“Robert Oppenheimer, a little while before he died, said that it’s perfectly obvious the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so. Because you see, all the troubles going on in the world now are being supervised by people with very good intentions. There are attempts to keep things in order, to clean things up, to forbid this and prevent that, possible horrendous damage. And the more we try, you see, to put everything to rights, the more we make fantastic messes, and it gets worse, and maybe that’s the way it’s got to be. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything at all about the folly of trying to put things to right, but simply on the principle of Blake, let the fool persist in his folly so that he will become wise.”
That’s from a talk by the masterly Alan Watts, a compelling philosopher and Bodhisattva. I don’t know when the talk was given, but Alan died in 1973, and it’s striking that what he says here seems so operative and resonant, given the decades that have passed since he articulated such ideas.
Is it better, then, not to do good? Certainly, that phrase, a do-gooder makes me shudder a little. No-one wants to be a do-gooder, and not a goody-two-shoes either. Where would be the fun in that?
And at an institutional level, it becomes not just tiresome and graceless, but impositional, restrictive, and ultimately dangerous. Institutions have power. The authorities have clout. When they decide that a certain behaviour is good, it means other ways of conducting oneself might be bad, which means they may not let you do them for much longer.
Or in this age of self-censorship, you may not let yourself do them.
And it might then follow that English author TH White’s words become unfortunately relevant.
“Everything which is not forbidden is compulsory.”
So how do we avoid such a future?
Let’s turn to a contemporary figure, who got to the essential core of how best to proceed from here in a single word:
And since we’re on the topic of Yeezy, and I can’t help but detect a certain mysticism in the air at the moment, let’s work with this too: