Seek Pain

As recorded by J.D. Bentley November 2nd, 2017

The only men who achieve great things are not concerned with their happiness. They seek pain and they seek discomfort because it is only through pain and discomfort that we tear the muscles—literal and figurative—that make us stronger.

It is the supreme sin of our world to seek happiness above all else and to associate that happiness with unhindered submission to and expression of our baser passions. No one should be fat-shamed because people should not be judged for their gluttony. No one should be slut-shamed because people should not be judged for their lust. Et cetera.

A true love of people, however, requires that we not play along with the delusions of those who shackle themselves to happiness. They choose slavery and their choices should not be allowed to affect (infect) others, most of all ourselves.

We shouldn’t primarily concern ourselves with the sins of others, obviously, but with eradicating those sins within ourselves and delineating a border through which the whims and fancies of the modern world are not allowed to cross. Where the world loves its happiness, we love holiness. Where the world seeks pleasure, we seek pain. Muscle grows stronger after being torn by the weight of iron. The soul grows stronger after being torn by the weight of suffering.

Seeking pain is seeking holiness. Seeking discomfort is seeking holiness. Seeking suffering is seeking holiness. That being the case, the mind should be primed to accept this fact: our misery comes not from the bad or evil that befalls us, but from not perceiving the "bad" or "evil" that befalls us as the neutral opportunities that they are. All circumstances, whether we initially perceive them as good or bad, are opportunities for good. They are opportunities for holiness. And how they are approached, how they are acted on, can mean the difference between you the saint and you the sinner.

Seeking pain is difficult and, yes, it is painful, but ironically less so than a virtueless life of pleasure-seeking, a bondage to "whatever makes you happy."


November 2nd, 2017

Five Monkeys and Tradition

As recorded by J.D. Bentley November 1st, 2017

Tradition is nothing more than stifling legalism, unnecessary rules that exist only to hinder the freedom of an individual, just a ploy to bind them by certain responsibilities and obligations to which they never agreed.

That is to say, tradition is nothing more than untested superstition.

Five Monkeys and a Ladder

In 1966, scientists decided to do a study on herd mentality, on traditions enforced from generation to generation. In order to do this, they placed five monkeys in a cage that contained only a ladder. At the top of the ladder there hung bananas.

The monkeys, obviously attracted to the bananas, began to climb the ladder to get them. Each time a monkey set foot on the ladder, the scientists doused all of them with ice cold water as a punishment. They did this so often that eventually when any monkey started to approach the ladder, the other monkeys dragged him off and beat him up. This happened until no monkey dared to approach the ladder.

The scientists then decided to see what would happen if they replaced one of the monkeys with a new monkey who was completely ignorant of the ice cold water punishment. The new monkey, upon entering the cage, began to walk over to the ladder. The scientists had no intention of punishing the monkeys with ice cold water at this point. If the new monkey had gotten the bananas, he would have gotten the bananas.

But he did not.

The other four monkeys, remembering their punishment, dragged the new monkey from the ladder and beat him up. The new monkey tried once or twice more, getting beat up each time until eventually he stopped trying. The new monkey adapted to the demands of the herd even though he did not experience the ice cold water punishment.

The scientists then repeated this four more times, replacing each of the original monkeys, but the herd mentality continued. When the fifth monkey was finally replaced, the new monkey attempted to climb the ladder and the four others dragged him off and beat him up.

If it was possible to ask those monkeys why they refused to let any other monkey climb the ladder, they would all answer, "I don’t know." Not a single monkey had experienced the punishment, but this tradition had been passed down to them.

Don’t climb the ladder.

Because of this mindless tradition, the monkeys were never able to climb the ladder, never able to get the bananas, and they never knew why. Such is tradition, a series of limiting beliefs without any real purpose.

Right?

Wrong

Ironically, this "Five Monkeys" study that is often passed around to show the dangers of a herd mentality and mindless inherited beliefs never happened. Its sharing and retelling is itself an example of herd mentality and mindless inherited beliefs.

