“Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief” by psychologist and lecturer Jordan Peterson is a riveting exploration of the psychology of myth and religion. Peterson explains that modern society’s disdain for myth and religion is in large part due to its misunderstanding of it. The myths that all major religious traditions are built on are not just silly superstitious stories but narratives that have a strong grounding in reality. They are stories that people have told for thousands of years because they have proved to be helpful in navigating unknown and threatening aspects of the world. And while many of us deny their significance they continue to function at the deepest levels of our psyche, dictating the behavior we enact.
*All sentences in quotations are direct quotes from “Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Beliefs” and are attributed to Jordan B. Peterson. Bold is added for skimmability.
Why we tell stories and construct narratives
- “We tell ourselves stories about who we are, where we would like to be, and how we are going to get there. These stories regulate our emotions, by determining the significance of all the things we encounter and all the events we experience.”
- “We are protected from unpredictability by our culturally determined beliefs, by the stories we share.”
- “Our stories — our frames of reference — appear to have a “nested” or hierarchical structure. At any given moment, our attention occupies only one level of that structure. This capacity for restricted attention gives us the capability to make provisional but necessary judgments about the valence and utility of phenomena.”
- “Our “big” stories are composed of nested “little” stories.”
- “The “smaller stories,” nested within the larger, are dependent for their continued utility on maintenance of the larger.”
- “Groups and individuals may differ in their goals, values and behaviors at one level of analysis, while sharing features in common at “higher,” more implicit levels.”
- “We do not question a story, when it is working! If it produces the desired results, it is correct!”
- “Our cultures are erected upon the foundation of a single great story: paradise, encounter with chaos, fall and redemption.”
- “Something must have enough emotional impact before it will attract enough attention to be explored and mapped in accordance with its sensory properties.”
- “We all produce models of what is and what should be, and how to transform one into the other.”
- “It isn’t until we do something, and produce an unexpected outcome, that our models are deemed insufficient.”
- “Our natural levels of apprehension, the stories that most easily or by default occupy our attention, are relatively accessible to consciousness and amenable to explicit verbal/semantic formulation and communication. The higher-level stories, which cover a broader expanse of spatial-temporal territory, are increasingly complex and, therefore, cannot be as simply formulated. Myth steps in to fill the breach.”
- “Narrative — myth, most fundamentally — can be more accurately regarded as description of the world as it signifies (for action).”
- “Myth is purpose, coded in episodic memory.”
- “Mythic narrative offers dramatic presentation of morality, which is the study of what should be. Such narrative concerns itself with the meaning of the past, with the implications of past existence for current and future activity. This meaning constitutes the ground for the organization of behavior.”
- “It seems impossible to determine what it is that was before anything was; myth attempts that task, despite its impossibility. It does so using the tool of metaphor.”
- “Meaning means implication for behavioral output; logically, therefore, myth presents information relevant to the most fundamental of moral problems: “what should be? (What should be done?)
- “It is reasonable to presume that, over the long run, our species “forgets” most things that are useless: we do not forget our myths, however.
- “Jung believed that religious or mythological symbols sprung from a universal source, whose final point of origin was biological.”
- “The general irritation over Jung’s “heritable memory” hypothesis has blinded psychologists and others to the remarkable fact that narratives do appear patterned, across diverse cultures.”
- “The capability for human linguistic activity —- whatever that is — that is the “creator”. The cumulative consequences of this capability, expressed over centuries, have modified the behavior of all the individuals who compose a given linguistic “culture.”
- “Metonymic reasoning is symbolic.”
- “The fact that objects in a cognitive model have metonymic means that any or all of those objects can stand for any or all of the others.”
- “Language is “remembered” — that is, embodied — in the behavior of all those who speak.”
- “The “collective unconscious” is, from this perspective, embodied behavioral wisdom, in its most fundamental form — is the cumulative transmitted consequences of the fact of exploration and culture on action.”
- “Stories describe the interactions of the contents of the categories of the imagination, which take embodied form, in the shape of dramatic characters.”
- “The characters have a predictable nature, and play out their relationship in an eternally fascinating fashion, time and time again, everywhere in the world.”
- “A good theory about the structure of myth should let you see how a story you couldn’t even understand previously might shed new and useful light on the meaning of your life.”
- “The world brought into being in archaic myths of creation is phenomenological, rather than material — it includes all aspects of experience, including those things we now regard as purely subjective.”
- “The death of Osiris signifies two important things: (1) the tendency of a (static) ruling idea, system of valuation, or particular story — no matter how initially magnificent or appropriate — to become increasingly irrelevant with time; and (2) the dangers that necessarily accrue to a state that “forgets” or refuses to admit to the existence of the immortal deity of evil.”
- “We think: matter first, then subject — and presume that matter, as we understand it, is that which exists in the absence of our understanding. But the “primal matter” of mythology (a more comprehensive “substance” than the matter of the modern world) is much more than mere substance: it is the source of everything, objective and subjective (is matter and spirit, united in essence).”
- “From this perspective, consciousness is fundamental to the world of experience — as fundamental as “things” themselves.”
- “The myth, like the dream, may be regarded as the birthplace of conscious abstract knowledge, as the matrix from which formed ideas spring. Every concept, no matter how new or modern it appears, emerges from ground prepared by centuries of previous intellectual activity.”
- “Myth “prepares the ground” for explicit understanding by using what is presently comprehended — what has been partially explored, what has been adapted to in action — to represent that which remains unknown.”
- “The mythic view of history cannot be credited with reality, from the material, empirical point of view. It is nonetheless the case that all of Western ethics, including those explicitly formalized in Western law, are predicated upon a mythological worldview, which specifically attributes divine status to the individual.”
- “Mythic stories or fantasies that guide our adaptation, in general, appear to describe or portray or embody three permanent constituent elements of human experience: the unknown, or unexplored territory; the known, or explored territory; and the process — the knower — that mediates between them.”
The known (Order) VS The Unknown (Chaos)
“We live in a universe characterized by the constant interplay of Yang and Yin, chaos and order: emotion provides us with an initial guide when we don’t know what we are doing, when reason alone will not suffice.’
- “We cannot see the unknown, because we are protected from it by everything familiar and unquestioned.”
- “We are in addition habituated to what is familiar and known — by definition — and are therefore often unable to apprehend its structure.”
- What “knowing everything” means, however — at least in practice — is that the unknown no longer exists, and that further exploration has therefore been rendered superfluous (even treacherous). This means that absolute identification with the “known” necessarily comes to replace all opportunity for identification with the process that comes to know.
- “The unknown is intrinsically interesting, in a manner that poses an endless dilemma. It promises and threatens simultaneously.”
- “Everything we know, we know because someone explored something they did not understand — explored something they were afraid of, in awe of.”
- “Life without law remains chaotic, affectively intolerable. Life that is pure law becomes sterile, equally unbearable. The domination of chaos or sterility equally breeds murderous resentment and hatred.”
- “Manifestation of individual diversity, transformed into knowledge that can be transferred socially, changes the face of history itself, and moves each generation of man farther into the unknown.”
Why we avoid the unknown
- “When we are in the domain of the known, so to speak, there is no reason for fear. Outside that domain, panic reigns. It is for this reason that we dislike having our plans disrupted, and cling to what we understand.”
- “The domain of chaos — which is where what to do has not yet been specified — is a “place” characterized by the presence of potent emotions, discouragement, depression, fear, rootlessness, loss and disorientation.”
- “Involuntary exposure to chaos means an accidental encounter with the forces that undermine the known world. The affective consequences of such an encounter can be literally overwhelming. It is for this reason that individuals are highly motivated to avoid sudden manifestations of the unknown. And this is why individuals will go to almost any length to ensure that their protective cultural “stories” remain intact.”
- “When the world remains known and familiar — that is, when our beliefs maintain their validity — our emotions remain under control. When the world suddenly transforms itself into something new, however, out emotions are dysregulated, in keeping the relative novelty of that transformation, and we are forced to retreat or to explore once again”.
