Embracing Ambivalence

“Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. […] Forgiveness adorns a soldier…but abstinence is forgiveness only when there is the power to punish. [I do not believe I am a helpless creature, for strength] does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. […] I must not let a coward seek shelter behind nonviolence so-called.”

Mahatma Gandhi is the author of those words. Useful to remember during the times when you might feel, as I have felt, that your conflictions might undermine your convictions. So our egos tell us: the presence of a violent rage in the Nonviolent Activist is a cancer that will sew hatred and beget only future destruction…and yet the decision of a warrior not to act when they are called to act foretells a slow withering of their resolve that endangers the very lifeblood of their movement. How, therefore, can the impetus towards nonviolence and the impetus towards refusal to submit successfully share the psyche of a single individual?

As of late, I am learning to be more comfortable with the concept of ambivalence. The coexistence of an insurmountable need to resist oppression with a deep sense of the necessity of universal love is not something that I need to prove is possible with rhetoric. My regular, acute sensation of both of these dual aspects of my consciousness comprises a fundamental part of the reality that I take as given. I have no interest in philosophies which seek to undermine my lived experience. If I remain alienated from a so-called truth, then it is no truth to me in any of the ways that matter.

Think of all the modern colonialist empires and what clinging to their invented truths amounted to: devastation, annihilation. Apocalypse…is inevitable when the truths from which we derive our identities are built out of cardboard. The mightiest abstraction will crumble to dust in confrontation with a being who voices even the tiniest of objections, so long as their roots are planted in authentic presence. It is as my close childhood friend–a female-bodied, asexual demi-romantic, peruvian-american, hard-core gamer and professional illustrator–likes to say, “I exist! And I like drawing birds.” There is no justifiable cause for further argument.

I may accept that I am both a lover and a warrior, but discomfort arises when these ideologies try to battle it out inside my heart for conceptual hegemony. I begin to hurt when I start judging how well I am living up to my responsibilities–and by extension, the degree to which I do or do not experience myself as human garbage–by the perceived purity of my gospel. The christ complex that takes hold of many healers and activist workers alike dictates that we assuage the deeply felt pain birthed from our direct or indirect exposure to trauma by martyring ourselves to our causes. Regardless of how impractical this is, our conception of heroes and cultural icons is that they are fueled, as Gandhi suggests, by an indomitable will. But no one can possibly continue to thrive on will alone. Those of us with grandiose dreams are not meant to teeter as we do between blessed and damned. We forget that we are the spiritual equals of all those for whom we fight. We cannot hope to heal our fractured world until we first heal our fractured selves.

Humans are infinite in our capacity to express the extreme ends of every polarity (after all, we’re the ones who created the polarities in the first place!). It is in this way that we dance around the notion of God. But by connecting to the wholeness of our intrinsic divinity, we operate from a place of unparalleled power, undistracted by the limitations of our petty moralities. It is then that we become able to understand our conceptual maps for the inanimate tools they really are. Only when we are oriented from this universal point of origin are we able to use these maps to help us give direction to our will. Until then, all of our efforts will be useless striving.

To heal, I must examine this disparity within me. If I know that I experience both the imperative to love universally and without exception and the necessity of resisting oppression by any means necessary, and my current perspective holds that their continued simultaneous existence is an impossibility for the critical mind, then I am forced to either believe myself the worst traitor to both impulses or to challenge the comprehensive validity of the paradigm that dictates they must be separate.

Our inner light does not often demonstrate itself to be a factor prone to error. It is rather our illusory and misguided classifications (and the tiny mountain of hoarded knowledge from which these violent taxonomies are derived) that seem to be in constant need of revision. I am, therefore, more inclined to put faith in my sensation that the imperative to love and the imperative to resist coexist than I am to debase myself for the sake of pleasing lazy cognition.

Considerations regarding the potential of reconciliation:

1. In the past, it has always been my connection to others and to something deep within myself, the feeling I recognize as “love”, that has allowed me to bounce back whenever I lose my way. Love has proven itself to be a method of resisting the dominator system’s psychological stormtroopers.

