“A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” — Abraham Lincoln
Part 3 in The Storytelling Species Series
The Death of a Father is a devastating event regardless of if it occurs to a family or a civilization. Fathers represent half the sacred act of creation. In Buddhist philosophy, “Yang represents Heaven, the Father, and the Creative…while yin represents Earth, the Mother, and the Receptive. Yin and yang are dependent upon one another…” To read more about the symbolism of Yin & Yang, see this beautiful blog: Yin & Yang Symbol: Between Heaven and Earth.
The Collective Death of the Father
Why am I comparing the Death of a Father as experienced by an individual or a civilization as a similar event? Because civilizations are nothing more than of millions of individuals who have agreed to come together as a collective to achieve a greater good. Part of what they do to accomplish this greater good is contribute some of their individual consciousness to the collective pool of consciousness needed to do this. Note when I refer to consciousness, I mean illuminated consciousness, the part we are awareness of that tells us who we are, where we are, what we can do, and allows us to do and accomplish things in the world.
Collectives of any size draw upon this greater pool of consciousness to do things a single individual could not do alone. In ancient times, this larger pool of knowing and ability helped people synchronize and organize themselves to bring about the greater goal. Back then, the great goal was surviving, but our ancestors recognized how a well synchronized group of people could afford to divide up critical survival tasks such as hunting (protein), gathering (critical vitamins, minerals, and other trace nutrients), building (shelter), and safety (fighting off beasts or other humans who want to steal your resources or creating/sustaining fire) to overcome the challenges that probably would kill an individual acting alone.
Imagine for a minute that you are an ancient human trying to live alone in a world due to circumstances beyond your control. To do this, you must hunt, gather, build your own shelter, and protect yourself from all sorts of danger and challenges. You must also know how to heal yourself if you get hurt or become ill. Necessity will allow you to use your great mind to overcome some of the obstacles to survival. But, pretty much all your time and energy will be dedicated to surviving, leaving little time to imagine, much less build, a new and better way of living in the world.
But thankfully you are a modern human who is living in a modern world, so surviving is much easier. But it is also vastly more complicated. That is because our modern luxuries comes with a price, which necessitates that you put more of your individual consciousness into the ever-evolving more complicated collectives. There are many ways individual’s contribute their individual consciousness to the collective. One obvious way is by internalizing and abiding by the rules of the systems sustaining the collective (e.g., go to work, make money, spend money to employ other people who must go to work). Collective concentrations of consciousness are supposed to sustain the good of all people living inside of them. However, just as an individual can choose to use their consciousness for evil, so too can a collective.
It does not take many individuals who have bended and been broken by the lure of the Corruption to pollute a collective’s pool of consciousness. All human beings need to navigate the lure and pull of corrupting impulses, desires, yearnings, longings, and fancies that live inside our psyche. In Western civilization, these Corrupting forces are immortalized as the 7 Deadly Sins: pride (modern day manifestations is narcissism), greed, lust, envy, gluttony (hoarding more than you need, thus taking away things other people need to survive), wrath (a corruption of anger that turns it into an obsession to get even and punish anyone who wrongs you, even if the wrong you perceive is fantasy).
The United States of America right now is watching such forces play out in the second Impeachment of Trump. Here a prideful, wrath-filled, vengeful man along with his complicit and powerful, imaginative cronies (e.g., Steve Bannon, the Mercers, Rupert Murdoch, Stephen Miller, etc.) corrupted an entire political party. They managed to warp reality and get millions to believe it is real. It is a process of radicalization that has been going on for a long time. Donald Trump’s win of the 2016 election was a huge payoff for this steady and persistent warping of reality. Once he took power, an intense period of stepped-up deep radicalization transpired. It is a period that has played upon deep-seated fears mainly residing white people who fear losing their long-standing position of privilege.
