Thursday, October 22, 2009

Peace Through Conflict

But Israel has rejected what is good; an enemy will pursue him.” ~ Hosea 8:3

The human being thrives and is driven forward by conflict. Conflict comes from desire. As one Hindu creation story says, ‘desire [is] the primal seed and germ of Spirit.’ (Rig Veda, Book 10, 129) Desire moves us to want something or someone different. This creates conflicts – things fall apart to make room for something new. That does not always or even often mean getting a new object of desire, but often a new psychological perspective on wanting. But we must move into and through these experiences.

One of Carl Jung's patients had the following dream: She dreamt that she had been told to descend into a pit filled with hot material and submerge herself in it. She obeyed and immersed herself uncomfortably in the pit with only one shoulder left sticking out of the pit. Then Jung came by in the dream and pushed her all the way into the hot material saying, 'Not out, but through.' She woke up with a clear realization that moving ‘into the pit,’ ‘through the hot material’ was the way to consciousness. We must disintegrate prior to integration.

This is the way of the Universe -- from the dividing cell at conception, to the Big Bang that birthed the Cosmos and to the decomposing corpse that becomes one with the earth -- dissolution has always preceded assimilation. The more we try to suppress these necessary clashes, or try to ‘cure’ our natural impulse toward conflict, the more likely we are to hurt ourselves or others. Most addicts are trying to avoid their normal and necessary impulses toward experiences of psychological and relational fragmentation – the result is horrific personal and social catastrophe by turning to drink, drugs, food, work or ‘love’. If we do not embrace creative conflict and our periodic inevitable disintegrations in imaginative and inventive ways, relentless conflicts and disintegrations will batter us to bits.

Ironically, peace comes through embracing conflict rather than resisting it.

The recognition of psychic and social fragmentation has been part of the genius of the American form of government. Many moderns have lost this truth in our obsession with ‘healing’ all disagreements. Madison and others knew that factionalisms and fragmentations in the psyche and society were inevitable. It is how we are made. Madison especially saw this and refused to call it the result of Original Sin. He saw it as the Original State of humans and the Cosmos in general. These political geniuses saw that past Greek and Roman Republics failed because they tried to manage factions and differences of opinion.

The American approach was different; it was to craft economic, political and religious systems that encouraged as many factions as possible in order that no one or two would become supreme. Regulations and restrictions of religions, the press, economics, philosophical ideas, etc. would force people into a few sects and groups, as we currently see in Iran, Korea, Cuba, etc. The result of such enforced restrictions against open and celebrated disagreements fosters secrecy, resentments and revolution. As I see it, the genius of our 'system' is in liberty -- especially the liberty to disagree openly. I remember when I was in Eastern Europe, and how odd it was that so many people whispered, even in their homes. Communalism requires agreement, “We are a community, so shut up and consent!”

The same is true on a personal, psychological level. It is healthy to carry on an internal debate -- to simultaneously love God and argue with the Divine; to challenge our selves, to chastise as well as extol our choices and actions.

We ought to laud and enjoy the differences of opinion we see on the news. It is good to 'argue' politics and religion, to disagree over ideas and beliefs. This is how souls are made.

As a social bonus bloody conflicts are minimized. As we became more conscious and open about the necessity of these internal and external oppositional processes, we can find beneficial ways to engage these necessary struggles. Aristotle talked about theatre as a form of ‘catharsis.’ We know from the few extant plays of the Greek playwrights like Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes that very touchy and problematic issues were dealt with on stage.

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