Amities, Enmities, and Harmonies (11/09)

But that from which things arise also gives rise to their passing away, according to what is necessary; for things render justice and pay penalty to one another for their injustice, according to the ordinance of time.  (Anaximander fragment; Heidegger’s translation)

With a little imagination each and every one of the objects, persons, and conditions towards which we are disposed to look with favor and approval can be seen and felt—in reverse—as limiting, ensnaring, or blinding in their influence over us.  From a sufficient (psychological) distance, these pluses and minuses can be seen to meld into one another.  They are, in effect, joined at the hip like Siamese twins: the bland, high-salary, cushy job that is slowly suffocating our soul; the handsome, well-respected husband for whom we feel the tenderest love and admiration—but nary a millivolt of animal passion; the intellectual discussions about the current political situation that are as exhilarating (while they are in full heat) as they are disheartening in the dire and gloomy prospects they portend.  Might not everything to which we can be related, whether in amity or enmity, ultimately be susceptible to these ambivalent readings?  Not, of course, from a shortsighted or close-up perspective, but from a long view—from a suitably honest and disinterested distance, as it were.  Wouldn’t this philosophical altitude over the persons, objects, and conditions (in which we are ordinarily enmeshed) help to reveal to us the dual character of all these phenomena insofar as they affect and influence us?  Are we not being subtly nudged to suspect that a state of fertile neutrality is experienced in the centerpoint—as opposed to either a decided amity or a fixed enmity, like or dislike, ‘for’ or ‘against’?  Wouldn’t a state of serene detachment (from all pros and cons) actually help to ease our entry into the centerpoint?  But sudden leaps with our gecko feet from stubborn amities or enmities directly into the delicately balanced state of harmonization are not likely to hold, if experience has taught me anything.  First, we must endure the purgatory of agonizing and leaky ambivalence—hung on the cross, so to speak, between yes and no, for and against, desire and aversion, amity and enmity.

But, how to overcome our thralldom to our various ‘pros’ and ‘cons’?  Nietzsche may very well have been on the right track when he wrote: ‘We must learn not only to love our enemies.  We must also learn to hate our friends.’  Why might a person be induced to dissolve his attachments—both positive and negative—to transcend this duality, to climb down from his ambivalent cross?  Mightn’t such motivation crawl out from under a gradually developing weariness—a weariness and boredom with drama itself?  Let there be no mistake: it is drama that is naturally and inevitably born from the conflict of opposites that dualism generates.  But to renounce or transcend drama is to renounce ordinary human experience itself, is it not?  Or experience as it has hitherto been understood—or partially understood—by us?

Perhaps over the course of time we have come to learn that our partial understanding of life has remained incomplete largely because our attention has been confined to the events occurring ‘on life’s battlefield.’ As with Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita, our conscious and unconscious inclinations impel us to favor one army or team on that field.  Our tacit assumptions and inclinations have impelled us to look for someone or something to identify with.  This is the natural bent of all implicit assumptions, is it not—to seek out corroborating evidence for themselves on the battlefield of life experience?

It is only after we have succeeded in making our assumptions baldly evident to ourselves that we can begin to assess and question them.  Until then, it’s a mighty murky business.  Only after we have made them objectively conscious—these tacit assumptions and inclinations that both propel and steer our allegiances and our antagonisms, our amities and our enmities—only then can we begin to challenge and undermine their power over us, over what we think and what we do.  But, it will be argued, our tacit inclinations are the very motors that push us into and through the drama of life experience.  Is it truly in our interest to tamper with these engines or should we, more sensibly, rest content with the driving force they provide and stop probing too deeply into our own innards?  In bringing them to consciousness and then ‘seeing through’ them, do we not run the risk of weakening—and even breaking—the spellbinding power they exert over us?  And if, in the process of tampering with the delicate circuitry of these enthralling, motive-generating assumptions and beliefs, we clumsily produce a short circuit or blow a fuse, what then?  Is it possible that we may cripple our very will to be—and to act—in the world?  Didn’t Hamlet only make a bad situation a whole lot more tormenting by asking too many questions—when he would have been far better off just doing as he was told (by the ghost) and dispatching his villainous uncle?

But isn’t this neutrality precisely what some of us have been nosing towards, all along?  Still, it must be asked: What on earth motivated us to ‘see through’ and effectively discredit many of our former motivations?  Was it a vision—or rather, an experience—of something finer, subtler, freer, and perhaps as close to the divine as we mere mortals are ever likely to approach?  Are we gullible fools for buying into a myth of transcendence?   Or, does every little baby step along the path of transcendence strengthen our belief that we are far likelier to be deluded on the dramatic battlefield where neither side ever finally wins in the eternal volley?

What is the nature and cause of this delusion?  To be unconsciously identified with one side of a pair of opposites is, in effect, to serve that side against the other.  This amounts to an unreflective conscription into a ceaseless war between two sides of a whole that is being torn asunder, psychologically, by the continual strife of the half-blind armies.  Our unconscious identification with and servitude to one side (or the other) makes a continuing contribution—either great or small—to the strife that is the ‘father of all.’ (Heraclitus)  This strife, as it turns out, may very well be the kindling that produces conscious illumination, just as two sticks being violently rubbed together produces fire and light.

There is always a hidden, underlying unity, whether it is consciously acknowledged or not—the unity of the whole that comprehends and bridges the gap between the split and warring pairs of opposites.  This unity is buried beneath the surface where the opposites diverge into apparently antithetical camps.  This unity of the hidden whole must be distinguished from the integral and self-consistent, rational concept.  The former unity is shared by the depths of physis and psyche.  The latter type is comparatively superficial and consists, at bottom, in a discrete mental representation or a cluster of such abstractions.  It is at this level of partial or incomplete mental representations that the strife between the opposing ‘sides’ occurs.  It is this strife that kindles the light of consciousness—for discriminating consciousness is, by its very nature, consciousness of differences.  At the other extreme—where the actual, hidden unity is experienced (gnosis)—there is blissful, if fleeting, consciousness of the larger whole, integrated and seamless.  The initial stage of kindling consciousness of differences through strife may be labeled ‘polemical,’ while the latter stage of transcending the opposites by divining the hidden unity may be labeled ‘mystical,’ since it is not intellectual or analytical, but intuitive and synthetic.  Nietzsche contrasted with Lao Tzu.  There is an intermediate stage ‘situated’ between the polemical and mystical stages.  It is neither contentiously warlike nor blissfully at peace—but hung on a cross, as it were, between the warring, yet-to-be-wedded pairs of opposites.  It is allied with no sides, teams, or poles—but torn from all its former amities and enmities by the equivalent pull exerted from both ends at once.  This stage—of being suspended—I have labeled ‘ambivalent.’ It is a psychic state of high tension and it has received outstanding artistic expression in the tragedies of Shakespeare, the symphonic works of Beethoven, and the psychological writings of Carl Jung.


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