By Brian George
In “The Real,” Parmenides said, “And thus it remains constant in one place; for hard necessity keeps it in the bonds of the limit that holds it fast on every side. Wherefore it is not permitted to what is to be infinite; for it is in need of nothing, while, if it were infinite, it would stand in need of everything…
“Since then, it has a furthest limit, it is complete on every side, like the mass of a primordial sphere, equally poised from the center point in every direction; for it cannot be greater or smaller in one place than another.”—Adapted from a translation by John Burnet
“Four Scouts to the New World” was written several years ago, but I have chosen to re-post it now because of its connection to the crisis—i.e., the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent near nuclear meltdown—that is unfolding in Japan. One of the central themes of the essay is that any and all “perfect systems” have an innate tendency to self-destruct. The Tao Te Ching says, “The greatest perfection seems imperfect,” and “That which approaches perfection will soon end.”
People tend to use the words “tragedy” and “disaster” as if they were interchangeable; they are not. A “disaster” is an event that appears to happen by itself, that is thrust upon us from the external world—although this may or may not ultimately be so. A “tragedy,” on the other hand, is an event that directs us reexamine and to probe the highly peculiar nature of human action in the world. The key point is: That the actor has done nothing wrong.
It is sad, then—if each actor is free to act as badly as he wants—that I am somehow disallowed from hating all of my enemies! And after I worked hard for so many years to perfect my occult point of view. In the end, my perspective is no better and no worse than yours.
Although faceless, perhaps GE executives from the 1960s are the true and unsung heroes of the story, for it was they who built the atomic plant at Fukushima—without which our general state of anxiety would have no point of focus. Conversely, although billions no doubt recognize his face, we should not assume that Obama’s role is of any great importance—not yet. Time will tell, as will we. There are no bad parts, only actors who are not prepared to take advantage of the moment, and who have not probed deep enough.
If the actor is to cultivate an other-than-human viewpoint, he must first confront the origin of his fear. Death calls the actor towards his own face in the mirror, at the same time that it warns him to immediately stay put.