Section V.6A-V.6C (“The Problem of Scale (Part 1)”)

On Forgiveness (Part I)

O.G. Rose
29 min readFeb 5, 2024

Are “forget’ and “forgive” similes or is this a dire mistake?

Photo by Jametlene Reskp

…“The Absolute Choice” is only “Real” to the degree we suffer grace, for that is when “The Absolute Choice” costs us. “(Irony)” can only be seen as irony through cost, and it costs us to suffer a Causer. “The problem of anxiety” is ultimately tied to the question of how we will respond to pain (which might always occur) — will we avoid it or allow ourselves to be vulnerable — which means “the question of forgiveness” is indivisible from our situation. This in mind, we should try to determine what is “forgiveness,” for I don’t think it is clear, and we shall do so through a methodology like what is found in “On Love” (as featured in Second Thoughts), which attempts to isolate a term’s meaning. And so, let us ask: “What does it mean to forgive?”

If the word “forgive” and “forget” are similes, we should cease using the word “forgive,” for the term “forgive” suggests that the act is “something more” than just “forgetting that something happened to us”; if “forgive” is just a simile, this is not the case, and the term “forgive” should be deconstructed so that we might avoid confusion. When asked directly, sure, many people might say “forgiving isn’t forgetting,” but practically I do think this is how we often act, and furthermore if we’re not clear to ourselves on the difference, we can end up acting like they are equivalent even if we don’t mean to do so. Indeed, alternatively, many people seem to think that a person who remembers a hurt is not forgiving, but do we actually have control over what we remember and what we forget? I don’t know if I’ve ever personally consciously in my life chosen to remember something. I mostly just find myself remembering or find myself not (and forgetting that I forget). If “forgiveness” is a matter of “forgetting,” then forgiveness might be something we have little control over, and yet the term “forgive” seems to suggest agency. For this reason and given the confusion the term can cause, we should probably cease using it — unless that is “forgive” means something else.

If we don’t control what we forget and remember, and if “forgiveness” and “forgetting” are similes, then it would seem humans are not free to forgive or capable of forgiving beyond luck and forces outside their control. Perhaps this is so, but if that is the case then we ought to cease worrying about “forgiving this” or “forgetting that” — there’s nothing we can do (there also seems to be little we can do to maintain community). If some pain is too great to forget, and if that pain makes certain relationships impossible, then those relationships should likely be moved beyond with little additional thought. It would simply be a fact that “we can’t forget what we can’t forget” and the damage done is hence unrepairable. That’s that. Separation is rational. But is this so? Also, if “forgiveness is forgetting,” then we might be incentivized to be “shallow,” “flat,” and forgetful so that we can relate to people and not worry about feeling a “deep pain” that we can never forget. We basically must work against being deep and having “a big heart” if we are to stay around people, for otherwise it seems inevitable that we tend up hurt and stuck with a memory we will then struggle to forget, which means we might spend our lives thinking we are a bad person and at risk of being seen as a bad person. This could prove torturous, and so then we might move toward isolation — our heart is just too big and prone to remember/un-forgive…

Are “forgive” and “forget” similes and hence “forgiveness” outside our control, meaning it is something that is somewhat even silly to talk about? Perhaps, and if so the notion of “forgiveness” should be deconstructed — but let us see. It should be noted that if we conflate “forgive” and “forget,” we might actually moralize and make a virtue out of “having a bad memory,” which seems problematic. As we risk making a vice out of humility if we define “humility” as “the lack of greatness” versus something like “the holding back of greatness,” so we run a similar risk if we suggest “forgiveness” is “forgetting” via perhaps “choosing not to act on what we remember.” It seems problematic to possibly reward those with “bad memory” as “forgiving” and “moral,” especially if thinkers like Plato, Augustine, and Bergson are right that so much rides on memory — but that seems to be where our thinking about “forgiveness” leaves many people, arguably moralizing deficiency. Memory in Hegel is also necessary if we are to “think the Now” and “tarry with the negative,” for Hegel sees history as critical for philosophical consideration. Any notion which threatens memory, such as “forgiveness is forgetting,” is possibly a threat to thinking, which could threaten our humanity if thinking is needed for the journey of Hegel and Hume (and might actually suggest AI is more virtuous than us).

