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Reply To: The Air We Breathe

Richard Sumpter

    Thanks to jamesn for the kind words.  Maybe some of you can help me sort out some thoughts.

    As you may have gathered from my earlier posts, I have been doing a lot of thinking and a little writing on the concepts of individualism (particularly “rugged individualism” as exhibited in America) and communalism (not to be confused with communism or socialism).  Since joining this forum, I have been trying to integrate my thinking on these concepts with some of the theories Campbell espouses.

    There are two of his ideas that keep forcing their way into my consciousness.  The first is his theory of the monomyth as portrayed in the Hero’s Journey.  A truncated version has the individual leaving the realm of the known to pursue a quest into the unfamiliar and often dangerous realm. The circular journey is completed, and the status of hero is achieved when the individual, having overcome the challenges, returns to the community with a boon of some kind.  In other words, while becoming a hero may require individual achievements, heroism isn’t fully conferred until the individual returns to the community.  Campbell describes the hero (the individual) as someone who has given him/herself to something greater than self (the community).  This means living not in pursuit of what are perceived as individual needs but living primarily in terms of the community.  In that way, both the individual and the community benefit.

    While the Hero’s Journey can align with my views on individual vs. community, and I can integrate my thinking on it, it raises another problem that Campbell addresses.  I’m not sure there is a specific name for it in his lexicon, but it relates to the idea of duality, of positives and negatives.  In Moyers’ POM video he speaks to this while showing a picture of a Buddha in a cave in India.  He points out that the Buddha is looking straight ahead, but there are faces on either side looking to left and right.  He refers here to “the pairs of opposites,” and reflects on how we use this categorization to organize and understand what we perceive as reality.  We create the illusion of duality, but the reality is that all being is one.  Being is the single fundamental reality.  From this we derive the principle of contradiction: “A thing cannot be and not be at the same time in the same respect.”  All epistemology is based on this.

    Thus, while I use the Hero’s Journey to explain individual and community, I must realize that I am using dual thinking which creates the illusion of two somewhat opposite things while the reality is that they are one.  This tendency to reductionism – reducing a thing to its composite parts – is a product of science and the enlightenment.  Our understanding is enhanced by this “analysis” (the word in Greek means to break apart), but we lose something because of the difficulty of reuniting the parts back into the whole.

    Campbell raises another difficult concept in eschewing dual thinking.  He points out that the pairs of opposites are categories of thought devised by the human mind.  This really get difficult to wrap your mind around when he goes on to say that good and evil are ethical categories we have created.  They do not exist in the mind of God, where all things are one.  He is in synch with the Buddha when he admonishes us not to impose the labels.  We do not have to say that a thing is good or bad.  It just “is.”

    I’m getting a headache so I will end for now.  Thanks to those who could stay with me this far.  I know it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.