Amathia

 

There is no Ignorance there is Knowledge” – Jedi Code

There is, he said, only one good, that is, knowledge, and only one evil, that is, ignorance” – Socrates

Amathia

People do stupid things. We can all admit to behaviour that in retrospection and on reflection seems illogical, irrational, self-destructive and just plain stupid. Being alcoholic I am qualified to attest to this. Looking at my past I could easily write the book “On Stupidity”. I still remind myself that people are not purposely stupid any more than I was. People just do stupid things. To quote Forrest Gump “Stupid is as stupid does”.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and Anti-Nazi dissident, wrote that while the reasoned may protest against “Evil” and be inoculated against it there is no such defense against the person who does stupid. Even the person who does “evil” feels a unease with their acts (unless of course the person is a psychopath). “Evil” is however a result of stupidity and ignorance.

The Greeks called such “Stupidity” Amathia, a sort of preventable intelligent “Stupidity”. Amathia is different to the “dull witted” who lacks the mental capacity to know virtue from vice. Socrates considered Amathia the root of evil acts in people. Epictetus described Amathia as anti-wisdom. A spiritual malady that afflicts those that could know and should know better.  Worse than ignorance, Amathia is choosing not to know, the worst type of stupidity.

 

A Stain

Stupidity never receives a clinical description or medical diagnosis. As an affliction it resides outside the realm of psychology. In the Army, “Stupid” or variations of was the worst label one could suffer. Being labelled “Stupid” was like a stain. It marked the unfortunate as “incompetent, unreliable, a liability and a bullet magnet”. “Stupid” was someone who could not be taught because he was incapable. Unable to learn not because of a lack of ability but because of a lack of willingness. Such was a lost cause, a “Cluster”, a “Gomer Pyle”.

Reading Bonhoeffer’s description of stupidity I am stunned by the familiarity to my own behaviour around alcohol. I never considered myself “Stupid” however I did stupid things and refused to learn from them. I was a “Cluster” in the true sense of the word. This flaw was a stain and it touched everyone who came close to me.

 

Defenseless

Bonhoeffer wrote a letter while awaiting his fate in a Nazi prison. I will quote extensively from it as it serves as a wake up call. Bonhoeffer writes “against stupidity we are defenceless” and goes on; “Neither protest nor the use of Force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on death ears

Most alcoholics are defenseless against the power of alcohol. They are hopeless when it comes to being convinced by others of their condition. Loved one’s and friends try to intervene without success. Employers, work mates and medical professionals try to reason with them. All efforts avail nothing.

Not only addicts are affected. People in general tend to grasp on to their system of beliefs and tightly held opinions that an alternate view cannot and will not be entertained. Extremists come in many shades but all share a common refusal to budge on their beliefs even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Some are even prepared to die for them.

 

“facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.”

 

Ignoring Evidence

Even in the face of declining health, lost employment, repossessed house, broken family and destitution an alcoholic will continue to insist that the source of his problems is the fault of others. She will refuse to admit fault or accept being alcoholic. Despite the inevitable cognitive dissonance suffered the person will reject all evidence. This denial and reinforcement of enabling behaviour counteracts any impetus for change.

We call this person sick. Indeed they have a mental, physical and spiritual illness rooted in Amathia.

How often in other areas of life do we put our blinkers on and cherry pick the truth believing only what we want to hear and rejecting opposing views and contradictory evidence as “false”, “fake” or “baseless”? We would rather ignore and reject out of hand ideas or evidence that challenges our perceptions than give them a moment’s thought.

 

The Belligerent

“In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.”

 

When we are pushed to consider a view point that challenges our sense of self and potentially destroys everything we believe we can become extremely defensive. Pushed hard enough we may defend our beliefs to the point of violence. It happens with addicts who are forced in to a corner.

Violence is also used by  people who have inflexible and dogmatic views on religion, politics and other contentious issues. Are our valued ideas and concepts worth defending or advancing to the point we need to attack others who challenge us? Do we have the right to smother dissenting views and criticism?

 

A Contagion

Somehow people “become stupid” over time. Progressively they adopt attitudes and beliefs that eventually translate in to habits and character. The element of “Stupidity” is demonstrated in the traits described above. The outcome for an alcoholic is gradual loss of control of their lives and eventual descent to a personal hell. I know this because I lived it.

Stupidity is contagious. Bonhoeffer believed that those that felt a strong need to belong  to a group whether social, political or religious tended to be more willing to accept ideas than those who are happier to find their own path. Ideas and attitudes are fueled by people who share similar mind-sets and views.  As a drinker I sought out Drinkers to socialize and associate with and avoided people who did not drink. People tend to seek out the company of those that validate their character and values and avoid those who don’t.

