My brain and heart are being stretched as I listen to conversations around me. Social media, dinner table, coffee shops, gatherings, it appears we are attempting to land something, to nail it down, agree on revised societal ground rules for a new way forward that rights all the wrongs of the past.
Disclosures are bringing dark to light, gutsy public unearthing of stories hidden for years. Courage is on the upswing. A groundswell of activists for social justice is rising, challenging, demanding change. Finally there will be a balancing of the scales, equality for everyone, banishment of archaic ways of thinking and engaging in the world. Everyone will find their place. Happiness will come to all of us. Suicide rates will drop. Inclusivity and peace will rein.
In this desire to right the wrongs are we growing closer together or further apart? Are we trading one brand of exclusivity for another? Are we attempting to erase our own history and all that it represents? What if all questions cannot be answered, and all needs cannot be met, and agreement is impossible?
Because what I’m wondering is, as one group rises up, does another fall, and not to a position of equity, but an overcompensating tilt downward? As one voice speaks, is the other silenced? I am not saying we shouldn’t ask, even demand, certain things at certain times. I’m not saying the way things are are good enough, and we should accept status quo. No. But how do we approach these issues of justice and equality in a world as complex as ours?
I’ve witnessed online interactions within animal rights forums where passion and love for voiceless beings morphs into murderous hate toward any perpetrator of ill will or action towards animals. I’m equally horrified by the crimes and the suggested punishments. Trolling? Maybe? What we do with our anger matters, doesn’t it?
So I’m wondering if rich white maleness is identified as a pervasive evil, what happens to them, what will we do with them? If all corporations are bad, greedy, and run by RWM, who will supply our beloved stuff? If all media lies, who will be the purveyor of truth? If all developers are tree butchers, land grabbers, with no social conscience, where will we all live? If money is evil, how much shall we each be allowed to have and remain righteous? If academic institutions preclude certain world views and topics, what of freedom of speech, and where will higher thinking take place?
I am concerned as I do not see gracious mutuality within complexity, but hints of new ways to qualify, label and ultimately destroy that which does not conform. Doing bad things to an identified oppressor and calling it good, does not make it so. Does it? These are incredibly complex issues, aren’t they?
I also find a wide gulf between the hurt feelings of today’s students on N. American university campuses, and, for example, the students who protested in 1989 in Tiananmen Square. Don’t think me insensitive, rather I’m truly asking what are we becoming? Was I being honest or wise with my kids when I told them how extraordinary they were at art, music, sports, everything! Were they truly? What about “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” Have we lost our perspective as we gain emotional intelligence? Is it actually possible to keep all the difficult, dark and hurtful things at bay if we legislate it to be so?
Remember Finding Nemo, the scene with the seagulls crying mine mine mine? I have to wonder if personhood and my right to feel safe, heard, understood, accepted, desired, intelligent, capable, right, could be a taste of me me me? While a healthy self image is a good thing, where it tends to go off the rails is when I discount anyone who thinks differently, anyone who has the audacity to hurt my feelings or reject what I have to offer. Where did I ever get the idea that I can customize my world like a playlist on Spotify?
I know I’m not the only one asking. Still I’m asking. I do not know the answers, and the questions continue to rise up.
Academics and intellectuals are providing healthy discourse for consideration at great cost to them (see articles below), while I simply try to articulate my sense that there are mysteries that may not have answers. Fr. Richard Rohr describes a non-dual world view, both/and rather than right/wrong. Rohr holds out that the way to peace is through acceptance, love, and non-dualistic ways of engaging in life. Rohr says unless you come to terms with dualism, you will just process any new ideas with your old operating system:
“The dualistic mind is essentially binary, either/or thinking. It knows by comparison, opposition, and differentiation. It uses descriptive words like good/evil, pretty/ugly, smart/stupid, not realizing there may be a hundred degrees between the two ends of each spectrum. Dualistic thinking works well for the sake of simplification and conversation, but not for the sake of truth or the immense subtlety of actual personal experience. Most of us settle for quick and easy answers instead of any deep perception, which we leave to poets, philosophers, and prophets.”
Richard Rohr, The Dualistic Mind
More and more I’m seeing the both/and woven into my life, but it is not easy to understand, and not easy to not know the one right answer. I push back against updating my old operating system. It is not easy to not strive for rightness. But I think it may be more true.
“Then how can I know which is the right one?” Aye, there’s the rub. We can’t. But one thing I’m learning is that I do not always have to be right. Or maybe we can look at two different interpretations of a story and understand that they are both right.”
Madeleine L’Engle, The Rock that is Higher
And so I have to wonder if the core desire to deconstruct old ways with hopes of establishing a new order is an old, binary, dualistic approach? Might we again be at risk of recreating the issues of prejudice and exclusivity, only with new people groups? Is there actually, really, only one way? I wonder if there is a new way that is truly new?
Consider what I see may be the both/and in;
freedom of speech and the offence culture
scientific fact and mysticism
perfection and grace
art/beauty created by monsters
art/beauty created out of atrocity
public safety and personal freedom
true love and speaking the truth in love
the common good and the evil that is common
reconciliation and forgiveness
the power of silence
Articles I’ve had the privilege to read of late, and for your consideration;
How I Learned to be Afraid of Men
Videos and articles by https://jordanbpeterson.com
And another really, really great article which I cannot find at the moment…
Truth be, I do not know much. Yet I know something. I’m paying attention to the niggling feeling I have that we are not resolving complex issues in a way that will ultimately lead us to a better place, because the old operating system does not work. And I’m attempting to put my feelings into words as I watch and listen and ask and wonder.
For what it’s worth, these thoughts, and a poem,
How Did We Get Here
When it becomes intolerable to hold a differing opinion and have the audacity to speak of it, if nothing other than a satiating of me-ness feeds my hunger. When I see your you-ness with the phantom of hate lurking in every word, when your tongue is tied and your pen is cramped in your atrophied hand. When your love conforms to a theology of diction, then we will no longer be safe, my friend. Safety is not sameness. I cannot promise to be a safe place, I can promise you I will need your grace at some point in this relationship, because I will not be safe. Save me from me. I don’t understand what you require of me?
Shall we trade in our luminousity, abandon the teeming sea of wild thought for the tepid waters of only that which we agree on? Is that safety? I do not believe compromise of either one of us is a foundation for true love. Love does not win here. We will be less than more. We will be less than our identity of beauty and uniqueness that we celebrate, can we celebrate instead of legislate to be? What will we talk about when we agree on everything? No need for speech seasoned with salty kindness, or wisdom that offers itself through experience of terror and of grace. No need for forgiveness, or patience, when we weigh every word count as watershed and cannot speak for fear of what will be misinterpreted.
How shall we speak? What shall we say of value or of truth and how will I know you and you know me if we only say what makes the other happy? With the dull roar of truth in our ears we will bite our tongues or swallow them while gagging on our inauthenticity, our lack of integrity, or please just brainwash me, so I no longer have to struggle with this issue of only saying what is acceptable or thinking a certain way, to fit in, to conform, to be uniform… borg… I will be assimilated… No!
No, I do not believe that will be my destiny, the end of my individuality! Just as the big bang is still heard in deep space, just as the universe continues to be formed, so too our thoughts, our words must rise up and escape our mouths, no matter the cost. What say you? What say me?
Lesley-Anne Evans, 2017
Dear Lesley-Anne, these are all great questions. I have observed that essays such as Sara Dueck’s are open to a simple litmus test: if the essay writes “I am,” try it with the verb changed for person, into “I is” or “I are.” It does no violence to the language, but shifts a conception of self and the privilege offered to ego within the text. One can then assess the real actor in the piece, which is, sadly, not Sara but this relativistic “I”, as the voice of the real consciousness here, the essay, and Sara’s attempt (we all must do this, ugh) to use it to portray her own will. I (and here I go, using the darned thing, what a trap!) do not wish to take away from Sara the reality or legitimacy of her fear. I can’t, don’t want to, and it would be offensive to even make such a suggestion. I feel for her suffering and am chilled by the world she describes. I would just like to add to your discussion here that humans today are immersed in a poisonous culture and are all struggling, in a dehumanizing environment or even a fully dehumanized one, to assert their identities as biological creatures, against all the structures and training that blocks them from it, and that includes the bar culture that Sara writes so chillingly about, and the art that she (and I) have been trained to write, and our cities, and and and and. This culture has roots, which are easily traceable, but here’s a chilling hypothesis to add to the others: close to 100% of the actors in the IT industry are young men, who are skilled at talking to machines, especially machines which replace biological actors, but perhaps not so skilled at talking to young women (they are young men, after all), who are more likely to be skilled at languages such as English, especially, perhaps, the English of contemporary academic space, including book-making languages. That’s not the hypothesis. That’s just an (overly-generalized) observation. But consider this: are those not the same? Is a struggle with that dehumanization not at the core of all of the essays you list above, once the sexual tension and violence have been gently and respectfully set to the side, to be picked up again after a moment of meditation? We have a shared problem, or, perhaps, those of us who are of a generation previous to the one in the depths of this terrible, confusing and essential struggle have a responsibility to help these young people find each other, or themselves, or to free themselves of the machines, which includes this “I”, or whatever else they need. I don’t know what that looks like. For me, an exploration of the roots of English in a focussed, earth-based language (biologically-apprehended) rather than an abstracting language, is a good start, but, surely, there are thousands of possible, contradictory approaches which our species (and the planet) needs all at once. My personal experience is that the “I” point of view, although necessary, has its limits, whether in discussions like this or in poetry or fiction, and my personal observation is that right now, in the social world in which words are exchanged today, most experience is filtered through this single point of view, which means that most experience represents the experience of this “I”, leaving the experience of the biological creatures we all are highly skewed and separating that experience from environmental experience (surely language that separates people from environment and the physical degradation of environment have strong links). It’s unknown territory out there, beyond it, but exciting territory, which shows how important words are and that so much is possible that can be of use and helpful, even through such culturally arcane acts as poetry. I wish you all the best for the coming year as you continue (as do we all) to find a path through these problems. It gives me hope just to see the problems laid down as thoughtfully and well as you have here. Thank you for the chance to respond. Wouldn’t it be fun to work out the deep historical roots of the binary universe. Time to dust off that Iamblichus I picked up in that used book store in Kelowna (now [not s] Original Joes) so many years ago! Cheers, Harold
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Thank you so much for engaging with me, Harold. I appreciate the depth of your considerations, and will turn things over for a bit before attempting a response. Sometimes I think would be easier to just watch Netflix, but such is this innate need to ponder, ha, ha! Happy New Year to you and to yours! Respectfully, Lesley-Anne