A House Divided

It’s -30 degrees Celsius this morning, and even the air is frozen white. It seems an appropriate day to revisit a theme once explored in the now dearly-departed Dark Age Blog: the spectre of our own “Four Riders of the Apocalypse”.


Some of you may recall from TDAB the names I gave our latter-day four riders at our “end of history”. I called them Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind.

They stand for the dissolute and the disintegrative forces. In general terms, they are four aspects of what we understand by the word “hypocrisy”, which is also called “the forked-tongue” — belonging, consequently, to the manifestation of the demonic and diabolical, the prefix “dia-” signifying division or divideness. The forked-tongue is, fittingly, the symbolic attribute of the devil and the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

The parable of the snake in Eden is extremely interesting (just don’t confuse the symbol with the poor snake). It is commonly assumed that the serpent was a liar, but he told the truth — only, not the full truth. (Jesus even called him “wise”). He promises the First Woman that if she eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, her and the Primal Man’s eyes will be opened, and they shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. This comes to pass. Duality emerges.

But with duality a grievous wound is inflicted on Being. A deep incision is made into the body of the All. (When Jesus calls out “Physician, heal thyself!”, he is referring to a spiritual healing and mending of this wounded and divided Being). Before this event, the story of Genesis has already triumphantly declared that all that was made was “good” without exception, signifying non-duality or one-without-an-other. This originary condition of non-duality is what historian Jean Gebser calls “archaic consciousness” in his book The Ever-Present Origin. It is what Zen calls “natural mind”. What is called “the Manichaean heresy” or error still influential and arising in much human thinking, is the false teaching that our reality is inherently and inevitably divided into opposites of good and evil, constantly at war with one another. (This ancient heresy and error was resurrected, especially, by the neo-conservatives). A current variant on the old Manichean heresy is the doctrine of “human nature”, fatefully divided between a moral and an immoral being. This is only the forked-tongue.

The fateful chain of consequences, referred to as “the Fall” or expulsion, is division, separation, segregation, and disintegration. The forked-tongue is mirrored in a world now divided between the moral and the immoral, whereas prior to duality, the human condition would be more accurately described as amoral. This pre-self-conscious originary amoral awareness — beyond, before, behind the duality of good and evil, morality and immorality — is what Nietzsche actually attempts to describe in Beyond Good and Evil.

(What Nietzsche actually means by that, which has been so grossly misconstrued by almost everyone, is for another occasion).

Here, though, we must contrast the symbol of the forked-tongue with the profound symbolism of the tongue of the Christ described in the Book of Revelation. There, the tongue, which is speech,  is described as “a two-edged sword”. In other words, it has some very subtle resemblance to “the forked-tongue”, except that it is undivided. What the forked-tongue signifies is duality. What the two-edged sword signifies, however, is paradox. They are not at all the same.

In contemporary secular terms, we could say that the logic of the forked-tongue is an analytical “either/or” logic, while the logic of the two-edged sword is a integral “both/and” logic.

In even more fundamental terms, the meaning of the forked-tongue is represented by the word “diabolical”, which means separated or divided. In literal terms, Greek dia-bolon has the meaning of “casting obstacles across or in the way of” (bolon is connected with our word “ball” — a thing cast or tossed). The contrary to diabolic is the word symbolic, syn-bolon — to cast or bring together. And this tension between the diabolic and symbolic uses of language is very much the problem of Late Modernity, and has far more spiritual depth to it than a blind and merely utilitarian ethic recognises.

In succinct terms, then, the forked-tongue as the diabolical power signifies segregation or separation, while the tongue as a two-edged sword, the symbolic power, represents integration and non-duality. The tongue as a two-edged sword signals the true unity or integration of opposites and the peace of apparent contraries. The forked-tongue, or split-tongue, has the same meaning that Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy gave when he lamented our present disastrous and diseased state of speech: “two languages are spoken under the hypocritical veneer of one”. It is this, actually, that Stephen Colbert recognised when he employed that marvelous word “truthiness” to describe the spin doctoring and propaganda of the day. It speaks just enough of the truth to be convincing and persuasive — a half-truth at best. But because it isn’t the truth, it is misleading — and often deliberately designed to mislead, obscure, and confound.

This is enough to account for Jesus’ animus against hypocrisy. A house divided against itself cannot stand. And how much more so when that “house” is one’s own soul? A deadly soul-destroying Jekyll and Hyde division emerges where the boundaries between the civil and the barbaric become confused, as it is today.  This is one layer of meaning in the two images: forked-tongue and double-edged sword signify, respectively, the spiritually disintegrate and dissolute on the one hand, and spiritual integrity on the other.

Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind are the pernicious effects of the forked-tongue. This is the real problem in our “natures” that we must resolve presently before there can be peace and before we destroy ourselves. That is another layer of meaning in the images: the forked-tongue signifies a dichotomisation which manifests as war, ill-will, and contradiction, the two-edged sword means peace through the realisation of the paradoxical integrity of ostensible opposites.

What I have taken to calling “Khayyam’s Caution” (after the Persian poet Omar Khayyam) applies here equally: “only a hair separates the false from the true”. And in the profound images of the forked-tongue and the tongue as double-edged sword there is a beautiful example. To the unvigilant, it is easy to mistake one for the other, which is why it is said that the Way is “straight but narrow” and why “false prophets” can arise, speaking a duplicitous, deceiving, hypocritical, and misleading language and yet be believed.

Another fine example is represented in the “grammatical science” of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. Although a better sociologist than a psychologist, Rosenstock described his own science of society in the global era as the task of “synchronizing antagonistic distemporaries” (Speech and Reality). That’s the authentic Christian spirit, to be sure; how to reconcile different historical traditions through one universal history of mankind, and to avoid a “clash of civilisations” (as Samuel Huntington conceived of it).

The profounder aspect of Rosenstock-Huessy’s project, which makes him a better sociologist than psychologist, is this: The “distemporaries” of which he speaks are also Jean Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” represented in every human being. Those structures, being four, are called the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental. In one and the same soul, they are like the stories of a house or layers of time, although they co-exist in any historical period. They are the elements of the fourfold self or the four Zoas of William Blake’s profound mytho-psychology of the whole man or woman. They are also called “The Guardians of the Four Directions” in Buddhism. As such, “synchronizing anatagonistic distemporaries” (and Jekyll and Hyde were such “antagonistic distemporaries” in that sense, too) applies as much to ourselves as to the sociological problem today of reconciling different historical traditions and cultures within one emerging planetary civilisation.

In those terms, Rosenstock-Huessy’s new science for the founding of a truly human and humane global society is the precise sociological counterpart to Jean Gebser’s anticipation of an emerging “integral consciousness”. Rosenstock’s project for a “universal history of mankind” achieved through “the synchronisation of antagonistic distemporaries” is exactly equivalent to Jean Gebser’s “irruption” of the integral consciousness structure that synchronises, within our own being, the four structures of consciousness.

The false “clash of civilisations” today is the mirror image, projected and externalised, of the conflict of these structures of consciousness within ourselves — the internecine conflicts of the fourfold self, represented in the mandala image, and which is Blake’s “fourfold vision”.  If you can read William Blake’s sometimes difficult mytho-psychology of the Zoas, you will understand why the dualism of subject and object, psychic and the physical, is a false dichotomy, that dichotomisation being represented as “the forked-tongue”. And you will understand, too, what the great Rumi means when he says that “the whole world is a form of Truth”.

The “house divided” is just as much the dichotomising mentality as the world which reflects it, mirrors it, echoes it.  There is really no difference. “You create the reality you know”.

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