Dualism: Know the Enemy
In his memorial introduction to Jean Gebser’s book The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Keckeis attempted to briefly summarise (if that were at all possible) the main concerns that drove Gebser to write the book,
“Gebser has noted two results that are of particular significance: first, the abandonment of materialistic determinism, of a one-sided mechanistic-causal mode of thought; and second, a manifest ‘urgency of attempts to discover a universal way of observing things, and to overcome the inner division of contemporary man who, as a result of his one-sided rational orientation, thinks only in dualisms.'” (p. xix)
For Gebser, this dualism was not just the principal symptom of the breakdown of the mental-rational structure of consciousness and civilisation into “deficient rationality” (a dialectically oriented consciousness become unhinged), but the disintegration and dispersal of the whole personality through “loss of the vital center”. This theme of disintegration and dispersal is the same theme that informs W.B. Yeats’ ominous poem The Second Coming, written at the conclusion of the First World War when it seemed to Yeats that the great conflagration had consumed all familiar social and historical landmarks and expunged all our horizons and values.
Dualism in thought and deed is the tendency to perceive and represent reality in starkly contradictory terms; in mutually exclusive and mutually hostile antinomies. Things are perceived as being inherently either good or evil, left or right, right or wrong, true or false, light or dark, private or public, individual or society, life or death, economics or environment, heaven and hell, winning or losing, reason or instinct, soul and ego, or, the conscious mind or the unconscious mind, and so on, and these are at constant war with one another in an “either/or” struggle for dominance and supremacy. There is no sense of the unity of being in this view. Being (Life) is divided against itself in a radical dichotomisation of contending forces perceived as being either “good” or “evil” in absolute terms, with the destruction of the one being the purpose and goal of the other. In consequence, the cosmos is ruled and governed by a ceaseless enmity of mutually antagonistic and opposed powers in which “you’re either with us or against us”.
The blight of mass politics in our time would not be a problem if it weren’t for this dualism that manifests “the inner division of contemporary man”.
This dualism, it must be said, is unreal in the sense that Being is not divided against itself in this way. Early Christian doctrine declared as a heresy and as being anti-Christ any doctrine, such as Manicheanism, that taught that the world was divided against itself and was ruled by enmity and strife, and not by love — by an empathy, sympathy, or compassion of all the parts for the whole. Dualism is not compatible with Christian teaching, which is why so much of contemporary Christian fundamentalism is totally aberrant and, indeed, in its own terms “anti-Christ”. Dualism justifies why we can speak of our dissolute times not as just “post-modern”, but also as “post-Christian”, too.
It has been stated that “we do not see things as they are, but as we are”, and this is very true. Dualism in thought and action reflects the disturbed and turbulent “inner division of contemporary man” in much the way we explored in the previous post. It was before the First World War that this extreme inner dividedness of the soul in dualism was becoming the chronic and almost universal malaise of contemporary man, coming to awareness in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson, not accidentally, was writing at the same time as Friedrich Nietzsche was launching his own attacks on moralism as the source of a life-denying nihilism hidden within metaphysical dualism. Freud “discovered” thereafter the so-called “unconscious” and the soul as battlefield between the instincts of “Eros” and “Thanatos”, while Carl Jung followed that up with his differentiation of a “Self” and “Ego” as expressing an “unconscious attitude” often at opposed purposes with “the conscious attitude”. The First World War was, in effect, the manifestation of this pernicious dualism having become our so-called “human nature”, which is itself a construct of dualistic thinking.
All the great wisdom traditions deny that dualism has any fundamental reality or ultimate truth value, and in fact see dualism not only as the source of error and the root cause of all suffering resulting from that error and delusion, but as ultimately self-destructive in its logic. “A house divided against itself cannot stand” is the implicit fate that overtook even Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, and is the fate of nihilism foreseen also by Nietzsche for our own times. “All higher values devalue themselves” is this same logic of a house divided against itself. And this is clearly also the condition and the malaise of a soul that knows the truth, but then speaks and acts contrary to the vital truth it does know, as was examined in the last post.
This radical dualism of the divided soul in the throes of disintegration (loss of integrity), which is the cause of all extremism and hybris, lies at the root also of the present epidemics of narcissism, duplicity, lipservice, double-talk, double-standard, double-think, double-bind, “the culture of lying” and the great reactionary hypocrisies of the day. The radical simplification of all existence and reality into simple mutually antagonistic opposites even facilitates the work of social demogoguery and of political opportunists who can play upon this miserable condition, and even inflame it, for political power and advantage. Such was the main theme of The Century of the Self. Their rhetoric even serves to affirm this diseased and delusional condition as the norm. This is the “noble lie” or “the clash of civilisations” propaganda and ideology. This is not the language and rhetoric of peace and healing, of reason and enlightenment, but of souls which exult in division, strife, war, suffering, and disease, who are inwardly themselves this “human nature” they claim to know so well, while piously pretending to be the contrary of all that because, well… morality demands it.
Dualism is both the ideology and the mythology of the day, and it is enacted especially in so-called “reality TV” shows and with great fanfare in mass spectacles and entertainments like sporting events that have become, in many respects, great morality plays that affirm dualism as the very essence of reality. These spectacles of images very often obstruct insight into the hidden truth of the cooperation and camraderie that underlies the public demonstrations of mutual hostility and enmity enacted in the play of images.
The true existential enemy is not the absolute “other”, but is this inner dualism itself, now projected outwards as being the way things are. “You create the reality you know” and reality becomes the faithful reflection of the overall inner condition for good or ill. We need to recognise its true source as lying not in the way life and the cosmos actually function, but as we are ourselves implicitly and inwardly at our “end of history”. Having falsified and deluded ourselves about what and who we are, we shouldn’t be surprised that our experience is also falsified and delusional, and that in consequence we are setting ourselves up for a great fall.