Individuality and loneliness

Oswald Spengler writes in Chapter 11 of The Decline of the West on “The Cosmic and the Microcosm:”

Regard the flowers at eventide as, one after the other, they close in the setting sun. Strange is the feeling that then presses in upon you—a feeling of enigmatic fear in the presence of this blind dreamlike earth-bound existence. The dumb forest, the silent meadows, this bush, that twig, do not stir themselves, it is the wind that plays with them. Only the little gnat is free—he dances still in the evening light, he moves whither he will.

A plant is nothing on its own account. It forms a part of the landscape in which a chance made it take root. The twilight, the chill, the closing of every flower—these are not cause and effect, not danger and willed answer to danger. They are a single process of nature, which is accomplishing itself near, with, and in the plant. The individual is not free to look out for itself, will for itself, or choose for itself.

As animal, on the contrary, can choose. It is emancipated from the servitude of all the rest of the world. This midget swarm that dances on and on, that solitary bird still flying through the evening, the fox furtively approaching the nest—these are little worlds of their own within another great world. An animalcule in a drop of water, too tiny to be perceived by the human eye, though it lasts but a second and has but a corner of this drop as its field—nevertheless is free and independent isn’t he face of the universe. This gaint oak, upon one of whose leaves the droplet hangs, is not.

Servitude and freedom—this is in last and deepest analysis the differentia by which we distinguish vegetable and animal existence. Yet only the plant is wholly and entirely what it is; in the being of the animal there is something dual. A vegetable is only a vegetable; an animal is a vegetable and something more besides. A herd that huddles together trembling in the presence of danger, a child that clings weeping to its mother, a man desperately striving to force a way into his God—all these are seeking to return out of the life of freedom and into the vegetal servitude from which they were emancipated into individuality and loneliness.

This instinctive desire among the emancipated to transcend that emancipation is self-evident in the fact that we’re conscious creatures who finds ourselves deeply unsettled by our existence. Perhaps particularly so because nature itself seems to point to another life.

I’ll return to Spengler for his insights on consciousness.

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