are persons with almost no physical brains yet they are smart and have an ability to remember indistinguishable from others with whole brains. One theory being that memories are not actually resident in our brain but rather are deciphered by our brain. It's not known exactly how memories are encoded or even if they're encoded. We typically think of them as constructed out of bits of concepts & images & words & sensations which is somehow captured in some kind of chemical & electrical soup but it's still mostly a mystery. If there is no self or no memory, there are no virtues - virtues being dependent emergent qualities.

It is something we deduce, conjured out of reflections, in actions & words & in our life-facing stance. But within the virtues themselves, at times, we wonder if there an order of precedence to them or if it matters? In living, it may not matter, but in trying to live better, it does. Say, in trying to nurture a virtue that, in fact, depends on other virtues.

Do our primal virtues simply proceed from our urge for self-preservation? Which are the finer virtues - the original primal ones or the ones farthest away on the tree of differentiation? The ones that issue forth from two or more virtues?

Many virtues like courage are defined in terms of a threat or a vice, in courage's case, fear. It's worth elaborating on the triggering threat. Fear, for example, springs from a threat to our sense of self and memory, our being. A vice like greed (or gluttony) engenders a fear of scarcity which drives a need for acquisition and a fear of loss. Again, this is a threat to being, where an aggrandized sense of self exists to which even a surfeit seems inadequate.

What does fear engender? More Fear, panic, hatred, anger. Fear can also generate Obedience. We can see more than one cause for a given virtue or state. While Fear can generate Obedience, Loyalty can also produce it. It is clear that obedience caused by loyalty would be of a different timbre and durability than that caused by fear.

So some states, like fear (causing more fear), can self-sustain themselves but like atomic fission, these states would need a critical mass. Direct threats to the self generate fear; normal fear generates the urge to flight or fight but a greater fear, will generate more fear and at a certain level will this newly augmented fear incapacitate.

The level at which incapacitation occurs will vary according to the person. Thus, virtue gets tied to a person's capacity - here, for endurance or perseverance which in turn are considered virtues - the ability to endure or persevere. And, where does that power come from? The power to endure? The power to persevere? Or, at the primal level, the power to live or to love.

It is again a question of the whole and the part where the part is a fiction created by partitioning. Yet, we see obedience or courage or loyalty. We clearly see the parts but not the whole from which it issues.

Seeing Tress, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be,
Copyright 2009 Louis Evan Palmer lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications.


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