Friday, July 18, 2008

An Animated Poem; On Desire and Will

In Blue's Cruzio Cafe you can see an animated version of yours truly reciting his poem, "Where Are the Frogs?"

As for my ongoing monologue on a theory of the mind, I am letting my mind range broadly in its pursuit of the will, and have yet to touch upon the relationship of desire to the will. Desire must precede the will, and must be processed through a myriad of contingencies, including reward and consequence, ease vs. effort of attainment, pleasure and pain-o-meters, and the opinion of others as well as an internal moral compass--to name a few. Unless hung up on a conflict, all of this and more can be processed in a second.

What is the counter-propulsive force that resists desire and restrains will? Judgment, again composed of the above and more. Still, despite judgment, desire can overcome will by the sheer power of the urge or by reason ceding permission for the irrational to flower.

Here are two examples of desire and will just performed before and after writing the above. I was hungry for a snack, some crackers or something, but there were none to my liking, so I ate most of a bag of Classic Caesar croutons. I knew they were fattening, and caused heartburn, and so forth, but my desire for them overcame my better judgment, involving only a small twinge of guilt. And while writing the paragraphs above, I had an urge to micturate, but I resisted it until the end of the second paragraph, holding desire in check.

If I held it in check long enough my urine would have eventually been released, and to do so would be a strong act of will but also a display of poor judgment. And this is small potatoes. The human mind can delay gratification for decades if firmly settled upon a goal, which makes us masters of time in a way no other animal can know.

To frustrate desire for a higher desire speaks to a hierarchy of desires, or in Maslow's terms, of needs. Air, water, food, clothing, shelter, and above all, human attention, form a hierarchy of needs within the web of desires. We may prefer love over clothes and shelter, but at food we draw the line, excepting, of course, sacrificial situations where we have a choice to sacrifice our own survival for that of another. That this can be done is another example of the triumph of will over desire. To will what is good for another with the consequence of one's own extinction is a capacity not all possess, but indicative of what is best in the race.

Which brings into play ideals. Regard for the other as an ideal is the one of the core teachings of some religions, as in Christianity, where Christ tells us that "If a man asks you for your coat, give him your shirt as well."

Dedication to an ideal above and beyond our usual tit-for-tat morality is a feature of an integrated man, one who values his values above his desires.

There is something in us, some strength we depend upon, by which we can triumph over desire in the name of desiring the good. How many qualifications are placed upon the desire for good determines how easily the will may act on the desire for it. And often the immediate good, as in buying a junkie another fix, is trumped by a higher good, as in getting him into rehab. But he will not succeed at sobriety unless his desire for getting well exceeds his desire for getting high. As heroin takes most forms of human pain away, both emotional and physical, it must be a daunting path to abandon the land of the lotus eaters for the land of rocks and scrapes. What motivates a junkie to go straight? Here there are lots of sentimental testimonials, with any number or reasons, both personal and general, but we can say in a general way that it is some conception of a higher good that allows the will to ignore immediate gratification in the name of an imagined, perhaps half-remembered, life with no guarantee of a favorable pleasure to pain ratio. Which illustrates in passing that the pleasure-pain principle is not pre-eminent as a value by which the will is engaged, though it contributes much to decisions.

I'd rather watch TV than write right now, and in admitting this it is my will that keeps me writing, through a desire to write and at least close out my remarks properly. The desire for completion is very strong in me. I hate leaving things unfinished. Nevertheless as I dont know when this monologue will ever be finished it doesn't matter if I quit and watch TV now, a moment when my brain is better served by the passivity of television watching. as the work of writing is beginning to outweigh its pleasures.

All for tonight,



  1. Anonymous3:58 PM PDT

    As I mention here CE, the will is a highly complex oft-misunderstood phenomenon. Invariably, people think they know what the will is. After all, this is somethng they have, so they can relate to it, yes? So there is the popularized notion of the will as in the banging of tables, getting what one wants, etc.

    Nietzsche and even moreso his predecessor, Schopenhauer are instructive.


  2. But he will not succeed at sobriety unless his desire for getting well exceeds his desire for getting high.

    I agree. However, the drug and alcohol rehab community resists this concept because it smacks too much of free will and against the disease model of addiction. I'm a recovered alcoholic and prescription drug abuser, eight years now, but I've never been convinced that my addiction was a disease, nor did I participate for very long in any 12-step program. What got me better, I believe, was the idea that my addiction was costing me a good deal more than it was giving me.

    What motivates a junkie to go straight?

    I think the desire to end a type of loneliness is the underlying motivation. It's a desire to rejoin humanity and participate in society again. It's the hope that contentment might be found in being, finally, normal.

  3. Wow, eight years, Richard, congratulations! I was in AA for five years before I allowed myself to drink again; I likely drink a little too much but never get drunk. I attended mainly because I was so depressed and had no where else to go for social support.

    Loneliness? Hmmmm.... I think I understand. The monkey is your best friend but also isolates you.

    Writers and doctors are notorious for addictions. That means I have two strikes against me already.

    Norm, in writing about the will the will is already engaged and desire is being fulfilled, which makes it so hard to say anything about the mysterious processes already engaged before you engage.

    I should read more Adler and Schopehauer, I think.


  4. One of the things that motivated me to stop smoking (one of the then-more socially acceptible addictions) was saying to myself, over and over, "I can stop stopping smoking anytime I want."

    I have seen too many people talk themselves right back into addictions because they gather together and do just that, "jeeze I want a smoke" or "hey, let's all get drunk after the meeting, ha ha" and there goes the whole game. Again.

    No one knew, so I only had myself to disappoint. One of the other motivations (and here you nailed it), is adding up how much an addiction costs you monetarily. When I realized I could pay my property taxes with what I saved, my incentive went WAY up. *g*


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