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Testimony - part one

"Halfway though our trek in life
I found myself in this dark wood,
miles away from the right road.
It's no easy thing to talk about,
this place, so dire and dismal
I'm terrified just remembering it!
Death itself can hardly be worse;
but since I got some good there
I'll talk about the bad as well." - Dante.


The opening lines of Dante's Inferno are well known and as the author William Styron has noted, they are often cited in an attempt to explain what it is like to suffer from un probleme psychiatrique. I can say that they are an accurate reflection of a particular form of depression, for some months ago I found myself driving alone, through those dark woods.

I came back from that, but I was in a friend's house not long ago, and suddenly I knew that I was in trouble. Talking became irrelevant, my body was sitting immobile but my mind detached and I silently drifted into a state of dark, sickening clarity, and again I found myself standing amongst the trees. Towards the end of my drinking career, I feared my blackouts because I knew the next one could be the last. That's how I felt about going in there now. I might not find a way out.

There is some good to be had from all this. When I was drinking, I had experiences that never occur in everyday life. Now that I've survived my addiction, I have something I wouldn't have had otherwise. These dark episodes are also valuable, because they have allowed me to achieve a level of insight that is unattainable under normal circumstances. I'll try to explain what I mean by that in the course of these essays.

You have to cut open your bread before putting meat in a sandwich though. So before getting to the red meat and pickles, I'm going to write about the incident that preceded this series of essays. I'd sent an email to someone I knew, and the next thing I knew they had me on the phone, and they proceeded to get me back on the straight and narrow. (If you read this M - thanks again.)

I was adrift, and I knew it. One of the strategies employed by the mind when you're in that condition is to sever all ties with other people, and this is what I'd been doing. You know you're in trouble and, to use a computing analogy, you need to devote all your processing power and all your memory to working on what Camus called the only serious problem of philosophy. This strategy also anticipates your eventual defeat. If things turn bad, then it will be easier to accept that if there is no one else in your life. You tell yourself this anyway, as you ponder what could happen to you.

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental problem of philosophy. All the rest - whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories - comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer. [...] If I ask myself how to judge that this question is more urgent than that, I reply that one judges by the actions it entails." - Camus.

One of the few really interesting books I've read is The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. In chapter twenty five of that book, Machiavelli addresses the issue of human freedom. He argues that fortune can set in motion uncontrollable events that can sweep us away, but we have free will and can exercise significant control over our lives. This is a powerful idea. Taking that idea in the context of my recent situation, I saw a way forward.

"The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." - Camus.

In these essays, I'll write about the Mediterranean island of Malta, which I became interested in after reading about the history of World War II. At one point Malta was the most bombed place on Earth. I felt like that for a long time, under siege and on thin rations, and found inspiration in Malta's story. I flew out there, explored Valletta, and walked along the promenade from Sliema to St. Julians. It took me a while to realise that Malta did not just stand up to the Nazis, or survive a siege.

I will show in these essays that I didn't just survive a psychological siege. Like Malta, I was fighting for a reason. I see now that what I've been through has given me an understanding of who I really am. It has taken what I have experienced in my life, no more than that, and no less, for me to know, to profoundly know within myself, that I am an moral agent capable of exercising free will. And that self-knowledge is the key to my sanity, and my salvation.


Tags: Malta, William Styron, darkness visible, Dante, Albert Camus, Sliema, Valletta, the great siege, Jean de la Valette, Machiavelli, addiction, freedom, negative freedom, Isaiah Berlin, free will, morality, Christianity, philosophy, problem of evil, atheism - If you want to mention or refer to this article on your own site, please mention / link to the Patriot's Corner. Thanks!

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