On Character (re-edited)

All contemporary "self-development" approaches, specifically of the New Age variety, willfully avoid the sole quality that serves as both bedrock and conduit for the increase of all else: character.

All contemporary “self-development” approaches, specifically of the New Age variety, willfully avoid the sole quality that serves as both bedrock and conduit for the increase of all else: character – that costliest of all virtues but alone most essential for ever-progressive gains.

Since his aesthetic origins, man has desired love, freedom, happiness, recognition, increase, strength: the transcendence of his current state for something higher, greater. As has always been the case, however, to move beyond one’s self requires the alchemical transformation of a man’s inner realities first, the violent confrontation with whatever edict guards the existential vulnerability of one’s heart, mind and spirit. This we all instinctively know and many attempt but ultimately fail. Why?

One day, minding his own “business”, a man encounters something inspiring, something wondrous, a thrilling tale of another’s glory and power which ignites in his heart a disgust for who and where he is and longing to be someone else. Suddenly, he wants to become an entrepreneur, lose some weight, invent a tool, capture a beautiful woman’s affections, etcetera, etcetera. In his emotional rapture, our man strings his bow and looses the arrow of his hope towards the loftiest peak he can find, considering little the travail of the journey to retrieve it.

Setting off in a passionate but morally-shallow fervor, our man soon finds his way shrouded in an impenetrable fog, the density of which prevents him from seeing a few paces beyond at any given time. What’s more, his every step is met with incalculable levels of resistance both in body and mind. Though he reckons the fog a product of his natural environment, it’s actually a projection of his own psychology working against him, a psychic defensive maneuver aimed at invoking fear and doubt in order to coerce him to maintain, at all costs, the mental, moral and bodily status quo, of which nothing is required but also nothing gained.

Man, as a general rule, can only envision his future based on current assumptions: his bias and fears, his present circumstance and ideological framework, aesthetic taste, moral refinement and so on. In order to bridge the gap from here to there, a psychological evolution is required, one that, to a man’s present state anyway, is akin to outright slaughter and mutilation. Such psychological slaughter is the process of inner development: the continual disassemblage of one’s rigidity of mind and will to self-preservation. Naturally, this violence is fraught with unimaginable pain, not to mention the delicate tediousness required to navigate the social hazards that litter the path; hazards that demand ever-increasing levels of intellectual ferocity, viciousness and moral audaciousness to successfully overcome.  

Ephesians 1:20: "... which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places...

Raising of the Cross, Peter Paul Rubens

Modern man, coddled as he is by his materialistic achievements that perpetually distance him from the sheer brutality that mere survival demanded in times past, shies away from all but the most banal kinds of violence, preferring instead the well-trodden synaptic paths that require only his unending surrender to “ever more the same”. Given that the primary function of man’s psychological apparatus – working in concert with his biology – has for millennia been almost exclusively preoccupied with survival and procreation, if an individual is surviving and propagating just fine, a man’s entire being will do all it can to maintain such an arrangement, no matter how stifling it may be to his spiritual aspirations.

Well-fed, constantly entertained and insulated from death and danger, the old biological drive that forever growled and prodded our moral and psychological evolution has largely fallen silent except in a few pathological obscurities. Thus, when the going gets rough, the baser elements of the average man’s psyche – those which are primarily concerned with the acquisition of calories and avoidance of excessive cold, heat, discomfort, uncertainty – bring all their persuasion powers to bear in order to curtail his ambitions. The moment the would-be hero begins to agree with the such emotional arguments he immediately begins to withdrawal to the place he started and often worse: towards mere existence or else, spiritual death.

As he retrogrades, his psyche again goes to work, this time supplying the moral justification for his retreat which is intended to absolve the man of any guilt he may have concerning his failure, allowing him to feel better about his own impotence, but only enough to “endure”. 

In time, if the impulse is strong enough, the yearning for danger, strengthening and transcendence will return. Now, however, because one’s moral character wasn’t forced to grow and weaponize, and, in all likelihood, has atrophied a great deal in the intervening years through his continual acquiescence to goodliness, neighborliness and the practice of common virtue, when he starts his new journey, he’s not only haunted by the memory of his past defeat and thus plagued by the notion of where and who he could be, but finds he’s far too “good-natured” to embark on anything great at all, greatness which requires from the start the art of “being bad”.   

The instant he realizes this, our man will naturally grope for an aid to help him more quickly acquire the fruits of psychological viciousness, but with none of its yuckiness: a secret weapon, the latest technology, an occult practice, a special school or later-day guru who will not only promise to “redeem the time” but guarantee his acceleration through the terrible terrain of character formation that alone might equip him with the psycho-emotional tools to survive wherever he’s going.

John 20: 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Incredulity of Thomas, Caravaggio