Tag Archives: ambivalence

Human Bondage and the Mystery of Truth

I want to continue to explore the Carl Sandburg poem, “Who Am I?” and focus on the notion included in the poem that Truth is a “captive” quality in our heart.  It makes no sense that such a noble quality of Truth is hidden, even imprisoned in our heart, suggesting that beneath the surface of our conscious life there are things of which we are unaware.  Truth is usually seen as a commodity in our life, a body of wisdom that we can claim as our own if we subscribe to what we see as essential tenets of Truth, and hold steadfast to them.  But poetry, and certainly Holy Writ such as the Bible, if taken superficially will lead us to believe that “I” know the truth and so would anybody else that listened to my passionate affirmation of this “fact.”  But Sandburg throws a monkey wrench in this mind-set, insisting that “Truth” is not factual but is a hidden dimension in our heart always seeking expression but only in the context of our conscious wish to avoid it.  If we understood this wisdom, it would give us pause about our certainties and encourage us to hold firm with them but to realize that other people’s understanding of the matter might be different than our own.  The absence of this humility is daily on display in our world in the Trump administration.

Poet John Donne understood the bondage of his will on this issue, declaring that the Reason he has assumed would lead him to Truth, is “like an usurped town to another due…(and) is captive’d and proves weak or untrue.”  In the beautiful sonnet, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God” he portrays this internal conflict in the human heart that wants the freedom of truth but is stymied on the pursuit without Divine intervention.  Here is an excerpt from this sonnet:

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.

Sandburg and Donne realized that humankind has a divided heart.  Yes, we want noble qualities like “Truth” but fail to realize that on another level, “No we don’t!”  They realized that Truth is very disruptive to our status quo, personally and collectively, and does not come without a willingness to pay the price of disillusionment.

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The Danger of “Purity”

Several days ago I blogged about the TV series “Breaking Bad” and segued into human culture and its tendency to not allow this kind of self-criticism, which is especially so with hyper-conservative cultures. One reader posed the question about my particular culture (the United States), “How could purity be such an issue in a land of such conspicuous free speech?”

The answer lies in the human heart and its deep-seated and dark need to isolate in a particular mindset, to “know” the truth, to be ensconced in an autistic shell; and when anyone “knows” the truth in this way, then he/she must convince others of this same truth, even at the point of the sword! And that is the reason that in a land of free press an individual or group of individuals will not be content with his/her little universe that American freedom has granted him/her. The poison of his/her interiority is so pervasive, so rigorous, so lethal that it cannot be stopped and it must proselytize. It must spread like cancer.

Of course, this “knowledge” does not employ honest use of human reason. It is a fragile heart that has grasped at the Kierkegaardian “flotsam and jetsam” when overwhelmed by the vortex of meaninglessness….or, to be more precise, when unconsciously threatened by that vortex. This mindset never knows (consciously) the vortex and seeks to destroy any inkling of its existence, not just in its own heart but in the hearts of others also. Thus the demand for “purity”, “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Some of my readers are from other cultures and may not follow American politics. But if you happen to do so, you know that this “purity” motif is really pronounced right now in the right-wing base of the conservative Republican party. This movement has coalesced in what is known as the “Tea Party” movement within the Republican Party and it is really posing a threat to that party and also to our government. Though it is relatively small, this party screams loudly and have managed to cower the leadership of the Republican party and to influence a broad spectrum of that party.

Related to the “purity” issue is the fear of having been “penetrated.” This fear of violation was most clearly articulated last year when Michelle Bachman (who I like to describe as “Michelle ‘Deep Penetration’ Bachman) raised the hackles even of her Republican party by arguing that Islamist extremist had “penetrated deeply” into our government. In this purity obsessed mindset, always rife with paranoia, any incursion of “difference” is seen as a threat, a threat that must be deterred and even obliterated. For if their purity is violated, it will shatter…in their estimation…like a fragile vase. I argue, on the other hand, that mature purity can withstand threats and survive with the ensuing ambivalence, not giving in to the temptations of impurity

This purity obsession is compensatory. It is a defense mechanism designed to block the ravaging impurity which lurks in the human heart and is feared by these extremists to be seeping out and threatening to overwhelm them. Karl Jung said, on the other hand, such impurity (which he called the shadow) is to be acknowledged, embraced even, and thus deprived of its power. And “embracing” this dark energy does not mean succumbing to it. Those who are most likely to succumb to it are those who resist it the most. As Jung put it, “What we resist, persists.”