It is no secret that I find cowardice repulsive and it can manifest in many ways; bystanders who watch others being abused and do nothing, liars who deceitfully apologise or simply excuse their bad behaviour by pretending there is some justification for it. They see existence as merely convincing people of what they are rather than being what they really are, a power-struggle where some cry to maintain their convincing role, others becoming fiercely angry to coerce all in an attempt to persuade others to believe what they want them to believe.
Søren Kierkegaard believes the root cause of cowardice is the fear that one must make decisions. Our ‘soul‘ or that singularity or individuality within us is free, autonomous and thus contradicts our instinctive inclinations to obey and follow, as said in (2) Timothy 1:7 ~
God does not give us the spirit of cowardice, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
He wrote that truth is subjectivity and subjectivity is truth, clarifying how the subject of cowardice is often hidden from dialogue in much the same we hide it within ourselves. What makes us human beyond a mere physical animal is our capacity to reason and for consciousness, however logic and being capable of understanding objective facts is simply one layer of truth and a more crucial part of our abilities is our personal relationship with objective reality.
Holocaust deniers explain how – despite objective facts – they can blatantly believe in a non-existent reality. Cowardice is cunning and it is intentionally hidden away from consciousness since its moral baseness is abhorrent, which is why such people work hard trying to convince others and why they surround themselves with people who can be convinced.
In The Crowd Is Untruth by Kierkegaard, he dedicated the letter to That Single Individual that may characterise a conversation he is having with himself, that private self that is singular and possesses the real truth uncorrupted by the “crowd” or society and our circle of associates.
“…it is given over, as it were, blindfolded, but therefore undisturbed by any consideration, in sincerity. Who you are, I know not; where you are, I know not; what is your name, I know not. Yet you are my hope, my joy, my pride, my unknown honour.”
This individual is our private self that is authentic and real, but elusive like a repository of water hidden beneath the dry, cracked earth during a drought. The individual or ‘soul’ is difficult to fully grasp as it is hidden beneath consciousness and in its place forms a collective individual that follows rather than decides. Cowardice is thus the antithesis of decision and our soul, the very barrier to reaching our own individuality.
Kierkegaard is thus having a conversation with his ‘soul’ and the attempt to draw himself closer to this singular, subjective agency. He sees the attempt itself – that evokes feelings of pride and joy – to be the only worthy purpose.
“There is a view of life which holds that where the crowd is, the truth is also, that it is a need in truth itself, that it must have the crowd on its side.”
What Kierkegaard speaks of here are the socially constructed ethical “truths” that design our moral realities and that our acceptance of the authority of the crowd detaches us from any authentic conception of moral agency. We become alienated from our soul and thus can never be authentically moral, just superficially.
Meaning cannot be derived by religious or social authorities and routine, but rather by a personal relationship with God. We need to decide and not follow. The interpretation of stories and parables in the Bible cannot be explained by authorities in the Church since any authenticity in our moral values must be something achieved independently, by that singular individual interpreting moral messages on their own.
The determined landscape and socially constructed realities does contain a network that is positive and productive, in fact, what we know of language and knowledge all begins here, but we reach a cognitive stage that enables us to transcend determinism or that need to obey, achieved when we begin to be cautious of the “crowd” and fearlessly endeavour to ascertain our own moral authenticity and agency.
“It is the crowd which has power, influence, reputation, and domination – this is the distinction of life from life, which tyrannically overlooks the single individual as the weak and powerless one, in a temporal-worldly way overlooks the eternal truth: the single individual.”