A necessary lie

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Nihilist                     -                    Totalitarian
Pragmatist                -                    Realist
Relative                    -                   Absolute 
Complex                  -                    Simple
Poly                          -                    Mono
Centrifugal               -                    Centripetal
Destruction               -                    Conservation
Flawed                      -                    Perfect
Relative                     -                    Absolute
Figurative                  -                    Literal
Liquid                        -                    Solid
Earth                          -                    Heaven


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All things are so very uncertain. And that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.

[Too-Ticky]
Moominland Midwinter


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We must build structures and believe them - believe that they are solid, real, and 'true' - yet at the same time we must also be aware that they are transitory, illusory, and - in the the last - only 'true-enough'.

This dilemma has been referred to as 'the Divine Paradox': we must act as if things are absolute, whilst knowing that they are, in fact, only relative. We must play a game, and believe in it enough to play it well; whilst never forgetting that it is, when all is said and done, only a game.

If we believe too much in the solidity of things then we become dogmatic, fundamentalist, totalitarian; we stiffen up, all of our pores close, and we become unable to tolerate - let alone assimilate - new information. We believe in one meaning, one God, and to hell with all the others. We become as certain as statues, rooted and immobile.

Totalitarianism can be characterised by a pathological need to conserve, or hold-together.

If we believe too little then we become skeptical, pessimistic, nihilstic - we become formless, because all form is a lie. Nothing can stick to us, or even touch us. We believe in no meanings, no God (or gods), and to hell with everyone.We become as uncertain as the breeze, unable to connect to anyone, or anything.

Nihilism can be characterised by a pathological need to destroy, or break-apart.

Beneath our structures lies an endless sea of complexity. It is the place from which all structures emerge, and into which all structures return. To glimpse this complexity can cause us intolerable anxiety, and so we may choose to shelter within the safety of our sanctuary and avoid looking outside.

But sometimes a wave comes crashing over our walls, and bursts through our doors, and we're faced with a decision: sink or swim?

Realism is a way station on the route to totalitarianism. The realist insists that there are 'truths' out there; that they stand like monoliths, strong, tall and indifferent to what we may think of them. The realist understands the danger of the sea, but believes that there is such a thing as solid ground, and that if we are diligent enough we can map out these dry places, and live upon them; and moreso, that if only we can build our structures well enough - seal up all openings and make them watertight - that we need never fear the crashing waves or the monsters of the deep. The realist likes dry places, and strong walls.

Pragmatism is a way station on the line to nihilism. Whilst the pragmatist may value his structures, he always has an ear tuned to the sea that roils and roars beyond his boundaries. He does not literalize his structures, believing that even the most impressive monument is, in the last, no more than a castle made of sand. He does not, therefore, believe in objective truths, preferring instead to think of truth as a subjective agreement; as the point of overlap between multiple views. The pragmatist likes damp places, and permeable boundaries.

The realist chooses to believe that there is a wizard, and that he is all-powerful and in control, whereas the pragmatist pulls aside the curtain and reveals the necessary lie - that the wizard is only human, that he has little power; and that what power there is, lies within all of us; and that what sanctuary there is, exists because we create it.

And so here is the tightrope on which we find ourselves: we cannot live in the sea, and so must build our structures, and to build them well we must, to a degree, believe in what we are doing - after all, those that play the game best are those to whom it isn't 'just a game.' Yet we must also never lose sight of the fact that we are, in the last, only playing; we must never take ourselves, or our creations, too seriously.

But is it possible to believe in the wizard once his secret has been revealed? Perhaps the secret, like all esoteric knowledge, is only intended for certain ears.


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The neo-Freudian cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker […] believed that the emergence of self-consciousness rendered the individual’s existential position in the world permanently intolerable.

The individual aware of his or her mortal limitation has to hide from reality:

“I believe that those who speculate that a full apprehension of man’s condition would drive him insane are right, quite literally right.... Who wants to face up fully to the creatures that we are, clawing and gasping for breath in a universe beyond our ken? ... Everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate.”

