Halloween Thought: Consciousness is Scary!!!

As Hamlet is drawing his famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy to a close, he declares. “Thus conscience (i.e. consciousness) doeth make cowards of us all and the native hue of resolution is sicklie’d o’er with the pale cast of thought…”

Shakespeare knew that most people opt to never become conscious because it is just too painful.  He knew that regardless of out lot in life, be it immense pain or the mute pain of tedium, we would prefer to keep it that way, to “cling to these ills that we have than fly to others that we know not of.”  Each of us prefers seeing the world through a narrow little prism, a citadel of unquestioned premises.  We obstinately cling to our narrow world view, opting to not challenge the comfy set of premises in which we are ensconced.  The price tag for this comfort is that we never become conscious, never escape the herd mentality into which each of us is born;  for, as T.S. Eliot has put it, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

Hamlet recognized that the “native hue of resolution”, or innate desire to exercise mature will in the world, is “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”  Shakespeare presented this tragic character as stymied by thought, given to “thinking too much” which gave him wisdom, “which, if quartered would be one part wisdom and three parts cowardice.”  Hamlet recognized that hiding beneath that “pale cast of thought”,  that myriad of sterile ideas, was merely cowardice.  He knew that all ideologues are merely cowards, not willing to challenge their basic assumptions and tippy-toe into “reality.”

But W. H. Auden has the most vivid poetic description of our innate preference for this escapism:

Heroic charity is rare;
Without it, what except despair
Can shape the hero who will dare
The desperate catabasis
Into the snarl of the abyss
That always lies just underneath
Our jolly picnic on the heath
Of the agreeable, where we bask,
Agreed on what we will not ask,
Bland, sunny, and adjusted by
The light of the accepted lie.

 

 

 

 

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