Personification

“Ideas that we do not know we have, have us. Psychology’s job, it seems to me, is to see the subjective, archetypal factor in our sight, before or while looking at facts and events. Other sciences have to pretend to being objective, to be describing things as they are; psychology fortunately is always bound by its psychic limitations and can be spared the pretense of objectivity. In place of the obligation to be objectively factual, it obliges to be subjectively aware, which becomes possible only if we are willing to have an exhaustive go at the assumptions in our primary notions.” James Hillman

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Hillman begins a discussion on the relationship of anima to personification by bringing in its pathological opposite, he calls depersonalization. Clinically speaking, a state in which one loses a previous normative sense of themselves in which ‘I am not I’, and perhaps not even a person at all. It is a detached feeling characterized by a loss of subjective interiority in which oneself, others, and the world around us seem unreal, distant or undifferentiated.

“We each may have experienced depersonalization and derealization in less extreme degree. I refer to those states of apathy, monotony, dryness, and weary resignation, the sense of not caring and of not believing in one’s value, that nothing is important or all is voided, outside and inside.” James Hillman

Hillman uses this pathological state as a way to understand the relationship between personification and anima. For Jung it is akin to a loss of soul understood here as anima.

“… permanent loss of the anima means… resignation, weariness, sloppiness, irresponsibility.” CW 9, i, 147

“According to Jung, it is the anima who provides the relationship between man and the world as well as between man and his interior subjectivity. She is in fact the personification of that interiority and subjectivity, the very sense of personality.” James Hillman

“Man derives his human personality…his consciousness of himself as a personality… primarily from the influence of quasi-personal archetypes.” CW 5, 388

Evariste-Vital_Luminais_-_PsychéAnima then is the ongoing source of life, the very breath of life that is generative, not only of the body, but also of what makes us human, giving us identity, personality and character, thereby shaping the way we perceive, understand and make sense of the world. The ancients understood soul as the carrier of one’s genius or daimon. This invisible otherness is an animating force connecting us to the ancestors and to the gods themselves. Personifying is then understood as the way in which we experience all relatedness. Ideas, myths, dreams, stories come through us dressed in the form of others. ‘I’ am an ongoing, living expression of soul’s relationship to all that has gone before me and all that is.

Without a recognition of personification in ourselves and the world around us, there is a loss of a mediator, the animating factor, between archetypal reality and everyday life, leaving one with both the felt experience and behavior stemming from a sense that only ‘I’ exist. All experience then becomes mine and the capacity to truly distinguish oneself from others is diminished. The depths of soul become a void, and while still felt deeply, when stripped of our capacity to truly know and differentiate the other, they are experienced only as what they mean to me, or through my reactivity towards them. For better or worse, to never see oneself as a being personified by archetypal influence, ‘I’ now takes on an identity, regardless of the source, with everything that comes through my experience.

“This loss is not merely a psychiatric condition; it is also a cosmology. We all live to a larger extent then we realize in the state of depersonalization. Hence the work with anima – including my writing and your reading – because it is at the same time a work on the moribund anima mundi, is a noble task.” James Hillman

Noble, because without bridging the gaps between oneself, others and the world around us, the world and others remain depersonified, suffering our neglect of their aliveness and reality. Speaking for myself, this condition seems a contagion, which when sensed at all, seems to be accepted as the human condition, leaving us powerless to do much of anything other than suffer the trail of destruction left in its wake. We may, and do, seek refuge in activism – whether religious, spiritual, political or otherwise. I include myself here, only my preferred form of activism is for soul and for the soul of the world.

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“A self-knowledge that rests within a cosmology which declares the mineral, vegetable and animal world beyond the human person to be impersonal and inanimate is not only inadequate. It is also delusional. No matter how well we may know ourselves, we remain walking, talking ghosts, cosmologically set apart from the other beings of our milieu.” James Hillman

Jung’s solution, which is sometimes forgotten or ignored in some modern Jungian thought, is what he called active imagination. Through active imagination, we turn our awareness to fantasy, not by indulging in the realm of their content, but by attending to everyday thought and emotion, and coming to understand the fantasy inherent within the mundane as it reaches us through everyday personifications, voicings, all of which are particular expressions of archetypal, or universal realities we are all subject to.

“The light that gradually dawns on him [modern man] consists in his understanding that his fantasy is a real psychic process which is happening to him personally…. But if you recognize your own involvement you yourself must enter into the process with your personal reactions, just as if you were one of the fantasy figures, or rather, as if the drama being enacted before your eyes were real. It is a psychic fact that this fantasy is happening, and it is as real as you – as a psychic entity – are real. If this crucial operation is not carried out, all the changes are left to the flow of images, and you yourself remain unchanged.” CW 14, 753

For Jung, the anima is an initiator into ever greater distinctions between oneself and others, for the purpose of respecting the power and influence of the archetypes, and to increasingly become a mediator between ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ realities. While like Hillman, I question the notion of any complete integration, the necessity for a practice of mediation between what is within the purview of my awareness and the unfathomable depths of what is not, continues to make all the difference in my life by enriching the felt experience of a more expansive sense of myself, others and the world.

Admittedly, every increase of sensitivity also brings with it a greater recognition of the troubles of the world. This can be painful. What seems a lesson for me of late, is to keep in mind Jung’s admonition to stay in the tension and the suffering. And as Hillman suggested, don’t fall prey to the adoption of overarching beliefs, static goals, dogmas or conclusions about the troubles of the world. We are all still writing the story, as we in turn, continue to be written by it. By their very definition, endings always destroy something, and are perhaps where fantasy finds us most unaware.

Except where noted, all quotes from James Hillman, Anima, the Anatomy of a Personified Notion. Spring publications.

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.

Why Deny the Obvious Child?

Have you ever sensed while talking among friends, family or people you work with that much of our conversation is derivative from mediated cultural sources and sounds more like we’re speaking through second-hand voices instead of directly from our own authentic voice?

But maybe you wonder as I do what our interests, our sense of ourselves and of others would be like were we able to enjoy the feel of our own authenticity? Would our experience of the world then become more immediate rather than one that is heavily mediated? …and would gaining an understanding of what authenticity looks like further the effort to more cooperative and peaceful relations?

Perhaps until we are better able to experience authenticity through our immediate senses and perceptions (is this Hillman and Corbin’s Thought of the Heart?), in which it is understood how our ideas and language affect our daily lives, especially negotiating the choices and decisions at hand, we will not gain a sense of what authenticity looks and feels like, but will forever be placing it outside of ourselves and especially at the foot of a perceived expert or anyone we allow to speak for us. Of course, this is tricky because we learn and borrow ideas and language from each other all the time. That borrowing may not necessarily take away our voice if we work to develop the honesty and skill of sensing and  perceiving our immediate surroundings.

Paradoxically, without both differentiation and unity between self and other we may never know the authenticity that follows from honesty, understanding and compassion in ourselves and for others.

The problem of authenticity and authority is for each of us a personal issue as well as a cultural one. Who do we trust? What makes an idea viable for us? What do we mean by the idea of “real” and “reality” that we often refer to? Does our use of those terms indicate who and what we have determined to be trustworthy? These are modern terms only recently coming into use to mean “authentic” and more recently coming to mean an objective actuality referring to the state of things.

Perhaps we all look for ways to authenticate and authorize our ideas and knowledge through others because we fear claiming any authenticity for ourselves. We want to be right, and need a basis to make choices, or a way to explain why we have no choice for how we live our life, but we also need to explain, or explain away, where our ideas and decisions come from. Authority abounds, whether from the state, the church or the laboratory, but in a highly mediated collective culture it less often comes directly from ourselves.

