I had the opportunity recently to read some work by William James. One quote that struck out for me was, “We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar.” Quite profound.
James had some keen views of habits and how these habits in turn become the flywheel of society. I started to think of my views on what society has become and well, this is simply just the abstract. But I thought it was worth a mention.
His views of habits are such that they keeps different social strata from mixing. His later views state that if the period between the ages of twenty and thirty are the most critical in the formation of intellectual and professional habits. The period below twenty is more important still for the fixing of personal habits. Lastly, he states that we must make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy and for this we must make as many automatic and habitual actions as we can, so that we may avoid operating in such a way that is disadvantageous towards our growth.
It is James’ view that the more we can hand over to automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.
In conclusion, William James denotes an Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) connotation in such a way that his thoughts are of creating autonomous figures within humanity while giving a critical role to the one factor that separates us from every other creature on our planet. The ability to change. I will conduct an analysis that focuses on three separate hierarchies of change. The first level will focus on societal views, which will be followed by the extrinsic value of change and ambition. We will conclude that analysis by focusing on the intrinsic value of change and the evolution of imagination.
James refers to automatism as an efficient means of utilizing our thought process for a higher purpose. What he neglects to discuss is the idea of societal evolution as a whole. Within history society has always been driven by some form of hierarchy, whether it be religion, dictators, (facebook). There has always been a definitive imaginary line between the leaders and followers.
As technology advanced, social classes would begin to mix. Just look at what literacy brought to the classical ages. It is within this change that processes would form. A simple action such as cleaning could be considered within the realm of “automatism” in current society, however, within the medieval era, the act of bathing could have been considered an actions given to only the highest standard of living.
James’ arguments neglect the idea of time within his habit forming paradox. True, he does discuss the idea of language and the purpose of habitual studies to become well educated in linguistics. However, he does not state the process in which someone of 3 centuries ago would have taken to acquire the same level of skills. The thought of social classes mixing has been a debate for many generations. We could debate the ideologies of racial classes, cultural, religious or simply sexist classes. I mean, really, a guy working at the sports bar Hooters just wouldn’t fly.
I feel it is within James thoughts to compartmentalize all factions and classes of people into a simple equation. His views are that change is a factor given to your circumstance and is something of which you must follow as a ruling. His arguments due lack in one area however; ambition. Change is brought through the belief that life could be better and by default worse still.
Change is the desire to achieve more. Social classes would have to mix, if not only to alter the conformity of like minds. Conformity after all leads to stale minds, who likes anything stale? If a society of kings did not interact with their people, eventually they would lose sight of what is best for the people. In this regard, cross social interaction would be a necessity to bring about everlasting change. The idea of the challenge is the foundation to ambition. You are only limited to your own potential. James’ views neglect to discuss the catalyst in reference to ambition.
“The merchants offer their wares as eagerly to him as to the veriest “swell,” but he simply cannot buy the right things. An invisible law, as strong as gravitation, keeps him within his orbit.” This law that James speaks of, is simply the separation of classes. The Huxley faction of society. One where you are born into a class graded on your potential. Anything above or beyond would simply be inconceivable.
It lacks the ideologies of ambition. It lacks that thought that something could in fact change in the world if you desire it. True Williams does discuss the idea of habitual study and automatism as processes to help free your mind for larger ideas. Yet, he neglects to discuss how automatism itself is a process with which new efficiencies can be created. I will refer to the turn of the century and discuss the combustion engine.
At its time it was one of the greatest marvels of the world. We went from walking, to horseback, all the way through to an automated process that cut travel time to immense extents. If the automated process of walking had never evolved, the surplus of technology would have never occurred. With the invention of the automobile many things changed. Henry Ford himself altered the course of history by offering his vehicles at an affordable cost to his employees. Not only did he pay his employees higher wages, he supplied them with a new means of transportation. True, his real intention was capitalism, but you can’t blame a man for being ambitious and showing a little ingenuity.
It was pioneers like Ford who displayed a level of creativity that would alter the course of society. He didn’t perfect the combustion engine, nor did he create all the aspects of the automobile. He did however have the creativity and imagination to see what it was capable of. His thoughts would change modern transportation today.
Another kindred inventor, and one that I speak of often is Nikola Tesla. Albeit, as history has demonstrated, he would not be as lucky or as rich. Tesla was one of the greatest mind of our times. Once in an interview, someone asked Albert Einstein, “how does it feel to be the smartest man in the world?”
His response, “I do not know, you’ll have to ask Nikola Tesla.”
In short, he was the inventor of electricity, the pioneer of modern cell phone technology and his intrinsic beliefs were to create a world of limitless energy through the use of radian energy. We know how it all came tumbling down. Westinghouse had offered him a contract of $1 for every horsepower he produced. Simply put at this point, Tesla would have been richer than the top 10 richest individuals combined.
His contributions to the world were monumental and quite literary still in use today. In a William James based world, his social class would have kept Tesla from achieving greatness. True when Tesla passed he was penny less and disenchanted by the whole of society and their obsession with capitalism. Many of Tesla’s patents are now owned by Serbian Orthodox churches, never to see the light of day again.
Still all of the after effects do not alter the achievements he performed throughout his life. It was because of people like Tesla that change in the world is evident. But just think, if we have not had these societal hierarchies in place, suppressing what could have been, where would we be now? Albeit, I presume there are always two sides to a coin. Unfortunately, in hindsight, I often feel as if we chose the wrong side.
Can we do a best 2 out of 3 and see if we can choose a better course for the history books?