Austerity and consent
This is taken from my journal.
Local time is about half past 3 in the morning. It is dark outside and will remain this way for another three hours or so. There is no power supply now. The solar panels work with sunlight, while the batteries do not last for too long. I spent the past 40 minutes observing the sky and the mountainscapes, thinking about the vastness in the little things.
My life here is a tiny spec on a grand canvas. It takes a lot of effort to even notice it. There is nothing special about me. There are billions of humans on this planet right now. We all need food and shelter, and every one of us dreams of a better place, from peasants to royalty. Some define “better” as more comfortable, others as care-free, others as sinless, others as enlightened… Who knows, really?
The lack of electricity in these early morning hours is such a trivial issue. I cannot turn on the computer. So what? Nothing bad will come out of it. Instead of checking on my email correspondence before going back to bed, I had the opportunity to look at the stars and be amazed yet again at how awesome all this is. A perfect system of systems that we often take for granted and fail to appreciate. Who am I to question the cosmos when I can barely write a journal entry that makes sense?
I do what I must; what my condition renders necessary. The austere life—life at-large—is fulfilling, provided you accept it. Else, you will be daydreaming of other worlds and new beginnings.
When I was a pre-school child, my parents let me to spend a few days with an uncle of mine. He was the disciplinarian type. His house was full of chocolates and other delicacies. I had never tasted any of those and wanted to have some. “No, we only eat one piece of chocolate on Saturdays” was the response I got. My uncle probably thought such a rule would teach its subjects to be moderate in their consumption patterns, a salient point I agree with. Yet the method of instruction was flawed when applied to me, as it did not explain the underlying “why” of its entry into force. I did not like the austerity I had to endure and felt unjustly treated in the absence of a reasonable explanation. To this day I only agree with directives whose reason is well justified. The arbitrariness of authority unsettles me.
I have not eaten chocolate in many years. It must be a decade already, or maybe more. My diet is strict and my devotion unflinching. I know that sweets are harmful, as is virtually every type of food in packaged form, due to what goes into it to make it marketable/profitable. I have never felt the urge to violate my rule because it is not arbitrary to me. I have embedded in my conscience the understanding of its telos and recognise the function it performs in my day-to-day affairs. The rule is not external to me. It is not exogenous: it is not being imposed on my person. It stems from within and is discernible in my everyday conduct. This is discipline: to follow one’s rules by making them indistinguishable from one’s behavioural patterns.
A formulation of the form “we do not wake up at 3 AM” would feel oppressive, if not silly. External rules enter into force, else enjoy credibility, when they are backed by actionable threats. One may follow the rule out of fear of being punished. Even though they do not understand why they have to operate in this way, they do it regardless. Perhaps the person will eventually internalise the rule, thus transitioning from obedience to disciple. The force of habit may normalise what once was imposed. Still, in the absence of knowledge, the underpinnings of the rule remain obscure and habits may be undone if all that sustains them is inertia. We want to standardise or ritualise actions for the sake of pursuing some greater end. If a ritual’s goal is lost, it becomes a self-serving superstition.
God forbade consumption of the apple. Did Adam and Eve know the reason? Would they have acted differently if instead of a directive, they enjoyed an extended educational session where they could employ their own devices to arrive at a conclusion that would inform their actions thenceforth? Perhaps some need unambiguous instructions; edicts to execute without questions. Others thrive in open-endedness when they are given nothing but the impetus to venture forward. God knows, though ignorant me still wonders whether I would have reacted differently had my uncle explained the rationale of his rule. I think my undeveloped child brain would still have the capacity to reason and tolerate the state of affairs.
Why do I not feel any pressure to consume the “forbidden chocolate” the way Adam and Eve sinned? And why is it so easy for me to conform with my self-imposed austerity? This is autonomy. There is an identification between the maker of the rule and its subject. Superficially, there is nothing preventing me from suspending the rule and acting however I want in the moment. “It was forbidden, now it is not because I say so.” That sort of thing. Yet this is not about consenting to the force of an external structure. What holds me in check is my very constitution, which embodies the rule as its modus operandi.
How one reaches this point will depend on the specifics of their case. An exogenous constraint may be appropriate at an early stage, at least until it sets in motion the desired virtuous cycle. The tricky part is how to win the consent of the subject and when to remove the scaffolding that holds together their yet-to-be-fully-built character. It likely requires a case-by-case approach.
Do I feel uneasiness for not having electricity? No. I have long come to terms with the prevailing conditions and have readied myself mentally to cope with the circumstances as they evolve.
It is already past 4 o’clock. I can still see the stars clearly. The sky is dark and Olympos is shrouded in mist. While I experience the vastness of this world, I aspire to become magnanimous, as I continue to accept what is.