We imagine we are more compassionate today than in the past because like most ages, we believe ours to be the best of times, even with as many problems as we envision for our age. If we do not see ours as the best of times, we might just opt for the flip side of this and conclude that it is the worst of times, another way of saying the same thing as the best, superlative conclusions seemingly opposite really only ever side by side. Flipping coins has been one of our favorite past times; heads or tails, opposites on one coin, a single minting, the same metal (mettle?).
Flipping these or playing ping pong has become a favorite past time, but do not allow the extension of ping pong in distance when compared with flipping coins fool you into believing they are different when they are the same, at least paradigmatically.
What we think of as history is another illusion, one nearly equal to believing we are actually settling ideological differences in our Presidential elections. We do imagine that history is progressive, which is what we infer by thinking ours is the best or the worst of times; progressively better, progressively worse. If ours is the worst of times, this means history is degenerative, which means it can become progressively worse, which is not something I have disbanded with in my belief, but I simply have disbanded with the notion that there has ever been a Golden Age or that this Golden Age could be now. I certainly have disbanded with the idea that a Golden Age could be in the future, which is really at the heart of every communist revolution. History, like time, is an ocean, not a river, it never goes from point A to point B.
We cannot actually fathom the depth of character, of mind, or of soul that is necessary for compassion. We have mastered the art of appearing to be compassionate, when in the turn of fact, we are anything but understanding in a degree that qualifies as compassionate. A society bred on the idea that package is as important, or now more important, than product, cannot understand the distinctions between passion and emotion, or how depth of feeling is opposed to the appearance of having felt.
I was raised Catholic, even if mostly only nominally Catholic, so it is the Passion of Christ, not the Emotion of Christ. You do not, though, need to be Catholic to get what I am saying. Compassion is not commotion or emotion–we were expected not only to understand the differences but manifest the distinctions. We were answerable for our humanity or lack of it; we were answerable for the human we chose to be. We knew this. We were taught this. It was clear. We could not equivocate.
The fault of our fate–socially and politically–is not in our star politicians, but in our need to dwell in our caves. And we do need to live in our shadows, with our shadows. We love our shadows, to be surrounded by them. We do not prefer the light of day; we prefer the dim world of our social caves and personal caves.
Tiresias is blind, we know. We have met this blind prophet before, at least I have. Roman-Greco antiquity is not only my heritage ethnically as an Italo-Franco-American, but as an American, as an inheritor of what I and my Italian and French brothers know is western civilization. We do not pity Tiresias his blindness; blindness is different in antiquity than today. I am not though going to pluck out my eyes as did Oedipus, but then I did not murder my father as did he, kill him, really, it wasn’t murder. I don’t have the courage of Oedipus. I still imagine courage in youthful ways. I imagine I am more like Odysseus than Oedipus.
Odysseus seeks Tiresias in the underworld. Oedipus in the horror of his enlightenment makes himself blind like Tiresias, but as a self-inflicted punishment for how he did not see the truth when he had his eyes. Oedipus was paying retribution. I am not sure what Lear’s blindness paid for–and Cordelia’s death is horrifying, although, like the Greeks, Shakespeare keeps it ob skena. No greater obscenity, is there, in all of Western theater. Odysseus seeks Tiresias in the underworld because he wants to know, he needs answers. Oedipus has his answer, the solution is retribution, would any of us have his courage? And it is courage.
We too would like to know, or so we assume, but we have grown accustomed to saying this, posturing ourselves as if it were true without any of the organic actions or reflexes one would associate with humane living–humane action–taking place.
We imagine ourselves dedicated to knowing, even if at the same time we are convinced that knowledge is impossible–and we do think this, that knowledge is impossible, doubt now having become the highest form of wisdom, a doubt not at the beginning of our inquiry into what we know or can know, but one placed at the end, where we are then self satisfied in our ignorance because we have determined that there is no ultimate Knowledge, no Truth, no absolutes anywhere for anything.
We put Socrates’s I know nothing at the end of what is no longer a genuine inquiry into knowledge. All epistemology today is a sham. Most of what we do is a sham, all of us trained to respond in the manner of our advertising. We are all of us the ad-men, yes, Mad-men, of our lives . . .
Would I venture into Hades as had Odysseus? Of course not, is the response. Would I venture into Hades as had Orpheus? I would like to think so. I might conclude that I do not need the answers to these questions, but I couldn’t conclude that the answers would be useless or fruitless. In spite of multiculturalism’s attitudes towards our Roman-Greco metaphysical heritage, Odysseus is one of our prototypal seekers–at least he is one of mine, and he remains valid as such; and as such, he has lessons to teach, although the primary purpose of myth is not didactic.
Odysseus is an archetypal trickster, and as such, provides us with the kind of exemplary model that every trickster provides for the culture, part of what could be called, in terms expressed by Mircea Eliade, “a complex system of coherent affirmations about the ultimate reality of things, a system that can be regarded as constituting a metaphysics.” All of this is managed through symbols, myth and rites.