Becker therefore presumed that human character was of necessity a “vital lie ... a necessary and basic dishonesty about oneself and one’s whole situation” […]

[…] Becker realized that there was something pathological about such “necessary” and “inevitable” dishonesty; knew that the trivialization of reality came at the cost of dignity and self-respect. He believed that too much exposure to reality produced an intolerable chaos, that too little produced a narrow and unbearable restriction, and that the middle ground constituted a form of far-from-admirable but perhaps necessary “philistinism” [...]

Becker was therefore finally sceptical of the benefits of psychotherapy, in general (“psychology as self-knowledge is self-deception, because it does not give what men want, which is immortality. Nothing could be plainer”) [...]

This sophisticated neo-psychoanalyst saw the world, finally, as a place of existential catastrophe, from which human beings are protected by a shield of religious and ideological delusion – the delusion being first that life has some transcendent and ultimate value and second that human beings, qualitatively different from mere animals, somehow partake in that value.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
‘Complexity Management Theory: Motivation for Ideological Rigidity and Social Conflict’, in Cortex, December 2002, p. 429-30


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Our lack of "essence" or preordained structure, our "nothingness," leads us to crave solidity. We are, you could say, whirlwinds who wish they were rocks.

We cling to things in the hopes that they will provide us with a certain "weight." We try to turn our loved ones into things by demanding that they not change, or we try to change them into perfect partners, not realizing that a statue, though it may live forever, has no love to give us.

[C. George Boeree]
'Towards a Buddhist Psychotherapy'


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While to THE INFINITE ALL, the Universe, its Laws, its Powers, its Life, its Phenomena, are as things witnessed in the state of Meditation or Dream; yet to all that is Finite, the Universe must be treated as Real, and life, and action, and thought, must be based thereupon, accordingly, although with an ever understanding of the Higher Truth.

Under any hypothesis the Universe in its outer aspect is changing, ever-flowing, and transitory — and therefore devoid of substantiality and reality.

But (note the other pole of the truth) under any of the same hypotheses, we are compelled to act and live as if the fleeting things were real and substantial.

Were THE ALL to imagine that the Universe were indeed Reality, then woe to the Universe, for there would be then no escape from lower to higher, divineward–then would the Universe become a fixity and progress would become impossible.

And if Man, owing to half-wisdom, acts and lives and thinks of the Universe as merely a dream (akin to his own finite dreams) then indeed does it so become for him, and like a sleep-walker he stumbles ever around and around in a circle, making no progress, and being forced into an awakening at last by his falling bruised and bleeding over the Natural Laws which he ignored.

Keep your mind ever on the Star, but let your eyes watch over your footsteps, lest you fall into the mire by reason of your upward gaze.

Remember the Divine Paradox, that while the Universe IS NOT, still IT IS. Remember ever the Two Poles of Truth– the Absolute and the Relative. Beware of Half-Truths

The Kybalion, Chapter VI: "The Divine Paradox"


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Humans are often caught off guard by or slow to recognize the rare and novel, partly because built into the very nature of our experience is the propensity to extend existing knowledge and experience to future events and experiences.

To exacerbate this natural propensity much of our cultural education both formal and otherwise is built upon historical knowledge forced on us by others. Of course both the natural physiological propensity and the cultural phenomenon are somewhat a necessary precondition to learning, since complete openness to every event would be inefficient. Bertrand Russell observed, "An open mind is an empty mind."

So we cannot be completely open, but we must guard against being completely closed as well.

It would be most efficacious if we could find a balance between the known and unknown and the limits of our knowledge and experience. The effect of unexpected events is likely integral to finding this balance. Thus, the rare and unexpected is far more significant to our formation of knowledge than people often imagine.

Taleb argues that the proposition "we know", in many cases, is an illusion, albeit a necessary one; the human mind tends to think it knows, but it does not always have a solid basis for this delusion of "I know". 

