Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Middle Way, Part 10 (Relationships)

One of the overarching themes of Marinoff's books is that of proper relationships.We see it in various geometrical relationships: the Aristotlean Golden Mean, with the ratio of 1:1.618, from which he shows how to make the taoist yin-yan symbol and the Buddhist mandala-lotus. There is the fractal, particularly the Mandelbrot set, which he shows to be uncannily similar to the designs of statues of Buddha. And then he suggests the bell curve. Too bad he has not yet read Sabelli's Bios, where Sabelli shows that one gets a mandala shape from a sine-cosine transformation of a heart-rhythm time series. I find it especially poignant that this new pattern -- bios -- was found in heart rhythms, and that it creates a mandala pattern when you make it undergo a transformation of complementary opposites, when Marinoff associates Buddhism with the heart. It turns out that creativity is associated with complementary opposites and the mandala pattern. I love that it was first discovered in the heart.

Complementary opposites -- the yin-yang of Tao -- is the basis of relationships. A proper relationship should result in creativity, and should be rooted in the heart. On 118, Marinoff observes that according to Confucius, there are "five basic kinds of human relationships" which are all governed by "appropriate conduct." These are:

1. Parent and Child
2. Husband and Wife
3. Friend and Friend
4. Old and Young
5. Ruler and Subject (which would of course include Teacher and Student)

Here in the West we are quite familiar with the arguments about individual rights -- and they are of course valid. But Confucius focuses primarily on "the social organism" (119). We tend to overemphasize individuality over the social in the West, thinking they are mutually exclusive. They aren't. They are (or, should be) complementary opposites. "It is one error to suppose that we humans are not interconnected; it is another to suppose that our interconnectedness entails sameness. People should all be equal before the law, yet this desirable equality does not erase our differences. We are all equally subject to the laws of gravity, but our weights are all different" (122). We need a balance between the individual and the social that is balanced in the individual: "the two interconnected but different complements of Tao always unite in a greater whole, and so their differences enhance the value of the whole itself. If we speak of a "beautiful couple," we are not focused on their differences, yet we still require difference to appreciate the beauty of their union. Taoist complements are not differences that divide; they are differences that unite" (122).

That is important to remember in recognizing the proper relations listed above. It is inappropriate to try to be your child's friend, as the kind of relationship between friends is inappropriate to the parent-child relationship. Friends are equals. As a parent, you are to have authority, protective authority, over your child. It is your duty as a parent to care for and protect and educate your child. It is the child's duty to obey and respect and appreciate the parent.

With husband and wife, the natural sexual differences should come to the fore, each complementing the other, the strengths of each being brought out, the weaknesses of each being balanced out by the strengths of the other. Those who deny that there are differences between men and women inevitably claim that women really do have the traits of men, as though having feminine traits is shameful. Being feminine does not mean you're inferior to those who are masculine -- we need the manly as much as we need the womanly, and vice versa. Each is needed equally, though each does not provide the same elements in equal proportions -- which is why they are different, and are complementary opposites. When the masculine and the feminine are balanced, we get beauty and creativity -- children and art.

Friends join husband and wife as the only pairs listed where the two are and should be on an equal footing, though few make the mistake of thinking friends should not be.

In the West, and in the U.S. in particular, we have inverted the Old-Young pair. We are a youth culture. As a result, we have no connection to our past, we live only in the present, and we don't think about the future. This is why fewer and fewer people vote (though the older people get, the more likely they are to vote). We denigrate the old, and think them unimportant and in the way. Euthanize them, we say. Ah, we do need youthful energy and ideals, but what about wisdom? What about a connection to the past, to our ancestors? The wisdom of classicism. Frederick Turner is fond of saying that sometimes you have to break the shackles of the past to create the future, but then there are times when you have use the past to break the shackles of the present to create the future. The 20th century (and counting) has been about the former. We are overdue for a return to classicism. It's time we got back to respecting our elders. They are wise. They have much to teach us. They are waiting for us.

In the West we have managed to create a true yin-yang between ruler and subject, making the ruler subject to the subject as much as the subject is subject to the ruler. But this is only true so long as we stick to our federalist republican ideals and do not make the mistake of either inverting the two with true Democracy (mob rule) or making a ruler-subject hierarchy of single-party or single-man rule, as the Left and Right are wont to do.

There is a subcategory of ruler-subject, which is really in the realm of parent-child, and younger-older, which is that of teacher-student. People do not understand any more what this relationship should be like. We have schools that are run by students, and we have students telling the teachers what to teach them. The student is in no position to know what (s)he should be taught -- they are ignorant, and remain so until taught by the teacher. A proper teacher-student relationship is often seen as a shameful relationship, though, so we should not be surprised to see in a shame-denying culture like ours opposition to teachers as teachers. But where does that end up putting people? If you don't have teachers, you don't have education. You can either be ashamed of your ignorance, in which case you can fight to remain ignorant while insisting everyone tell you that you aren't (this is the very definition of most college students today), or you can love learning and be overjoyed at the presence of a great teacher.

"If you are an accomplished student of music, you will sooner or later attend a master class, and perhaps even play for a maestro. By showing respect and attentiveness to the master musician, the student opens a channel and thereby receives a precious gift of the master's experience and wisdom. The audience hears, and the student recognizes, an immediate improvement in her playing. Submitting to this kind of master does not make you a slave; rather, it furthers you on the path of mastery" (124).

How do we deal with shame? We can live in it, we can deny it, or we can create a ritual that lets us deal with it in a healthy fashion. Ritual is the golden mean between living in shame and denying shame. That is why shame (for Turner) aims at the beautiful. And let's face it: each of these relationships is shameful. That is why we have created rituals for each. It is when those rituals break down that we get a breakdown of these relationships and, thus, of society as a whole. That is why most cultures have rituals for children to become adults (do our boys know when they become men? do our girls know when they become women?). We have the ritual of marriage that create husbands and wives -- and the ritual of the anniversary to reinforce it. Most teaching occurs in a ritualistic space -- the school (though the ritualistic element has been almost destroyed -- if we want to return to educating children, our schools have to become ritual spaces once again, where it is understood that learning occurs). We have the ritual of elections to select our temporary rulers. We have the ritual of art to educate and show ourselves the beauty of the world. Without these rituals, we have a breakdown of society and culture. We need these rituals. Having eliminated them all from most of our lives, we have to make new ones appropriate for who we are now. It is the way to the Middle Way.
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