Apologies for skipping last week. I have too many posts in too-protean a form. Working to rectify the situation.
Human beings are torn between wretchedness and greatness. Great because we contain within us terrific potential, a mind that can encompass the whole of the cosmos. Wretched because we are mired in sin and death. Great because we are aware of that fact.
A man is so great, he can craft the windows of Chartres. So wretched that a drop of water might kill him. Wretched because he knows this, but in this knowing lies his greatness. A tree, Pascal points out, is similarly mortal, but no tree is aware of its mortality. We are thus immeasurably greater than the trees.
Faced with the awareness of wretchedness and the related awareness of our mortality, we seek to escape it through distraction. If we can divert our attention, even if only for a moment, we can pretend that we will not die, that we are not wretched. Pascal, “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things” (Pensees, 133 (169))
The problem is that diversion is merely that, a diversion. It does not truly resolve our wretchedness. It is ultimately hollow. Worse, the time frittered away in diversion takes us away from ourselves, away from truly thinking about ourselves and finding an actual way to escape misery, and every moment wasted brings us that much closer to death, the very thing we plunge into diversion to escape.
Diversion is thus closely linked to despair, indeed becomes a species of despair the further we plunge into it.