- “The person who is in a “state” where he no longer knows what to do or what to expect is highly motivated to escape that state, by whatever means necessary.”
- “An unexpected thing or situation appearing in the course of goal-directed behavior constitutes a stimulus that is intrinsically problematic: novel occurrences are, simultaneously, cues for punishment (threats) and cues for satisfaction (promises).”
- “Cognition,” by contrast, allows us to construct and maintain our ordered environments, and keep chaos — and affect — in check.”
- “We devote our entire lives to making sure that we never have to face anything unknown, in the revolutionary sense— at least not accidentally.”
How to face the unknown
- Although the unknown is truly unknown, it can be regarded as possessed of stable characteristics, in a broad sense. These characteristics are revealed in the actions we undertake in response to the appearance of unexpected things.”
- “Representations of the unknown constitute attempts to elaborate upon its nature, to illuminate its emotional and motivational significance.”
- “An unknown phenomenon, gripping but incomprehensible, can yet be represented ritually, can be acted out.”
- “It is in this manner that the son imitates the father, whom he will later become.
- “It could be said, metaphorically that the imitating child is possessed by the spirit of the father, as the father was possessed in his own childhood.”
- “Imagination and fantasy allow each of us to deal with the unknown, which must be met before it is comprehended.”
- “Fantasy can be used to create the real world, as well as the world of illusion. It all depends on who is doing the imagining, and to what end.”
- “If the unknown is approached voluntarily (which is to say, “as if” it is beneficial), then its promising aspect is likely to appear more salient. If the unknown makes its appearance despite our desire, then it is likely to appear more purely in its aspect of threat.”
- “The process of guided voluntary exposure appears to produce therapeutic benefits even when the “thing being avoided” is traumatic — when it might appear cruel, from a superficially “empathic” perspective, to insist upon exposure and “processing.”
- “Humility — it is only constant admission of error and capacity for error (admission of “sinful and ignorant nature”) that allows for recognition of the unknown, and then for update of knowledge and adaptation in behavior.”
- “Such humility is, somewhat paradoxically, courageous — as admission of error and possibility for error constitutes the necessary precondition for confrontation with the unknown. This makes genuine cowardice the “underground” motivation for the totalitarian presumption: the true authoritarian wants everything unpredictable to vanish.”
- “If the nature of the goal is shifted from desire for predictability to development of personality capable of facing chaos voluntarily, then the unknown, which can never be permanently banished, will no longer be associated with fear, and safety, paradoxically, will be permanently established.”
- “The late-stage alchemists “posited” that a personality that had completely assimilated the “spirit of the unknown” was equivalent to Christ.
- “Face what you reject, accept what you refuse to acknowledge, and you will find the treasure that the dragon guards.”
“Many of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century figures recognized unquestionably as “great” — Nietzsche, Darwin, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Freud, Jung, Piaget — were additionally characterized by lengthy periods of profound psychological unrest and uncertainty.”
Understanding Meaning, Purpose & Values
- “The “natural,” pre-experimental, or mythical mind is in fact primarily concerned with meaning – which is essentially implication for action – and not with “objective” nature.”
- “We need to know what things are not to know what they are but to keep track of what they mean — to understand what they signify for our behavior.”
- “The subjective sense of meaning is the instinct governing rate of contact with the unknown. Too much exposure turns change to chaos; too little promotes stagnation and degeneration. The appropriate balance produces a powerful individual, confident in the ability to withstand life, ever more able to deal with nature and society, ever closer to the heroic ideal.”
- “Each individual, constitutionally unique, finds meaning in different pursuits, if he has the courage to maintain his difference.”
- “Individuals whose life is without meaning hate themselves for their weakness and hate life for making them weak.”
- “The human purpose, if such a thing can be considered, is to pursue meaning — to extend the domain of light, of consciousness — despite limitation.”