We do not have to forgive people for doing something good to us; when it comes to good things, we just have to “receive” them. The possible need for forgiveness occurs when we receive something we don’t want and/or that we didn’t ask for — it is something more “forced upon us.” “Gratitude” is perhaps an act opposite of “forgiveness,” for both are terms which describe a way we respond to something we “receive.” Was it something we wanted or not? Was it something that suggests a disregard of our person? To “receive” something forces upon us many questions like this, and when we receive something good, we are “grateful”; when we receive something we don’t want, we are more “ungrateful,” and “forgiveness” is a mode that can follow in response to that ungratefulness. The feeling of “being ungrateful” must come first, before forgiveness, for it would seem meaningless to describe ourselves as “forgiving something” which we feel nothing or ingratitude regarding. This being the case, “unforgiveness” or “forgiveness” might not be so much a feeling as it is “a choice of response” to a feeling. The feeling of “unforgiveness” might just be an extension of the feeling of ungratefulness, suggesting why a confusing conflation of “unforgiving” and “ungrateful” has arisen.

We do not really feel “unforgiveness” (in the immediacy of) when something bad happens to us; to the degree “unforgiveness” is a feeling, it is a feeling which is “after the happening.” In the happening, we feel pain, rejection, anxiety — the term “unforgiving” does not seem appropriate for describing “the immediate happening.” Instead, it is perhaps a feeling that can arise after the happening, perhaps relative to a choice we make regarding the happening. “Unforgiveness” seems to be a choice and hence act in response to a feeling for which we are not grateful and would have preferred to avoid.⁷⁰⁶ But as “unforgiveness” is a choice in response to ungratefulness, so too is “forgiveness”: both emerge from a choice in response to the same condition. Again, the term “response” is critical, for “(un)forgiveness” (a term meant to suggest both “forgiveness” and “unforgiveness” at the same time) is not an “initial thing” like sadness or happiness: it is not something which arises emergently and without warning like can other feelings. In this way, we might hesitate to overly-associate “(un)forgiveness” with a feeling (though I have), for it seems to require an additional action and choice which is more conscious than other feelings. Perhaps it is “emotional,” but “feeling” might not be the right terminology (a distinction between “emotion” and “feeling” does seem needed, as others at “The Net” have discussed).

We don’t feel forgiveness in the same way we feel sadness: its manifestation is not so abrupt or unchosen. Furthermore, I’m not sure if I want to keep suggesting that “unforgiveness” is something we might feel later, for instead we might use words little “ungrateful,” “hurt,” “bitter,” or the like. “Unforgiveness” seems to have something to do with feelings, but it also seems difficult to clearly identify as a feeling, for there are other words which might accomplish that signification better. If “unforgiving” and “bitter” are not to be similes (for example), the term “unforgiving” needs to mean something else; furthermore, another reason why it seems like we need to treat “unforgiving” as distinct from say “bitterness” is because it’s not clear what constitutes “the feeling of forgiveness.” By this, I mean to say that the feeling we might associate with “unforgiving” like bitterness is something which can arise after something bad is done to us without us doing anything (it just happens). If we conflate “bitter” and “unforgiving,” we might come to think of “(un)forgiveness” as something “that just happens,” further making us think of “(un)forgiveness” as merely a matter of feelings. But a reason why this seems questionable is because it’s hard to imagine a “feeling of forgiveness” just naturally arising in response to something bad being done to us without us doing anything. If someone hurts my feelings and I just stand there, making no choice or action, it seems believable that “a feeling that could be associated with unforgiveness” might arise in me, but can “forgiveness” spontaneously arise? This doesn’t seem possible, but if we make the mistake of conflating “forgiveness” with “feeling,” and if we think that “we don’t control our feelings,” then we might search for an experience of “forgiveness” that is more uncontrollable and “like a feeling” than not. This might prime us to conflate “forgiveness” with “forgetting,” for what we forget seems outside of our control, just like emotions. As what we feel can just come and go, so what we remember can seem to just “come and go” as well. In this way, we can prove primed to conflate “forgive” and “forget,” which is for us to paradoxically possibly remove the very ground on which “forgiveness” might be possible (as we’ll discuss).

