Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Thoughts

You've surely heard by now about the "Christmas Truce". During World War I, British and German soldiers spontaneously rose from their opposing trenches on Christmas, sang songs together, played football, danced and dined and made merry. The detail that most affects me is that many of them exchanged addresses so they could get together "after the war". Then Christmas passed and they all went back to blowing each other up. It's even a true story, (says

Update: historian John Schindler, who I trust, says it's largely a myth. Nonetheless, the following thoughts apply even if only a small number of soldiers took part...or even as a mere thought experiment.

And it illustrates many of the points I've recently been making.

In my somewhat mysterious "Good and Evil" posting, I proposed that goodness isn't an actual thing; it's just an opting-out of malevolence. In my follow-up, "More Good and Evil", I elaborated:
The empathy, love, and creativity embedded in every person shines through, unavoidably (you needn't industriously build up a tally) the moment you remove the malevolence that shrinks perspective, cheapens aims, and twists emotions. Expunge that needless, counterproductive constriction and it's nothing but light, love, and creativity. Those things aren't cultivated. They were there to begin with (they're what we actually are), and radiate forth as blocks are removed - as we stop choosing to unnecessarily gnarl and armor ourselves.
Question: was the Christmas Truce a clean flip? Were these soldiers alternating symmetrically? Or did the truce represent their true selves, while the blowing-each-other-up part involved a constriction of fear and other transient emotions, accompanied by a sense of obligation to fit a mental narrative? Was this a matter of neutral entities bouncing between poles of good and evil, or naturally good entities being their true selves for a moment before being re-distracted? Which scenario seems more deeply truthful? Which seems more like mere fluffy drama? To me, there's no contest there.

Humans don't need a reason to be good. Intrinsic love and kindness radiate whenever, for whatever reason, we happen to release our malevolence. When we let go a little. But the reverse isn't true. We don't "release" goodness when we behave badly; we're always grasping actively toward something - contracting, gnarling, fearing, needing...for some reason. There's always a motivator, while Goodness simply "Is", whenever there's no pending reason to get caught up in grasping/contracting/gnarling/fearing/needing. As I wrote in "Good and Evil",
"Goodness" is just a subjective impression of the absence of malevolence. There's no being a "good person"; even saints are merely opting out of malevolence.
This is why it's often observed that people get meaner and more selfish when stakes rise. Notice that it's not normally observed that people get kinder, more loving and generous when stakes lower. That's because there's no symmetry. On that side of things, malevolence is released and we settle back into what we truly are. It's not even interesting enough to comment upon!

There's one more connection to be made between this Slog and the Christmas Truce story. In my recent series about my Curse, I described how the world suddenly turned sharply malevolent, even when I remained silent and minded my own business. And how every once in a while - almost with a wink and a nod - polarity would flip and I'd find myself the toast of the town. As I concluded the most recent installment,
"The whole social gamut was being deconstructed - shown to be utterly superficial and untethered from any deeper reality. "
It's a theme that comes up a lot here on the Slog: We're all telling ourselves stories all the time, then identifying with those stories. The world becomes The World via pretending and drama. And much as even the cheesiest movie can still draw us in, it all works effectively despite being nowhere near as seamless as it seems. If you explore and examine this world - if you watch for plot holes with the smug vigilance of a film blogger - you'll find that it's actually pretty threadbare (the Curse was only an extreme example).

(That would be an alarming and sad observation, if the underlying truth weren't delightful: that beneath the spotty drama is nothing but the peace we actually are. We know it, too. This essential truth is eternally (though quietly) registered. In the end, it will be plainly obvious to all. Per previous link, "Over the eons, playing our civilizational game on this minutely tilted table, we can not forever resist that minute, blessed tilt.")

That's why it is thoroughly unsurprising to learn that warring soldiers are but one perceptual reframing away from embrace. Or that glum, numbed-out crowds have the potential to instantly erupt into joy and celebration. Or that a "curse" might happen where the world turns laughably surreal, almost as if to mock your fraught demand for some other result. It's all pretty thin...and, beneath the thinness lies the profound eternal peace which is the only true thing.

Oh, and my annual reminder: Please don't parse my Jewiness before offering your holiday greetings (though I have a friend - a perfectly reasonable guy, normally - who feels differently, so I sympathize with your confusion).

Finally, I'd like to point you toward what I've called the pivotal slog posting. It's the story of how I spent one Christmas ping-ponging between what was actually happening (joyful, peaceful) and what my mind was telling me was happening (empty, lonely, disappointing), forcing the realization that we are the dramatists of our life story. Torrents of mental claptrap are generated to make ourselves needlessly miserable (ballasting our happiness?). We have a choice. We can opt to make ourselves slaves to drama...or to remain free.

The links are important.


Display Name said...

Merry Christmas Jim! Santa just went past on his firetruck and waved to us!

Jim Leff said...

Right back at you!

Note that I've continued the Curse series with a couple new posts!

Display Name said...

that demon fisherman. Gulp.

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