Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Orthogonal to History

"King Emeric's gift has thus played an important role in enabling us to live the monastic life, and it is a fitting sign of gratitude that we have been offering the Holy Sacrifice for him annually for the past 815 years."

(link)

I saw this on Twitter and wanted to retweet it, as a strange orthogonality to the mindset of climate activism. Are the monks bad for not caring about climate change (assuming from this one tweet that they do not)? Can they be allowed to look at time so differently?

In a sense, the monks are much more connected with history, with past events. But there's another sense of "history", that of "the cumulative development of human civilization or decline, worked out in world affairs". The monks (from this one tweet) seem to be very disconnected from the latter kind of history. To clarify, we could say that the monks are connected to the past, but not to history.

I think about my own writing, which is often about what I know: interpersonal relationships and the inner life. I'm not quite as detached from history as the monks appear to be, but aren't there bigger things to worry about than trust and trustworthiness, sensitivity and being true-hearted? In the short run, probably not. In times of war, you have to fight. But we lose wars because of the times of peace before them. And whole generations grow up and die in the midst of the end of the world. The end of the world has been on the table, in a way, from 1939 to the present. "All times are now": we live part of our lives in the long-term life, or even the post-scarcity life, and this informs how we are overall. Children grow up without being aware of the end of the world and how it's ending right now, and how they grow up affects how they participate in history later in life.

To an extent, the long-term view of life is a self-fulfilling prophecy, just as the short-term view of life is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

None of the above assumes that the monks are right about there being such a thing as eternal life. If you are connected to the eternal, you can be orthogonal to history. History is about how human desires provoke a reaction from other humans, based on their desires. Or how human fears react to situations, producing new situations. Maybe it's too late for orthogonality to save us from history, but perhaps we have only made it this far because of it.

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