As I said just over a year ago, my intention for Phanes is to focus on the positive, on what we as individuals can do to improve our own lives, and to stay away from the political and the divisive. (And if you’re not in accord with that idea, then this site probably isn’t for you.) Recently, though, I’ve been thinking a little more about the difference between the higher man (or higher woman) and what we might call the true believer, the hater, or the ideologue. Below are some thoughts on the characteristics that separate the two:
Placing Limits on Knowlege Versus Seeking Wisdom:
I was tempted to describe the higher man as seeking truth, but that would not be exactly correct. (We might be able to talk about the higher type of person seeking Truth, i.e., a transcendental experience in harmony with the Divine, dharma, the cosmos, etc.)
The assumption of the higher man is that the world is complicated and can’t be understood by acquiring facts alone, especially facts that agree with one another. It requires understanding, including — or perhaps especially — an understanding of one’s own human nature, our desires and weaknesses, and our strengths and potential.
As such, in terms of knowledge, the higher man places very little off-limits to himself, except that which serves no purpose or that merely serves to drag the psyche, intellect, etc., down. Indeed, understanding that great men have great weaknesses as well as great strengths, and that saints are sinners too, he views even great modern thinkers as specters haunting the modern psyche, ventriloquizing believers to speak and to live out this or that ideology. They are not read so that he can learn what to think but to strengthen his psyche the way a boxer improves his martial skill by fighting opponents. He may adopt some of their techniques, but he does not adopt them wholesale. He does not want to be any of his opponents and he does not aim to be their disciple. He must find their weaknesses through their strengths. He respects their spirit, but he wants to destroy them while integrating whatever lessons they have for him.
Consequently, the higher seeks contrasts. He doesn’t applaud the display of cliches hurled at straw men but seeks the best of arguments from different sides. However, even then, his aim is not to agree with one — even the best one — but to go beyond them all. He wants to grow into the shape of his own fully developed psyche, the way a bodybuilder wants to grow into the larger, more muscular, more defined and Hulk-like body, which he envisioned from the beginning.
In contrast, the true believer limits his knowledge to that with which he agrees before he reads it. He reads along a particular path, already laid out for him, the way a trash collector picks up trash along his particular route. The failings of the believer’s ideology, its limits, the disasters it has caused are of no importance to him. (If millions have died under its name, he cannot remember this inconvenient fact, though he notices every tiny action of his enemy.) The believer protects his heroes from criticism because he wants to be like them, secretly even in their worst aspects. And as inferior as he is to them, he wants to feel as superior to others — which he does, convincing himself that he is above anyone that does not think like him.
Inauthenticity Versus Integration:
But this is the ultimate irony of the believer. He, too, does not think like him — or, rather, he does not think as himself or for himself. He is a convert, convinced by the rhetoric and the slogans. He cuts off from his life whatever is demanded. If his favorite music is verboten, he does not listen to it. If smiling is verboten, he does not smile. If certain food, friends from certain backgrounds, or questions are verboten he dutifully denounces it all, seeing them as dirty and treacherous.
His ideas are secondhand, having been thought up by others long before him. He uses stock words and phrases. He sounds like everyone else in the ideological vacuum. Indeed, he is afraid to say, or even think, anything that might single him out, within the group, as an independent thinker — or potentially independent — since he knows this will lead to gossip and, finally, to his being denounced. He, the believer, the dutiful imitator of others, will be cast aside as a heretic, an unbeliever, a deviant. He must show his fanaticism at every turn.
In contrast, the higher man integrates the great and profound ideas he encounters, though not wholesale or unthinkingly. Moreover, he seeks widely, absorbing an idea here and there, even from those he otherwise does not like. His goal is greater clarity, understanding, a greater awakening to consciousness, not conformity or partisanship. He respects and admires intelligent men and women, even if he disagrees with them totally.
The act of integrating knowledge changes the higher man or woman but it also changes the knowledge he absorbs. It is the alchemical process of solve et coagula. He breaks apart the fruit to find the seeds. Like an artist, he reinterprets, transforms the meaning of things for his own time, or makes something new and original, yet timeless, out of what he finds.
That which he absorbs becomes whole again through him because it is lived out in his life. Suppose the knowledge is that of a martial art. He develops a style of fighting. He takes the attitude from, or the advice of, the dojo and applies it in the world. He improves his character though it. And he takes the essence and cultivates it, and makes it more by living it.
Hating Others Versus Improving Oneself:
The believer is characterized by his criticism, suspicious, and even hatred of others, which he often focuses on certain groups or categories of people — ideological, political, religious or atheistic, sexual, national, racial, etc. Yet, for all his scrutiny of others, he avoids examining himself.
