• Geoff Hunnef

The East and West of things to come

There is a definition that Ken Wilber points to in his book “A Brief History of Everything” which was set by a team of anthropologist trying to define masculinity and femininity across culture and time. What was timelessly masculine and ubiquitously feminine? This ended up being masculinity defines its self through individuality and separation while femininity saw itself in connection and union. I liked this definition so we will use it to further the conversation.

It seems to me (no scholar or philosopher) that in very broad strokes in abstract association that the two predominant philosophies of the world represented by the two hemispheres of the metaphorical world of thought are Western philosophy and Eastern philosophy/mysticism.

This can be represented through the masculine and feminine paradigm where Western philosophy sought to divide and compartmentalize, reduce ideas and the world to their quintessential components, the breakdown of language and grammar and the atoms of the world. If we can reduce things to their quintessential components, we can understand it and build up from it.

Inversely, the Eastern perspective went in the other direction of ego and boundary dissolution where the observer and the seen are one and the same and where the illusion of separateness disappears. One perceives the world as being made of separate things; the other sees all things as one thing. I would be inclined to say that it’s something more in the space between the two.

Joseph Campbell has commented in one of his lectures on the observation he made on how in the West we have developed Ego, we have a very strong sense of identity, individuality, a sense of the individual within the group where we seek freedom and self-expression above most other things. The East developed a strong sense of dharma or duty; there is a strong sense of community and nation in the East where there is a high level of compliance to birth order, family responsibilities, corporate obligations and national duties. One strikes me as a more masculine perspective while the other is a more feminine paradigm; they both have their pros and cons.

The Western perspective has produced a paradigm that is able to step out of history and tradition of culture and expectation, formed a sense that we can be anything we want to be, and that we are free. We have sought after freedom and self-expression to the point that the Westerners who came to North America had separated themselves from their ancestors to escape persecution and for the freedom of religious practices. In this forging, we have dropped our history, traditions and culture to find ourselves. In having done so, it seems that North America has become the major point of cultural appropriation; by dropping cultures and traditions, we have disrobed ourselves attempting to remove the proverbial masks that we were to find the self we leave ourselves naked grasping desperately at the cultural adornment of others feeling exposed and vulnerable. We have dropped our silly superstitions and impractical practices in place of science and rationalism and in the pursuit of our self-expression we fear any conformity as this would lead to the loss of identity causing a great divide; a great divide where someone can be surrounded by millions of people yet so lonely they would rather kill themselves than go another day in that loneliness. We have disregarded our past and this is reflective in how we treat and care for our elders. It seems our sense of duty to the elders of our society is shipping them away (separation) to nursing homes when they become too cumbersome. We visit them less and less with each year that passes. The family has become fragmented and the great exodus of North America is to leave the house as early as possible to gain freedom and independence. A comedian, Russel Peters, made an observation growing up in Brampton, Ontario that while growing up, he would encounter kids who would speak to their parents saying “Fuck you Mom!.” Here, he points out that you are not going to find anyone in other parts of the World who speaks to their parents this way. The view of separation has gotten so engrained and exemplified that even the basic building block of society, the family unit is turning on, disassociating, disconnecting and falling apart.

The East’s sense of Dharma, duty and obligation gives way to great things and the ability to become and do something much greater than any one person or a fragmented nation could ever be. There is a sense of family, community and care for the elders. However, there is so much expectation placed on the children to follow the footsteps of what the parents have laid down before them and to comply without question. This also generates favoritism to gender and birth order due to social and cultural traditions. There is little room for self-expression and by going against the grain, you will be met with a lot of resistance and pressure to follow. The East has followed dharma to its death and begins to crave for a sense of freedom from family, nation and the responsibility toward others. Perhaps what was seen in Stalinism and Maoism brought the collective to the extreme and caused a dissonance and seeds the thought of the individual that “I can’t rely on the nation to have my interests in mind; I might need to start looking out for myself”.

An old idea is that extremes of anything begin to look a lot like its opposite; the extreme of love can begin to look like hate and the extreme form of hate can begin to look like the obsessions of a mad lover. West has become so fragmented and the east so solidified that an inversion is taking place between the two. As mentioned in many dialogues, the value of inversion where inverting things really allows for us to gain a brand new perspective but note that the new perspective is a lateral shift rather than an upward transcendence. It seems worthy for us to find a way to see these inversions or opposites of each other as complimentary actions instead of competing forces. When we find a way to hold opposites in a non-conflicting way, we gain a perspective that transcends either one alone.

The Inversion of East and West.

Approaching this with broad strokes, we stereotype the whole world into two halves so keep in mind this is not in absolutes. At least from the Western perspective, it seems that the East is a land of mysticism and non-materialism steeped in a sense of spirituality that permeates many aspects of life to today noting a disregard for nature and a pursuit for materialism with a capitalist’s mindset. The West died into matter; we separated spirit from nature and finally ourselves from each other. In this absence and disconnect, the westerners’ revival of spirituality in the new age movement became somewhat of an appropriation of other traditions collected and mixed together all in an attempt to find something beyond the secular.

To draw a metaphorical analogy from Neitzche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, there is a scene where a tightrope walker is crossing a chasm on a rope strung between two towers.

The tightrope walker places each step carefully as he could fall on either side if he isn’t cautious. As the tightrope walker reached the half-way point, a jester steps out onto the rope and comes bounding down towards him. The jester then leaps right over him and continues bounding to the other side. As the jester continues on his way the tightrope walker loses his footing and plummets to his eventual death. An interpretation of this is that when we venture on our journey from the man to the superman, if we are not careful with our next step we may fall to our end, and if we are too brash and hasty as the jester seems to be in the process of becoming something more we may lose our humanity in the process. I would like to compare that to the Nazis as their attempts to hurry and engineer a race of Ubermensch, they lose their humanity in the pursuit of an ideal.

It seems that through the ability to integrate both masculine and feminine, East and West, we could come together to be something more without loss to the sense of self in the process.

Between these ideas of masculine and feminine, spirit and matter, faith and science, capitalism and socialism, and left or right hand, it seems to be in… the spaces in between (as in the Title of my Book, The Spaces in Between. Shameless plug for it).

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