11.18.2008

Win One (er... Many) for the Dualists


To paraphrase from memory (maybe to quote!) Henry Thoreau, the mind is a cleaver.  But the question seems to be unanswerable whether cleaving is worthy of esteem or pity.  Read Today's story about a 2,800-year old monument implying a separation between the body and the soul -- I like that the article contrasts the ancient "mountainous" king's view of the soul with his contemporaries, the ancient Israelites, who did not agree to such a separation.

In one view, One god, no separation.  In another view, presumably, Many gods, sharp separation.  I guess I like knowing that these two apparently unresovable intellectual traditions have shared a spirited and lasting contest that spans millenia.

The most important "eureka" moment that I've had in this intellectual game came in graduate school (right around the time I was reading Poe's Eureka, in fact).  Somewhere along the way, I recognized that these theological debates are never separate from arguments concerning the shape of civilization "in the world."  Our metaphysical questions coincide with our physical questions -- to ask whether there is "division" in the universe, as the Cartesians most famously taught, is to ask whether France is divided from England, or whether Europe is divided from the rest of the world.  To defend the American Union at the cost of many lives is to argue for One True G-d, without resorting to words.

But a funny thing happens if you buy this vision: to participate unselfconsciously in either "pure" metaphysical discourse or "pure" political discourse becomes incredibly difficult.  This either/both/and-consciousness itself constitutes the synthesis in this apparently everlasting dialectic: the mind that realizes the dynamic that involves both metaphysical speculation and political argument takes a "higher" seat.

I'm convinced that most people would say, and actually do believe, that they understand this strange either/both/and dynamic... but I'm not sure they do.

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By the time I was three, around the time memory started working, I was already a long-time Detroit Tigers fan.  My devotion to the team increased every year, regardless of their (usually low) position in the league standings.  I was pleased when a "good break" went the Tigers' way, and gratified when an umpire's close call went "our" way.  And I spoke in the first person, including myself with the Tigers as if "we" could do it this year... or if not this year, next.

I don't remember precisely when the crack in my devotion happened -- but I do understand how it happened.  One day, around age 25, I was watching the Tigers play in the evening after reading a book about ethical responsibility and accountability to the Other (or something like that).  There must have been a close call on the infield; I would have watched the instant replay carefully -- and for some reason that had nothing to do with my personal will, I would have been able to see that the close play really shouldn't have been called in the Tigers' favor.  The other team was playing hard, and the umpires were watching closely -- the Tigers were called "out," may have lost the game.

In the single moment where I realized (again: through no act of the will) that some principle(s) of rules and "reality" were more important than team loyalty, the crack appeared... I started watching games as a "detached" observer.  I remember watching the World Series in 2006, and politely cheering for the Tigers, but I could no longer feel as if I and that team were inseparable.  I had "achieved" the "higher" seat.

So when I say that most people think that they understand this strange either/or/both dynamic about the body and the soul, and I say that I believe that most of them are mistaken -- I think about "affiliation."  I think about the way that most sports fans never do entirely undo an early loyalty.  And I translate: in the great contest between Dualism and Monism, some of us are Dualism fans by the time we are three; some are Monists by the age of three... and it is only in the complete detachment--in the realization that the umpires are just, and that the Dualists will win the games they should win, and the Monists will win when they should--it's only then that the "higher" seat is occupied.

One cautionary note: watching your team play in the world series after detachment is completely different, and perhaps less "fun," than watching it when you feel a personal connection to your team.  So although I'm calling it a "higher" seat, I'm not sure I mean to attach value to it in the same way... before you detach from the Democratic party, Mxrk, or from the Boston Red Sox, Insignificant Wrangler, or from U of M, Fenhopper, keep in mind: there's nothing "wrong" with staying in the game.

To be continued...

2 comments:

fenhopper said...

of course there's nothing wrong with it. BUT…

does appreciating a fair outcome really require that you get out of the game? i think of all the goals scored against the red wings that really were amazing. all the stops against datsyuk that left me thinking 'that was worth seeing no matter who did it.' and yet i was on the edge of my seat just waiting for the horn to blow and i jumped up -- literally -- when they won the cup.

and i can watch tiger woods with awe. with absolute dumbfounded bewilderment. and respect. and i always root so eagerly against him because i really really really wanted rocco to get that victory.

isn't it possible to sympathize with intense emotion with an ideology, and still be honest about its qualities?

Casey said...

I don't know. A worthy question. I really don't know...

Want me to do ten years of research trying to figure it out?