04 December 2006

Despairing of society

(copy of a letter)

I think I ought to write down what I was saying to you when I last saw you, because it is so widely misunderstood. It is a lot easier to write about the despair of finiteness immediately preceding a higher level, but that is not really in ‘normal’ psychology at all, and what made it possible was the far more difficult and traumatic, but absolutely crucial, despair of society, in which I did effectively destroy the power of society, or any other person, to reward me by contributing to my sense of significance, which seemed a terrible loss at the time. I felt that I was destroying this irrevocably, and my life would be forever diminished by the loss, but at the same time I had no other way of extracting myself from the trap in which I had been caught.

However, this was in no way as people would like to imagine it, that you give up on wanting social success, prestige, status, opportunities, financial reward, etc. It is only that in order to retain your freedom from paralysing conflict in working towards these things in your now very disadvantaged position you have no option but to sacrifice what has become too great a burden.

As I was telling you, I had already had quite a long and precocious life as an apparently respectable and acceptable person, and I had expected that I should be able to pursue my objectives in life within the parameters of socially approved respectability. However, I realised that I was breaking too fundamental a taboo in abandoning any respect, however provisional or hypothetical, for social judgements and evaluations of one. One is very much given to understand that a respectable person waits for society’s imprimatur before considering oneself as suited to, or needing, a certain type of career, circumstances of life, scope for activities.

I found that it was no longer possible to do this, and I knew that I was going to go on aiming at exactly the same sort of life and reinstatement in the right sort of social position, however impossible it might come to appear.

So in a sense it is not even that one gives up hope; one is still aiming at the same thing, however improbable may appear the ways in which one has to work towards it. But one does abandon the unrealistic belief that the opinions of social authorities are in any way objective or realistic, or that one ought to be able to gain their approval before allowing oneself to identify with what one wants and needs to have.

Plenty of people do ‘give up’ on social approval in the commoner ways, which get you nowhere, and do become drop-outs pursuing some ‘alternative’ idealism.

This, however, is not potent, but the identification with not giving up on everything that you originally wanted, and still want, out of life and society, although you recognise that you cannot prevent other people from being hostile and opposing you in everything that you most want and need to have, is actually very centralising and has extraordinary psychological consequences.