Posts Tagged ‘Pequod’

The Irrational Defiance of Phobics

“The psychological root of terrorism is a fanatical resentment – a quasi-psychotic hatred originating in the depths of the archetypal psyche and therefore carried by religious (archetypal) energies. A classic literary example is Melville’s Moby Dick. Captain Ahab, with his fanatical hatred of the White Whale, is a paradigm of the modern terrorist.

Articulate terrorists generally express themselves in religious (archetypal) terminology. The enemy is seen as the Principle of Objective Evil (Devil) and the terrorist perceives himself as the “heroic” agent of divine or Objective Justice (God). This is an archetypal inflation of demonic proportions which temporarily grants the individual almost superhuman energy and effectiveness. To deal with terrorism effectively we must understand it.” ~ E. F. Edinger: On the psychology of terrorism

Captain Ahab sees more than evil in the whale he seeks to kill.  For it to exist as a force, implies some defined order, and therefore some meaning to his universe.  And if he cannot find and kill it, then he has no proof of the orderliness.  What he fears, perhaps more than anything else (including his own demise), is a disorderly universe that attaches no meaning to occurrences, including the fact that he’d lost a leg.

Most of his crew suspected Ahab to be somewhat imbalanced about his intense quest.  But that imbalance did not stop them from following him at the cost of everything including their lives.    Ahab was not just authority, but absolute authority.  You cannot have an absolute authority without beliefs.  The certainty of those beliefs, “the feeling of knowing” according to neurologist Robert A Burton, M.D., comes not from examining empirical evidence, or even from any analytical process we call “thinking”.

“Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” are sensations that feel like thoughts, but arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that function independently of reason.”   ~

So it is emotive based on what is presumed to be true.  The captain of the ship, certainly in the case of Ahab, is a dominator.  And those he dominates are fearful–not just of him, but of the idea of not being submissive to the authority.  Please note that the captain is not independently dominant, as he cannot manage the large ship without a crew.

His orders must be heard by those who are phobic enough to not dare disobey them.  When we see this behavior on playgrounds, it’s called “bullying”.  Sometimes the bullied fear not so much some physical punishment, but the withdrawal of favor: losing worthiness, or significance in some way.  And that is precisely why the crew of the Pequod, though many with deep personal reservations, do as they are told.

Through Captain Ahab’s commands, the crew could fight against evil, even death itself, because it had been given both form and a name–a great white whale–Moby Dick. This rendered it tangible, and therefore less awesome than an unnamed, illusive to clear understanding, death.

So as the captain commands absolute obedience, the crew follows him.  He has convinced them not just that the fight was very real, and very winnable, but that it was their unavoidable duty.  And in so doing, death itself becomes diminished.  Death, in the face of a necessary battle of righteousness, takes on a manageable definition when the foe is believed to be finite.  Compared to the unbridled fear of death, the “cause” with meaning and purpose becomes determinate.

It all hinges on beliefs overriding the insanity of the quest, and even though quite a few of them considered the skipper to be crazy.  It was safer to believe in the authority of the captain in spite of him being a bit nuts, than to allow the thought of the great unknown of chaos–that the personified evil, Moby Dick, might be a delusion–no, that would unhinge everything.

The study of mythologies identifies a common thread: explanations offer to give order to things otherwise phenomenal.  Chieftains, high priests, and witchdoctors have a long history of connecting subservience to the supernatural in a way that provides for a safety net beyond mortality.  And many of those who believe in the stories would rather die than have their beliefs undermined–even in the face of overwhelming evidence that what they believe is not remotely founded in facts at all.

The Beowulf epic, written by some anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet prior to the twelfth century, tells a tale of having to fend off, defeat, and destroy a nemesis monster character called Grendel.  From the point of view of Beowulf and his human comrades, Grendel is not one of them, but “the other”.

We can observe the failures of human civilization when, due to prejudice, misunderstanding, and ignorance, communication breaks down, and people become polarized in pockets of the “us”, and the “them”.  When all parties are so inclined to believe the differences to be irreconcilable, their phobic nature gives them few options outside of their fear.  And if they can growl loud enough, perhaps “the other” will fear them as well.

The very basis of the fear is often misinterpreted by the fearful themselves.  And without dialogue with a sincere purpose of moving closer to understanding, the objects of fear are often reduced to matters of cultural difference.  The differences, when carefully considered, may really be little more than acceptable costume, or the manner in which some child’s mother taught it to pray.

There are more than 6,000 languages spoken by human beings today, and most individuals know only one of them.  Some of these languages are only spoken by small groups of people.  In fact, almost a third of these languages are used by populations of only a thousand people, or less.  And while they may not be widely understood when speaking out, their needs, wants, and concerns are no less human than are those of the users of more common languages.  And even among the more frequently used languages, a clear translation of ideas often breaks down when the literal clashes with the colloquial, leaving intent to seem ambiguous at best, and at worst, hostile.

I think people could do better.  But they won’t as long as they remain afraid of what they don’t understand.  To clear up misunderstandings requires bravery and not cowardice; requires effort and not indolence.  It will require honest investigation of truthful information and not suspicious presuppositions.  It requires a commitment to wanting to do the right thing, and an openness to ideas that may be different from those we bring to the table.  While that may not be too much to ask, many seem to believe it’s too much to expect.