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Truth or Consequences,” with Gabrielle Basha, MFA”

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    Gabrielle Basha is once again our guest in Conversations of a Higher Order, here to discuss “Truth or Consequences,” her most recent contribution to JCF’s MythBlast essay series (click on title to read). Ms. Basha, a writer and educator with a background in art history and children’s literature, is a member of the executive communications team at the Wikimedia Foundation, in addition to serving as JCF’s Communications Manager.

    Though I will open the conversation, please help make Gabrielle feel welcome by sharing any thoughts, observations, insights, and inspirations that surfaced as you read her essay.

    Gabrielle – you have a knack for sharing thought-provoking television series and novels that are completely off my radar. I love the harvest you find in Parable of the Sower, not to mention Octavia Butler’s prophetic words!

    I’ll open by asking the question Pilate posed to the carpenter’s son: What is Truth? 

    Not that you haven’t addressed this in your essay – but I’d like to give a little more consideration to the difference you observe between “truth” and “capital-T Truth” (especially for readers with a more literal than poetic bent).

    Best I can tell, lowercase “truth” relates to facts – the opposite of a lie (which may be why this lack of shared reality today is so disconcerting; that water freezes at 32º, or fire is hot, are true statements rather than matters of opinion).

    But that uppercase “Truth” seems harder to pin down (perhaps due to its archetypal nature – no matter how eloquent the description, it remains elusive). You note whether we accept it or not, it binds everyone (and everything) together – universal, but not static (“God-as-Change?”).

    Could Truth, as you present it here, be considered congruent with the Tao (fighting the Tao is futile, much like floating upstream; best we can do is lean into it, embrace it, and be the Change)?

    Or am I way off-base?

    I don’t want to pull you too far into the weeds, but maybe you could take a moment to expand on this a bit.

    #74701
    Gabrielle Basha
    Keymaster

    Stephen, thanks as always for the warm welcome — it’s a joy to connect with the community!

    And you’re not off-base a bit. I especially like your comparison with the Tao. That, to me, is what makes the concept of truth such a tricky one, and gets to the heart of the disconnect: do we even have shared definitions to the words we use? We’d hope there’s overlap, but what I wrote about this week has been percolating for a while, and I suspect is a relatable question for many of us, because it feels less and less like we have anything in common with the people we disagree with.

    The difference between what I see as truth vs. capital-T Truth (which you quite rightly identified as archetypal) is best explained, wouldn’t you know it, by one of my favorite Campbell quotes from his conversation with Bill Moyers. While I use truth as an analogue for universal fact, the archetypal Truth is the type we find in story—emotional truth, the truth of the human experience, etc.:

    “Mythology is not a lie; mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth –– penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words, beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”

    If I had another thousand words, I might have gotten even more granular about all t/Truth’s flavors, because that’s really where we find ourselves now. I almost feel like Campbell’s description of Truth has been weaponized, or at the very least conflated, in a really unhelpful way, with fact. A good comparison could be emotions: Our emotions are real—we feel them, they impact and are impacted by our physiology, they can steer us if we don’t keep them in check—but they are not reality. They’re a response to reality, but they themselves are not reality. Archetypal Truth, I think, is like this in the way it relates to fact—and we can share Truth through story.

    #74700
    jamesn.
    Participant

    Hello Gabrielle, so nice to have you back among us. You’ve picked a real dandy of a topic in our present situation of distinguishing fact as truth/reality as relating to disinformation/misinformation concerning what is perceived as real by someone else. So let me put this another way, that perception of reality as interpreted through the lens of one person is not going to be quite the same as someone else. Yes, we know or understand the nature of this idea; or what we might call perception as truth; but we also know what an illusion is; but the idea of what makes up a lie can be tricky. In other words, we can think of this idea as a non-truth or a distorted truth, something completely false or untrue but also has an intention to misinform, misrepresent, or deceive; but it’s goal is the same to change something into something else; usually for a purpose.

    Now truth in western philosophy might be one thing, but the way individuals perceive something may not be quite so ethereal, if I’m making sense so far. Keat’s lovely poem about truth and beauty may lose something in the translation when confronted with an individual who refuses to wear a mask or social distance themselves during a Covid lockdown, especially where public safety is concerned. People that have a decent background in science usually know what a virus is, but this is not the same kind of understanding that often should transfer over to the discussion about Separation between Church and State.

    So, now we get to Jung and Campbell and their ideas along this matter. Campbell’s idea of the Earth as a symbol of the new religion to come, and Jung’s understanding of how the human psyche interprets reality. Many people remember the wonderful movie with Spencer Tracy called: “Inherit the Wind”; where science; (namely whether or not “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution” should be taught in public school systems because it conflicted with the fundamentalist Christian interpretation of the Biblical story of Genesis) was put on trial. And wouldn’t you know it here we are again with people not trusting medical science because of conspiracy theories. And because Covid is nowhere near being done, we now have this regenerated mistrust of what is factually verifiable, (i.e. by scientific research), and the idea of a “personal God”, (e pluribus unum), holding sway over people’s idea of what is real or just conjecture.

