Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why violence is wrong, even in a holographic universe

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The previous post discussed the concept of "blessing," and cited evidence which suggests that a central part of our mission in this life -- perhaps the central part of our mission in this life -- is related to this concept of blessing, involving the elevation of the spiritual nature buried deep within our physical or "animal" nature, slumbering and almost forgotten, and by extension participating in the same process in the world around us, calling forth the slumbering, hidden and almost forgotten world of spirit which is present in the natural world around us, waiting to be recognized and awakened.

This understanding of the centrality of the activity of blessing, and by extension the importance of "not cursing," has profound ramifications. Among the many, many implications that we can derive from the definition of blessing offered in the previous post is a new light on an important question which might arise from someone who encounters the "shamanic worldview" which informs this definition of blessing, and that is the question of whether it really matters if we do violence to others, if we accept the possibility that this universe in some ways resembles a hologram or a simulation, or that the material world we inhabit is actually not the "real world" but is derived from or "projected by" the spirit world, or the other world.

For example, in the previous post entitled "The real world that is behind this one," the shamanic worldview was examined using the illustration of the realistic simulation scenes from the movie Divergent, in which this ordinary visible world with which we are most familiar was compared to the "simulation," and in that analogy the invisible world would then correspond to the "real world" in the movie where the simulation is generated. That post argued that the ability of the people known as "divergents" to see through the illusory nature of the simulation, and even to transcend the boundaries of the simulation, could help illustrate the shamanic ability to transcend the boundaries of our visible material world, and to journey to the other world. 

That movie analogy was used as a way of helping to illustrate what Lakota holy man Black Elk might have been trying to convey when he said that when his father's cousin, Crazy Horse, had his defining vision, he "went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world."

Similarly, in The Matrix (1999), the same kind of illustration could be made by observing the protagonist Neo's increasing ability to see beyond the computer-simulation projection of the world he had been inhabiting, and ultimately to see all the way through to the "other world" which is projecting that simulation, and which is depicted as glowing waterfalls of green computer-code: the "source code" behind the projected world. The shaman's ability to travel to the unseen world to heal imbalances in this world can be illustrated by Neo's increasing ability to actually "reach into" the code world and change the simulation-world.

But these illustrations might raise the question of why, if everything we see is "just an illusion" or a "shadow from that other world where there is nothing but the spirits of things," killing others would be considered so wrong. Most people, of course, would not normally even think of such a horrible question, since killing people (as well as lesser forms of violation of other people's natural inherent rights) is so self-evidently wrong that most people don't ask why. But, if this world is really something like a "simulation" (or even a "video game," as it is sometimes metaphorically described, in which the avatar or "player in the game" might "die" many times and then just come right back to try again), then some people might ask how it can then be argued that violence is wrong.

The first and best answer is probably: it is self-evident that violating someone else's rights is wrong.

But, because analogies which use the terms "simulation," or "hologram" or even "video game" to describe the worldview containing both a visible world and an invisible world could lead some to question this point further, the definition and centrality of "blessing" described above opens up a line of argument which may be very helpful. If our mission in this life, according to the metaphors found in ancient scriptures and sacred traditions from Egypt to the Americas to India involves finding and elevating the "god within" or the inner spiritual nature, and in participating in the same action in the rest of the world around us ("blessing"), then doing violence to another being can be seen as the direct opposite: reducing "the other" to the physical and attempting to deny or even destroy the spiritual aspect in the other. 

Even more heinous, killing another separates the spirit from the body, reducing the other to physical matter, to the status of an object. It is obviously the exact opposite of what we are supposed to be doing, both in our own lives (where we are supposed to be recognizing and elevating our spiritual component) and in the world around us (where we are supposed to be doing the same thing, reawakening the connection of the material and physical world to the "real world behind it," which is the world of spirit), and while we are at it, encouraging others to do the same.

This approach to the subject of violence recalls the arguments presented by Simone Weil (1909 - 1943) in her famous 1940 essay "The Iliad, or the Poem of Force," in which she decries the use of force, which she defines as:
that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to its limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was here, and in the next moment there is nobody here at all; this is a spectacle the Iliad never wearies of showing us. 6.
This reduction of a human being to a thing (at one point she says to "a stone") is criminal, and precisely because a human being is not a thing, but rather a living man or woman who has a soul. It is precisely this aspect of the possession of a spiritual component which makes the reduction to a thing, the denial of that spiritual component, so heinous according to Weil.

Later in the same essay, she notes that the act of denying the soul in another has a second terrible consequence, which is that it has the tendency to turn the perpetrator of violence into "a thing" as well:
Such is the nature of force. Its power of converting a man into a thing is a double one, and in its application double-edged. To the same degree, though in different fashions, those who use it and those who endure it are turned to stone. 22.
You can see more thoughts on Simone Weil's powerful essay in a blog post from two years ago entitled  "Reflections on Simone Weil's 'The Iliad, or the Poem of Force' and the Question of Consciousness."

Many additional valid reasons could be set forth to demonstrate why violence against another is always wrong, including the fact that each individual is a microcosm of the entire universe and reflects and embodies the whole, but this argument from the "definition of blessing" and the central importance of recognizing and "raising" the spiritual is a very powerful argument, and one which is very consistent with the "shamanic worldview" that sees this material world as a "shadow" of the spiritual world that is "behind this one." It answers an objection which might be raised from a critic of such a worldview by noting that if the spiritual world that is behind this one is in some ways the "real world that is behind this one" (in the words of Black Elk), then the recognition and elevation of the spiritual in this material world are actions of profound importance, and the contrary actions of denying, diminishing, or destroying the spiritual side of another (which perpetrators of violence seek to do) is deeply dishonest and morally repugnant.

Additionally, denying or attempting to destroy the spiritual in others will tend to do the same to the perpetrator of those actions. Dehumanizing other men and women will inescapably dehumanize ourselves if we participate in it.

It should be noted that the prohibition against doing violence to another person forms the primary central touchstone of what Lysander Spooner argued is a universal law, ingrained into the fabric of the universe we inhabit to such an extent that it can be described as a "natural law" (that is, one not arising from human artifice or culture, but rather one that is as much a part of nature as the law of gravity or the laws which govern moving objects). He argued that abstaining from committing murder, and abstaining from injuring another, is a universal duty which must always be observed -- and that we actually have a duty to enforce this duty on others when necessary.

From this it can be argued that there are times when force can be rightly used to stop violence against oneself or another person, and that there is a distinction between violence (a word which indicates a violation of another's rights) and force: it is not violence to use force if someone is about to hit you in the head, but rather it is your right and even your duty to use force to stop that person from hitting you in the head, as hitting you in the head would be a serious violation of your individual rights. The helpful distinction between the use of the words force and violence is one that I originally heard from lectures published on the web by Mark Passio.

It should go without saying that violating the rights of others cannot possibly be argued to be acceptable, even by those who might see the existence of a spiritual world "behind this one" as an excuse to argue that way. The existence of a spiritual world which interpenetrates this one -- and from which this one can in a very real sense be said to arise -- by no means authorizes anyone to brutalize, dehumanize, or objectify another human being (nor does it authorize the denial of the spiritual component within the rest of nature, which is a topic for another post on another day). On the contrary, because that spiritual world behind this one is in one sense "the real world" from which this one springs, cutting off and suppressing the spiritual in oneself or in others is like cutting off one's own source of oxygen.

The understanding of "blessing" that involves the seeing of the higher spiritual side in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us -- and that involves awakening that spirit to a greater and greater degree -- helps us to see why doing the opposite is so very wrong and so antithetical to our purpose on this material plane.