- “Human purpose is generation of the ability to concentrate on the innately interesting and affectively significant events of the present, with sufficient consciousness and clarity, to render concern about the past and future unnecessary.”
- “Collapse of faith in the value hierarchy — or, more dangerously collapse of faith in the idea of such hierarchies — brings about severe depression, intrapsychic chaos and re-emergence of existential anxiety.”
- “The battles between the different “ways of life” (or different philosophies) that eternally characterize human societies can usefully be visualized as combat undertaken by different standards of value (and, therefore, by different hierarchies of motivation).
- “In the case of broader society: the “meaning” of an object — that is, the significance of that object for emotional regulation and behavioral output — is determined by social consequences of behaviors undertaken and inferences drawn in its presence.”
- “The culturally determined meaning of an object — is in fact in large part implicit information about the nature of the current dominance hierarchy, which has been partially transformed into an abstract hypothesis about the relative value of things.”
- “The socially determined affective significance of the object is “naturally” experienced as an aspect of the object — which is to say that the charisma radiating from an Elvis Presley guitar is “part” of the guitar.”
Understanding Culture, Society & Morality
- “A culture is, to a large degree, a shared moral code, and deviations from that code are generally easily identified, at least post-hoc.”
- “All culture, excepting the Western, do not possess a history based on “objective events.” The history of alternative cultures — even those as highly developed as the Indian, Chinese, and ancient Greco-Roman — is mythological, which means that it describes what an event meant, in psychological terms, instead of how it happened, in empirical terms.”
- “Every culture maintains certain key beliefs that are centrally important to that culture, upon which all secondary beliefs are predicated. These key beliefs cannot be easily given up, because if they are, everything falls, and the unknown once again rules.”
- “Culture, in its supportive role, extends the power with which the unknown can be met, by disciplining the individual and expanding his range of ability.
- In childhood, the parent serves as cultural surrogate, and the child explores under the umbrella of protection provided by his parents. The parental mechanisms has its limits, however, and must be superseded by the internalization of culture –– by the inter-psychic incorporation of belief, security, and goal. Adoption of this secondary protective structure dramatically extends and shapes individual capability.”
- “A given cultural structure necessarily must meet a number of stringent and severely constrained requirements: (1) it must be self-maintaining (in that it promotes activities that allow it to retain its central form); (2) it must be sufficiently flexible to allow for constant adaptation to constantly shifting environmental circumstances; and (3) it must require the allegiance of the individuals who compose it.”
- “The identity of the individual with his culture protects him from the terrible unknown, and allows him to function as an acceptable member of society.”
- “When the members of one isolated group come into contact with the members of another, the stage is therefore set for trouble. Each culture, each group, evolved to protect its individual members from the unknown — from the abysmal forces of the Great and Terrible Mother, from unbearable affect itself.”
- “Mythologically structured social and individual “presumptions” — articles of faith — provide the environment in which a given culture-specific adaptive pattern retains its conditional validity.
- “The social establishment of how to behave, when presented with a given situation, inhibits the paralyzing fear that situation would otherwise instinctively induce.”
- “The security of predictable society provides an antidote to fear, but a too-rigid society ensures its own eventual destruction.
- “The spirit underlying the transmutation of culture resolves unbearable intrapsychic conflict with shattering revelation, first to the individual, then to society at large.”
What is Morality?
- “The precise nature of that which constitutes morality still eludes declarative exposition. The moral structure, encoded in behavior, is too complex to completely consciously formulate.
- “Morality — act and thought — is nonarbitary in structure and specifically goal-directed. It is predicated upon conceptualization of the highest good (which, in its highest form, is stable social organization allowing for manifestation of the process of creative adaptation).”
- “Every society shares a moral viewpoint, which is essentially an identity composed of unquestioned fidelity to a particular conception of “reality” (what is and what should be), and of agreement upon the nature of those behaviors that may reasonably be manifested.”
- What is desired depends upon the goal toward which a given society moves.
- Relative position in the dominance hierarchy — at least in the perfectly functioning society — is in itself determined through social judgment. That judgment reflects appreciation of the value of a particular individual. That value reflects how society views the ability of that individual to contribute to attainment of the goal.
Culture as the battle between security and individuality
- “Culture protects the individual against the consequences of his or her vulnerability (at least in its positive aspect); but the price paid for absolute security is freedom and individuality, and therefore, creativity. Sacrifice of individual creativity, by choice, eventually deprives life of pleasure, of meaning — but not of anxiety or pain — and therefore renders life unbearable.”
- “The mask each person wears in society is based upon the pretense that the individual is identical with his culture (usually, with the “best elements” of that culture). The fool, hiding behind the mask, is composed of individual deviance, which is deceitfully avoided, lied about, out of fear. This deviant, unlived life contains the worst and the best tendencies of the individual, suppressed by cultural opinion because they threaten the norm; forced underground by the individual himself, because they threaten personal short-term psychological stability. “
- The persona is nothing real: it is a compromise between individual and society as to what a man should appear to be.
Transforming Culture (The Individual Vs The Group)
- “Identification of an individual with a group means that individual psychological stability is staked on maintenance of group wefare.”
- “The group, in its external social and intrapsychic incarnations, is the current expression of a form of acting and thinking that has been given particular content over the course of thousands of years. These particular contents, patterns of behavior and their representations, were established initially by individuals who faced the unknown and prevailed, who were able to do or think something that no one had been able to do or think before. In this manner, heroic individuals create new assumptions and formulate new values.”
- “The integration of these assumptions and values into the group, through the competitive process that begins with imitation and ends with verbal abstraction, increases the permanent behavioral and abstract logical repertoire of the individuals that form that group.”
- “The group is the historical structure that humanity has erected between the individual and the unknown.
- “Adaptive behavior is created and/or transformed by those driven to resolve the tension inevitably existing between dynamic personal experience and society — driven to resolve the tension between what they know to be true and what history claims.”
- “The ability to communicate skill and representation makes it possible for the individual to internalize and formulate a complex self-representation, to conceive of him or herself in terms of the experience of others — that is, in terms of the experience of specific others, offering (and embodying) their defining opinion, and the general other, historical humanity.”
- “The normal individual solves his problem of adaptation to the unknown by joining a group.
- “A group, by definition, is composed of those who have adopted a central structure of value, and who therefore behave, in the presence of other group member, identically — and if not identically, at least predictably.”
- “The fascist adapts to the group with a vengeance. He builds stronger and stronger walls around himself and those who are “like him,” in an ever more futile attempt to keep the threatening unknown at bay.”
- “The decadent looks to subvert the process of maturation — looks for a “way out” of group affiliation. Group membership requires adoption of at least adolescent responsibility, and this burden may seem too much to bear, as a consequence of prolonged immaturity of outlook. The decadent therefore acts “as if” the paradigmatic structure of the group has been rendered “insufficient” as a consequence of environmental, cultural or intellectual change, and refuses to be the fool who risks belief.
- The facist, who will not face the reality and necessity of the unknown, hides his vulnerable face in a “pathological excess of order.”
- “The decadent, who refuses to see that existence is not possible without order, hides his immaturity from himself and others in a “pathological excess of chaos.”
- “The “third mode” of adaptation — alternative to decadence and fascism — is heroic. Heroism is comparatively rare, because it requires voluntary sacrifice of group-fostered certainty, and indefinite acceptance of consequent psychological chaos, attendant upon (re)exposure to the unknown.”
- “The individual who turns away from indications of his own insufficiency increases the probability that he will seek to repress and destroy all information that indicates threat to current belief.”
- “Failure to transcend group identification is, in the final analysis, as pathological as failure to leave childhood.”
- “Movement from the group to the individual — like that from childhood to group — follows the archetypal transformative pattern of the heroic (paradise, breach, fall, redemption; stability, incorporation, dissolution, reconstruction).”