2. I have done wrong in the past and I will do wrong again in the future. I will lose my way again.  Knowing this, I try to practice compassion for myself and for the people who wrong me. When I am successful, this practice of compassion allows my natural tendency to love to overcome the persuasive pull of fear and I am guided out of The Funhouse of Cyclical Despair and back onto the path that I will for myself.

3. Living with compassion loosens the grip of my ego and allows me to feel once more connected to everyone and everything. So long as any one of us remains oppressed, it is clear to me that none of us shall ever be truly free. As it is unacceptable to me to be a slave, I have no other choice but to use what power I possess to resist and dismantle systematic oppression and to help others to free themselves from their personal prisons (both figurative and literal).

4. In a world where so many are so far alienated from what it means to be a Living Being, my love only carries weight if I have built it upon an armored foundation, outfitted with the necessary firepower to blow through the tangled, gnarled mess that we humans have made. My resistance is a tool that I use to empower my love just as my love is itself a method of resistance.

Conclusion: I am both warrior and lover because I cannot truly be one without the other. Their separation is an illusion.

We cannot heal while wounds are still being created. To forgive in such an instance would be meaningless and inauthentic. If we do not feel called to give peace a fighting change against all who work to undermine it, then we do not understand what it means to love. Just so, for resistance in the absence of love and compassion is doomed to be only temporary. The difficulty of resolving this paradox isolates many would-be allies and makes a fantasy of true revolution, but the false dichotomy is of our own making.

Okay, Hippie, what does any of that actually mean? It means refusing to accept any global system that tries to sort and commodify its people into boxes instead of pursuing a natural development from their collective authenticity. It means resisting until we get it right, undermining at every possibility the dominator consciousness that poisons us. It means looking the powerful in the eye and proclaiming loudly and boldly that their very actions to try to derail and contain us are confirmation that there is something in us to be feared! They lash out at “otherness” because it reminds them of the precariousness of their position, because the very existence of an other means that the system from which they profit is arbitrary and groundless. In fighting for our own and for each other’s authentic representation, marginalized groups of all kinds chip away at the shaky foundations of the dominator culture.

The danger is that there are those who have so fully identified with the false dominator culture that they no longer remember how to connect with their own divinity. They fear the undermining of the dominator culture because they find themselves utterly aligned with it. For them, such a rupture would be fundamentally apocalyptic. A deep longing manifests from within their internal fractures and leads them down a path of insatiable consumption. They will never stop consuming because what they seek is an external source to what can only be found internally: a way of returning to paradise.

False “knowledge” of our separateness results in our alienation from the oneness of God and in our perceived expulsion from Eden. This expulsion is not determined by our past, it is determined by our present (it’s also just a colorful metaphor, in case you guys are starting to think I’m secretly a bible-toting theist who confuses theology with history). As we fail to change, the anguish caused by our self-imposed isolation reverberates throughout collective modern consciousness.  Humanity desperately seeks to return to this world of joy and wholeness, free of hardship and doubt, but there seems to be quite a bit of disagreement over just how we’re going to do that. In their perceived separation, many people’s solutions end up involving an excessive display of force and the systematic devaluing of the equally pressing needs of their fellow beings. The simple truth, however, is that by healing our fractures and casting off the illusion of separation, we will open our eyes and remember that we are in Eden still.

Our divinity is not something that can actually be taken away from us, but the disconnected and disaffected are dangerous and desperate people. If they cannot be healed or otherwise disarmed, then we must do everything in our power to combat their destructive impulses, even if it means using violence ourselves. There is too much at stake to be able to claim neutrality. We do what is necessary to combat total destruction. That being said, no attempt to evade personal responsibility through transcendental justification will ultimately be sufficient to account for this contribution to additional fracture.

We carry the weight of our transgressions with us as we go forward and we leave the stains of our bad choices behind us as our most glaring legacies. The decision to shed blood is not one that can be taken lightly. More often than not, the recourse toward violence represents a failure of creativity and a succumbing to primitive impulses rather than a truly inevitable course of action. Even in those cases where it is truly unavoidable, our evil actions do not become absolved just because we believed them to be employed in the service of a higher good. Like the drive of a peaceful being toward violence in the first place, the tolls of our good and of our evil deeds coexist within us in a kind of ambivalence, without externally imposed significance. One does not disappear within the other. They exist in and of themselves within us–alone, together. There are no good people and there are no bad people. There are only people continuously making choices out of fear or out of love (and honestly, if fear and love are like everything else, this too is probably a false dichotomy).