Collective sources more than ever have become our resources for knowledge. Whether it’s the popular media of television, radio, newspapers or internet, structures of our work environment, communities, church institutions, schools and governments, getting along in society means trusting in these sources to have our best interest and the common good in mind. If we question them there are often consequences, sometimes it’s just easier to ride the bus.

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Bob Dylan

Today we are saturated with information and communication as well as choices in media – ways to participate in community activities – churches, sports, travel, even diet and exercise have become part of the cultural conversation. Although having choices can be freeing, we can only eat one meal at a time. But is it possible to eat and be healthy by attending to our own diet and feel our bodily reactions? Would we dare to?

The shadow side of being overly saturated in collectivity and culture is that the more ways we have to keep from being alone (or from boredom as some say) the less it seems that we need each other or recognize authenticity. We don’t as easily trust what a friend says, when we have placed authenticity in collective structures and a select few who have been collectively chosen as the Experts.

Expertise can be authentic, but a claim that one is an expert is an over reach; a misunderstanding of the nature of ourselves for it implies that our nature is static when it is ever-changing as much as Heraclitus’ flowing river.

When I ponder the possibility of creating a culture of authenticity, the disagreements, whether about religion, politics, science, the use of technology, limited and valuable resources, I see us more and more driven by ideas, technologies, desires, and choices that we don’t have the time or the resources to understand and so we punt, leaving it all to the experts, who also punt, and so I ask myself, who are the experts leaving it to?

“Some people say a lie is just a lie
But I say the cross is in the ballpark
Why deny the obvious child?” Paul Simon

The Scientist

IMG_0221 There’s a delightful interview currently available on Book TV with Curtis White, who argues in his latest book (I have not read it yet), The Science Delusion, that in recent years there has developed a climate of deceit and misplaced authority in the professional science community whose books have become main-streamed in spite of the fact that they do not always stick to their subject; science.

Many of these popular books (The God Delusion, God is not Great) deal with cosmology. neurology and evolution and attempt to explain all sorts of things from why we feel the way we do, how our brains are running our lives (victimizing us with all sorts of pathology that only science can cure), to how our genes are using us to make more/better genes. White, a self-proclaimed atheist, complains that not only has science become needlessly entrenched in a materialist world view, but over steps its bounds with moralistic claims you would expect to hear from religious leaders or politicians.

Of course, like anyone else who dares question the gods of modern science, White has been properly admonished, shunned and disqualified for committing the unpardonable sin in the religion of modern scientism; questioning authority. It’s true that he is not a scientist which he states quite clearly but that his conclusions are drawn from a philosophical background and his love of the Romantics (the period, not the rock band).

What the mainstream scientific community has yet to admit is that their special knowledge does not qualify them to speak about language, morality, philosophy or meaning. When the approach of science boils itself down to materialism and claims to have the skinny on all of the stuff, they forfeit any license to be able to say anything at all about the rest of life. And that makes them mad, because science has fought long and hard to prove that there is nothing but stuff.

So they’re stuck with their own conclusion that there simply isn’t anything immaterial. But unaware of the cement they’ve stepped in, they can’t see with their hearts anymore (or don’t trust any sort of poetic vision). Understandably, sacrifices must be made if we are to eliminate God, the gods and all of that silly immaterial superstitious non-stuff.

I, too am terribly underqualified to even speak of such things as Science, and I am a huge fan, but I do agree that the materialist view of the world will be the death of science by their own rules. If modern science keeps insisting that all we are, are bits of accidental star dust, it’s only a matter of time before they convince the rest of us that it’s true, star dust can’t possibly know enough to figure out how we got here, let alone the why of the matter.

Like many other issues in the culture here we see the continuation of the trend towards an all or nothing framing of the topic, “if you’re not with us, you must be against us.”

“I was just guessing at numbers and figures
Pulling your puzzles apart
Questions of science; science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart” Coldplay

Amelia, It was just a false alarm…

One of the personal benefits of writing is creating a record of your ideas. Unlike the jumble of thoughts that swarm around day to day, with no place to settle, take root and deepen, a journal, or a blog serves as a container for reflection so that ideas can connect and be refined.

When I go back and reflect on some of the thoughts and ideas in this blog, I see the thread and am reminded of lifelong themes that stay with me and still call out for understanding and reconciliation. Perhaps for all of us, there are ideas that drive us or compel us, towards the people and situations we find in our closest relationships. Some themes don’t go away; repetition in relationship dynamics, in family life, business and friendships. For me there are two predominant themes in my life: identity and what I can only call the cosmological quest of understanding where, why and what we are; what I understand as the religious instinct. Nothing original here, not even the passion with which my desire for understanding permeates all that I do. There is joy and peace in what little I am able to grasp and a satisfaction that comes with each new understanding. But there’s always more…

From my earliest childhood I have come to sense that we are not just who we think we are. We are not the person showing up randomly on histories timeline, belonging to the families we bond so deeply with and love so much. Our place in time, which family we belong to, while important and emotionally setting us apart from other selves, families, cultures, in both bygone and future eras, serves us well as a mask, a container, something we find ourselves wrapped up in. That is the identity through which we first learn to know ourselves and others, but is there not more than this? Deeper inside, stripped of our historic identity, we are less confined, and if we try, we can see ourselves in a timeless way and so free ourselves from being just that person born at such and such a date to a particular family.

So what, you may ask. I think when you shed the idea of yourself as a being tethered to the place and time you were born, there lies access to a sense of self that we all share, something raw and fundamental that underlies each of us, like a blank piece of paper waiting each day for us to write on. Each day new, another chance. From that place comes compassion, for yourself, all your shortcomings and as well as those of others. Here you see the frailty we all share, the woundedness, the endless attempts to get it right, regardless of ideologies and conceptual makeup that we clothe ourselves with. Here we find a place in which we can disengage our need to be sure of our conclusions and be open to live in that place that needs no conclusions, but is eager to listen and consider.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Having experienced a lifetime of tension between the rationality of  Science with it’s orderly, mechanical, material view of the stuff of life and the confounded joy of a world of Beauty, Intelligence and Love that surely points to a God much beyond anything we can measure or make, I can’t take sides. What science and religion offer us are equally valid and equally frightening. As well, it seems that taking sides is tearing us apart into caricatures of our deepest fears offering over simplified solutions to the age old human dilemma of survival, ever tempting us to make Perfect our world which has always known tears, fears and suffering amidst the scarcity, darkness, cold and hunger. Although we can choose to strive to make our world better and more peaceful, it is unreasonable to expect a world free from tension, and human suffering. Both science and religion fail us here as they should when our expectations for life fail to mature through our experience.

Now days we take ideological sides making unfounded claims that the other side is the cause of our ills, serving only to increase the tensions between us. It also serves to keep us from doing the hard work of negotiating with our and other’s ideas about our human predicament and the specific troubles of our times. Neither religion nor science can by themselves solve our problems. Where religion may provide the impetus for fighting the next war, science easily provides the means. Where science provides technologies which feed us and make daily tasks quick and easy and bring us comfort, the more we increase our demand for that comfort the more environmental damage we cause. The overuse of scarce resources is a spiritual problem that we all face. I can no longer drive my car, or take a hot shower without knowing how incredibly amazing it is to live this unprecedented comfortable life. None of us are innocent. Nothing changes by our ideological insistence that some imagined other side is the problem.

Perhaps what must be acknowledged is our love of innocence and simplistic answers for life’s ills, no matter our personal beliefs. Then what must be seen is how our innocence, dear and precious and protective as it may be, fools us into a folly of our own making.

