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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Reflections on the implications of enantiadromia....beyond the church

 This week we read, in Al Jazeera, that the neutrality of Austria ‘is not up for public debate’ according to leaders of mainline political parties. Having been divided by various ‘world powers’ after European conflicts, there is a strong public the commitment to neutrality. And, in the middle of Russian invasion of Ukraine, although previously the Austrians purchased 80% of their natural gas from Russia, they have now reduced that to 50%. So, there has to be some kind of at least minor in the official ‘thinking’ in Vienna. Attempting to serve as potential broker in and when there might be a peace negotiation to end the conflict, seems now to be kind of ‘wishful hope’ rather than a legitimate expectation.

Back in the1950’s James M. Minifie wrote a book entitled, “Canada: Peacemaker or Powder Monkey,” in which he concluded that Canada was a “powder-monkey in that the U.S. could launch acts of aggression against other world states and Canada would follow. And that has largely been the pattern.” (hamiltoncoalitiontostopthewar.ca)

Jean Chretien, as Prime Minister, must have been fully conscious of this theme in Canadian history when, in 2003, he declared that Canada would not join the United States in its declared war against Iraq. Canada did however join the U.S. conflict in Afghanistan in one of the longest wars in U.S. history.

The question of neutrality/engagement/choosing sides, however, is one that faces each individual, as well as each family, community, church, and government on various levels at different times. And at the centre of that tension is the question of the relationship between duty and public expectation and identity, belief, conviction and ego reality. The first, duty etc. can be referenced as the ‘mask’ or the public face that one puts on in order to ‘facilitate’ the daily and hourly encounters, in a kind of seemingly ‘scripted’ performance. The second is more closely integrated with the authentic feelings, perceptions, attitudes, beliefs and core benchmarks of one’s identity.

Public performance versus a private reality is a theme that runs through literature, all of the biographies of all of the major world figures whose lives have touched their writers and their readers, and certainly throughout the oceans of fiction that have been published.

Yesterday, this space mentioned the concept of enantiadromia, the place, condition in which the person/organization/government/corporation/church/nation flips into a state in which it (we, they) become so extreme that they turn into their opposite. Jung adds that ‘this characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counter-position is built up which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.” (Wikipedia.org) At the personal level, when the ”mask” (Persona) of the performance in a role subsumes the identity of the individual, the individual loses ‘sight’ of or consciousness of his/her inner identity, then the individual flips intro that state described by Margaret Laurence in The Stone Angel, “Pride was my wilderness and the demon that led me there was fear.”

A similar principle is articulated in the Chinese Yin-Yang, in that yang lines become yin when they have reached their extreme, and vice versa. Yin (dark on the right) is the receptive and yang (light on the left) the active principle. This duality, in Taoism is not an either-or but an indivisible whole. In Confucianism, however, a moral dimension is added to both yin and yang.

I first met this concept in a piece of research on a life ended tragically when I discovered the extreme of the ‘persona’ (the mask) having fused with the ego (the identity) and the individual had succumbed, at least in my interpretation to the extreme demands of his professional role which drowned his sense of his ego and left him no perceived hope. So the fusion of the mask and the ego, as the initial meeting with this concept has impacted much of my subsequent thought, feeling and perceptions.

There is, undoubtedly, a kind of either-or aspect to this kind of thinking. And yet, given that there are forces, energies, winds, and seasons, including masculine and feminine genders at work, the thinking behind these various iterations of the concept do not reduce to Manicheanism, whereby everything is either good or bad. It would seem reasonable to observer that perhaps there has been a fusion of the two ideas, in North America, whereby “Good and Bad” have gone to war, as if the forces on one side of the political ‘aisle’ see themselves as ‘good’ and that those forces on the other side of the aisle can be and are only bad. And that frozenness, (call it stubbornness, fossilized, frozen, intransigent or ….) seems to have burned the concept of nuance out of the potential for public debate. We seem to have turned to a form of extreme Confucianism and neglected the Tao. Whether that has been a collective unconscious cultural shift, or whether it has taken place at a conscious collective level, seems worthy of more study and thought.

The church (taken generally as the Christian church) has positioned itself as force dedicated to the relationship between humans and God, whereas the secular society, the economy, the political institutions and the business world sees itself as the agency (collectively) that manages the public need. And while there has been an implicit divide, (“Caesar v God”), and some theologians have written that there is no real separation between the things of the world and the things of the spirit, the religious institutions have traditionally taken a different lens, theory, modus operandi and purpose: to help humans orient to a different attitude, perception, value system, belief and praxis than that of the “street”.

As these ideas percolate, one cannot help but acknowledge that the whole notion of  “divide” whether of self, or between those aspects of human existence that we consider sacred from those aspects we consider secular, is itself a deeply “European” notion. Some are becoming familiar with the distinctions between, for example, the indigenous and the European world view. From the website, ictinc.ca (Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.) we find these words:

Eight differences between indigenous and western worldviews:

1.   I (Indigenous) Spiritually oriented society, system based on belief and spiritual world.

W (Worldview) Scientific skeptical, requiring proof as basis of belief

2.   I –There can be many truths; truths area dependent upon individual experiences

W-There is only one truth, based on science or Western style law.


3.   I- Society operates in a state of relatedness. Everything and everyone is related. There is real belief  that people, objects and the environment are all connected. Law kindship and spirituality reinforce this connectedness. Identity comes from connections.

