Love and Betrayal

For we must be clear that to live or love only where one can trust, where there is security and containment, where one cannot be hurt or let down, where what is pledged in words is forever binding, means really to be out of harm’s way and so to be out of real life. And it does not matter what is this vessel of trust–analysis, marriage, church or law, any human relationship. Yes, I would even say relationship with the divine. Even here, primal trust would not seem to be what God wants. Look at Eden, look at Job, at Moses denied entrance to the Holy land, look at the newest destruction of his “chosen people” whose complete only trust was in him.

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And ultimately, look at Christ, the son of the father, God, abandoned to his fate to die on the cross. Imagine the moment when Christ realizes his fate! Regardless of the theological implications, or our personal beliefs, betrayal, I am coming to understand, belongs to all of us, and in a most peculiar and ironic way. Betrayal, anyway, is given within the Christian foundations of the West, and can also be found in the mythologies of other cultures. It’s necessary, a given, in a world where life is defined by impermanence; death.

It would seem that the message of love, the Eros mission of Jesus, carries its final force only through the betrayal and crucifixion. For at the moment when God lets him down, Jesus becomes truly human, suffering a human tragedy, with his pierced and wounded side from which flows the water and blood, the released fountain of life, feeling, and emotion.

Much like death, without the possibility of betrayal, trust would not be necessary, nor possible. We trust because of the possibility of betrayal. Betrayal stings like nothing else, as it shakes our trust and threatens the very existence of love, if not our hearts and very lives. For in love especially, a betrayal strikes at the core of the most soft and fleshy parts of ourselves; the heart, the most necessary organ of life of both the body and soul.

If we’re fortunate enough, the pain of betrayal will lead us back home, to ourselves, and in licking our wounds we may come to find that at root, betrayal is two-fold. Along with the initial wounding from a source other than ourselves, we may discover that the vulnerability to betrayal stings so much because it is something shared across the boundaries of self and other. If I look long and deeply enough, I find that betrayal exists in me as much as it does in you. My fear of betrayal, leads me into an experience of betrayal, both mine and yours, rendering us both fallible, innocent and willing, if not guilty.

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The alienation from one’s self after betrayal is largely protective. One doesn’t want to be hurt again, and since this hurt came about through revealing just what one is, one begins not to live from that place again…

…For it was just through this trust in these fundamentals of one’s own nature that one was betrayed. So we refuse to be what we are, begin to cheat ourselves with excuses and escapes, and self betrayal becomes nothing other than Jung’s definition of neurosis uneigentlich leiden, inauthentic suffering. One no longer lives one’s own form of suffering, but through mauvaise foi, through lack of courage to be, one betrays oneself.

What’s love got to do with it, you might ask. Love is the willingness to accept life on life’s terms, including all of the vulnerability possible from the moment of birth unto death. Love is at its fullest expression just when it is most vulnerable, potentially lost through a million different ways. Perhaps it is not even the love that is lost to us, but that we are lost to love. The fear of its loss keeps love away and that in itself is the deepest self-betrayal we might know.

This is ultimately, I suppose, a religious problem, and we are rather like Judas or Peter in letting down the essential thing, the essential important demand to take on and carry one’s own suffering and be what one is no matter how it hurts.

Perhaps after an experience of betrayal has been absorbed into the bones of our flesh, the ways in which we trust lose some of the softness and idealizations. One can trust, but with the understanding that we come to it freely and without the expectation of infallibility. The risks of betrayal going wrong to the point of losing heart and soul, giving up on humanity and life itself, belong to trust as a way to contain it. The containment itself sets limits on our expectations, and also might heighten our sensitivities to a fuller spectrum of our humanity.

One cannot re-establish primal trust once one has left Eden. One now knows that promises hold only to a certain point. Life takes care of vows, fulfilling them or breaking them. And new relationships after the experience of betrayal must start from an altogether different place.

Hillman goes on to refer to love’s opposite not as hatred, but power:

Certainly a part of love is responsibility; so too is concern, involvement, identification – but perhaps a surer way of telling whether one is closer to the brute or the sage is by looking for love’s opposite: power. If betrayal is perpetuated mainly for personal advantage (to get out of a tight spot, to hurt or use, to save one’s skin, to gain pleasure, too still a desire or slake a need, to take care of Number One), then one can be sure that love had less the upper hand than did the brute, power.

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It is perhaps only through the insights of an experience of betrayal that we become more able to discern the dynamics of relationship, not only between people or situations, but within one’s self. Ultimately, betrayal needs to find a way to forgive, again, both self and other. Our humanity, and the ability to love freely, accepting the limits of the conditions that we find ourselves in, depend upon it.

Just as trust had within it the seed of betrayal, so betrayal has within it the seed of forgiveness. This would be the answer to the last of our original questions: “What place has betrayal in psychological life at all”? Neither trust nor forgiveness could be fully realized without betrayal. Betrayal is the dark side of both, giving them both meaning, making them both possible. Perhaps this tells us something about why betrayal is such a strong theme in our religions. It is perhaps the human gate to such higher religious experiences as forgiveness and reconciliation with this silent labyrinth, the creation.

It’s both difficult and astounding to fully grasp and accept that the highest powers of creation, be they God, or the forces of nature would knowingly contain such brute forces. It does sometimes feel like an affront to our desire for peace, love and harmony. Our hunger for a world in which evil and pain are eradicated misses the point of who we are in this dimension; temporary, impermanent, fallible beings dreaming, if not somehow sensing, a connection to some other world. At times, I have wondered why we so faithfully carry these images of purity, heaven, perfection, along with so much idealism, that in life, besides the obvious motive of pleasure, we seem only to experience for brief moments of time.

All quotes, James Hillman, Loose Ends, Betrayal

The Unseen I

“The unseen eye remind me of a midnight dream

You know it remind me of somebody I have never seen”

Sonny Boy Williamson

What is meant when we say, “I?” What we know of self and other may only be an immediate perception; a glance, a choice of words or clothing, a smell, or intuitions of recognition and deception – all steps on a never-quite-finished bridge from me to you.

For some, who we are is an idea so old and tiresome it’s no longer compelling or useful to ponder. The impossibility of knowing lessens the value of our imaginings. Whoever or whatever we are seems too slippery, incomprehensible or mercurial to be grasped; void of any tangible meaning worth imagining. For who is it that imagines the very self we want to comprehend? Are there then two of me? Ugh.

Yet, the life span of the body, the persona of an “I,” accumulates, weaving time and memory into a continuous sense of me. Underneath the limits of language, essentially there is something here, even if definition and identity fail to uphold an enduring portrait. With depths hidden even to oneself, others will see even less than that.

As much as we moderns may disparage the separateness that the “I” invokes, seeing the very notion as the source of strife, conflict and suffering, who among us could tolerate being unselved, without the opportunity to feel and respond uniquely as we do? What there is to know of self and other, begins with what shows up, and continues with what is revealed.

And, do we ever act completely independently of others? Are not others just as much ungraspable, mysterious extensions of our (in)ability to differentiate? Perhaps the drive to differentiate is the very thing compelling us to see anew. For who would remain an undifferentiated “I” sees neither others nor themselves. The more we are able to differentiate subtle distinctions, the more articulate our responses. From that comes an ability to see more of the whole.

The palette expands though not for quantities sake, but for quality – where beauty, love and compassion, already rooted in our being, respond as a tree to moisture and sunlight. What we learn through distinction and relationship is to appreciate the strange, the unknown which afford us access to the source of creation, that unseen I.

Like others, I am driven by both an urge to see, comprehend, understand and to reveal. But the double-edged sword of seeing and revealing will admit that through differentiating, focusing, defining, or what alchemy calls the separatio – necessary as they are, are themselves a mode of perception and never the whole story.

A time of darkness, not seeing, not even looking, can then become a place for renewal. Like the womb of our birthing, the dark periods of life can seem forbidden, empty, neither separate, nor unified, but a place of mystery of life itself, as necessary as food and shelter. Willingly or not, sometimes we find ourselves in the dark womb. Immersed in undifferentiated unity, we now belong, unquestionably protected and loved. The noun and verb as one, actor and act, lover and beloved, creator and created, heaven earthing, no “I” here to see or be seen.

It has only been with age that I begin to see “as above, so below.” As above, my life embodies the pulse of the universe as comings and goings, and like the weather, I watch and tend to them as best as I can, trusting in an unseen “I.”

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A jewel of the southern sky, NGC 3132 – Judy Schmidt

The unseen “I” immersed in the womb, sleeps and dreams itself into the next incarnation. Is there only one “I?” Perhaps that is so, and we may sense this strongly in times of convergence where the walls tumble-down, “things” smear into undifferentiated unity. No worry. Perhaps you’ve slipped back into the womb.

Time, the stream that moves us like seeds in the wind, needs us – our small life, in ways we may never fully understand, both giving illusions and taking them away, articulating the woven body of “I” into the cosmos, feeding and nurturing new life, hidden, fallow, unseen. Then perhaps what begins with desire, is fulfilled through the love of the unseen I, forever creating, destroying and renewing.

Life Against Death – Part II

A consideration of the aim and purpose of artificial intelligence (AI), provides a fitting introduction to this followup post on Norman O. Brown’s book, Life Against Death. AI seeks to build a model of human intelligence for the purpose of:

1) The thrill and power of creating, fathering and possessing a better than human machine, a substitute for flesh and blood body.

2) Putting AI to work as servants so we save time for some other purpose.

3) To reach immortality either through an AI computer programmed to replicate itself, or to perfect our flesh and blood bodies with mechanical replacement parts allowing humans to at last say goodbye to death.

File:Robot Fish (4651519523).jpgA desire to recreate intelligence that matches or surpasses our own is perhaps the climax of a long history of our struggle against death. Does not attempting to mimic our likeness in an AI machine reflect back to us a sense of ourselves as discardable matter, preferring mechanical automatons better than we but without the messiness of life; our flesh, blood, pain and guts? Does it not also seek to be rid of the heart, the center of feeling?

Near the end of the book, Norman O. Brown quotes Henry Miller:

“The cultural era is past. The new civilization, which may take centuries or a few thousand years to usher in, will not be another civilization— it will be the open stretch of realization which all the past civilizations have pointed to. The city, which was the birth-place of civilization, such as we know it to be, will exist no more. There will be nuclei of course, but they will be mobile and fluid.

The peoples of the earth will no longer be shut off from one another within states but will flow freely over the surface of the earth and intermingle. There will be no fixed constellations of human aggregates. Governments will give way to management, using the word in a broad sense . The politician will become as superannuated as the dodo bird. The machine will never be dominated, as some imagine; it will be scrapped, eventually, but not before men have understood the nature of the mystery which binds them to their creation. The worship, investigation and subjugation of the machine will give way to the lure of all that is truly occult. This problem is bound up with the larger one of power— and of possession. Man will be forced to realize that power must be kept open, fluid and free. His aim will be not to possess power but to radiate it.” Henry Miller

Brown offers us a big view of the history of consciousness through an examination of Freud’s ideas alongside those of Whitehead, Bachelard, Goethe, Blake and Boehme, Rilke and others. He delves deeply into the question of how the disconnection between mind and matter/body at the level of human consciousness has turned us against our animal nature and in so doing, pitted life against death. By sacrificing the infantile pleasure instincts for the common good, repressed instincts become sublimated; turned away from oneself in service to the group through work, art, sport and religion. But in postponing and repressing the ability to feel pleasure, the all work becomes compulsive and all pleasurable states bring guilt. We then seek to possess, to become immortal through the legacy of building and owning stuff. 

In a long chapter on anality, an important theme in both Freud and Protestant reformer Martin Luther, Brown makes the point that from primitive to modern man a split between mind and body can be associated with our discomfort of the dirt and filth of matter. Increasingly in Christianity we see the ancient split come into light:

“This paradox means that the Christian is split into two dimensions, spirit that belongs to Christ and flesh that belongs to the Devil…The whole realm of visible reality, the world and the flesh , belong to the Devil; God has retired into invisibility— Deus absconditus.”

Quoting Luther:

“It is nothing new or strange that the world should be hopeless, accursed, damned; this it had always been and would ever remain.”

The world as forever corrupt, the domain of the devil leads to an expectation of suffering, pain and misery as inevitable for the flesh, which we abandoned by retreating into spirit, a separated mental realm. This division between spirit and flesh increases our alienation to bodily pleasure and sense which in turn extends our alienation to the world of matter which we seek only for power and possession.