In the only study that vaguely resembles this story—G.R. Stephenson’s Cultural Acquisition of a Specific Learned Response Among Rhesus Monkeys—Stephenson wanted to see if a learned response in one monkey could be transferred to another. It was never about a herd mentality.

The first monkey was placed in a room with an object. If it attempted to manipulate that object, it was blasted with cold air. When a second monkey, the naive monkey, was introduced, Stephenson wanted to see if the first monkey would influence the second or if the second would influence the first. In some pairs, the original monkey’s avoidance of the object influenced the naive monkey to also avoid it. However, in other cases the naive monkey’s fearlessness led the original monkey to eventually also manipulate the object.

The study in no way illustrated that certain behaviors and traditions passed on from one set of monkeys to another were just nonsense superstition. If the belief was unfounded, the naive monkey would occasionally destroy it. It teaches exactly the opposite of what the popular story seems to say.

What is Tradition?

The original, more popular version of the story says more about what this culture we find ourselves in believes about tradition. To get a grasp on what tradition really is versus what it is not, I think it’s useful to start at this quote from Gustav Mahler:

"Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire."

It is true that, by its very nature, tradition often obligates us to certain behaviors and beliefs which contradict a world obsessed with individual freedom and absolute unrestrained deviance. It is for this reason that tradition is painted as nothing more than ashes, dead lifeless refuse that should be discarded.

But it really is the fire, the flame. Tradition is a collection of what works. In this particular age, we like to think we are on the cutting edge of everything, wiser than anyone who came before us. The idea that perhaps our ancestors had figured something out that we have subsequently forgotten is what helps further this view of tradition as ashes.

And this is what I mean when I write about a tyranny of the living, this tendency to disregard what came before simply because we are alive now and we must be the cutting edge. G.K. Chesterton wrote about it a hundred years ago:

"Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about."

More recently, I read a quote that I think best illustrates tradition and its purposes. The first time I saw it, it was unattributed, but a quick search seems to suggest that it is found in a book called Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury.

"Tradition is a set of solutions for which we have forgotten the problems. Throw away the solution and you get the problem back. Sometimes the problem has mutated or disappeared. Often it is still there as strong as it ever was."

This is what the original, fictional five monkeys story negates to tell us. Tradition most often exists as a remedy to some problem of human nature, and human nature has not changed. "Often it is still there as strong as it ever was."

And this is the problem we see today, a vast revolution tearing down institutions and beliefs and behaviors that were put in place with good reason.

Thus, the only real revolution is restoration. The most progressive society is that which turns off the wrong path quickest.


November 1st, 2017

Defeating Assaultive Thoughts

As recorded by J.D. Bentley October 21st, 2017

The ethos of our era is a myth of progress and a tyranny of the living, through which we are taught to believe that we exist at the pinnacle of history, that we know more and are more capable than any generation previous.

This is unfortunate. First, because it is nonsense and, second, because it has led us to forget the frameworks, definitions, and antidotes our ancestors developed for what ails us, which are usually superior to their modern counterparts. One such example is logismoi.

Logismoi is a Greek term for thoughts, specifically assaultive thoughts or temptations. A list of eight logismoi—eight evil thoughts—was compiled and refined by a monk named Evagrius Ponticus in 375 AD in an attempt to better deal with his sins. It was meant to be a diagnostic tool to identify a man’s strengths and weaknesses, what temptations he was being attacked by, and what remedies were available to help him overcome those temptations.

The list included:

  • Gluttony
  • Fornication
  • Avarice
  • Sorrow
  • Discouragement
  • Anger
  • Vainglory
  • Pride

(Side note: If this list sounds familiar, that’s because St. Gregory the Dialogist, also known as Pope Gregory I, rolled Vainglory into Pride, combined Discouragement and Sorrow into Sloth, and added Envy, naming them the Seven Deadly Sins.)

