The Desire for Satisfaction
Whitehead and the Rolling Stones
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with Mick, Keith, Ronnie, and Charlie
Satisfaction is a generic term; there are specific differences between the satisfactions of different entities, including gradations of intensities.
-- Whitehead, Process and Reality, 85.
Different people and cultures arrive at different ways of being satisfied, all of which have their beauty, and all of which have their liabilities. One culture may embody one a kind of harmony while another may embody a certain kind of intensity. There is beauty in both. But there is not a single way of being satisfied that is right for every human being. So often, the gift of a different culture is also its sin; its strength is its weakness. The joy comes in knowing and embracing the differences, without assuming that everyone is seeking the same kind of satisfaction. But strangely, sometimes, different forms of satisfaction merge and we end up getting, if not what we want, then what we need.
-- Hope Montgomery, Singer-Songwriter and Jay McDaniel, Singer-Professor
It may be that the revolt is the mere assertion by youth of its right to its proper brilliance, to that final good of immediate joy.
Vaclav Havel and the Rolling Stones
Vaclav Havel led a revolution that overturned four decades of communism in his native Czechoslovakia, languished for years in prison, wrote 19 plays, survived nearly drowning and served 14 years as president — all the while remaining one of his generation’s most nonconformist writers....He invited the Rolling Stones to the imposing Prague castle; covered the side of the castle with a large neon-red heart; hired female body guards — and drove along the castle’s endlessly long corridors in a red pedal scooter.
I mean, nobody's ever satisfied, right? And it was just a phrase that obviously, you know, was buzzing through the mind...I can't get any satisfaction is kind of, you know, sort of moaning.
The Eighth Categoreal Obligation
The Category of Subjective Intensity. The subjective aim, whereby there is an origination of conceptual feeling, is at intensity of feeling (α) in the immediate subject, and (β) in the relevant future. This double aim – at the immediate present and the relevant future – is less divided than appears on the surface. For the determination of the relevant future, and the anticipatory feeling respecting provision for its grade of intensity, are elements affecting the immediate complex of feeling. The greater part of morality hinges on the determination or relevance in the future. The relevant future consists of those elements in the anticipated future which are felt with effective intensity by the present subject by reason of the real potentiality for them to be derived from itself.
The Desire for Satisfaction
Mick Jagger is in a long lineage of transgressive, rock and roll tricksters with huge egos and an insatiable need to be noticed. Several generations have exceeded his capacities to shock; but he still keeps rolling on, along with the other members of what they self-describe as "The Greatest Rock and Roll Band on Earth." I know, it's only rock'n'roll but I like it.
Early on, Mick wasn't alone in being just a little frustrated that he couldn't get any satisfaction. We are all aiming at satisfaction all of the time. Not only humans but also the other animals and single-celled organisms. Even the puffs of energy in far away outer space seek it. Satisfaction is the aim of existence. It is a metaphysical imperative.
At least this is what Whitehead suggests in the eighth categoreal obligation in Process and Reality. He calls it the category of subjective intensity. The idea is not that a desire for satisfaction -- for intensity of feeling -- is something added onto our existence, as if existence is one thing and the desire for satisfaction another. Rather the idea is that, as soon as we come into existence, we are obliged, quite apart from any choice we make, to seek satisfaction. The act of seeking satisfaction is built into the very nature of existing. For us and for all actual entities, existing is an act of feeling influences from afar and seeking satisfaction amid our responses to them. Whitehead calls it concrescence.
Our freedom -- our capacity for decision -- lies within, not apart from, our desire for satisfaction. When we are driving in our car and a man comes on the radio, telling us more and more, about some useless information that's supposed to fire our imagination, we can turn the radio off.
Decision is the act of cutting off certain options for being satisfied and selecting others. Sometimes we make decisions that conform to what others expect of us and sometimes we revolt. Sometimes we preserve systems of order that yield good and sometimes we transgress them, if only to claim the good of immediate joy. In human life there is a need to conform and a need to rebel.
Vaclav Havel understood the need to rebel. That's part of what he heard in the Rolling Stones when he invited them to play in Czechoslakia after the fall of communism. He knew that the Stones were rambunctiously transgressive, and he knew this is exactly what communism disallowed. There are many different kinds of satisfaction, some constructive and some deconstructive. Every time has its season. What is clear is that we are all seeking satisfaction, one way or another. Not always the same kind, but some kind. Cultures do it, too, and so do religions. Religion is a form of satisfaction-seeking.
Where does this metaphysical imperative come from? Did God create it? Well, maybe, but the truth is, even God seeks satisfaction. God is a boundless Love in whose life the world unfolds, and a desire for satisfaction is built into God's life, too. In God's mind there is an awareness of all the potentials that can be actualized in the universe and a hunger that some of them be actualized. This is what Whitehead calls the primordial nature of God. As some of these potentialities are actualized by various entities in the universe, God feels the feelings of the entities themselves. In feeling the feelings the satisfaction is intensified, or frustrated, by what is felt. This is why the biblical traditions imagine God as pleased or displeased by what happens in the world. For God as for humans and other entities, existence is not a blank tablet or a lifeless state of affairs. It is satisfaction seeking. Sometimes, when we are cruel to each other and to other living beings, God can't get any satisfaction, either.
So what is this satisfaction that we seek? It is an intensity of feeling in the present and the relevant future. We want satisfaction today and tomorrow, for ourselves and, if we are animated by moral concerns, for others, too. The problem in life is that, so often, we can't find the satisfaction we seek. We feel frustrated. Sometimes it seems that we can't get any satisfaction at all. We try and try and try, but it just doesn't come.
The funny thing is: It can be satisfying to say that we can't get any satisfaction. We can't always get what we want, but we if we try sometimes, we can get what we need, and what we need is to express the idea that we are not getting what we want. There is a whole genre in the biblical traditions expressing this weird kind of comfort. It is called Lamentations. Keith Richards calls it Moaning
In seeking satisfaction we don't just seek intensity. We seek harmonious intensity. Feelings that are harmoniously intense carry with them a sense of being with others in sheltering ways. We are comforted and they are comforted, too. It can begin with what Whitehead calls physical purposes, which includes the desire for sexual intimacy. We want to hold and be held, especially in the face of storms. It sounds tender and gentle, but there can also be immense intensity in the build-up to being held.
Human beings have four fundamental biological needs: the need to sleep, to eat, to drink, and to reproduce. The Rolling Stones may have had a thing about the last two. Their primary interest has been in what Whitehead calls physical purposes. These purposes are "more primitive than any intellectual feelings," but they are not less intense (Process and Reality, 272). Moreover, these purposes are the very reason why there is so much "vibration and rhythm" in the physical world (Process and Reality, 277). Even the molecules like to dance.
Still there's a problem. As soon as a moment of satisfaction is enjoyed, the immediacy perishes and the moment becomes part of the past. No satisfaction is final or complete. No satisfaction is everlasting. Is this the deeper meaning of Satisfaction by the Stones? Are they trying to tell us that, deep down, life is a perpetual yearning for something never fully realized? Is it all about the moaning. If we can't always get what we want, what do we really need?
I don't think the Stones ever quite give us this answer. They are way too busy being the greatest rock and roll band on earth. Nor, at their age, do they want to pretend that they can give an answer. They are Socratic; they know that they don't know. But something tells me that, as they age, they may know that what we need is not just to have a good time. The concerts are satisfying in their intensity, but where's the harmony? There was another group in the early times that sang a lot about love. I can't remember the name but I remember that one song went something like Love, Love, Love, Love is all you Need.
I have to admit that, for Whitehead and for so many others in the process tradition, the love theme seems a little more satisfying, in a lasting way, than the raucous. It involves harmonizing our own desires for satisfaction with the desires of others, such that we can be satisfied in widening horizons of empathy. We Whiteheadians have a thing for love.
How wide can the love go? How much range? Can we have sympathy even for the devil? Well, yes! Not for what he does but for the fact that even he seeks satisfaction, albeit in terribly violent ways. There is a tradition in Orthodox Christianity whereby we are encouraged to pray even for this fallen angel, that we might grow together into intensity of feeling where the desires of one are not sacrificed for the desires of another. At the very least we can pray for the devil's redemption.
Is there some mysterious place, some horizon of existence, which is so outrageously intense that it seeks further novelty all the time, without sacrificing any harmony at all? Is there a place where the rhythms are so deep and wide and they go on and on forever? Could it be that, when we stake our claim to momentary joy, we are seeking this place? The mystics say that this place is more than we can ever imagine but closer to us than our breathing or our dancing. Maybe this is the satisfaction we seek and need and even find, once the concert is over. Maybe the satisfaction we seek is seeking us, too.
-- Jay McDaniel
NPR Interviews with the Rolling Stones