Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Philosophy and Psychology of Opposites

We have all often heard the expression, 'Opposites attract.' Of course, we also know that opposites can repel. Thus, opposites can either attract and/or repel. Stated differently, there is a psychology truism that runs something like this: 'It is often the same characteristic that attracts us to a person -- particularly in a new love partner -- that can spell doom to the relationship sometime further down the line.' There is also a psychological truism that states that often our strongest characteristic is also our weakest. How do we integrate these ideas and where do they take us?

Well, the people who live and work closest to us generally know us best. In similar and/or different ways, this could include our family, our lover, our closest friends, and/or the people we work with every day. They come to assess our strengths -- and our weaknesses. Often, they are one and the same thing. We like something in our new lover -- a characteristic that consciously or subconsciously we may view as reflecting a 'gap' or 'void' within ourselves -- something that may be keeping us from being 'complete' or 'whole'. Spending extended time with our new lover may move us in one or the opposite direction -- or both at the same or different times. Over time, we may start to 'integrate' the characteristic that we so value in our lover -- and in the process, start to become more integrated, more complete, more whole. This is how a relationship can contribute to the evolution of personal growth.

However, people also tend to be inherently stubborn and resistant to change. If we are the way we are, we are generally that way for a reason. Often a strong reason that may go back to childhood upbringing and/or trauma. Strong emotions 'lock in' strong behaviors and prevent them from changing without great time, energy, and/or difficulty. To be sure opposites can and do attract -- especially at the beginning of a relationship -- but give it time, and watch the sparks start to fly -- sparks of aggression, resentment, conflict, war, even hatred, that may start to mix in with the sparks of passion, and then eventually take over the passion completely. Gone is the passion. Gone is the chemistry. And gone is the relationship.

In more successful relationships, couples find a way of 'weathering' through this phase of their relationship -- they listen to each other, empathize with each other, negotiate, compromise, and either integrate their differences and/or come to accept and tolerate them without the type of internal resentment that can drag a relationship to its tombstone.

In the case of too much 'similarity' in a relationship often couples -- especially over signficant time -- can grow to a point where they are almost living clones of each other. This can rob excitement, passion, and chemistry from a relationship just as easily as too much conflict, friction, and internal resentment can. Or perhaps not enough conflict, friction -- and difference -- in a relationship can cause internal resentment -- usually in the form of boredom -- just as easily as the opposite of too much conflict, friction, and difference can. It all seems to be about 'balance' or 'homeostasis' to use the technical, scientific term.

G.W. Hegel (1770-1831), the central philosopher of influence in my work here, once said something that hit home for me -- one of the most profound statements committed to philosophy. I will include the actual quote here when I find it again but in the meantime I will offer you my extended, paraphrased version of it:

Every idea, every theory, every paradigm, every 'school' of philosophy, psychology, politics...every characteristic -- carries with it the seeds of its own self-destruction.

Wow! What does this mean? What does this mean for all of us who tend to wittingly or unwittingly move towards righteous one-sidedness, extremism, indignation, intolerance
-- and hate? It means that there is usually another point of view out there, another opposing perspective, that may have just as much righteous validity as the one that we are so righteously -- and one-sidedly -- defending.

So what does all this mean relative to the philosophical work that I am starting here and why did I call it 'Hegel's Hotel'?

For the laypersons amongst you, I would love to teach you philosophy -- at least what I have learned about philosophy so far, including the history of philosophy, the different sub-topics of philosophy, the strengths and weaknesses of different 'schools' or perspectives of philosophy...and more than anything the negotiation and integration of different schools and perspectives of philosophy into a larger, more balanced, whole. Call this 'DGB' Philosophy if you will (it used to be called 'Gap' Philosophy which you will see in some of my older papers). 'DGB' reflects both the initials of my name -- David Gordon Bain -- and the initials of my mission -- Dialectical Gap Bridging (Negotiations and Integrations).

Technically or academically speaking, I view DGB Philosophy as a '21st century, existentialized, post-Hegelian, post-Nietzschean, of philosophy'.

For the more technically, academically minded philosophy students, professionals, professors, specialists...amongst you, I hope to challenge you in different parts of my work as well -- perhaps taking philosophy in new directions and/or 'bridging gaps in old perspectives, old viewpoints, old schools of philosophical thought'.