I am learning to embrace ambivalence because I now recognize that lusting after a neat and consistent philosophy, a reflection of some untouchable Truth, is just another way of striving for wholeness. If I really want to put the world back together, I have to first remember that I am internally solid. When we as a resistance embody this solid-state consciousness, the defenders of the dominator culture will never be able to break us. Time and time again they will try to beat us into line with their conceptual systems but we will remain solvent. Our very existence within the dominator culture is an exercise in profound ambivalence. We will force the system to either change to accommodate us or collapse completely–for something will begin to stir inside of the champions of the dominator culture. They will begin to recognize in us what they themselves have lost and, one by one, they will fall to their knees, defeated.

 

EDIT: After linking to this post on my Facebook page, there was a discussion in the comments that clarified some of my vaguer ideas. I’m copying the transcript here in case it’s helpful.

Matt: you speak of the false dichotomy between the warrior and lover within you, of the probable (as you put it) false dichotomy between fear and love, of the illusion of separation from our connection to our own divinity. If separation is an illusion, as is the case with the the false dichotomies you mentioned, what makes you think you are in any way separate from the dominator consciousness, culture, system you seek to destroy? On the other hand, what makes you think the dominator consciousness is any way separate from divine consciousness?

Me: I’m not separate from the dominator consciousness at all. It’s a constant battle to practice authenticity and remain present, and to not let all of my different identities and belief systems, most of them inherited from the dominator culture, cloud my perception. And I probably will not ever be completely successful. But it’s a life goal, and one that I think is pretty important to pursue.

As for how the dominator consciousness is separate from divine consciousness. It isn’t, really. But I think it is defined by its alienation from divine roots. That’s why it’s not necessarily a matter of purging dominator culture so much as bringing it back into alignment with authentic human experience.

Matt: i feel you.

Me: Yeah the problem with the way I’ve set up this blog is that it’s kind of just a giant stream of consciousness sort of deal that i’m doing once a day. I care about the words I use a lot, but I’m hoping the format will improve my ability to express myself more quickly. What you read isn’t going through a lot of revisions, so a lot of clarity might get sacrificed. I really appreciate being challenged.
LOL I edited this statement more times than I edited that blog post.

Matt: yeah i would say at certain parts during your post, what you’re writing doesn’t seem to be totally in line with your response to my comment. specifically this paragraph: “Our divinity is not something that can actually be taken away from us, but the disconnected and disaffected are dangerous and desperate people. If they cannot be healed or otherwise disarmed, then we must do everything in our power to combat their destructive impulses, even if it means using violence ourselves. There is too much at stake to be able to claim neutrality. We do what is necessary to combat total destruction. That being said, no attempt to evade personal responsibility through transcendental justification will ultimately be sufficient to account for this contribution to additional fracture.” and other bits and pieces but overall, twas a thoroughly enjoying read and im slightly shocked and amazed that you managed to crank out 2000 words in a day just for shits and giggles (Side notes: 1. He’s a sweetheart for saying this last bit and for helping me work through my thoughts without acting like a judgmental jerk. 2. Shits and giggles are the only things worth getting worked up about.)

Me: I have to do some more thinking about exactly when I believe violence to be an appropriate response. I really don’t think it’s acceptable 99% of the time–that’s sort of where the discomfort comes from. But there are people out there who cannot be reached through nonviolent means (even though, in reality, they too are a part of the universal divine consciousness and have just forgotten). Some times these people commit great acts of evil. I don’t think that it is acceptable for us to remain impartial, especially when the effects of their crimes continue to add up in ways that have catastrophic consequences. My point, though, is that even when violence seems like our only option, if we commit an act of violence, we cannot use moral proselytizing to absolve us of the weight of what we’ve done. A murder is a murder is a murder, but if someone were threatening to blow up manhattan, and the only solution was a shot to the head, I’d take the guy out.

