Will and Intent

I have been away on business over the past week. Despite that distraction, my thoughts remained absorbed with the issues raised over the last few posts on the meaning of fascism, and particularly as it manifested in the psychology and the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler — full of so much self-devouring and self-annihilating self-contradiction. In the evenings in my hotel room, I mused and mulled over it all, and all over it again.

I remain intrigued by Seth’s comments in The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events that Hitler was driven by a deeper impulse of self-loathing towards total self-destruction than was expressed by his personal willfulness and his glorification of “will”. In retrospect, given Hitler’s career, it seems quite self-evidently so, and that the psychology of Mussolini and Hitler — and of the fascist mentality more generally — was already prefigured in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which came to Stevenson complete in a dream.

And what a strange dream that must have been, for Jekyll and Hyde are the symbolic forms exemplifying the dynamic of self-contradiction in which two contrary powers or values in one psyche meet and become mutually annihilate.

There are many instances in the historical record in which Hitler’s conduct and rhetoric manifested evidence of this same tendency to self-annihilation and of his apparent desire to (as they say) go out in a blaze of glory like the Wagnerian heroes he so admired and identified with — and even obsessed about — in Wagner’s operas. One particularly insightful book on the question of Hitler’s obsession with Wagner’s operatic tragic heroes is Peter Viereck’s Meta-politics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind.

Therefore, the nature of this self-contradiction is fundamentally a conflict between intent and will. We have the tendency to treat the meanings of “intent” and “will” as being synonyms, but they are not. If you have watched, for example, the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will you will be led to believe something different — the Nazis’ will to world domination — than the essential undercurrent, which is the completely unconscious intent to fulfill the impulse towards total self-destruction in a kind of “Twilight of the Gods”.

Therein lies the subtle difference between a covert intent and an overt will which is the essence of self-contradiction — perhaps of all self-contradiction. Hitler’s self-annihilating intent overruled, finally, his merely personal will. His intent and his will were in contradiction, and his personal will became the unwitting slave of his innermost intent.

Therein lies, I believe, the root of what we have been calling “perverse outcome,” “unintended consequence,” “blowback,” “reversal of fortune,” or “ironic reversal” more generally. Where the personal will is not in harmony with intent, but is in conflict with that intent, then you have that “inner division of modern man” which was Jean Gebser’s insight into the disintegrate situation of the Late Modern psyche. The relation of will and intent is somewhat parallel to what, say, Carl Jung described as the relation of Ego to Self.

I think it is important to pursue this much further, not least because the discrepancy between personal willfulness and what is called “intent” figures so prominently in the works of Carlos Castaneda (and also in most world religions) and parallels some issues Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology of consciousness in which the shaping or making power of consciousness is expressed by its “intentionality” or as intending the objects of consciousness.  And, if you have been with The Chrysalis for any time, you may recognise in this potency of “intentionality” (or intensity) of consciousness also the gist of Seth’s repeated statement that “you create the reality you know”.

Yet, how do you do that without really knowing it or how you go about that process? The answer lies in the distinction that must be made between intent and will. You have probably heard Robert Burns’ oft-quoted lines from his very great ode “To a Mouse” that “the best laid plans o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”

The answer to that is the discrepancy that exists between intent and will (or what is called “volition”). Ironically, there is a case to be made that there is indeed no “free will” — (at least, until there is). But that conclusion that there is “no free will” is based on an error that confuses intent and will.

And with these preliminary comments, I’ll attempt in further posts to make that distinction more explicit. For I do feel that we are at the root of many false dilemmas and controversies right here in the failure to understand the inter-play of intent and will and the distinction that must be made between the two. In fact, the Socratic (and Delphic) maxim “Know Thyself!” has absolutely no meaning unless we come to understand that there is, indeed, a difference between my intent and my will.

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8 responses to “Will and Intent”

  1. srosesmith says :

    Excellent, Scott. Your term “disintegrate situation/condition” has come to mind so many times since I first read it. I look forward to your continuing remarks on what you’ve said in this post.

  2. alex jay says :

    OK Scott, so are you talking about the “overt” and “covert” aspects of will and intent in the same context you differentiated awareness and consciousness (TDAB)? Or, to simplify even further more mundanely, matter and soul (psyche)/the concrete with the abstract? The “we are in this world, but not of this world” is not only psycholoically comforting but has a precedence that has shaped the thoughts of every philosophical tradition in memorium: i.e. the covert spirit (Jeckyll) descending into the overt matter (Hyde) paradox of our species’ challenge as translated in the plethora of metaphorical expressions attempting to reconcile this illusory dialectic – until the resurrection back to the source and then recycled perhaps? And, we would both agree, that the Narcissus analogy pretty much is one of the best examples we have of the Jungian Ego-Self dilemma, though there have been scores of his thoughtful predecessors that have articulated the problem in a cornucopia of other cultural genres – bit like music : )

    Actually, I’m not sure why you’re semi-obssessed with this “facists” thing — you pretty much know it inside-out. It’s a pimple on the face of the grand narrative.

