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Redo of Book 2, Chapters 1 & 2

One chapter per week study of a book that profoundly influenced C. S. Lewis.

Redo of Book 2, Chapters 1 & 2

Postby magpie » 23 Aug 2005, 18:59

How ironic that the main theme of Chapters 1 and 2 is the fickleness of Fortune. The recent "hack attack" proved that when it wiped out the threads for everything except the last chapters of Book 1, threads for which I had not kept my notes. :blush: But as Philosophy points out, complaining is useless, so here goes an attempt at reconstruction.

In Prose 1, Philosophy reminds Boethius that we can never be secure until we have been forsaken by Fortune and that amid good times we must expect that loss will be inevitable. (I suppose that applies to web sites as well.)
It is not enough to see what is present before our eyes; prudence demands that we look to the future. The double certainly of loss and consequent misery should prevent both the fear of her threats and the desire of her favors. Finally, once you have submitted yourself to her chains, you ought to take calmly whatever she can do to you.
At the intellectual level, this is sane reasoning, but I question whether we can enjoy any decent quality of life if we must constantly live in the anticipation of a "worst case scenario." I am more than ready to admit that Fortune is a "mistress" who cannot be controlled, but in the end, I am tempermentally more a "Tigger" than an "Eeyore." How do others see this?

Poem 1 further emphasizes the fickleness and cruelty of Fortune.
She neither hears nor cares about the tears of those in misery; with a hard heart she laughs at the pain she causes. This is the way she amuses herself; this is the way she shows her power.
In the thread which was destroyed (by cruel Fortune?) I described once walking through a casino where joyless players sat with glazed eyes in front of heartless machines, and compared the scene to Dante's Inferno. And indeed Fortune, or "Lady Luck" as she is now called, can still claim a sizeable number of desperate worshipers.

Prose 2 continues this discussion by reminding Boethius that Fortune's behavior is completely within her rights since nothing in this world really belongs to us. Anything which Fortune gives, she can take back at any time. She announces,
You should be grateful for the use of things which belonged to someone else; you have no legitimate cause for complaint, as though you lost something which was your own.
Then she really twists the knife as she implies that we are responsible for our own losses.
I would even say that, if the things which you complain about losing had really been yours, you would never have lost them.
Perhaps, she is right as far as this goes. But are there things which we cannot lose which indeed do belong to us?

In the rest of Prose 2 and in Poem 2 the fickleness of Fortune is compared to the changeability within nature itself. The problem is that we human beings want to enjoy an exemption from this "natural law."
Shall I, then, permit man's insatiable cupidity to tie me down to a sameness alien to my habits?
And to further emphasize this "unreasonable" attitude, Fortune points out that even good times cannot make us happy.
Even when he is filled with great favors, he burns with thirst for more. No man can be rich who cries fearfully and considers himself to be poor.
These are good arguments for maintaining a "positive mental attitude," but I cannot help quesioning how such generalizations can provide "consolation" in times of extreme suffering. After all, Boethius himself was under a sentence of death. Anyone care to comment?
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Postby Air of Winter » 26 Aug 2005, 00:10

magpie wrote:At the intellectual level, this is sane reasoning, but I question whether we can enjoy any decent quality of life if we must constantly live in the anticipation of a "worst case scenario." I am more than ready to admit that Fortune is a "mistress" who cannot be controlled, but in the end, I am tempermentally more a "Tigger" than an "Eeyore." How do others see this?


"Eat a bullfrog for breakfast and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day."

Eeyore here. Oh, I think it's definitely better to be a Tigger, but I'm a lot less likely to say "The year's at the spring / And day's at the morn" than "Out of the Night that covers me ... "

I would even say that, if the things which you complain about losing had really been yours, you would never have lost them.
Perhaps, she is right as far as this goes. But are there things which we cannot lose which indeed do belong to us?


Not in my view of the world. I rather wish I thought otherwise.

And to further emphasize this "unreasonable" attitude, Fortune points out that even good times cannot make us happy. ... These are good arguments for maintaining a "positive mental attitude," but I cannot help quesioning how such generalizations can provide "consolation" in times of extreme suffering. After all, Boethius himself was under a sentence of death. Anyone care to comment?


I understand why someone in Boethius' position ends up looking at things this way, or trying to. I took an approach pretty similar to this when I was in junior high and high school, and the system had turned on me a profound hostility even though I was a model student. I dealt with the emotion by rigorous self-discipline; I thrust it aside and counted the goods that others had taken from me as of little importance. It didn't really work -- stress is stress, and there is no substitute for not being under it. When I got to college and escaped the harassment, I realized that my philosophy was untrue -- not in telling me to try to make the best of a bad situation, of course; that was right -- but the effort to count the good things I had been deprived of as unimportant was hollow. I sympathize without really agreeing, therefore.

There is a way in which Boethius' comments in this section surprised me. I'd be unlikely to say some of the things Boethius has said, for the reason above, but I do see the events of my life in terms of chance and circumstance. A lament about an ill turn of fortune wouldn't be particularly surprising. But I didn't think this way when I was a Christian -- I thought in terms of Providence, and in terms of spiritual warfare with the darkness of the world. Chance had very little to do with it, and I wouldn't have expected Boethius to phrase his complaint in terms of it.

