Geert Wilders and the sad people
In his carefully crafted descriptions of our emotions and feelings, Spinoza reconstructs their causal composition using just two basic ingredients: sadness and joy. All the emotions and feelings we are capable of, in all their rich tonal variety, are complex modulations of these basic passions. Let me paraphrase his words…
...passions explain to us the affects of Joy [laetitia] and Sadness [tristitia]. By Joy I understand that passion by which the mind passes to a greater perfection. And by Sadness, that passion by which it passes to a lesser perfection. IIIp11, Scholium
Joy is generative of being, reinforces it; sadness is destructive of being and weakens. The one affirms and strengthens the other denies. The one forms, the other deforms. They are opposite forces of selection: the centripetal and centrifugal forces of being and as such only good or bad relative to the entity whose being is in question. Perfection is being itself. And every thing that is, is also perfect as that thing. It is just that sadness prepares for transformation of being, a loss of control. The movement that being requires to maintain itself well, to grow, constitutes the metabolism of being. That same movement can however also cause rot and dissipation. Movement and the confrontations and confluences that result from it can be either healthy or poisonous. An increased power to persevere and grow in being is a transition to greater perfection, is healthy for that being; a decreased power on the other hand, is a transition to lesser perfection, that is to illness, to a falling away from being. Some people carry illness well and are amongst the most joy giving people in the world. That is their immense strength. Illness as a bodily state and sadness as its emotional expression, make the maintenance of our being and its striving for perseverance and growth that much harder. Joy is the passion one experiences in the transition to an increased power, sadness is the passion one experiences when that power is weakened. Joy and sadness are opposed like angels and devils. Sadness falls, Joy climbs, sadness rots, joy grows. With the one we amplify the being that can be enjoyed and with the other we are a transformed by outside forces and thereby transform the being that becomes lost to us in its transformation. It is recycled. There lies the weird working of this image of the world. Sadness may well destroy but at the same time it allows itself to be ploughed back to give joy its chance. No spring without winter.
Sad people. Today I heard on the radio that an American priest is recommending us to burn Korans on the anniversary of 9/11. I listened to his arguments and they came down to this: “well... they do it to us... They burn our flag.. etc.” I felt very sad, yet another Wilders has popped up, this one with a really nasty looking moustache. They proliferate and thrive within the soil of an absurd discontent enriched with scapegoat-dung. These people are sad people. But how are they sad? Geert Wilders is himself not sad. Or at least he does not appear sad on television. He appears powerful, confident: a happy hatemonger, a lusty agent of humiliation; a superman of loathing.
At the same time there is "a deep sadness welling up inside of me". These people are sad in my estimation of them. I find them sad. They also make me feel sad. In Spinoza’s words, I feel a transition to diminished perfection when I hear all this hate being thickened. I weaken. They almost make me feel as if I do not want to persevere in my own being because I am being asked, against my wish and inclination, to take a stand against something that is so banal, so ridculous and childish. Why should I take the ludicrous and grotesque stupidity of some men and women seriously. What is the point? Why do we have to bother ourselves with people whose image of the world is as primitive and barabarous as that? There is a simple answer. They tend to hurt others. I feel sad about that, and sadness diminishes me. That is not a good thing.
I should then have used another title for this piece; after all it is I who am sad. Wilders’ people are not sad. They know themselves on the brink of their era; they are lusty haters, joyous and hungry! Their sadness will only become apparent if they get the chance to look back and see what they have done. Fat chance. Soon they shall be encouraging our children no doubt to kill and rape in the name of freedom and decency. The world is showing its uglier side. It often does this in the name of religion. But it is not religion that is at fault. It is people.
I know that we have all been born into this world at a certain time and a certain place. I know that this time and this place together form the environment against which we have to form ourselves. And I know that it is our task is to form our selves as well we can within the time and the place given us. We cannot choose the time or place of our birth; we were thrown into the world and have to make do. I know all that. Perhaps I should be thankful I was born after the Second World War; thankful not to have been born a German in the twenties and forced to have been infected by and made party to that detestable machine of selection. Or worse to have been born a Jew at the same time, or a Gypsy or a Homosexual and made subject to that selection machine. But however lucky I am that I was not part of that horrendous period, the stupidity of today tires me out all the more because we have The Second World War as an example against which, surely, we should be able to measure the world’s stupidity quite accurately and in a way that even the stupid can understand that hate does not make for a pleasant place to live. That is what we are after isn’t it? It appears not. We are heading for a period of lusty hate and joyful vengefulness: violence and champagne as Dostoyevsky called out. Can we stop it? How should we try?
