The Concept of Fitness

Let’s continue from the previous post on “The Foreseen” — and the adequacy of our responses to the irruption of the unforeseen — with the concept of “fitness”, as in “survival of the fittest” in relation to the evolutionary forces, (or “the creative forces” as some prefer). If you understand Blake, or fourfold vision more generally, the popular concept of fitness as presently understood is woefully inadequate, being itself an artefact of “Single Vision” or the one-sided attitude. “Fitness” is usually associated with the physical or biological organism. But fitness is a relative term, and it embraces all aspects of the fourfold human (or Tetramorph) in the physical, vital, psychical, and spiritual nature.

Quite a lot of current racialist ideologies are deficient in their reduction of fitness to genetics, which is a reactionary habit of the mechanical and atomistic philosophies of Newton and Descartes. Today these are being challenged by more holistic understandings, again arising from the recognition of the primacy of the field over the particle, such as we find in things like epigenetics or morphic fields. What these acknowledge is that a reductionist approach like genetics is not at all sufficient to account for the concept of fitness.

When Jean Gebser writes, for example, that the fate of the Earth and the life of the Earth hinges and pivots on “knowing when to let happen and knowing when to make happen”, this is an issue of survival of the fittest, and an issue of fitness. Here it is a question of our mutability. Consequently, of our capacity to suffer change, which we referred to earlier as time’s pressure or the evolutionary pressure. This is what Gebser describes as radical “openness” in relation to “primal trust” in the innate powers of life. Such also informs Nietzsche’s dictum “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. This affects the whole human being in the four aspects of physical nature, vital nature, psychic nature, and spiritual nature. The simple-minded always try to reduce it exclusively to one aspect or another.

In the current pandemic, we see an implicit recognition of this hitherto much neglected ecology or multiformity. The virulence of any pandemic is very much linked to four factors: nutrition, physical fitness, stress, and environmental conditions. These, again, stress the emerging primacy of the entire field, and follows the quadrilateral pattern also revealed through Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” model. I doubt whether epidemiologists are versed in Rosenstock-Huessy’s grammatical method, so what we see is a kind of synchronicity — an implicit recognition, not yet fully aware of itself, that our thinking is not complete unless it accounts for four factors in our whole constitution. So, the thinking process gradually and naturally begins to take on the structure of a mandala in the same way that Rosenstock-Huessy described it in The Multiformity of Man.

Now, this issue of “fitness” is evidently related to the principle of non-attachment in Buddhism and in Christianity. When the Gospels say “be in the world but not of the world”, this is evidently the equivalent of the Buddha’s teaching of non-attachment, and this means, likewise, that we would have two modes of attention — one mode conscious AS being, and another mode conscious OF being. Gebser means just this when he talks about “the Law of the Earth” as a fate. We can fulfill this Law of the Earth ourselves, in full awareness, or it will be fulfilled despite us, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, as it were. This is evidently the meaning also of the Zen Proverb “let go or be dragged”.

This is the paradox of time-freedom. We can fulfill the times ourselves, or they will be fulfilled despite us, and so this is the issue of knowing “when to let happen and when to make happen”, which is a question of timing and of time-consciousness — to be conscious not just as time, but of time. This is the whole issue of what it means to be “in the world but not of the world”. This is also what Blake means by “Eternity in the Hour” or “Eternity is in love with the productions of time”. Both Blake and Gebser are very good examples of this.

So, this is the basic task in a nutshell. To be in the world but not of the world, where “world” here typically means the time-world or the wheel of spacetime. It is not a question of either/or, but of both/and, so dualistic logic makes this difficult to realise. To be in the world but not of the world is ultimately the issue of Gebser’s “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world” and of time itself.

(Of note, here: Nietzsche was apparently aware of this “Law of the Earth”, and so his maxim: “Be true to the Earth” since this requirement needs both consciousness AS and consciousness OF to be fulfilled).

Ironically, the concept of fitness has its counterpart (if not even its original sense) in the Christian notion that one must become a fit vessel to receive the spirit, and the Christian who prays (if sincerely) that “not my will be done but thine or Lord” is bearing witness to his or her mutability, and willingness to be changed and transformed. Nietzsche has actually retained this sense of fitness in his principle of amor fati, but what he has done essentially is shift the emphasis from the Sky god to the Earth god which, in his terms, meant shift from Apollo to Dionysus or, in another sense, from Jehovah to Gaia. You might even say that Nietzsche was essentially a passionate secular Franciscan monk). Anyway, I have certainly read books where God and Evolution were basically treated as interchangeable, just like matter and energy which has prompted some to coin the term “mattergy” instead.

Those who today promote themselves in terms of race or genetic characteristics as the fit are doomed, because they’ve lapsed into fundamentalisms, reductionism and single-vision. They also sense it themselves, which leads them to exaggerate the opposite by way of overcompensation, giving rise of extremes of cognitive dissonance. They have become Blake’s “stagnant waters” breeding “reptiles of the mind”, as he put it.

In any case, what it means to be “fit” in this broader sense is very much connected with the principle of non-attachment in Buddhism — a willingness to be transformed by our experience, to remain mutable, fluid and flexible in all our aspects. It is not aloofness which is, in some sense, the exact opposite of non-attachment.

I like Emerson’s quote that The Oak of Normal posted yesterday in this regard of a willingness to be transformed (which, unfortunately, can also be misconstrued as meaning something it doesn’t).

“We are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not pinched in a corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but redeemers, and benefactors, pious aspirants to be noble clay plastic under the Almighty effort, let us advance on Chaos and the Dark.”

11 responses to “The Concept of Fitness”

  1. Steve says :

    ” Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond With Nature’s Intelligence”

    by David Fideler

  2. TheOakofNormal says :

    “A sedentary life is the real sin against the Holy Spirit. Only those thoughts that come by walking have any value.” Nietzsche

  3. Steve says :

    In one of his gloomier moments Pascal said that all man’s unhappiness stemmed from a single cause, his inability to remain quietly in a single room. “Notre nature”, he wrote, “est dans le mouvement… La seule chose qui nous console de notre misére est le divertissement”. Diversion. Distraction. Fantasy. Change of fashion, food, love and landscape. We need them as the air we breathe. Without change our brains and bodies rot. The man who sits quietly in a shatered room is likely to be mad, tortured by hallucinations and introspection.
    “He who does not travel, does not know the value of men”, said Ib’n Batuta, the indefatigable Arab wanderer who strolled from Tangier to China and back for the sake of it. But travel does not merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind.
    We all have adrenalin. We cannot drain it from our systems or pray it will evaporate. Deprived of danger we invent artificial enemies, psychosomatic illnesses, tax-collectors, and, worst of all, ourselves, if we are left alone in the single room. Adrenalin is our travel allowance. We might just as well use it up in a harmless way.

    Bruce Chatwin from ” It’s a Nomad Nomad World ‘ which you can find online
    Oak of Normal. Also just read Thoreau’s essay on walking.

  4. Steve says :

    “I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other god.”
    ― Bruce Chatwin

  5. Steve says :

    In one of many meditations on wandering in Bruce Chatwin’s 1986 novel-cum-travelogue The Songlines, the travel writer challenges the notion that real asceticism can be found only in monastic life. “The founders of monastic rule,” he argues, “were forever devising techniques for quelling wanderlust in their novices. ‘A monk out of his cell,’ said St. Anthony, ‘is like a fish out of water.’ Yet Christ and the Apostles walked their journeys through the hills of Palestine.”

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