W- Compartmentalized society, becoming more so.


4.   I- The land is sacred and usually given by a creator or supreme being.

W- The land and its resources should be available for development and extraction for the benefit of humans.


5.   I- Time is non-linear, cyclical in nature. Time is measured in cyclical events. The seasons are central to this concept.

W- Time is usually linearly structured and future orientated. The framework of months, years, days etc. reinforces the linear structure.


6.   I- Feeling comfortable is measured by the quality of your relationships with people.

W- Feeling comfortable is related to how successful you feel you have been in achieving your goals.


7.   I- Human beings are not the most important in the world.

W-Human beings are most important in the world.


8.   I-Amassing wealth is important for the good of the community.

W-Amassing wealth is for personal gain.

Given that in North America, we are influenced by forces from Europe and forces inherent to the indigenous peoples who inhabited these lands prior to the European “conquest” and “colonization”, we can see how the worldviews, perspectives, vocabulary and language of both, as well as the eastern concepts of Yin and Yang are ‘swimming’ around in the cultural ethos. And while attempting to apply the notion of enantiadromia not only to the human individual, but by extension to the ‘institutional’ psyche is necessarily a euro-based kind of argument, the lens of biology, as well as the lens of botany and zoology have frequently been deployed as metaphors for observing phenomena in other spheres (from a euro-perspective).

Recognizing in oneself, when one’s life has tipped over into the extreme in which the ‘role’ and the ‘performance’ has supplanted the ego, is, as one might expect, neither obvious, nor comfortable. The western world view of success/accomplishment/achievement/status/wealth/power have been so indoctrinated as “commonly agreed values”, and the notion of human intervention as “critical parent” has been embedded into so much of our epistemology, cosmology, and social dogma, means that from the perspective of both the law and medicine, “things we do not understand, tolerate or accept” (what we call abnormal) have been compartmentalized into ‘sickness’ or ‘criminality’. That euro-compartmentalization, has, as a consequence, imposed a kind of ‘narrow path’ on fitting in that impacts literally and metaphorically, every single person and role.

As part of our being “formed” we have what the French call  “formation professionelle”…the impact of our formal education and training on our world view. And, naturally, much of that formation has roots in euro-think.

And, as we have been reminded by Lionel Tiger in The Manufacture of Evil, that as our processes of manufacturing which have become so precise and operate in increasingly narrow margins of error, so too we have imposed a similar kind of “manufacturing tolerance” on our assessment of evil and wrong-doing. It is not difficult to speculate that, once ignited in a person, or family or institution, those guidelines for ‘acceptable’ (call it professional, ethical, normal, moral or political, conventional) become a kind of straight-jacket, (depending on one’s perspective) that either ‘liberates’ or constricts individuals (and organizations) from the prospect of become self-aware, as well as the prospect of adapting to new insights or threats or opportunities.

It says here that the conjunction of a divide between the secular and the sacred, with a highly steroidal-injected ambition to “succeed” and to “fit in” and with the methods of both manufacture and communicate that have accompanied the industrial and the technological revolutions, and the determination to ‘fit in’ to the conventional culture (both the collective conscious and the collective unconscious) that accompanies the requirements and the job descriptions of all organizational leadership and their executives, has imposed an inscrutable, inevitable, and tragic set of forces that have so crippled the heart, the mind and the spirit of both the institutions themselves and their responsible leaders, that their form has succumbed to their function.

In art, “form follows function” is the principle that the form art takes    should be based upon its intent and purpose. Some posit that form follows function, while others like Frank Lloyd Wright argue that “form and function are one”.

It is this “unity” of form and function that, in all things, physical, relational, spiritual we are, it seems, hardwired, to search for a kind of oneness…with nature, with ourselves, and with God. And this impulsion can been extrapolated, at a very basic level, from our origins….separated from the mother at birth, and then oriented to a world of highly defined, moralized, inculcated, nurtured, motivated through both extrinsic and intrinsic conditioning, and then launched into various worlds of their own “forms of conditioning”. And whether there is a deity included in the various forms of “formation”  both personal and professional, the relationships are documented in terms that can be transmitted, and both rewarded or sanctioned, depending on compliance.

And, while this process of development, psychologically, socially, intellectually, spiritually differs from region and culture, it ostensibly is designed by frameworks of language and thought that, by definition, and by observation and analysis, require significant, critical and frequently very uncomfortable and distressing and conceivably radical transformation.

If enantiadromia is one of the canaries in our collective coal mine, singing of the tip from form into exclusive function, and we can observe that negative flip, then it might be feasible to envision some warning lighthouse blinking lights that warn of the shoals of excessive and extreme commitment to something none of us can or will sustain.

The constrictions of a perfect public face, whether for an individual, a family, a church or a corporation, has the risk inherent in its perfection, of capsizing that identity. It already has in the lives of many individuals; it threatens to capsize the American ‘ship of state’ and also the so-called world order of the last several decades.

As the world tips into an excessive dependence on numbers, size, science, technology and the multiple indoctrination streams (called euphemistically the education of our youth), we risk a catastrophic collapse of the collective human consciousness and unconsciousness, as we all succumb to becoming what we are not, things, to be manipulated by some power structure outside of ourselves and outside of our control.

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