Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fate and Fatalism

The word fatal is derived from the same root, the latin fatum - that which has been spoken, as the word fate. As I am coming to a strong belief in fate, this connection is of vital interest to me. 
My “fate” means events working together in a comprehendible way toward an unlikely conclusion – imagine divine providence without the implied benevolent deity. In this way fate seems amoral, it works independently and irrespective of my good. Yet fatal came to mean what it does today, causing death, from a Middle English term meaning destined by fate, or ominous. Thus it seems that there is a catastrophic undertone to the will of fate – that which is determined by fate, that which the workings of fate moves toward, is fatal, it causes death and disaster. 
For this there can be two explanations, the first, most obvious, and most optimistic is that the fatality (the fatal aspect) of fate is in reference to the eventual and inevitable death of him who is fated. All lives, and therefore all fates, which move in lives, must lead to death. This serves to redeem fate for less fatal ends before death; as if, although death is the final destination, fate leads many other places before the end. To an extent this must be true, if all fates lead to death, fates must be either total and lifelong, which is to remove the distinctions between strands in a life, or we would all be dead rather quickly. But fatal as causing death is a relatively recent usage and I suspect a more original interpretation of the term will yield a more valuable conclusion. 
Fatal means leading to catastrophe, the sudden downturning turn of events, death can be but one form of this. The second explanation for the fatality of fate is that all fated things, all working together of diffuse circumstances, conspire toward the destruction of the fated. Some time ago I wrote that I was considering three new ways of envisioning my life, this was as opposed or in addition to my underlying mechanist-deterministic outlook. Of them, this view of fate corresponds best with life as demonic assault: the slow manipulation of all things to my continual detriment. This encourages a more anthropomorphic view of fate than I am comfortable taking, but as a model and a narrative it is highly effective for conveying the lived experience.
This leads to a discussion of fatalism and the correct mental orientation toward the fatality of fate. Fatalism is the submissive acceptance of the sort of fate I have described, the bowing down before the unalterable forces of the universe as they destroy you. It is placing the noose around your own neck so that the executioner does not dirty his hands. And there is a great nobility in it, a clear-eyed stoic resilience that in some small way turns fate upon itself. It is however, not the only possible response. Recall Nietzsche, “Courageous, untroubled, mocking and violent – that is what Wisdom wants us to be. Wisdom is a woman, and she loves only a warrior.” Fate is not something to be overcome, but perhaps it is something to be challenged. If there is a nobility in accepting the will of fate maybe there is also a nobility in fighting it to the bitter end.

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