“A ghost of aviation
She was swallowed by the sky
Or by the sea like me she had a dream to fly
Like Icarus * ascending
On beautiful foolish arms
Amelia it was just a false alarm.” Joni Mitchell

http://youtu.be/gcTDoi9JQiY

It All Looks Fine…to the Naked Eye

The Future (apocalyptic fantasies) 
In my younger days, I assumed that humanity has and continues to change for the better. Whether from the optimism of my forward looking youthfulness in a world full of possibility, or from absorbing the current cultural voices that inspired hopefulness, the story line in the America that I grew up in was one of optimism for a future made easier, safer, and longer and better by science and technology. Much of which remains true.
Things change. I first remember being aware that all is not well with the world, and hearing that the end is in sight, during the 70’s when environmental issues or events such as the approaching planetary alignment hit the news. Doom was coming. Later in life I came to understand that just like creation stories, apocalyptic fantasies abound throughout human history and in all cultures. Even if we do not know how or when, we do know that everything, our individual lives, and the life of the cosmos has its end.
I have over the years come to understand end times primarily as archetypal, with the power to draw us into imagining the future and so better to be aware of our attraction to Endings and how much influence their ideas may have over both our thoughts and choices. Keeping this in mind we can look at all end time scenarios for the fantasies contained within them. What do they say of us – our hopes, fears and sense of meaning and purpose (or lack there of) in both our individual lives and the span of the bigger cosmos we find ourselves in?
Presently, there is a Christian, primarily post reformation, view of the end based on a literal interpretation of Revelations, a political play by play of the end of the world as we know it often referred to as the Apocalypse. All you need to do is google “the coming apocalypse” to see how much currency this idea has in our culture. Entering politics in many ways, but especially concerning itself with current events in the US and the middle east, this view centers around a belief that since Israel has come back into existence, the count down to the end game has begun. A battle between good and evil has been in play ever since Adam and Eve got evicted from the Garden, and there will be a grand finale in which all the supernatural forces will make themselves known to us and a battle to end all battles will play out before us. In the end, though this world will be destroyed, Believers will be saved and God will make a new heaven and a new earth for them.
Although the idea of Cosmic Justice is sometimes appealing in a world in which Justice does not always prevail I have never been convinced that Justice in God’s eyes is equivalent to Justice as we, with our limited vision, see and understand it. In this world where we are all vulnerable to pain and suffering, living with a frequently unavoidable ability to cause hurt to others, how likely is it that God created us just to simply destroy us at some point along the way? Why bother to create us less than perfect in the first place? Perhaps some of us really need to believe that evil will be punished in order to live with the reality of evil, but the more peace and compassion I come to feel, the less likely the thought of punishment of others seems attractive to me. Evil deeds, it seems, come from a lack of a sense of an ability to love and to choose goodness. We do evil things when we’re wounded, living in fear, and have not yet known and experienced a true and compassionate love in our lives.
We can’t lay claim to know what torment a murderer may live with, no matter how hard we try, but we might consider the possibility that their choices and actions reflect their own suffering and torment. Maybe Justice is the torment we experience when we have knowingly taken advantage and hurt someone weaker than us. But when we are wronged it can be so hard to see anything except through the lens of our weakness, pain and suffering that we’ve been reduced to at the hand of another. If only they could feel our pain, we imagine, then justice would be done. But I am not so sure what Justice really looks like or feels like. If Justice does mean that someone should suffer for hurting me, it certainly is not my job to decide what that suffering looks like. But how could I, not wanting to suffer, ever want suffering for another and not see that want as evil?
But I do think that Christian ideas are still very much with us, even for non-believers and that it’s worthwhile for them to consider just how they might be influenced by them. It may be just as dangerous to reject Christianity without understanding what it is that’s being rejected. You might reject Christianity wishing to be rid of authority and fantasy. Here God becomes the fantastical big daddy rejected perhaps out of our hope of growing up, living in reality and being responsible. And yet, childishness has permeated American culture to the point that we sometimes take pride in our childishness.
I say we have not moved beyond a need for authority, but rather have embraced new gods, such as Science, Commerce and Entertainment. Or, we have become the gods, and we are the destroyers, hence the strong belief in a coming environmental apocalypse caused by Us, as well as our love of war with our bombs and other weapons of mass destruction. And because in this modern sometimes atheistic view, God is a fantasy, we must be real, and so, save ourselves. This I think explains why political power and a belief in Central Government has for some, taken on a sense of import and urgency. Just as the literal Biblical Apocalypse has been politicized by Believers into war games in the Middle East, non-believers want Us to Save Ourselves from Us using primarily political means.
But the Christian idea of Salvation may help us to understand what Endings have always been asking of us. The root of the word salvation is related to healing, or making whole. So, perhaps we should be asking ourselves, what is it that heals us, and makes us whole and how could another’s pain aid our healing? If we have any capacity for compassion, would we not wince at another’s suffering, especially when we know well our own suffering? I do believe that healing and a sense of wholeness, or the ability to be at peace with oneself is the end game for all of us. There is no more rewarding sense than to be at peace with oneself and others along with feeling a genuine love and compassion for all of our sufferings weaknesses. Life is truly hard and we are, each of us, at the deepest level of our being truly alone left to figure it out the best we can. That is, I believe, both a blessing and a curse.
Thank you to The Who for the theme-

