On the practical side it is necessary to distinguish between black and white. In this article, written in black type, the results are clearly legible. Even switching the colors, it would be no problem to read the text. But an article written with white letters on a white sheet could never work out. We all agree on this.
Even looking at the physical aspect itself, this line of thought finds confirmation: if we feel too warm we yearn for a cool spot, looking to hide from the dazzling sun and find rest in the shade, where a soft breeze might be blowing. The opposite situation, according to experiences we all share, finds us all preferring a comfortable lodge with a lighted fireplace, while a snow storm rages outside!
The level of feelings and morality, is more complicated. In general, it is possible to rejoice of one aspect, but not of the other: Life and Death for example. The birth of a baby is celebrated with joy and happiness, while the passing of a loved one is followed with tears and despair. Such a way of reacting is rooted in most cultures, and it is underlined by specific actions, a given dress-code, a certain type of music and by rituals, sometimes very ancient ones.
If we turn ourselves into improvised speleologists and analyze a few fragments taken from the deepest sediments of our past, we can receive some small intuitions in this matter. Let’s imagine the classic portrait of a human being at the mercy of the natural elements, confronted with the harsh survival of daily reality. Existence seems to be shaped by a tension between two very separate poles: on the one side the daytime, fit for planning and acting, making tools, hunting, growing, exploring; on the other side, the night, with its starlight shining deep into the dark night sky, glares of fierce eyes, dipped into an inscrutable wilderness, and then rest, and dreaming.
During these long nights, stories might be told, myths of creation, answering to the fundamental questions. In many of those, life emerges from darkness, chaos or water. Following still those small intuitions, extremely simplified - we’re just beginner speleologists! - we could discover a logical path of organic development, some sort of organization in the story of a small tribe confronted with the necessity to deal with some elements that are endangering the community.
For example: “Do not kill a member of the community, that’s not a good idea. It would be better to kill a member of another tribe in the valley nearby!”.
We can say these very raw rules dug cultural paths, shaped individual and social behaviors, to the point of solidifying into well-defined moral attitudes. The deep roots of these tendencies aren’t discussed in any way, and we know well how our brain is more likely to choose the neural strategy by which it can save energy, leaving unchanged beliefs and certainties. A very strong one among these is the one due to which we perceive our reality through the vision of a good/evil polarity. Good is for certainty, white, bright and visible as the day, bringer of nourishment, just, saving, positive. Evil is mostly black; the darkness is a place for uncertainties, the unknown, death, putrefaction.
For many people today there are no chromatic doubts: white is Good, black is Evil. And it’s true! According to Robert Wyatt’s words, that way everything’s easier. A Doctor’s white uniform, and a villain dressed up in black from the last superheroes saga are easy to put into the right moral boxes. How nice to have the values shelf all tidy!
Public perception disturbers
If we go back into the caves of the history of humanity, breaking off some other, slightly more hidden fragments, we find extremely useful veins in order to enlarge our schematic and comfortable vision. One of those suggests to us a rather integrative and dynamic approach with the two polarities we are examining.
The familiar symbol through which the Tao is usually represented shows a relationship between the two parts, where the diminishing of the white allows the growth of the black. Simultaneously we find a seed or a principle of the white into the black area and vice versa.
In past historical times, thanks to research coming from the same lines of thought, this was called a conjunction of the opposites (coniunctio oppositorum).
In each phase of human history there are people expressing this parallel vision of things.
They disturb the public perception, daring to state that the two forces work together, collaborating. Probably these individuals have pushed their insight a bit further, by studying the Book of Nature, out of which they deduced how fundamental the collaboration and the plot between the two polarities is to make the world move; to sprinkle with life nature itself and all creatures, including the human being.
Some examples could enlighten the analysis of this subject: one function of the snow, when it covers the fields with its mantle, is to protect the flora. Under that cold mantle… there lies a nice warmth! It is also well known that Tuareg populations drink hot beverages, such as the famous mint tea, to help themselves endure the heat!
Such anecdotes aren’t meant to strengthen a thesis opposed to the dualistic vision of reality. We would only risk creating another faction to take sides for or against.
The point we shouldn’t forget is the core out of which the symbol of Tao takes its strength, just as in the principle of the conjunction of opposites. They lead us to consider the possibility to use for our good the two polarities, understanding how dynamic their relation is.
Now, we may accept this in theory; but to live by it, to integrate this principle in our life is so much harder. If by hypothesis we happen to be wronged, we ask for justice to repair that wrong. Justice defines, according to a certain code, what is right and what isn’t. (Evil/Good, Wrong/Right). The code deepens its roots into a set of values which forms civil society’s substrate. Its origins are lost in history, probably all the way back into that first primitive tribal group we were hinting at before.
Such a set of fixed values, organized in codes, guarantees us a manageable social situation. A series of strong shared values makes a society strong. Although in such fixed values the irrational instincts are not completely bridled, and it might happen to suffer a wrong or to wrong somebody else…
When we ask for justice we tap into a dualistic vision of reality, not considering the whole series of causes which created a certain situation (Karma!). This happens because we take sides, believing we’re justified. But justified compared to what?
But let’s try not to do that. Let’s imagine that we can observe the circumstances through which we were wronged. Observed from a slightly higher point of view, the plots of a story woven with both black and white threads unfold to us. If we make more effort, we get to understand how the small story concerning our existence is, as a matter of fact, tangled with thousands of others, extended to other times and spaces in which other stories are bound to them. Where did a wrong begin? How do you tell what is right and what is not, if the white threads and the black ones are so tightly bound? Referring to similar considerations we know the famous dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna, at the side of a battlefield in which the destiny of a clan and the one of a whole reign is to be decided; and there a side needs to be picked.
End of the journey?
The good readers, hoping to find a solution at the end of this journey, will be disappointed. In fact, to offer a behavioral recipe would inhibit personal research. Our technique of investigation should be able to evaluate where to find the roots of the subject just discussed, in everyday life. If the speleologist approach has found one mere resonance within us, the invitation is to go explore the caves, to the depths allowed by our curiosity or our dissatisfaction with the globalism of the dualistic thought.
Emerging back from those depths we might share Robert Wyatt’s quotation or donate to the world a new perspective.