In many ways recovery is a “Solo” mission. We can get advice and direction from people and seek what fits our own individual needs. There is no “one size fits all”. Most spiritual paths and philosophies are similar. There is a community but we are free and encouraged to go out and find our own way. There is nothing wrong with embracing an ideology however never grasp it so tight that it becomes a tether to the mind and soul. Be free to explore and seek new ideas and thoughts.

“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity.”

 

A Modern Affliction

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for many years by the Nazis. Despite his long incarceration Bonhoeffer believed that “stupidity” more than “evil” attracted many people to the Nazi doctrine. The rise of populism, “identity politics”, the “social justice warrior”, nationalism, religious extremism and “alt-left” and “alt-right” movements are all facets of the same thing when observed impartially from above. “Right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad” are subjective.

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized, intolerant and “stupid”.  The argument for reasoned discourse has been drowned out by the noise of divisiveness. People are being conditioned not to think, not to question. At the same time supporters of opposing views claim the moral high ground and possession of the truth. In truth the lack self ownership and independence of thought.

 

it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances.”

Independence

Alcoholism like any type of dependence is a complete loss of self-autonomy and independence. It is also attachment and ego run riot. We forget how to think critically and with reason. Our actions are guided by something stronger than our own free will. Our inner world no longer belongs to us.

Ask yourself what are you dependent on? People, places, things, ideas and beliefs can all be our sources of attachment and dependence. Despite ourselves we find our own values and ideas are no longer our own, we are simply reciting the ideas and values of others as our own and “preaching to the converted”.

In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being.”

 

Self Wisdom

A person who is self-reliant, independent and emotionally intelligent and capable of critical analysis is unlikely to follow a “false prophet”. Our ego and fears seems to push as that way. Most people want to be part of the crowd. No one wants to be a contrarian. People want to be able to give themselves a label which expresses who they are and what they value. I was no different. Being alcoholic I made many claims and had an inflated sense of self-importance. My disease and the problems it presented defined me.

Recovery has taught me how to be self-reliant and independent. I can differentiate between what is in my control and what it outside of it. My inner world belongs to me. I have command over my proper faculties, my thoughts, perceptions and responses. The tone and attitude I bring in the day is up to me. Opinions and beliefs are mine alone. My spirituality is unique and my own. I choose my values and the principles I live by.

I have little control over people and circumstances. There may be some influence but the world is largely out of my control. Even my body is not entirely under my control. I can choose what to eat and drink from what is before me. My health may fail despite best efforts to be healthy and fit. Cancer or heart disease may still cut my years short. I am my own being and belong to no one but myself.

 

“Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings”

 

Evil is a Symptom

Bonhoeffer witnessed with dismay the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Being an opponent of Hitler he was imprisoned and persecuted. Accused of association in the plot to kill Hitler he was interned in a concentration camp and executed during the closing days of the war. Bonhoeffer would not have justified killing, even Hitler. Violence was not in his philosophy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested that the nature of the “Stupid” person is not an “intellectual” deficit but a “human” one. People are not born “stupid” any more than they are born “evil”. Some people are less intelligent than others, even “dull”, but are less “Stupid” in their nature than those with high intellect. History has shown some remarkably talented and brilliant minds who were ultimately betrayed by their own “Stupidity”.

People believe “Evil” is an independent and a tangible concept. That it has a life of its own. “Evil” is what most people perceive to as the really bad things that people do.  No one considers themselves to be inherently “evil”. Bonhoeffer  believed that people were not evil but only capable of doing evil because of their ignorance. Evil is a symptom of Socrates’s Amathia. Bonhoeffer also believed people could change for the better.

Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity

 

Liberation

In many ways Bonhoeffer was a real world Jedi Master. Bonhoeffer challenged the Lutheran church with his ideas of spirituality and religiosity but did not alienate himself from it. His views and philosophy of non-violent resistance influenced Martin Luther King, anti-communism in East Europe and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. In his letter from prison Bonhoeffer offered his friends some advice; “Liberation can overcome stupidity“.

More than 2200 years before Bonhoeffer, Socrates suggested  the same thing. Salvation from the worst flaw, the real human evil, Amathia is through the spiritual and psychological liberation that self knowledge brings.

Each of us has the key to our own liberation. Our own reasoned choices determine who we are. We can submit to our own vices or we can embrace virtue. Do we choose to abide by the will of others or make up our own minds? Do we walk the path we want for ourselves or do we follow others blindly? At the same time we can be understanding and compassionate with others, even the “Stupid” that we meet everyday.

In the week the world remembers the Holocaust it is perhaps timely that we reacquaint ourselves with the word Amathia.

 

Appearances

“Size matters not.  Look at me.  Judge me by my size, do you?” Yoda

Who am I?