The great depth-psychologist Carl Jung defined Archetypes as “pre-existent forms, motifs, categories of the imagination, elementary or primordial thoughts.” All mythological and religious thought is said to be built on archetypes. The main archetypes Peterson speaks of in his book include the great and tyrannical father, the great and terrible mother, the hostile brothers and the hero.
The Great and Tyrannical Father
- “The Great Father is a product of history — or, is history itself; insofar as it is acted out and spontaneously remembered — intrapsychically instantiated during the course of socialization, and embedded in the social interactions and specific object-meanings that make up a given culture.”
- “The Great Father is patriarchal society, tradition, pomp and circumstance, military-industrial complex, and superego: demanding, rigid, unjust, dangerous and necessary.”
- “The Great Father takes the infinite possibility of spirit that the infant represents and forges it into something limited but actual.”
- “Explored territory as Tyrannical Father presents the forces of tradition as “son-devouring king.” The conservative tendency of any culture, striving to maintain itself, can easily transform into the deadening weight of absolute authority.”
- “This is the aspect of the Great Father that motivates adolescent rebellion and gives rise to ideological narratives attributing to society everything that produces the negative in man.”
- “He is the personification of the authoritarian or totalitarian state, whose “goal” is reduction of all who are currently living to manifestation of a single dead “past” personality.”
- “When everyone is the same, everything is predictable; all things are strictly determinable value, and everything unknown (and fear-provoking) is hidden from view. Unfortunately, of course, every unpredictable and fear-provoking thing is also informative, and new information is vital to continued successful adjustment.”
- “The Great Father is protection and necessary aid to growth, but absolute identification with his personality and force ultimately destroys the spirit.”
- “The terrible father opposes anything new, anything that threatens his integral structure and absolute dominance.”
The Great and Terrible Mother
- “The unknown — as it can be encountered — is female, with paradoxical qualities. The Great and Terrible Mother of All Things promises endlessly; she also threatens, absolutely.”
The Hostile Brothers
- The “contamination of anomaly with the threat of death,” attendant on the development of self-consciousness, amplifies the valence of the unknown to a virtually unbearable point.”
- “This unbearable amplification has motivated the development of two transpersonal patterns of behavior and schemas of representation, constituting the individual as such, embodied in mythology as the “hostile brothers.”
- “One of these “hostile brothers” or “eternal sons of God” is the mythological hero. He faces the unknown with the presumption of its benevolence — with the (unprovable) attitude that confrontation with the unknown will bring renewal and redemption. He enter, voluntarily, into creative “union with the Great Mother,” builds or regenerates society, and brings peace to a warring world.”
- “The other “son of God” is the eternal adversary. This “spirit of unbridled rationality,” horrified by his limited apprehension of the conditions of existence, shrinks from contact with everything he does not understand. This shrinking weakens his personality, no longer nourished by the “water of life,” and makes him rigid and authoritarian, as he clings desperately to the familiar, “rational,” and stable. Every deceitful retreat increases his fear; every new “protective law” increases his frustration, boredom and contempt for life. His weakness, In combination with his neurotic suffering engenders resentment and hatred for existence itself.
- “The mythic “hostile brothers” — Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu, Osiris and Seth, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Cain and Abel, Christ and Satan — are representative of two eternal individual tendencies, twin “sons of god,” heroic and adversarial.”
- “The former tendency, the archetypal savior, is the everlasting spirit of creation and transformation, characterized eternally by the capacity to admit to the unknown and, therefore, to progress toward “the kingdom of heaven.”
- “The eternal adversary, by contrast, is incarnation in practice, imagination and philosophy of the spirit of denial, eternal rejection of the “redeeming unknown,” and the adoption of rigid self-identification.”
- “The revolutionary hero reorders the protective structure of society, when the emergence of an anomaly makes such reordering necessary.”
- “The hero discovered the limitations of history; discovered the nakedness of the father. He must, therefore, challenge history, and face what it had previously protected him from. Subsequent contact with the Terrible Mother means exposure to absolute mortal vulnerability — to the existence and consequence of ignorance, insanity, cruelty, disease and death.”
