What do you mean, “Do something!?” ?

Thank you so much for taking the time to read through the article on “Living in Sin.” I appreciate that someone with so much more lived experience – someone perhaps with so much more mulled over philosophy – is taking a look at these thoughts, which certainly didn’t cross your path for the first time, and, who knows, may have already been discarded for good reason. That you nevertheless let yourself be touched by them, that touches me in turn.

Alone, the question remains, how to act properly in view of the continuously piling up of troubles in our time, and whether one can do anything at all. There are many who desperately call out to you, “Do something!?” In their inability to feel solid ground under their feet, they become part of a wave of hysteria so impressively depicted by Carlos Schwabe in 1907. But even a superficial examination raises a whole series of questions. First of all, who is the addressee? Any random person who did not flee out of reach quickly enough? The authorities? The government? Pressure groups? Professional revolutionaries? God? To what extent is it in the power of the addressee to do something?

Second, what is wanted by the addressee? That he does something, whether it is useful or not? Is there an obligation to act at all, or a justification for intervening?

Thirdly, who is the one who is calling out “Do something!?” To what extent can they demand that others act? Why doesn’t s/he simply act himself/herself?

All this is encoded in the two signs that follow the “Do something” – the exclamation mark and the question mark. The one who utters this call is not sure of himself, does not know what they want, does not ascribe to themselves any efficacy. For their fear they look for redemption in the outside.

Action, which can also be a conscious non-action – here we now come to my own position, which I share with Hermann Hesse, Jiddu Krishnamurti and the other philosophers mentioned – is the responsibility of each individual. My writing is addressed to these “Do something!?” shouters; also to the shouter in us, the helpless child who turns to its parents, who have always pulled the hot potatoes out of the fire for us. The responsibility for our being and acting, that is, the formulation of a response to the challenges of life, cannot be ceded to superior powers or delegated to third parties. It is inalienably ours, like the freedom of choice given to us from birth. We may be unconscious of it, we may reject it, we may have our reasons why we do not (or not completely and always) perceive it, but this does not relieve us of it and does not protect us from consequences. The consequences for our missteps are regulated by a higher power, superior to the human will, which the western culture assigns to the law of cause and effect. In the East, this law is called “karma” – the natural law, in any case, according to which collective immorality ends in decay, suffering, injustice and bondage, while morally right actions lead to general prosperity, justice and freedom in a society. Natural Law is incontrovertible. It requires no court of law to which we must answer, but only our own conscience, which provides the basis for our free decision to act morally or immorally. We act; the consequences are taken care of. “The details are regulated by a law,” as it was and is so beautifully called in various constitutions.

So far, so good. But what about fear? After all, it is justified, if one considers the manifold forms of violence that constantly sweep over us, with and without provocation: the violence of the state, which crushes refusal to obey with police violence; the structural violence, which commands conformity from all those who want to remain integrated in social structures and profit from them; and the violence of the mob, of the masses, which meets dissenters with disgust, malice, or sometimes even with beatings. It is only too understandable that people decide to howl with the wolves, or at least keep their heads down and strike moderate tones.

Fear as such is, in my view, not a sin but a warning signal: “Attention, it is advisable to exercise caution here.” Sin would be to infer from the presence of fear the absence of freedom of choice. The supposed impossibility of taking the right path in the face of a threat is not so much due to the nature of the path; it is rocky, steep and dangerous, to be sure. Often what it demands of us is beyond our strength here and now. But it is always open to us, teasing us, appealing to us with its obvious goodness. That is why those who do not close their ears to his call thrown back to us, “Do something!?” will always feel called to try to walk it at their own pace. Without the opportunity for right action, there would be no sin. In the absence of his invitation to right action, there would be no need for justifications, for excuses, for having yielded to the threats and lures of the generally acceptable and for having found no courage.

In spite of my pointed argumentation, nobody has to justify himself before me for his decisions. This is not what is meant by “responsibility.” The yardstick for the true, the beautiful, and the good is always only one’s own conscience. Besides, I am also not always consistently strong; I often make mistakes. I can only try every day anew to act the right way, and if I get on the wrong way, to “turn back”, as suggested in a prominent place. This can only be done by admitting doubt and acknowledging nescience – taking due care that this does not turn into a permanent state of denial or ignorance.

Of course, I do not condemn anyone for their differing understanding from my view. If someone wants to protect himself against harm, he is welcome to do so. What I condemn and sanction are attempts at encroachment: the claim that I, or another, or even all of us together, are responsible for protecting the one who wants to protect himself, and that we are morally obliged to do so. This desire is contrary to Natural Law, is opposed to freedom and personal responsibility, therefore it is fundamentally unethical. Moral behavior presupposes ethical thinking, thus requires a free and conscious decision for Right Action. Those who follow orders because those orders bear the stamp of authority do not care about the right or wrong of their actions; and those who force others to follow rules try to deprive people of their freedom, personal responsibility and thus also of their morality.

That the overwhelming majority of people do not feel addressed by such statements, to put it mildly, let alone recognize in them any form of help, is almost self-evident. Without the long-lasting state of all-encompassing injustice, which is generally taken for granted and therefore no longer perceived as harmful, there would be no need for passionate advocacy for its overcoming. Precisely because the considerations articulated by Hesse, Steiner, Krishnamurti, Drewermann, Illich and other thinkers throw sand into the gears of mass-produced thinking, they should be given space, indeed they must be voiced. Now that the time has come for them to stand the test and be proven true, I think it would be a wrong sign to speak meekly, doubtfully, or even ruefully about them. Just yesterday I read in Charles Eisenstein, “Be vigorous in rejecting any answer which your soul knows to be untrue, however flattering it may be to your righteousness.”

You cannot change the minds of those who have fallen into cognitive dissonance – self-proclaimed anti-fascists, political punks, ethics committees, clergy, vaccinating doctors, TV philosophers – but you can strengthen the backs of those who listen to you with respect by signaling that what is true and right remains true and right even if one faces inconvenience for it. Quite apart from the terrible feeling of having to live a lie otherwise, we all know where it leads when too many people hold their tongue for too long and play along for the sake of peace and quiet.

Now, as far as right action in Corona times is concerned, I cannot and will not give any concrete guidance, because it would be presumptuous to suppose that I understand the totality of all that is of importance here and now in your situation. However, it is advisable to consider principles of Natural Law. For the fact that we have brought it to this point, this crisis of consciousness that we are experiencing both collectively and individually, is, in my view, undoubtedly due to the complete abandonment of our condition. Perhaps hardship can teach us how to think, feel and act properly; how to fish instead of having the pizza cab deliver the fish sticks, lovelessly glued together from scraps, free to our door.

One thing I have known without any doubt since I can think: What is wrong fundamentally, everywhere and at all times, and immoral and destructive in the long term, is compulsion and blind obedience. It may happen that that which is done of free will, or that which is omitted, coincides with that which is commanded. One does not need to be ashamed for this, if what commanded you was wisdom, not human decree. When you do what is demanded of you, it shall be done on the basis of a free decision, consciously made for – and trusting in – the truthful, the beautiful, the good. That’s what I wish for you, that’s what I wish for all of us.

Sitting on the worn out sinner’s bench with the donkey’s cap,

Paxton.

[Title image: School scene around 1850, steel engraving by Thomas Webster, Provenance: Museum Schloss Moritzburg Zeitz, License: cc by-nc-sa 3.0]


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