There’s a popular video game series called Assassin’s Creed which apart from being visually interesting has a bizarre story line in which the protagonist must go back in time and act through his ancestor’s memory. The concept that runs through each of them is a group of mysterious mystical beings known only as “those who came before,” who lived on Earth before humans and who were technologically superior, before a great fiery disaster killed everyone and left only ghostly holograms behind.
Spiritually and politically, I think there are two basic categories of people. I don’t mean that people necessarily recognize themselves as belonging to either of the categories, because it is just something that’s there, subconscious and possibly latent. It may be that most people are neither spiritual or political (unless you force them to be) so it may be that I’m only describing a small portion of the world’s population here:
1. The first category is of people who have this belief that the future is moving toward an ultimate moral truth. That the world is becoming a better place as far as societies are concerned, and that it is urgent to continue to improve quality of life around the world for the sake of all individuals. Individuals and their rights are the priority and everyone’s responsibility. To them, science and humanist philosophy have merged to create a better, more pro-human world, through everything from modern medicine to erasing primitive beliefs like racism and puritanical religion. Pluralism is ideal because everyone has a voice, no one is assumed to be better than anyone else by means of birth status, and everyone gets a voice. Work so you can live. This world is not full of men or women so much as people; people dedicated to enjoying life and expressing themselves and living life the way they want to. It’s all an experience, a glimpse of eternity, and a happy life is there for you if you just choose to smile and chase after it.
2. The second category cannot shake the belief that somehow, those who came before lived a better, more honorable life. Hierarchy and structure and discipline are ends in themselves, because they help us imitate the ancients. The world is not for everyone who simply happens to be born, but for those strong enough to conquer it. Might makes right. Cultures are living things that must be violently defended, rather than kept in a museum. Some people are more capable than others, and so some will live and some will die. The lessons of the dead will teach the living, and the loss of loved ones will strengthen the loved-ones left behind. The divine light is at the end of the tunnel, and there is a certainty that honor will get you there, and nothing less. You reap what you sow. Work is an expression of life. There is masculinity and there is femininity and nothing in between. War helps us determine who has courage and who does not, and will be necessary as long as we live. Conflict breeds strength, and nothing is beautiful without suffering.
I suspect that both of these categories are likely to believe something like “we are part of the Earth” and that materialism is bad.
What if we were to travel back in time? Would there still be this distinction? Of course I suspect there are many flaws in the dichotomy I just laid out, if you apply them to whole populations.
But what if you apply them to just one person?
I use the narrative of modernity and spiritual death to explain the conflict between the second, more conservative personality and the more liberal one, because I feel like I’ve found the second buried in some sandy soil somewhere off the path, and that I need to replant it somewhere else. I can’t be both at once. When one personality dominates, the other hides away until it is summoned. What if I just kill one off? Or maybe achieve some kind of fluidity between the two? The idea of mixing them makes me uncomfortable; the sacred and the profane colliding and compounding, becoming something I don’t understand. Something and someone I can’t predict, led by desire one moment and discipline the next.
If I’ve learned one thing from learning to write poems, it’s that the uncomfortable thing is the thing one must do.