- “The hero organizes the demands of social being and the responsibilities of his own soul into a coherent, hierarchically arranged unit.”
- “The heroic tendency — the archetypal savior — is an eternal spirit, which is to say, a central and permanent aspect of human being. The same is true, precisely, of the “adversarial” tendency: the capacity for endless denial, and the desire to make everything suffer for the outrage of its existence, is an ineradicable intrapsychic element of the individual.”
- “Acceptance of mortal weakness is the paradoxical humility that serves as precondition for true heroism.The genius is the fortunate hero who faces the unexpected consequences of his insufficiently adaptive behavior voluntarily, on ground that he has chosen. The unfortunate madman, by contrast, has run away from something carnivorous, something that thrives on neglect and grows larger — something that will finally devour him.”
- “The hero is an enemy of the historically determined structure of values and assumptions, because he may have to reorder that structure and not merely add to or maintain it, to deal with what still remains unknown”.
- “Development of true individuality—is equivalent to identification with the hero.”
- “The actions of the hero constitute an antidote to the deadly forces of chaos, and the tyranny of order. The hero creates order from chaos and reconstructs that order when necessary. His actions simultaneously ensure that novelty remains tolerable and that security remains flexible.”
- “Evil is rejection of and sworn opposition to the process of creative exploration. Evil is proud repudiation of the uknown, and willful failure to understand, transcend and transform the social world. Evil is, in addition — and in consequence— hatred of the virtuous and courageous, precisely on account of their virtue and courage.”
- “If everyone around thinks you are the savior, who is left to point out your defects and keep you conscious of them?”
- “We cannot say “never again” as a consequence of the memory of the Holocaust, because we do not understand the Holocaust, and it is impossible to remember what has not been understood. We do not understand the Holocaust because we do not comprehend ourselves”.
- “Never forget” means “know thyself”: recognize and understand that evil twin, that mortal enemy, who is part and parcel of every individual.”
- “The devil is the spirit who underlies the development of totalitarianism; the spirit who is characterized by rigid ideological belief (by the “predominance of the rational mind”), by reliance on the lie as a mode of adaptation (by refusal to admit to the existence of error, or to appreciate the necessity of deviance), and by the inevitable development of hatred for the self and world.
- The arrogance of the totalitarian stance is ineradicably opposed to the “humility” of creative exploration.
*Note – Being a human means having to deal with the unknown (the terrible mother) – although the unknown is home of infinite possibilities many of those can be unpleasant/painful/unwanted. Totalitarianism is a strategy for dealing with the unknown by using some sort of ideology and then trying to control and contain reality within the boundaries of that ideology.
- “From the perspective informed by belief in original Sin, individual actions and motivations must always be carefully scrutinized and considered, even when apparently benevolent, lest the ever-present adversarial tendencies “accidentally” gain the upper hand.”
- “The devil is the spirit who eternally states, “all that I know is all there is to be know “
- “The devil is the desire to be right, above all, to be right once and for all and finally, rather than to constantly admit to insufficiency and ignorance, and to therefore partake in the process of creation itself. “
- “The weaknesses, stupidities, laxities and ignorances that ineradicably constitute the individual are not evil in and of themselves. These “insufficiencies” are a necessary consequence of the limitations that make experience possible. It is the act pf denying stupidity exists, once it has manifested itself, that is evil, because stupidity cannot then be overcome.”
- “Consciousness of ignorance and stupidity manifests itself in shame, anxiety and pain — in the guise of the visitor whose arrival is most feared — and such consciousness may consequently come to be considered the embodiment of evil itself. But it is the bearer of bad news who brings us closer to the light, if the significance of the news is allowed to manifest itself.”
- “The image of the devil, although endlessly applied to rationalize the subjugation of others (as all great ideas can be subverted) emerged as a consequence of endless genuine attempts to encapsulate the “personality” of evil.”
