“Pity not the fallen! I never knew them. I console not: I hate the consoled & the consoler.” Of all of the statements in Crowley’s Liber Al vel Legis (Book of the Law), the above is one of the most controversial. It is also one that contradicts Christian morality and the modern political zeitgeist that emerged slowly from it. For both of these movements, the meek, the downtrodden, and the hurt are avatars of moral goodness.
What does it mean, not to pity the fallen? Isn’t it right, normal, and even noble to pity, to want to console, and to want to help those in distress? Don’t we deserve pity when things go wrong in our lives? Both Christianity and our modern secular morality would unreservedly and enthusiastically say yes.
In certain circumstances, empathy, sympathy, and so on may be natural. The mother feels bad when her child cries, having grazed his knee. She naturally wants to console him.
The father is usually less consoling and is often indifferent to minor bumps, bruises, and scrapes, since they will heal, and because the child will encounter bigger challenges and pain in life. And such minor hurts will ultimately help the child to prepare for the battles of life.
In their own way, perhaps both parents are trying to encourage the child to realize that they have the capability to “deal with it.”
Oddly, in adult life, displays of pity are sometimes intended to do harm to someone else. We’ve probably all heard someone say that they “feel sorry” for another person after they have argued with them, and are still feeling angry. Expressing “sorrow” for someone might be another way of saying they don’t really make the cut, that they lack the qualities we all need for life, that the person being spoken to shouldn’t be friends with the “loser” being pitied, and so on.
Today, though, it seems that many people need to be pitied, consoled, and reassured. If you watch TedX Talks, or really any talks related to social or identity “issues,” you may have noticed that “children” and “childhood” are invoked in almost every one. More specifically, the speaker will often imply that we have to do things for “the children,” even presenting themselves as a kind of overgrown child victim-type person.
We are asked to empathize with the adult that has never quite got over their childhood traumas. And, for many, the chance to pity is a chance to show moral superiority (which we falsely equate with intellectual superiority).
Whether for or against the pittied, the act of pitying can, in other words, be an underhand way of social climbing.
Those who are striving to develop themselves, and to make their mark in the world, do not want pity, even when things go wrong. To such an individual, pity only multiplies the sense of failure that he feels when disaster strikes. The pitier is saying, essentially, you were out of your depth, or that was your only shot. It is the emotion of finality and victimhood: you lost out; that’s your last chance. You won’t have any opportunity again.
But working toward something means experiencing setbacks. There is failure, then success, then failure, then success again. Or, to put it another way, there is a repeated climbing and falling.
We should recall that Crowley’s Liber Al vel Legis tells us, specifically, not to pity “the fallen.” Perhaps we can pity those that never stood up in the first place. “Fallen” might imply that we should not pity those that are climbing the mountain, or that have at least taken the first step on its rocks.
Indeed, it makes no sense to pity those who are awake to the struggles of life and that are striving, regardless. Such individuals are the heroes of myth, and of their own lives, and we expect them to suffer setbacks, loss, and injury, and, eventually, to experience glory, joy, and successes.