Monday, March 15, 2010

True Simplicity III -- Defects of Simplicity

We're still talking about "what true simplicity is NOT" before we get to what it actually IS, according to Dietrich von Hildebrand in Transformation in Christ (pages 77-80 now)

As there is primitivity in the lifeless matter (I know that my oldest son might have something to say about that because there is great mystery even in the physical laws and composition of the universe -- they aren't as mechanistic as was thought in an earlier age -- however, philosophically speaking and comparing life with non-life, there is a qualitative difference that can't be dismissed) .... whew, this sentence is just going to drag on forever if I don't stop it. I'm going to start over. Something similar to this relative primitivity in material things per se, is a human form of primitivity that doesn't have much to do with true simplicity. One kind, it seems, is a lack of depth because of deprivation (circumstantial or natural) and one kind is a psychological error, when people for one reason or another underestimate the "realness" of what is around them and fail to do it justice in their thinking.

Inner Spiritual Poverty is not True Simplicity

Obviously he's not talking about "the poor in spirit" in the gospel sense here -- or at least, I wouldn't think so! He says:

In describing people of primitive minds as "simple", we refer to their inner poverty and their incapacity to respond to the depth and qualitative manifoldness of the universe.
Their attention is absorbed in the elemental concerns of life -- even the mysteries around them are reduced to their pragmatic purpose only. This may well be reflected in their inner life, he says, so that their whole approach lacks depth and width -- it's flattened. They become coarse in spirit and outlook.

Now, how that reconciles with "blessed are you poor".... and "blessed are the poor in spirit" -- I do not know, not yet. From reading Father Dubay's book I would guess that one of the greatest injustices in the plight of the destitute is that they are compelled to focus most of their effort on struggling for their children and themselves to survive. The injustice to their spirits in thus standing by while they are narrowed to this point is probably greater than the injustice to their bodies. That is why it is not enough to give the miserable and destitute material things. And that is why the rich will pay the price in the long run for denying the truly poor a chance to live a more human life.

Stupidity is not Spiritual Simplicity

Some people, not by living circumstances or by choice but by lack of capacity (either congenital or acquired or possibly due to lack of proper education), are unable to perceive things "of any notable degree of spiritual depth or structural differentiation.... every task requiring a somewhat deeper insight or more careful discrimination will baffle him." His mental hands, so to speak, crush what they attempt to handle. This is not simplicity; by itself, it is crudity. He says that these types of people are usually free from the perplexity and neuroses of over-complexity described in the first section.

I suppose we all look a bit like that to God! Obviously there are degrees. One thinks of the disciples before and after the Easter events. Some of them seemed like rather stupid men, or at least pretty concrete thinkers and illiterates, but after the descent of the Holy Spirit there was a change. Every power within them was subordinated to the main principle of caritas; there was a simplification. I am reading the Prydain Chronicles to Paddy right now and I can't help thinking that Gurgi is a literary example of stupidity -- he is a sort of sub-human creature, he bemoans the fact often that he is not wise or skilled like his companions but by his humility and loving spirit he "orders" himself towards simplicity. But that's getting ahead.

These two forms of primitivity are more or less involuntary, constrained by limitations of capacity and circumstance. Then there are two kinds of more voluntary primitiveness where people illegitimately simplify things through errors in thinking or acting.

Reductionist Simplicity of Platitude

There are those who interpret the entire cosmos after the pattern of its lowest sphere. Without considering the specific logos of the object they are faced with, they apply the patterns of mechanism to the province of organic life and even to the realm of spiritual personality and culture.
This probably describes a lot of the earlier psychologists and educationalists and you still see a lot of its effects nowadays. Most inspirational speakers have some of this "facile-ness" as he calls it. Spiritual and productivity speakers seem to be the worst offenders.

Boy, he's hard on everyone! He goes on to say:

There are people addicted to illegitimate simplification in their private lives, too. In their candid complacency, they will (for instance) lavishly offer advice that is in no wise appropriate to the depth or intricacy of a given situation; they imagine themselves able to solve every problem and to arrange everything according to some simple prescription. Their own lives run smoothly without friction, conflicts or complications because they contrive to master all its aspects by dint of a few schematic notions.
He says that unlike the stupid or the destitute they do occupy themselves with higher things but in a simplistic, glib way that doesn't do justice to reality. I suppose this is like a lot of public education "solutions" and the homeschool environment isn't always free of it either.

He says that this is almost worse than the false complexity because it denatures reality..... it "denies the dimensions of being, its depth and width, and pretends to flatten out the universe"

Affected Childlikeness is not True Simplicity

In Bleak House, Dickens has a character called "Skimpole" -- a middle aged gentleman who lives like a parasite off people, pretends that moral things are too much for his poor head and heart, and lives a thoroughly venial existence. He is always saying, in excuse, that he is a "child". His deliberate childishness allows him to take without giving.

Von Hildebrand talks about a falsely childlike manner, a kind of deliberate innocence, what the Germans (he says) call: Frisch, Froh, Fromm, Frei (brisk, joyous, candid, free).

He says that a person like this takes too many short cuts -- he doesn't travel the journey. By pretending to be like a child, he skips over the abysses and disregards the "steep, narrow road". It's a kind of blindness of optimism.

I suppose our United States tends to have all these kinds in plenty. You see them all when you turn on the TV. .... the coarse, the crass, the stupid, the simplistic, the childish.

The next section is on what simplicity IS. Perhaps it's good for humility purposes to see all the things it's not, because there's probably no one that doesn't fall into some defect or excess he describes in these sections.