While his intellect conforms to his ideology, and while he is able to rant about it at great length, he often does not conform to it in his actions. Hence we periodically come across anti-homosexuality pastors caught up in gay sex scandals. Male “feminists” exposed for sexually harassing women behind closed doors. Wealthy celebrities denouncing the “one percent” while hiding as much money in offshore accounts as possible so that they will not have to pay their share in taxes. And we see that those advocating some sort of superman are often deemed losers by society — or, even more importantly, even by their own professed standards: holding up the image of the muscular, for example, while being flabby and unhealthy themselves. Often, what the believer hates in others is what he finds in himself, but does not want to acknowledge.
In contrast, the higher man constantly examines himself for his faults. Even if he has remained the same over the years(which is unlikely), he recognizes that what might have been appropriate at 20 might not be appropriate and 30 or 40. Most of all, he wants to improve himself and to overcome any defects or errors. This, he recognizes, is a lifetime’s work. It takes constant struggle and constant vigilance. And this, too, can become a flaw, becoming too extreme, isolating him and providing an excuse not to engage positively with others.
For the higher man or woman, then, although focused, everything must be in balance. If the body is developed so the intellect must be, and vice versa. Friends — and different types of friends with different interests — keep him grounded. Spirituality and creativity must also play a part in his life. He does not necessarily aim to be the best but to be the best that he can be. He takes small but significant steps on the path of self-improvement and makes it a habit. Life is short. He does not have time to waste hating on others.
Indeed, he wants to be an example of what is possible, to create something and to contribute something that will help others. At the same time, he becomes an example to himself. There is a kind of “wow” factor, an internal revelation, an awakening. He has done what he once thought impossible. He has achieved what he thought he could not. This brings him closer to others, emotionally. He has something positive to share. But it also serves to illustrate that he can achieve even more in his life and in the development of his own being.
Sometimes we find ourselves on the receiving end of hate. Very often, the person attacking us wants to drag us down to their level. They express anger at us in the hope of making us angry. They shout at us to provoke us into shouting. They insult us to provoke us into shouting at them. They hope that we will do something that will enable them to pretend that we are the aggressor and that they are acting in self-defense or out of a nobility of spirit, which they do not possess.
Aggressors often think of themselves, or portray themselves, as victims. This goes for individuals, political movements, and even nations. On the smallest of those levels, before physically assaulting someone an aggressor will sometimes concoct excuses, pretending that his intended victim looked at him in an insulting manner or that he said something insulting. (“What are you looking at?” “What did you call me?” And so on.) Likewise, if the attacker is a rapist, he claims that the victim is a “slut” or suggests that her wearing a short skirt somehow excuses his behavior.
As much as he tempts us, it is unwise to adopt the worst aspects of the hater. In particular, perhaps, we must avoid thinking of ourselves as a victim.
But we must not be afraid of adopting his best aspects. “It is the highest sort of victory to teach your opponent something that will be to his benefit. This is in accordance with the Way,” says Tsunetomo Yamamoto (The Hagakure). It is best to defeat our enemies by enlightening them. But we must have victory over ourselves as well.
Today, though we imagine ourselves to be saintly individuals possessed of only the most appropriate thoughts, we judge our opponents by the very worst thing they have ever thought, said, or done. We look at our opponents as inhuman, as possessed of uniquely evil qualities, and absolutely unlike us.
We do not want to help them. We do not respect them. But we also do not want to learn from them. Whatever good qualities they possess, we mock. If they are physically strong, we mock strength as the preoccupation of “jocks” and “meatheads” and make our physically pathetic frame a badge of honor. If they are intelligent, we twist their words so that we can pretend that they are stupid. If they believe in independence, we denounce them as selfish egotists. If they believe in strong family bonds, we say they are sexually repressed. And so on. And, with this, we start to retreat, becoming ever less than we could be.
Instead, we should always seek out the good qualities of others. If we have an opponent and he says something true or wise, we should listen, take the lesson onboard, and respect him for what he gave us. We should seek out the best arguments against our convictions, and the best thinkers on the opposite side. Whenever we come across a video or article online that intelligently opposes our views we should watch or read it to the end. We don’t have to agree (we might disagree, but if we hear the best arguments against them then we will be forced to work through the objections and will understand our own beliefs more consciously).
In this way, instead of imagining and fixating on the negative, we will draw our attention to the positive that we can incorporate in ourselves and our lives. In this way, we will expand ourselves and develop our potential, not least of all for feeling love — love of wisdom, love of right over wrong, love of beauty, love of right action, love for others, love for life, and love for what we do, are, and might yet become.