If something bad happens to me, what seems to emerge on its own is what I would call “ungratefulness” (or “anger,” “bitterness,” etc.). In my view, I am not, just because of this emergence, guilty of being “unforgiving” yet, though the conditions of being such are now present, precisely because I feel pain. Afterwards I can choose how I respond to this pain, which is to say I can choose to forgive or not. To be “unforgiving” seems like it can possibly be more passive than “forgiving,” for if I simply do nothing and eventually forget what happened, though this might seem like forgiveness (and perhaps is “practically identical” enough), it is not. Perhaps we might call this “non-forgiveness” versus “unforgiveness,” for the latter seems more intentional and chosen. Hard to say, but at best we might say that “forgiveness as forgetting” is “non-forgiveness” versus “forgiveness” (though I hesitate to make that point, for it might contribute to the mistake of treating “forgive” and “forget” as similes). All this in mind, we might say that most of what is called “forgiveness” actually expresses “non-forgiveness,” which is to say “forgiving as forgetting.” Paradoxically, this is for us to associate “forgiveness” with what negates its possibility.

Anyway, the possibility of (un)forgiveness arises in the question of how I choose to act in response to hurt and something for which I am not grateful. Unforgiveness might seem experientially to be the feeling of pain, for if I feel pain in response to something and then don’t choose to work against that pain (in an action of forgiveness), then this pain continues long after the initial act which caused the pain, at which point I am perhaps in a state of “unforgiveness.” If this is so, the initial pain is carried over from the initial act into the more long-term state of being unforgiving, which makes it easy to then conflate “ungrateful” with “unforgiving” (they blur together). But we might avoid this mistake if we ask, “Can I emergently feel forgiveness?” “Unforgiveness” (as the feeling of ingratitude) can be seen as emergent and uncontrollable, but it doesn’t seem possible for “forgiveness” to arise in a similar way. To forgive someone seems like it must be intentional and chosen, and if that is so, how could unforgiveness be so experientially different? Are we to think of unforgiveness as a feeling while forgiveness is a choice? This would make them seem different in kind, and if so what we call “un-forgiveness” would seem to be of a different kind entirely. And indeed, what we call “unforgiving” is what I think is usually actually just “ingratitude” or “pain,” leading to confusion. If “forgiveness” is a choice, then “unforgiveness” seems like it would have to be a choice as well, or else the word “unforgiving” is just a simile for “ungrateful,” which risks confusion. There’s hope in realizing this, for in my view few people choose to be unforgiving, which would suggest that few people actually are unforgiving. Most of us are just hurt and waiting to forget the pain, which means we are attempting a “non-forgiving strategy” (which I don’t think is optimal in this case, but what else can we do if our entire lives we’ve been trained to think that “forget” and “forgive” are similes?). This doesn’t mean there aren’t any “unforgiving people,” but that “unforgiveness” might be a lot less present than we think. Mostly, people might be waiting to forget what happened to them, because they “practically believe” “forgive” and “forgive” are similes. And as they wait, we might accuse them of “unforgiveness,” precisely because they haven’t forgotten yet, worsening the pain. And to avoid all this, we might start avoiding one another entirely.

Again, if it is the case that “unforgiveness is a choice” that few people make, then we have reason to think that most people are not “unforgiving,” which means there is room to try to reach them. Most people have not actively chosen to cut themselves off from the world, even if they have perhaps “passively drifted” more into isolation, either waiting for “non-forgiveness” to occur (forgetting) or to assure they don’t end up in situations they can’t control again. “The Drift” and “Drifting” seem to be what happen to many, which is to say most people never consciously or directly say to themselves, “I’m going to avoid people.” They instead just start seeing them a little bit less, then a little bit less, as they miss one regular community group meeting, then another, then another…Most of us leave by Drifting. Which in one way is hopeful, because it means people are not so much making a “hard choice” to close off from others, but in another way it is very difficult, for it means that the ways people leave one another are more subtle and discreet than we often realize.

V.6B

If we make the mistake of conflating “unforgiving” with a feeling, and if we don’t really control what we feel and “being unforgiving” is associated with “being a bad person,” then when I am hurt, I can be stuck with something I cannot readily “shake-off” which makes me “bad.” This can be existentially difficult to bear, and so there might be incentive for me to avoid the situations in the first place which might make me confront this (uncontrollable yet immoral) feeling. Hence, a failure to understand “forgiveness” could contribute to the sociological problems which have concerned us all throughout Belonging Again, and indeed perhaps a reason we have not dealt well with “the problem of (un)forgiveness” is because the word “unforgiving” has a moral weight to it, and anyone who is “unforgiving” is often considered to be in the wrong. Nobody assumedly wants to be seen as “in the wrong,” and so those wrestling with the problem can keep it to themselves, which can make it seem like nobody is wrestling with the problem, or that those wrestling with the problem are those who shouldn’t and that it is their problem, not ours (almost discriminatory). To be seen as “unforgiving” can almost be like receiving a “scarlet letter,” and so people can be left to their own devices to deal with their feelings and to better try to understand “the problem of (un)forgiveness.” If they can’t figure it out, there’s nowhere to which they can turn. And if the pain and anger which cause us hurt is that which we can have “eternal reason to be stuck with” (as Dr. Agens Callard discusses), then to risk feeling pain is to risk being stuck with a “scarlet letter” forever. Given this, wouldn’t it be crazy not be as isolationist as possible?