We have to remember, though, that mythology does not provide us with a list of characters from which we choose one to be like or discover is like us, singular to singular; we must understand that mythology is a stage of representation for human psychic reality and the entirety of the mythology is relevant to an individual person, and that this individual person who is a Self of many selves, one who plays many pats on the stage we know the world is, the characters of mythology are masks for us to wear, or masks we can wear in situations, or exemplary models for the many slings and arrows or everyone’s unique and outrageous fortune.
I am Orpheus and Theseus and Achilles and Eurydice and Orestes and Electra, as Hamlet is both Orestes and Electra, mutually and reciprocally and determinedly each in contrast and conflict. And I am Hamlet and MacBeth and Igo and Othello and of curse Falstaff . . . the ultimate reality of my life has been informed by Odysseus? Can I say that in earnest today? Why would I try to singularize my identity–and do not forget as I have said many times over in one or another piece of writing that identity spells ID Entity. Monsters from the ID notwithstanding a discussion of mythology and literature and character building character . . .
It is in the role of our civilization’s tricksters–as it is the role of tricksters in all cultures everywhere for all time–to be a champion of freedom, yes, champion, a competitor for liberty on the field of life. I am not one who subscribes that the only culture or society within which any notion of individuality has existed is the American one. Sancho Panza, for instance, is an eloquent defender of liberty and the freedom of the individual, irrespective of political system or historical epoch, or culture or language or religion or metaphysical system. A variety of individualities has existed for a long time, and this is irrespective of how circumscribed the particular individuality under examination might have been. Let me say, though, that democracy as we understand it can only exist in the cultural context within which we have created, molded, formed, reformed, transformed here in our history, but competing . This should dissuade anyone from believing that American democracy is exportable–unless we resign ourselves to similarities and not sameness, we are destined for disappointment.
Moreover, freedom, liberty, free-will are all important things for what it means to be a man, to be a human being, and yes, human when human is an elevation from our Homo-Sapiens nature. American democracy is American as French is French and it is not that they are mutually exclusive or mutually annihilating forces like matter and anti-matter (which is how most conservatives or ultra-conservatives in any culture respond to foreign ideas . . . as if anti-matter were present on the event horizon). I do place the relationship between our Homo Sapiens selves and our Human selves in a hierarchy of ethical achievement, with the human, only if humane, elevated above Homo-Sapiens.
Blindness has given Tiresias other eyes. We should be so lucky to have them. The wise understand this; the fools never will. A fool will always form a thousand questions to keep the wise man playing hop-scotch. Hop-scotch or ping-pong, the idiot’s delight in argument, his intellectual acumen never veering far from either. How blind are we? Look and you will see. I am blind in ways my vision hides. I see and I see not, but I see not how I do not see when I look. We have been taught to dis-see. Education in America, as in most public varieties everywhere, is more about indoctrination into the values of the status quo, than it is about making individual students eloquent defenders of freedom and democracy.
Our culture today could care less; individuality in America is more about self-enslavement than it is about freeing us. Freedom has a lot to do with being human as opposed to being only Homo-Sapiens. We like to act like monkeys, all of us. The appearance of being free is the best we care about. Solipsism is the reigning popular philosophy. Do not forget the Soviet Union had elections, and Nazis Germany had its Octoberfest.
What then are these eyes for that I have, that I use, that I look at the world around me surrounding me . . . vision sometimes surrounds seeing, looking enclosing seeing. Ah, the blinders we use. Horses drawing carts, everyone; the carrot hung on a string from a stick raised over our backs.
There is nothing more easily ignored than the obvious; we are all pressing the newspaper to our noses to get a better look we think and wondering why we cannot read what’s in black and white. There are truths too horrible or just too uncomfortable to acknowledge. We voluntarily close our eyes and when we point our closed eyelids toward any light, we do see a vague or opaque pink; another version of La Vie En Rose. How do I understand anything, how do any of us understand anything? . . .
To stand under is another way of wearing the necessary shoes. We don’t want to walk two blocks–we are so fat, how can nations of starving masses not hold us in contempt? A mile in another man’s shoes? I am an American; I am an American man. I do sometimes ask, what is an American? This is an attempt at targeting the question, what does it mean to be an American? To be fat, most people around the world might say–and trust me when I tell you, most others do not have our marketing’s ideas of tolerance for the once ridiculed. Accepting fat as large or plus is a marketing strategy to increase sales. I am not suggesting we return to ridiculing, but do not think our tolerance is about compassion when it primarily and finally about expanding the marketplace. Let’s sell fashion to everyone, the obese and the anorexic.