Image is important. People spend a lot of time trying to define who they are to the rest of the world. People seek identity through the clothes and symbols that they wear and the appearance that they keep. Like-minded individuals are drawn to each other and reaffirm their identity through the validation of others. Individuals will carefully choose and calibrate their appearances, their possessions and who they associate with to reflect their own sense of identity. Hair styles, body image, jewelry , tattoos are chosen to clearly state what is important to the person and how they want to be perceived. However are we really all of these things? Do external appearances really define who we are?

 

Trust not too much to appearances” – Virgil

 

The Ideal

Imagine two stereotypes. Firstly imagine a Jedi. What do you imagine a Jedi to look like? A Jedi might appear in your mind as Obi-wan Kenobi or Luke Skywalker. They wore Jedi robes or a black tunic of the type that Luke wore in “Return of the Jedi”. At the belt or in hand is a Light saber. Ignited the Light saber glows blue or brilliant white. The Jedi appears in excellent physical condition and radiates quiet confidence and purpose. Because of the Star Wars fiction we have come to expect Jedi to appear in a certain form and act in a certain way. When they don’t our perceptions are challenged and we either reject that image or explore and then accept the new “ideal” of what a Jedi should look like on the big screen.

 

You don’t have to look tough to be tough”. – Ahsoka Tano

 

Ahsoka Tano had a hard time convincing many of her abilities and worth when she first appeared in the Clone Wars ready for battle. She did not fit the Jedi stereotype with her small stature and young appearance. Neither did the enigmatic Jedi Master Quinlan Vos with his irreverence and laid back disregard for dress code and protocol.

 

Well, Quinlan Vos has that effect” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

It is not the uniform or the Light saber that makes the Jedi. These are symbols that belong in the fictional realm. What makes the Jedi is being, not appearance. Being Jedi comes from within. Intent, commitment, discipline and action are words that define a Jedi in the Real World.

 

Terminally Unique

What does an alcoholic look like? Some people would describe a skid-row drunk character taken out of a photo from the Great Depression. A lean body with a gaunt face. Thread bare clothes and old worn out shoes. Hand clutching a bottle in a brown paper bag.

A man down on his luck and living on the street. Another stereotype might be the high functioning type with an office job. Deep lines mark his face. There is worn out look in his eyes and a two day growth. A perceptible tremor in his hands. It might also be the harried housewife dropping her kids off at school barely able to control her nerves. Her make-up hurriedly applied is unbecoming and her voice is raw from drinking. It could just as well be The Teacher that welcomes the Mothers child into the classroom or the Doctor she visits to talk about the pain in her side. Each is terminally unique. Each is also the same at a deeper level.

 

Appearances are often deceiving” – Aesop

 

Deception

I certainly never fit the stereotype of an alcoholic but that didn’t change the truth. Typical of many alcoholics I hid it from others and functioned well enough in day to day life. I made an effort with my appearance. Appearances are deceptive. On the inside I was torn and laid waste. The house of cards was crumbling. It’s no wonder people were surprised when I later admitted my addiction to them. Habits and character traits like obstinacy, dishonesty, belligerency, arrogance, impatience, intolerance and stubbornness did not come across as alcoholic behavior. People look for external signs like a disheveled appearance, alcoholic breath, shaking hands and inexplicable absences or accidents before they draw conclusions.

 

Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” – Bonnie Raitt

 

 

Recovered

What does recovery look like? It is different for everyone. I can meet a dozen other alcoholics in recovery and note that they look like people I might encounter anywhere. There are men and women, young and old with all body types. Some may identify as gay, straight or neither. Religious and political beliefs vary. Some wear casual clothes, others are more formal while some appear alternative. There are professionals, semi-professionals and the unqualified. Wealthy and poor. All races. There is no stereotype of what a person in recovery looks like. There is something common between us however, something that’s tangible and real. The feeling of a shared experience of survival from despair and addiction.

When I imagine a person in recovery I see someone who is calm, at ease with themselves, humble in their demeanor, attentive to others, honest and forthcoming and less self-centered but also self caring. I see someone who is in some way “spiritual”.  This might fit as a stereotype. Regardless, it is not how many days, weeks, months or years a person goes without a drink but the choices they make every minute and hour of the day which defines recovery. It is not in external appearances but one’s own internal world which defines contented sobriety.

 

Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha

 

Life as You

You are not the clothes you wear, your hair style or the symbols that you carry. These things may be important to who you are but they do not define who you are. Politics, religious beliefs and philosophies can guide our lives but they are also not who we are. Status, career, profession, qualifications are all labels we value as a society but they do not mark a person as either a good or bad person. You are not your body, hair, image, possessions or ego. All of these things are transitory.  Our own choices and the common flame that burns within us is what makes us who we are.

