THEOSOPHY, Vol. 37, No. 8, June, 1949
(Pages 356-359; Size: 12K)
(Number 14 of a 15-part series)
MIND OF THE AGE
XIV: GREAT EXPECTATIONS
IT would be a comparatively simple task to compile an encyclopedia of the most characteristic social and psychological illnesses of our time. The intelligentsia of Western culture are in a critical mood and their descriptions of "what is wrong" are often brilliant and penetrating. Particularly for those who read some of the left-wing publications, there are now few new revelations contained in proofs that we are suffering from "anxiety neuroses," "escapism," and "totalitarianism" (this last an outcome of the first two), and so forth. Many commentators feel compelled to face what they consider the stark realities of present existence, and no longer conceal the jagged edges of the human situation with the putty of sentimentalism. Today, also, the vocal humanitarians are inclined to be more hard-headed than their predecessors, and economic and psychological "realism" enters into every world-federalist conference or gathering. We have accepted, it would seem, a stark and negative judgment on our historically-established limitations.
In this series some attempts have been made to trace back man's distrust of himself and his fellows to centuries of theological insistence upon the essential weakness or depravity of human nature. In combatting an almost universal pessimism in respect to man's moral potentialities, it is useful to trace the disease in its various stages. Clearly, we must do better than assign man's "fearfulness" about himself to any single series of historical causes, for each historical manifestation of man's willingness to believe in his own overpowering weaknesses must proceed from some congenital source. The acceptance of totalitarian dogmas, whether religious or political, cannot be explained away by such a vague phrase as the "gullibility of the masses." These "masses" (ourselves, or at least the projection of part of ourselves) have desired to be duped, led, frightened, and told that there is very little they can do about making life what -- in isolated moments of vision -- every human being hopes it can be. Our psychic imperfections are causes, as well as effects, of Bad Institutions. But behind the interrelationship traced between common psychological weaknesses and the illnesses of society throughout history, the explanation remains, fundamentally, as illusive as ever.
Democracy, psychiatry, improved religious and economic faiths, can keep us from making the same mistakes in the same ways, or at least from mistakes as obviously disastrous as those revealed by history. But very few men have any faith that we may arrive, as a world culture, or even as individuals, at that point where no fundamental mistakes are made at all. Eastern philosophy, no matter how obscure it has at times been, has always possessed a singular advantage in proffering this kind of hope. Implicit in the teachings of Krishna and Buddha is the doctrine that we may separate errors of motivation from inevitable imperfections of action, and finally conquer the errors of motivation sufficiently to be unconcerned and undisturbed by any other kind of imperfection. One of the greatest difficulties in the Western heritage seems to be the dogma that we cannot eliminate errors of motivation from our lives. During medieval times many sincere efforts were poured into the work of the Catholic Church on the assumption that an improvement of man's external morality could be secured without altering the essential constitution of his "moral" being. Help to immoral man had to come, forcibly, from the outside. The extremists in materialistic reform efforts have likewise proceeded upon this assumption.
The words or schemes of a few "moderate" religious and political reformers revealed a faith that basic human motivations could be changed, but the dominant trends of culture have been set, as usual, by the extremists. Great power resides in any "extreme" position, whatever it is. The masses of humanity, for instance, while not themselves becoming, let us say, Jesuits or Communists, are deeply affected by the basic assumptions as to the fundamental selfishness of human nature which are offered by these groups. This, no doubt, because an extreme position, by its very extremity, always resolves a conflict in the mind and promises to do so in the world of affairs.
Actually, something of vital importance is contained in every extreme position. One of the most subtle suggestions of Theosophic philosophy is that all men who wish to discover where their wrongness lies and wherein lie the wrongs of their society, must puzzle out the extent of "rightness" underlying each of these. There is no error, wrote H. P. Blavatsky, save that which arises from a partial truth. There is no evil which does not have a mysterious connection with a potential good. So it must be with the desire of men to find security through the establishment of some "pattern of living." Perhaps we desire this security, not only because we are selfish, but also because of a prompting of the soul to render life predictable. Behind the structure of Catholicism and Communism is a partially formed desire to know the "laws of life." Similarly, behind Communism is some recognition that our economic life must be lived in accordance with certain responsibilities linking all human beings together in respect to material things. Behind the Catholic version of morality is the reality of man's necessary struggle against sensualism. Behind some scientists' amoralism is a partially expressed love for all varieties of life's experiences, whatever their alleged quality -- an indiscriminate love, perhaps, yet a love --for all the infinite and wondrous combinations of matter.
It was an admonition of the Buddha's that his listeners first discover wherein their own good lay, and the rest of his message enjoined his disciples to extend the search for goodness so calmly and clearly that it revealed the essential promise of every other living being. Whether in psychological, social or political terms, this doctrine asserts that we cannot understand what we call "evil" until we understand its complementary good. Is there any other basis, really, upon which we can reinforce in our lives a general conception of the dignity of man, and thus reverse the trends toward ever-increasing pessimism and negativism?
Human beings can be evaluated in two ways. We can either take them on their professed word as to their motivation, or we can ascribe to them a motivation which others have told us they have, which we think they have, or the motivation we would have in their position. Every concept of the dignity of man -- relating, finally, to the conception of the real existence of the moral soul -- is a command to accept all men on their own estimation, as long as we do not have incontrovertible evidence of inconsistency or duplicity. A further command is that no discouraging experiences with the treachery of one human being should prejudice us, in any way, in our relations with others. We are fairly familiar today with the illogic of discrediting a race or nation because of "distressing experiences" shared with some particular members of that race or nation. But far more invidious than racial or national prejudice is what might be termed Human Prejudice -- the expectation of the worst in human relationships.
Unless we are prepared to offer genuine trust to a human being, trust in that person's ability to follow higher and nobler aspirations, rather than lower and more vindictive ones, we had best all become recluses, for our inter-associations will multiply nothing but suspicions and hostility.
Before we can expect other men to be "honest" and "just," we must come to feel that it is possible for us to be honest and just. And this is the Theosophical crux of the matter. If we are dominantly conditioned by ideas of original sin or an ape ancestry, we cannot manage to be fair and just in any true and consistent sense. If our lineage, on the other hand, is a spiritual and moral one, we can expect ourselves to be capable of fairness and integrity.
But even among those who speak with warmth of man's noble qualities, and who preach the necessity for their acquisition to their children, there is often little real faith. How many are able to maintain exactly the same attitude in the presence of an acquaintance that is held in respect to that person when he or she is the subject of conversation? If we misrepresent anything of our real estimation of a man during immediate contact we are dishonest, and we are dishonest because we are afraid to be otherwise. Like the churches, we will not risk unpleasantness in order to champion the truth as we see it. Of truth we can see nothing unless we are willing to take risks in her name. Individuals, like nations, habitually try to protect themselves by attacking others, and try to enhance their own reputations by despoiling the reputations of others. And such destructive karmic motion is usually encouraged not so much through blatant or extreme examples as through day-to-day living with husbands and wives, friends, and casual acquaintances.
Without honesty there can be nothing more than pessimism and negativism, both in one's attitude towards himself and towards all those he knows. But no man has the courage for honesty unless he feels within himself and in others the existence of soul. This, however expressed, is the Theosophical contribution to the problem of overcoming the deep psychological despair of our time.
MIND OF THE AGE
XV: THE DOGMA OF ENVIRONMENT
(Part 15 of a 15-part series)
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