My title is a teaser. I am for it and against it. Meaning, this post is too short to fully develop the differences between cultures, or to explore the fact that many of those differences that were are no longer. Sad to say.
That said, Tony Jones offers a very concise and thought-provoking essay on the subject of various dualismsbelow. He, too, slimmed it down for the purposes of opening up discussion, rather than trying to close something that can’t be closed. It’s advice grounded in careful thought, centuries of thought, and is worth considering on a personal as well as national level.
I can say, however, that in general the dualisms employed by East and West tend to mean vastly different things. In general. Eastern duality tends to be about balance between this and that, harmony between that and this, not conflict. The West tends to see those dualities as engaged in battle, conflict, war. Obviously, there were and are exceptions within each culture. There are subcultures and sub-sub cultures which do not share in general trends, ideologies or philosophies. There are countless individuals who seem to fall outside all of these groupings. But if we pull from disparate groups and group disparate groups, we can find tendencies, cultural mores, rules, even. We can guestimate and tabulate.
Personally, I much prefer the Eastern sense of duality, and I sometimes wonder why anyone would choose another Way. Balance, Harmony, riding the wave with your body, at one with the ocean’s rhythm, at one with the sun and the moon. Life truly is far too short to burn it up in a conflagration that just doesn’t have to be. And when we study history, we quickly find out just how many wars never had to be. We are in one right now. And isn’t it the height of insanity to start unnecessary wars? Isn’t that the most criminally demented of all ventures?
I recently talked about a book here, The Judgment of Paris. In that excellent study and in Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France, I was reminded about the insanity of the Franco-Prussian War. How it was started after little more than the perception of a slight between diplomats, escalated from that point into full-fledged catastrophe for France and for all of those who died on both sides. The invasion and occupation of France then led to a crackdown by the new government and the slaughter of thousands of fellow French citizens in Paris, the communards, soon after. Pure madness. Unadulterated madness.
Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?
Ironically enough, the dualities discussed above form their own meta-duality. As in, to be most annoying, the duality of dualities between East and West. But, and here is where it gets really tricky: they don’t really mesh very well as dualities. In a sense, the Eastern Way is that opposites cancel each other out. That is the goal. An Eastern adept is actually striving for that. In fact, one way of gaining enlightenment is to contemplate a series of opposites to the exclusion of everything else until the light dawns, the ocean roars, the moon falls from the sky and the master hits you with a bamboo stick on the head.
All you have in your mind at that moment is the at-one-ment of all opposites. The No-Spot for everything, where everything and nothing meet. Where all dualism dies and everything is everything. One. Just one.
Now, when I think of the idea of Western dualism . . . that opposites must fight each other, must be in eternal conflict, I really can’t see that as being diametrically opposed to the idea that All is One. As in, I don’t see West and East having competing dualisms of an opposite nature. To stretch a movie metaphor to the point of breaking some strings, dueling dualisms . . .
I then have to ask myself: “Self, what is the opposite of All is One?”
And I’d have to answer: “That’s easy. One are Many.”
But the answer would not necessitate that the Many would be in conflict with one another. That shouldn’t be a given, if we just think in terms of opposites. Unless we abide by Hobbes and his war of All against All.
So where does that leave us?
Perhaps with Spinoza. He did much to fight dualisms, especially Cartesian dualisms. Which, in a sense, in yet another annoying way, gave some of them momentary life. But ultimately, he might have been a bridge between West and East. As was Meister Eckhardt. And much later, Hermann Hesse . . .
“God, or substance, consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists”