Writing as catharsis

Grasping for foundations once more

Posted in Philosophy, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on July 20, 2012

It’s been almost two years since I sat down in a picturesque park in Oxford with a laptop and a small ball of hash to begin mapping out my philosophical and religious beliefs. The project was not a small one. It ended up engulfing many late nights over a period of nine months.

Looking back, I consider the result as quite messy and incoherent – but then I remind myself what the point of the exercise was.

Self-reflective writing is one of the most valuable habits I have. Putting words to paper (or arranging pixels on an illuminated screen in my case) in an honest fashion forces you to expose yourself to yourself. It is clear within the space of a few sentences whether you’re entertaining a delusive and unjustifiable perspective – and you just can’t hide from that fact. You’re made to actually articulate many of the assumptions that run un-checked in the back of your mind, assumptions that you take for granted.

Questioning those assumptions on a regular basis has been one of the most fruitful exercises I have undertaken. It’s made me more humble and certainly far more open to new or different ideas. The arrogant venom at which I gleefully expressed every half-baked opinion that came to mind as a teenager seems laughable (though by no means is that scorching cynicism and flippant egoism extinguished – I just take it less seriously). In the space of the last 10 years, my perspective on just about every issue of importance has changed drastically.

Recently I’ve been failing in my habit to write regularly. I think my brain needed the chance to have more experience and absorb more data before I had anything new or interesting to say.

Well, now I feel like progress is being made. The wheels are turning once more.

Soon I will begin to grasp for the foundations of my philosophical, ethical, political and religious thought once more, and make a systematic attempt at expanding my mental horizons.

Though humans are not stupid, they usually have been obstinately attached to their old ideas, not just from fear of the unfamiliar, but because an old idea is part of a system of thought, which is like a cobweb: every part sustains every other, and once you are in your cannot escape.

(…) Nothing influences our ability to cope with the difficulties of our existence so much as the context in which we view them; the more contexts we can choose between, the less do the difficulties appear to be inevitable and insurmountable.

– Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity

We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgement have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone’s thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting a ‘case’ with deliberate suppression of his opponent’s point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends.

– George Orwell

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