Regarding Jamesian existentialism

(One — rather good — way to escape existential doubt)

William James is a fellow two-kinds-of-mind ontologist.

His kinds are

(1) the happy go lucky and
(2) the existentially troubled.

(Not his terminology: his message, my words).

The happy go lucky, he says, were born happy, content, and untroubled by life.  One can’t call them “well-adjusted” as no adjustment is ever necessary.  James claims that Voltaire was one such; whether this is the case, I do not know (Voltaire’s perhaps too intelligent/complex/deceptive to generalize about facilely), but I have known several happy-go-luckies; and therefore know for certain that they exist; and never tire of their company.  Time spent with happy-go-luckies is the best thing you can do for yourself.

The other sort, the existentially troubled, on the other hand, see their life like unto a man hanging on for dear life to a loose, creaky twig inside a slippery, crocodile infested well. They permanently brood over their life options, none of which seems acceptable:  whether scramble (hopeless), let go (cowardly), or — gaze at the sky (escapist).  The agony leads some of the troubleds to experience altered mental states — emanating, suggests James, from the subconscious.  These are the religious experiences of the title of his book — Varieties of Religious Experience.

Sometimes, the religious experience leads to a satisfactory resolution of the agonies of the mind, James suggests.  For instance, Tolstoy, he says:  the Russian aristocrat found calm in the simplicity of humble and austere Christian life. he says.  Of course, James says it in 1902, when Tolstoy still has another 8 years to live, and not much is precisely known about his personal life.  This makes James’ mistake forgivable:  how was he to know that Tolstoy continued to be troubled till his dying day; and that he was to die at an obscure train station while fleeing his paradise of a Christian home?  Of course, one look at his photo (here) should have warned James that something was fishy with his example:  look yourself: is this a peaceful mind?

The escapes of the troubled minds are no such thing, for the most part.  Not a solution, just a coping mechanism.  The troubled, you see, are troubled always.

Below, Dante escapes his existential doubt:

(Or does he?)

The commentators of this program suggest that James represents a withered branch of English-speaking philosophy, which was going to take an interest in life but choked, spattered and — expired, deprived of air by Russelian logico-analysis.  It’s easy to see why that should be so:  given the almost unavoidable error involved in interpreting other people’s lives and internal states (such as, “Tolstoy found happiness in Jesus”) on the one hand; and the certainty of the tenure on the other; logico-analysis seems the safer route.

Thus it is shown that neither branch of philosophy does much to help us deal with our lives.


You recall (of course) the author of this blog pointing out an Indo-Portuguese baby-shepherd-Jesus as Goan in origin and possibly identical to Krshna, the child-shepherd god?

You should.  He did it here.

And what could possibly be more natural:  Portuguese Jesuits discovering, upon arriving in India, that dressing their Jesus in clothes similar to those of a Hindu god made it very much easier to sneak him into the Hindu mind.  (They used the same tactic in China where they kept presenting the Virgin in the white robes of Guan-In/Kannon).

We all know that much.

But here is a twist:  later, it seems, the Jesuits had the idea to bring the same cult back to the metropolis.  “Boss”, a returning Jesuit might have said to his general, “we’ve discovered in Goa that presenting Jesus as a shepherd-child worked wonders.  It quadrupled our business in the first year!”  “Hm…” the general might have answered.  “The business here could do with a little quadrupling!”

And so they did.

You know all about the Iberian cult of Baby Jesus – El Niño – powerful, weird and – somehow unknown anywhere else in Europe (except…  in…  Habsburg Prague).  But if you visit the Patriarchal museum at the São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon, you will see an odd — an surprisingly familiar — form of the Baby Cult:  the museum displays a doll of the Baby and several dozen different sets of clothing in which to dress Him.  Which is as classic aspect of Hindu worship — Hindu gods often get bathed (usually in ghee) and dressed in new clothes.

This practice is perhaps not as exclusively Hindu (Egyptians bathed and dressed their gods) as smearing effigies with red turmeric paste might have been — which was de Nobili‘s practice in Madurai — but only because the Jesuits did not bring that practice.  Perhaps turmeric was too expensive?

Remember:  El Nino is a Hindu cult.  You heard this here first.