Thinking without Restraints
The heart of this people is become hard of belief and provoking, they are revolted and gone away
A famous man once said;
Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
As a general rule of life, not only of composition, this is a good pointer. Useful for whenever you’re feeling mighty pleased with yourself, it is then when it is best to remember a time when you had cause to be embarrassed at your own behaviour or even ashamed of it.
The same famous man said:
‘the labours of the moralist nor of the husbandmen are vain: let them for a while neglect their tasks, and their usefulness will be known; the wickedness that is now frequent would become universal, the bread that is now scarce would wholly fail.”
Samuel Johnson (this was that famous man) like all introspectors who are also outward observers of men and women, drew upon his own awareness of his own personal propensities, and upon his own natural humanity’s desires towards tendentiousness, so as to identify the same workings of wickedness directing in others their motives and actions, and so he would draw from these deep wells the proper lessons to be learned from having made such observations.
To claim so is evidenced by what he wrote of himself:
‘”Be not too hasty … to trust, or to admire, the teachers of morality; they discourse like angels, but they live like men.’
It’s not surprising that Dr Johnson, after the Biblical tradition and teaching, considered that teaching oneself to behave well and do what is the right thing, is largely a matter, once one has identified and analysed one’s actual failings, of restraining oneself and keeping oneself in order.
I have called this piece ‘Thinking without Restraints’; and so it’s a far cry from what Dr Johnson and most other admonishers of our wayward and led-by-our-noses natures advocate. Not with restraint; but without restraints.
‘Thinking without Restraints’ is sometimes called, in a slightly favoured way, ‘freethinking’, and the appeal of its advocates is made quite usually to grand annunciations like those of Thomas Jefferson’s in ‘The Bill of Rights’, so to brash and resilient sayings such as ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’; and to slogan-type affirmations such as ‘Liberty, Fraternity, Equality’ and so forth.
And then contrariwise, for a person to advocate any curtailment of ‘life, liberty and pursuit of happiness’, generally injects into our consciousness an almost ‘gut’ reaction of against him or her of antipathy distrust and condemnation.
In fact, just like a hopped injection, we have been to some extent ‘sold’ on ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ as words, as a slogan, as what was termed in pre-industrial days, a battle-cry, (A Mill! – A Mill!; A Jefferson!, A Jefferson! – as might be shouted as our rallying calls?).
Few of us know more about these men other than that they are ‘names’ which support us; or at least we believe they support us. Little other acquaintance with what they thought and said is generally taken up by we general publics in the western democracies. The fathers are like our televisions and like our phones and laptops; we know very well how to enjoy their functions and functionality; but on the whole very few of us know what goes into such technology, into the making of one, or how they work, in any more than the very vaguest and broad of terms. We might come up with, if we are the enquiring kind, a few words like ‘rare earths’ and ‘silicon valley’ and ‘android’ etc; but our extent of words ends pretty abruptly soon after.
(I’m no paragon; I have very little clue what is going on in the world electronically and technologically.)
The point remains that we are a set of democratic publics who in the main have taken up no access to nor have given any enquiry into much of that material knowledge and thought, which governs most all of how we live in today’s world.
We are free – we feel we are free – are we free? The thing about knowledge is that the persons who have it are in a position of great advantage over those who have it not. Such advantage has to be placed within a given and correct context of course. On a desert island and without public utilities and amenities a software developer with zero hardware, electricity supply, or other technological equipment might as well be an uneducated savage (an uneducated savage would in fact be far better equipped for life on such an island than s/he would be).
A British writer of the 1950s and 1960s named C P Snow tapped into a major vein of literature out of which he created novels which discuss the rise of ‘The Technocracy’. This was during times when the post-industrial age was beginning to blossom. He wrote novels on themes of power and control and influence in the hands of a few; the scientists. Even the themes of his novels sound a little antique to us today; but so does the idea of ‘civil protest’ and of ‘alternative societies’ and of ‘self-sufficiency’ and their groupings and so on. They all belong to an era one’s grandparents were young in. Such things are yesterday’s news and long since gone away.