For those of you academically minded philosophy specialists out there who might call yourself 'deconstructists' and/or 'post-modernists' who shudder with disdain and/or salivate with excitement at the prospect of critiqing my alleged new 'school' of integrative philosophy, I rise to the challenge. It is my contention that we need both 'builders' and 'deconstructionists' in philosophy just as much as we need builders and deconstructionists in every other part of life and culture: architecture, politics, psychology, economics, science and medicine, art, religion...Life is about building and then deconstructing when strong criticisms and/or better ideas come along...and then building well as 'integrating' or 'synthesizing' differences in philosophy and/or anything else... There is a time for 'either/or' philosophy (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche...) and there is a time for 'integrative' philosophy (the Han Synthesis, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel...). There is a time for deconstructionist philosophy (Socrates, Nietzshe, Derrida...and there is a time for idealist philosophy (Plato, Hegel...) There is a time and a place and a degree for capitalist narcissism just as there is a time and a place and a degree for altruistic socialism. Every philosophy self-destructs when taken too far -- beyond. its range of 'health' and into its range of 'pathology'. And in this regard, every philsophy needs its opposite philosophy -- its 'alter-ego' -- to keep it in line and bring it back into the integrative, balanced range of 'health' again...Thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis...Hegel revisited, existentialized, modernized, revitalized... in the sense of being allowed to 'dialectically interact with, and meet the challenge of all of Hegel's many detractors with their many different brands of criticisms. He was 'too abstract, too idealistic, had his head in the clouds, wasn't materialistic enough, didn't see the effect of the money, didn't see the effect of human narcissism, nastiness, and power...' All of those criticisms can be met and minimized if you simply look at Hegel's classic, idealistic, dialectical philosophy as being just another -- albeit extremely important -- step in the evolution of both Western and Eastern philosphy, in human culture in general, in fact, in life in general.

Stay tuned as we connect classic Hegelian dialectical philosophy -- as well as its modernized DGB post-Hegelian version -- with both ancient Western and Eastern dialectical philosophy (Anaxamander, Heraclitus, Fu Xi, Laozi, Confucious, the Han Philosophers, Taoism, I Ching, Yin/Yan...) as well as contemporary philosophy with all of its potential implications and applications...

I believe in the astrological characteristics of my sign. I am a pisces...creative, fantasy-dwelling, a thinker, have many perculating ideas, never at a loss for ideas, often not sufficiently complemented by action, living in the world of my creative mind and often losing track of the simplest -- and sometimes just as, or more, important -- day to day realities of life. I am like two fishes swimming towards each other, then away from each other, towards commitment, away from commitment, essentially bi-polar, or even multi-bi-polar and needing all of these 'multi-bi-polarities' to come together in a more harmonious, wholisitic integration...

One of my main strengths -- 'thinking' -- is often my main weakness -- 'thinking too much' (and not acting on my thoughts enough). Alternatively, and paradoxically, I have no problem being spontaneous and living day by day as I feel. The problem here again is this trait taken too far in the absence of its opposite: not being goal-directed enough, and/or having sufficient self-discipline, regimentation, and persistence enough to carry a goal through to its completion. I can also be too narcissitic in my thoughts and actions, often avoiding people in order to 'do my own thing', often stuck inside myself, almost hermit-like, at the cost of letting important friendships and other relationships 'slip away from neglect'...To a large extent we live in a 'me first' narcissistic world -- speaking as a baby boomer, perhaps the main 'overcompensation' of the baby boommers as a whole, as they invested much time and energy into rebelling against the more conservative, 'anal-retentive' values and morals of their parents, their righteous authority, by extension the righteous authority of anyone, and often tied into this, the righteous values and morals of the religous institutions that used to play a major role in generations before us. Nietzsche wrote: 'God is dead!' as he did much to 'deconstruct' and kill Christianity -- in both its good and bad elements. Well, today we might write the opposite: 'Altruism is dead!' -- it died in Western culture with that part of Christianity that shouldn't have been killed, and 'obsessive, unadulterated, often pathological narcissism' has for better or worse grown up and flourished in its absence. Today we are looking at the fallout of too much narcissism in the world and not enough altruism. In philosophy, in psychology, in politics, in business and economics, in law, in science and medicine, in family life (or its absence), we need to 'deconstruct the pathological extremes of individual and cultural narcissism'.

It is within this combination of 'obsessions' and 'gaps' or 'voids' that Hegel's Hotel: DGB Philosophy and Forum takes off as a projection of both my internal and external strengths and my weaknesses, and the wish for a more 'wholistic integration in the form of evolving personal and cultural growth'.

If you are with me still, understand where I am coming from, and get the gist of where I am going in my philosophical work, then 'Welcome to Hegel's Hotel'.

db, July 8th, 2007.

No comments: