A Balance of Light and Darkness
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps. —William Blake’s devil
Most people just can’t be saints. Most don’t even want to be, and most who do want to can’t manage it even if they try. We are human, all too human, a kind of upgraded ape; and much of our foolish behavior is built right into our genes, it’s in our blood. A person trying to reprogram his mind in an attempt to eradicate the evil and error there is like a faulty computer trying to reprogram itself—hardly likely to be entirely successful. Even many who do manage to become very saintly are pretty damn nutty, like some of those visionary Christian saints centuries ago, and not so good at functioning in a complex secular society.
As I’ve written elsewhere, willful repression of one’s basic animal urges in particular generally leads to a kind of emotional pressure cooker in the mind of the person attempting it. The deep urges don’t just go away if one denies them; instead the urges remain, lurking under the surface, and build up pressure in the subconscious until they eventually percolate up and manifest themselves in the form of hysteria or some other psychological dysfunction. Consider the chronic mass hysteria of the ultra modest, ultra uptight Puritans a few hundred years ago, or Victorian ladies’ ease of fainting. Also I assume this is a major reason why saintly fanatics are so prone to seeing visions and hearing voices. It may also account for why so many saints have had their lifespan abruptly shortened by seemingly psychosomatic illnesses, including even the stigmata (of which St. Francis of Assisi allegedly died).
So maybe it is fortunate, in some ways, that we live in a spiritually lukewarm, mediocre age. People don’t have much religious faith nowadays. But that also indicates that we don’t repress our basic urges as much, so the dark side runs rampant instead of being kept caged in religious hearts.
You can’t have a coin with only one side; and two-headed coins are generally fake. You can’t only inhale without ever exhaling. You can’t have only up and no down, or only pleasure and no pain, or only good and no bad (those saints just mentioned are also not smug about their goodness, and generally consider themselves to be the chief of sinners—in many cases their intense perception of sin inspires them to overcompensate in a desperate effort to avoid damnation and hellfire). Everyone has a dark side, an underside, a negative side, and it doesn’t go away just because it is outlawed or shamed or repressed.
So, people need a way of dealing with inevitable negativity in themselves as well as in others. Demonizing it and trying to outlaw it may be necessary in some cases, but its effectiveness is necessarily limited. Even intensely religious societies have harbored plenty of evil—in fact they may have harbored the highest levels of it—like medieval Europe, for example, or colonialist Counter-Reformation Spain under the Inquisition, or Puritanical England and its western colonies. Feminizing society, as utopian feminist man-haters seem to prefer, is also out, as females of course have their own sorts of negativity (fear, for example); also, as with other pairs of opposites, we can’t have only feminine and no masculine anyway. It would turn out more like a society of culturally neutered eunuchs. But artificially rendering everyone an androgynous eunuch is not the best solution to the ills of society, regardless of the “equality” that might result from it.
Superficial attempts to remove all suffering, pain, harshness, and so on are really an inadvertent attempt to bore everyone to death in some bland, 100% vanilla-flavored pseudo heaven world. As Schopenhauer observed, “after man had placed all pains and torments in hell, there was nothing left for heaven but boredom.” Some people actually need friction and trouble, and some desperately crave it. Also I may as well add that the positive/negative good/bad dichotomy of most political narratives is hogwash, as there is inevitably plenty of evil on both sides. It’s rarely if ever a case of good guys in white hats vs. bad guys in black ones, because everyone is bad, and everyone is good, because everyone contains both. The only way to eliminate badness would be to eliminate goodness along with it, so that everyone who can’t transcend the world and become enlightened is required to live in a boring heaven/hell of completely bland neutrality, and that is impossible. If badness is somehow eliminated we’ll just make new badness to take its place.
The best approach for people living in the world is to accept the inevitability of the harsh, negative side of life, and to find a relatively healthy outlet for naturally occurring negativity, as was the case in the traditional past. For men in the past, and to some degree still even now, the harshness of worldly reality was met with stoic machismo, militarism, athletics, masculine rivalries, hard work and hard play, and a certain barbaric code of honor that honored courage and austerity and despised cowardice and luxury. Then again, in the old days life itself was sufficiently harsh and austere on a regular basis that it naturally toughened people up and inured them to routine discomfort, pain, and inevitable death. Lately this natural balance has been lost, resulting in the counterbalancing positive side of life also to degenerate, leaving us in a state of bland spiritual mediocrity.