    And – to be quite honest – I don’t thing the psychopatic little piece of shit could have influenced most Germans to join the asylum without the machinations and agenda of the real power brokers, the banking cartel – the real “masters of the universe” !

    And we haven’t moved an inch – except backwards – since they began controlling the other four estates … You always maintain that WWI was the game changer into post-modernity (whatever that means?), however one year prior, you had an event that was probably more significant in it’s eventual negative implications, and that was the creation of the Federal Reserve System in the U.S. – the greatest unrecognised/hidden coup of destroying the initial progressive gains of the American and French Revolutions.

    Sorry … getting off topic … don’t waste your time in reading into a blip of maniacs that happened to have been at the right place at the right time through circumstance as opposed to mental and spiritual vigour. The puppet masters were pulling the strings … as they are still doing today …

    • Scott Preston says :

      OK Scott, so are you talking about the “overt” and “covert” aspects of will and intent in the same context you differentiated awareness and consciousness (TDAB)?

      Yes. But then, all this is only a manner of speaking. One could just as easily say that “intent” arises from Seth’s Framework 2 and becomes manifested, in part, as “will” or “volition” in Framework 1 — something like a spaceship entering the atmosphere encounters resistance in the form of friction and drag (something I’ll take up again later). Again, the “mirroring effect” in which, for some reason unclear to me, whatever arises in Framework 2 becomes inverted in terms of Framework 1, which finds expression in Khayyam’s Caution: “only a hair separates the false from the true”, or equally is “maya”. I’m not sure why, but everything appears topsy-turvy and inverted in Framework 1, as in a mirror, but seems to correspond to our weird neurological wiring also.

      Actually, I’m not sure why you’re semi-obssessed with this “facists” thing — you pretty much know it inside-out. It’s a pimple on the face of the grand narrative.

      Because we haven’t yet shaken it off or become inoculated against a recurrence. Moreover, it is precisely this extreme reactionary reversion in our recent history — of this surprising reversal in the “Grand Narrative” — that points to the dynamic of what I’ve taken to calling “ironic reversal”. There are lessons from this failed so-called “Fascist Era” that have not yet been learned. Social scientists want to focus on the political and economic circumstances or the humiliation of defeat in war or the enabling potentialities of technology to account for it, while the psycho-dynamics that drove fascism remain largely terra incognita. But the political and economic circumstances are just that — circumstances — and aren’t sufficient by themselves to account for this abortive “Fascist Era”. Moreover, we have repeated warnings from Bertram Gross, Arthur Selwyn Miller, up to Chris Hedges and others, including Rosenstock-Huessy, that it is likely to recur. In fact, we seem pretty close to it now.

      Of course, it is narcissism — mass narcissism, for what else could the appeal of belonging to a “master race” effect but to simulate delusions of grandeur, and also paranoia? For behind the mask that histrionically accentuates the posture of superiority resides a sense of inadequacy, inferiority, and insecurity about oneself and one’s existence. Hitler’s rhetoric appealed to both conceits at once because, of course, he was himself also both conceits at once. He berated Germans for being weak, cowardly, inferior, unworthy and simultaneously as the opposite — a master race. Men like Hitler are only a symptom, even a mirror, in which the populace sees itself reflected back as “a Man of the People” or, as is put today, “someone you can have a beer with” — which is ironic given the origins of the Nazi movement in the beer halls of Munich. Fascism itself is discredited — the name “Fascism” that is. But it still stalks the Earth wearing other names and other disguises — economism or technocracy, for example. Fascism is, in some ways, the self-consciousness of the technological system — cunning, systematic, rationalistic and, like Midas, rationalising; but not necessarily for that reason intelligent. It is even the very contrary of intelligence.

      So, we want to discover the prerequisites for the exercise of authentic intelligence, which is why there was TDAB and now The Chrysalis. We want to awaken the authentic intelligence, but we are up against obstacles because of what Jean Gebser calls “deficient rationality”, which has become confused with the intelligence, even to the point where we speak of “artificial intelligence” and of the cyborg as somehow embodying this as ideal type.

      If the full exercise of the intelligence involves equally a heavy dose of what we might call “soulfulness”, then, speaking in the evolutionary lingo, we are presently de-selecting for intelligence in favour of something that approaches the Mechanical Ideal — the automaton, the robotic, the “rational” in the narrow instrumentalist and technocratic sense, and which is presently referred to as “dumbing down”. In fact, just recently I heard of a hypothesis from one or more evolutionary biologists who speculated on just this thing — our activities were, in effect, deselecting for intelligence and perhaps even awareness. The ideal is the perfect machine, the perfect automaton.