This notion that we do not know is very old, dated at least as far back as Socrates. The Socratic method of questioning and avowal of ignorance is the type of corrective action to the delusion that we know something completely and truly.

Similarly, to those who might argue that the advancement of science has rendered the world well-known, Taleb argues that while science added knowledge, we always run the risk of experiencing the improbable, rare, and novel. We can be shocked by this knowledge and experience or we can be open to it. As with the dictum of Socrates, "the only thing I know is that I do not know", which is as true as ever, Taleb concludes. Taleb further expands this idea of finite knowable worlds (e.g., a game) vs. infinite and thus unknowable worlds (our natural world) in what he calls the Ludic fallacy.

'The Black Swan (Taleb book)'


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The main damaging movement away from the soul's double nature Adler calls "the masculine protest," the need to win, to come out on top. He also called this the "striving for perfection" or "superiority."

The psyche constructs; it invents images and the mind follows them as its guides; "guiding fictions," Adler calls them.

So, perfection is a necessary fiction, pragmatically necessary just as truth is "merely the most expedient error." 

When we realize the goal of perfection toward which we strive as an impossibility in every objective and literal sense, then we are also able to recognize how necessary is this fictional perfection.

Goals are thrown up by the psyche as bait to catch the living fish, fictions to instigate and guide action. As Jung said, "A spiritual goal that points beyond ... is an absolute necessity for the health of the soul."

One feels purposefulness, that there is a way and one is moving on a way, a process of towardness, called by Adler striving for perfection, by Jung individuation.

We can keep this way moving only by keeping purposefulness from becoming literalized into definite goals.

Goals, especially the highest and finest, work like overvalued ideas, the roots of delusions that nourish great canopies of sheltering paranoia, those spreading ideals of size and import which characterize the positive goals of so many schools of therapy today.

We see enough of the disastrous effect of goals in daily life, where the belief in an overriding idea about one's purpose in life, what one has to do, the raison d'etre for one's existence turns out to be the very goal which blocks the way.

'To be healed' is the goal which takes one into therapy, and we are healed of that goal when we recognize it as a fiction.

So the best psychotherapy can do is attune the fictional sense. Then the goals toward which therapy strives - maturity, completion, wholeness, actualization - can be seen through as guiding fictions. Then they do not close the way.

Therapy becomes less a support of the "great upward drive" than it is a job of deliteralizing the fictions in which purpose is fixed and where one is actually defending oneself against the soul's innate 'towardness' by means of one's goals.

This suggests that the only possible perfection that the soul can want is perfection of its fictional understanding, the realization of itself in images, itself a fiction among fictions.

This method of as-if keeps the way open, and it seems to be where the Adlerian approach comes closest to the religious idea that the final goal is the way itself, in this case, the way of fiction.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.103-6


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The normal person, says Adler, takes guiding principles and goals, metaphorically, with the sense of 'as if.'"To him they are a figure of speech," heuristic, practical constructs.

"The neurotic, however, catches at the straw of fiction, hypostasizes it, ascribes to it a real value." Finally, "in the psychoses, it is elevated to a dogma."  

What makes madness is literalism.

To be sane we must recognize our beliefs as fictions, and see through our hypotheses as fantasies.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.111


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Healing, and cure, positive and negative, ego and the unconscious, matriarchy and stages of development, are not literal 'reals,' but heuristic fictions or fantasies which must be recognized as such if psychotherapy is to keep connected with what Giegerich calls "the neurosis of our own discipline."

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.113


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Any idiot can look at the world and see that it is fragmented, that a lot things don’t seem to fit together or make sense, and that in a diverse world with diverse cultures there are diverse beliefs and multiple framing-stories that people have used to make sense of it all.

Religion in general is a way of framing the diversity and fragmentation of the world into a larger meta-narrative that helps us human beings to cope and make sense of it all. Religion exists in order to make order out of chaos and help us find connective meaning to our lives - connective meaning that we are connecting to something larger, more meaningful, more real.