This fact of them having long-since gone away – the whole collection of them – is our misfortune, our lament, our unacknowledged, unnoted, unconcerned loss and this state of affairs represents also the beginnings of our pathways into deterioration across an assortment of areas in our lives.
The Technocrats are still; and ever becoming more powerful (Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, – all want a slice of the cake on the world stage, and set up foundations so as to impose their – hapless – wills). The things in civil life to protest about; the things to go alternative for; and the things to prepare for when the ‘lights go out’; are all still here with us, and who is it that can deny in truth that they are here yet with an even-greater vengeance than ever?
There is environmental degradation, the onward depletion of resources; the disgrace of the political shenanigans; the belligerents’’ futile dreadful wars; the poor air quality and the simmering race-hatreds and religious-hatreds, and the general levels of mass shootings and terror attacks etc, is all gone upwards increasingly savagely. Yet we have nil societal resources to tackle these things other than those forces which have been set up by state governments: the police, armed forces, hospitals, fire services, farm subsidies and states of emergencies, etc etc.
There is very little of spontaneously-raised civic groupings of peoples in our western democracies these days; which are autonomous groups and arisen out of the peoples and out of their direct and earnest concern. The only ones I can think of, besides those outright terrorist groups who are the haters of life, are those such as ‘black lives matter’, and the dubious ‘fathers for justice’ who tend towards being more like feral lobbyists; interest groups, rather than them being a set of protesters whose protest out of a common ground of human and humanitarian revulsion at what is going on in the world.
Of course black lives do matter; yet by comparison so few whites are of their party and persuasion, by comparison with the ‘black power’ and other ‘civil rights’ movements of former days. Such idealisms, even when it was much misdirected, was a far more general public incitement to support protests against social and political evils, than anything which stands as attempting objectivity and is yet available today to us.
I say it again – a constant theme of my pieces, that our attention and enthusiasm is absorbed and digested by and in consumerism; there is little else left over for ‘charitable’ or for ‘protest’ or for ‘alternative’ endeavour to be had from us. These causes are considered now to be ‘old hat’; somehow and tragically we thing we are wiser that than now, and they are ‘old hat’ so, and we are ‘wiser’ so, because we have become ensnared in a technocratic and a plutocratic and a bellicose and mainstream grasp upon us by current economic, technological, and governmental, life. The consequential loss to us has been of self-direction and of self- awareness and of an autonomous thinking and its consequent due actions.
Let’s look at the title again ‘Thinking without Restraints’ or as I also have called it ‘freethinking’. We feel we are free – we believe we are free – but are we free indeed?
Our thinking these days even at the level of the common man and woman is hardly restricted by an laws or by any directives from governments or other authorities; indeed our respect for these authorities has dwindled very much over the years and today stands low; but this too is part of the problem; thee institutions seem such inglorious institutions to us that our response has been to ‘switch-off’ from them, and so to ‘disenfranchise’ ourselves; to turn away from them and lead our lives without them intruding our consciousness, and so trying to live in spite of them; heedless of their presence for the most part.
We don’t hold them in sufficient respect for us to be able to continue to take them and their actions with the due seriousness and proper responsibility which as institutions in principles they ask of us; and thus yet still deserve as being our representatives in the world.
There was a movement in religion which became popular around the times of the upheavals of revolutions across Europe in 18th and 19th centuries and it was called ‘quietism’. Quietism was a silent and closed, some might say cushioned; retreat from the hubbub of the world; a kind of halfway house monasticism, taken up by those who often were disenchanted by the world and so felt helpless to intervene or to sway any change for the better. Our peoples in our democracies have acquiesced in a quietism of their own; except it is quiet only as far as it is a retreat from the affairs of the rulers of the world.
In no other way is it quiet; but indeed it is a franchise, a fracas, to use catchy terms, for its adherents, for them merely to be around ‘for the beer’ and so to ‘cast fate and restraint to the winds’, and as an appalled St Paul says ‘let us eat, drink and be merry; for tomorrow we die’. This is the constitution of our freethinking; this our freedom. A freedom but to relinquish all duty and all responsibility; to renounce all the ‘trappings’ which we feel have ‘tied’ us to the dreary and painful duties and responsibilities which our forefathers and mothers were, we feel, constrained to adhere to: thus ‘Thinking without Restraints’.
To relinquish like this is like us trying to build a house, a home, without having a plan; with no bricks, but only a general rubbish heap of materials to build with; without possessing any skills in building and bricklaying and carpentry; without possessing any knowledge of any kind which might be useful and be applied in such a task. This is our ‘Thinking without restrains’ which we have achieved; it is a ragbag of urges, sensations, imaginings, and led-by-the-nose derelictions. We have a whole world of space, freedom in which to think anything we like to think and yet we have no equipment with which to make anything of our thoughts, and nothing with which to order them.
And so truly we have nothing. No bearings. No compass. No groundings. No apparatus. Truly, lost in space
The truth; what is it? True freedom, of thought, of action, needs delimitations, or if you like, constraints; imposed not by any force imposed by external authorities nor else by habituations of tradition and/or custom (some of which nonetheless comprises the sound collective wisdom of the generations); but imposed and disciplined by recognition of one’s own mistakes and consequent sufferings, and by one’s own learning had from those mistakes and sufferings, which alone offers true context in which freedom is and becomes the gift to us of the spirit.
Thus ‘Thinking without Restraints’ implies thinking without conscience, without turning over and examining the fruits of experience, of living without all those human qualities being those which allow us to hope that we are something more than animals, and that we are perhaps ‘a little lower than the angels’?
‘Thinking without Restraints’ then is indeed a condition of life for humanity which allows a certain despotism of control and persuasion to continue to be built up in over and above it, so that it remain ever with the authorities and the business enterprises which presently govern our habits and behaviour. They do this by them governing our access to a fuller knowledge and understanding, by them crowding out of our minds such things, which us obtaining would liberate us from their usurpations by us being made able to choose other and better guides than they would have us believe that they themselves are.
Such a better guide in all things and at all times might not be discovered than the Lord Jesus, about whom I have many times explained how he spoke in apparent paradoxes about freedom and about freedom in thought. The kernel of the thought such paradoxes of Jesus is that any person necessarily is constrained to serve somebody or to bow a knee to something in life; and I believe this somebody or something might be leading for most of us presently to us being the tools and cattle of consumerism and of its self-ingratiate magnates; and that instead it could be, ought to be, and would be to our best advantage to be in service of our Lord Jesus.
Jesus spoke of persons ‘losing his life so as to find it’ and he said that ‘the one who would be foremost among us must become the servant of all’ and that ‘the first shall be last and the last first’, and perhaps most astoundingly and the most hard to do:
You have heard that it has been said; You shall love your neighbour, and hate your enemy.
I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
The character of all these paradoxes is that all of them to a very large degree require of us considerable self-restraint; of our thoughts and in our actions. They require of us that same introspection and self-analysis, observations of others, together with application to our lives of their findings, which in earnest prophetic moralists like Dr Johnson attempted and attempt, and advocate and try to live by.
But we cannot do it alone; and even with help we can only achieve an amount of success; we remain human. Yet upon our attempting such a life, our awareness that we are only in part succeeding in our service to the Lord is itself salutary to us, and it constitutes progress for us. Gradually we come to understand little by little, more and more, what is true knowledge and what is true life.
To begin, to approach and so achieve a step up on the bottom rung of this adventure; how might it be done? Not by our initiating it by own efforts; but by what might be said to be a recognition of the offer and gift of love, truth, glory and sovereignty over the heart which is provided by the Lord Jesus Christ; and thereafter by attempting living a committed life in service to his Person love and grace. Thus-wise are our eyes opened:
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
‘We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’
‘If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed;
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’
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