Archive for May, 2010

In looking back over the previous entry, I realized that I’d understated the importance of dominant partnerships when I implied that they are merely practical and results-oriented. Their surface appearance may be designed to meet the immediate challenges of the moment, but there is also something far deeper and more enduring to be found in the philosophical connection which binds each pair of visions together.

That philosophical connection is necessary because we humans experience life in three very different modes — physically through our senses, emotionally through our family and social relationships, and implicitly through our dreams and inner reflections. Each of these modes gives rise to a radically different image of the universe, and yet we maintain an unshakable conviction that they all point to the same ultimate reality. As a result, we persistently attempt to harmonize these various pictures with one another.

Where each vision represents a model of reality drawn from just one area of experience, every partnership represents an attempt to synthesize two different areas. Compared to the visions themselves, partnerships are intellectual and somewhat arbitrary — which is why they always fall apart in the long run. But at their peak, they provide a brief glimpse of ultimate oneness that can be a source of brilliant artistic and cultural creativity.

The roots of any partnership go back to long before the partnership itself is constructed — to the moment when what will become the senior vision first gains self-awareness through being touched by intimations of what will become the junior vision. The overpowering sense of higher unity which is present at that moment will persist over many generations, even as the two visions go through their separate evolutions, to become the glue that eventually binds them together in a dominant partnership.

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The collapse of the science-and-democracy partnership in 1965 may have left the democracy vision in a state of demoralization, but that was nothing compared to the trauma produced in the United States by the Watergate crisis and its aftermath. The steady stream of revelations about the Nixon administration’s misdeeds and the CIA’s abuses of power which poured out from 1972 to 1976 shook the entire nation to its core and provoked an almost inexpressible sense of revulsion and cynicism.

The official conclusion after Nixon resigned was that the system had worked, but it hadn’t really. The Watergate crisis left behind a deep and abiding distrust of government, along with a tendency to see conspiracies everywhere.

That distrust was most intense in the United States, of course — but then, so was the democracy vision itself.

Visions expand their sphere of influence as they develop, but they tend to be nurtured originally in fairly limited regions, and they have the most lasting impact in those same regions. The reason vision, for example, was quintessentially French. The science vision was most strongly rooted in England and Germany. And the democracy vision has been at the core of America’s identity as a nation since 1776.

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My mother was a little bit psychic and more than a little bit mystical — but that was usually as far as it went. There was one occasion, though, on which she declared, “I want to try an experiment” — and the results were very strange indeed.

In the late 50’s, my father had started bringing home a little extra income, and he began cautiously putting some of it into the stock market. My mother initially played no part in his investment decisions, but one night she must have decided she wanted to try playing the market her way, because she asked me to come over and sit on her lap and hold her hand.

I complied somewhat awkwardly, wondering what was going on, since I was perhaps ten or eleven and clearly too big to fit comfortably on her lap. “I’m going to read out five names,” she said, “and I want me to tell you which one you like.”

She went through her list, and though none of the names meant anything to me, one caught my ear. “Ang Wupp!” I repeated. “That sounds funny. I like that one.”

So at my mother’s direction, my father bought shares of stock in what turned out to be Angostura-Wuppermann, at that time the US distributor of Angostura Bitters.

And the stock immediately started to go up. And up. It went from something like $9 to perhaps $15 over the next week.

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I’ve been thinking on and off about the differences between the chaos vision and the creative imagination vision, and it’s occurred to me that one of the most obvious is that chaos is heavily dependent on the concept of the subconscious, while creative imagination isn’t.

Chaos didn’t start out in the 18th century with a theory of the subconscious, but it did focus heavily on the whole range of non-rational mental states, from dream to madness to supernatural terror. And when the chaos vision started getting more organized in the late 1800’s, Sigmund Freud’s concept of the subconscious provided the first really satisfactory explanation for all those anomalous states.

The reason-and-science partnership was at its peak just then, and human beings were seen as primarily creatures of reason. But Freud’s theory suggested that it was only the conscious mind that was rational, while the subconscious was the natural home of everything that reason excluded — sex and violence, nameless fears and inexplicable urges, primitive instincts and childlike wonder.

In the first half of the 20th century, as reason faded and the chaos vision took on greater authority, the subconscious became correspondingly more powerful as well — perhaps even more powerful than the conscious mind. In science fiction stories of the 1940’s and 50’s, the subconscious was frequently represented as either a vast unknown territory, full of ghosts and archetypal presences, or a kind of shadow self with its own knowledge and agenda.

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