Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

The Soul-State Homology

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Thomas Cole (1836) - The Course of Empire.  Part 3: The Consummation of Empire

The soul-state homology posits a close connection between the individual soul and political organizations like a city and state. The relationship is stronger than a mere analogy. Rather, soul and state are seen as two expressions of a common archetype ; or that the state’s affairs are outward expressions or materializations of the soul’s affairs.  The phrase, ‘as within, so without’ explains the notion succinctly. Whatever happens within your own soul is paralleled by events and processes at the societal level.

Expressions of this homology can be found in various spiritual and philosophical traditions. In the West, its most elaborate and articulate presentation is found in Plato’s Republic. The same general idea can be found in various Eastern religions, and elsewhere.

If true, the homology has important practical implications.

First, the it implies a distinct view of how one thinks of oneself in relation to society.  Today especially, idealistic people take a keen interest in the world.  The avidly read the news, identify problems, and remain in a state of irritation or outrage.  This easily becomes a preoccupation approaching an obsession with the world’s affairs and problems.

The soul-state homology, however, suggests a different, more appropriate response: if society has problems and is unjust, these same problems must exist within the personal soul.  The soul, not society,  is our first concern: because the soul is closer to us, because we are uniquely responsible for its cultivation and integrity, and because it is immortal.  If something should preoccupy us, then, it should be concern about the integrity and welfare of our soul. It is by tending to the soul that we find happiness.

Moreover, to the extent that disorders in a nation are manifestations of disorders of soul, then by concentrating our attention on self-knowledge and self-improvement, we are more likely to effect positive changes in society.

An extension of this principle is that the main purpose of the material world is to teach us about our souls.  Thus, if we look to politics and see strife and discord between ‘left’ and ‘right’, the purpose of that is to alert us and teach us about some corresponding internal conflict.

A second implication of the homology concerns charity.   At some level, all other people — at least insofar as we perceive and experience them — are manifestations of ourselves.  And since the ideal of a perfect soul is one where all elements are harmoniously ordered and united in concern for the welfare of the entire self, so this must also be true of society.

It therefore becomes impossible or even absurd to deny the entitlement of any other person to ones love,  or to seek a social system that is not perfectly just and fair.

This, in turn, suggests that one function of society and social institutions is to supply an arena for action:  a field laboratory, as it were, for the soul’s alchemy.  By working to help other people or to make society more just, we simultaneously engage in a kind of healthy transformative medicine or magic in our souls.

So much, then, for theoretical speculation; ultimately, the soul-state homology is the kind of idea that will either appeal to one or not.  Either way, not much can be said here to make it appear more or less plausible than it already is.

Rather, let’s consider what the homology would imply today:

  1. Your soul is in crisis, and has been for about 10 years.
  2. War is threatening to break out between your inner United States and your inner Iran.
  3. An old order, based on money, materialism and social disparity is decaying.  A new order is emerging.
  4. You have some kind of internal government (with Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches).
  5. Your internal government has been co-opted by selfish special interests.
  6. A resistance movement has developed, but is currently poorly organized and lacks a clear vision of the future.
  7. You have the inner equivalent of news sources, but these supply false opinions, rather than true facts.   You have an inner Fox News, CNN, etc.
  8. Your inner citizens are polarized into two diametrically opposed camps: ‘progressives’ and ‘conservatives.’ Each camp demonizes and blames the other for everything wrong.
  9. This conflict is promoted by special interests, who use the inner government and inner news sources for this purpose.

We could go on, but this is enough to convey the general idea and sufficient food for thought.

What, then, would be the practical implications?  Clearly, if our individual souls are as troubled and messy as the outside world today, then we need to focus a great deal of attention on cleaning house!  The homology suggests we should redouble efforts toward self-improvement.   It also means that, while we can learn much from the world, we should retain the ability to be detached from it.  If we let worry over injustice or war upset our thinking, and place our minds under the control of fear and anger, rather than clear reason, then we are unable to focus attention on self-improvement, which is where our attention should be.

One further feature of the soul-state homology might encourage us. A standard tenet of religion is that, while one has a personal moral responsibility to apply oneself to self-improvement, ultimately improvement comes by grace from a Supreme Being.

This makes sense.  To the extent that we are fallen, or perhaps simply immature, we are not wise enough to direct our own spiritual and moral growth.  Help must come from a higher source.

Our attitude, then, must be one of humility.  While we intensely want to change for the better — if, for no other reason, than because our life is filled with frustration and unfulfilled hopes — this must not manifest itself as an egoistic striving, which only makes matters worse.  Our personal responsibility is not to change ourselves, as much as to choose to cooperate with grace for our self-improvement.

A similar humility, then, should govern our approach to the outside world.  We should believe that a higher power already has a benevolent plan; and we should trust and cooperate with this plan, chiefly by removing whatever obstacles we ourselves are presenting to its attainment.

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