THE TRUTH ABOUT WILLPOWER

The Pursuit of Happiness


BY: Frater Bovious

“Some say their will is weak.”
“Some lie about what they want.”

(CARROLLTON, TX, Cradle of Civilization) Writing in the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson pens these famous words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

And so, what is happiness, and how do we pursue it? According to the TV in my room, happiness is a new car, a hot babe, white teeth, and Amazon Echo. The ancients would have laughed at our puny conception of happiness.

St. Iraneus famously said, “Gloria Dei est vivens homo.” This is translated as, “The glory of God is the living man.” You may have heard it as, “The glory of God is a man fully alive.” I understand why the edit – fully alive seems to augment the sense.

The original Latin seems to suggest something about living, about what it means to be alive, that is critical to this post on willpower. To be fully alive suggests that we can be alive in different ways; more or less alive. But, the idea of the living man being the glory of God, well that should give one pause. For, if the wages of sin are death, then being alive implies not sinning.

But, sin is now held up as a virtue – how many times have you heard something described as “sinfully delicious”? If something is that delicious, it must be good. You see the problem. What is happening here is that marketing takes advantage of a fact about our nature. We desire the good. We desire happiness. We are ordered toward the pursuit of happiness. Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Thomas Jefferson, all understood this reality. Madison Avenue exploits it.

The will, according to St. Thomas, is the intellectual appetite. And our intellectual appetite is ordered such that it pursues the good. It is ordered, therefore, toward our ultimate end, which is the beatific vision. This ordering survives the Fall. We remain inclined toward the good. However, our understanding of the good has suffered.

It is necessary to elaborate on the concepts “free will” and “willpower”. Free will is simply the power to choose. Because we are inclined to the good, and because there can be several goods from which to choose, we have the power to choose between goods. And we can choose between things which are neutral. So, when presented with chocolate ice cream and apple pie, we may choose between them. Or if we are presented with vanilla ice cream and warm apple pie, we may choose to combine them into one glorious good.

Either, or? Pffft. I choose both!

Willpower is another matter entirely. Willpower, as used in our society today, is the frustration of the will. Willpower is set up as the mechanism by which we choose what we ought over what we want. “If only I were more disciplined, if only I had a stronger will,” we say on January 2nd when our New Year’s resolutions are all in tatters. “How can I develop more willpower?”

The short answer is that the effort is futile. The truth about willpower as used and understood in our society is that it is a lie. The truth is that we do what we want to do, virtually every time. We do what we will.

The concept of willpower is a distraction – it holds up the idea that we can be stronger, we can be better people through an act of will. But this so-called act of will is opposed to the very nature of will. We are saying that our willpower’s role is to deny us what we want to do in favor of what we ought to do. But that’s a lie. It is not the role of the will to decide what we ought to do. The role of the will is to pursue God. But until we truly believe and understand that God is our end, our ultimate good, we will choose apple pie over God. Because absent an actual understanding of God, we will choose the good we see, touch and taste.

Here is the hard part. We may say we know we should go to Church on Sunday. But if we don’t want to go, we won’t. Willpower then becomes a crutch – “If only I had the willpower to make myself do something that I don’t want to do.” But we don’t have that willpower because that kind of willpower is a lie.

As noted, the concept of willpower in our society is flawed. It is in fact in opposition to the concept of free-will. Free-will says we have the ability to choose. Willpower implies that we don’t, that we somehow have to be coerced. And, falling back on willpower means never having to admit that you simply didn’t want to choose this, you really wanted to do that. Lack of willpower takes away culpability. How handy.

We do what we want to do. We sin because we want to. Because it feels good. We sin because we have a disordered understanding of the good, not because our wills are weak. Left to our own devices, we can live pretty wretched lives. But even in societies with no knowledge of Christ, we find people doing good. Why? Because our wills are necessarily ordered to the good.

By focusing on this idea of willpower, we are focusing on the wrong thing. Willpower implies that our wills are weak and need to be forced along. But, our will is not weak. Our understanding is weak. It is our intellect that apprehends Truth. And the highest truth is also our greatest good. But our will responds to what is before us. If we are not lovers of Truth, then we will be lovers of apple pie and pornography, money and power, i.e., ephemeral pleasures.

