‘We’, the little people, the Lilliputians, decree that you are not permitted to make a mistake. As guardians of good opinion and big nurses of the collective superego, we have ‘zero tolerance’ for you and will stamp out any dangerous notion you might have. Remember, do not be too vulnerable or too bold, and remain within the acceptable boundaries of mediocrity. Our message is: ‘behave and be nice’.
Of course, we have been around forever as the murderous mob and silent majority, but our virulence is amplified of late on social media, which has created a mass revolutionary court and reward system for mediocrity. For we, the little people, the parasites of celebrity gossip and gas-lighters — love above all a ‘public confession’.
Better learn how to repent, even though we will take you down anyway. For everybody has some dirty little secret we would love to expose. And if you are not guilty yourself, you are surely guilty through your association with ‘dangerous problematic people’ and your inability to join the chorus of good opinion.
Be afraid. Be sure that we will sniff your weakness, publicise it, create clever memes to expose you, and finally gleefully crucify you. It is in your best interest to remain small and soullessly ‘professional’—be invisible, in other words. Note: like the Bolsheviks who orchestrated the red terror, we come dressed as bodhisattvas of compassion, with false smiles or righteous hubris, a certain brutal romantic idealism—an obsessive virulence combined with a lack of mercy.
Today we have cancelled Jesus Christ due to his anger management issues, Socrates because he loved young boys, The Buddha because he abandoned his wife and children. Martin Luther King has been cancelled for marital infidelities; James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway because the were drunks. Francisco Goya, Edvard Munch, Ludwig Van Beethoven will soon be cancelled because they were depressed — after all, excessive sadness is a danger to the algorithm, and those who don’t put on a happy face will certainly be erased.
But seriously. Cancel cancel-culture. Cancel the circular firing squad. Wouldn’t it be better to be merciful, generous, tolerant of eccentricity. Let us appreciate, even befriend, those who we disagree with. We can even have a good old-fashioned fight now and again—we can always make up later.
Zak Stein, in his book Education In A Time Between Worlds, tells us that Ken Wilber had ‘laudable imperfections’. Don’t all the great people have such imperfection? Stein, who honers Wilber while critiquing his ideas, tells us ‘our greatest strengths are so often allied with our greatest weaknesses’. Certainly Wilber influenced a whole generation of autistic and spiritual maniacs, is considered a saviour to some and a charlatan to others—just like Jordan Peterson. However, whatever you think of these men, their influence is undeniable. We need such pop culture philosophers to a certain extent, to bring ideas down from the ivory tower. We are perfectly welcome to disagree with them, without needing to descend to mob attacks.
A luminary presents the world with his adventure of ideas, a dialectic of illumination and error. Sigmund Freud, for instance, gave us a new lense to see the world, even if most of his theories and methods have turned out to be bunk. It’s the speculative genius of Freud that matters, rather any final conclusions he came to about reality. The point is: the more shadows and flaws we have, the more potential for magic and transformation. You need to have big demons to wrestle with — we could even invite them to a certain extent.
A great thinker doesn’t present us with a package, but with something to wrestle and dialogue with. It is up to us to ‘separate the wheat from the chaff’ rather than ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. Everybody fails to come up with the ‘ultimate theory of everything’, but the greater the intensity and earnestness of the thought adventure, the more truth is generated.
The twentieth century mystic George Ivan Gurdjieff, invented a dance called ‘idiotism’ to help his students get in touch with their inner idiot. The paradox he wanted to illustrate was that our ‘divine double’—or our potential—and our ‘divine idiot’ are bedfellows. This does not mean we should cultivate or celebrate the idiot—only understand its dialectic value, and even its potential to help us discover our own idiosyncratic form of genius.