"Sin" is a loaded word nowadays and you might be tempted to think of this list as a set of legalistic restrictions. Don’t be a glutton. Don’t fornicate. Don’t be greedy, etc. But that isn’t the case. This should be seen, rather, as a list of disorders or diseases of the mind and soul. Moreover, this should be seen as a list of the inevitable. We may "contract" these diseases to a lesser or greater extent, but we are all assured of being infected at some point and on multiple occasions.

Why make a list of diseases? So that a remedy can be prescribed.

The Process of Logismoi

The process of overcoming logismoi was detailed long ago and occurs in five stages. It is described by Fr. Maximos of Mount Athos as such:

  1. The Assault: The thought/temptation in question attacks a man’s mind. That is, the thought makes itself known to him.
  2. The Interaction: The man opens up a dialogue with the thought/temptation. That dialogue can amount to a dismissal or a full-blown meditation and anything in between.
  3. The Consent: The man gives his consent to the thought/temptation, conspiring to do what the thought has suggested despite his own well-being.
  4. The Defeat: Having failed once against the thought/temptation, the man becomes a hostage to it. It is more difficult to resist a second round. Should another assault enter his mind, he may skip directly to consent.
  5. The Obsession: At this stage, the thought/temptation no longer has to enter the mind. It becomes an entrenched reality, a fiber within the character of the man.

Combating Assaultive Thoughts

There is no sin—no failure, no "contraction" of the disease—until the man has consented to what the thought/temptation suggests. For a weaker man, any interaction at all with that thought or temptation is enough to elicit consent.

Thus the best way to combat logismoi is to ignore them, to approach them with indifference. Easier said than done, but laying out the process of logismoi makes it easier to identify that moment when the thought first grabs hold. Becoming aware of that moment allows some control of the interaction that will follow, which ideally cuts off the evil thoughts. Instead of pursuing the thoughts all the way down to failure, it is, then, better to pray and to reflect on what is good by reading Scripture or studying the lives of the saints.

The Modern Equivalent

The idea of assaultive thoughts is tackled today by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a psychosocial intervention that aims to eradicate unhelpful thought patterns and disordered cognitions. In comparison, CBT seems absolutely toothless as it is framed within the clinical, self-help, positive-thinking secular world of modern psychology, which is a world generally afraid to talk about "sin" or "moral failure" or "disorder" in my experience.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy addresses obstacles to happiness with the ultimate goal of making a man feel better. Ancient philosophers and theologians didn’t make that mistake.

Defeating logismoi is about defeating a fallen human nature, returning to the fullness of humanity, achieving a certain kind of divinity that we robbed from ourselves. Happiness be damned.

Even within the pagan philosophy of Stoicism—a philosophy which aims in a more secular way to eradicate errors of cognition—one finds the belief in the logos, a Greek word with a broad definition that might be thought of as the cosmos or order. There is the logos and the logos sets creation in order. Everything and everyone has its place. Stoicism, then, aimed to put a man right with the logos. All that happens does so because it is ordained by the logos and our purpose is to play out our role as we should.

So within Stoicism, even, defeating assaultive thoughts isn’t far from the Christian approach. Defeating those thoughts is about defeating a fallen nature, returning to the fullness of humanity, taking your place and accepting your role and executing it faithfully.

(Another side note: Logos was a bit of stoic terminology borrowed by the writer of the Gospel of John when he writes, "In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (logos) was God.")

The modern approach to problems of human nature—problems which have been amplified in the West over the last century—are absolutely inadequate for combatting what we now see.

This is why it is important for us to overcome the temptation to believe we have somehow figured things out to a greater extent than those who came before us. From then to now, human nature has not changed, and human nature is at the root of every problem we are trying to solve within ourselves and society (but especially within ourselves).

In order to go forward, we must go back.


October 21st, 2017