Once we admit that we sin because we want to, and not because we are weak willed, then we can begin to look at what we ought to do with fresh eyes. Our wills seek the good. We have to recognize what is really good. We have the advantage of Revelation and a couple of thousand years of deep thought on what we ought to do. We ought to do things that make us happy. When we actually know what those things are, and keep those things before our eyes, our wills will do what they do. Seek God.

ADDENDUM:

I have thought of a couple of objections to the above which I will address in a follow up post. Also, we will need to explore Grace.

 


Posted in Philosophy | 2 Comments

CLOWNS FOR CHRIST

Bummer Reality


BY: Frater Bovious

“When is a clown not a clown?”
“When is a clown a person and not a construct?”

(CARROLLTON, TX – Cradle of Civilization) The topic of clowns was addressed in another blogger’s post titled “This will explain much”. In the post, clowns famous and infamous were noted, and the question asked, “Fear of clowns?”

My daughter is afraid of clowns. As an evil dad, I once slid this picture under her bedroom door when she was 13 or 14:

Actually, I had blown up the image and cropped to just that thing there with the weird eyes. This was the cover of a book written by Theodore Sturgeon titled, The Synthetic Man. And the opening line was something like, “Horty was eating ants.” Naturally, at the age of 10 or 12, the whole thing was irresistible. “A synthetic man?” I had to look up synthetic. “Horty?” “Eating ants?” I was seduced.

When I slid it under the door, my daughter emoted, “Daddy, that’s not funny.” I of course laughed hysterically. Perhaps maniacally.

The story’s original title was The Dreaming Jewels, and it was published in Fantastic Adventures, with this image:

What is common to both is the jewels. The eyes of that clown thing, and the jewels being held up by that woman. Both images, and both titles, are actually related to the story. I leave it to the reader to decide which one is more disturbing. Did you notice the grotesque images in the background of both covers? That’s part of the story too.

My daughter’s clown phobia has at least two external focal points – It, by Stephen King, and Killer Clowns From Outerspace, a movie she watched at a friend’s house and which she found horribly frightening.

Now, I watched Bozo the Clown and Hobo Kelley as a kid. The first everyone probably knows, the second may have been local to where I lived in California. Suffice to say, they were not in the least frightening.

But they were examples of the two species of clown.

Bozo wore outlandish colorful clothes, with exaggerated red hair and giant floppy shoes. Hobo Kelly was, well, a hobo. Also female, which struck me as odd as a kid. Hobos or bums were men. A woman hobo, well, that just didn’t seem right. I guess she fell through the glass floor to equality…

There are commonalities to both species of clown: exaggerated make up and red noses. Red hair seems pretty common as well. And clowns are frequently depicted as either irrationally happy and surprised, perhaps insane, or as terminally sad and some will have tears painted on their faces. And the red nose, a sign of alcoholism?

I remember kids in grade school poking fun at someone with shabby clothes. This whole clown thing seems to have some root in making fun of the less fortunate. Drunk bums are something to point at and laugh. This seems to have been merged in some way with the idea of the court jester, or fool (or retard?). Perhaps this is where the two strains of clown come from. I can’t help but think about how kids would laugh at the mentally retarded. Something inside us that needs to feel better about ourselves else makes us be horrible to the less fortunate.

And yet, the first time I accidentally came across a hobo, it was scary. And funny.

One night when I was about 18 my friend and I saw what we thought was an abandoned wheel chair in the service alley behind a strip shopping center. We thought it would be cool to have a wheel chair we could roll each other around in. So, we went to rescue the chair from it’s state of abandonment. But just as we were about to grab the chair, we realized what we thought were just some old clothes on the seat were in fact a legless man, sleeping. For some reason it scared us, and we ran like scalded cats back to our car. Startled, yet laughing. The people in the car waiting for us were like, “What?!” “He has no legs!” “What?! Who??” “Go, go go.”

We found the whole thing frightening and funny. But what, exactly, was funny about a homeless legless man in an alley at 1 in the morning? We entertained ourselves with images of dumping this guy out of the wheel chair, and him coming after us. We laughed for quite a while.

What were we laughing at? Our escape from gruesome death by a legless maniac? Or just the absurdity of it all? Probably both.

In “real life” there are no clowns. They are synthetic people, an amalgam of several different things, the poor, the hungry, the mentally deficient, the criminal. Objects of derision. We make fun of the things that scare us. Things like being homeless. Or psychotic.

I can’t get that song out of my head right now, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers…”

Who was that guy in the wheel chair? What is his story? Was he Jesus?

