15. A Taste for Complexity

We live in times of successive reductions and simplifications. People are being simplified, worldviews are being simplified. Reflections of the ‘old world’ are going out or have almost gone out. However, even in the twilight, the struggle of principles continues, which once, under different circumstances, led the personality not downwards, but upwards: towards fruitful complexity. The physics of the human soul, if I may say so, does not change. Only the composition of the environment to which its laws are applied changes.

Simplicity is considered by many to be a natural and desirable state. Yet complexity is no less natural than simplicity, and even more desirable to the mind. ‘Conquered difficulty always brings us pleasure,” says Pushkin. A preference for simplicity is a sign of satiety or poverty, two states that hinder growth.

Or put it this way: the will for complexity, for the possession of differences, is opposed to the childish or even animal desire to be with everyone else. Every time a man is alone, stops and thinks, he goes against nature. This counter-naturalness reaches its highest point in culture, and religiously in Christianity. He who does the greatest violence to himself, Christianity says, will be called great.

Let us examine this Christian trait. It has determined much in our past, and we shall have to remember it in the future when Christianity is no longer with us.

Christianity is extra-natural and super-natural. Hence its love for miracles. In the trampling of the natural is its pleasure. In Christianity the arrow of the spirit has passed through nature. The world and man for the Christian is something that can be bent and broken at will. The whole modern philosophy of ‘conquering nature’ is imbued with this spirit.

Violence against nature, first of all human nature, and then against the nature of the world, the ‘violence’ of European civilisation, of which Nikolai Danilevsky spoke, is a Christian trait. The modern state of the West, which can be called omnipotence on the verge of self-destruction, is a natural consequence of thousands of years of ‘overcoming nature’. The deity of the passing epoch is the deity of cities, technology, violence over everything natural. It is no coincidence that it established itself in cities before it did outside them.

Condemning Christianity as an extra-natural and anti-natural force, some seek refuge in the worship of ‘Nature’, even giving this worship the name of ‘paganism’. However, paganism does not consist in ‘nature worship’. Gods and destiny are not the same as blind and deaf ‘Nature’. To worship her, one must be a modern (i. e., weaned from all thought of living and conscious agents on the other side of the visible world) man. It is true, however, that the difference between the heathen and the Christian is learnt in relation to nature.

Christianity, however, did not struggle with human nature for the sake of extinguishing the power, splendour and fullness of life as such, but in full accordance with Nietzsche’s formula: ‘man is something that must be overcome’. It followed that ‘physics of the human soul’ of which we spoke at the beginning.

The mind recognises its place in the world through oppositions: top and bottom, desirable and undesirable, difficult and easy. Regardless of the choice of values (this is the general law) — the difficult coincides with the desirable, the worthy, not to say ‘good’ (a vague word with a tinge of spinelessness, if not impotence).  Tell me what your morality forbids, and I’ll tell you what it requires.

And morality (all morality) forbids following the simplest, most accessible paths, as manifested in the most uncomplicated system of morality known — the rules of any game. The most fruitful behaviour in any field is achieved through following the requirements and prohibitions, apart from any moral evaluations. The pattern of behaviour is always considered difficult for the individual, requiring effort, far from ‘natural’.

And it manifests itself everywhere, starting from children’s games and continuing, say, with Russian literature, which flourished under the fruitful and complex traditional orthography and came to nothing under the simplified orthography, ‘accessible to the weak’.  [1] (The shallowing of the literary river was, of course, indirect — through the lowering of the general cultural level — connected with the changes in orthography).

Nowadays, the idea of ‘suppressing’ some values for the sake of others, of an ordered ladder of values, seems inappropriate.  On the contrary, ‘diversity’ is glorified. But the complexity of inner life is not at all the same as this ‘diversity’, understood in a purely quantitative way, as the striving for the greatest number of shades per square foot. Real complexity is spatial, ordered in height, based on the suppression of some values and the raising of others. The key words here are suppression and raising. The diversity of same-quality but differently coloured grains of sand is not the same as the diversity of parts of a building.

The liberal dream of a culture without the suppression of some aspirations by others is as groundless as the dream of a world in which action causes no counteraction. Such a thing may be possible, but under different physical conditions. Nowadays we are offered a ‘pink’, sugar-coated physics of social and mental movements. But the first law of real social and mental physics is the following: one cannot affirm without denying; one cannot encourage without prohibiting; every affirmation is a denial, and encouragement is a prohibition. Every thought does not hang in the void, but occupies a place taken in the struggle from other thoughts which it has succeeded in displacing.

Liberal thought wants to be an anti-Christian thought and proclaims something that looks and sounds quite ‘anti-Christian’. However, the way it manifests itself, it is a dream of a culture ‘accessible to the weak’, of the elimination of competition and (most importantly!) of all growth through effort, for the very thought of effort offends the weak, as the thought of wealth offends the poor, and therefore the very concepts of effort and wealth must be removed from the conventional value system.

This ideal of a ‘society for the poor and weak’ is a reduced cast of the Christian ideal, with its inherent aversion to the power, fullness and brightness of being. But the Church pursued the ‘passions’, and liberalism squeezes all strength out of the world, whether it be ‘passion’, strength of mind, or fortitude of spirit. It only looks like an anti-Christian reaction, but in essence it is an emasculated, powerless continuation of the Christian idea. The Church grew by the violence of the strong over their nature, and here there is a sluggish indulgence of petty passions.

The departure of Christianity with its fruitful (though dangerous) violence on the soul, the flood of liberalism with its inability to nourish the higher is a reason to reflect on the ways of educating the higher man.

It is always the cultivation of a personality capable of thinking, deciding and acting alone. Inner complexity equals solitude. Self-development leads inward. In solitude all the most important things for the mind and spirit take place, but among and with people — all the things necessary for feeling.

To separate one stream from another, the external from the internal, would be to impoverish life, as was once done. The limit of the ‘world-denying’ mood is the world left in abandonment, unnecessary, only tolerated. It should not and cannot be possible to set foot on this path a second time. The ‘old world’ will be no more. But the task of developing an identity is before us, as it was before the figures of the past epoch.

Let us ask ourselves: what is personality: a given or an achievement? Apparently, it is neither. Personality is like a building that builds itself. All that the outside world can give it is solid ground and the will to build itself, a taste for complexity, I am not afraid to say — a taste for play. After all, man is not just a ‘worker’. The revolution dug itself a hole when, instead of all the higher abilities and questions, it offered the individual ‘shock work’. It is not enough to ‘serve’. Everyone needs to refine his abilities; to look for beauty in addition to ‘usefulness’; to bring a game into life: artificial rules that have no value for the achievement of the simplest goals, but make life rich and warm.

The fruitful artificiality of life is the first step towards art itself. There must be room in the world not only for ‘business’ but also for the play that frames it. For a scribe’s fine stroke on paper; for the beauty of the Russian letter yat (ѣ) crowning a line. And this merchant, whose Moscow mansion is decorated with an inverted shot glass, knew how not only to ‘do business..’.

Questions about personality and its occupations are not abstract conversations, as it may seem, but the most burning questions, connected with one main question, namely: how and for what to live?

If we accept that we should live in such a way as to exercise all the higher faculties of our nature without direct and intentional harm to others who are living — the desire to form a higher, more complex person does not seem like a whim. Even on the side of worldly convenience, a person who is never bored alone with himself stands firmer, safer in this world than one who needs to be constantly entertained.

The Romanovs once inculcated in us a taste for culture by the seductive and brilliant example of Europe. The complexity of the then highly developed, on its last rise standing European world was a great fortune for Peter and his heirs. It was not satiety or tranquillity that beckoned in Europe, as it does now, but the variety of sensations of mind and feeling — a circumstance of little importance to the modern Russian.

The Russian mind was still healthy and, like any healthy mind, was eager for new experiences. The state of tired cynicism, hiding from the ubiquitous ‘ideology’ behind the fence of vodka and profanity, was unknown to him… Now the Russian man must be reacquainted with the lost taste for complexity of speech, thinking, behaviour, because the very desire to be different, to be better, to be guided by more complex rules has been destroyed. Everything is eaten up by simplification… But more complex minds, capable of understanding deeper things — this, and not the number of complex technical devices, is the measure of social development.

[1] Note: there is no ‘poor literacy’ per se, there is a desire to use language without understanding its meaning. Orthography cannot meet this desire. Semi-enlightenment (or ‘higher education’ understood in the Soviet way) creates a person who uses language but does not understand it. The inner connections of meanings, the sense of words — all this is inaccessible to this person. It is not accidental that the revolutionary breaking of spelling, which eliminated subtle shades of meaning from written speech, is still being admired today.

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