You hold the gun and I hold the wound,
And we stand looking in each other’s eyes,
Both think we know what’s right,
Both know we know what’s wrong,
We tell ourselves so many many many lies,
We’re not pawns in any game, we’re not tools of bigger men,
There’s only One who can really move us all,
It all looks fine to the naked eye,
But it don’t really happen that way at all.

-Pete Townsend

I’d Love to Change the World but…

Part III – Political Identity (what being politically identified does for us)

Identity, political or otherwise, continues to be an enduring theme in my life. Political identity as well as voter participation is of course optional. Many of us are though, invested in a political vision, and view the world through political lenses. We place politics high enough on our list of priorities to stay informed; read newspapers, watch news programs and perhaps even read political books. The influence of Politics in America has increasingly infiltrated many of our social structures; schools, churches, businesses, while awareness of who we are ethnically or through our life style distinctions are punctuated more than ever. Perhaps because access to the world at large has increased, and technology continues to bring more voices into the cultural conversation, political awareness and identity is on the increase.

My sense has always been that from out of the continuity of experience, from which I know that I am me and not another, there is an ever extending chain of events that through their effects on what I see, feel, sense and know, change the aggregate sense of self that carries me forward. Sometimes changes wrought from terrifying or painful events bring regret, and cannot be undone, calling for a reconciliation in order to bring some peace of mind. I found this to be true from both bad choices I have made in my life as well as from exposure to violent images and events, whether in life experiences, or in films or books.

To live with the knowledge of evil brings pain that cannot easily be reconciled with the desire for peace and goodness. For even when we are sometimes able to choose the good, we remain in a world frequented by evil and live in a world of ambiguity of moral effects. There is not always a clear path to the good, and certainly no absolute knowledge that what I do brings about the goodness intended without some unintended evil. Also, it is as if the weight of the collective evil can be in our hearts and spoil our peace. Although letting oneself get pulled down into darkness will never dispel evil from the world, we live much like Rilke shows us, with a foot in both worlds.

With that in my mind I come to view the spectrum of political identities for their vision and the fantasies they engender.

Perhaps too, it may be that politics has come to the foreground of American culture because we all sense, in varying degrees, the trouble our culture and our world is in. What seems to heighten our anxiety that something must be done to fix us may be the paradox of living in a world where an amazing amount of technology and information is instantly available to us. Why then, can we not fix our problems, right now? (Would you like to supersize your order m’am?)

Although there are many distinctions between political identities, just as technology and information are speeding up, they all share in an increasing sense of urgency for the implementation of our fantasy* of solutions offered for the problems as we imagine them to be. But, it seems, the more we do, the worse things get. Both ends of the political spectrum embrace the notion that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, although one side tends not to believe in a literal hell, so for them it is simply going to be the end of the world as we know it.

