Monday, June 21, 2010

Moderation in all things except love

The relationships between and among opposites have always interested me. I've been interested in I and Thou, subject and object, body and spirit, good and evil, light and darkness, the apophatic way and the cataphatic way. I've also always had a problem with the oppositional nature of these dualities. I've never come up with a good way to describe my problem with this binary, 1 versus 0, on and off, etc. They don't [always] have to be charged + and -. Instead they can [sometimes] coexist.

Many systems like to add a third component to keep things in balance. Christianity venerates the Trinity and its mysteries; Robert Pirsig adds something he calls "Quality" to the mix. Sometimes this is helpful and sometimes it is not. There are things that are good and some that are evil. In such cases a value judgment is useful and good.

A couple of days ago I was reading Jensen and he gave me another lens through which to see this issue. I'll quote him at length. In my notes about this passage I wrote "dichotomies as disconnectons, differences as versus."

"It's all about disconnection. This culture is based on disconnection. Man (strong) versus woman (weak), man (good) versus nature (flawed), thought (honest) versus emotion (misleading), spirit (pure) versus flesh (polluted), love (good) versus hate (bad), serenity (good) versus anger (bad), nonattachment (good) versus attachment (bad), nonviolence (righteous) versus violence (evil) and so on ad nauseum. So often I've heard pacifists and others say we need to get rid of all dualism, that by speaking of those who are killing the planet as my enemy I am perpetuating the same dualisms that got us here. But striving to eradicate dualism is perpetuating the same dualsim! This time it's nondualism (good) versus dualism (bad). It's all nonsense. The problem isn't that there are pairs of opposites. Opposites exist. Nor is the problem that there are values assigned to these opposites. We can--and I certainly woud--argue against the values chosen by this culture for each of these poles, but the truth is that the different poles do have different values. And that leads to the real problem, which is the word versus. Yes, men and women are different. But they are not in opposition; instead they work together" (533). He goes on to say explicitly that almost all of the opposites are different but that they work together.

Spirit is good, but (I believe) we have flesh for a reason. As I've said before, Gnosticism used to appeal to me, almost, but implies that our bodies are prisons instead of being gifts and tools we use together with our spirits. Many of us know the picture of Jesus as serene and pure and good, but what about when Jesus got angry and even violent and overturned the tables in the Temple? Anger can be good when it is anger at the right things, when it can be directed toward something that needs to be done.

"What happens if you reconnect?" Jensen asks. "What happens if you make choises as to when you should think, and when you should feel? What happens if your thoughts and feelings mere and diverge and flow in and out of each other, with each one taking the fore when appropriate (and sometimes when inappropriate, since perfection does not exist in the real world, and emotions and thoughts each sometimes make mistakes: That's life) and with them working sometimes together and sometimes in opposition?" (533-534). He continues for the next page.

I'm not so sure I buy into the premise that hate is ever good. I think I'm more sold on Jensen's idea that Love does not always equal Pacifism (though I'm still pretty pacifistic myself). Sometimes when we love we have to get our hands dirty. I'm not about going and hurting people, but I am about making sure that when you (or me, really) are faced with tough choices that you do what is Right and not what is best for you and your moral purity - for its own sake. I still don't want to force anybody to do anything. I don't want to infringe on someone's free will. But reactionary force is just. Mamas lash out when their babies are being threatened. By extension, we can and should lash out when that which sustain us is being threatened? It's not as simple as black and white. That's why we've been given sacred texts, consciencess, minds of our own, and a community of very different individuals with their own perspectives. More preaching: let's build communities. Of necessity. Of respect. Of love.

[Note: I came up with the title for this blog post after I wrote the whole thing. I wasn't sure how I got from Dualism to Communities of Love, so I had to go back and think. And I was reminded of the phrase that has been one of my mantras for about ten years now. There you have it. Just make sure you pay attention to what love really means.]

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