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Admiring Ascetics as Athletes of the Will

It is so easy to poke fun at ascetics -- or moral posturers of any type -- that I usually give in to the temptation. Their philosophy does not agree with the Prime Directive of this blog: living at the point of diminishing returns.

I have no interest in renouncing the Prime Directive since I am thoroughly convinced that it is sane, prudent, rational, and adult. If I were acting as if I were going to renounce it, the readers should be suspicious of an April Fool's joke. That sort of thing does not appeal to me.

Rather than renounce a good principle, it is better to think of 'exceptions that prove the rule.'  Any essay on asceticism fits in with the tradition of New Year's resolutions. It also coincides with the biography I have just finished, "Gandhi Before India," by Ramachandra Guha.

Before talking about asceticism I would like to praise biographies of a certain type. This biography was about a man, not a "Mahatma." Those of you who have seen the well-known movie by director Richard Attenborough, "Gandhi," might remember how interesting the main character was at the beginning of his career, in South Africa, and how uninteresting and unsympathetic the "Mahatma" was in India. Why, he was virtually a "moral terrorist," with his hunger strikes and endless moral posing. If he tried that on me, I would have let him starve to death.

This may well be the case with biographies of many of the great men of history. I once read a non-hagiography of Robert E. Lee, and liked it for the same reason as this non-hagiography of Gandhi. Men are boring when they become "the great man on horseback," immortalized in a bronze or marble statue. As a reader, I want to be a pigeon who poops on the statue.

In a non-hagiography we get to speculate about how the man got started down a certain track. What was he visualizing? How did he overcome the fear of failure or recover from setbacks? How did he manage the competing pressures of being a husband and father? How important was sheer luck? Who were the unsung heroes along the way?

Good grief I haven't even said anything about asceticism yet. Let it wait until next time.


XXXXX said…
Do you think that your "prime directive" is somehow exempt from yet one more "moral posture?" Sounds to me like just one more example of that common pitfall of human nature...... thinking that somehow I am magically exempt from the error that I see in the world.
George, yes I do think that the Prime Directive is not a moral posture. It doesn't belong to me; everybody believes in it in one way or the other. They just don't practice it consistently when it comes to their consumer rat-race and housing lifestyles.

The Prime Directive seems no more of a moral posture to me than saying that sanity is better than insanity, or success is better than futility.
XXXXX said…
Perhaps it's in the application where disagreement would occur. I'm glad you like your lifestyle but surely you don't want to lecture all of us who don't wish to live as you do?
I'm afraid I'm missing your larger point....what are you trying to fix? Are you trying to save the world? People have adamantly disagreed throughout the ages on how to do that.
Truly, I am very glad you like your lifestyle. However, I have to say I'm a bit suspicious because you are always trying to convince everyone else that your lifestyle is superior. That does indeed take on an air of moral superiority.
Would it make any difference to you if you stopped seeing me as posing this way: "MY mighty lifestyle is better than You Dummies' lifestyle," and instead saw "I have chosen my lifestyle and can defend it with rational arguments, while you have passively absorbed your UNCHOSEN lifestyle?"

The primary mechanism of the passive absorption is watching TV commercial after TV commercial.
XXXXX said…
I agree with your final sentence but that is an extreme. It's the middle ground that is harder to pin down.
Do you presume that everyone who is in the middle ground has "passively absorbed" an "unchosen" lifestyle?
Some, yes. I would agree that is true for some. But my point here is to hopefully open your eyes a bit to the fact that some people can be as rational, intelligent, analytical, critical, and as bold to strike out independently as you, yet, still not make the same life decisions you have made. In fact, can actually make life decisions that appear to contradict your particular life decisions.
Can you see that? Or are you of the mind that unless others' decisions meet your stamp of approval, they are guilty of being passively absorbed with their "unchosen" lifestyle?
edlfrey said…
I don't see that kaBloonie is trying to fix anything. He expresses the love he has for his lifestyle and defends it while casting mild invectives toward those that live some other way. I look at what he has to say about his lifestyle in the same way as what he might have to say about his choice of a Ford van rather than a Chevy.
He may be trying to convince me that his choice is superior but I don't think it has anything to do with moral superiority. This has been an ongoing verbal ping pong match between you two which I think will only end when you lose the ping pong ball.
Joy said…
Hey folks, reread the first sentence of the post! I have more serious problems here. My husband has just fallen in love with a $140,000 Mercedes diesel conversion van that apparently has the same road clearance as a Subaru Outback. Better that than one of the needy local Barbie wannabees, I guess, but how irrational can you get?! We recently traded a sturdy Ford conversion van for a used Prius because the Ford got 17 mph on a good day on flat terrain, and only when I was driving it. What's the point of a vehicle that can stay off-grid for days if the only place you can park it is at Walmart? Fortunately, we don't have that kind of money sitting around waiting to be spent.
John V said…
I thought the Prime Directive was the guiding principle that prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations.

Now that you've studied Ghandi, I suppose your next post about the ascetic lifestyle will include your experiences with conserving water by drinking your own urine?

I'd add a smiley face, but those aren't allowed.
XXXXX said…
One gets a bit tired of proselytizing, in whatever form it may take. A sense of moral superiority is always involved though one may be too blind to see it. It's time to stop beating a dead horse and move on.
Joy said…
P.S. My fingers finally thawed so I'll correct the typo above. Our van got 17 mpg, but might have done a bit more if we'd kept it to 17 mph. Could we just concede that Mr.B. has worked out the most sensible way for one person to wander around turtle fashion? The problem of how two tall, long-legged people with an 80lb dog might do that frugally but in reasonable comfort is much more complex and seems not to have been completely solved by anyone, to judge by what I've read in this and other blogs. The above post, though marginally true, was supposed to be a joke.