The person who knows his inner-idiot is way less dangerous than the one who pretends to be pure. The really dangerous people—the Bill Cosby’s of the world for example—put forward an image of being supremely good: in Cosby’s case, the good husband, dad, and model African American. Similarly, the pedophile priest who makes a show at imitating Christ is far worse than the professional sadomasochist, who at least transforms his perversion into theatre. The more authentic artists of the world, (I think of gutter poets like Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller) do not trumpet their strengths but confess their wretched and insufficient states, and do not pretend to be holy (or small either).
To reiterate: the one who appears flawless, who exudes a similitude of perfection, is actually the truly dangerous one. And conversely, the one who demonstrates imperfection might be worthy of our love. A certain asymmetry and paradox is necessary for real love to arise. We love people because of their flaws along with their potential. And we distrust someone who is too perfect and plastic, a mere persona—a non-player character, to reference the popular meme.
We need to be let off the hook at times, to be given a chance to redeem ourselves. If we are able to see and confess our own flaws, we might have a more merciful attitude towards others. On the other hand, if we believe ourselves to be beyond reproach or morally pure, we are either extremely deluded or we have never encountered what Carl Jung calls ‘the shadow’. And if we don’t know our own shadow, we will certainly be a puppet of it. For the shadow, little man, the lilliputian, the idiot, the troll, lives within all of us.
In sterquiliniis invenitur” — literally “you will find it in a cesspool”.
Every life is a catalogue of misadventures and a tango with shadow elements. That is why good novelists are more interested in human flaws than heroism—in tragedy than comedy—precisely because a story of failures is far more illuminating than the boring ‘rags to riches’ tale. A case in point: it turns out that Alexander the Great’s heroic hagiography is much less interesting than the minutiae of perversions and jealousies of the idle french aristocrat Marcel Proust—or Franz Kafka’s Gregor Samsa who woke up as an insect.
There are a lack of good confessional writers today, authors like Marcel Proust, DH Lawrence, or James Joyce. That is because there is nothing left to confess: everything ‘personal’ is vomited up on social media. But real confessional poetry requires privacy, gestation, intimacy and silence.
In other words, our efforts to present our best instagram self are destroying our chance for real development, which requires the right to failure. Furthermore, we have to realise — deeply realise — that the only difference between us and the flawed geniuses I mentioned above — is that the former have full experience of both their ‘divine double’ and their ‘divine idiot’ to the maximum, whereas we are either hiding, denying, or unaware of our own.
Instead of being captured or hunted down by the shadow, we need to turn around and face him or her — to be the hunter rather than the hunted. This means venturing to the dark places and looking at our own shadow willingly. Our inner troll/shadow is quite a slippery fellow, and can do a lot of damage, especially if we don’t watch him vigilantly.
The treasure we long for, the divine double, is not found in perfection unfortunately, but, as the alchemical maxim has it: “In sterquiliniis invenitur” — literally “you will find it in a cesspool”. We need to fail better, to quote Samuel Beckett, who was not afraid to look into the darker aspects of his own soul.
The people who irritate us most might have the most to teach us. Our immediate tendency is to make such people an abject, or exaggerate their negative qualities because they are showing us an unsuspected side of ourselves. A strident thinker like Jordan Peterson, might feel an aversion to a strident thinker like Karl Marx, for instance. The two might be more intimate than it appears, and have more in common (for instance a concern for the working class).
Eric Weinstein—who is good at coming up with neologisms—has said that we should try to ‘vice signal’ instead of ‘virtue signal’. In other words, we should not pretend to so so damn wonderful, and be more open about our faults rather than hiding them. Then, when the social media mobs come to get us—and they will—they will have nothing to attack. Sociopathy preys on innocence and cleanliness, and the all too perfect persona—and useless against a person who has become intimate with his or her flaws.
We all live in the age of personas and masks, which have their place in the theatre of life, but the problem comes when we become our virtual identity and forget our primary one. And the primary person is by nature flawed, broken, edgy, lovable, raw, and a bit wrong—but still a human being on the path to meeting his or her divine double.
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