Matt: i see your point, i need to think more about it myself as well but at least in that particular example id splatter some brains on the pavement as well. My conception of the problem was on a more systemic level and im pretty against systemic violence outright even if it’s for a seemingly “moral” cause

Me: Yeah systematic violence is straight up bullshit from the get-go because it’s implying that this tactic is warranted across all these disparate situations. The philosophy is completely abstracted from the problem at hand. I feel like a lot of political figures act like they have no other recourse but really have so many other options and it’s some garbage. That’s why I think the ambivalence plays a role in more ways than one. Cuz I can murder someone to prevent them from doing even greater harm, but my violent act is still contributing to this internal fracture, which is then making it harder for me to do a job which requires me to be completely solid. TELL ME WHAT TO DO, UNCLE IROH.

Matt: internal fractures are imagined?

Me: It’s complicated.

Matt: how can anything be complicated when nothing is separate? 1 seems like a simple enough concept

look at that! my lunch break is over!  hahaha. I have a decent answer to this, but I’m not gonna spend the time writing it out now. Could be a part 2 post in there somewhere.

Anyway, I hope the addition of these comments helps. Again, the stream of consciousness approach to philosophy does not always result in the clearest language. But that’s part of why we’re all here! To help me learn to communicate quickly with clarity. Most important conversations that we have do not allow us the chance to submit first and second drafts. To convince people of the things that matter to us, we have to be able to fly by the seat of our pants. I’m learning. Here’s to slowly getting better! (Hopefully).

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3 thoughts on “Embracing Ambivalence

  1. YourBiggestFan says:

    Not even leaving out the “i feel you.” You’ve always been one to include every single opinion, fact or statement and never leave anything out of consideration, which is so important. It’s an amalgamation that will definitely help us all understand better – perhaps with a certain ambivalence at first – but nonetheless wholly and completely. I love it.

    Like

  2. Thomas says:

    Really liked this post a lot. I disagree with your defense of the efficacy of stream of consciousness. Rather than obfuscating your point, I think that it captures the thought process well enough that the reader is able to adequately understand your thought process, and thus its flaws, which is why I think you and Matt had such great discourse because he was confused by some of the seemingly contradictory language.

    Of course these contradictions can occur according to you because they aren’t really separate. They are all varying “truths” blah blah blah. I am really into that concept, and I think you navigated your thoughts well in your clarification in your facebook conversation with Matt.

    I understand the meaning of “dominator consciousness” but I’m wondering where the term came from and whether you could give me maybe 2 or 3 philosophers I should get into. Or better yet, specific works of theirs. I have a fairly solid background with ancient greek philosophers, and some roman dudes from when I took Latin class, I know some Christian philosophers from the middle ages, Descartes, Hobbes, some Locke, some Roussea, and some Benjamen Franklin already. I clearly have read very few people that aren’t white men, so if you have recommendations outside of that, that would be great.

    I’m glad you brought in Uncle Iroh because as I was the whole post I was thinking “AVATAR!!!” and that may or may not be because I am re-watching the series in Spanish, which is really nice because I feel like I’m experiencing the show again, though of course I’m really not. It’s still fantastic (though a bummer because one of my favorite Boomi puns was not translated… “lettuce leave” just wouldn’t have been funny in Spanish.) Anyway, speaking of Avatar, I believe that the greatest wisdom exists in children, who don’t bother with having lazy consciousnesses trying to catch up and hyper rationalize their actions. They do what the fuck they want. While the ethics of killing aren’t something that generally cross the minds of young young children (as far as I know), I think that children are sort of the ideal version of living with ambivalence and balancing the many dilemmas you fleshed out in your post and your facebook interaction, simply because they haven’t been cultured enough to give a fuck about pigeon-holing their ideas and feeling guilty for what may or may not be contradictory thoughts. Anyway, kids rule, and I think they’re the best philosophers. I don’t know if there’s a good translation of it, but I’m getting into an Argentine comic from the 60s called “Mafalda” who is this awesome girl who questions everything and is a prime example of kids being awesome. and awesome philosphers.

    I hope this added to the conversation…

    Liked by 1 person

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