      And that is pretty much what fascism attempted on a mass scale — society functioning as the perfect machine. They didn’t even bother to disguise that objective. For that reason, they despised the “individual” as someone who didn’t know their place and how to keep it — as expendable or interchangeable units.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    I am in complete agreement that: “There are lessons from this failed so-called “Fascist Era” that have not yet been learned.”

    I see all these contemptible — these little Hitlers — all around me all the time. Some of them, intriguingly, are of the lineage of the victims of the Nazi rule. On a few occasions, I’ve even caught myself on the brink of turning into a little Hitler and I had to order myself to back away from the ego-centric thoughts that were encroaching and taking over my mind. I question if it is even possible to permanently eradicate from within us such tendencies toward dominance and superiority, though. It seems to me the best we can do is to remain vigilant for these sorts of thoughts and feelings in ourselves and straighten themn out when they begin to go astray.

    For example, I find that although the intention to control and dominate others for whatever reason doesn’t form a dominant part of my pesonality at all, it can easily sneak up to the surface and affect my will when others attepmt to impose their “Will” on me; especially when an unethical outcome is desired on the part of others. What I mean is that the intent or desire to be ethical and righteous (not necessarily the desire to annihilate an entire ethnicity or a line of religious devotees), can also turn into a poisonous concoction if left unchecked. This is exlactly where I have caught myself tending to turn into a little Hitler. I’m not sure about this, but maybe even Hitler and his Gestapo thought of themselves as being ethical folks, too, and “doing God’s work” in their own way.

    I still haven’t finished reading the article “Theory of Intentionality” in its entirety. The few beginning pages I read were fascinating, though. Thank you.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’m storm-stayed today at home. Roads are impassable presently, so I probably have the whole day to muse. It has been quite the winter here.

      Some of them, intriguingly, are of the lineage of the victims of the Nazi rule.

      Not unusual, but a riddling thing. It’s akin to what is called “Stockholm Syndrome” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome).

      I question if it is even possible to permanently eradicate from within us such tendencies toward dominance and superiority, though. It seems to me the best we can do is to remain vigilant for these sorts of thoughts and feelings in ourselves and straighten themn out when they begin to go astray.

      Eradication is probably impossible and inhibition probably undesirable. In most of the wisdom tradition, the negative or destructive urges or impulses are transmuted, by a sort of psychic alchemy (transmutation of lead into gold). Rumi for example, writes of the four “nafs” or animal spirits in terms of killing them and resurrecting them as something else.

      The rooster of lust, the peacock of wanting
      to be famous, the crow of ownership, and the duck
      of urgency, kill them and revive them
      in another form, changed and harmless.

      Again, in Buddhism the three evils of greed, malice, and delusion are not destroyed, but transmuted into the three gems, again by a kind of psychic alchemy. And the 7 deadly sins of Christianity? Well, they seem to have their counterpart in the 7 liberal arts (although I haven’t traced that as thoroughly).

      The energies that get bound up with the four nafs or three evils or 7 deadly sins, are actually positive, generative, life-promoting and life-enhancing energies. However, they become perverted in these other forms — one might say “ego-tised”, if there were such a word. This is why Rumi adds that the nafs should be revived or resurrected in another form rather than expunged or eradicated. In some ways, it makes sense to say that the three evils or four nafs are only the shadows of the real deal, and that there is some merit in the “power of positive thinking” in this transmuation, if it weren’t made so banal and commonplace. Those who attempt to eradicate or annihilate the nafs, end up diminishing and extinguishing the flame of their own lives — as Seth pointed out about the Lemurians.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        “I’m storm-stayed today at home. Roads are impassable presently, so I probably have the whole day to muse.”

        LOL. That reminds me of the fondest memories of my childhood when I didn’t have to go to school for that very reason 🙂

        I think I know exactly what you are talking about when you say:

        “In most of the wisdom tradition, the negative or destructive urges or impulses are transmuted, by a sort of psychic alchemy (transmutation of lead into gold). Rumi for example, writes of the four “nafs” or animal spirits in terms of killing them and resurrecting them as something else.”

        I recall one example many years ago when, spontaneously and without a prior experience with such a maneuvre, somehow I found myself enabled to channel utter anger into astonishing productivity. I presume the same can be done with other self-destructive and egotistical thoughts, feelings and emotions.

        Thank your for these words of wisdom. And, as always, a very profound and revealing selection from Rumi’s work.

        • Scott Preston says :

          I recall one example many years ago when, spontaneously and without a prior experience with such a maneuvre, somehow I found myself enabled to channel utter anger into astonishing productivity. I presume the same can be done with other self-destructive and egotistical thoughts, feelings and emotions.

          Very good. Latch on to the feeling you had at that time — the feeling is important factor. It can be your guide to mastering the other “nafs” and channeling their energies into creative and productive ends. Even anger can be a creative potency if used properly, for it is a feeling often associated with the birth experience.

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    Thank you, Scott. I will keep to that advice.

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