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Kingsley : akrita - incapable of discriminating

The Final Journey

lundi 26 mars 2018

One of the most precious details in what the goddess has to say comes with her description of people as “indistinguishable, undistinguishing crowds.”

In Parmenides’ Greek this is just two words : akrita phula. The basic meaning of akrita is “without distinction,” “incapable of discriminating. ” Here, the sense is perfectly—and very deliberately—ambiguous.

It means of course that the crowds are so enormous there is no real? way of telling individuals apart. And the fact is that we live such collective and unconscious lives we all form a single, undifferentiated mass : following the same crazy path as everyone else, going through exactly the same basic motions with the same unquestioned habits and beliefs. Even the desire for individuality is just a mass movement of the whole. There is nothing quite as anonymous as the search to find fulfilment and self-expression.

But for the goddess there is an even more fundamental sense to this total absence? of differentiation, distinction, discrimination.

The whole of Parmenides’ poem is built around the need to distinguish clearly between those two paths she has pointed out—around the urgency for a conscious choice or decision. And failure to distinguish clearly, to choose, to decide, is an essential meaning of the word akrita. [95]

Seen through her eyes, our problem is just this : we fail to decide. But at the same time it goes far deeper than that, because no one is even aware of any choice waiting to be made.

The fact that Parmenides plainly lays out the alternatives makes no difference. There is something eternally fascinating and intriguing about what he says ; but no one would suspect he is being serious when it turns out that the choice we are being offered is between a ridiculously unreasonable route of sheer being and a totally inconceivable route of utter non-existence?.

So instead we stay with the sensible middle course, twisting backwards and forwards from path to path, drifting around blindly across the no-man?’s-land in between.

And Parmenides manages to sum this all up—our own inability to differentiate, the impossibility of differentiating between us as we are carried along in the steadily shuffling crowds—with just one word. But, as always, there is more to what he is saying than at first meets the eye?.

The sound of the two words akrita pbula would immediately have reminded any intelligent Greek of a rather striking expression already used by Homer : akritopbullon, which means “with countless leaves.” In fact akrita pbula, “indistinguishable crowds,” sounds more or less identical to akrita pbulla, “indistinguishable leaves.” Again there is the dance of meaning, the ingenuity in evoking Homer’s poems : the subtle play that makes it seem as if Parmenides was using a musical instrument rather than a simple word or two.

And nothing here is random or out of place. There is nothing arbitrary at all about the image he so artfully conjures up of humanity not just as crowds but also as leaves. For Greeks considered it quite normal?—almost a commonplace—to compare mortals with leaves. As Homer had stated repeatedly, well before the time of Parmenides, the human? race is as short-lived [96] as leaves that now are growing on? a tree and a moment later have been blown away in swirls by the wind.

This is the eternal perspective, the divine wisdom that Greek poets at their best were able to touch and convey : in reality all our wonderful experiences and great ordeals amount to nothing.

And from the divine point of view all our intelligent decisions are nothing but indecision. Every choice we ever make stems from the lack of any true ability? to discriminate. What for us is discrimination is the exact opposite for Parmenides ; is what keeps us spinning around in a daze. And what Parmenides means by discrimination is total madness to us.

The difference in perspectives could hardly reach deeper, or be more paradoxical. And yet it’s very easy to understand. The decisions we make, the only type of decision we are familiar with, are always between one thing? and another ; between something and something else. But the decision that the goddess is facing us with is between everything and nothing—which is a completely different matter?.

It makes no sense at all to our usual restless thinking, to what Parmenides calls our “wandering minds.” But one thing should be quite clear : there is nothing even remotely rational about this decision, this choice between two paths.

Rationality is the first thing to go out of the window, because the choice we are being asked to make involves saying yes to absolutely everything we see or think or hear. It demands a state of total alertness, complete acceptance. There is no time to discriminate, no room to be reasonable.

And there is not the slightest reason to go along with this choice that the goddess is urging us to make. Having divine logic on her side has never been enough for her to convince anyone, because only one single factor will ever persuade us. [97]

This is the silent awareness?, nurtured in stillness, of how all our careful decisions are nothing but avoidance of that one crucial? decision the gods have been waiting and waiting to see us make for thousands of years.


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