Trump uses fear like a subtle knife (a reference to His Dark Materials) to cut an opening into the hearts and minds of ordinary men and women. He cuts deep with it going back to the rage and division of the 1850s, even further to the primitive foreboding fear of ‘the other’ who could be a raiding party coming to kill you. The House Impeachment Managers have laid out a damning case for how the former President seeded, cultivated, and grew an alternative reality resulting in a raging mob that descended on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. It was a moment of pure madness that caused the deaths of 7 people, injured 140 police officers (e.g., losing 3 fingers, the tip of his index finger, crushed discs, brain injuries, eye gouged out, one officer run through with a metal fence post, another suffering a heart attack after being stunned with his own stun gun), and damaged the Capitol building itself.
I suggest we are struggling through as a collective the Death of the Father. In this case, it is the Death of the Founding Fathers. All civilizations must grow their collective pool of consciousness through time just as individuals must grow their sphere of consciousness. Eventually, every civilization will grow beyond the boundaries of what their founding fathers envisioned. It is utterly natural to grow beyond the boundaries defined by the founding fathers. What set of humans being can see beyond their time, much less 200, 500, or 1,000 years into the future. A father wants his child to grow, just as the founding fathers want their nation to grow physically and psychologically.
As a civilization grows, it must redefine itself and reorganize according to what new knowledge has been learned. To do this well requires new men and women of great imagination and vision. People who can help the collective see far upon the horizon of time and help it adapt and change to new challenges coming at it that could crush it if it doesn’t evolve. When a civilization fails to grow and adapt, it begins to split and fracture because the Corrupting forces live inside all men and all women and it will seize control of the rudder of a civilization that is drifting due to the death of its founding fathers—a natural death because the collective (the civilization) has flourished under their vision and grown beyond it.
What Cain and Able Teaches Us about the Death of the Father in a Collective
The Cain and Abel is a story about the Death of the Father (in this case, it is an immortal father what has retired to the immortal realms of heaven). When a father leaves, a void is left behind that must be filled by a new leader (a new father).
Bill Moyers explored this ancient story in The First Murder: Cain and Abel. The story goes:
“After God sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, they joined together and Eve gave birth to Cain, who became a worker of the soil. And then to Abel, who grew up to be a shepherd of the flocks.
In time, Cain made an offering to the Lord of fruit from the ground. And Abel brought the firstborn of his flock with its fullness and fat. The Lord respected Abel’s gift, but had no regard for Cain’s. And Cain was angry, and his face fell. And the Lord said, “Why are you so upset? If you do well you will be accepted, but if you don’t do right, sin is waiting for you by your door. And sin will want you. But you can conquer it.”
One day, when the brothers were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel and killed him.”
We are indeed hearing about the first murder committed by the first mortals of the world after God banished his children from Eden for disobeying him. But we also are witnessing the rise of the new father of Western Civilization. Charles Johnson explains further:
“When he kills Abel, to me it’s not really about Abel. It’s about striking back at God. And think, for just a moment, because I think this is very interesting for a novelist, about the phenomenological, if you will, experience of envy. You know, what is that- who do you envy, really? It’s someone who must be enough like you with just a little bit of difference, right? You don’t envy somebody who’s totally different. You- you’re related. You have a relationship. Maybe you’re in the same profession? Right? I’m not going to envy a doctor. I’m gonna envy Oscar Hijuelos (LAUGHTER), as a novelist or John Barth. And the question is, why? Why is their offering, which is their self, received so fully and mine not? So, the envy’s gonna be really tremendous. Because there’s this relationship, I really think, between self and other. It’s almost like a doubling. Almost like a twin.”
And yet, your- equality is not in the world. It’s something that we have to accept, you know, whether we like it or not. So that the only thing he can do is eliminate him. But by eliminating him, he gets rid of his better possibilities.”
It occurred to me after publishing this post there is a modern retelling of the succession aspect of the Cain and Able tale. It is an HBO mini series titled Succession, which is a brilliant retelling of the somewhat good son and the somewhat foolish and ruined son lining up to succeed their aging dad who has amassed an international corporate empire. This modern tale adds an important upgrade by throwing in the beautiful, accomplished, and somewhat dangerous daughter who is also standing in line to take over this modern empire that has the power to amass an army to sow ignorance, division, and confusion around the world–which of course benefits the empire. It is a brilliant telling of how these ancient archetypes have evolved in the human mind and an insightful telling of how power is wielded in the modern world.
