The following posts are guest authored by Peter Rinko, a Portland writer, and a participant in my recent seminar on Jung’s Red Book, held through Literary Arts and in collaboration with Portland’s Art Museum.
[Guest post by Peter Rinko]
Here, Michonne—the battle-hardened, katana-swinging, loner-vigilante-turned-heroic-group-leader—puts the young upstart Heath in his place for questioning the group’s marching orders and acting like he’s above it all and could make it back to base—through a rising sea of zombies, mind you—all on his own.
It’s not just that kind of typical but ultra-entertaining scene wherein a gritty senior officer chews out a cocky junior cadet. Sure, Michonne is doing just that, but it’s without ego. Her words are 100% wisdom-based. She’s not simply flexing her commander muscles to put Heath in his place for the sole purpose of rank-and-file. She’s fired up, yes, but her eyes are full of tenderness and deep concern. Why? Because in confronting Heath she is also confronting her younger self—Michonne, the lone wolf, who believed she could (and could only) make it through this world on her own. Between that belief and what she knows now is an abysmally dark sea of blood and guts, misery and mayhem, pain and loss, remembrances and regrets, nightmares and never-agains. Hers is the voice of war-worn wisdom, of knowing over believing. It is not opinion, it is fact:
“Have you ever had to kill people because they had already killed your friends and were coming for you next? Have you ever done things that made you afraid of yourself afterward? Have you ever been covered in so much blood that you didn’t know if it was yours or walkers’ or your friends’? Huh? Then you don’t know.”
Basically, you don’t know shit, Heath. All you got is belief, and that’ll kill you.
Just before our fifth get-together, Satya sent out a really beautiful 4-minute video clip of a British interviewer asking the octogenarian Jung what his thoughts were on death and dying. As I was watching the above scene, what Jung says about believing and knowing, and the stark difference between the two, came flooding back. For me, The Walking Dead scene is a perfect dramatization of what Jung was getting at—not only in the interview, but in The Red Book in general. And, in both Michonne’s case and Jung’s, one must go through hell-and-back to turn what you believe into what you know. That is the hero’s quest for those who venture to know thyself.
Knowing vs. Believing. This is not just a matter of semantics. There is, indeed, a stark difference between believing and knowing. Oftentimes, the two are thrown around rather casually as somewhat synonymous pairs, with believing being the slightly more elevated of the two because it brings more gravitas to the speaker’s sentiment, often appealing to a higher order or lofty ideal. After all, when was the last time you heard someone say, “I know God”? Rather, what you always hear is, “Yes, I believe in God,” or “No, I do not believe in God.”
This is because to believe—as a word, act, and concept—is deeply rooted in hope, faith, and wishful thinking. “Belief used to mean “trust in God”,” writes the etymologist Douglas Harper over at Etymonline.com,
“…while faith meant “loyalty to a person based on promise or duty” … But faith, as cognate of Latin fides, took on the religious sense beginning in 14c. translations, and belief had by 16c. become limited to “mental acceptance of something as true,” from the religious use in the sense of “things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine” (a sense attested from early 13c.).”
So then, when the interviewer asks Jung, “Do you yourself believe that death is probably the end?”, Jung immediately gets tripped up on the word “believe”, and rightly so. “Well I can’t say,” he says,
“You see the word “believe” is a difficult thing for me. I don’t believe. I must have a reason for a certain hypothesis. Either I know a thing, and then I know – I don’t need to believe it. I don’t allow myself, for instance, to believe a thing just for the sake of believing it. I can’t believe it. But when there are sufficient reasons to form a certain hypothesis, I shall accept these reasons, naturally. I shall say, We have to reckon with the possibility of so and so.”
I love what Jung is saying here—that at its best a belief is a hypothesis, and so we must test it in order to know (and we must do so in order to find out for ourselves). But at its worst, belief is a roadblock, a blinder, a dogma that pretends to know but really knows nothing other than what and how it wishes the world to be or seem. This is the challenge at the center of The Red Book, for both Jung as its writer/experimenter and, never forget, for us as its readers. This is Socrates shouting “Know thyself!”. Jung tests and re-tests that shout—that truth of truths, of which there are only a few—takes it apart and puts it back together again, and by the end, covered in blood and carrying his own katana, calls it Individuation.
[Guest post by Peter Rinko]