Wise men and women enter the dark at least of their souls, as perhaps you could see in San Juan de la Cruz in his Dark Night of the Soul, that is, if you chose to open your eyes. The spiritual path of Truth is a crucible we avoid because we have become soft in direct proportion to how we have also learned to be less cruel, which is not an invitation to return to cruelty. I do recall the Psalms, “Yea, though I walk through the valley in the shadow of Death.
“Would you have Oedipus’s courage, or Saint John’s, or the hero of Plato’s most famous allegory who ventures into the light of day out of his very dimly lit cave. I believe I would, but then there is no one easier to flatter than myself. I am too weak not to succumb to self-flattery; who is stronger? Basho went on a journey late in his life which became his Narrow Road to the Interior. Would I be as brave as my kin Matuso?
Would any of us be as responsible as Oedipus was, answerable as Oedipus becomes? Would any of us venture out as had Basho? Do you or I have Oedipus’s sense of justice–and it is justice he has a sense of in his actions. I know I would be too attached to my eyes to pluck them out; Christ understands our vanity when he says if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.
Be quiet, be still. Shut up and keep your eyes opened, but in this shutting up, in this closing our mouths, we are intended to reach the silence at the heart of Truth, yes, the capital ‘T’ one. Tiresias keeps his eyes opened in spite of his blindness. We do know that we can see with our eyes closed as much as we understand that having vision does not mean we can see what Tiresias can see, that there are different seeings discussed here.
I have been raised in a very dishonest America, though; here in America we have a kind of dishonesty that masquerades as wisdom. Kings of hypocrisy all of us led by our Congressional Law-giving Pimps, the whores we are, selling our water, our future, not even for ourselves, but so that the few can get richer at the expense of our children’s future. And then we let our Pimps tell us it’s our fault, and that we have to do with less because we want to get America back on track.
We are all of us, fools, and you know who the King of the Fools is, don’t you? I know he is the Banker’s bitch, the whore of the Wall Street pimps. You imagined otherwise? How so?
What good are eyes, though, we could ask, when we see not the Truth, nor any of the minor ‘t’ truths of our political world, or our lives as we live them day in day out and so on until we die as absurdly as we have lived.
Lear must ask the same when he is on the heath, when he is finally blind. He comes to wisdom only after his folly. Have we yet? Most of us are the same as Lear; Lear was a fool; I am a fool. He was a fool from the start. I am no different. His hubris leads to his blindness; hubris is already blindness. Who has greater exaggerated pride than I do? We are stumbling around the coffee table of our lives, hands stretched out in the light of day unable to see two feet in front of us. I’m waiting for the chickens; they do usually come home to roost. I bang my shin hard into the table.
The visionary company we think we keep; prepackaged media sponsored wisdom. America is lost. Hegemony in the world? There is always one nut in the nut house who can stir the other nuts–shell them, you could say.
The visions I have, the company with them that I keep. What visions do we pay attention to. I close my eyes and see all that I see within, the back of my lids as when I lay me down to sleep, a screen for other shadow plays. A montage of the rich getting richer, the powerful more powerful than ever.
A wayang I am unable to understand let alone interpret. We did imagine liberating ourselves by freeing ourselves of traditional metaphysically drawn ideas about Truth and truths. We only gave power just what it needed to become more powerful, for monied elites to become more monied more elite. Each of us mutes the prophet in himself, herself. We murder our prophets in America, they cannot be packaged on TV.
Murdering to dissect prophecy? We then think we understand, and in our folly, we imagine ourselves wise. We hold up nothing with our acumen, an Emperor’s New Clothes of Intelligence and Education.
Where is this wisdom I’ve been waiting for? I’ve led myself to believe that I would not mock the man who made it out of Plato’s cave to see the world by the light of day. I have led myself to believe that I would not prefer the shadows to the sight of things in the light. Today we are all of us in our caves. My room is a cave; our offices are caves; the classrooms across America everywhere are caves.
The television is another cave, one cave looking in to another cave. Our movie theaters are caves of a kind–why we never drew the analogy–escapism the greatest desire of those producing movies. The mind has become a cave today; the skull itself rather cave like. Caves are anywhere we reside in our familiar darkness. The shadows we’ve grown accustomed to.
Tomorrow I will leave my cave with my rifle? I don’t own a rifle, but millions of Americans do, and they are not of the class that writes Op-Ed pages in the Times, but those who will leave their caves with their rifles–pretty much why the power elite with the help of the monied-media elite continue the campaign against guns, perhaps even with the aid of government managed atrocities, to get the rifles away from the People, for if there were ever a reign of terror in America with the assault rifles and hunting rifles of a populus who often shoot better than most cops . . .
The guillotine will have nothing on the carnage brought about by a People convinced that Wall Street gangsters have nothing in common with the common man or woman in America, and represent a completely alien mentality from that which even the elite likes of Jefferson and Madison supported. A threat greater than standing armies, these Wall Street Bankers, you know Jefferson would have told us. All of an impure blood.