Thursday, May 6, 2021

Fears and lumps

[The title of this post refers to Rorty's paper "Texts and Lumps," so here's Rorty describing experiences relevant to the rest of the post. But it isn't a post about Rorty, so you don't need to watch the video to understand what follows. And you certainly don't need to have read "Texts and Lumps."]


If you said of someone: 'She has a mind, all right, she just never has anything to say', you would probably mean that the person is so unthinkingly conventional, or so cowed and terrified of expressing any thought of their own, that there is no point in talking to them, you get no real response.

(Moral Foundations of Philosophy of Mind, p. 10 )  

This is a really good book, but this sentence horrifies me. There is a sense in which it's true that some people are not worth talking to, but if you think about it from the point of view of the "cowed and terrified" person... We're in "All the Lonely People" territory here, or this bit of "If You're Feeling Sinister":

Hilary went to her death because she couldn't think of anything to say
Everybody thought that she was boring, so they never listened anyway

There are interesting questions about the ethics of social interaction, because there is such a thing as trying to keep a conversation going, and so of not trying hard enough to do so. There could be a gender aspect to this too. Tracey Thorn (in My Rock'n'Roll Friend) says of Lindy Morrison and the men in The Go-Betweens that:

She understands and appreciates the beauty that also comes out in the songs, but living and working with their introspection and angst is draining, exasperating, she thinks it is very self-indulgent boy behaviour. A woman wouldn’t get away with it. A woman has to try harder socially. Has to placate, keep things running smoothly, not make unnecessary demands.

Still, there does also seem to be such a thing as not being able to think of anything to say. And something like a spectrum of social awkwardness with mild, perhaps even pleasant, shyness at one end and autism at the other. Autism is one of Eugen Bleuler's "four A's" of schizophrenia (the others being alogia, ambivalence, and affect blunting). 

A comment of Wittgenstein's on schizophrenia is well known:

The greatest happiness for a human being is love. Suppose you say of the schizophrenic: he does not love, he cannot love, he refuses to love – where is the difference?

“He refuses to . . .” means: it is in his power. And who wants to say that?!

(Culture and Value, p. 87e.)

He also has this to say about his own inability to express himself (not necessarily in social situations):

Often I feel that there is something in me like a lump which, were it to melt, would let me cry or I would then find the right words (or perhaps even a melody). But this something (is it the heart?) in my case feels like leather & cannot melt. Or is it only that I am too much a coward to let the temperature rise sufficiently?

(Public and Private Occasions, p. 11)   

It is not clear to him whether the problem is a moral one or something for which he couldn't be blamed. But, we might ask, who would want to say it is in his power? (Perhaps an encouraging friend. Perhaps someone who has been hurt by his silence. Or perhaps the question should be left rhetorical.)

On another occasion he seems to have thought that he had a (perhaps unrelated) inability, not a culpable failing:

Although I cannot give affection, I have a great need for it.

(Wittgenstein quoted by Norman Malcolm, Portraits of Wittgenstein, p. 302)

 And he knew he was not alone in having this need: 

I wish you could live quiet, in a sense, & be in a position to be kind & understanding to all sorts of human beings who need it! Because we all need this sort of thing very badly.

(Portraits of Wittgenstein, p. 287)

As for what people who have this kind of inability (or any other, for that matter) should think, Michael Kremer (paraphrasing Augustine, I think) is excellent on this:

[P]ride judges that God could have, and so should have, made me better than I am, second-guessing God's wisdom and trying to replace it with human wisdom. Humility, on the other hand, is acceptance of what I am as good enough. This is combined with gratitude to the Creator for my existence, an attitude that implies the recognition that if God saw fit to create me, I must have been worth bringing into existence.

(“The Purpose of Tractarian Nonsense”, pp. 48-49)