One option is out of the question, I do not want to desist in my being. I still enjoy far too many things and have taken on too many responsibilities to just walk out of life because of the excruciating stupidity of others that is their sadness and the renewed focus on the ugliness of the world. I have just discovered Spanish Balconies and sailing in my own boat. And if I want to persevere and feel the joy of affirming and strengthening my being in the face of their wilful stupidity, I shall have to fight joyously, as André Comte Sponville recommends… without hate and at the same time without ignoring the stupidity and ugliness of the world around me. At the same time I must never exceed the means matching the end; never, ever, forgetting myself, that is my self as a thing that needs constant care to be a full part of the whole. The best way to fight is to be an example of what you think is right.
The only means at my disposal which does not put me at the level of barbarism and stupidity propounded by Wilders and his like is the wish to not begin to hate, to not become like him and his followers. Geert Wilders and his scary clo(w)n(e)s have after all become like the deformed mirror image of that which they fear and have grown to hate. When people who hate look at what they hate they are looking into a mirror. I do not hate them. I do not pity them, or rather I try my best not to pity them. But I do find them sad in their stupid joy. I feel a sadness simply because their hatemongering seems so unnecessary. The world does not need to be like this. With a little personal restraint, a little strong gentleness, things could be very different. It is stupid to make the world into such a place. At the same time one cannot hate the stupid. One does not need to one must forgive them by not hating them. If what I have just said is wise then our only option is to encourage them to accept that wisdom. It is no high wisdom that one has to seduce them into; it is an everyday wisdom, easily accessible to everyone. It is not a wisdom that comes with deep intellectual effort, it is the wisdom of mere decency, of not doing to others what one would not have done to oneself. One must therefore feel compassion for their stupidity, however much they appear to be enjoying themselves in the sadness of which they are so brutally unaware. One must fight stupidity with this everyday wisdom, always. It is better to die wise than to become stupid and live. To be Ghandi rather than....
There is no doubt a lot of stupidity uttered and done in the name of Islam. But it is not Islam we must blame for this but the stupidity of men and women. Stupidity (and evil can never be more than stupidity) is to be forgiven and seduced into wisdom, patiently and generously. You can at most seduce people to become less stupid, you cannot force them. By trying to force them you will only make it worse by meeting it with counter stupidity, which is why these people bring me near despair. If Christ taught us anything it was that the old eye for an eye logic of the old testament, which was itself based on something like the laws of Hammurabi, is sadly inadequate. It works on the mistake that revenge works. The act of revenge may only satisfy the hunger for revenge, but certainly does not repair the damage done by the original crime. It is often thought that forgiveness is directed at those who need to be forgiven but this is wrong. Forgiveness is not for those needing to be forgiven, it is to make the forgiver stay healthy, stay on top, achieve that greater perfection in which he can find joy in his perseverance as the being he wants to be. To have succeeded in forgiving is a great achievement. Hate and the hunger for revenge creates monsters and, more importantly, causes ulcers in the person hating. Instead of wanting to take an eye for an eye, instead of wanting revenge, seek justice. That is something altogether different.
Why is it that Geert Wilders is going from strength to strength? Why is he laughing and taking on the posture and gestures of a complacent statesman? And why do I feel it is so hard to repress within me the desire to give him a jolly good punch on the nose, or even better, putting him across my knee and giving him a good hiding like my headmaster did to me long ago?
All I have is my role as a digital Apemantus. I stand aside and speak what I see as the truth. I try to tell him of his stupidity, but have no access to him, nor will he want to listen. For the rest I speak only to myself. And never can I become more than an Apemantus. For if I get the itch to conquer, the wish to meet like with like, to give him a taste of his own medicine, I will have slipped into the stupidity that makes wise people, who aren’t quite wise enough, sad. This lessens their perfection as wise people, makes them want to desist in their being wise, so that, all the world will have left, are the hormonally charged men and women of lusty hate and stupid joy.
We have only one real course open to us and that is to stop feeling sad, stop losing our wisdom, stop veiling them with our sadness and to enjoy the deployment, practise and development of our wisdom by finding better ways of enticing them to become wise, without ever having to resort to their machinery. Looking over this text, I have a long way to go. Never mind.
So what of this attempt to forge a coalition between the Dutch liberal Party, the Christian democrats and the decidedly National Socialist PVV? I can only think of one image; it is banal, clichéd and yet I can think of nothing more apt. The VVD and the CDA are like the sorcerers and the men donning the ring in the mistaken confidence that they can control its power. They Or are they more like can't. Or should I be kinder? Are they perhaps like Frodo and Whatsisname using Golem to show them the way to the mountain of doom. I wonder. If the first, the endeavour is lost and things will become interesting; if the second, it is at least brave. I have my doubts.
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