We belong to a culture founded on enslavement, even into the present day, even into our own workplaces, neighborhoods, and living rooms.
I don’t refer to just the every-day third world enslavement of sweatshop workers and cash crop laborers of all kinds that make cheap goods and food possible; I also mean the modern first-world wage slavery that remains invisible to most people ensnared in it (though they most certainly feel it in their guts).
Marshall Rosenberg, developer of Compassionate (aka Nonviolent) Communication, mentioned once that he saw English itself as a language of Masters and Slaves, and built a whole methodology to explore sidestepping the impulses of such a language world. What do Masters and Slaves think about constantly?
“Is he Good? Am I Bad? Am I Right? Is he Wrong?”
Slaves think about whether or not they deserve a punishment; Masters think about whether or not the Slaves deserve more. These ideas of approval/disapproval interdepend on punishment to such an extent that you cannot separate them. Masters (or at least the meme of having a Master, if the subtlely matters to you) want to get inside your head, make you think that their thought belongs to you; that you in fact thought it yourself, when you didn’t. For the Slave, they always want to “get away” with things, and “work the system”. For the Master they always want to increase control, and work the Slaves harder. Keep in mind too, that no Master in our culture escapes enslavement to a Master greater than them. Anyone who plays the game of Masters and Slaves will play both roles in their lifetime, will play them both in many different places and at different times. A Father enslaves the child; the child Masters a younger sibling; the Foreman Masters the Father.
Does anybody still remain blissfully ignorant that the oppressed learn the tools of oppression most thoroughly of all, since they know more than anyone the power of the harsh command and the bite of the whip?
For many people in our culture, they carry a lingering guilt that they participate in a culture of this same enslavement. But many of these people don’t realize that they have Masters too, and that the reason they can’t step outside of choices which enslave others, the reason why each decision they make to act ethically only leads to more hypocritical dead ends, the reason that drives this impossible chase through the labyrinth of the devouring Minotaur with sinews woven of our own culture’s dark side, this reason lays hidden behind our illusion of freedom and “first-world” status. Abandoning the labyrinth would in fact mean abandoning everything good, and right, and true. Get it? By doing Right, you’ve done Wrong, and you’ll have to get back in line.
How do you deal with such heartsickness, and the impossible tangled web of hypocrisy which you can’t escape? For me, you begin with burying the dead.
Once we admit that Right and Wrong have died to us, as useful companions, we can start burying their many masks. Owing to the ghost-stuff of which this culture made them, we can’t actually put them in the ground, but their Masks…! Ah, their Masks. We have lots of those. For some, old Report Cards mask these companions; for others, awards and certificates. For some their profession itself masks the attempt to stay one step ahead of the Minotaur of shame and guilt. For others, the watch on their wrist. For others, makeup, clothes, cars, gadgets. He who dies with the most toys wins, you know.
Whatever the Mask, you can hold a funeral for Right and Wrong, just as you would for anyone else with whom you’d had a bittersweet relationship. Certainly it felt so sweet to be Right. But of course, that meant too you had to often feel the harsh smallness of being Wrong. Right sounded like fanfare and felt like falling confetti; but Wrong felt quite different, like abandonment, loss, exclusion. Sometimes Right feels like justified Anger, wrathful and condemning. Sometimes Wrong felt like failure, self-hate, depression. Together these two took you on a wild bipolar ride of addiction. You can’t just throw dust on the place of Wrong; you have to also leave flowers on the Grave of Right. The same pale face lies behind all the masks – look now. The same face, both Wrong, and Right. The same person.
The exact same haunting ghost, now caught on the wind of your goodbye prayers, just as you begin to speak them…
Every year and every day, at this time, this ghost, this pale face both Right and Wrong will ask you about the new Spring. Will you shed hot tears, remember how good indeed Right felt, but decline the companionship, as you bury more Masks of this faithful, footstep-dogging companion?
Who in this culture escapes the trap of addiction? At the very base of it all, no one escapes the need to constantly rebury Right and Wrong. Certainly not me.
What does that leave us with? How do we then measure and adapt to the feedback of the world? We’ve only ever used Right and Wrong to measure these things.
Everytime I bury a Right or a Wrong, I reaffirm my commitment to a new measure: that which creates life, and liveliness.
I learn more and more what this means, all the time. The path to recovery can start with an edge of narcissism, but only because someone interrupted the years specially set aside for our narcissism (childhood) with harsh appraisals of Right and Wrong. Once we recalibrate, we learn how social and compassionate “life and liveliness” looks, no matter where we stand. But don’t overthink the trip; you’ll only learn by walking there.