Sunday, January 7, 2018
Split the Mind; Split the People
We split our minds in the same way societies split themselves.
We ingest food from the front, and eliminate it from the back.
We humans particularly like this most primitive split.
Kitchens are fun; bathrooms are disgusting.
New restaurants pop up everywhere. Meanwhile, toilet paper changes little.
It is difficult to come up with any idea of self not subject to such stark, binary oppositional separation.
Your ambitions compete with your limitations.
You’re awake when you’re not sleeping.
You have good wishes and bad ones.
Your wonderful conscience fights with your evil impulses.
In his newest novel, The Golden House, Salman Rushdie poetically describes the splitting inherent in our nature, using Scylla and Charybdis, icons of the Greek mythology, as symbols. He writes,
[…] the two mythical monsters between whom Odysseus’s ship had to sail in the Strait of Messina—the one “rationalized” as giant rocks, the other as a ferocious whirlpool—are symbolic, on the one hand, of other people (the rocks on which we break ourselves and founder), and on the other, of the darkness circling within ourselves (which sucks us down, and we drown).
A brilliant bit of writing!
Rushdie captures, in a few sentences, the splitting of good and bad in us, and how we project it into others. We struggle with the darkness circling within ourselves; we break ourselves and founder on the other.
Yet another genius contemporary writer, Phillip Roth, describes the societal split in his novel, Sabbath’s Theater. He proclaims the great ideologies of the twentieth century all failed because, in part, they pitted one group against another. They are all the same, he complains:
Fascism. Communism. Feminism. All designed to turn one group of people against another group of people. The good Aryans against the bad others who oppress them. The good poor against the bad rich who oppress them. The good women against the bad men who oppress them. The holder of the ideology is pure and good and clean and the other is wicked.
How deeply rooted in our cultures, perhaps in our biologies:
Men v. women, black v. white, brunettes v. blondes, north v. south, Europe v. the Middle East, Israelis v. the Palestinians, the North v. the South Koreans, and on and on forever.
Can we not perceive our irreducibly belonging to the same human family?
Can we not escape the foolish perception, as the Vedanta proclaims, that our identities are not contained within these sacks of skin we call our bodies?
No air = no life.
No water = no life.
No food = no life.
No micro-organisms slithering around inside of us = no life.
We are walking eco-systems, communities. We live with bacteria, viruses, fungi, mold—all kinds of “nasty” critters we pretend are “not us.” We need them as much as they need us.
We are them; they are us.
Phillip Roth’s character continues his rant on ideologies as lies:
Rushdie, S. (2017). The Golden House. New York: Random House.
Roth, P. (1994). Sabbath’s Theater. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP