Suspicion Into Superstition

There is an interesting article by David Shariatmadari in today’s Guardian about the contemporary conspiracy theory craze — “The truth is rushing out there“. It is worth spending a few moments on as a reflection on contemporary paranoid style which has become well nigh epidemic.

This seems like a fortuitous occasion, then, to draw a distinction between suspicion and superstition. “Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of the truth”, William Blake recorded in one of his Proverbs of Hell. Conspiracy theory is a case in point, and also bears on what I call Khayyam’s Caution (after the Persian Sufi poet Omar Khayyam): “only a hair separates the false from the true”. I don’t think I can ever emphasise this enough as a corrective to a misleading dualistic way of thinking and perception.

Goodness knows there are plenty of reasons for suspicion, and “suspicion” was one of the qualities that Nietzsche promoted to those who hoped to survive his “two centuries of nihilism” — especially suspicion about the veracity of one’s own convictions, beliefs, and values or overall perceptions. Suspicion can, however, easily morph into superstition, for they are in some sense dialectically related, or perhaps better, etymologically related. Latin sub-specere — means “below or beneath” plus “to see or look”, and probably therefore in the sense “to look down upon”, in the sense of keeping one’s distance. One etymological dictionary defines sub-specere, however, as “from below” plus “to see or look”, which does not make a great deal of sense unless you relate that to the meaning of “superstition”, which means “what stands above or over” (super + stare). So, it is in that sense that suspicion and superstition can, and often do become, mutually entangled.

There are plenty enough reasons today for the mood of suspicion, aren’t there? As Shariatmadari’s article points out, it even has survival value, but which may bring about the exact opposite result when it slides into superstition, which is often a symptom of paranoia. The world is full of cover-ups, backroom deals, “plausible deniability”, perception management and propaganda, bullshit, “the mask of sanity”, conniving and scheming and the great con-job. There is a widespread deficiency of transparency and accountability in places high and low. People do not say what they mean, nor mean what they say. At times, it may even seem that the whole contemporary world is erected upon an unstable foundation of deliberate lies and deceptions, and that behind this veil of deceptions and web of deceit there lurks shady groups and figures who “know the truth” — “masters of the universe” who are pulling everybody’s strings and have seized control of human destiny and history. They have a “master plan” that only they are privy to.

At the extreme of this is the popular David Icke’s conspiracy theories about the “Reptilons” or a secret alien reptilian brotherhood, disguised as human, that has basically kept human beings in a state of subordination and slavery for centuries. It seems to have even inspired a short-lived television science-fiction series called “V” about fascist alien reptiles enslaving the human race.

Oddly enough, though, Icke’s otherwise off-the-wall theories do coincide with the discovery and probing of the “Lizard brain” — the very primitive evolutionary legacy which is the seat of the basic survival instincts, but is not a particularly intelligent part of the brain. Propagandists and advertisers have developed an intense interest in goading and manipulating this “lizard brain” for less than altruistic purposes. This “lizard brain” was actually known even to Rumi as “the mystery inside”, and is depicted in his interesting poem about “The Snake-Catcher of Baghdad“.

(The amazing Rumi. I can’t think of his like except perhaps in William Blake).

So, in those terms Icke’s Reptilon conspiracy has a modicum of truth behind it, only it’s a suspicion that has been overdeveloped into a superstition, but which has a kind of mythic or symbolic truth to it. There are indeed those who are working to bypass the intelligence and directly stimulate and manipulate the most primitive and brutal parts of the human form for purely self-interested reasons. And there are no laws against it, nor any moral and ethical restraints on those activities. And it is very dangerous business, this constant arousal, stimulation, and excitation of the lizard brain. It is the energies of the lizard brain which have been historically depicted as the dragon or serpent, or the Kraken. It is equally what Seth refers to as “the ancient force”.

