This post continues the examination of the issue of maintaining balance in the context of absolute notions. Is that really what we want? Be that as it may, we are engaging in grounded and pragmatic exploration and not pie in the sky speculation. That is because the cultivation of understanding where the aforementioned issues are concerned is a valuable resource in an information age where deception, conditioning and deliberate stress induction appear more and more to be definitive factors in our world.
In this final installment, we extend the exploration of the relationship between balance and concepts that appear- and may well be- universal and absolute. The previous installment referred to concepts occupying the poles of a spectrum, and offered that they do not necessarily guarantee a pivot-point or fulcrum between them where one might sustain functional balance.
If the balance, or any other state we seek, enhances the experience of existential value fulfillment, if it is sustainable and if it reinforces the power to live according to one’s truth, for me it is functional. If one’s idea of balance is remaining safe and secure in one place, set of circumstances or ideological stance, I would strongly hesitate to call it functional. That kind of state would be a candidate for stagnation, if not corruption.
It is not difficult to come up with an example of absolute poles tempting us with a dysfunctional or nonfunctioning midpoint passing off as an idealized state of balance. The most prominent one involves the duality of life and death. Imagine life as the extreme end of a continuum and death at the other extreme. Ponder what the midpoint of that continuum would be. We can see therein a state between life and death, not quite one, yet not quite the other either. Can this be anything other than a state of disease or something out of a horror movie?
The conceptual pairing of compassion and cruelty as extreme ends of a continuum offers a more convincing promise of balance at the midpoint. Ironically, the somewhat relative nature of the terms increases the likelihood of a misconception that compassion is at the midpoint of its extreme expression (martyrdom for example), and its extreme lack, which would appear to be cruelty. The continuum might otherwise have sadism on one end and masochism on the other, with the middle being love.
This is where I disagree with a prevalent idea that admittedly appears to make sense at first: that our ideals are points of presence on a continuum of unacceptable or compromising options, the worst or most unhealthy of which lie at the extremes of the continuum. According to this view, if we somehow tune our awareness like a radio dial along a band of stations that are not in our best interests, we can find “the one” that is. This state is different than the others of the continuum because it lies at the sweet spot where opposing extremes are in balance.
There is a similar view, identical in fact, but with a twist. Here the continuum holds the desirable trait at one end and the most undesirable one at the other. The idea of balance is idealized throughout, and we are led- by the nose as far as I’m concerned- to the logical conclusion that we need to compromise our idea to maintain balance. This is where the example of Life vs. Death comes in. Nobody sane, at least as far as I understand sanity, would choose to be a zombie. If told, however, that this is what it means to be in balance- and our logic convinces us that balance is always the best of all options- then zombie or not, that is where we must go.
The view expressed prior to the one immediately above, which I believe is known as the Virtue Continuum, would express things a bit differently. There Life would be at the mid-point of a continuum whose extremes are Death and Overpopulation- from that of multi-celled organisms like rabbits and people down to cells where the issue of cancer arises. My contention with the continuum view is that it promotes idolization of static or compromised balance, where we end up locked and bound in and by the linear frame the continuum represents. We become effectively imprisoned by a metaphor.
The way I see the example of the previous paragraph, the issue is one of reproduction, which is one of quantized life, not its qualitative sense. Then the balance is a reduced population, but not because we kill half of all who are born, or insure a limited life span. So long as we ensure a proportioned- need I say balanced– relationship between bodies and their resources, there is leeway for life extension and the perpetual maintenance of youthful vitality. Reproduction can diminish or even cease so that the choice is between the immortality of one’s gene pool or one’s own embodiment of it. In any case, it is the qualitative dynamic that is in our best interest to maximize.
The so-called Virtue Continuum is nothing new. The idea is even found in Cabala Philosophy, expressed through the notion of the three pillars of the Tree of Life. The middle pillar represents balance and the pillars on either end, the divine absolutes of judgment and mercy. Too much judgment (or blind justice) and suffering increases because we are all flawed and judgment of this sort tolerates no leeway. Too much mercy and everyone gets away with murder so to speak. In both cases order breaks down. This order is maintained by the balance of the middle pillar.
The continuum in this case is that of divine justice. Divine judgement lies on one end and divine mercy on the other. The same continuum can be seen as one of divine love, where we are judged for our own good (though love) and forgiven (nurturing love) in good measure as well. Ideally we tune our radio dial so that we are treated justly, with enough toughness to be tempered properly and enough soft love to avoid becoming brittle and bitter.
I don’t know about you, but to me this continuum notion smacks of behavioral conditioning. The implication of abiding by such a continuum is accepting the necessity of the extremes because without them the center we are prompted to honor is meaningless. Just as in the other example, cruelty is touted as necessary because it lies at the other end of the love continuum. If the watered down balance isn’t touted then a fulcrum at the center tells us that compassion must be up some times, and cruelty gain the upper hand at others. That’s the way the seesaw wobbles.
I imagine to dare not only moving outside the box, but throwing out the whole box concept. It’s the damn box, after all, that convinces us there is a pie and there is the eating of the pie and that we can only have one or the other if anything at all.
The virtue continuum simplifies things, but that is the allure of boxed-in awareness. There will always be example that make life outside the box appear risky if not outright deadly. If we let everyone have the pie and eat it too, then all hell is going to break loose. I agree! But only when we are still under the spell of the matrix or engineered and trauma directed thinking.
No matter how this may occur collectively, one can envision a horse that needs to go before the cart if one is to get anywhere. In other words, there are priorities. Before we go around trying to change the world and everyone in it, let us reach the point where we have become free of the box. That freedom is the balance we rightly covet, independent of continua, unshackled from extremes and their mid-point pivots.
One of its most promising attributes, furthermore, is that it is unbound from concepts of absolute vs relative- so much for that utility. We don’t need to argue when we are free. In freedom our minds seek creative solutions, and our hearts are nourished in wellbeing. The body is respected and loved, and even if we must engage in challenging activity, our options increase exponentially.
Logic may not see this clearly, but perhaps we can consider it. Better yet, if anything is taken from this long diatribe then I pray it is the sincere willingness to imagine a state where the box or the line or the rule of law and dictate does not enslave us into the compromises we are prone- more than we may think- to obey. That state is the balance I cherish to experience; a dance of life, harmony and meaning. In a paradoxical way, the only “absolute” I’ll ever need.