Although the eventual secularization of protestant beliefs in the modern world could not sustain a belief in the devil, we also fail to seek a grace or redemption of matter, still unable to break the chains of the compulsion to work and postpone pleasure to some imagined future.

“But as long as (to quote Tillich) “the Protestant principle cannot admit any identification of grace with a visible reality,” and cannot repeat with conviction the traditional Christian faith that the time will come when grace will be made visible, and that this goal is the meaning of history, it looks as if neo-orthodox theology will remain incapable of casting out demons, and therefore will be of limited service to the life instinct in its war against the death instinct. It diagnoses, but it does not cure.”

History itself can be seen as part of the problem. Through our sense of time we defer pleasure, looking to the future, saving time as we go to have more time, always necessary to those who cannot live in the present. Our inability to be present leaves us unlived, and so guilty, unredeemed, haunted, suffering from sins of both our personal and ancestral past. We do not easily live in the present, even if intellectually we know that’s all we have. We are bound by our sense of time which keeps us out of the eternal present.

Brown sees the intensification of the split and neurosis as necessary to bringing the repressed unconsciousness into consciousness. In the modern industrial era of capitalism:

“The alienated consciousness is correlative with a money economy. Its root is the compulsion to work. This compulsion to work subordinates man to things, producing at the same time confusion in the valuation of things (Verwertung) and devaluation of the human body (Entwertung).”

Capitalism may have emerged along with a more secular world, but Brown reminds us that the focus of our worship has moved from the god of church to the god of money and the power and hope in possessing things:

“The money complex is the demonic, and the demonic is God’s ape; the money complex is therefore the heir to and substitute for the religious complex, an attempt to find God in things.”

Brown concludes on a positive note by seeing that all of history has brought us to this moment in which the abolition of repression may free us from the split between mind and body into a resurrection, or a giving of life back to the body:

“The life instinct, or sexual instinct, demands activity of a kind that, in contrast to our current mode of activity, can only be called play. The life instinct also demands a union with others and with the world around us based not on anxiety and aggression but on narcissism and erotic exuberance…The death instinct is reconciled with the life instinct only in a life which is not repressed, which leaves no “unlived lines” in the human body, the death instinct then being affirmed in a body which is willing to die. And , because the body is satisfied, the death instinct no longer drives it to change itself and make history, and therefore, as Christian theology divined, its activity is in eternity.”

Finally, Brown sees in the vision of mystics, gnostics, kabbalists and alchemists, both east and west, the healing between mind and body where Freud’s polyperverse pleasure of the infant is found in the experience of the eroticsim of the entire body and the transformation of historical time into eternal time:

“But there is in the Western tradition another kind of mysticism, which can be called Dionysian or body mysticism, which stays with life, which is the body, and seeks to transform and perfect it.

In Boehme’s concept of life, the concept of play, or love-play, is as central as it is in Freud’s; and his concept of the spiritual or paradisical body of Adam before the Fall recognizes the potent demand in our unconscious both for an androgynous mode of being and for a narcissistic mode of self-expression, as well as the corruption in our current use of the oral, anal, and genital functions.

The “magical” body which the poet seeks is the “subtle” or “spiritual” or “translucent” body of occidental mysticism, and the “diamond” body of oriental mysticism , and, in psychoanalysis, the polymorphously perverse body of childhood. Thus, for example, psychoanalysis declares the fundamentally bisexual character of human nature; Boehme insists on the androgynous character of human perfection; Taoist mysticism invokes feminine passivity to counteract masculine aggressivity ; and Rilke’s poetic quest is a quest for a hermaphroditic body.”

Science too, adds to the split in its attempt to get outside of its own humanity, subdue nature and discard the pleasure and importance of the senses:

“the only historian of science who uses psychoanalysis, Gaston Bachelard, concludes that it is of the essence of the scientific spirit to be mercilessly ascetic, to eliminate human enjoyment from our relation to nature, to eliminate the human senses, and finally to eliminate the human brain.”

“To eliminate the human brain,” brings us back to the question of AI’s quest and hopefully for you who have read this far, as it does for me, explains not so much why AI is a problem but that it is not a solution.

Except where noted, All quotes taken from Brown, Norman O. (2012-04-15). Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. Wesleyan University Press. Kindle Edition.