“Duplicity is the currency of the day”, Pope Francis recently stated. I understand what he means. I think we all do, which is why we are so invested in the issue of “integral consciousness” as a corrective. The problem of duplicity and the duplicitous (and the attendant problem of dualism) has been the principal question of former The Dark Age Blog and the present Chrysalis. And that question is this: how can a society so divided against itself in duplicity or self-contradiction actually endure?

Last night I watched a movie version of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (published in 1891) and noted how the issue of the soul divided against itself in such a way formed a persistent and common theme of the late 19th century, in terms of Nietzsche’s philosophy and, of course, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). The late Victorian period seems especially marked by a intensifying duplicity and inner dissociation and fracture of the whole personality, also later witnessed by W.B. Yeats in his ominous poem “The Second Coming” (1919). And with this dissociation, dissonance, and inner fracture into semi-autonomous “complexes” and neuroses and “schizophrenias”, also the rise of psychoanalysis. This inner disintegration and fragmentation of “the soul” (now, of course, called “the psyche”) into various discrete unconscious and conscious functions was, of course, noted, amongst many others, by the social philosopher Rosenstock-Huessy and the cultural historian Jean Gebser, and formed the basis for their own concerns with articulating a corrective — the holistic or “integral consciousness”.

It is my view, as you probably know or have surmised, that our present social and civilisational problems, including environmental degradation, all arise from this condition of duplicity, or self-contradiction. In the past I’ve even given names to our own “four riders of the Apocalypse” as being Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind. The symptoms of this self-contradiction are manifold and various, and are generally featured in the meaning of the current phrase “the new normal”.

I was again reminded of this by reading an article in today’s Guardian about Orwell and the contemporary jargon of “human resources”.

“Time makes hypocrites of us all”, runs an old adage. So it has something to do with time and timing and the tempo of events and things. And you could say that the problem of mankind’s “dual nature” is nothing new. For is it not also the theme of Goethe’s Faust?

“Two souls, alas, reside within my breast,
And each from the other would be parted.
The one in sturdy lust for love
With clutching organs clinging to the world,
The other strongly rises from the gloom
To lofty fields of ancient heritage”

You could say that the problem of the “two souls” (which is today still represented in terms of “Self” and “Ego”) is the perpetual human problem, going back even to the Buddha and to Jesus (who describes himself, dually, as “Son of Man” and also as “Son of God”, just as the concerns of the Buddha are to reconcile samsara and nirvana). Is it not the human creature’s perpetual fate and curse to be eternally divided against itself in this way? Is not duplicity the human creature’s “natural estate”? Is that not, after all, the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son?

Perhaps it is humankind’s “natural estate”. But the difference between “then” and “now”, it seems to me, is that this “natural estate” of duplicity was never considered “normal”, but quite aberrant. It was the state of “sin”. Duplicity only becomes the “currency of the day” when we relax our efforts to overcome it and transcend it. “Lip-service” — our inability or even unwillingness to reconcile what we say with what we do — is a symptom of civilisational decadence. “We talk the Big Talk, but we don’t walk the Big Walk”, as is said today. Our words and our deeds are dissociated and dissonant.

What’s happened? Some kind of inner barrier has been erected in the soul, dividing the Self from itself and even against itself. That’s reflected in the problem of “unintended consequence”, “perverse outcome”, “revenge effect”, “reversal of fortune” or all those manifestations of the condition of duplicity that are so self-destructive and self-devouring. What we intend and what we will have become two separate things, working contrary to one another. That is the problem of the “two souls”.

As Carl Jung once put it, “we are lived rather than living”. Something else is steering us in the directions of outcomes we did not consciously choose, but are, nonetheless, the results of our activities. The Old Testament speaks of how “the imagination of their hearts was violence continuously”. That is, while the conscious or egoic attitude may have been one of utmost “righteousness” and “correctness”, the “imagination of the heart” was something else altogether.

As Nietzsche once put it, the authentic “self” is not the self that “says I”, but which “does I”. The meaning of that might escape one unless one becomes aware of the discrepancy between “will” and “intent“. All those things I call “ironic reversal” — unintended consequence, perverse outcome, revenge effect, reversal of fortune, which basically all belong to the karmic law of action and reaction — that is the result of a radical divorce between what we will and what we actually intend.

Duplicity is not without consequence, even if it takes some time for the consequence to fully materialise: “the sins of the fathers shall be visited down to the third and fourth generations” is not a religious principle and scruple, essentially, but a sociological rule and law. It may seem grossly unfair that the “sins of the fathers” are attached to subsequent generations, but there are sound reasons for that — just as “atonement” has far more significance to it than its narrow religious interpretation. It really has nothing to do with guilt or remorse or regret. And “redemption” and “atonement” have far  deeper meanings than the usual definitions.

That’s my “hard problem” — what are the roots of this duplicity? what are its consequences? Why is it epidemic today? And what do we do about it?

Perhaps there is nothing we can do about it until it subsides in a definitive self-devouring breakdown and collapse. That would seem to be the logical outcome of the habits of duplicity — self-negation in total cynicism.

At least, that’s the lesson I took from watching The Picture of Dorian Gray last night.


One response to “Duplicity”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    “what are the roots of this duplicity? what are its consequences? Why is it epidemic today? And what do we do about it?”

    The Victorian era (1837 – 1901) seems to have followed the industrial revolution (1760 – 1840) almost immediately. So, it’s possible that the culture of exploitation that was intensified during the industrial revolution may have led to an intensification of a culture of duplicity during late Victorian period. Generally speaking, there must have been socioeconomic forces during that period that brought a surge of duplicity during the late Victorian period.

    Personally, duplicity is something I have often come across in the workplace. At least, if the workplace – or if the employer-employee relation – isn’t the root of duplicity, the workplace certainly is fertile grounds for it.

    It seems to me that the consequence of duplicity is even more duplicity and ultimately decadence in the workplace, in the society, and even in the family. Generally, economically poorer nations seem to have a higher level of duplicity than developed nations. So, I think duplicity and economic inequity are closely linked. If I’m right, then, to reduce duplicity, social justice and reducing the gap between the haves and the have-nots can play a role in turning back the trend.

    The Guardian’s piece on “HR’s linguistic malpractice” reminded me of my long ago colleagues who kept a Dilbert calendar on their desks. Here are some of the things that America’s favorite “Catbert: Evil H.R. Director” has to say about all of this:



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