Living with Truth

When [Jung] was once asked how he could live with the knowledge he had recorded in Answer to Job, he replied ”I live in my deepest hell, and from there I cannot fall any further.”

M-L von Frantz


In the midst of the mania of the election, I came across an article out of Denmark. A mutation of COVID had passed from a mink (small animal, a predator) to a human. The offical response is to wipe out all minks in Denmark—about 17 million. Now, this extreme response, when we feel threatened, to wipe out or eliminate the other, has been a standard feature of human behaviour, probably since the Industrial Revolution which gave us such a exploitative.and destructive reach into nature. There have been many such incidents in my time: human comfort in jeopardy by some natural happening and a response to eliminate the threat at any cost—pretty much what Trump is mirroring back to us at this time. Nonetheless I was shocked once again and began my usual train of thought whether we are a viable species, when is our hubris going to end, etc. 

But then something happened to me, a seemingly small incident…..

Two days ago, Anita and I noticed an unusually long train of ants on our kitchen counter and then on the floor, and then in the cupboards and then in the cutlery drawers. I began to study them up close, looking for the chemical trails ants follow. Sure enough some had particles of food and were heading against the tide of foragers. I traced them back to a cupboard and found a huge ant’s nest tucked under some packages of food. The queen would be there for sure. I had been planning to lay bait on the trails so that the workers bring back the poison to the queen. If she dies that’s it for the colony. But in a stroke of luck I found the entire nest—queen, eggs, workers. Now is my chance. I got the vacuum cleaner and sucked the entire nest up into it and put it outside. There was no chance of survival. Our kitchen was returned to us. I felt order has been restored.

But then, something else began to happen…

I remembered, in that moment of killing, that I had only the previous day posted an article about wiping out 17 million minks in Denmark to “save the human”. There was a subtext in that post, “I could never do that!” Yet, a voice kept saying to me now, “But you can! In fact you just did!” I marshalled my arguments: 

ME: “You are comparing a colony of a few thousand ants with a 17 million mammals?”

TRUTH: “Scale matters to you? Do you have an hierarchy of life? One that maybe places you at the top?”

ME: silence

I could not rally any further arguments. They had become laughable. I could not make any viable distinction between my taking the life of those ants and the Danish government’s killing all those minks. My actions are of the same kind as those who can just as easily decide to wipe out large numbers of other species. I didn’t even wrestle with the ethical problem (my convenient “ethics” which state that humans are not necessarily the pinnacle of life). When it came down to our human comfort (and that is all pretty much what it is), I did not hesitate to kill an entire colony of innocent ants.

Truth has spoken. I am no different from those Third World farmers destroying vast tracts of forest so that they can earn a living according to the dictates of First World economics. Maybe I am worse, since they probably do not hold an ideal image of themselves. And further, these farmers, poachers, wet market peddlers of wild animal flesh probably do not feel themselves as superior to any other species. Rather they are simply in a deadly competition for survival in a First World that treats them all like lesser beings! 

Truth has spoken and now, with this objective perspective of me (me as object of scrutiny from another subject—Truth), I am left with how to live with that truth, which means how to live with myself.  I have no choice, if I want to live. I must find a way to live with the truth of my life. It’s not that I am theoretically capable of harming other species, putting my life first when comfort is challenged by the existence of an other. No, those horses have already bolted.

Theory is crushed by reality, or Truth. I have in fact done so! 

And now I must live with that dreadful knowledge.

Well, when I was in India, there was a man whose name was Sri Krishnamenon and his mystical name was Atmananda and he was in Trivandrum, and I went to Trivandrum, and I had the wonderful privilege of sitting face to face with him as I’m sitting here with you. And the first question, first thing he said to me is, “Do you have a question?” Because the teacher there always answers questions, he doesn’t tell you what anything, he answers. And I said, “Yes, I have a question.” I said, “Since in Hindu thinking all the universe is divine, is a manifestation of divinity itself, how can we say ‘no’ to anything in the world, how can we say ‘no’ to brutality, to stupidity, to vulgarity, to thoughtlessness?” And he said, “For you and me, we must say yes.” 

Joseph Campbell