As I said previously, I had been thinking that there was so much to explain before I would get to delve into what I wanted to. I was going around in circles, wondering how I got into each of these subjects, and how to start explicating them; perception, consciousness, psychology, religion, culture, history, perception again. All of these things are inextricably interconnected with one another, but where I’ve decided to begin is here:
When I learned about history growing up, I used to think about how stupid people once were to make such grave mistakes, to allow certain things to happen, to kill and die in such ways. After years of studying, I have come to realize that we are not any wiser now than we were before. What I’ve learned from history is that nobody ever learns from history. But maybe I can give you something to think about. Just as in our past, today there are misconceptions underlying a lot of our thinking. The behaviour that we were brought up to believe is acceptable isn’t necessarily sane, rational, or what’s best for us. Once an ideology is accepted, new observations are seen through the lens of that ideology – everything becomes perceived in its imagery and articulated in its vocabulary. None of these new observations can undermine the belief system, and new “facts” generated by the ideology constantly lend further support to it¹. For those believers, the world becomes shaped by the ideology and their perception of it. Thus, in both the past and present, it is through certain ideologies that we humans have vehemently suppressed the truth and oppressed those who seek it – in the name of another “truth.” Part of the problem lies within thinking that the truth is something that we can cling to, as if it were some unique material object; as though it were something that you could obtain and then hold onto forever. We are all (and have always been) products of our time; different periods of time come with their own dominant modes of thinking, their own vices, virtues, and unique cultural atmosphere. The problem is that the misconceptions in our current time period are harder to spot, because being involved in the cultural atmosphere can be blinding, deafening, and numbing. The phrase “hindsight is 20/20” also comes to mind. Looking back is much different than being there. It is therefore easier if I start with an example from the past.
Let’s begin by briefly looking at the life of Galileo Galilei. Galileo was a mathematician that also made inventions and discoveries in physics and astronomy. He created a telescope that could see farther than anything people could get their hands on at the time and with it, as well as with his expertise, he discovered ironclad evidence that the Earth revolved around the Sun (as Copernicus had previously theorized). This had big implications for the knowledge and beliefs of people at the time. Everyone believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and that the Sun revolved around it. As far as they were concerned, the Bible proved it in Genesis, chapter 1, verses 17-18, which said unequivocally of the Sun, Moon and stars that: “God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth. And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness”². There was not a single word about the Earth revolving around the Sun to make day and night. Galileo was mindful of the Church and the consequences of going against it, at least for a while. The discovery didn’t come back to haunt him until he was an old sickly man. At this point, he was taken in by the Inquisition and, as with all cases of heresy, his only lifeline was to abjure. Anyone who refused to do so when accused of heresy would be confirming their heresy and the only solution left was burning at the stake. In order to be given the opportunity to save oneself by rescinding, the court had to be satisfied that the defendant wished to make good his errors with all his body and soul². Torture was often used for this purpose. The only reason Galileo was not subjected to the regular cruelties of the Inquisition was because of the people he knew and the fact that he was old and ill. After he renounced his findings, he was confined to house arrest, and his book (as well as others on the same topic) was banned. The Inquisition stopped Galileo from spreading his ideas for ever. The world stood steadfast in its belief that the Earth stood still and the Sun moved around it.
Galileo was lucky in his exchange with the Inquisition. Others were not so fortunate. You see, the theologians of the Church in those days were accorded the same respect that we now accord scientists, professors, and doctors. We think that they are the real authorities; they’ve learned, they’ve experimented, they have knowledge; they’re the wisest people in our society! A few hundred years ago, so were the theologians, and they had the same sense of responsibility toward the community as our great scientists and physicians have today³. For them, the perceived problem of the time was heresy, which would damn you to hell forever and ever, all eternity, where the most unimaginable horrors would torture you without end. On top of that, it was like a contagious disease; if someone were to come down with heresy, it would soon spread to others. And so, they had to act quickly and decisively in order for this disease not to spread. Thus, the humanitarian and merciful church fathers got together to decide how to stop this. They knew there was an eternal life beyond the grave, and so perhaps, just like a cancer before it spreads and destroys the whole body, it might have to be cut out (or even burnt out). The pain on the part of the patients would be a small price to pay for having gotten rid of it. The body was thought of as only a temporary vessel for the soul, which lasted forever. If you could save the soul, what happened to the body didn’t matter. So they decided that they had to torture these people, because they might, in the middle of this extreme experience, recant. And if they didn’t recant, then they should be burned at the stake, because there’s a chance that in the agony of burning, they will finally ask God for forgiveness and everything will be alright³. They will thus be saved.