Splitting the Father in Half & the Fight for Control
Circling back to what Charles Johnson said above about Cain and Able, this sounds strikingly similar to what is going on in the United States of America presently, doesn’t it? In this case, Trump was getting rid of his better possibility by demonizing it, denying it, and creating an alternative reality that he served to this followers to drink to the dregs. The drink was spiked with the Big Lie he had carefully concocted and designed to pick at and incite his followers deepest fears, darkest biases (among them a deep belief that white people deserve all the power), and worst impulses as human beings.
I believe worldwide we are fighting over our founding fathers. We have been splitting them in half. This splitting was done by the people the fathers once ruled with wisdom, truth, compassion, and justice. Once the fathers have been split, the people war between themselves for which father will rule—the Benevolent Father or the Malevolent Father? Both father images have powerful appeal to the people. However, the choice is an illusion because the one Father consist of both benevolent and malevolent potentials. A wise father knows this and knows how to balance these forces inside himself. A foolish, stupid father has no such awareness and lets his basal instincts (i.e., primeval, animalistic, self-serving, or ignoble motivations) rule him (like Trump has done and has managed to skillfully impart these same unconscious impulses to his base of followers).
The Human World Struggles to Grow Consciously As Collectives
The US is not alone in this struggle between the good and gentle brother (who stands in line to replace the father) and the dirty and angry brother (who also stands in line to replace the retiring father). Note the dirty, angry brother is only so because he works in the field, he grows the food from the soil. Perhaps God himself played on this brother’s feeling of inadequacy by having no regard for his gifts from the land that he, Cain, had brought as an offering. Perhaps that was a test. If it was, it was a cruel test showing God’s potential to be both good and bad at the same time.
In this moment of time, Britain also struggles through the messy muddle of outgrowing its founding fathers vision. This same story is playing out in different ways through Brexit. The Middle East is also struggling through this messy muddle as it outgrows its founding fathers vision for their people. The Arab Spring (Arabic: الربيع العربي) unfolding as a series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that spread across much of the Arab world was part of this struggle playing out and is still playing out. Also see, The Struggle for Middle East Democracy and Ten years after the Arab Spring, democracy remains elusive in Egypt by Nick Schifrin, Ali Rogin.
There are many examples around world of cultures, nations struggling through this succession according to their own cultural and historical origins. Where a splitting of the father has occurred within the collective body of the people, an eruption of chaos is unfolding with deadly consequences. I heard Adam Curtis interviewed on the BBC yesterday. He has been tracing these struggles and how they have been playing out around world in a provocative new series entitled: I Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World.
Adam is right to embark on this journey and to bring this knowledge back to us through this novel series embedded with deep insights needed now for we are in an existential crisis for for which father will rule. Lincoln said as much 150+ years ago in his House Divided speech: “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” (…) “It will become all one thing or all the other.” In other words, either Cain will prevail or Able will prevail, but one will kill the other. CNN is about to air a new series Divided We Stand about Lincoln and this time of crisis.
Individual Death of a Father
My own experience of losing my father was devasting. It flung me into an existential crisis that set me on a journey I scarcely understood. As I tried to survive this crisis, it felt like I was floating on an endless sea. Most of the time, I was utterly alone.
I was still on this endless sea when 2020 arrived, but I knew how to float and I actually felt more understood and less alone. But floating in uncertainty and limbo is exhausting and my last routines of relief had taken away with the arrival of COVID-19. So, I had to find new ways to hold onto hope. I began making documentaries of moments of beauty encountered during bike rides in 2020.
Moments of Insight & Healing in the Wake of Death
In Blue So Deep — Pulling Back My Power, I document a day when I understood how I have been losing essential inner energy by projecting parts of myself onto others. The previous year, I recognized the bad parts of myself I was projecting onto others and because of this, I was losing energy. I pulled them back. I began to heal. By making these videos I started recognizing how I was projecting good parts of myself onto other (e.g., the deep thinker, the doer, the seer, the dreamer, the successful one, the popular one). I realized I needed these parts back in order to survive on the sea that I still am adrift on more than 2 years later after losing my father.
I also saw this picture and a contest to caption it.
To my great surprise I won the contest!
Through this picture, I realized how my father had protected me from the brutal barbs of reality. I realized how he was my shield against the steady bards of what have become cruel systems and ways of being in the world. In the wake of his death, I was left completely exposed to the brutality of all the barbs being sent my way. I had not realized how dad protected me simply by being there to listen to my woes and understand me without judgement and offering only love and compassion. There are many reasons why we are cruel to each other, we envy what another has, we lust to have more than we deserve, but the most common reason is fear.
Why Fear Can Incite Us to be Cruel to Each Other
We fear each other because we have lost part of ourselves to “the other”. We do this by projecting some part of ourselves that is remains in the darkness of our unconsciousness. People do this all the time. It is a natural psychological process that helps us see, know, understand more of who we are in the moment of recognition: “Oh – that is me!”
In that moment of recognition, we grow as a conscious being because we are empowered to pull back the projection temporarily lost to the other. This natural psychology process becomes pathological when we fail to recognize our projections and pull them back, thereby failing to grow. We can only become whole by knowing more about who we are and what we are capable of doing—both good and bad.
A psyche trapped within chunky, inflexible, lopsided belief systems can become quite grumpy. It is also very vulnerable to demigods and other master manipulators who want to co-opt their consciousness and their bodies to do bad things in the world. Trapped psyches can quite easily blow up into a terrifying one-eyed psychic monster capable of getting the people co-opted into the beast to do savage, ferocious, barbaric acts of destruction. It is bad enough when this happens inside an individual. When a bunch of people have been synchronized to such a beast, it is a catastrophe.
I will tell more in upcoming blogs how I managed to recognize and pull back my projections as I floated on my Sea of Sorrow. I tell my story in case it offers hope to anyone else finding themselves on such a sea of misery and misfortune.
1A interview with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu Politically Re-Act To 2021
Some insights from interview:
Bell: Who are we unifying with? We are not unifying with Black and Brown people who cannot get away with anything in this system. Black and Brown people get beaten and killed for doing Nothing. They get executed by the state for Nothing. Today we have 2 Senators who participated and helped to incite the insurrection, and all we are talking about is Unity. Democracy is not about Unity; it is about who has more votes! The White Privilege is mad about its slipping power and privilege. Bell tells about a real estate woman who went to the Insurrection like it was a Super Bowel Game and while attacking the Capitol promoted her real estate business, then back in Texas, asked Trump for a pardon. If it had been Black and Brown people descending on the Capitol, it would have been a massacre.
Kondabolu: Voting should be about values not team. I have a baby and I have to have hope because I have a baby who hasn’t even had ice cream yet… I’m not ready to go down with the ship.
My friend Fabian Navin shared this post the other day that is very appropriate to how an individual participates in the collective consciousness of his or her society and the toll it can take on the individual psyche… there is an invisible price of belonging to collectives:
“The spontaneous painting I began to do helped me not only to discover my personal story, but also to free myself from the intellectual constraints and concepts of my upbringing and my professional training, which I now recognized to be false, deceptive, and disastrous in its impact. The more I learned to follow my impulses in a playful way with colors and forms, the weaker became my allegiance to conventions of an aesthetic or any other nature. I did not want to paint beautiful pictures; it was not even my goal to paint good pictures. All I wanted was to help the truth to break through. In this way, when I finally confronted my own truth and was strengthened by it, I found the courage to see with ever-growing clarity how the conventional methods of psychoanalysis block the creativity of patients as well as analysts.” ~Alice Miller (in the Preface to the 1990 edition of “The Drama of the Gifted Child”)
See this previous post on moving through moments of adversity with wisdom.
See also it Feeds on Fear and Sadness for the psychological complex known as Death of the Father.