The Fetters of Convention (pardon the somewhat annoying prose style)
Posted August 17, 2010on:
“Vengeance is mine, I shall repay” are Leo Tolstoy’s terrible lines for Anna Karenina, who dared go against the natural order, and paid with her life. But vengeance is not God’s, or of the natural order, but it is of the invisible force of convention. Her anguish and gradual dissipation are not caused by her going against some in-alterable laws of nature, but her deeply embedded sense of right and wrong defined by the convention of her time.
It is great a metaphor for the hold convention has on our psyche. It runs deeper than one may imagine. One may consciously understand the bias and absurdities in conventional ways, will oneself to break from tradition, to live only in accordance with ones reason and principles, and assert oneself as a free agent bound by none. Relinquish their tradition and seek to live like a bohemian, relinquish their religion and be godless, relinquish their mores and manners and be eccentric. Break from society and live in the Jungles; break from what is defined as a “normal course of life” and refuse to marry, or venture further, live the life of an alcoholic, an ascetic, a drug addict. Play at the fringes. But stray too far, and dissipation and self doubt creep in. Our very sense of the sane is threatened. A lonely darkness looms large, the warm glow of comfortable beliefs behind us. Can we resist the invisible string that keeps pulling us back?
In this life so fraught with ambiguities, what hope does our small truth have against their mammoth truth, with the force of the mob and history behind it?
But men have forever ventured out, cautiously, or boldly, like Nietzsche, and paid with their mind. But men go the full circle all the time too, convention proving victorious.
Maybe convention was right all along, the wisdom of mankind, the milk of a million lives lived. Or is it folly and prejudice, reinventing itself over and over?
I admire the person who can break from convention and claim to have lived a happy life.