The First Other

“Kingdoms rise,

The people suffer;

Kingdoms fall,

The people suffer.”

T’ung Pass, Chang Yang-hao, ca. 1300 CE

Celtic Janus-heads, found near Roquepertuse, Provence

Celtic Janus-heads, found near Roquepertuse, Provence

 “…historical evidence that the Celts were fond of depicting their gods as either dual beings or triads.”

These two venerable cultural traditions cross an intersection together.  A pendulum swinging from side to side seems only to deal in opposites- but neither left or right swing could exist without a center.  The Chinese constant is suffering among the people, while kings and lords climb and descend the mountain of their common labor.  The Celtic constant seems more subtle, more hidden.  On the left, a frown, on the right, a smile- the presumption is that these are depictions of one god.

Reading the ancient Chinese verse, I am reminded that imposing a false dichotomy on given situations is so very easy to do.  A dichotomy hinged on certain circumstances, certain kingdoms, where all suffering will end- as long as that certain state is maintained.  It’s an easy enough trap.  “I would be truly happy if only x happened, if only y happened.”  A contingent paradise.  From the hunger of an addiction to a certain toxin to the toxic illusion that we choose and control all that happens to us; from the declaration that there is no constant, that everything is totally relative and therefore devoid of consequences or accountability, to the similar creed that everything is impermanent, so it is useless to try to commit to anything except shameless self-promotion and gratification; all of these conclusions are contingent on a certain kingdom that is presumed to last.  It is constantly presumed that a certain substance, a certain arrogance, a certain declaration about the nature of things, will all not only free us from our own suffering, but free us from being responsible for the suffering that we cause others.  Those of us who have seen many kingdoms rise and fall, know otherwise.

The Celtic dialectic of mood also raises an interesting point.  Two opposing kingdoms, that of distress and serenity, form one balanced god.  There is no final victory for sorrow, nor for happiness.  Those who think so may chase one half of the mask for decades, convinced that it is a whole destiny, only to see that it’s only half of what they thought it was.  These are two expressions of one face- an important point in dealing with the preconceived notion of an “Other.”  In this case, the Other would be dismay or sadness itself.  What an empty war to be fought- to attempt to place sorrow outside our own hearts, or to turn the statue sideways and merely pretend that the face of the Other isn’t there.

So as kingdoms scramble up and down the backs of the people, where exactly is the True Other?  My conclusion with these spinning opposites, these enduring truths, is that there is no True Other, only delusions.  The most obvious example that strikes me is the First Other of the Nazis.  The First Other was not Jews, Slavs, Roma, nor homosexuals.  It was the mentally ill of the fatherland itself.  The first experiments in mass civilian slaughter by gas were vans designed to pump their exhaust into the cargo hold, killing the asylum inmates locked into the vehicle.  An extreme example of insisting that the god has one true face.  Today examples still abound, even on the personal level.  And as I prepare for sleep today, I think carefully upon this.  Who is my Other today?  Who is it I deny, look down on, marginalize, declare by a twist of the statue’s head to be invalid?  What are the sweeping presumptions that I myself make?  And how mindful am I that all the people suffer- loss, old age, sickness, death?  No one is magically exempt from one side of the god’s face, or another.  Despite all scrambling kingdoms proclaiming otherwise, this is our inheritance, our legacy.

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One Response to “The First Other”

  1. Loyd Dillon Says:

    I find it wonderful that no matter how terrible a glare ONE face has, the other offers a happy smile. The ability to see the smiling side each day is a blessing.

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