    Now I’m not as anxious to get into the concepts surrounding religion as I am addressing the Jungian model of perception itself; (things like: “projection, repression, depression, complexes and all this kind of business and the way people perceive their own version of reality). In other words, how these kinds of things affect how people perceive things and inter-relate with each other and what this has to do with a person’s idea of their own sense of “truth”.

    I loved the way you started this off with the understanding that myth is not a lie, but a metaphor. That is to say a kind of symbolic reference that Campbell once mentioned from Zimmer, that the best things cannot be told because we are talking about the transcendent. And there is a wonderful example he used to illustrate this in a radio talk show where he realized after arguing with the host about whether myth is a lie or not, he realized that the man didn’t know what a metaphor was and called him on it.
    ______________

    You said:

    “It’s hard to think of a concept more slippery, more contentious or more fraught, than that of truth. The United States has reached a level of polarization around concrete concepts in science and human rights that’s hard to wrap one’s head around. A prolonged pandemic keeps us separated from our flesh-and-blood communities and kettles us into online spaces that, by design, make it easier to craft our own reality. Our immediate communities become more abstract, more rooted in ideology than mutual support and human interaction—precisely the opposite of what we need in a country of increasing violence, disinformation, and extremism.”

    ______________

    So, since you started off with this; (I think very appropriate topic for the times in which we are now living); you might dig a little deeper into this particular Jungian/Campbell relationship of these ideas. Projection for instance would be one area since Jung says cut-off all projections to understand (what is going on under-the-hood), so to speak, of the individual’s psyche concerning the unconscious. Or as Jung might further add: “making the unconscious conscious”. I hope this question is making sense because you framed this topic so beautifully.

    Again, a very warm welcome back.

    #74699

    Gabrielle,

    You write ” I almost feel like Campbell’s description of Truth has been weaponized, or at the very least conflated, in a really unhelpful way, with fact.” Indeed, that’s always the danger with myth, as Joseph Campbell mentions in the note he wrote on completion of all four volumes of The Masks of God tetralogy.

    And I can see no reason why anyone should suppose that in the future the same motifs already heard will not be sounding still — in new relationships indeed, but ever the same motifs. They are all given here, in these volumes, with many clues, besides, suggesting ways in which they might be put to use by reasonable men to reasonable ends — or by poets to poetic ends — or by madmen to nonsense and disaster.”

    Noted Cormac McCarthy scholar Rick Wallach, at the University of Miami – who began his career assisting Joseph Campbell back in the 1960s, and also happens to be Jewish – noted in a personal communication to me that Campbell wrote the four volumes of The Masks of God as his response to the horror of the Holocaust (there is no better example of mythological motifs manipulated “by madmen to nonsense and disaster”).

    I’ll use that as a segue to the theme of your essay – community.

    Adolf Hitler and the countrymen who bought into his Aryan fantasy shared an aberrant, warped view of community – “just Aryans, just us” – an extremist view experiencing a resurgence today. Much as I appreciate your focus on communities that “lean into” the work required to build upon our shared experience, these extremist visions are not only still out there, but they are proliferating.

    No doubt those of us here prefer the vision you share. At some point, though, we need to take account of these shadow communities. How, apart from reliving the Civil War and/or World War II, do we engage that mindset and invite those who hold it into a more nurturing, nourishing, vibrant community?

    I wish I knew the answer to that . . .

    #74698
    Gabrielle Basha
    Keymaster

    Thank you @jamesn., for this extension of the topic and for your kind words. One of the wonderful things about the MythBlast series is also its most challenging: the pithiness necessary to introduce and complete a thought within a topic! One of the reasons I’m so grateful for COHO.

    I love this exploration of the Jungian discussion to be had around lie vs. metaphor. I absolutely agree that there will be shades of disagreement around the details of truth, but my main concerns in this piece are the facts that are subverted because they are uncomfortable. I want to tread lightly with respect to COHO’s rules around discussion of current/political events, but I will say this: Turning away from the challenge of facing our shadow self creates the rifts between us, but when this rift serves the minority in power and maintains the status quo, there’s a concerted effort to keep the general population from recognizing (and realizing) their power over their own fate.

    Indeed, the religion question *is* relevant, as it’s generally accepted that most (if not all, but I’m not by any means a religious scholar) religious texts rely heavily on the reader understanding metaphor, and it’s when we take the words literally that we end up defending the indefensible. The Truth of Creationism shouldn’t be put forth as a counter-argument to the facts of Evolution, to use your example—it not only ignores science, but diminishes the power of the metaphor of Creation. Likewise, if we sit with the science but have none of the story, we’re missing a vital piece of what makes us human!