Consequently the feminine push for comfort and “niceness” should be resisted to some degree. Certainly there should be no outlawing of “hate,” much less negativity in general, even though the doing of good should be encouraged and the blatant harming of others presumably has to be punished and kept to a minimum. A world with plenty of harshness and discomfort can actually be more spiritual, and more fulfilling. One of my favorite examples of this is the Hindu hero/deity Krishna, considered to be an avatar and earthly manifestation of the god Vishnu—yet he (He) lies, kills, steals, and fornicates without compunction. This is because the highest God, as Krishna is considered to be by his many devotees, is not merely the God of goodness and light, but of badness and dark also. In other words, he is the God of absolutely Everything. And because he is enlightened and without delusion or attachment, presumably, everything he does, even if outwardly immoral, is perfect: perfect lying, perfect killing, perfect stealing, perfect fornicating. (I realize that this is damnable heresy from a Theravada Buddhist point of view, but I’m discussing Hinduism, and perhaps worldly reality here. A similar example is Severian the Torturer in Gene Wolfe’s great Book of the New Sun, in which only a man bearing the full spectrum of human qualities, dark as well as light, can be the epitome, representative, and savior of humanity. Another example: Neo, in the movie The Matrix, upon his resurrection as The One, the new Messiah, dives headfirst into the body of Agent Smith, the symbolic Devil. The fullness of perfection contains all opposites within it. (Buddhism, on the other hand, strives for the perfection of emptiness, which excludes all opposites, all duality, and thus ultimately all goodness as well as badness.)
It is better to instruct the people able to hear, using some philosophy they can understand and accept, more or less, but then allow them to be messed up humans, because that’s what they necessarily are going to be anyway, with extremely few exceptions. One of my favorite self help slogans is “I’m not okay and you’re not okay, and that’s okay.” It may sound silly, but there is some real wisdom in that.
In the human world, the world of the common person, for the vulgar mental state of lust there is monogamy as a compromise—or possibly even jerking off to pornography would be better than the blatant alternative of debauchery. For materialistic greed there is free market capitalism (indicating one of the many reasons why socialism and centralized economic regulation doesn’t work). For natural aggression there are all sorts of traditional outlets, including athletics, the military, and honorable combat with fists or even matched dueling weapons, etc. But there must be socially acceptable outlets for all the dark motives and feelings, or at least some plausible way of sublimating a really pernicious urge into something less harmful, like hunting as a means of slaking one’s bloodlust. Even people born into relatively extremely bad mental situations have to find some way of working off their darker urges in an acceptable way, because of course if they don’t they’ll work them off in unacceptable ways. Again, simply repressing negativity doesn’t really make it disappear, and most people just aren’t ready to be saints or sages.
This is why even extremely spiritually gifted saints are often nutty as hell (hence their propensity to see visions and hear voices), and often die of diseases facilitated, at least, by the extreme strain of excessive saintliness. For the common person, though striving to do good and refrain from doing evil is very laudable and advisable, and generally leads to some good results, nevertheless trying to abolish negativity, pain, and spiritual darkness is worse than futile; at best we can cultivate some of the stoicism of our ancestors, and reduce the harm we do to others—real harm, that is, not just saying or doing what we please and thereby offending some hypersensitive malcontent with a chronic chip on her shoulder.
The human mind, and thus human civilization in general, works within the context of duality: like/dislike, good/bad, beautiful/ugly, right/wrong, male/female, left/right, stasis/change, figure/ground, mind/matter, existence/nonexistence, particle/antiparticle, even Gentile/Jew in the west. This dynamic polarity seems to be necessary for existence, which will be a philosophical AF essay coming up in the future, insh’allah.
Only through experience do we become aware of the inflexibility of other people’s characters, and till then we childishly believe that we could succeed by representations of reason, by entreaties and prayers, by example and noble-mindedness, in making a man abandon his own way, change his mode of conduct, depart from his way of thinking, or even increase his abilities; it is the same, too, with ourselves. We must first learn from experience what we will and what we can do; till then we do not know this, are without character, and must often be driven back on to our own path by hard blows from outside. —Arthur Schopenhauer
Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys reason; Evil is the active springing from Energy. Good is heaven. Evil is hell….
Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling. And being restrained, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of desire. The history of this is written in Paradise Lost, and the Governor or Reason is called Messiah. And the original Archangel or possessor of the command of the heavenly host is called the Devil, or Satan, and his children are called Sin and Death. But in the book of Job, Milton’s Messiah is called Satan. For this history has been adopted by both parties. It indeed appeared to Reason as if desire was cast out, but the Devil’s account is, that the Messiah fell, and formed a heaven of what he stole from the abyss. This is shown in the Gospel, where he prays to the Father to send the Comforter or desire that Reason may have ideas to build on, the Jehovah of the Bible being no other than he who dwells in flaming fire. Know that after Christ’s death he became Jehovah.
But in Milton, the Father is Destiny, the Son a ratio of the five senses, and the Holy Ghost vacuum! Note. The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.
—William Blake, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell