Identity Politics and the Rainbow Bridge
While we are on the subject of identity politics, which is playing such a perverse role in contemporary political and social life, and in conjunction with an article about religious fundamentalism and why “extremist thinking doesn’t work” by Richard Holloway that appeared in today’s Guardian, I thought that I’ld carry on the conversation about this begun in the comments to the previous-to-last-post (“The Trump Agenda is a Dead End“).
Mr. Holloway’s article is good. But not good enough. We have to get beyond issues of mere mutual tolerance for diversity and pluralism to actual engagement and intercultural communication. This is the dialogical way, not a whole bunch of separate human monologues of the multiverse each conducted within their respective temproal bubbles and confined within the horizons of their own respective traditions. That’s segregation by any other name. It is not integration in the proper sense. Mere tolerance does not effect integrality.
As we mentioned in the comments to “The Trump Agenda is a Dead End”, identity politics is one aspect of the deficient form of the perspectivist consciousness structure — the “point-of-view” consciousness identified with “the mental-rational”. It is an intensely self-conscious form of this structure, in its exaggerated emphasis on the identity, which is point-like, but which self-consciousness is not yet self-critical. In those terms, then, identity politics corresponds to the fragmentation and atomisation of the Modern Age itself, and to the dissolution of the universal, also reflected in “the multiversity” — the current absence of any unified framework for knowledge, and over-specialisation, that plagues the university.
Religious extremism and fundamentalism is really only just other forms of identity politics in the global era, and Mr Holloway’s plea for mutual tolerance falls somewhat flat because of that — and despite his plea for appreciating the “rainbow” structure of religious belief which he also fails to articulate satisfactorily.
The rainbow bridge over which we must all cross together in the global era if we are to have any kind of planet at all in the future is not a matter of mutual tolerance. We need a universal history of the entirety of human experience, and that will not come about by mutual tolerance but by mutual engagement and not by insulating and isolating ourselves in mutually exclusive identities or self-enclosure and drawing magical pentagrammes of protection around ourselves.
We must begin with the recognition that we are all already upon the rainbow bridge, even if we don’t yet realise it at all. This applies particularly to contemporary religious belief. It is said that “all paths lead to God”, however crooked or straight they may be at times, and this applies also to the religions. We’ve discussed this before: whether the path is called “Sharia”, or “Middle Way” (Buddhism), or “Path with Heart”, or “The Good Red Road” (aboriginal) or the Christian’s “Way of the Cross” or “Eye of the Needle”, and so on — they are all references to the same path — the planks of the rainbow bridge, as it were. And to see the underlying unity to these, the common undercurrent that informs them, is already a contribution to universal history and integral consciousness. Over generations, however, the spiritual meaning of these pathways as one bridgework have been corrupted and perverted in meaning.
So, let’s go there.
Sharia, about which today there is so much anxiety, controversy, and misunderstanding, means, quite literally, the path that leads through the desert to the water or the oasis or wellspring. Deviate but little and you can get lost in the desert. A little reflection will show that this pathway is very similar in meaning to the Buddhist “Middle Way” or what is called “Entering the Stream”. The Sharia, or pathway through the desert, is in Buddhism depicted as a “raft” that carries the seeker to the farther shore. The raft is the dharma, which is a difficult word to translate but is usually rendered as “teaching”. This same path is called “Path with Heart” or “The Good Red Road” in North American indigenous lore. The same is called “Way of the Cross” in Christianity, but especially “Eye of the Needle”. I particularly like and favour that metaphor. Those with big heads, or laden with too much egotistical baggage, cannot pass through the Eye of the Needle. But whatever we name it, and there are probably hundreds of other names for the “straight and narrow” it is the same human path, even as Nietzsche’s “bridge” to the overman or transhuman.
All these paths are the same path — the path of the Prodigal Son in his comings and goings, either towards the vital centre or away from the vital centre, or, in Gebser’s terms, as “presentiation” or “distantiation” respectively. This is the mandala. Even to be born in this world of time and space is to pass through the Eye of the Needle in an almost quite literal way.
The secular term for Eye of the Needle is Moment. Moment is “the crack between the worlds”. Moment is the fleeting “cubic centimetre of chance” as Castaneda’s don Juan put it also. Moment is the minute, and yet is the portal or doorway between the finite and the infinite, the time-bound and the eternal, and one has to become very small to pass through Moment. “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” and “Eternity in the hour” (or “Heaven in a Wild Flower”) are Blake’s testimony to the fact that Moment is the Eye of the Needle, and the crack between the worlds. The paradox of Moment is that it is always fleeting, yet ever the same. Moment is “the portal of initiation”, and “behind” or “within” or “beyond” Moment is the Ever-Present, Origin, Source, the Fountainhead, the Well, whatever you wish to call it, even “vital centre”.
Some people have an intuition of it, a sense of it. But you can develop a feel for it by meditating upon, or contemplating, the amazing world of the fractal. What lies between 0 and 1? The infinite fractal dimensions. What is the space between 0 and 1? What is duration in terms of 0 and 1? Neither distance nor duration have any determinate meaning here. 0 and 1 might be said to be the polarities of Moment, and yet between 0 and 1 lies the infinite. It is a strange and mysterious world. The infinite is fully present, and latent, within the finite, and the Ever-Present within the momentary.
Identity politics seems quite petty compared to this greater heritage to which we are all party. And yet, there is something necessary about it, as part of Gebser’s chaotic transition from the deficient perspectival to the aperspectival-arational, since that narrowing of perspective to a mere point, and the attendant anxieties about that narrowing, is also the experience of birth as much as death. Both are passages through the Eye of the Needle.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:25)
That is a teaching about non-attachment, even to a “self” or identity. “Naked came I into the world and naked I shall return” is also about preserving non-attachment, precisely in order to pass through the Eye of the Needle. And this is the import of that snippet of poetry I recently quoted again from 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”
Those with “clutching organs, clinging to the world” — the grasping and acquisitive even in terms of clutching at identity, which is just another form of narcissism — cannot pass through the Eye of the Needle. All identities are transient, momentary, and accidental. Enlightenment is just another word for realising this and the transparency of identity. What matters is “the undercurrent” — the awareness itself — which is the greater awareness some call “soul” — even Nietzsche.
But identity politics, whether religious or otherwise, is only the exhausted residuum of a consciousness structure — the “point-of-view” or perspectival consciousness structure — that has exceeded its shelf-life and sell-by date. But at the same time, it appears to be a preliminary preparation for a new and more fruitful integration of the human consciousness structure.