Excerpts from the book: THE CRISIS IN HUMAN AFFAIRS
“I can only say I have done something if, first, I have set before myself some aim; second, I have carried out a series of actions for the attainment of that aim; and third, the cost is not incommensurate with the importance of the aim to me. Let us consider these three conditions more closely. To talk about doing, without an aim, is obviously meaningless. Things may happen to us that we like, or are pleased with, but if we did not set out to do them, we cannot call it doing. If we set ourselves an aim but just hope for the best, if we “sail with the wind”, and if it happens to be a fair one and takes us to our destination, we cannot call that doing either. There must be both aim and a series of coordinated actions. It may not be so obvious that we cannot call it doing if the expenditure involved in attaining an aim is out of all proportion to the results achieved, but it is quite clear that if I succeed in the aim of throwing away the bath-water only by losing the baby at the same time, I should be reluctant to call that successful doing.”
“Now let us see how far, in human activity, we can find doing that satisfies these three conditions. It is easy to say at first sight that people really do DO quite a lot of things, and that all these doubts and scruples are both strange and unnecessary. To see their validity, we have to consider the point we have already discussed. We have to consider that if we have no permanent self there cannot be very much meaning in our talk about aims. If I set some aim before myself at this moment, and half an hour later there is a different person here, what will have become of this aim? If between the formulation of an aim and its realization, years pass and another quite different person is then inhabiting my body, my aim may be realized, but it may no longer be of interest to me, or even, which is much more likely, what I continue to call my aim is not at all the aim which I set myself.”
“All that we have already said about choosing at a given moment is applicable to the principle of coordinated long-term action. If we come to recognize, as we must if we study the problem seriously, that we choose very little, and that by far the greater number of things as far as we are concerned are automatisms, we shall see that outside events are, more certainly than it seems in retrospect, just chance crossings of lines. Successful action often turns out to be just a hit-and-miss process.”
“One further point deserves attention, namely the peculiar fact that although we find for ourselves, if we are honest about it, that things seldom turn out as we intended, we still ascribe to other people a success we should not dream of claiming for ourselves. We see that things happen after a period of years in other people’s lives and say, “This is a great achievement”, although we can see in our own lives that the same sort of thing happens just by a blind concatenation of events. We are also in a very poor position when it comes to assessing the relation of means to an ends. It is fair to say that we usually either get something for nothing, or else we pay a lot and get very little in exchange. In neither case can we call this successful “doing”. The power of doing involves something even more than the power of choice: it involves knowing what to choose. It is much more difficult that anyone imagines to know what to choose in order to produce results. This point can be clearly illustrated from the game of chess. If you watch a weak player, you see that, although after the first dozen or so moves there are widely differing possibilities, he is oblivious of the complexity of the situation. He moves without realizing what is involved, and his moves may either be blunders or successful by pure chance. If his opponent is as weak as he is, it is just a matter of waiting to see who makes the greatest blunder first. When you watch a stronger player, the situation is quite different. He knows that out of the thousands of possible combinations that are available at any moment, only a limited number are important. He knows he must fix his attention on these and think about their tactical consequences and also how they fit into strategic plans he has for the game. An inexperienced player will often be quite surprised and unable to understand the moves of the master.”
“When we see the course of events in retrospect we realize that the really effective alternatives are almost always overlooked, so that even where people have had the power of choice, because they are sufficiently awake to try and select, they just have no idea what to choose, and so they often have turned their backs on the very action that might have changed the course of history. I have chosen one or two stories to illustrate this idea. The first is one of the most valuable and instructive stories of the Old Testament- that of Naaman and Elisha:
“So Naaman came with his horses and his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.
“And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, ‘Go and wash in Jordan seven time, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.’ “But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, “Behold, I thought, he will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean? ‘So he turned and went away in rage. “And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, ‘my father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith thee, “Wash, and be clean?” ‘ “Then he went down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” This illustrates two important characteristics of doing; first, that it need not involve anything strange or difficult, and second, that we can easily fail to perceive what doing really involves.
THE CRISIS IN HUMAN AFFAIRS J.G. Bennett - Chapter IV; The Power of Choice
“There is also a third point which needs emphasis, very often, in order to do , we are called upon to carry out the very reverse of what we consider to be the appropriate action. This is a subtle point, and the only good illustration that occurs to me comes from the very remarkable book, Through the Looking-Glass, where Alice meets the Red Queen for the first time. “(Here JGB goes on to quote from the book) …. “Closely connected with this idea is one expressed a little later in this book, when Alice and the Red Queen have to run as fast as they can to remain in the same place. ... Although the actions involved in doing, and appropriate for the attainment of aims, are not by any means obvious, yet we all tend to do the obvious thing. The importance of economy of effort for attaining one’s aim … …catch a glimpse of the subtleties that are involved in doing, the subject remains more difficult to understand than the arguments for and against the existence or non-existence of a self, or the connection between waking and choice. The problem of doing is very strange, not in the sense of being occult or unknowable, but simply because the words which we use, especially in our Indo-European languages, are almost barren of the distinctions needed for talking about doing. We are pitifully lacking in forms of thought which can distinguish between the different kinds of activity required to produce effective results, so we cannot hope to express in ordinary language anything more than a bare indication of this way of looking at things. When we looked at the historical process, and the affairs of men viewed from the outside, which is the external aspect of doing, we saw the failure and frustrations of purposes. When we look inside for the cause or root of this frustration and failure, we find it in psychological megalanthropism. We exaggerate the power and significance of man in three ways- we exaggerate his degree of unity as a being, we exaggerate his consciousness and his power of choice and freedom, and we exaggerate most of all his effectiveness. He has done great and extraordinary things, but they are nothing compared with what happens every day in Nature, and they are seldom, in any event, connected with the effective doing of people who think they did them”
eBook link: The Crisis in Human Affairs
A few photos of the location of the seminar
Some background information about J.G. Bennett
Making A New World