Of That Which is Desirable, and That Which is Necessary
The political tensions evident in our time between “progressive” and “conservative” moods and orientations basically resolve into the issue of the desirable versus the necessary. Generally, conservatives tend to dismiss the desirable (progressive) as utopian fantasising, etc. Progressives, on the other hand, tend to represent conservatives as historically regressive, or even repressive and reactionary.
But once you wade through all the ideological posturing and verbiage, the real root of political and cultural controversies and tensions in our time is the social conflict between the desirable and the necessary as the factors that orient us towards the future and the past, respectively.
The terms Rosenstock-Huessy once employed to describe these contradicting temporal orientations towards the future and past were “prejective” and “trajective.” The terms are meant to supplement and augment the all too familiar spatial orientations of “subjective” and “objective”. The prejective type tends to be revolutionary, progressive, and oriented towards a desired Destiny not yet realised, while the trajective type is described as more evolutionary, forwarded upon ways known from the past, and oriented towards Origin.
We could also say that the prejective type is an innovator, while the trajective type is a renovator. The “multiformity of man” and consciousness is, nonetheless, the recognition that we are all in our mixture of subjectivity, objectivity, prejectivity, or trajectivity fourfold beings.
Nevertheless, the conflict between desire and necessity lies at the root of much of our current social turmoil and of what is called “culture war.” The conflict between desire and necessity is usually cast as one between subjectivity and objective conditions when, really, it is a conflict in time and between times — origin and destiny.
This component of the conflict also surrounded the very controversial decision to make war on Iraq. Many prominent public servants, diplomats, and even military men and women amongst “the Coalition of the Willing” resigned their positions in protest at what they perceived as being a “war of choice”, not a war of necessity. They were, revealingly, dismissed and mocked by the “new conservatives” as “paleoconservatives.” This fissure in the conservative ranks was largely owing, ironically, to the zealous adoption of the Marxian revolutionary idea by neo-conservatives under the influence of former Trotskyites (the Trotskyite Christopher Hitchens has, for example, never recanted his support for the policy or the war).
The chief feature of the “new conservatives”, and one which defined their innovation and novelty as “neo”-conservatives, was the fact that they began to think of themselves as history’s “true revolutionaries” with all the irrational exuberance that attended the belief that they truly represented “the end of history,” following Francis Fukuyama’s book by that title (which he subsequently repudiated). This fissure in conservative ranks was really about the conflict between the desirable and the necessary. When this social and cultural tension between desire and resistance to desire (called “necessity”) otherwise becomes irresoluble, then you have what is called the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary (or reactionary) polarisation of society.
Desire in collaboration with imagination forms intent, and is a very potent force, for what is desirable then also comes to be envisioned as being also attainable and achievable. It becomes intentional. It becomes willed even in small everyday acts. This is the historically creative act that transforms time and space and makes history. This is what informs Blake’s proverb that “What is now proved was once, only imagin’d.” “Proved” here means fully realised or actualised. This potent confluence and collaboration of imagination and desire against resistance to their action and realisation is the reason many societies and their power elites expend extraordinary efforts to regulate, control, divert, or constrain desire and imagination, through various technologies of social control: moralism, surveillance, perception management, propaganda, or outright repression.
Although conservatives often claim to disdain “social engineering” as an insidious infringement upon individual liberties, they in fact exercise it in spades. For what is often called “necessity” is really nothing more than loyalty to certain customs or values, or clinging to convenient delusions, or otherwise asserting dubious claims about the immutability and intransigence of something dangerous called “human nature” (and which is usually only human habit). Market deregulation is often attended by an even sterner and more draconian regulation of “human nature” and a “law & order” agenda.
The realm of necessity (or “fate”) is actually quite limited and minimal, and basically confined to the functioning of the karmic law.
We’ve had occasion in the past to mention the Prussian educator Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and I’ll again take the opportunity to illustrate the social control of desire, imagination, and intent (or “will”).
“He who is firm in will molds the world to himself,” is one of Fichte’s famous quotations and which more or less echoes the somewhat banal commonplace saying “where there’s a will there’s a way”. But it is only when we bring this quote into relation with his other recorded views on public education that we come to understand how the very Spartan and even reactionary Johann Gottlieb Fichte seeks to tightly and completely dominate and control this “will”.
“The new education must consist essentially in this, that it completely destroys freedom of will in the soil which it undertakes to cultivate, and produces on the contrary strict necessity in the decisions of the will, the opposite being impossible. Such a will can henceforth be relied on with confidence and certainty.”
“If you want to influence him [ie, the student] at all, you must do more than merely talk to him ; you must fashion him, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than you wish him to will.”
This programme of social and individual engineering, in fact, is not far from the truth of things today as they stand. A history of public education will probably disclose that it was implemented less to elevate the individual than as a means of domination and social control. Most such “public education” today is actually accomplished through advertising and the media, in fact (as was observed and argued by Marshall McLuhan). Fichte’s duplicity and hypocrisy is actually breath-taking, for the “firm” will that molds the world to itself is not even the individual’s own will or desire. That has been thoroughly extinguished and has been replaced with another’s will, desire, and intent without the individual even being aware of the amputation. So skillful and unnoticed is the surgical intervention that the “individual” persists in the mistaken belief that he or she actually wills and desires from himself or herself, whereas the individual soul is now actually Occupied Territory. Fichte even encourages them to believe this vain and self-flattering delusion that the individual is molding “the world to himself,” when he is almost totally dominated.
(Might be worth noting that this surreptitious and clandestine violation of the sovereignty of the consciousness was something that Seth considered the supreme evil).
Let’s consider the situation from another perspective.
This contradictory tension between desire and necessity that has the potential to become revolutionary is fully captured in the justly famous prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi,
“Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and
the wisdom to know the difference.”
This prayer has much depth to it. Prayer such as this is the deliberate focussing of desire, imagination, and intent. It’s almost safe to say that whenever there occurs in this way a conscious focus of desire, imagination, and intent, then you have prayer, and Jesus’ “pray without ceasing” necessarily takes on the meaning of Rumi’s “Increase Your Need”,
The mouse-soul is nothing but a nibbler.
To the mouse is given a mind
proportionate to its need,
for without need, the All-Powerful
doesn’t give anything to anyone.
Need, then, is the net for all things that exist:
A person has tools in proportion to his need.
So, quickly, increase your need, needy one,
that the sea of abundance
may surge up in loving-kindness
Take, for example, also the famous Lord’s Prayer, or Pater Noster,
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, this is what Jesus taught them, according to the New Testament. Until I began to reflect on prayer as the focus of desire, imagination and intent, the Lord’s Prayer always struck me as something banal and even senseless. But this prayer has been the cause of some of the greatest political upheavals and revolutions in history, and so has reshaped and refashioned time and space. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” has moved men to storm the fortresses of the mighty on earth and overturn them and to sacrifice themselves for its sake. Conservatives, oddly enough, dismiss this very desire and vision as “utopianism”.
There’s little doubt in my mind, now, that Jesus planted the seeds of future revolution, and that he also knew what he was doing and why he was doing so.