    Jung’s point about Truth as a prism really speaks to this, and I think to what you’re saying as well: The light is refracted, so some believe there’s only blue light of science or red light of metaphor, when the reality is: It’s both, and it’s more. But this reality is uncomfortable, maybe involves travel and reading, time and energy, and other things people either don’t want to spend time on or (often, now, by design) do not have the ability to spend time on. Who benefits from a population who only sees one color of light at a time?

    I know this is only scratching the surface of your response, but I hope it speaks to what you’re getting at!

    #74697
    jamesn.
    Participant

    Beautifully articulated Gabrielle. And indeed, you addressed many of the nuances that seem to plague not only public discourse and human relationships, but today’s social relevance. We are now living in an extremely complex time where there are so many varied influences people have to assimilate and digest it’s become very difficult to navigate the world around them and get a sense of being connected, and Covid exacerbated this. And when Joseph talked about everyone having to live within a system and still know who they are I think this issue in particular speaks profoundly to the human spirit.

    “What is reality?”; some might ask, and indeed one’s perception of their own ability to make sense of their world I think is a major question for people today; and one that often gets tangled up in not only self-identity, but their sense of the larger universe in which everything is in-framed or enclosed. Science as a means to interpret reality is one thing, and indeed for many this is a major definitive lens through which many people look for answers, but without what some might call the “mystical” dimension: one that Joseph was emphatic about in dealing with what he called “The Wasteland”; life has no meaning other than just mere existence.

    Yet at the same time the idea of a personal God, one that is dominated by the idea of “Faith”; takes reason and the ability to think “outside the box”, (as it were), completely out of the equation. Now we can say as Joseph did, that the world has now become more secularized, and that as world and cultural boundaries are dissolving more and more, especially with the constant evolving technologies like the internet, the mapping of the Human Genome, the ability to access information in unprecedented ways, the human condition is now faced with an overwhelming rate of rapid change never before experienced. And I think it’s no wonder people feel lost and confused and that the world has lost its’ moorings and are much more vulnerable to disorientation and are scared and want something to hold to. Yet as you pointed out the idea of a “mythical” sense of one’s own life completely changes the lenses we might look through to see the world and ourselves in it in a completely different way and context. The metaphor is no longer just a figure of speech but becomes a symbolic tool of reference or navigational device to unlock or transform our inner world by only changing the lenses we perceive through. The ability to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless existence becomes accessible. And when Joseph points out by saying: “Thou Art That”; he is not saying that from a literal or concretized perspective; he is saying its’ metaphorical.

    Your responses to these concerns I think really speak to these issues; (especially concerning Jung’s understanding of one’s Shadow and how it affects our ability to break through these barriers to finding one’s own destiny). And this was part of what I was hoping would be part of the discussion. The Shadow is a huge deal, and one that many people are not aware of. It’s also something we all have to grapple with, and it has positive aspects as well that are not often realized. Seeing one’s otherness is difficult stuff, and not only is not always pleasant, but can be painful as well as transformative.

    You said this quite well I think:

    “I love this exploration of the Jungian discussion to be had around lie vs. metaphor. I absolutely agree that there will be shades of disagreement around the details of truth, but my main concerns in this piece are the facts that are subverted because they are uncomfortable. I want to tread lightly with respect to COHO’s rules around discussion of current/political events, but I will say this: Turning away from the challenge of facing our shadow self creates the rifts between us, but when this rift serves the minority in power and maintains the status quo, there’s a concerted effort to keep the general population from recognizing (and realizing) their power over their own fate.”

    (It’s the “personal” side for all of us I think is the hard part, and I’m hoping we can get into this a little deeper because I think it’s very relevant to this topic.)

    Again, thank you so much for such a great response to my query, and a very warm welcome back.

    #74696
    jamesn.
    Participant

    As a quick addendum to the above I want to include a couple of very short lecture clips from the Foundation’s YouTube Channel that Joseph gave about 1st, the Shadow system; and 2nd, about “Projection”. (Around 8 minutes for both, total.) These should help narrow down what I was hoping to address concerning the above topic.

    #74695
    jamesn.
    Participant

    Also, another aspect of the Shadow that Stephen mentioned that might tie or connect the individual and the community together concerning the theme of this topic, which to me sounds like the “Collective Unconscious or Objective Psyche” that Jung emphasized.

    Stephen said:

    “I’ll use that as a segue to the theme of your essay – community.

    Adolf Hitler and the countrymen who bought into his Aryan fantasy shared an aberrant, warped view of community – “just Aryans, just us” – an extremist view experiencing a resurgence today. Much as I appreciate your focus on communities that “lean into” the work required to build upon our shared experience, these extremist visions are not only still out there, but they are proliferating.

