Lord of the Rings & Duality

Lord of the Rings obviously touches on archetypes that are alive in the western culture (or it would not be as popular as it is). Two of the obvious archetypes are the hero, in the healthy form of strength combined with caring, and duality, in a less beneficial form of “good” vs. “evil”.

I did read the books as a teenager, but was even then bothered by the strong duality in the idea of the story. The world is divided up into “good” and “evil”, we exclusively identify with the “good”, and the “evil” are dehumanized – in this case quite literally. We feel little or no compassion for the “other”, and little remorse for killing them. This reflects a traditional European worldview. A fragmented and blindly dualistic worldview that has lead to most or all of the aspects of western culture we are not so proud of, from imperialism (civilize the uncivilized) via witch hunts (exterminating the evil) to Bush’s “war on terrorism” (same).

Unfortunately, The Lord of the Ring trains us in this way of seeing the world. The “evil” are so clearly “evil” in the story, and since most of them (the orcs) are nothing more than soulless creations where there is little or no room for identification or empathy. It is a story where we are justified in dehumanizing the opponent, which makes it easier to transfer the pattern to real life situations – with the horrors it brings with it.

Blind duality, and dehumanization of the opponent, arises from a sequence of perceptions.

1. From the unified whole of the world, we differentiate. We need to do this to make effective choices and survive in the world.

2. We, correctly, perceive polarities. Us-them, up-down, life-nonlife, friend-predator, etc. In some cases, one end of the polarity is seen as aiding our health and well-being, and the other as a risk to our health and well-being. Again, we need this to survive.

3. Our mistake comes in when we do the following:

a) Loose sight of the larger whole the polarities emerge from, and even loose sight of the unified polarity that each pole are part of. We fragment the world.

b) We forget that all qualities we see outside of ourselves are also inside of ourselves. When we perceive qualities in the outer world, it is because we recognize them from ourselves.

c) From seeing one end of a polarity as beneficial to us and the other as not, we go one step further and assign “values” to each end of the polarities. One is seen as absolute “good” and the other as absolute “bad” or “evil”. We create abstract notions of good and evil, and assign them to real life objects and beings. From this, we create ideologies.

d) Beyond this, we apply the same pattern to our aversions and attractions. These likes and dislikes are formed in us by our culture(s) and personal experiences. We like one end of a polarity, and dislike another, even if there is not always a good reason for doing so. From this, we apply the same process and assign values, we see one as “good” and the other as “bad” or “evil”. One is “better” than the other. And from this again, we create worldviews and ideologies to match our particular patterns of likes and dislikes. These ideologies strengthens and gives stability to these patterns which were more or less arbitrary creations in the first place.

e) These ideologies strengthens our habitual patterns of likes and dislikes. They allow us to act blindly, with little choice.

It takes much to recognize this, and even more to allow it to dissolve. A good place to start is to create a habit of seeing in ourselves all qualities we see in the outer world. It is all in there, unfolded or as a potential. By doing this, we start dissolving the blind dualism, and we open up for true empathy with all living beings. We recognize ourselves in them, no matter who or how they are.

To take one example of how these processes play themselves out: the current obsession with “terrorism”.

From a trans-dual view, we see that we are all human. We all seek happiness. Those who engage in terrorist activities deserve our sympathy and understanding, as much as the victims of their actions. We seek to understand where they are coming from, to understand the desperate situations that leads to their desperate actions. This helps us to act to prevent such actions in the future. We can act on all levels, from the immediate symptom prevention (finding the people and prevent them from carrying out actions that harm others), to going to the deep source of their frustration, address their concerns and legitimate reasons for frustration (which are always there), and preventing such extremes of desperation to occur in the future. From this view, we will act with deep respect for each individual, while acting quickly and effectively to prevent harm to anyone. This view is expressed by Kofi Annan, and several European leaders.

From a blindly dualistic view, we get caught up in emotions and ideology. We see ourselves as “good” and the terrorists as “evil”. We see ourselves as the heroes in an epic battle of good against evil. We get caught up in archetypes, and allow them to take charge of us. We loose our ability to see the situation more as is, and make decisions not good in the long run (nor in the short run, in most cases). This view is expressed by the Bush administration, and their supporters.

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