Perhaps due to the stigma around “being unforgiving,” we don’t have social practices to help people “work through unforgiveness,” for nobody wants to admit that they are still in pain and to be seen as “not letting go.” This is to risk being an outcast and seen in a bad light, and so people might not talk about their pain. As a result, the topic can be kept hidden, and social support and practices not be employed. Furthermore, when people do talk about struggling with “unforgiveness” or when they talk about something that someone did to them, they can be accused of “holding onto the past” and being “unforgiving” (likely where “forgetting” and “forgiving” are conflated), which then might make the person regret ever speaking at all. As a result, finding themselves in this situation if someone hurts them (of no fault of their own), gradually people can conclude it’s best not to risk it and stay away from others. After all, if something bad happens to us, it’s our fault if it keeps hurting (to see others is to risk being a victim who might be forever victimized).

If we never get hurt, we never have to worry about feeling pain, and then we never have to worry about facing questions regarding “(un)forgiveness,” nor do we have to risk being seen as “unforgiving” and as “a bad person” if something bad happens to us and we can’t so easily work through it. Worse yet, if society associates “forgetting” with “forgiving,” and we find ourselves unable to forget much, then we are basically doomed to be seen as “an unforgiving person” if we go out into the world and something bad happens to us that we can’t forget (of no fault of our own). For having what is arguably a virtue (“good memory”), we can be punished, which might mean we are encouraged to engage in repression and “performance” when we go out into society. This is psychologically very difficult and can feel artificial, and gradually and slowly we go out a little bit less, then a little bit less — Drifting (going out feels too much like a “set-up”).

In a Pluralistic world, it is almost inevitable that we will encounter misunderstanding and that we will hurt one another, and so it is “practically inevitable” that we find ourselves all facing “the problem of (un)forgiveness.” We cannot help but feel hurt if we are hurt, and then we cannot help it if we can’t forget what happened to us. And yet if “forget” equals “forgive,” and if being “unforgiving” is seen as being “a bad person,” then we have no control over if we are a “bad person” in the eyes of others. I would wager that pain is hard for anyone to forget, and this would mean it is hard for anyone to be “forgiving” unless they train themselves into having “bad memory.” But if that is not something any of us can readily will, that means we must repress our memories. And indeed, that is what most seem to do, which is to say that because we do not have a clear understanding of “forgiveness” as distinct from “forgetting,” we might participate in traumatizing ourselves. And once we recognize that this “no-win situation” is due to venturing out into society and interacting with others, we’ll likely stop (it’s only rational). The pain we encounter is too much, and worse can be how we can be seen as “unforgiving” if we don’t forget that pain we can’t forget. It’s all just too much. Land waits.

Because we can be unintentionally incentivized not to work through our pain or to show it (for otherwise we risk being seen as “unforgiving” and “bad”), this means we might only be able to stay in community and society if we keep our pain repressed and hidden. We then might not find any resources to work through our pain, because shouldn’t we just be able to get over our “unforgiveness?” If we need someone to work through it, we’re just being weak and want pity, yes? To be someone who wants to “work through unforgiveness” is someone who wants to waste the time of others with their sin — it would be irrational for society to create institutions and services to help people in this way, yes? And so pain is left repressed, and people either have to stay repressed or isolate and avoid society. And so the world is full of repression and isolation. People avoid one another to avoid ending up in something they cannot escape of no fault of their own. And so because we conflate “forgive” and “forget,” we can find ourselves in a world that penalizes a virtuous capacity like “good memory” and which incentives repression. There seems to be no way to square this circle, and so our only hope is to avoid pain in the first place.

