On “Inasmuch”

There is no reason to ever use the word “inasmuch” in 2017, inasmuch as one listens to the loudest voices of our time. Everything either is or is not. If your IQ is below average, then you will not amount to as much as someone with above-average IQ in your position. If you are hurt, your whole world is the pain. And if you are a Jew, everything you do is part of being a Jew.

Here’s the strange thing: the idea that if you are not for us, you’re against us, is essentially a tribal idea, but in the modern context it is applied in nominally non-tribal contexts. People say, for example, that if you don’t loudly support the President, you are somehow working to undermine his administration or vice versa. Putting aside for a moment the fact that practical politics is at heart a process of separating in-group and out-group with a veneer of rationality slapped on top. Normally, the veneer is at least a veneer, and we can speak about ideas or actions that a person represents without going full Sith-lord-with-absolutes over it.

All of this could be aided by a healthy dose of “inasmuch.” “Inasmuch as he fights against Trump, he’s making a terrible mistake.” “Inasmuch as his family owned slaves, he’s a terrible person whose family should not be depicted with complexity or any redeeming qualities.”

We’ve partially lost the ability to say inasmuch, inasmuch as we’ve lost grip on the concepts of transgression and repentance. You see, this old paradigm was not results-based (the world should be a certain way) but rather person-based (you, the individual, have a certain mission to fulfill). A person drifts from their mission, they’ve transgressed. But they can get back on track – this is called repentance, and it will fix them up good as new.

What is the repentance for not having produced the correct results or fit the correct form? There isn’t one. A family having owned slaves simply does not live up to the correct reality, and there is no way to go back and make them have been correct. They are simply in the wrong. Unfit. Forever. Because our expectations for them are not based on their individual situation, but on the world-historic conclusions we wish they’d have reached before they died in benighted, less perfect times.

(What about reparations to heirs or at least sincere regret? This implies that heirs or some deity are in a position to forgive what was a crime against a certain person in a time that can never be revisited and whose costs cannot actually be repaid.)

And so: 2017 – when a person does not fail inasmuch as they have strayed from their mission but simply fails. One is with what’s right, however that is established, or one is simply against it.

(There is another cause of this phenomenon, having to do with a very uncomfortable relationship with the status quo, systems, and rules, perhaps for a different time.)

There is no person, mistaken inasmuch as their expectations are false. Wrong inasmuch as their assessment is inaccurate. Even evil inasmuch as they are overcome by self-destructive animal impulse.

Today, one is either a saint or hell fuel – inasmuch as the most passionate voices on Twitter are to be believed.

In place of this current system, I heartily recommend the humble “inasmuch.” The “inasmuch,” like all good words, implies two opposite things at the same time. It tells us that something is what it is, and that it can be something else. A dog is a good boy inasmuch as he goes outside to do his business, but a bad boy inasmuch as he rummages in the trash can for scraps. The “inasmuch” tells us there is more to being a dog than being a good boy, but also that a dog (with the right upbringing and the sales gene) can become a good boy, partially. The dog will never equal good boy, but it will also never equal bad boy, and there is a realm of action which does not totally redefine the animal but does partially define him. He is who he is, results or no, but who he is can be devoted to being a good boy. And when he’s a bad boy, we know it’s at most an accurate descriptor of part of what he is.

That is the power of inasmuch. It allows for the subject, as it exists separately from the predicate, but also for a legitimate predicate, the subject participates him as well. It introduces shades of meaning, interstitial space between absolutes where something magical, like a choice, can occur.

That is inasmuch – the participation in an idea or category, to an extent.

Without partial participation in an idea or category, we would never have reached a time when some think only complete participation is possible because the world would never have been created, or the act of its creation would have ceased as quickly as it began.

The world would never have been created because what makes the world a world is its separation from G-d, but nothing can truly be separated from its creator or it would simply cease to exist. So the world really is constantly connected to its creator. Of course, the world is only G-dly insofar as it needs to be G-dly to exist. But from my perch on the imposing crenellations of 2017, I see that the world is completely, 100% G-dly. No work required here. There’s a creator and this is his world? Good enough for me. It can’t conceal G-d at all, it doesn’t really exist, it doesn’t even really need to be here. Problem solved.

There are no expectations; whatever I do is blessed; I am G-d’s child in a G-dly world.

What about the fact that the world also conceals G-d? It is, after all, a physical reality of apparent brute fact not obviously declaring its dependence on its creator. Of course, the world is only independent of G-d insofar as it needs to be a low place of concealment. Well, from my tall, gothic, gargoyle-festooned tower in 2017, I say the world entirely hides G-d. It is a place of pure evil, meaninglessness, death. It simply is because it is. It is 100% self-sustaining. No work is required here; what good would it do? The world cannot reveal G-d; I am a matter janitor simply shifting dead rocks around. Problem solved.

There are no expectations; whatever I do is irrelevant; I am a person who lives far away from any intervening G-d.

The only thing that might bind my action is some ill-conceived theory about what will cause my tribe to survive longer, or what does not impede the freedom of others, or what will make things seem fairer. And these, I could also opt-out of, if they get too burdensome.

If the world is 100% G-dly, I am free. If the world is 100% un-G-dly, I am free.

If you’re not with me, you’re against me.

If you have sinned, the sin is who you are.

How do I pick a side?

Inasmuch as these are the only options – very carefully.