Now realize that the intentions of the perfectly responsible inquisitors was to be merciful, as they were acting on the best knowledge they had in their day³. The ostensible aim of the Inquisition was to protect society from harm, and while it flourished, it didn’t offend the sensibilities of most people¹. Don’t you see how this could happen at any time? What happened to Galileo can happen at any time. The inquisition can happen at any time. Genocide can happen at any time. These are things we humans are capable of. Each of us. These problems are an occurrence in human behaviour. It just takes the right parameters: a certain attitude, thought process and environment.
To help illuminate this next point, I wish to share with you a quote from C. G. Jung:
…if the doctor wishes to help a human being, he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is. Perhaps this sounds very simple, but simple things are always the most difficult. In actual life, it requires the greatest art to be simple. And so, acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem, and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life. That I feed the beggar – that I forgive an insult – that I love my enemy in the name of Christ – all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all – the poorest of all beggars – the most impudent of all offenders – yea the very fiend himself – that these are within me? And that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness. That I myself am the enemy that must be loved. What then?
Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed. There is then no more talk of love and long suffering. We say to the brother within us: Raca, and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world. We deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves. And had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed.
The problem is that there is this dark side within all of us, and within the current dominant culture, nobody is willing to accept it. With our attitudes and the ways we’ve been thinking, we have this need to separate the Self (viewed as good) from the Other (viewed as evil), but what we don’t realize is that they are actually the same thing; and they are within us all. We have become divided against ourselves – in an inner conflict paralleling the conception of a cosmic conflict between an absolute good and an absolute evil³. We think we can be all positive with no negative. We deny and reject what we believe is the evil part of ourselves, and then project it onto others. And then someone arises who says, “aha! Look! I have found the bad, the evil. It is over there, in them!” and they point to a scapegoat. Then everyone, trying to rid themselves of evil, works to destroy the scapegoat without realizing their folly. And afterwards, we look back on those people as the ones having done evil the entire time. But no one learns anything.
We cannot fight this other side of ourselves. Pitting yourself against yourself creates an irresolvable problem. Attempting to remove the negative from the positive is an insoluble task. There cannot ever be only positive. How do you know positive without knowing negative? Or negative without positive? Good without evil? They are both a part of the same thing, like the two poles of a magnet. Even if you cut a magnet in half, it still has both poles. In the same way, we cannot remove the side of us responsible for what we consider evil. We have this mindset where we feel that having a war against something is a way to solve a problem. It is completely erroneous thinking, but through our culture, this is the way it’s come to be. The war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on Christmas, the war on the police – we’ve been bombarded with this language in the news over and over and over again. So we end up declaring war on everything; but all we’ve done is created an insoluble problem and further complicated it with poor solutions. These “wars” can’t be won; they can only be perpetual. And thus there is a war within ourselves, which we think is justified. We deny the evil within us – the part capable of the things we fear- and then we project it outwards onto others until we, ourselves, become that which we fear most. What we need to realize is that as humans, we are all capable of this, and if we don’t come to terms with it, these are the actions we will keep repeating time and time again. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions – especially when those good intentions come from a self-righteous entity. But all conflict has its resolution in an underlying unity. The one most in need of your love, kindness and acceptance is you. Unify yourself. We cannot change anything unless we accept it.
We have all sorts of ideas built into us, which seem unquestioned and obvious. Going forward, it is necessary for us to reexamine common sense. Our ideologies greatly influence our perception, and we must accept ourselves and what we are capable of wholly. In our current state, wherein we are divided against ourselves, the suppression of truth (or at least of better ideas) can happen at any time. Galileo brought forth fresh observation and reasoning, but was oppressed for it. Likewise, the Inquisition can happen at any time. Those accorded with a certain respect and prestige with regard to their knowledge can be horribly erroneous in their thinking and solutions for perceived problems. Finally, and most importantly of all, – I repeat – the one most in need of your love, kindness and acceptance is you.
¹ Szasz, Thomas. The Manufacture of Madness.
² Næss, Atle. Galileo Galilei, When the World Stood Still.
³ Watts, Alan. Various lectures.
Jung, Carl Gustav.