Monday, March 11, 2024 #34

 He who loves the bristle of bayonets only sees in the glitter what beforehand he feels in his heart. It is avarice and hatred; it is that quivering lip, that cold, hating eye, which built magazines and powder-houses. (Ralph Waldo Emerson from The Virginia Center for Public Safety)

There is a radioactive paradox that has been rumbling around in my head for some time. While reading and reflecting on the lives, the thoughts and inheritances of men such as Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and their commitment to and honouring of nonviolence in the conduct of their epic struggles to end the oppression of their people, their impact on their time and people, as well as on the world generally, I am struck by the headlines of war, insurrection, terrorism, revenge and retribution, domestic violence and mass murders. Much of the violence in the world has to be laid at the feet of men. And, it is both clear and disconcerting to note that the disconnect between these two polarities cannot be lost or avoided by men of the twenty-first century. Living in the ‘middle’ of these poles, one is prompted to reflect on several questions.

·        Is the deeply embedded seed of faith and a religious discipline an essential for men to embrace fully a commitment to non-violence, and to an abstention of the abuse of power in all of its many forms and faces?

·        Are the male leaders (Mandela, Gandhi, Tutt, and King among others) of a special genetic or psychological nature that sets them apart from the rest of us?

·        Were these men so committed to a cause to which they dedicated their lives, that the strategy and tactic of non-violence became and remained essential for their ultimate success in dismantling, or at least remediating, apartheid, imperialism, racism?

·        Has the way we have ‘done’ history, through the factual, literal, date-filled documentation of the events, encounters, speeches, writings and their ‘heroic’ accomplishments either shielded or passed over the ‘inner lives’ of such men, and the daimon that ‘moved’ them?

·        Is there a divide, based on evidence, and transmitted through popular culture that separates the pursuit of high ideals (such as the dismantling of apartheid and imperialism and racism) from the work-a-day perspective, language and attitudes of the mechanic and the carpenter and the plumber all of whom must make a living with their hands?

·        Is there also a divide between these ‘epic heroes’ and the theoretical scholars whose books and philosophies, principles and experiments have filled the stacks of university libraries and lecture and seminar rooms on one hand, and on the other hand, those ‘blue-collar labourers’ on whose hands and brains and morals we place our trust?

·        Have we so elevated, glorified, pedestalled, and virtually ‘worshipped’ the ideals and the accomplishments of men like Mandela, Gandhi, Tutu, and King, (and others) that we have lost sight of the reality of their vulnerabilities, their dark sides and their often-monumental screw-ups?

Men of all political, economic, academic, professional, political, theological, philosophical, geographical and psychological strains and strata have been, and continue to be in search of their identity, their purpose, their modus operandi. And, for many, if not most men, the resume, or curriculum vitae summarizes their ‘identity’ for the purpose of attempting to identify ‘ourselves’ to a prospective employer. Such a document, regardless of how detailed, comprehensive or ‘personal’ it might be, is a seriously reduced and simplified depiction and description of who we are. And while it is also reductionistic to reduce the purpose of the resume to a catalogue of skills, it is also true that we present ourselves as a “role-player, function, in the design and strategy and purpose of some piece of “work” whether that be for an employer, as an entrepreneur, or even as an artist or professional. Performing actions to accomplish an end goal is the frame and lens in and through which we conceptualize our lives, especially as men. Even as fathers, we see ourselves as ‘bread-winners’ and ‘husbands,’ and ‘role models’ and advocates/protectors of our children and family. “Doing” is our way of relating, and comparing is our way of assessing our relative “place” and “value” in our circle. “Extrinsics,” those literal, empirical, measurable pieces of data of our existence are listed, highlighted and valued both by the one presenting to an employer/examiner/admission officer and hopefully also by the assessor.

As James Hillman writes in The Soul’s Code, a premise that grounds much of his thinking about contemporary (American) culture:

At the outset we need to make clear that today’s main paradigm for understanding human life, the interplay of genetics and environment, omits something essential—the particularity you feel to be you. By accepting the idea that I am the effect of a subtle buffeting between hereditary and societal forces, I reduce myself to as result. The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn’t do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography is the story of a victim. I am living a plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents…..We are victims primarily of theories before they are put into practice. The current American identity as victim is the tail side of the coin whose head brightly displays the opposite identity: the heroic self-made ‘man,’ carving out destiny alone and with unflagging will. Victim is the flip-side of hero. More deeply, however, we are victims of academic, scientistic, and even therapeutic psychology, whose paradigms do not sufficiently account for or engage with, and therefore ignore, the sense of calling, that essential mystery at the heart of each human life…..We dull our lives by the way we conceive them. We have stopped imagining them with any sort of romance, any fictional flare. (p. 5-6)

What kind of hero, then, is a question that has beset generations of men for centuries.

“From Hercules through St, George to the hero role in Freud and Jung we have had a hero archetype moving us, the ego. We believe the ego should be strong and just and overcome death, depression and decay and stand for culture and civilization’. (Dick Russell, The Life and Ideas of James Hillman, Vol. 2, Revisioning Psychology, Hillman’s notes on lectures at the Jung Institute, 1971, p. 94)

Indeed, contemporary vernacular is replete with the word and notion of ‘self’ (as if self and ego were identical).

The New Oxford English Dictionary—the shorter edition!—gives ten columns in its small print to compound of ‘self’: ‘self-satisfaction,’ ‘self-control,’ ‘self-defeating,’ ‘self-approval,’ ‘self-contempt,’ ‘self-satisfied,’ and maybe five hundred more.  (Hillman, The Soul’s Code, p. 257)

Against and in place of the self and the ego, dominating both our language and our perception of human identity, Hillman poses a different lens through which to open the door and window to identity: the daimon---calling, fate, character, innate image ….together they make up the ‘acorn theory’ which holds that each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived (TSC p.6)….Daimon as genius and then (in) more modern terms such as ‘angel,’ ‘soul,’ paradigm,’ ‘image,’ ‘fate,’ ‘inner twin,’ ‘acorn,’ ‘life companion,’ ‘guardian,’ ‘heart’s calling,’ ….Among native peoples on the North American continent, we find a parade of terms for the acorn as an independent spirit-soul: yega (Coyukon): and owl (Kwakiutl); ‘agate man’ (Navaho); nagual (Central American/southern Mexico); tsayotyeni (Santa Ana Pueblo), sicom (Dakota)…these beings accompany guide, protect, warn. (TSC, p. 257)

A daimon in the ancient world was a figure from somewhere else, neither human nor divine, something in between the two belonging to a ‘middle region,’ (metaxu) to which the soul belonged. The daimon was more an intimate psychic reality than a god; it was a figure who might visit in a dream of send signals as an omen, a hunch, or an erotic urge. (TSC p 258)

Contemporary history is filled with the biographic details of Mandela, Gandhi, Tutu, as well as details of the kernels of their respective faith and/or belief systems. Common to all three is the well-documented and oft-repeated adjective, ‘selfless’. And in a period in history in which the alpha male (‘ego’ and ‘might’ and ‘power’ and ‘strength’) is on display in political and journalistic rhetoric, as if those details were the prime causes and motivators of whatever current political and military actors are doing, the concept of selflessness remains, in the vernacular, an epic indication of weakness. Unfortunately, we have a parade of what Hillman might call ‘titanism’ a human trait he considers worse than narcissism.

In the preface to his monumental work, Re-Visioning Psychology, James Hillman writes:

I would not encourage Titanism, a menace far greater than Narcissism, which presents only a pensive pretty-boy compared with the titanic grandiosity of Self. …..Self can be defined only from within itself by its own representations. Principal among these are the irrefutable truth of personal experience and the inflating feelings of personal significance. Utterly self-referent, it knows no God greater than itself. Now most psychology takes all this quite literally, so that behind psychology’s devotion to the personal stands neither humanism nor individualism, but rather a literalism of Self like an invisible nonexistent God absolutely believed in. Absolutism is either fundamentalism, delusion, or literalism—or all of the Above. Perhaps it’s right then to say there is no greater literalism in psychology than its idea of Self, a literalism that converts our supposedly investigative field into a branch of mystic fundamentalism. This leads me further to think that our culture’s omnipotent and omniscient Godhead who supposedly replaced the mutually limiting pagan beings on myth is none other that a Titan returned from Tartaros (the infernal region of ancient Greek mythology, the underworld) to a too high place, and, worse, all alone. (p. xii)

It was the ‘cause’ the purpose, and the calling of Mandela, Gandhi, Tutu, and not their personal ‘ego’ that drove their lives….and not their own self-aggrandizement. Indeed, all three suffered considerably, at times almost inexplicably and tragically, in order to sustain the cause of their efforts. They, likely without a single second dedicated to the notion of what the history books would say about them, submitted themselves to the movement of alleviating oppression of their people. And, to those of us reflecting backward on their lives, we can readily see a ‘calling’ a ‘genius’ and an ‘angel’ that both came from within and drew them onward, without even flinching or failing insofar as they had both energy and consciousness.

There was nothing ‘fundamental’ or absolute about their methods, their relationships, and their perspective on themselves as well as on their ‘situation’. They sought and deployed multiple options in strategies, tactics and human supports. They spent hours in deep reflection, not merely in strategizing and planning, but also in learning, remembering, tolerating others and indeed in supporting others of a similar commitment to their respective cause. There was no delusion, and certainly no minimalist literalism to their perspective, the ideology or their discernment of their respective roles and histories. Lacking almost completely in inflated feelings of personal significance, it was their dedication to nonviolence, to reconciliation, and to the freedom of their people in their pursuit of the almost insurmountable and epic outcomes.

