S.C. Hickman (earth_wizard) wrote,
S.C. Hickman

Philosophy and Magnanimity - The Generous Gesture - Style without Style

"You, researchers and consolidators of knowledge have only turned the ways of the universe into a spider web to trap your prey: that is because your soul does not fly like eagles over abysses."
     - Friedrich Nietzsche

Philosophers can sometimes rise toward that great souled magnanimity that shows greatness of mind, that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquility and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects. [1] Aristotle described the magnificent man in terms of wealth and economy, as one in which the poor man is left outside the gate of virtue for the simple reason that the "poor man cannot be magnificent, since he has not the means with which to spend large sums fittingly; and he who tries is a fool, since he spends beyond what can be expected of him and what is proper, but it is right expenditure that is virtuous." [2] Yet, he admits, too, that magnificence is an attribute of that most prestigious expenditure of all - honor (i.e., those connected with the gods-votive offerings, buildings, and sacrifices-and similarly with any form of religious worship, and all those that are proper objects of public-spirited ambition, as when people think they ought to equip a chorus or a trireme, or entertain the city, in a brilliant way.)  Yet, this magnificence is seen to be a material thing, a gesture of excess in which only those who belong to the club of the rich can participate in, for as he states it: "great expenditure is becoming to those who have suitable means to start with, acquired by their own efforts or from ancestors or connexions, and to people of high birth or reputation, and so on; for all these things bring with them greatness and prestige."

Democritus once said that "magnanimity consists in enduring tactlessness with mildness". Another concept or precept of impret is that of generosity - that of the victor for the defeated. Alphonso Lingis speaks of this sort in his book Dangerous Emotions relating the story of Tomas Borge one of the surviving Sandinista's who'd been imprisoned for years in the dungeons of Somoza's prisons. He relates:

"After the Sandinista victory in 1979, Tomas Borge was selected by his comrades to be Minister of Interior. A few months later, his subordinates informed him that among the captured agents of Somaza's Guardia Nacional were the three men who had tortured him during the years of his incarceration. He wen at once to the prison where they were held and ordered them to be brought before him. He looked intently at them, and verified that they were indeed his torturers. Then he ordered them to be liberated." [3]

Lingis tells us that the name for such a gesture is Justice, a magnanimity that allows for even the liberation of its own enemies, and was named by Nietzsche who wrote, "with 'everything is paid for, everything must be paid for,' ends winking and letting those incapable of paying their debt go free: it ends, as does every good thing on earth, by overcoming itself. this self-overcoming of justice: one knows the beautiful name it has given itself - mercy." Lingis goes on to show how Nietzsche used the figure of the Lion with his parasites riddling his flesh as an illustration of such justice, saying the "lion does not rage against them: "What are my parasites to me? ... May they live and prosper: I am strong enough for that!"

I sometimes wish that philosophers would learn from that lesson. I find too often that many philosophers will fall prey to a dark and vitriolic acetic askesis, sinking into a black hole of despair then bounding back like scorpions against those poor unfounded acusations from a graduate's feeding frenzy upon their hard earned commerce in philosophical speculation. And instead of being magnanimous toward these graduates, whose lack of tact and skill affords only a minor note in a long line of imbrications, will - instead of enduring such tentative and unskilled onslaught - lash back in a vitriolic, petty, stingy, and spiteful tirade and folly of vacuous invective, one that is both unbecoming of the profession to which they purport to be its noble representatives as well as a vain and prideful fall into that most human of traits: vanity at one's own estimation and self-worth. Why is this? Why do academic philosophers of supposed high standing decide to degrade themselves in useless attacks on graduates at the expense of their own dignity, and thereby casting doubt upon their own noble profession and philosophical stance?

I have seen this over and over as I've studied philosophy over a period of time. What is it that forces a philosopher to suddenly fall into that trap of consolidating his authority and knowledge, then to only attack those who do not fit into his current scheme of theoretical speculation? Why do philosophers even take the time to ferret out and expose the enemies in their midst with such rancorous and persistent fortitude? Do such philosophers have certain doubts about their own philosophical speculations? Do they see some dark hidden blind spot in their own system, one hidden and withdrawn from view like some real object, evading and evasive of any and all penetration? Do such philosophers fall into the spider web of their own vanity, waver within its meshes and then try to find a way out by exposing those who would penetrate and access this vacuous sphere of intelligibility?  

I'm reminded of Bruce Lee at this point who developed a "style without style" he called Jeet Kune Do, which allowed for the use of different tools for different situations. His situational fighting technique was broken down into that of ranges of power: kicking, punching, trapping and grappling. In it there was no fixed or patterned stance as it is with all classical forms of martial arts, instead he called his the art of interception, or attacking your opponent while he was about to attack. He often called it the "art of expressing the human body". He believed in spontaneity, and that an opponent would be unable to predict his next move, only react to it. He considered the a great martial artist one who could "Be Water": move fluidly and without hesitation. He often termed his form of martial art a "combat realism": he insisted that martial arts techniques should be incorporated based upon their effectiveness in real combat situations. Real combat training situations allow the student to learn what works, and what doesn't. The critical point of this principle is that the choice of what to keep is based on personal experimentation with various opponents over time. It is not based on how a technique may look or feel, or how precisely the artist can mimic tradition. In the final analysis, if the technique is not beneficial in combat, it is discarded. Lee believed that only the individual could come to understand what worked; based on critical self analysis, and by, "honestly expressing oneself, without lying to oneself." [4]

After having been a practitioner of the traditional forms of Northern Shaolin Longfist Mantis systems since my early twenties I've entertained a mixture of interplay between diverse cultures and philosophies within my own thought and life. Both streams of Western and Eastern modes of thought and practice have filtered through my mind and body over a period of time. I've learned to let those infractions from those of lesser caliber of mind and body go silently by, without reaching after that dark and forbidding need to attack them for a perceived infraction against my own mental or physical health. If one is settled into one's total being one need be nothing but magnanimous toward one's enemies and friends alike. The gesture of being noble toward one's enemies is a sign of greatness we all need in this day and age of petty politics and philosophical disputations that amount to nothing more than the vacuous things they are and have always been.

One can only agree with that great souled poet of wisdom's salve who wrote:

"A brave man thinks no one his superior who does him an injury; for he has it then in his power to make himself superior to the other by forgiving it."
      - Alexander Pope

1. Webster, N., Dictionary of the American Language, 1828. 
2. Aristotle, Nicomacheaen Ethics.4.iv (The Internet Classic Archive)
3. Alphonso Lingis, Dangerous Emotions, (University of California Press March 15, 2000)  
4. Lee, Bruce, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, (Ohara Publications 1975)
Tags: aesthetics, alphonso lingis, aphorisms, speculative realism

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