Friday, March 14, 2014

going the whole hog

Chadian soldiers march during Flintlock 2014, a U.S.-led international training mission for African militaries, in Diffa, March 3, 2014. The drill in the border town of Diffa is part of Exercise Flintlock, a counter-terrorism exercise for nations on the Sahara's southern flanks that the United States organizes each year.
REUTERS/Joe Penney

Is there any discipline -- military, spiritual, academic ... whatever -- that does not require its practitioners to go whole-hog into the particulars of that persuasion?

Failure to immerse yourself in the particulars, to lose yourself, means that there will be little likelihood of attaining a credible expertise. Half-baked proficiency is no proficiency at all. Feather merchants are a dime a dozen in any discipline and happiness does not bend a knee to half-hearted attempts.

But success in such immersion in the particulars means losing sight of the wider purpose and meaning and implications and hence a conundrum rises up: You must be blind in order to see with any clarity.

How many social or philosophical or political or military or religious adventures are like this -- so immersed in the particulars that the particulars themselves become the yardstick of success?

In the picture above, soldiers practice a grueling but largely impractical (consider Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks) way of walking. In spiritual persuasions, the robes and rituals are adjusted just-so. In the Nazi concentration camps, the guard towers were manned by well-trained and 'responsible' soldiers. In Washington, lawmakers express an expertise that dovetails with the expertise around them ... but may enrage the constituencies subjected to the fallout of their actions. In marriage, the delicious and daunting particulars can be seen as the sole supporting mechanism for the institution itself. And maybe it's true. But, equally, maybe it's not.

Failure to go the whole-hog means light-weight understanding. But success in going the whole-hog ... perhaps that too feels a bit light-weight in the end.

If anyone set off in search of god -- by whatever name -- what, precisely, would s/he know if s/he found that god? Would the blindness that made the search seem meaningful in the first place be relieved or wiped-away? Would there be peace?

The writer Aldous Huxley once wrote, more or less, "If the intellectual travels long enough and far enough, he will return to the same point from which the non-intellectual never started." And perhaps the same is true for any traveler, intellectual or otherwise.

Returning to the same point ... the same, but different ... blind, but with clear sight.

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