Since pain and misunderstanding is incredibly likely where “givens” are gone and Pluralism vast, under Pluralism we are likely to isolate or prove pathological. And this is our world. Under “givens,” if we erroneously conflated “forgive” and “forget,” we could more readily be shielded from the consequences, precisely because misunderstanding and pain was less likely.⁷⁰⁷ But “the loss of givens” leads to “the loss of shared intelligibility,” which is where hurt and misunderstanding are “practically inevitable,” and so where “the problem of (un)forgiveness” is “practically unavoidable.” If we can’t think clearly through this problem, the likelihood of Pluralism suffering self-effacement is high. Fortunately, the very literacy which has led us toward Artificial Intelligence and “The End of (True) History” also equip us with “cold capacities” to prove capable of a choice of forgiveness — but we will elaborate on this later. Overall, the main mistakes we hope to correct here are the conflation of “forget” and “forgive,” as well as the conflation of “unforgiveness” with a feeling of “ingratitude,” “pain,” or the like. This combination is particularly problematic, for feelings can be very hard to forget, and yet if we can only forgive by forgetting, then it will prove very difficult to forgive (and in fact it may never occur). For a Pluralistic world to function, if everyone can only live together if they “forget to forgive” whenever they are hurt (which is “practically inevitable”), then it is unlikely the world will function. It will simply take too long for people to overcome conflicts, and the process of overcoming conflict will be too burdensome. Most people will abstain and Drift. AI will develop faster.

In truth, to say that “forgiveness” occurs when we “forget” is to ironically say we forgive when we remove the possibility of forgiveness, for forgiveness can only occur when we remember something (there is no virtue in bad memory). This is why forgiveness is so powerful: it occurs precisely when we don’t or cannot forget. It means we choose to live with an anxiety and question of if we are being too passive and even “enabling evil” — to forgive is to take up a cross (there is no cross if are forgetful). This would suggest that we have defined “forgiveness” according to its opposite, which means our relationship to forgiveness is likely pathological and self-effacing (“forgiveness” is perhaps a source of mental illness). Furthermore, we often do not have control over what we remember, as we often don’t control what we feel. If forgiveness is a matter of memory and feeling, we have little power over it, so in what sense can we consider forgiveness a virtue? This is another paradox which arises: where “forgiveness is forgetting,” it has little virtue. It is more deterministic. It is something that is harder to see as moral. Perhaps we forgive. Perhaps we don’t. Regardless, it doesn’t ultimately seem to be our fault. It just happens, or it doesn’t. And so if forgiveness is somehow a virtue, and if unforgiveness is somehow a vice, I think both would have to be more free than determined, and for me both would have to be more so acts of agency and choice in response to a hurt (for which we are “ungrateful” for receiving). It is something we choose regardless what we feel, and if we don’t remember our hurt, we cannot make a choice of response. In this way, if “forgiveness is forgetting,” we say that forgiveness occurs when we lack memories needed for us to make choices to forgive. At best, this is “non-forgiveness,” and at worst it is repressive.

To forgive is to choose not to try to return pain we cannot forget. To not forgive is to choose to try to return our pain. If pain cannot be returned, only spread, then to “not forgive” could be irrational, unless that is our goal is to only “spread the pain” because our pain is less when those around us are also in pain. Perhaps we don’t feel so isolated, but this would suggest we gain community in hurt (a place where community might lack meaning and value). If there is something about feeling pain which inherently isolates, and if we don’t know that “forgiveness is a choice,” then we could wait and wait to forget our pain and never do so, and so be left with either always feeling isolated or trying to regain relationships by “returning pain” and/or “spreading pain.” Perhaps this is why so many relationships are full of drama? Because we do not know how to escape isolationism but by “spreading pain?” To make an “unforgiving choice” then is a “communal act” — a true perversion, for it paves a road in which relationships are only possible thanks to drama and pain.⁷⁰⁸

Pain can isolate, and if we feel pain that others don’t know about, we can feel like weren’t not “real with them.” If forgiveness can’t practically be chosen, then responding to our pain with forgiveness is not a practical option, and even if we try but continue to remember our pain and feel our pain, then to others (who still think that “forgiveness is forgetting”) we can be seen as “unforgiving,” perhaps hurting us further (and making it feel like there’s no point trying to “choose to forgive” — others won’t interpret our choice as forgiving anyway…).⁷⁰⁹ Where “choosing forgiveness” is not a live option, then such a choice cannot be grounds for relationships, which means we are either stuck isolated with our pain, or we try to “spread our pain” to regain relationship. But who wants to relate to someone through pain? We might say we do, and we might even say that “friends bear one another’s burdens,” which to a degree is true, but we also must be careful to say that friends let one another yell at one another, fight, etc. (acts which suggest a lack of valuing). Friends do help one another through life, but we’re also not friends with people we dislike. To define “relationship” with “sharing pain” risks creating dislike and hence threatening friendship.

Though we cannot always choose what flashes across our “mind’s eye,” we can choose if we entertain that memory or act on it. We cannot always control what our minds present us with, and what we suddenly find ourselves feeling, but we do have choice in how we will respond (perhaps relative to the capacity for agency we have after years of training — agency seems to be like a muscle, as Rick Repetti argues, which means it can be trained and strengthened or left to weaken). God in Christ does not act on pain God has not forgotten; likewise, to forgive is for us to not act on what we have not forgotten. To forgive is basically to choose to act in a manner “as if” we have not been hurt. We keep the pain within, or if we voice it, we do not voice it in a manner that seeks to “spread pain” (which might not be possible, please note); instead, we “genuinely seek” to regain the relationship we valued (as Dr. Agnes Callard discusses). But might this cause trauma and a collapse of mental health? We were saying earlier that the doctrine of “forgiving as forgetting” could lead to repression, but aren’t we repressing how we feel to not choose to act on it? Ah, but we are choosing to act: we are choosing to act in a manner that suggests we have agency and power over how we feel. We are not forced to act or live in light of our pain; we can decide to act and speak otherwise, even as if our pain never happened. We are not forced to live according to the causal forces we have found ourselves amidst; we have a say (precisely in an act that can look to others like we are denying our say). Perhaps there is no greater opportunity for “training agency” and expressing freedom then in the choice to forgive (suggesting that it is perhaps not by chance that a world which believes “forgiveness is forgetting” is also a world likely to fall into Determinism). Forgiveness is a choice against the world.

V.6C

When we fall off a bike and hurt ourselves, we cannot really “forgive” the road, precisely because the road isn’t alive (and also because we might be to blame for our fall). We are hurt, but we just need to recover. If I were to make a Heideggerian distinction between “earth” and “world,” we could say that “the earth” is not something we forgive, only “the world,” for the world is full of other people who can hurt us in a very different way than a scratch. The “pain” relative to which a choice of forgiveness is relevant is a choice between people with interior spaces and depths. They are capital-O-Others, as Emmanual Levinas might discuss (following David McKerracher), which is to say they contain an “Interior Space” that seems in the earth and yet not of it at the same time — such is a characteristic of that “in the world.” If as we have argued literacy helped birth Interiority (following Dr. Corey Anton), then we might say that “the problem of (un)forgiveness” is mostly a problem in Written Traditions, for in Oral Traditions the pain people caused one another was not perhaps “practically distinct” from falling off a bike and scraping our knee on a road. We lacked a vast Interior in which pain could gain a different quality; we were not Others, and so though we might have killed one another, we did not hurt like we can now as Others. At the same time, if literacy also helped create a divide between “mind” and “emotion,” then literacy created “the problem of (un)forgiveness” precisely in the act of giving us the capacity to choose forgiveness. Literacy perhaps cursed and blessed us at once (as perhaps all of the most important things do).

When something in the world hurts us, we almost automatically feel pain within, as if “the world” has raced inside and come to occupy our Interior and Otherness. Causation through hurt seems to take control; we seem determined and without freedom. And yet in this act when our freedom feels to be taken away, we precisely find ourselves presented with a choice that can be an incredible testament to freedom: we can choose to fight back and push “the world” out of our Interior. How? By choosing to forgive. By choosing not to (rationally) act according to “the world” which has forced its way Inside. We do not let what is external from us define us. We do not choose to let “causation” and “(our) choice” become “practically identical.” We choose to attest to a distinction and diversity. But that requires us to choose something which seems insane (for it is “nonrational” in the right way, versus “non-forgiveness,” which is more like an absence or passivity than active choice).

If someone hurts us, isn’t it rational to cease relating with them? If someone causes us pain, why isn’t it rational to hurt them back? Because “it’s better to have friends than not?” Is it? According to who? Furthermore, to choose to forgive someone is to necessarily risk being taken advantage of and to risk being interpreted as passive. We might be enabling evil. We might be setting ourselves up for more pain in the future. How can a moral person forgive evil? Doesn’t a moral person fight evil? If we had any self-respect, wouldn’t we stand up for ourselves? Indeed, all of this would constitute rational responses to hurt, and as such could contribute to a Nash Equilibria and suboptimal result (like “The End of (True) History”). If we try to be rational in response to pain, it doesn’t seem possible for us to forgive. Is it rational to forgive? Relative to what we think might happen, but what if we can’t imagine anything good coming out of the relationship? Or that we are so hurt that we don’t care anymore? And what if we really don’t need others to get by? I mean, there are plenty of isolated people who seem fine, don’t they? It doesn’t seem to be true that forgiveness will be proven rational. Sure, perhaps if everyone fails to forgive AI takes over and “(True) History” ends, but I might be dead before then, so who cares? And even if it is somehow “rational to forgive” on a system’s level, it feels irrational to me. Indeed, it’s nonrational, which we require if we are to avoid self-effacement.

As discussed in “What Do Religion Have To Do With Game Theory” (as found in Thoughts by O.G. Rose), the “choice of forgiveness” is ultimately nonrational and a supreme space for training our agency and freedom. In fact, perhaps agency can only be developed in relation to the nonrational, for that is when we act and choose in a manner that is not given by facticity or causation. The grounds of choice can hardly be located in Determination or facticity at all; it seems derived entirely from an Inner space. Agency is a product of an Interiority which exercises influence over the external earth (which might suggest that our capacity for agency increased with literacy, considering that literacy seems to have increased our Interiority), and the very possibility of “nonrationality” in the world (versus just “occurrence”) seems to require an Interiority; hence, the more we act aligned with an Interiority, the more we attune to nonrationality, which is needed to avoided Nash Equilibria. This in mind, “the problem of (un)forgiveness” is a problem that seems to arise with Otherness and Interiority, which means it arises with possibilities of agency, freedom, and nonrationality. If literacy helped create Otherness, which in the same act helped us down a path of history toward Artificial Intelligence, then this would mean literacy helped create the Interiority which would both make being human so painful but also capable of nonrational agency by which we could choose to live with that pain as a gift, for “the possibility of pain” is indivisible from “the possibility of relationship” (beyond mere “spatial proximity”), which is also the possibility of diversity, creativity, surprise, mystery, and ultimately Childhood.

Today, faced with AI, we need to prove capable of “nonrationality” to avoid Nash Equilibria, and it is perhaps thanks to literacy (which perhaps returned us on a track of “dolphin evolution,” as explained later in Belonging Again (Part II)) that we both face the problem of AI and that we have the capacity to rise to its occasion through nonrationality. But it will not be enough to make an Absolute Choice and be done with the problem; we also have to sustain the Absolute Choice, and that is where we require forgiveness. If we don’t really know what “forgiveness” is, this sustainability will prove improbable, and at best a temporary move into Absolute History (which, once it fails, will seem as if it never occurred). But we can’t forgive those who did something wrong, can we? After all, they did something wrong. It’s a fact. Forgiveness would be a denial of reality. Who are we to act as if something didn’t happen which clearly did? Well, it would be for us to act nonrationally.⁷¹⁰ Forgiveness hurts. It is not just. If justice requires forgiveness to not be a force of terror and destruction, then justice is possible because of something “non-just” (like “wage labor” requires “shadow work”). What is “non-just” feels “unjust,” as the “nonrational” feels “irrational,” but it is a necessary piece in the puzzle to avoid Nash Equilibria. Without it, “for good reason,” we will not prove able to negate/sublate into Absolute History.

The whole reason we have to discuss forgiveness is because it is unnatural; if it was natural, the Absolute Choice would be far easier, and the threat of “The End of True History” being our self-effacement would be far less. Forgiveness is central to our problem (which perhaps suggests why religious figures like Christ focused on it), for forgiveness is what we all must prove capable of if we are to sustain humanity through the pain we cause one another. But what if people take advantage of our willingness to suffer pain while they are unwilling to suffer ours? Indeed, that is a real risk. Choose. Or avoid the choice, as AI seems to make possible. Artificial Intelligence is the possibility for the first time in history of intelligence which doesn’t have to worry about forgiveness, precisely because AI is not embodied like humans. Where there are bodies (with nerves, minds, hearts, etc.), there are Interiorities, and throughout all of history we have only ever really known of great intelligence as embodied, which is to say with the (possible) presence of Interiors. This is especially the case if intelligence increased dramatically thanks to literacy, which would suggest that our capacity for intelligence has increased alongside a greater possibility of Interior pain. This is key: never before in history has it been possible for intelligence to grow without also growing the possible Internal pain we could feel. The internet seems to have changed that (as suggested by the rise of Aspergers and parasocial issues), which is culminating in AI.⁷¹¹

