Strange Blood and the Continuous Spinning Thread of the Web
William Shakespeare invented The Bachelorette. He did it in Act 2, Scene 3 of All’s Well That Ends Well when the King of France offers Helen, a poor doctor’s daughter, her choice of husband in exchange for having cured the King of a debilitating sickness. The King presents a pool of France’s top bachelors and Helen rejects them all one by one until settling upon her crush, Bertram. Bertram, however, protests the proposal. How can he, a noble, be expected to marry a lowly doctor’s daughter? This confuses the King, worldly progressive that he is, so he proceeds to soliloquize on the essential oneness of humanity, educating Bertram about how “Strange it is that our bloods, of colour, weight, and heat, poured all together, Would quite confound distinction, yet stands off in difference so mighty.”
Tolstoy comes to a similar conclusion about the oneness of humanity today. He starts things off by summarizing the inadequacies of the traditional conceptions about the transfer of the will of the people to historical figures in power. Having done so he concedes that reason is only one tool of understanding. There is also experience. Experience shows that power is an actually existing phenomena. “Power,” he writes, “from the standpoint of experience, is merely the relation that exists between the expression of someone’s will and the execution of that will by others.”
Even this definition of power poses problems for Tolstoy. A conception of the expression of this will needs to be established for it to make any sense. The ancients placed this expression in the Gods but the moderns, little Nietzsches, have killed the Gods so this responsibility falls to man alone. Tolstoy writes:
If the Deity issues a command, expresses His will, as ancient history tells us, the expression of that will is independent of time and is not caused by anything, for the Divinity is not controlled by an event. But speaking of commands that are the expression of the will of men acting in time and in relation to one another, to explain the connection of commands with events we must restore: (1) the condition of all that takes place: the continuity of movement in time both of the events and of the person who commands, and (2) the inevitability of the connection between the person commanding and those who execute his command.
Continuity and connection between people. This cosmopolitan vision is useful not only for historians seeking an adequate definition of power but also for individuals seeking a salutary meditation and remembrance of their place in the cosmos and their relationship to others. Forgetfulness of this connectivity is a sickness that breeds dissension and war. So when we forget let us recall, in Helen’s words, that “there is a remedy, approved, set down, To cure the desperate languishings.”
Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things that exist; observe, too, the continuous spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations