Friday, June 13, 2008

You've Got A Map

Norman Mailer has this sort-of vague notion about what he calls The Authority of the Senses that I think deserves consideration. He says essentially that we must honor--if not always succumb to--our own personal navigational senses. As an aperitif to a consideration of this, G.K. Chesterton was of the mind that the reason things feel good or are appealing to us is because there is something reflective of God in that thing. While we might be advised to take into consideration that Chesterton toppled around somewhere near four-hundred pounds (there‘s apparently more of God to be found in the second pint of beer than there is in the first), we can at least enjoy the idea of Norman Mailer echoing G.K. Chesterton.

We can respect the laws of society in concept and form and still be prepared to shirk them when they come into conflict our own senses. This doesn‘t make us bad, or anarchists. After all, it’s our rationales that lead us to endorse one worldview over another, and to create certain cognitive shortcuts that free up our mental processes to keep our individual ships afloat. As much as we might like, we can’t be skeptics all the time. A lot of the time we’re going to have to adhere to that little aesthetic evolutionary/godly voice that seems to nudge us in one way or the other.

By accepting the authority of the senses, we allow ourselves the freedom to bypass the collective reason of social norms and laws, and to occasionally bypass our own norms and laws. Sure, there are cold hard facts, but a lot of life is derivative of these, or even in spite of these. The facts may be one thing, but what we derive from them as pertains to meaning and application is something else entirely. To acknowledge that we may need to diverge from the main road from time to time is merely a practical observation. This should not be a cause of guilt. To deviate from the rule is like swimming a little ways from the boat when you’re out on the lake. Sometimes it can even be like swimming away from the boat when it’s sinking.

It is always advisable to weigh individualistic vision against the punishments assigned to those who violate societal norms. We’re social creatures, and isolation isn’t adaptable. It might not be worth losing your girlfriend because you insist on wearing hats made of lettuce, but it might be worth losing your liberty to stand against an unjust law.

The Authority of the Senses idea can apply to any moral situation. You can generally trust the combination of your intellect, will, instinct, and emotion, to give you some semblance of a best option in most circumstances. You are aware to varying degrees of your personal shortcoming, and it is incumbent upon you to take them into account when making decisions. After weighing all of these different factors (often in a split second instance) you can reasonably deduce what the best thing to do would be, even if you are not guaranteed to do it. The written law or received wisdom can only serve as an option: a path that has been tread before.

This blog has been a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I found a familiar and friendly idea [human free agency] expressed by Norman Mailer in a novel way [the authority of the senses]. Instead of reviewing the idea as I had planned [in Mailer’s context] I put it in my own, and took it far away from the meaning he proscribed. I rode this wave here, and when the tide rolls back out, I’ll either die in the sun or grow a prehensile tail and climb a tree.

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