If like me you were brought up in a western culture, with the doctrine that everything has a scientific explanation, there will be certain ideas you will not be allowed to know.|
These ideas are in fact as old and as widespread as civilization itself. But your education will have programmed you so that whenever you hear or read about any of them, it sets off a built -in reflex that shouts "mystical nonsense" or "crazy rubbish".
People who have already studied these ideas a little, and who may have read some of the books I mention later on, will know of course that they are neither all that crazy nor all that mysterious. But if we wish to talk about them we are all handicapped by a great gap in our education - we have no agreed method.
It is of course true that everything can be scientifically explained. It can be explained this way or any other way. But at a price. And by price I mean something more serious than money.
We are maybe just beginning to realize what our scientific knowledge is costing us. That the advantages it cofers must be paid for. And that price is steeper than we thought.
The irony of it is that the price of scientific knowledge has been prominently displayed: and the cruel twist is this: the place where it is displayed is in the books that scientific knowledge itself insists are 'not scientific'.
Once a person steps into the scientific machine, once he accepts the doctrine as to what is 'scientific' and what is not, he is in a foolproof trap. He has accepted a contract for which, from the moment he signs the agreement, he can never know the price.
Let's begin with some definitions. What do we mean by 'western culture'? I take it we mean the mode of life, at least nominally Christian, of civilized residents in Russia, Europe, North and South Americas, New Zealand, occupied parts of Africa, Iceland, the Philippines, and occupied parts of Australia. This is in contrast to 'eastern' cultures, comprising largely Buddhist, Confucianist, Taoist, and Hinduist civilizations. There are at present (ed: 1972) nearly a thousand million of us in each of these two groups, and about a thousand million more with cultures, the most widespread being Islam, standing somewhere between.
And what do we mean by 'civilized'? Well, if we follow the word to its roots, we see that it simply means living in cities.
Every civilization has its culture. Although the culture of our western civilization has many sources, its main roots are two: we get our religious ideas from the early Jews, and our scientific ideas from the ancient Greeks.
Now the early Jew and the ancient Greeks had this in common. They were both anti-female. Not in the same way.
The Jews were anti-female in their religion. The sort of heaven they were after, if you examine it critically, is largely unisexual, with the emphasis on maleness.
The Greeks were anti-female in a more mundane way. In heaven they allowed equal rights to both gods and goddesses, but on earth they were frankly homosexual. They thought that only man has a soul, and that to love a woman, who is without one, would be degrading.
Now, and this is the surprising bit, the feature that our culture took from each of these two roots was in each case the one that is anti-female. We took our science from the Greeks and our religion from the Jews. We thus started life with a built-in double degradation of one of our two sexes.
This, as I say, is surprising. What is not surprising, having started life in this strange manner, is that we are now in deep trouble.
There still exist cultures, side by side with ours, that have not lost their potential in this way, that are still very properly conscious of the two sides of things. They are conscious of the pompous, military, formal, impressive, idealistic, and utterly humourless masculine side, but they are equally conscious of, and allow an equal importance to, the intimate, secret, informal, intuitive, regenerative, and hilariously funny female side. And this side, alas, is the side that our culture will not allow us to take seriously.
Other cultures allow it. Ours does not. Other people's heavens are full of females with a complimentary status to the males, and complications galore. Ours does not approve of this sort of thing. Officially, it is frowned upon.
Of course, poets have always dug it. We dig it from the muse. Hence music. And the muse, please note, is female. She is not a god but a goddess.
But then poets, in our culture, are also frowned on. Of course. Anyone foolish enough to think that a woman has anything sensible to say to a man must be crazy. They must be joking.
Yes indeed. Joking. But does anybody stop to consider that a joke is never the least bit funny unless it is true.
These other cultures, the ones that allow an equal importance to both sides of existence, we have, from our one-sided view, corrupted grievously. How it is that a half-culture can dominate and corrupt a whole one, I shall discuss later in the book.
Since some years back I have felt the need for an author, brought up in the western tradition, and having attained at least a professional degree of competence in more than one science, to try as best he can to bridge the gap between these two sides of human nature. We need, it seems to me, to realize a perspective between the formal and the informal, between male and female, between west and east, between the philosophy and religion of doing, and the non-philosophy and non-religion of being.
It is difficult to write about. The subject is bigger than knowledge. It is as big as life itself, and takes about as long to learn. No book about it can reveal very much. About all any book can do is perhaps open the door. Just a little way.
This book did not in fact come of that plan. It was an accident. It got written as a result of a very unhappy event for me and the girl I was engaged to marry. What happened is described later. For the moment, all I need say is that it meant the breaking of our betrothal. Not because we didn't love or didn't fit - we did both - but for reasons that seemed, at least to me, terribly wrong.
After this I became filled with despondency, I knew my misery was a sort of mixture of fury and self-pity, but there seemed to be nothing I could do to put an end to it. Despite all my efforts to escape its thrall, it held me in a vice-like grip. My friends thought I would die. I thought I might. I had to consciously remember to eat, sleep, etc. The only thing I could do spontaneously was write.
Looking back on it now, I could perhaps wish the book had been produced more calmly. But then, although it might have contained fewer faults, it might also have been less entertaining.
We endure with scarcely a tremour the knowledge that the universe will eventually collapse. We view with more concern the fact that our solar system might one day cease to support life. Even less attractive is the thought that the earth may soon be unfit to live in. Worse than this, our country might get its balance of payments wrong. Even worse, a member of our family might be involved in some scandal. Worse still, one might sicken and die. But what is more terrible than to be parted from one's love?
In this book I break two unwritten rules. In the first place I try to say something positive. In the second, I speak from my own experience.
If you read a modern university textbook on, shall we say, psychology, you would think the author didn't have any experience of his own. I know that the reason given for this extraordinary omission is that, in respect of one's own experience, one is likely to be biased and therefore not 'objective'. But if you cannot be honest about your own experience, how the hell can you be expected to be honest about anyone else's. And if you think you are likely to be 'mistaken' about your own experience, how much more likely are you to be mistaken about somebody else's experience of which, by definition, you have no experience.
As for saying something positive, you will find, if you go to college these days, that it simply isn't done. Why? Well, for one thing, it is so much easier to be negative.
The joke about modern philosophy teachers who call themselves positivists is that what they have to teach is wholly negative. Give one of these 'positivists' something that is really positive, a poem or some other obsevation written from experience, and what does he do? He tears it to pieces. But search his own work, and you will find he has nothing to say. He makes, of his own experience of things, nothing whatever. His literary activity is wholly predatory.
Of course anything positive can be torn to pieces. What is positive has made itself vulnerable. It has brought itself, faults and all, into existence. A lily is positive. So is a child. So is love. All three can be very easily torn to pieces. None can be so easily put together again.
In the history of this planet, mankind has been in scientific labour for at least nine thousand years. With what outcome? Well, he can make a weed killer but he cannot make a weed.
Walk down the mainstreet of any big city. Look in people's faces as they pass. What do you see? Four times out of five, you see pain. Maybe they are conscious of it, maybe not yet. But it is already there, clearly visible.
If we wish, we can take it to the bitter end. We can act out the tragedy, right to the final curtain. No one will stop us.
All the same, there is really nothing to prevent us rewriting the stage-directions.
St Patricks Day 1971