Either way, or anyway, what are political identities doing for us? Like a lot of ways in which we come to define ourselves; as a lover of sports, music or the arts, political identity can bring us a sense of belonging and shared experience which may lead us to fulfill a creative impulse and, or, give us a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. What differentiates political identity from other ways of engagement may lie in what propels the political impulse as well as in our experience of the engagement and to what ends that engagement serves.

Perhaps it is true that the larger the investment in a political identity the more investment in one’s cosmology there is. Cosmology here meaning the kind and amount of meaning an individual sees in his life and the lives of others and the order of the world as a whole, including a perceived absence of meaning and order.

That our cosmological views of the world have in the last few hundred years shifted from being theologically to scientifically based would not be hotly contested. Although there are variations to style and degree, how much we include God or the gods in our cosmological view to a large extent determines our political identity. Boiled down to their essence, there is the Scientific view in which there is either no god at all, or no god who directly or personally effects us, and therefore We, the People are it. Our capacity to govern, plan for the future, understand our world and how it works depends solely on scientific, economic and political knowledge. The power of politics and government are then placed entirely in our human hands. Laws are man made, hence subject to revision according to place and time, and have no ultimate claim to authority outside of ourselves.

At the theological end of the spectrum, all power and authority gets placed in the hands of God. Though there are variations among religions as to what God’s law is and how those laws should be practiced, what matters most for where on the spectrum of political identity one places oneself, is one’s teleological view of the world. The amount of control we believe God has over human and cosmological affairs directly correlates to how fixed we believe God’s law is and so determines how human law should be practiced and how much influence humans have to affect the ultimate outcome of humanity and the Cosmos.

Our view of teleology very nicely accounts for the difference in political views. It may not account for all differences, but will help us to account for differences not only between atheists who place their faith and trust solely in Science and personal knowledge, and theists who place theirs solely in God. Perhaps both extremes are equally dogmatic and therefore equally dangerous. We can see this more clearly by following the root of the ideas of both views outward to their display. I am not however arguing for the middle, a lukewarm place where we compromise for the sake of some imagined “agreeable” outcome. The point here is to simply consider the implications of the view at both ends of the spectrum where I believe the tension and polarity are amplified.

But if we are truly in a world where what matters is only matter, who cares for that world? If we place a higher value in the material world over and against the spiritual world, where all valuation occurs; love, beauty, desire, dreams, where will our hearts reside? And even if Scientific knowledge reveals every last detail to the millionth decimal point and discovers the means to control everything, from the weather to food production to human behavior, we will still have war, hunger, sloth, greed and death. For these are the woes of humankind which can only be attended to by what matters to the heart, and at root are spiritual concerns that a belief in God, or gods concerns itself with.

But, the religious view that requires us to take our battles abroad, outside to the world of strangers, instead of keeping the struggle home where the personal battle with our and other’s suffering is seen, felt and lived, is just as much of a dead end. A religious view that believes God calls us to battle, other than as an act of self-defense, invites us to never put down the sword while making the claim that we have direct knowledge from God to do His bidding.

Both of these extremes take us beyond the limits of human knowledge. Pure hubris! I would argue that there is no science that will make us love the world enough to take care of it and manage it. And I would argue that we cannot insert God into the timeline of history and call His shots for Him.

*By fantasy I do not mean to imply a falsehood, but rather acknowledge that image is primary to our knowing, and so, however true our ideas may turn out to be if and when materialized, they primarily enter us through images, notions and fantasy. If not for fantasy and imagination, no new idea would ever come forth to fruition. We mistakenly think of reality in opposition to fantasy, but reality  too, is first an idea and refers to what we think of as the material world. Ideas, fantasy and imagination lack material substance, but they are the primary “stuff” of our mental world and can therefore be just as true or false as material things.

Thanks to Alvin Lee and Tens Years After for the theme:
Ten Years After – I’d Love to Change the World