    No doubt those of us here prefer the vision you share. At some point, though, we need to take account of these shadow communities. How, apart from reliving the Civil War and/or World War II, do we engage that mindset and invite those who hold it into a more nurturing, nourishing, vibrant community?

    I wish I knew the answer to that . . .”
    ___________________________

    After reading through Gabrielle’s article and Stephen’s setup again this morning this idea of Jung’s seems to be a connecting link of what we would call or refer to as the “Collective Unconscious” even though many are not aware of what that is.

    Analyst James Hall on pages 9-10, (Chapter 1: ” Basic Concepts of Jungian Psychology”), in his book: “Jungian Dream Interpretation” describes it this way:

    It is useful to consider basic Jungian concepts in several categories, although one must remember that the divisions are more or less arbitrary and for convenience of description and discussion; in the living psyche, different levels and various structures function as an organized whole. There are two basic topographical divisions: consciousness and the unconscious. The unconscious is further divided into the personal unconscious and the objective psyche. Jung’s earlier term for the objective psyche was “collective unconscious,” and is still the term most widely used in discussing Jungian theory. The term objective psyche was introduced to avoid confusion with various collective groups of mankind, since Jung particularly wanted to emphasize that the depths of the human psyche are as objectively real as the outer, “real” world of collective conscious experience.

    These are thus four levels of the psyche:

    1) personal consciousness, or ordinary awareness;

    2)  the personal unconscious, that which is unique to an individual psyche but not conscious.

    3) the objective psyche, or collective unconscious, which has an apparently universal structure in mankind; and

    4) the outer world of collective consciousness, the cultural world of shared values and forms.

    Within these basic topographical divisions there exist general and specialized structures. The general structures are of two types: archetypal images and complexes. The special structures of the personal parts of the psyche, both conscious and unconscious, are four: the ego, the persona, the shadow, and the syzygy (paired grouping) of animus/anima. Within the objective psyche there are archetypes and archetypal images, whose number cannot be precisely stated, although there is one notable archetype: the Self, which may also be referred to as the central archetype of order.”

    ________________

    Now I’m certainly no Jungian analyst, but it would seem to me that within this realm of human interaction in the larger scope of things here would be your connecting link of continuing human interplay. Jung’s greatest concern was that man could not control his inner nature, especially concerning the “shadow”. And that what man is continually seeking and searching for throughout human history is a sense of community and purpose.

    At any rate the idea of the “collective unconscious” really struck me after going through all the material again, and I find it strange no one ever brings this up. Maybe it’s because there some that even refuse to acknowledge it exists outside the Jungian community, because from what I gather it’s a strong point of contention in psychology circles. (Another log on the fire to throw in.)

    Incidentally, I used this smaller more concise description of the “Objective Psyche” because it is such a huge topic, and I just wanted to provide something that gave a basic understanding for anyone not familiar with the term. (Like I said, I’m not an analyst.)

    #74694
    Gabrielle Basha
    Keymaster

    Stephen, I’m glad you mentioned extremist movements, especially the fact that they’ve moved beyond simply gaining steam and are now a major component of our social and political landscape, with a grasp on our shared future. It makes me think of Jung’s emphasis on the difference between individuals and individuation (emphasis mine):

    “It is obvious that a social group consisting of stunted individuals cannot be a healthy and viable institution; only a society that can preserve its internal cohesion and collective values, while at the same time granting the individual the greatest possible freedom, has any prospect of enduring vitality. As the individual is not just a single, separate being, but by his very existence presupposes a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation. . . .”

    The freedom is what stands out to me, here. What we see in these extremist movements in the US is the absolute lack of such freedom, even as they claim it as their most precious value.

    While I saw the MythBlast as an opportunity to discuss how we might focus on growing the healthier side of community, the truth is that most of my time—both personal and professional—is spent thinking about how to battle the mis- and disinformation that works as a gateway to extremism.

    The methods used by white supremacists in the US, for example, can seem slap-dash but are incredibly pernicious, fueled by misinformation campaigns on virtually every internet surface. True statements such as “many manufacturing jobs have moved to Asia,” for example, are twisted to put the blame on immigrants or foreigners rather than on the shoulders of the person in charge—as it often does come down to only one or a few people who make this decision, and always to line their own pockets.

    I love that Campbell brought this up specifically, and I so appreciate you linking that in! So not only is myth weaponized but, by extension, our own human nature. One of the most heartbreaking things for me is knowing that the loved ones who have been pulled into these Shadow communities are the only ones who can get themselves out. As a culture, as a country, as a global citizenry, it’s imperative that we continue attempting to see all colors of the refracted prism, and to keep our friends from the precipice if they start falling victim to thinking there’s just one. This collective responsibility to and for one another is what’s taken the hardest hit as we’ve been literally and figuratively kept farther apart by the pandemic.

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