 

You are not your body and hairstyle, but your capacity for choosing well. If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be.” – Epictetus

Right View

First comes the day Then comes the night. After the darkness Shines through the light. The difference, they say, Is only made right by the resolving of gray through refined Jedi sight” – Journal of the Whills, 7:477

 

Noble Truths

In the practice of Buddhism it is vital that a person come to know and accept the fundamental truths of life. Without the knowledge of these truths and the attainment of wisdom a person will surely continue to live in an existence of delusion and grasping attachment of things impermanent leading to suffering.

Buddhism teaches the four noble truths. Life is suffering. Suffering is caused by our own delusions and liberation from suffering can only come about by releasing our attachment to delusions. The final truth is that the path to freedom from suffering lies in the Eight-fold path. Right View is wisdom and understanding of the four noble truths. Right View is the point of depart on the long path to enlightenment.

 

Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” –  Yoda

 

According to Buddhism the root cause of all suffering (Dukkha) are the mental, emotional and behavioral states that lead to greed, ignorance and hatred. Right View is the wisdom to resolve this imbalance. Wisdom leads to freedom from suffering and the attainment of nirvana through the Eight-fold Noble Path.

 

Teaching View

The fictional Jedi follow a similar journey as the Eight-fold path in their lifelong training. The point of depart is the Jedi Code and knowledge of self and the Force. Without an understanding of this wisdom there is no becoming a Jedi. One cannot apply what one does not understand. In the original trilogy Luke Skywalker grapples with his understanding of the Force under the tutelage of Obi-wan Kenobi and then Yoda. The Jedi Masters tried to instruct Luke in “Right View”.

 

“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.” – Yoda “The Empire Strikes Back”.

 

In “The Last Jedi” Luke Skywalker in turn tries to explain the Force to Rey. Rey misconceives of the Force although it is strong in her. She believes that the Force is merely some sort of tool used to “control people and make things float”. Luke senses this and is reluctant to teach her the ways of the Jedi as Rey lacks wisdom and he willingness.

 

Learning the Force

The Force can barely be described in words but it can be sensed and felt. Luke tries to show the Force to Rey by teaching her to let go of preconceived notions and to simply allow her self to fully sense the Force through the natural energy of the Island refuge.  The Force is the energy that resides and flows through and between all things and all life. But it is more than that.

Knowledge of the Force as it is rather than what one would judge it to be is crucial in the training of the Jedi. Without real experience and mentoring, Right View is difficult to attain. Skywalker was taught by Yoda but failed to properly instruct Rey on Ahch-To. Rey must rely solely on her self to fulfil her destiny without the guidance of a teacher.  What Rey lacks in Right View she makes up for with an indomitable spirit. It may not be enough however.

 

The Real World

Real world Jedi have divergent view of what the Force is as much as the Fandom has on Rey. Unlike Buddhism we do not have the Four Noble Truths or the Eight-fold Noble Path but we do have the Jedi Code. Buddhists also have the shared community of wisdom (Sangha). The Jedi have an online community.  The parallels in the recovery community are the 12 Steps and a global support fellowship. Each is a path to a form of enlightenment through wisdom.

In my recovery, Right View was paramount. Facing the truth was life and death. I had to wake up to my addiction and admit it to myself and others. Self Knowledge was essential as was honesty. I had to accept that I was powerless over alcohol and that I could never drink again if I wanted to survive. As harsh as the truth was, the reality was that it fit into the paradigm of the Four Noble Truths. Acceptance and letting go of attachment was the only way forward. The 12 Steps the path to freedom from suffering.

 

Jedi View

The Jedi Code provides a mantra for living based on Right View. The Jedi Code teaches that emotions exist and are part of being human. We choose how to respond to our emotions and should not allow ourselves to be ruled by them.

We should always seek knowledge and accept that we will never have full knowledge. Our ignorance should not be ignored. We should strive to learn.

Being human we care. However we should not allow ourselves to become so passionate about what we care for that we suffer for its sake. We should avoid clinging attachment and be prepared to let go of what we fear to lose. Serenity is the outcome of non-attachment.

In the midst of the storm we can find shelter. We can be the source of calm and equanimity when everyone else is losing their minds. In the chaos we can find harmony.

We do not fear death and accept it as part of the circle of life. All things must return to the Force.

 

Emotion, yet peace.

Ignorance, yet knowledge.

Passion, yet serenity.

Chaos, yet harmony.

Death, yet the Force.

 

Right View is Freedom

No endeavor worth pursuing can be achieved, no meaningful change in our lives possible unless we are willing to accept things as they are; the truth. This is the essence of Right View.

To fail to seek the truth is to surrender to a live of illusion. With an illusionary view of life comes unhealthy attachments and ultimately suffering. We are swimming against the flow of life and we will struggle.

As we learn more about who we truly are the falsehoods we came to accept as real start to fall away. We start to see things clearly and we stop fighting the world. On that high road is the path to freedom.

 

“When this exists, that comes to be:
With the arising of this, that arises.
When this does not exist that does not come to be,
With the cessation of this, that ceases.”
– Buddha