The crisis of belief comes when you think you are only part of a smaller framing-story that doesn’t make sense of reality and then life becomes meaningless because the story can’t hold the whole. That’s when existentialism comes in (if I feel, that at least gives me meaning) or the will-to-power (if I take control, at least I can give some meaning to my life.)

So that’s why I love deconstructionism. Deconstructionism allows us to see what the framing stories are in our life, how they have helped us make sense of our lives, and where they came from. It shows us the provincial nature of our world-view (geographically, experientially, culturally, philosophically) and shows us that other people have other stories that make sense of similar realities differently. It’s like comparative religious studies on a personal, cultural level.

[...] decontructionism allows us to see our beliefs for what they are, for their reach, and for whether or not they make sense of the real realities we face. They allow us to compare our framing-stories to see which ones make more sense.

 From blog 'Embarking'


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[...] Derrida operates with two different metaphors of the postal system, corresponding to two different 'epochs' in the relation of language and truth.

On the one hand is the legalized channel of regular exchange where messages are sent 'under proper signature to the proper recipient'. This network is policed and maintained by the same laws that guarantee the truth of self-present meaning, the rules of correct interpretation and the 'restricted economy' of language in general.

But there is another, more liberating aspect of 'the post' where the system - as Derrida puts it - appears to 'take a leap' and suggest what possibilities might be opened up if those rules were perceived as mere normative conventions.

[Christopher Norris]
Derrida, p. 192-3


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Hillman's point that we need to keep the hermeneutical options open is well taken - however, humans are "in fact" limited by and to space, time, matter, culture and their "heroic egos," requiring at least provisionally solid solutions and practical guidance for a given situation.

Jung made it clear that he counseled two kinds of people: those who needed solid factual steps to resolve a pressing problem, and those who were in touch with the Collective Unconscious and capable of dialoguing with the imaginal realm.

Not everyone is adept at "psychologizing". It would seem that a truly polytheistic methodology could make room for the literalists among us.

The fact is that many if not most polytheists view their deities as literally existing in some way. Hillman places much of the blame for literalism on monotheism. He critiques Kant's "categorical monotheistic mind", but we need to recognize that such a mind is as much a part of the human psyche as are the erratic polytheistic Gods of "Orphic and Neoplatonic mythology."

[Michael Bogar]
'James Hillman: Postmodern Romantic Reductionist, and Trickster'


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Like Rorty, McDowell emphasizes that we cannot get outside our particular perspectives or worldviews. But unlike Rorty, he does not conclude that this means we must give up our notions of truth and objectivity altogether.

To preserve a distinction between a truth that consists of consensus and a truth that consists in getting things objectively right, McDowell argues, "is not to try to think from outside our practices; it is simply to take it seriously that we can really mean what we say from within those practices."

Indeed, he asks, what would it mean to have a worldview if, à la Rorty, we avoid the idea that our statements are true in light of the way the world is in our view of it?

But though Rée, as a Gadamer scholar, thinks Rorty's philosophical stance may be unimpeachable, he is not sure that humankind can master its own future the way Rorty seems to believe.

"One possible picture of metaphysics," he explains, "is that it's rooted not in the studies we make as students but in the ways we try to make sense of ourselves starting from earliest infancy. Our notions may not withstand a Rortyan scrutiny—they may not be not justified in any way.

But nevertheless they're not arbitrary. We've grown to be the people we are because of them. It's more than a matter of will that we came by them, and it's more than a matter of will to change them."

[James Ryerson]
'The Quest for Uncertainty: Richard Rorty's pragmatic pilgrimage'


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Related posts:-
All is Change
Everything and Nothing
Escaping Uncertainty
Taking the Rough with the Smooth
The Dangers of Dogmatism
Sailing the Turbulent Seas
Do Not Disturb  
Shades of Gray
Adventure on life
Everything is connected
Guiding Fiction
Process vs Outcome
Seeing Through
State / Process

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