Tag Archives: difference

“Vive Le Difference” is Politically Relevant Today.

The following is a copy from another blog of mine which is very relevant to spirituality.  Religion, like politics, is always beset by the temptation of epistemic closure.  This is the tendency of human nature…always ego-ridden—to create a world and/or to affiliate with a world in which one’s premises are confirmed.

Difference matters to me.  I was raised in a conservative, American South culture with religion being the paramount dimension in my particular subculture.  But this upbringing in a rigid, highly structured atmosphere of “us vs. them” troubled me and in my early adulthood I began to acquire a more inclusive, less linear-thinking oriented approach to life.  Now, in the latter stages of my life, the issue of sameness vs. difference is a paramount concern of mine, especially given the political climate in my country and in the world.

Today I stumbled across a book in my library, “The Order of Things” by Michel Foucault, heavily marked up from my “youthful” enthusiasm of decades past.  In the quote which I will share, Foucault explores the relationship between “sympathy” (i.e. sameness”) vs. “antinomy” (difference) and the dialogic imperative of an interaction between these two complementary dimensions of the human soul.

Sympathy is an instance of the same so strong and so insistent that it will not rest content to be merely one of the forms of likeness; it has the dangerous power of assimilating, of rendering things identical to one another, of mingling them, of causing their individuality to disappear—and thus rendering them foreign to what they were before.  Sympathy transforms.  It alters, but in the direction of identity, so that if its power were not counter-balanced it would reduce the world to a point, to a homogeneous mass, to the featureless form of the same:  all its parts would hold together and communicate with one another without a break, with no distance between them, like those metal chains held suspended by sympathy to the attraction of a single magnet.

But then Foucault presents “antipathy” as the opposite life-force, equally necessary, which seeks to counter the otherwise stultifying power of the demand for sameness.  What he calls “antipathy” is merely a drive for difference, an innate desire to not be swallowed by the whole of sameness, a “whole” which would be merely a “black hole” without consideration of this “antipathy” or difference.  Foucault declares:

Sympathy is compensated by its twin, antipathy.  Antipathy maintains the isolation of things (i.e. the difference, the desire and demand for independence) and prevents their assimilation; it encloses every species within its impenetrable difference and its propensity to continue to being what it is.

This notion of continuing “to being what it is” is an essential dimension of identity, an ability to “hang onto” a core of what/who one is even when beset by the challenges of difference.  With maturity, i.e. “ego integrity,” one can hang onto a core of who one is even as he negotiates with difference, (i.e. “antipathy”) and knowing that he can survive…and even thrive…with the benefit of “difference” (i.e. something new) into its mindset.

And, my hero and soul-mate, W.H. Auden has a relevant note with which I conclude:

I wish you first a sense of theater.

Only those who learn illusion

And love it will go far.

Otherwise we spend our life

In confusion about who and what we really are.

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Racism is About More than Race

Racism is about an early development in the unfolding of the “original germ of being” which we are when that that “gleam in the eye of our father” suddenly bring us into this time/space continuum.  (I apologize to my mother who could have had some equivalent of this “gleam in her eye” but I’m sure patriarchy had taken that capacity from her in her early youth.)

As we unfold in our neonate state, we begin the process of biological differentiation in which we separate ourselves from the maternal matrix which was our origin.  This “differentiation” is the early phases of “object separateness” which will not conclude…and in some way never does…until our adulthood.  This requires a biological ability to separate ourselves from the biological morass which is our origin and begin to establish ourselves as separate and distinct. This is a physical/biological/neurological process which at some point after birth becomes more a function of a separate and independent human will.  Without this “separate and distinct” human will, we are fated to live our lives in the grip of unconscious impulses the knowledge of which will be banished from awareness.

Racism has its origin in this need to create an “us vs. them” paradigm starting with drawing distinctions between ourselves and our mother, and shortly thereafter our father, our siblings, and then the social world which we will find ourselves implicated within.  In many, if not most cultures, a significant development is when we begin to distinguish ourselves from various social categories.  In my case, being raised in the American South, one of the earliest “distinctions” that I drew was between myself, my very white family, and “those blacks”, then described as “n…..s.”  This was, and still is, one of the bedrocks of my emotional/psychological/spiritual existence for in the very important socio-cultural arena I was born into the “n…..s” were so readily “them.”

Socio-economics is relevant to this matter as I was born into a “po white trash” in central Arkansas in 1952.  I make that point with some reservation, for I am very proud of my origins and realize that the context in which I “discovered America” was totally happenstance.  But being from an impoverished Southern family in 1950’s America, the “n….s” were a primary embodiment of difference and without this “difference” we cannot exist as a group or as an individual.

Here I have put on the table a problem which is beyond the grasp of reason–how do I escape the basic human problem of “object separateness?”  How do I bridge the chasm that separates humankind from each other?  How do I give up that “us” vs. “them” paradigm? A friend of mine has a bumper sticker which answers the question, “Awareness is all.”  Simple awareness of the problem is the beginning of the answer.  If one can hold within his mind a contradiction like this—“I am my brother’s keeper, no I’m not”—the experience of paradox can begin to unfold in one’s heart and the grace of understanding can begin to flow through one’s encrusted, linear view of the world.

I must issue a caveat re my earlier point that racism is “still” part of the bedrock of my soul.  My point is that at the stage of development in which this was etched into my brain, the “recordings” are never erased though with “awareness being all,” we can learn to mitigate their influence and evolve a mind/brain/heart which allows us to see unity where we once only saw difference.

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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/literarylew.wordpress.com

 

 

Jesus Brought Meaning to the World

The subject of meaning teased me in my youth though it never was allowed to flourish until I started college and began to escape biblical literalism.  This escape was into a gradual appreciation of the metaphor which didn’t fully materialize until a prescient friend gave me a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets and W.H. Auden’s collected poetry in my mid thirties.  My life has not been the same.

Meaning involves intricate and intimate experience with difference.  Until one encounters meaning, he lives in a sterile universe of sameness usually marching lockstep with those of a similar orientation to life.  A quest for meaning inevitably leads one to a face-to-face encounter with meaninglessness for the one cannot exist without the other.  For example, there is no blue without non-blue.  Now I have been blessed as my venture into meaninglessness has been gentle for it can drive one stark raving mad.  I think I am fortunate to have what the poet John Keats described as “negative capability,” the ability to live with pronounced self-doubt, insecurity, and emotional fragility.  It is no accident that since the gift of poetry in my mid-thirties I have been immersed in poetry and literature for there I find metaphor which allows me to find an anchor in what would otherwise be an overwhelming mystery, a mystery that the linear thinking in which I was stuck for 35 years cannot abide.

It just dawned on me that the story of Jesus is a story of meaning being introduced into a sterile and lifeless world and its disruptive impact.  The world grinds relentless onward, mechanically almost. T. S. Eliot described it as moving in a rut, moving,
“In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.”

But the story of Jesus was about bringing authenticity into the mix.  Jesus was an invasion of consciousness and mankind voted with its feet that consciousness was not its first choice.  And I might add that in my lifetime, particularly this present moment, consciousness has not proven a popular option.  For consciousness is not a function of intelligence or technological accomplishment.  Consciousness is a function of reaching into the depths of the heart and wrestling with “the internal difference where the meanings are.”  These words are borrowed from the following Emily Dickinson poem:

There’s a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons –

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes –

 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –

We can find no scar,

But internal difference –

Where the Meanings, are –

 

None may teach it – Any –

‘Tis the seal Despair –

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the Air –

 

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –