Hackney as Weapon

If there is any way to lose touch with the implications of an idea, it is simply to get tired of it.

This is why we Christians were comfortable with hell, eternal judgement, blood sacrifice, and all sorts of weird things. We were used to thinking about them.

Or were we?

It is also why I am now comfortable with living an absurd life, and the frightening prospects of infinity, death (and so on) that fell upon me when I lost my beliefs. I have thought about it so much that I am used to it.

Or am I?

The catch here, I think, is that you do not actually get used to the real idea. You forget the real idea and replace it with a dummy–a caricature–that stands in for the real thing. This dummy contains all the aspects of the thought, or experience, that depend on conscious effort, and it removes all aspects of the experience that require an involuntary, empathetic or emotional connection with the idea–the internalization, or realization, of the idea.

Suppose that a friend argues that she has gotten used to surprise birthday parties. By this, she means that every year, when her friends jump out from behind the couch, she is no longer surprised. In this case the flaw in the argument is obvious: it isn’t really a surprise birthday party if she isn’t surprised, so she has not gotten used to it. On this definition, is it possible to get used to surprise parties? If by definition we cannot get used to being surprised, is it possible that we cannot get used to other things?

When a romance fades, people say that they have “gotten used” to the other person. They may imply that they have gotten used to a romantic relationship. What has really happened is that the romance has disappeared, and it has been replaced by something else–at best, it has left only ritual activities, sights and sounds that once accompanied the it. A person whose romance has faded is not closer to romance than a young one who is experiencing it for the first time.

Fading ideas are no different than fading experiences, because each idea corresponds to a truth (or a truth claim) about the world, which is directly connected to the felt experiences of human beings. This is not hard to prove. Take, for instance, the phrase “children are starving in Africa.” For most Westerners, this phrase has become a tongue-in-cheek remark that is said after the wasting of food, or some other display of decadence. But if anyone claims that he “understands” that children are starving in Africa, notice that he will have a much different reaction if he is forced to watch a child starve, than if he is simply reminded of the fact. We notice that we can get somewhat visceral reactions out of people simply by stating, in slightly paraphrased language, what the person already claims to believe and feel comfortable with.

Our experience with insights that are sharpened by repetition (such as proficiency in math, science, maturity, social skills), and the primacy of these insights in our lives, blinds us to the plethora of insights that dull over time–and which we see most clearly the first time around. If we see them dimly the first time around, we may never see them clearly at all.


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