Why is “trying to avoid Internal pain” so tempting though (a pain perhaps “thrown” on us by literacy)? Well, perhaps it is because pain and anger are things we can never find a reason to escape? Hurt is timeless. Human pain cannot be escaped by reason, and if reason is all we (think we) have, our only hope is to avoid pain forever — as AI seems to promise. At worst, intelligence can be free without us, and we can be great martyrs. Divine…

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Notes

⁷⁰⁶I place the emphasis on “response to a feeling” here, for though it is an act which lead to this feeling, if the act would have occurred and we felt nothing, the need for “a choice of (un)forgiveness” would not have arisen. For this choice to arise, a “feeling we would have preferred not to arise” needs to emerge, so I think the emphasis on “feeling” is appropriate.

⁷⁰⁷And if this did happen, we might better handle it if we had a God who could “transcendently command” to forgive and/or through who we could forgive because God “took on the sins of the world” or something (“the problem of forgiveness” and “the problem of justice” are incredible pronounced after “the death of God”). Now, we are hit with two problems at once, which is to say we suffer the consequences of conflating “forgive” and “forget,” and we suffer the trouble of trying to forgive and enact justice without the existence of a God (with God, we can better avoid the risk of “forgiving” as being seen as “passivity,”) though of course there are no guarantees.

⁷⁰⁸A world stuck in “forgiveness as forgetting” and “forgiveness as emotion” might be a world where most people, isolated by their pain, find “spreading pain” to be the way left for having “real relationship” again, which would mean that others are made to hurt in hopes of relationships being regained. This does not seem sustainable, but if instead people knew they could “choose unforgiveness” or “choose forgiveness,” why would they “choose to spread pain” versus choose to forgive? Would gaining knowledge of the possibility of that choice be enough? Perhaps, but also perhaps not.

First, if people associate forgiveness with feelings and memory, which are deterministic, they might not feel that “they have a choice” but to “spread their pain,” because the fact they feel pain is a reality, and to hide that pain would hence be to deny reality. Furthermore, if they express the pain, it’s not necessarily their fault: forgiveness is not something they can help. In fact, they’re being honest and vulnerable, for they are expressing something they can’t help but feel and can’t choose to get rid of. If our friends and family really cared about us, they would be able to take our pain and accept it without rejecting us, yes? So we might think (unless our idea that “forgiveness is forgetting” is false, please note), but even if that might hold for family and friends, it is unlikely to hold for general others, such as others we encounter regularly in our Pluralistic world. They might simply Drift. Perhaps they can’t help it?

⁷⁰⁹A doctrine of “forgetting as forgiving” in Christianity is particularly strange, for God forgets nothing; when God says that he will remember our sins no more (like in Hebrews 8:12), it means God will act as if our sins never occurred (God will choose not to recall them). The entire reason God’s forgiveness is so powerful is because God seemingly can’t entirely forget what we have done (a restriction God perhaps chose to impose upon Godself when God chose to create), and yet God resists the temptation to think of our sins all the same. This is a choice, and perhaps God chose in Christ to always have in mind the pain of Calvary and the suffering put upon God by sin — and yet with that always in mind, God still chooses to act relative to us “as if” we never sinned at all. God chooses to keep the pain to Godself.

⁷¹⁰Could AI do such a thing? If so, AI might be a testament to our humanity, a testament to our fellowship versus humanity’s replacement. Let us hope we might co-labor to not be bound by how reality manifests.

⁷¹¹As Gendo Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion tried to help humanity escape the pain of our different AT Fields by unifying humanity through the “Third Impact,” so something similar might be occurring with “The End of (True) History” — though perhaps not so “climatically.” Neon Genesis Evangelion seems truly prophetic, in many ways, in its understanding of how so much of technology is tied up to our effort to cope with the trauma of others.

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For more, please visit O.G. Rose.com. Also, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Instagram, Anchor, and Facebook.

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O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart. https://linktr.ee/ogrose