What are the humbler versions of gods, selves, and narratives?
In the observable human propensity to order reality there is an intrinsic impulse to give cosmic scope to this order [...] *
— Peter Berger, 📙 A Rumor of Angels
O how can the ground not sicken?
How can you be alive, you growths of spring?
How can you furnish health, you blood of herbs, roots, orchards, grain?
Are they not continually putting distemper'd corpses in you?
Is not every continent work'd over and over with sour dead? *
— Walt Whitman, This Compost
We killed God, we killed the Self, we killed Narrative. Unmoored from that transcendental algebra, we swim in a brackish sea of Weird Fishes, slimy and confusing and infinitely fascinating.
If there's no single unitary God, Self, or Narrative, those concepts explode into teeming multitudes of contingent organisms. I propose calling them godoids, selfoids, and plotoids.
The realm of Godoids is a theme of 📙 All Things Shining by Dreyfus and Kelly, whose treatment of ancient Greek polytheism turns the Jaynesian view of 📰 Hallucinated Gods into an optimistic possibility.
To lure back these Homeric gods is a saving possibility after the death of God: it would allow us to survive the breakdown of monotheism while resisting the descent into a nihilistic existence. *
After surveying the transformations of meaning in Western culture, they end up finding the central tension of our age perfectly represented in Moby-Dick, where the obsessive Captain Ahab enacts his "monomaniacal monotheism" in pursuing the great white sperm whale, a weird fish elevated to the status of a meaningless God.
Ahab demands a unitary coherence he can never attain. He finds the slimy multiplicity of the world repulsive. In a carpenter's workshop, he puts his own hand in the workbench vise and tightens it:
“Oh, sir, it will break bones—beware, beware!” shouts the astonished carpenter. “No fear,” says Ahab, “I like a good grip; I like to feel something in this slippery world that can hold, man.” *
Ishmael, the protagonist, is free from this mania. Instead he can dwell in multiplicity, make friends of strangers, participate gladly in foreign pagan Rituals.
Ishmael’s polytheistic view finds in the communal rituals of daily life, contradictory and polysemic and plural as they are, the meanings that can drive away the drizzly November of the soul. *
The inner multiplicity that thrives beneath the composite meta-self has been the theme of my previous posts: 📝 Shelter from the Storm, 📝 Weird Fishes, 📝 More Weird Fishes: Gods, Languages, Addictions, 📝 Weird Fishes and Virtue, and 📝 George Herbert Mead on Selves and Unity.
This is an ancient idea with many variations. The book 📙 Your Symphony of Selves affirms the healthiness of being many contra the "Single Self Assumption" they see as prevalent in Western culture as an influence of Monotheism.
As monotheism is the religious and cultural water in which we are all swimming, it strongly predisposes us toward the Single Self Assumption. If when looking outside of ourselves for religious authority we believe in a unitary God, then when we look inside of ourselves we will likely search for a single self. *
They quote Pamela Cooper-White replacing the core self with a braided fabric:
So what does hold each of us together as healthy “multiples”? If we are not, as we once imagined bound by the gravity of an inner core, what keeps us from flying to pieces? What keeps our healthy multiplicity from dissolving into unhealthy splitting, or even fragmentation? . . . There is a thread, or threads, holding together the fabric of our mental lives. . . . Rather than identifying this thread as a singular conscious identity formation, I proposed a metaphor for the multiple self as braid, whose strength derives precisely from the interweaving of its disparate conscious and unconscious threads. . . . This web or net of threads, taken together, constitutes a “whole”—but a whole whose very coherence and binding power is made up of our multiple subjective experiences and states of being-in-relation. *
I suppose these threads must be related to narratives.
Coping with a tangle of Plotoids was the theme of 📝 Losing the Plot — Ethics and The Big Lebowski.
The plot of The Big Lebowski starts with a dramatic scene where a gang of confused thugs, having mistaken the stoner protagonist for a wealthy old man with the same last name, break into his house and end up pissing on the beautiful rug that "really tied the room together."
Of course I suggest that the "desecration" of the Dude's rug symbolizes the breakdown in coherent overarching narratives, and when the Dude complains about having "a lotta strands to keep in my head, man" he's describing a frazzled fabric of plotoids.
The treatment of Narrative in 📙 After Virtue can seem to imply a nostalgia for the great coherent narratives of ancient societies, but MacIntyre's pluralism promotes another understanding. City-states are not necessarily empires. I think the stories MacIntyre talks about here are primarily plotoids:
Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words. *
It would seem that a main question then is how to respond to multiplicity. In Jordan Peterson's new book 📙 Beyond Order, we find a lucid description of one option:
It is necessary to lift your eyes above the horizon, to establish a transcendent goal, if you wish to cease being a puppet, under the control of things you do not understand and perhaps do not want to understand. Then all the subsystems or subpersonalities that might otherwise be pursing their own limited fulfillment will join together under the aegis of the truly ideal, and the consequence of that will be an engagement that approximates the ultimate or total. Under such conditions, all the parts of you are going to be on board. That is the psychological equivalent of monotheism. That is the emergence of the higher self that might be the true servant of God, in whatever metaphysical reality potentially underlies what is obvious to our blind and limited mortal selves. *
I have quite a few sources for other options.
From 📙 All Things Shining:
The multiple meanings of the universe simply don’t add up to a single, universal truth. Our only hope is to engage in each of them fully, live contentedly in the truths they reveal, but feel no urge to reconcile them to one another. The image for this kind of plural polytheism is neither the deafening chaos of white noise nor the dumb blankness of the color white. Rather, it is the rainbow that separates out the colors of the spectrum, and reveals each in its own wonderful hue. *
From 📙 Being Ecological:
Sometimes I think, ‘Really? I have to assemble a huge group of humans and start a revolution right now, then I can relate to polar bears?’ But awareness of the sensuous existence of other lifeforms doesn’t have to involve big ideas or actions. How about just visiting your local garden centre to smell the plants? *
I'm out of time for today.