- “Refusal of the good is, I think, most effectively and frequently justified by reference to the terrible affective consequences of (self)consciousness. This means that comprehension of the vulnerability and mortality of man, and the suffering associated with that vulnerability — apprehension of the ultimate cruelty and pointlessness of life — may be used as rationale for evil.
- “Man is not merely innately aggressive, a poorly socialized, and therefore uncontrolled predator; at best, such theory can account for his criminal aggression; it is in fact slavish adherence to the forces of socialization — to the very principle of domestication itself — that enables him to participate in production of the most truly efficient and organized of human evils.”
- “It was the discipline of the Germans, not their criminality, that made the Nazis fearsome. It was the loyalty, patriotism and commitment of the Soviet and Chinese communists that enabled mass persecution and destructive-labor camp elimination of their countrymen.”
- “It is reassuring to presume that the individuals who constructed, organized and ran the concentration camps of Germany and the Soviet Union were in some profound manner different from the people that we know, and love, and are. But there is no reason to make this presumption, except for convenience and naive peace of mind.”
- “Hell is a bottomless pit, and why? Because nothing is ever so bad that we cannot make it worse. “
- “The victim who finds personal security in identity with his persecutor has become that persecutor.”
- “Evil is the process by which the significance of the anomaly is denied; the process by which meaning itself — truth itself — is rejected.”
- “Participation in acts whose sole purpose is expansion of innocent pain and suffering destroys character; forthright encounter with tragedy, by contrast, may increase it. This is the meaning of the Christian myth of the crucifixion.”
- “The essence of the paradox that lies at the bottom of human motivation for evil: People need their group identification, because that identification protects them, literally, from the terrible forces of the unknown. It is for this reason that every individual that is not decadent will strive to protect his territory, actual and psychological.”
- “The tendency to protect means hatred of the other, and the inevitability of war.”
*Note – Nowadays we consider evil to be archaic so it’s easy for us to over look it and unconsciously commit evil acts. One thing that myth/religion did was keep us aware that evil exists and must always be checked.
How lying leads to evil
- “The liar chooses his own game, sets his own rules and then cheats. This cheating is failure to grow, to mature; it is rejection of the process of consciousness itself.”
- “The liar cannot see any value in weakness or deviance in himself or others — only the potential for chaos — and he cannot see any value in chaos or uncertainty. He has no sympathy or patience for or appreciation of his own weaknesses — or his own strengths — and can therefore have none for the weakness or strength of others.”
- “The liar cannot tolerate anomaly, because it provokes anxiety — and the liar does not believe he can or should withstand anxiety. This means that he is motivated to first avoid and then to actively suppress any behavioral pattern or experience of world that does not fit comfortably into his culturally determined system of affect-regulating moral presuppositions.”
- “The lie is easy, and rewarding, as it allows for the avoidance of anxiety, at least in the short term. In the long run, however, the lie has terrible consequences.”
- “Reliance on the lie ensures, as fear grows, heightened, pathologized identification with the past (manifested as fascism: personal and political intolerance), or decadent degeneration (manifested as nihilism: personal and social deterioration).”
- “Every attempt to wish any aspect of experience out of existence transforms it into an enemy.”
- “The lie, which denies individual experience, is denial of the fool — but the fool is the truth.”
- “The lie is predicated upon the presupposition that the tragedy of individuality is unbearable — that human experience itself is evil.”
- “The individual lies because he is afraid — and it is not the lies he tells another that present the clearest danger, but the lies he tells himself.”
- “The root of social and individual psychopathology, the “denial,” the “repression” is the lie. The most dangerous lie of all is devoted to denial of individual responsibility — denial of individual divinity.”
- “The lie weakens the individual – who no longer extends the range of his competence by testing his subjectivity against the world – and drains life of meaning. Life without meaning is mortal limitation, subjective pain and suffering without recourse. Life without meaning is tragedy, without hope of redemption.”
- “The abandonment of meaning ensures the adoption of a demonic mode of adaptation, because the individual hates pointless pain and frustration and will work toward its destruction. This work constitutes revenge against existence, rendered unbearable by pride.”