Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The first idea

I'm turning into a philosopher of unhappiness – it captures my imagination. Not the gothic, adolescent kind of unhappiness. I mean the difficult, nuanced kind about the huge task of unfolding potential, and potentials unrealised - partly because of our own limitations, and partly because each individual is the product of the whole of human progress. Meanwhile we live with making choices and their sacrifices, and inarticulate longings that echo down the ages.

What is 'potential'?

Bits and pieces of it surface in every blog, I didn't know it but all roads led to it.

The acorn always grows into an oak, but human beings - as the most sophisticated of all machines - can become anything. In nature I've noticed sophistication is measured not in strength but flexibility and versatility.

In terms of natural equipment that's the only advantage we've got – but what an advantage.

We are a blank slate, a book where everything is contained. Particular environments pull particular parts and combinations into existence. It's almost impossible to find universal values (the more multicultural my experience of the world, the more different I find cultures, and not all of them equal). But all the other possibilities are still there at the same time, shimmering like unread words in the book, like invisible ink undecoded.

Limitations of the age

We all suffer from our point in history, maybe it's one of the most insidious sufferings. Imagine if you had been born before writing was invented – you would have been and thought and done a fraction of what you could have today. Similarly a human from 3010 may look at us like worms struggling in the mud, seeing only a tiny sliver of sky.

Maybe we will have by then tools to dissect human behaviour or the brain, and human nature won't be a mystery or an art anymore.

The final thing about potential is it's inextricably linked to freedom. We have made major mistakes by not looking at freedom this way, because then we only consider 'freedom from' something, not what the 'freedom to' do something means.

Freedom to unfold potential – but who has studied what that involves? Just because you're free to compose music doesn't mean you know how. Freedom has two sides to it, one of which opens the door to fear, panic and cruelty.

Understanding the vastness of potential leads to the search for 'freedom to' – and the end of the myth that we know who we are just because the chains are removed. Maybe then we will understand those many, many who are still potentials unrealised because of the walls in their minds.

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