On Morality and Psychology (12/15)

A subject of abiding interest is that of the fluidic, spectral nature of psyche.  One of the most disturbing as well as liberating implications of the fluidic, spectral nature of psyche is that all dogmatic or unequivocal stances (assumed by the ego) are unavoidably biased, relative, partial, and therefore psychologically problematic.  Moreover, all such unwavering postures inevitably provoke a compensation from their opposing or complementary stances.  This confrontation with the opposite pole of our firm stance can ‘take place’ outside or inside of us.  The confrontation may be welcome and lead to harmony or reconciliation of the two halves—or it may be dreaded and result in the shattering of the stance (and possibly the ego that is unconsciously merged with it).  If the confrontation with the opposite of one’s established ego-stance turns out to be harmonious and healing, it is probably because that opposite was embraced with compassionate love and understanding. “Love thy (perceived) enemy!”  If the confrontation turns out to be violent and shattering, it is probably because the ‘opposite’ was reacted to with intense fear and psychological ignorance.

Here, incidentally, is where moral convictions and psychological insight are most clearly at loggerheads.  Moral strength, conventionally understood, has little that is equivocal or ambivalent about it.  Such fluidity is considered to be ‘wishy-washy,’ flimsy, or wobbly.  Firmness of will and a refusal to abandon one’s morally upright position are exemplary from the conventional standpoint—which is almost invariably reducible to a psychologically simplistic contest between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ virtue and vice, purity and corruption, light and darkness.

From the subtler (and contrastingly ‘problematic’ or ‘complicated’) psychological perspective, all these moral opposites are interrelated, interdependent elements of an essentially seamless, unbounded whole—what Jung called ‘the totality of the Self.’  The underlying integrity or coherence of this whole is, for the most part, unconscious where the dogmatic moralist is concerned—and by a kind of inevitability, given the blinders he wears.  But one needn’t be a person of unflinching moral convictions to be unconscious of the underlying unity and interdependence of opposites that, together, constitute the polaristic psyche.  Plenty of flaccid nihilists, hard-boiled cynics, and untethered relativists can be every bit as unconscious of the hidden harmony of the opposites as these ‘peerless paragons of moral virtue.’  The jury is still out as to whether moral heroes or moral zeros create more actual mischief in the world. Neither hyperactive moral fanaticism nor slugged-out lassitude has a whole lot to recommend them, in the end.

Once the genuine ‘psychologist’ has been thoroughly initiated into this ‘mystery’ (of the hidden correlativity and underlying continuity of the pairs of opposites, the conventional, dualistic moral perspective is interpreted in a radically new way.  The limited, limiting, and illusory assumptions upon which moral schemes—of any sort—are founded become plainly visible, objectified, and are ‘seen through.’  Once this Rubicon has been crossed, the newly-hatched ‘initiate’ no longer perceives most moral (or ‘immoral,’ for that matter) phenomena or actions in quite the same way as he did before.

After being ‘re-valued,’ it is not that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ signify nothing—or nothing of any importance or value.  But they now signify something quite different from what they signified before.  This radical reinterpretation is made possible only by the transcendence of the former, dualistic-agonistic scheme where—as in ancient Zoroastrianism—Good and Evil, elevated to the status of cosmic principles, are forever at war with each other, or at least until one side wins out.  What must be transcended is metaphysical dualism.  Duality, of course, is the precondition—the sine qua non—for conflict, separation, and oppositionalism.  There are no heroes or villains in Advaita, or ‘non-duality,’ because all such characterizations are relative—to their opposites, or inverted images—and therefore illusory from the standpoint of transcendent unity.  But—and here mere words and concepts become hollow, lame, and anemic—it is absurd to speak of a standpoint in connection with the transcendent unity, precisely because, as the totality, it contains and digests all possible standpoints.

Unfortunately, the kind of consciousness that is being crudely sketched here is practically inconceivable to the person of overpowering moral convictions.  And by this I do not exclusively refer to morally upright persons.  I mean anyone for whom it has become impossible—if only for a moment, and speculatively—to perceive themselves, the world, and other persons completely stripped and shorn of any moral agenda, judgment, or criteria.  To liberate one’s consciousness from the blinding and enfolding grip of morality (of one sort or another, where some general, authoritative conceptions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are implicitly believed to be real and binding) is a necessary step which must be taken before the hidden unity or primal brotherhood of ‘God and the devil’ can be glimpsed—and withstood.  Moreover, for those who cannot or will not see this creative-destructive unity of the opposites—‘good’ and ‘evil,’ ‘noble’ and ‘base,’ ‘truth’ and ‘lies’ (or fictions)—it is almost never a lack of intelligence that stands in their way.  Rather, it is owing to the fact that they are simply too personally invested in their ‘role’ as upright hero or (equally self-invested) ‘lowdown’ villain in the giant, ongoing ‘morality play’ that 99.9 per cent of human life, now as ever, would appear to consist in.  In the short chapter from Zarathustra entitled ‘On the Thousand and One Goals,’ Nietzsche suggests that morality has always been the ‘motor’ that propels and orients ‘civilized’ human activity.

Thus, the initiate who has achieved and sanctioned his own ‘honorable discharge’ from this never-ending story—this fight to the death between good and evil—is not thereby magically exempted from having to ‘play along’ with those who are still thoroughly conscripted—and invested—in the tragicomedy.  Nevertheless, ‘keeping up appearances’ for simplicity’s sake doesn’t diminish in the least the ironical stance from which he regards the human drama.  This ironical distance is certainly not snobbery or arrogant conceit.  Au contraire.  Rather, it is the fruit of a long process of di-vestment from the cherished concerns and personal prerogatives of the self-righteous ego.

Paradoxically, the genuine psychologist who has attained mental liberation from (the largely artificial-conventional tyranny of) morality is perhaps the one person best suited to exemplify both the cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice) and the three heavenly graces (faith, hope, and charity).  The reason for this lies precisely in his having most completely seen through and moved beyond the tainting and prejudicing personal motivations for action.  His impersonality does not derive from cold-heartedness or indifference to the sufferings and needs of others, but from a sober realism about the inherent fragility and evanescence of all things human.  This purgation of everything frivolous and superfluous from his austere, clear-eyed soul leaves him serenely indifferent towards those frivolous but time-and-soul-devouring distractions that enthrall the multitude.  In fact, the purifying process that the initiate undergoes actually deepens his compassion for those who, being unready to confront the truth, restlessly resort to all manner of diversions in order to drown it out.  Nevertheless, this sensitive awareness of others’ actual capacity for confronting and digesting the existential truths guides the initiate in his peculiar field of service to humanity.  His most fruitful ties will naturally be forged with those, always few in number, whose similar experiences and concerns enable them to hear and understand what he has to offer them.  For those who do not, there are different teachers to respond to their markedly different needs and longings.  The initiate sees the folly and futility of attempting to teach unwelcome truths to the unfit and the unready.  Such misdirection of his knowledge and energy is as harmful as it is wasteful.

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