GUEST ESSAY: Interpreting Objects
By Ben Iscatus
(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum, reviewed, commented on and approved for publication by Forum members. The opinions expressed in the essay are those of its author.)
|Photo by Bernardo Kastrup of original artwork.|
The publication of More Than Allegory (MTA) gives us new permission to see the objects apparently out there in the World as sacraments, in the sense that Romantic poets understood them — signs of God's inward grace, expressions of ideas in the mind of God, symbols which we might interpret in poetry or art. Mountains, streams, oceans, waterfalls, sunsets... The inner voice of the 'Other' in MTA (p. 215) suggests, for instance, that "the sun represents an outpouring of universal love, the mental energy that moves the world."
Or, to be darker, MTA encourages us to look at things in Jungian terms — that is, as expressions of the personal unconscious or the collective unconscious (which Bernardo calls Mind-at-Large), presented as objects of perception outside ourselves because they cannot be encompassed within our circumscribed minds, or because they are willfully ignored by us.
We should therefore be able to have a stab at interpreting our internally obfuscated issues, including what we are in denial of, by considering which objects in the world are becoming more numerous and then reflecting on them.
Looking around me, one thing I have noticed a huge increase in, is dogs. Dogs, you say? Are you serious? OK, so they're living objects. In the part of the world where I live (the UK), where people used to own one dog, they now own three. What is it, I ask myself, that dogs represent about what we lack in life? It's not hard to interpret, is it? For one thing, DOG is a palindrome of GOD, so for English speakers, there is an immediate clue. Dogs give us unconditional love, so we probably lack love in our lives.
So if dogs worship us, who or what do we worship? Err... cars? Cars are certainly on the increase — there are forecast to be 2 billion in use by the 2030s. We have cars for convenience of travel, to get us to work and to shop. But what else do they say about us, that we don't openly admit to? That we like to insulate ourselves from other humans (less public transport) behind toughened glass and steel, perhaps; that we're not very fond of interacting with strangers? Is all this mobility causing us to lose our sense of community?
It seems the rich surfeit of technological objects entering our lives might well reveal a creeping spiritual impoverishment. The twin camel humps of materialism and consumerism, our modern myths, may be too bloated to pass through the eye of the heavenly needle.
Let us explore this further. Take the increase in plastic waste. There will apparently be more plastic waste in the oceans than fish by 2050.
Now this is also easy to interpret — one of the synonyms for plastic is "trashy," and waste is trash too. So the plastic waste is telling us that our consumerist lifestyle is, doubly, well... you get the idea. The fact that it is hidden from us in the sea like our sewage is obviously meaningful, too.
What about aircraft? They're on the increase: there are constantly airliners flying overhead. Where is everyone going? On holiday? Happy days! But what does that tell us about putting down roots? What does it tell us about why we can't be satisfied with our local environment, where we live?
Television sets are on the increase, too. People often have them in the living room, their kitchen and their bedroom. My mother-in-law watches wildlife programmes on TV, but fails to see the goldfinches and blue tits in the garden; she can't hear the thrush outside in the beech tree. When it's suggested that she turn off the TV and sit in the window seat, her eyes glaze over.
Smartphones, too. Even people in abject poverty seem to be able to get hold of them. What do smartphones do? Ostensibly, they keep us in touch, offer entertainment, ease communication. But what do they reveal about us? As with TVs, we stare into a screen. Imagine a cartoon, where a man is staring at his smartphone, telling a friend that UFOs have been spotted in the area, while UFOs are actually at that very moment passing over his head.
Here is a poem I wrote that explores this issue:
The Funny Bird‘Wow, look mum, there’s a funny bird!’
he shouted, so she must have heard;
she’s texting someone, head bowed down,
he turns around to see her frown —
and as he does the bird takes off,
its call like laughter seems to scoff
at dissonant and beeping tones
emerging from his mum’s new phone.
He points at it above his head,
displaying yellows greens and reds…
his mum makes one last finger push
and only then tells him to Shush!
The funny bird has jetted west,
where probably it’s got a nest,
perhaps a hole in some dead tree,
a secret curiosity;
but that won’t ever matter now,
the lesson has been learned that Wow!
is not applicable to birds,
they’re not the stuff of lyric words —
from this day forth they’re background noise
and Not! to be admired by boys.
So maybe we don't like the real world as it is now, or expect it to be spiced up and interpreted for us. Maybe we've become intellectually and perceptually lazy, thanks to ever-more glitzy technological manipulation of images.
Carbon dioxide is on the increase — now above 400 parts per million in the air we breathe. This is the insidious, invisible side of fossil fuel use. CO2 is not normally considered an object, it is not available to sense perception, but it is detectable by our technology, and its effects are certainly detectable to our senses: bleaching coral reefs, death on the beaches, and global climate change. But carbon dioxide as an issue is still obfuscated, because most of us either deny it is a problem or, even if we accept it, still continue to act as if it is not. That's a matter for the experts, we think! It's still too big and difficult an object (or objective) for us as individuals to take onboard.
People, of course, are also on the increase. Now why is God (Mind-at-Large) producing so many self-reflective humans, too many for a finite planet? Why is wildlife, the beautiful sacramental expression of God in action, correspondingly decreasing with many species rapidly going extinct? This is much harder to interpret, because we would have to see ourselves as objects rather than subjects. And therein, I think, lies the problem. We can't justifiably see ourselves as objects! We know, as men, that it is unacceptable to see women as sex objects, for instance. And to see others of a different race or culture as if they were objects, not human beings, is always wrong. It's been tried, of course: Hitler's death camps and eugenics policies were monstrous examples of that. All wars are testaments to that: the enemy is objectified as inhuman.
When Mind-at-Large circumscribes itself, self-reflective beings with limited perspectives are born. This is Bernardo's insight. We nevertheless remain very much part of Mind-at-Large, as whirlpools remain part of the river (to use Bernardo's analogy). Mind-at-Large is the Big Subjective, and we are small subjects, not objects. Whenever we attempt to manipulate ourselves as objects in our own drama, there are dire consequences: whirlpools get sucked down the drain.
Having learned this, we find ourselves unable to deal with the issue of overpopulation. The Chinese one-child policy led to unnatural sibling-free children and too many old people for them to support when they came of working age. Contraception is not always culturally acceptable, and in a long, active sex-life, will not always be available. Other policies of population control risk treating people as objects: abortions, letting people die, restricting their rights, withholding medical treatment... and choosing who lives and who dies.
Is this an inherent flaw in Mind-at-Large which cannot be fixed, or is it a consequence of what MTA calls our deprived modern myths?
Our culture now, since the advent of science fiction, has dreamed of traveling to the stars. This, we think, would solve the problem of overpopulation. And stars as objects do, in a sense, seem to be increasing in number: our telescopes reveal more galaxies all the time, getting ever closer to those that first formed after emerging from the 'Big Bang'. But because we only see them as "out there," their vast numbers make us feel smaller and more insignificant inside.
Our culture sees the planets, or wandering stars, as literally dead — not as gods of the Roman pantheon or as astrological principles ruling our lives. We no longer see the fixed stars and constellations as representations of mythical Greek heroes. Stars as objects have no transcendent truth for us: they are literal balls of gas, distant suns. As such, they must remain literally out of our reach. That is what the stars are saying to us now: our bottom-dwelling myths have confined us to a small planet in a vast cosmos. In this context of belief in only literal truths and literal objects, Mind-at-Large is powerless to grant us our wishes of salvation in the heavens.
Copyright © 2016 by Ben Iscatus. Published with permission.