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Snakes and ladders
> … the flying fish that spread their fins to leap above the waves, as though water, their maternal element, stifled them and they wished to inhale a more rarefied atmosphere.
Grace is a ladder thrown down from heaven; it is to us whether we climb. With every ladder neglected we somehow stay the same, somehow slip lower yet; that we give in to gravity as if it were inevitable. The fatalist seeks only to ease his fall—if He believes in your free will, then who are you to say? The shape of this debate has been dealt with more directly elsewhere, here the same lines are repeated but in a deepening.
We are somehow determined, in that there is no doubt; and yet we are somehow also free—again, in this there can be no doubt. This is a paradox precisely because it is the truth; actuality exceeds the logician’s categories.
The world is a dance of act and process, that much proceeds below—and to this extent we are determined; yet man has within himself the possibility of acting against this tendency. We may step back from the stream of activity and imagine other ways the world might well be. Here we are, of course, determined also in the possibilities that present themselves; they leap unbidden, we can only say no—that then another may appear to us, perhaps this or the next more appealing. If we decide upon one, then we may return with this to the world and puncture the process with this possibility. This is the essence of free will as act, as against the determinism of unconscious processes.
Of course, we are here free only to the extent that this possibility of a step backward occurs to us; often enough we find that it does not, the current is too strong and we are dragged along with the processes of habit and inertia. Much of our life is spent in this unconscious flow, and rightly so—but the problem is where these processes are incongruent with our conscience. We find ourselves acting in old ways, shapes inherited from a past which ill-fit the ideal image of our now. Time slips by as we sleep all the while in this dead state, the mere repetition of a geometrical pattern is an inverted counterfeit of growth. A crystal might well be beautiful but it is dead; I would ask for something more.
The possibility of anything other than the process underway exceeds our powers alone; it is a ladder thrown down from heaven. What falls to us is only the choice of whether or not we climb.
Life is a game of snakes and ladders, and at times we may roll wrong; it may be that we miss a ladder and slip, instead only fall away further. Yet we must be careful in reasoning thus, for rationality must be known in truth as against the myth of our age.
Reason serves whichever master is stronger, and more often than not this means that it will be obedient to our lowest selves. Properly it ought to serve the intellect—the heart, that is, the conscience—whereas we find it tends instead to justify and excuse mere desire. We land perfectly at a ladder, a gift of grace given solely for our sake; and yet intervenes reason to explain why it is unnecessary that we climb today, that we are tired, that we deserve rest—and so on, ad infinitum, ad inferni.
“If I am successfully understood, my listener will have acquired the benefit that his life will have been made significantly more difficult for him than ever before, and therefore I will not urge anyone to accept this invitation.”