I remember having been more eloquent about this last time, confound it. But I'm too tired tonight to manage that again.
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Postby magpie » 29 Aug 2005, 18:16

Air of Winter wrote:
magpie wrote:And to further emphasize this "unreasonable" attitude, Fortune points out that even good times cannot make us happy. ... These are good arguments for maintaining a "positive mental attitude," but I cannot help quesioning how such generalizations can provide "consolation" in times of extreme suffering. After all, Boethius himself was under a sentence of death. Anyone care to comment?


I understand why someone in Boethius' position ends up looking at things this way, or trying to. I took an approach pretty similar to this when I was in junior high and high school, and the system had turned on me a profound hostility even though I was a model student. I dealt with the emotion by rigorous self-discipline; I thrust it aside and counted the goods that others had taken from me as of little importance. It didn't really work -- stress is stress, and there is no substitute for not being under it. When I got to college and escaped the harassment, I realized that my philosophy was untrue -- not in telling me to try to make the best of a bad situation, of course; that was right -- but the effort to count the good things I had been deprived of as unimportant was hollow. I sympathize without really agreeing, therefore.


I likewise have learned that the a determination to discount the good things which I have lost simply does not work for me. If something was of intrinsic value before it was lost, it does not cease to be of value once it is gone. Some things are lost and can never be restored, but nonetheless they must be grieved before we can move forward. Otherwise this unexpressed grief waits to ambush us at the most inopportune and destructive moments.

There is a way in which Boethius' comments in this section surprised me. I'd be unlikely to say some of the things Boethius has said, for the reason above, but I do see the events of my life in terms of chance and circumstance. A lament about an ill turn of fortune wouldn't be particularly surprising. But I didn't think this way when I was a Christian -- I thought in terms of Providence, and in terms of spiritual warfare with the darkness of the world. Chance had very little to do with it, and I wouldn't have expected Boethius to phrase his complaint in terms of it.


I am interested in this comparison of your attitude toward chance as a Christian and your present position as an atheist. You seem to indicate that a Christian would be unlikely to complain of chance as Boethius does. I certainly cannot answer for all Christians (no one can), but I have always seen Providence as God's foreknowledge (from the Latin roots of the word), but not necessarily as God's manipulation or control of specific events. Thus for me, chance is a very real factor in human existance (although I obviously do not personify it as either Fortuna or Lady Luck).

As for "spiritual warfare," I do not share the tendency of many Christians to blame "powers and prinicipalities" for the darkness in the world. Old fashioned human sinfulness has always been sufficient to explain evil without the need to postulate a personalized counterforce to God. In this I am in accord with St. Augustine's critique of the Manicheans who placed the evil principle outside of themselves in an attempt to escape responsibility for their negative actions. Thus I agree with Pogo: "We have met the enemy and it is us."
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Postby Air of Winter » 30 Aug 2005, 00:11

magpie wrote:I am interested in this comparison of your attitude toward chance as a Christian and your present position as an atheist. You seem to indicate that a Christian would be unlikely to complain of chance as Boethius does. I certainly cannot answer for all Christians (no one can), but I have always seen Providence as God's foreknowledge (from the Latin roots of the word), but not necessarily as God's manipulation or control of specific events. Thus for me, chance is a very real factor in human existance (although I obviously do not personify it as either Fortuna or Lady Luck).


Well, more accurately maybe, I would have been unlikely to look at it that way. 'Christians' is, as you say, too general.

As for "spiritual warfare," I do not share the tendency of many Christians to blame "powers and prinicipalities" for the darkness in the world. Old fashioned human sinfulness has always been sufficient to explain evil without the need to postulate a personalized counterforce to God. In this I am in accord with St. Augustine's critique of the Manicheans who placed the evil principle outside of themselves in an attempt to escape responsibility for their negative actions. Thus I agree with Pogo: "We have met the enemy and it is us."


I think -- aside from the moderately fundamentalist outlook I was raised with -- that perhaps there was an underlying pattern set in my outlook by the fact that the first misfortune that really had a serious effect on my equilibrium was the result of malice. It was by no means the only serious misfortune -- I haven't even gotten around to mentioning my health problems -- but those I took in stride.
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Postby magpie » 31 Aug 2005, 17:00

Air of Winter wrote:I think -- aside from the moderately fundamentalist outlook I was raised with -- that perhaps there was an underlying pattern set in my outlook by the fact that the first misfortune that really had a serious effect on my equilibrium was the result of malice. It was by no means the only serious misfortune -- I haven't even gotten around to mentioning my health problems -- but those I took in stride.


Malice! Yes, we have all been deeply wounded by that, and of all our misfortunes, it is the one whose pain stays with us the longest. Here I, like you, can ressonate to the anquish expressed by Boethius whose very life is about to be forfeit as a consequence of human malice.
"Love is the will to extend one's self in order to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth."
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