Sunday, March 13, 2011

As Flies to Wanton Boys... where is the soul 5?

The Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan

Rescuers carry a body away in Shintona, Dan Chung for the Guardian
How can anyone write anything of consequence or import these days without mentioning the human catastrophe that has befallen Japan in the aftermath of the recent horrific earthquake and tsunami there?  Shakespeare's great tragedy King Lear comes to my mind - a friend and I attended a live telecast of that play starring the wonderful David Jocobi in the hero's role from the Donmar Warehouse Theatre in London.  We attended the live satellite performance at a cinema in Swords, County Dublin.  Anyway, no words could be more appropriate than those of the Duke of Gloucester from that great tragedy, from which today's contribution to this blog takes its title. They are among perhaps the most desperate lines in that desperate play and they are contained in the Duke's speech that culminates yet another scene of abject cruelty and senseless brutality. For the kindness he has shown the disgraced King Lear on a stormy night, Gloucester has been blinded by two of the king's enemies, Lear's own daughter Regan and her husband.  I will quote these appropriate words from the Duke's lips here:

I' th' last night's storm I such a fellow saw,
Which made me think a man a worm. My son
Came then into my mind, and yet my mind
Was then scarce friends with him. I have heard more
As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,
They kill us for their sport. (King Lear Act 4, scene 1, 32–37)

And yet the tragedy Gloucester bemoans is infinitesimally smaller than that of Japan today.  However, the wonder and magic and quintessential nature of Shakespearean tragedy is that even in its sheer smallness in a numerical sense, yet it distills the heart of all human tragedy in its ability to move us to considering and meditating upon the sheer randomness of the human condition!

I have just viewed the latest video on the tragedy of Japan from The Guardian, UK, website which can be accessed here: The Guardian.  As of writing there are at least 10, 000 people dead, and the belief is that this is a very conservative estimate.  We have watched as Mother Earth or Gaia has literally cracked open and erupted.  The power of the forces of Nature is truly mammoth if I may mix metaphors here.  I have long subscribed to the notion that we are as it were creatures who live upon the organism of the Earth which James Lovelock names Gaia after the ancient Goddess of than wonderful, if at times paining and suffering planet.  Japan, being one of the foremost of industrialized nations and a country which one can truly say is almost the hub of technology, is now to a large extent brought to its knees by the power of nature.  If anything could put the present world economic crisis or recession or depression, call it what you will, into perspective and into context it must surely be this horrific earthquake and tsunami.  It would seem that the great dramatist, the old Bard of Avon himself, William Shakespeare summed up the human condition in the above quoted words from the Duke of Gloucester.  We are mere flies to wanton boys indeed.

As the crisis worsens we read the following headlines on the aforementioned news site:

  • Up to 10,000 feared dead in Miyagi prefecture alone
  • Cooling system fails at a second nuclear plant
  •  Japan PM: "worst crisis since WWII"
  • 190 people exposed to radiation
  • Original quake upgraded to magnitude 9 by Japanese authorities
  •  Over 250 aftershocks so far
A woman cries on the street in Shintona: Dan Chung for the Guardian
Please hit the following link for updates:  Guardian

However, these thoughts are written from a philosophical and more spiritual perspective here.  What I am getting at is a point I have made time and time again in these posts, viz., namely the sheer hubris of humankind to think that it is as it were the pinnacle of creation (as some religionists would have it) or the driver and author of continual progress (as a certain large enough percentage of reductionist and materialist scientists would have it).  We are merely, in the words of the great contemporary philosopher, John Gray mere "straw dogs."  I have commented in detail on his book by that name in these pages before and I heartily agree with his contentions therein.  In one post I wrote of the significance of our insignificance in the scheme of things here SP Significance

In another I wrote of our propensity to self-delusion in these words: : "Gray is telling us forcibly and clearly that we are creatures full of hubris, whose greatest flaw is our propensity for self-delusion.  We can convince ourselves of anything when our vanity and hubris is at stake." SP Wake Up Call

In yet another post I quoted the following words from Gray's wonderfully stimulating and highly provocative little classic: "The good life is not found in the dreams of progress, but in coping with tragic contingencies. We have been reared on religions and philosophies that deny the experience of tragedy. Can we imagine a life that is not founded on the consolations of action? Or are we too lax and coarse even to dream of living without them?" (John Gray, Straw Dogs (Granta, 2002) p. 194) SP Hubris

Now I do not wish to go too far over old ground here.  What I wish to point out is just that: that we as human beings have far outweighed and overestimated our importance in the scheme of things.  This is what true Buddhism and true and pure meditation is about: just that, learning to be in the moment; learning to accept the very significance of our insignificance and the insignificance of our significance in the scheme of things if I may bend and warp language out of all proportions here as I strain to express what I think I mean.

And so all our sturdiest of buildings, all our juggernauts, our vans and our cars, our little parks and arcades, our motorways and all the cars with little human beings like ants within them, all our wonderful hospitals and schools and universities can be washed away by indifferent mother nature, by indifferent and impersonal Mother Gaia.  Like Nietzsche, and against Ruskin, we have to admit that Mother Nature is neither Loving or Hateful, it's just Indifferent as it has absolutely no emotional content whatsoever.  However, we do like personifying it as a She and I, too, like to call indifferent nature Mother Gaia.  But that is just my mere poetic bent, my mere Romantic nature which more often than not gets the better of me.

And so to conclude this post I wish now to return to the book that I have been reading over the last several; posts, viz., We've Had a Hundred years of Psychotherapy and the World's getting Worse (Harper, 1993), a duet of a book between the archetype psychologist James Hillman and the journalist Michael Ventura.  They are singing a similar tune to John Gray in Straw Dogs.  They are literally in harmony, because the soul of humankind is to found out there amidst the tragedy of the living world, right in the midst of all the eartquakes and tsunamis and in the constant struggles of human beings to find their true identity.  There in the midst of the whole gamut of things from Good to Evil and all of the colours of the rainbow in between both these extremes, there, yes there lies the struggle for soul!

And so I have used the word "befallen" in my opening paragraph instead of "happened to" quite purposely and in keeping with both Gray's and Hillman's understanding of the need we human beings have within us to face the very tragedy of our own existence, that is the tragedy of our consciousness or awareness of our own contingency, mortality and significance/insignificance within the scheme of things.  I'll leave the final words so, to James Hillman:

I feel that these things occur [pain, suffering or evil is what Hillman has in mind here], and they are what the psyche wants or sends me.  What the Gods send me.  There's a lovely passage from Marcus Aurelius: "What I do I do always with the community in mind, what happens to me, what befalls me, comes from the Gods."  And befall is a very important word, because that's where the word case comes from: cadere, to fall.  And in German the word for a case is fall.  So what falls on you is what happens to you, is the origins of the word pathos too - what drops on you, what wounds you, what happens to you, what falls on you, how you fall, the way the dice fall.  (Op.cit., p.  36)  
Please note that the above pictures are as stated from the Guardian Newpaper's site and were taken by Dan Chung, more specifically from its blog on the on-going tragedy in Japan which is continually updated. Please hit the above links or this one here to get the latest news therefrom: Guardian Japan Blog.

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