Posted in Musings, Ontology, Reality | 6 Comments

Crossword Puzzle

Just Because I Can

Posted in Lent | 3 Comments

OF YETIS AND GHOSTS

Morning Prayer


BY: Frater Bovious

We have acquired two Great Pyrenees, both still puppies, though one is at least 70 pounds and 24 inches tall at the withers (withers – strange word, that). Mostly because we complained so much about a neighbor’s dog barking in the middle of the night almost directly into our bedroom window (or so it seemed at 2 am) that they gave their dog to one of their children, I am paranoid about my dogs barking.

So, I let them out in the morning, get them fed, and about the time they start to get restless, around 6 ish, I go sit outside and say my morning prayers from the four volume Liturgy of the Hours. As a lay Dominican, I have committed to saying the morning and evening office in community with all Dominicans, in spirit, if not in person.

Since the Dominicans are the Order of Preachers, perhaps this is practice. No, I am not a priest, and will not be giving any homilies. But, preaching comes in many forms, from just talking to people, to writing blogs, and to giving talks at church retreats, etc. With Yeti and Ghost, I experience what many preachers experience. I say my prayers out loud to them, and they fall asleep.

I like the practice of the saying of the Hours – as I get older, I appreciate the seasons, the rhythms, our cyclical reality. During Lent, the first psalm on Friday is Psalm 51[50]. It is a wonderfully timely psalm for Lent and for Fridays.

Also, the responsory after each reading on each day is the same through Lent:

God himself will set me free, from the hunter’s snare.
— God himself will set me free, from the hunters snare.

From those who would trap me with lying words
and from the hunter’s snare.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost
God himself will set me free, from the hunter’s snare.

Every time I read that, I feel a little better about things.

 

Posted in Philosophy | 5 Comments

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE


BY: Guest Poet Seven of Nine

(Alpha Quadrant, Sector 001, Star Date 55121.3)

 

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated
Adown titanic glooms of chasm-ed fears
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase and unperturb-ed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat — and a Voice beat,
More instant than the feet:

“All things betray thee who betrayest Me.”

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
trellised with inter-twining charities;
(For though I knew His love who follow-ed,
Yet was I sore adread
lest having Him, I should have nought beside)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of his approach would clash it to.
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.

Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clang-ed bars,
Fretted to dulcet jars
and silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.

I said to dawn — Be sudden; to eve — be soon —
With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover!
Float thy vague veil about me lest He see!

I tempted all His servitors but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him, their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness and their loyal deceit.

To all swift things for swiftness did I sue,
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind,
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue,
Or whether, thunder-driven,
They clanged His chariot thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn of their feet,
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase and unperturb-ed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following feet, and a Voice above their beat —

“Nought shelters thee who wilt not shelter Me.”

I sought no more that after which I strayed
In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair,
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.

“Come then, ye other children, Nature’s — share
with me, said I, your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,
Wantoning
with our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,
Banqueting
with her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured dais,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice, lucent weeping out of the dayspring.”

So it was done:
I , in their delicate fellowship was one —
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies,
I knew all the swift importings on the wilful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise,
Spum-ed of the wild sea-snortings.
All that’s born or dies, Rose and drooped with,
Made them shapers of mine own moods, or wailful, or divine —
With them joyed and was bereaven.

I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
and its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine.
Against the red throb of its sunset heart,
I laid my own to beat
And share commingling heat;

But not by that, by that was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! we know what each other says,
these things and I; In sound I speak,
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.

Nature, poor step-dame, cannot slake my drougth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue-bosomed veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
with unperturb-ed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
And past those nois-ed Feet,
A Voice comes yet more fleet:

“Lo, nought contentst thee who content’st not Me.”

Naked, I wait thy Love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness, piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee,
I am defenceless, utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours,
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amidst the dust o’ the mounded years —
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst like sunstarts on a stream.

Yea, faileth now even dream the dreamer
and the lute, the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies in whose blossomy twist,
I swung the earth, a trinket at my wrist,
Have yielded, cords of all too weak account
For earth, with heavy grief so overplussed.

Ah! is thy Love indeed
a weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must —
Designer Infinite!
Ah! must thou char the wood ‘ere Thou canst limn with it?

My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sigh-ful branches of my mind.
Such is. What is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds,
Yet ever and anon, a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity,

Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimps-ed turrets, slowly wash again;
But not ‘ere Him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal; cypress crowned:
His Name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be that yield thee harvest,
Must thy harvest fields be dunged with rotten death?

Now of that long pursuit,
Comes on at hand the bruit.
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing;
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),

“And human love needs human meriting —
How hast thou merited,
Of all Man’s clotted clay, the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee, I did’st but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”

Halts by me that footfall;
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?

“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee who dravest Me.”

This of course is The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thompson. I don’t really know why Seven of Nine made me think of this. Hers was a fascinating character – unlike Data who was created a machine, but wanted to be human, she was a human, who lost her humanity, who then regained it, and was still seeking perfection as she had known it from the Borg. I think the Borg are an example of the perversion of a good. People seek communion. The question is, did you know communion was seeking you?

Posted in Metaphysics, Poetry | 1 Comment

Safety First

safety first

Posted in Philosophy | Comments Off on Safety First

ON THE EVILS OF ELECTION BY A DEGENERATE PEOPLE

Some Late Thoughts on the Election


BY: Frater Bovious

(CARROLLTON, TX – Cradle of Civilization) I have been reading a book by Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., titled, REALITY, A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought. He was examining Aquinas’ review of Aristotle’s Politica. Lagrange comments that in the nature of man Aquinas finds “… the origin and the necessity of a social authority…” He says also that Aquinas distinguishes between good governments and bad. The three good forms are going to be something of a surprise to many. The are: monarchical, rule by one, aristocratic, where several rule, and democratic “where the rule is by representatives elected by the multitude.”

But these forms of government may degenerate: monarchy into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, and democracy into mob-rule. Interestingly, Aquinas finds that while a monarchy is the best form of government, to reign in tyranny he believes a mixed constitution, which provides, “at the monarch’s side, aristocratic and democratic elements in the administration of public affairs,” is prudent.

I hope this sounds familiar to all – it is basically the original form of our own government as set up by the founding fathers: A president (monarch), the Senate (aristocracy), and the House (democracy). Remember, in the original design of our government, the Senators were not elected by popular vote, but were elected by the state legislatures, the aristocracy, if you will. This was true until the 17th amendment in 1914. And to stretch it even further, originally, there was no term limit on the king, I mean the president.

Now, for this to work, voters have to vote, and they should know why they are voting for whom or what is receiving their vote. This is why, in the beginning of this country, in order to vote you had to be a landowner. A landowner was likely to be educated and have a rather pragmatic world view. They also had a vested interest in how the country is run, were likely to spend some time understanding the issues, and vote responsibly. Of course, in that time, it would also mean the voters were white males.

Today it may seem that we have a lot of people voting who have no business voting – and doubtless some may wonder if we shouldn’t go back to having to earn your franchise based on criteria beyond simply having attained the age of 18. Lagrange notes Aquinas’ thoughts on this, though not in the same context:

On the evils of election by a degenerate people, where demagogues obtain the suffrages, he remarks, citing St. Augustine, that the elective power should, if it be possible, be taken from the multitude and restored to those who are good. St. Augustine’s words run thus: “If a people gradually becomes depraved, if it sells its votes, if it hands over the government to wicked and criminal men, then that power of conferring honors is rightly taken from such a people and restored to those few who are good.”

The key words there being, “if it be possible”, and “to those few who are good.” In our country it is not possible for many reasons, not the least of which are the real specter of disenfranchising everyone but white males, and that reaching consensus on who are “the good” is unlikely.

So, what is the answer? Especially in this day and age where many elected officials seem to suffer from role dysphoria, “I was elected to the role of public servant, but I am dissatisfied with this role, and inside I feel my true role, the real me, is that of master.”

Many look for a structural fix – term limits, for example. But, to borrow from P.J. O’Rourke, asking Congress to limit their terms would be similar to asking teenage boys to voluntarily give up their whiskey and car keys. It won’t happen without some kind of force. And that means what has been termed an Article V convention. This requires the state legislatures to call a convention to limit terms. I hope you see the problem. The state legislatures are filled with folks who have designs on federal positions. To put it simply, it ain’t gonna happen.

What is far better is when the voting public limits terms through the power of their vote. But then we get back to the problem of voting by people who vote emotionally, instead of rationally.

The only real answer is proper education of the voting populace. But that is another can of worms. Who educates them? And to what standards?

Posted in Philosophy | 5 Comments