The myth of supernatural or wicked powers operating in darkness is a persistent theme in history. Buddhism has “Mara”, who is the Lord of Illusions and the secretive power behind samsaric existence. Gnostic Christianity has its “Prince of Lies” who is Mara’s equivalent — the Luciferic or Satanic power. Luciferic Light is but an image of Christic Light, and “Satan is the ape of God” — a mimic. The mimic is Blake’s mad Zoa “Urizen”, Ancient of Days, but in his aspect as the fallen angel of our truer nature. Mara, Prince of Lies, Urizen are all one and the same — all symbolic of one and the same entity called “the Selfhood” or Ego-Nature and is very, very cunning.

Conspiracy theories continue this longstanding belief in Luciferic or Satanic powers operating in darkness, spinning the veil of Maya and the web of Samsaric existence, but which has been transferred from the domain of theology and metaphysics into the secular realm, where it is often inflated into superstition. That said, however, there is often — as in the case of Mr. Icke’s Reptilons — a modicum of truth in it. There are groups of conspirators in that sense. Did not Richard Perle relish his description as “Prince of Darkness” or Dick Cheney relish his depiction as “Darth Vader“?  Men of such ambition are almost always ruled by the lizard brain, even as they deceive themselves and others about this. Higher reason, which was intended to tame and direct the lizard brain (which is Rumi’s image of “Moses” in the Snake-catcher of Baghdad) becomes, instead, captive of the lizard brain. And what we call “evil” is pretty much that — reason captured by the lizard brain.  That’s pretty much the meaning of Rumi’s poem about the Snake-catcher.

The lizard brain is not evil, though. Rightly guided, it is the source of all physical energies and vitality. The evil is when the higher functions of consciousness become enslaved to the impulses of the lizard brain, which is not intelligent in itself. Greed, malice, ignorance are the results of indulging the lizard brain. Sex, power, fear correspondingly have been effective advertising and propaganda themes and motivations because they appeal directly to the lizard brain, and are only “subliminal” because not perceived as such.

We call these today “the animal spirits” and Rumi also knew them as the “nafs” or “animal souls”.So, even one’s own convictions and beliefs must be held in suspicion, as being possible mirages of a mind held in thrall to the lizard brain, otherwise they may well become superstitions. Much of the world is, today, in thrall to the lizard brain, which are Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles”. And there is a very close connection between “culture of narcissism” and the constant excitation and stimulation of the lizard brain.



9 responses to “Suspicion Into Superstition”

  1. edlevin2015 says :

    Every time you refer to Khayyam’s Caution, “Only a hair separates the false from the true”, I’m reminded of a similar zen saying, which I heard many times from my old teacher, Taizan Maezumi Roshi.

    Case 17 of the Book of Equanimity is “Hogen’s Hair’s Breadth”. The Main Case begins: “Attention! Hogen asked Administrator Monk Shuzan, If there’s even a hair’s breadth of difference, heaven and earth are clearly separated. How do you understand this?”.

    The Book of Equanimity (Shoyu Roku) “comprises a collection of 100 koans written by the Chan Buddhist master Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091–1157)”, (Wikipedia).

    Coincidentally, he was a contemporary of Omar Khayyam (1048-1141).

    Only a hair separates the false from the true.
    If there’s even a hair’s breadth of difference heaven and earth are clearly separated.

    • Scott Preston says :

      In Hogen’s riddle, “heaven” stands in for nirvana, “earth” for samsara.

      Nirvana and samsara are the same. Nirvana and samsara are not the same. “Everything is perfect just as it is”, said the Buddha. And yet, it is not.

      To Castaneda’s don Juan, the “guardian of the other world” was a gnat. But to Castaneda the gnat was a 100 foot-tall drooling monster.

      How do you understand that?

        • Scott Preston says :

          Somewhat, in a way…

          The “hair” is the ego-consciousness or the Selfhood. When the ego-consciousness is suspended, no hair. When the ego-consciousness is resurrected and reconstituted, the hair.

          To don Juan, the “guardian of the other world” was a gnat because his ego-consciousness was small. Castaneda had a great big ego-consciousness, initially, and so the gnat appeared to him as a hundred foot drooling monster. The hundred foot drooling monster was Castaneda’s ego-consciousness. That’s all. Simple, but mysterious at the same time.

          So, Rumi (and others) teach the value of “emptiness”, which is suspension of the ego-consciousness. Buddhism teaches “the empty mirror”. “Nirvana and samsara are the same” when consciousness is emptied of ego-consciousness. “Nirvana and samsara are not the same” when the “hair” is restored, which is the resurrection of the ego-consciousness (and everyone needs one). “First there is a mountain; then there is no mountain; then there is”.

          The Selfhood is what divides heaven and earth, but it is also what unites heaven and earth in the hieros gamos, or “marriage of heaven and hell” in Blake’s terms. That’s the essential paradox.

          • Steve Lavendusky says :

            Scott – The root of our civilized ills is our desperate clinging to the principle of self, which frustrates the redemptive principle of integration the Romantics called love.

            Scott, do you ever despair of humanity ever returning to wisdom and sense? I despair of a decline that has no ending. That human beings will become automata or merely highly intelligent animals with infinite ingenuity at their disposal. That the human species – as we know it – will disappear. Or that we become sublimated into another species – a species in which the pursuit of skills is the substitute for the pursuit of knowledge and feeling.


            • Steve Lavendusky says :

              “Thank God our time is now

              When wrong comes up to meet

              us everywhere

              Never to leave us till we take

              The greatest stride of soul

              Men ever took.

              Affairs now are soul size

              The enterprise

              Is exploration unto God.

              Where are you making for?

              It takes so many thousand years

              to wake.

              But will you wake

              For pity’s sake?”

              Christopher Fry

            • Scott Preston says :

              Interesting comment, Steve. Not sure if there ever was a time of wisdom and sense in the species, except amongst certain individuals.

              There are, certainly, long-standing institutional forces blindly working against the possibility of any positive human transformation. But those same resistances are also serving as challenges and stimulants for the very transformation they try to resist, inhibit or impede. Or, as Nietzsche put it “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. That is something he intended as a guiding principle to survive and outlast his “two centuries of nihilism”. It’s a good principle to take to heart.

              Indeed, we are at the stage where the human race can go many ways — many choices and possibilities. Probably all of them will be tried and many will prove to be dead ends: Cloning, genetic editing, genetic engineering, human-machine hybridisation and implants, reactionary political and religious formations, and so on. This is no longer the stuff of science fiction or fantasy. It’s the here and now of things. As Gebser put it, “the increase in technological feasibility without a corresponding sense of responsibility”.

              There are, of course, no guarantees that Gebser’s consciousness mutation will occur — the “integral consciousness”. It’s completely possible that the human race will perish. That’s one of the possibilities, and is also one of the possibilities foreseen by Seth, too. But that in itself can also serve as a stimulus towards self-transcendence. And the only question is whether it will occur in good time and so have a lasting influence on the current course of events in which the world seems hell-bent on self-destruction. The current of nihilism is a very powerful vortex that we all could get sucked into if we aren’t mindful — like the whirlpool around a sinking ship.

              And yet, a lot of these inhibiting institutions are also being discredited, which is also why they feel they now need to function in the darkness, as it were. So, that’s also a signal that an essential transformation is underway. Ironically, it’s these institutions that are now “underground”, as it were, and what was formerly considered subterranean or “underground” isn’t.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Interesting poem by Fry (had to look him up). Seems to concur with my last comment.

          • LittleBigMan says :

            Very very insightful and enlightening! Thank you. I think anyone who is familiar with the role of the gnat in Castaneda’s work will be very appreciative of this very illuminating comment; especially in relation to Buddhism and Rumi’s works. I have copied the entire comment into my “longsword” file 🙂

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