Habit and comfort

titus-van-rijn-in-a-monk-s-habit-1660Sometimes, the categories of an ad hoc philosophical anthropology can be revealing. Today, my anthropology says: We are beings of habit as well as beings of comfort. The inertia of our species and our politicians is grounded in these principles. There is always a certain optimal balance of comfort and habit, which our organisms are seeking. Habit and comfort influence each other. When something is very comfortable (sipping champagne on your yacht with your millionaire friends) it tends to become a habit, and when we are used to something not exactly pleasing to our senses, the latter get numb and we learn how to bear (that is how we ended up as a species with vast numbers of almost self-mutilating members). Habits change the limit of our comfort zone and comfort, once enjoyed, seeks repetition, seeks habit.

Whichever anthropological principles we formulate, we know they can never represent the whole truth, because humans are reflective beings and as such must always be able to sabotage the fragile principles. For example, certain intense psychological experiences can tilt the balance of comfort and habit completely in either direction, keeping our theoretical freedom at 100%. Mostly, such experiences are related to religion. Human beings are able to inflict incredible pains onto themselves, and there are monks who have reached breathtaking aptitude in the matter.

Let’s use a metaphor to describe what a habit is. A habit is literally our “habit” or “characteristic attire of a religious or clerical order” – the cloak we cannot remove. The cloak is woven from associations, memories, experiences. The cloak is how we express whatever we express. Which brings us to…

…the other anthropological constant describes not how we humans are inevitably dressed up, but the thing we have to conceal by expressing it, something like our inner essence, our most elementary strive. We try not to understand this strive in a negative way (as Angst, ennui, fear or Sorge) only to subsequently stumble over, and perhaps attempt to knock down, the hurdles of our language. We understand this inner urge simply as the uge to comfort. As com-fortis, this reminds of the Will to Power or the élan vital or whichever romantic concepts of the pure strive in our chest you may have. I don’t know. As abstract concept we use to tame the wildly capricious question of who we are, it might be just as unobservable as its dialectic counterpart. But hey, the idea really is just to suggest another fresh and funny pair to denote what we know since Aristotle.

All beings with a central nervous system are constantly optimizing their comfort. Lacking the ability to reflect – and hence to sabotage – this process, it is rather straightforward. We observe this in infants and most animals. We observe this in ourselves, when we are told what we did the night before when we were drunk, etcetera.

At our very beginning in the whomb, our comfort and our habits were one, as our “form” and “essence” were one.

I think it is a nice pair of anthropological variables, habit and comfort, but I don’t know about my interpretation. Maybe it’s too abstract, too snobby in a way, and I should give more concrete examples like about the man who gets up at five every morning and cycles to work, braving hale and blizzards. He has a established habit and from the perspective of his organism, his balance of habit and comfort is optimized. There is really not much more to say.

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