Today, by contrast, we have a culture drowning in images of ‘self’ as if personal significance, expressed in the latest microscopically parsed ‘word’ or phrase, indelibly inked into the public consciousness, as a convicting piece of evidence of some psychic or genetic abnormality and justification for ‘unworthiness’ for office. Not only are the actors on the stage under highly inflated moral, ethical and psychological and religious microscopes, so too are the messengers. And both groups have lost sight of the shared responsibility not merely to preserve democracy, but to deploy its strengths to enhance the lives of their people, through the reduction of those things than enshackle them: fear, alienation, anxiety, homelessness, statelessness, war, terrorism, famine and existential environmental threats.

Just because the “oppression” is not so narrowly defined, and just because the oppression is not confined (nor confineable) to a single nation or region, and because everyone on the planet is aware, in real time, of the ravages and the murders and the rapes and the bombed hospitals, schools, apartment complexes and city squares, not the mention the nuclear reactors on the verge of meltdown…the kind of selflessness, and ‘calling’ that lay in the hearts and minds of at least the three men in our view, is more needed and more absent, than at any time in the lifetime of this scribe.

Were these men, and others, legitimately and authentically, ‘ahead of their time’ in the sense that they saw beyond the immediate, the literal, the egocentric to the ‘vision’ as an integral part of their own ‘daimon,’ or ‘inner angel’….

Joseph Campbell, in his work, Myth and Meaning, (202) writes about the time we are in:

We’re in a period, in terms of history, of the end of national and tribal consciousness. The only consciousness that is proper to contemporary life is global. Nevertheless, all popular thinking is in terms of loyalties to the local communities to which all are members. Such thinking is not out of date.

What we face is a challenge to recognize one community on this earth, and what we find in the face of this challenge is everybody pulling back into his own group. I don’t want to name the in-groups, but we all know pretty well what they are. In our country (the U.S.), we call them pressure groups. They are racial groups, class groups, religious groups, economic groups, and they are all tangling with each other.

For any people to say, ‘We are it and the others are ‘other—these are dangerous people. And there are religions still doing this. The new thing that is very difficult for people to realize I sour society is the human race. And out little suburb is the globe. Spaceship Earth.’ (https://www,jcf,org/product-page/myth-and-meaning-conversations-on-mythology-and life-ebook)

Such a perspective, whether or not actually read and studied by Mandela, Gandhi and Tutt (and others), would have easily compiled, even sustained the work to which these men dedicated their lives. There seems to have been a connecting ‘bridge’ between their ‘daimon’ and their moment in history. The sophomoric question of whether history makes the man, or the reverse, the man makes history, notwithstanding, there has to be an intimate, sentient, sensitive and imaginatively courageous perspective both of the identity of the individual and the inherent and seemingly natural ‘integration’ of the man and his moment that defies science, and perhaps theology.

The capacity to withstand the onslaught of continual pressure, continual betrayal, continual defiance, and misinterpretation of both personal identity and motive, of ideology, morality and ethic, of a determined resistance to defend, at all costs, the ‘it’ and to make them (and their comrades) ‘the other’ is a theme which has defined much of western history. In the case of South Africa, the ‘it’ comprised the apartheid system of white supremacy, and the ‘other’ were the blacks, and coloureds and Indians. In the case of India, the ‘it’ were the British imperialists, while the ‘other’ were the Indian people. Campbell’s insight that ‘in-groups’ define the manner in which the political and cultural systems are being manipulated, can apply internally to each nation, as well as to the geo-political stage. In each and every town, school, college, university, and corporation, there is a dominant “it” and a recessive “other” so defined and determined and sustained by the power of the will of the ‘it’.

And, from one perspective, these men, Mandela, Gandhi, Tutu, all considered themselves intimately connected to ‘other’ and determined to oppose the granite establishment of the ‘it’. Doubtless, they would all argue that their perspective was not what defined them, so much as how they were determined and enabled to enact their beliefs, principles, values and both strategies and tactics with others of like mind and determination. And in the course of their ‘living out’ their work, they adopted the principles of ‘nonviolence’ and respect for the ‘other that was missing from those who considered themselves the ‘it’.

We do know, for example, that one of these men, Mandela, regularly recited the poem Invictus during his imprisonment (Charle LaMonica, Invictus  A poem frequently recited by Nelson Mandela, from Invictus, meaning unconquerable or undefeated in Latin, was written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley.

Out of the night that

covers me,

Black as the pit from ‘

pole to pole

I thank whatever gods

may be

For my unconquerable



In the fell clutch of


I have not winced nor

cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings

of chance

 My head is bloody, but



Beyond this place of

wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of

the Shade,

And yet the menace of

the years

Finds and shall find me’



It matters not how strait

the gate,

How charged with

punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my


I am the captain of my


Indefatigable, selfless, deeply committed, not only to the ‘cause’ but also to a deep and profound awareness of the limits to one’s power and influence, and a determination to exercise a discipline on himself, …..clearly these attributes apply to all three.


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