Friday, January 09, 2009

My lens of perspective.

I cannot help but feel the course of my life hinges on machinations I am not privy to.

So often the things that most create havoc in my life are those over which I've no control. The time at which bills fall, and the time at which the money to pay them comes. It could just be the way that I feel. I have inherited a temperament varied and extreme. I cannot pretend to know when my wills shall chose to focus on darker themes. I am as much a subject of the whims of the gods or the fates or the forces of nature and time as Job was.

That is the lens through which I examine the world. Because I have little chance of fighting the fates I must take advantage of the directions I'm blown in. I am but detritus on the winds of time, and because I am more aware of that everything else takes on a pallor indicating its inevitable demise.

In a course I am taking, we are reading myths. The Iliad is our current subject of study. I made a comment I felt not particularly provocative. Turns out it was more provocative than I thought.

The whole class discussion was regarding the meaning of the first stanza which goes:

Sing, goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls
Of Heroes into Hades' dark,
And left their bodies to rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done.
Begin with the clash between Agamemnon -
The Greek Warlord - and godlike Achilles

(this is from the Stanley Lombardo translation of Homer's Iliad)

The conversation went through rage and the various characteristics of the story that suggested an allegory about rage. The conversation too went over other thoughts about the themes of the poem.

My comment hinged on the next stanza which is but one sentence, set apart from the rest, as if to glare back at the reader as a statement of purpose.

"Which of the immortals set these two
at each other's throats?"

That line screamed at me. It's separation from the rest of the lines on the page seemed to ache with purpose. Yes, I thought, this is about futility.

That is the lens through which I look at the world, the lens of a man blown about on the winds of mood and the forces that drive him immutably. So I said to the rest of the class something about the fact that the people in the story are simply pawns for the Gods. There is no choice in their actions, or if there is it is only between being destroyed by the Gods or going along with their whims.

I had found an analogue to my own existence in the nature of their battles. Stretches where things were determined by their own wills interspersed with the unavoidable influence of the gods.

One could fight valiantly and turn the tide of the battle, only to have the gods decide against him, and make his work of no consequence. Agamemnon is but a slave to his arrogance and the will of the gods. Achilles to the gods wills and his own pride.

The immediate backlash to this idea was surprising. The thought that the characters really had no say in what occurred. People argued for the sheer force of personality of characters like Achilles.

I could see how Achilles ability to move Zeus' hand through his mother is a sign of choice and ability, but all the while it hinges on the power and favour of immortals. His mother being an immortal is how this is achieved. A man like Odysseus or Nestor is at the whim of the gods despite his abilities and intelligence. It is only because the gods see favour with these men that they survive.

I know how pessimistic this may seem, but choice is largely an illusion. The choices you make are a product of evolution and indoctrination. Whether or not you know it.

The professor asked a good question towards the end of the period. What do we have to replace the gods? what do we believe in now with the same fervency. I'm not sure if this is the only thing we have replaced the gods of old with, but I am feeling rather sure that we have latched on to a myth of choice.

We have latched on very tightly to this idea of our ability to have sole power over our own lives. Exemplary is the US military. It is a volunteer military. We don't draft people anymore, but in effect, excepting the few who chose the military because of various other reasons, the military is filled with the poor. It becomes the only option. A lower class draft is extant despite the fact that we have no selective service taking men from the streets. In a ghetto you become a criminal, or you join the military.

There are many examples of this, and the counter examples are largely incorrect or deviations from the general scheme of things that do not change the general nature of existence.

There are Achilles' who can call upon the gods to change their ways, but for every Achilles' there are a thousand, or ten thousand, or one hundred thousand more who do not hold the reigns to their futures.

It is the fate of most to be at the will of their biology, or their gods, or their own deep desires. The few who subvert this model, the few who have a true say over what occurs to them, are but exceptions.

Though we do not have to be slaves to fate, we often are. Though humans are capable of free will, more often then not determinism takes over.

I don't think I was so wrong about the futility of the struggles the characters in the Iliad face. I may not be entirely right, but I am not entirely wrong either. I don't know who's prejudice is stronger. I don't know if the people around me are less aware of the large lack of choice we have in things, or if I am too attached to the concept of futility.

I will see futility where I want to see futility, perhaps even where there is none, but I am aware of this. I don't know if my peers are aware that they see choice wherever they want to see it.

No comments: