Temet Nosce

Piecing together the puzzle of mythology and the human condition

The Ashlar In Conflict With the Temple: Reconciling the Needs of the Individual with the Needs of Society

Posted on December 8th, 2015 by Thomas Ryan

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me, and when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
— Frank Herbert, Dune

As a Freemason, I am urged to govern my passions. “Passions,” in this context, is better understood in contemporary language as meaning intense, overwhelming emotions. I can think of no emotion more in need of temperance than Fear. Every sadness, every anger, every rash act done in desperation can be traced back to a fundamental fear. Fear of not having what we need to survive. Fear of not having enough of what we want to be happy. Fear of being wronged by another. Fear of loss. Fear of change. Fear of what is different. Fear of what is not understood. Fear of the Unknown and the Unknowable. It is an animal instinct, a beneficial trait which we evolved to motivate us to survive as a species. But it also keeps us apart, and at its worst, it keeps us at each other’s throats. So we must ask ourselves, are we animals, or are we human beings? Our human intellect has accomplished the wonder of creating a civilized society with the very noble intention of working together for the common good, but can we choose to put that same intellect to the task of tempering the fear that stands in the way of realizing that dream? When will we as a species finally begin in earnest to spread the mortar of Brotherly Love that holds us together as one, in peace—e pluribus unum?

The Tower of Babel under construction

The Tower of Babel under construction

Each individual within a civilized society, whether they realize it or not, is as an ashlar, that ashlar being part of a wall representing the community, that wall being part of a temple representing society. The temple cannot stand without the wall, and the wall cannot stand without the ashlar. But the ashlar was once an uncut stone, unique unto itself, which in turn was once part of a mountain created by God and untouched by the hand of ambitious Man, who, in his hubris, chipped away at Creation so as to build a temple and thereby become a creator himself. Whether this illustrates something natural or unnatural, intended or unintended by God, is a question to which I neither know the answer nor is the subject of this article. In either case, the pieces which were and continue to be gathered together to build our society originated as individuals unique unto themselves—emerging from the womb like stones from a mountain created by God and untouched by the hand of ambitious Man—innocently ignorant of what purpose society at large would make of them.

This simultaneously illustrates the brutality of material existence in all its beauty as well as the paradox of spiritual existence, which is that we are each both unique individuals and yet all sharing a common perception of being a conscious entity wandering through the world. Regardless of how our different experiences and perspectives shape us, that common perception should be enough to unite us in a mutual understanding. Instead, we are preoccupied by the equally common perception of inhabiting separate physical bodies. For all our efforts in biological and psychological research, no one has yet determined with any scientifically verifiable certainty where consciousness, the essence of “you,” resides in the human body, if indeed it does reside there. In fact, the evidence suggests that consciousness does not reside in the brain at all. But you still keenly feel as though “you” exist somewhere behind your eyes, as though our physical bodies are merely automatons piloted by our true selves—our spiritual selves—navigating through the experience of living in a three-dimensional, material world. This is something we feel emotionally rather than intellectually. Its evidence emerges from somewhere in the subconscious, hidden under the material surface of things, nagging at us like an itch we can’t reach, like the ineffable name of a god we’ve never seen. And so it has the appearance of reality to us despite the fact that it cannot really be known in the strictest intellectual sense. Whatever the real “you” is, it is still vaporous and intangible, an incorporeal concept best contemplated in spiritual terms, because it exists on a plane separate from and incomprehensible in the context of the three-dimensional, tangible, material world. In this world, the emphasis of corporeal survival is so strong that, compared to this primary concern, spiritual endeavors have the appearance of being a distraction. The demands of the flesh overshadow the demands of the spirit, because we feel the hunger in our stomachs more strongly than we feel the hunger in our souls, and unlike our souls, we know where our stomachs are. So we fight each other for the survival needs of our physical, “meat computer” bodies because, even though it is the source of our apparent spiritual separateness, it is also our best and only guess as to what keeps our consciousness alive. The alternative, Death, represents the Unknown and Unknowable, which we fear.

Collectively, we fight for the survival of organized society, which has the effect of turning society into a sort of organism of its own, a super-organism. This super-organism wants to normalize itself, and detests any deviation from the norm which it fears may threaten its survival, even though both the fear and the effort to allay it is immediately self-destructive at the individual level and ultimately self-destructive at the global level. Similarly, the individual fears losing his individuality under the waves of society’s immense ocean of influence, and resists oneness with the whole while the whole resists the individuality of each part. This fear of integrating cooperatively with society has the same immediate and ultimate self-destructive consequences as those of society’s fear of the individual, for without the mutually symbiotic joining of the individual to the super-organism of society, neither one is raised up by the other. Without Temperance to keep our fear in check, without Logic and Reason to remind us that living in a civilized society means that we must embrace living interdependently with one another, we scramble over each other in the competition for survival like vicious, unthinking animals. Both the super-organism and the individual become like an Ouroboros, foolishly and futilely thinking it is defending itself from itself by attacking itself. If one could see an ashlar fighting against another ashlar the way we fight against each other, one would see the temple about to collapse on itself.

In some respects, this mutual fear is an unconscious, evolutionary instinct that cannot be changed any more easily than a bald man can grow hair by sheer force of will. Change has to come to every single person, one at a time, and in a way so fundamental that it “gets in your DNA,” the same as a bald man would have to change the gene that makes him bald. What exactly that change is can be named and specified—and already has been!—by every influential philosopher, spiritual leader, and artist that has ever come and gone, stamped out or ignored by the blind fury of a fearful super-organism that will not see. Their maxims have included but are not limited to: Know thyself and you will know All; Whosoever gives relief to another gives relief to All; An injury to one is an injury to All; The kingdom of God is within All; God is Love; All you need is Love. Each of us hears these words and knows them to be true, and yet we resist. We deny our craving for its truth because it is as frightening and incomprehensible as it is beautiful and desperately craved for.

How do we accomplish this change? It has been said that the world is more easily changed by one’s example than by one’s opinion, so let us abandon the ways of fear and hate, and instead adopt the ways of love and compassion. Let us first abandon the pretense that we must never own up to our fears, for how can we conquer what we pretend we don’t have? Too many of us are so obsessed with being “strong,” never showing a crack in our armor, that we think emotional vulnerability doesn’t apply to us. Yet our actions betray the foolishness of our pride when the chips are down, and we try to hide our fear by expressing it as destructive anger. Let us instead allow ourselves the comfort of admitting that we, too, are fearful mortals. Let us not be too prideful to ask for help, for it will never come to one who will not admit his weakness. Let us not blithely judge or mock others who are dependent upon help for their general welfare, for in truth we are all dependent upon one another, otherwise we would all be living as hermits and there would be no need for civilized society. Let us not be afraid to acknowledge our mistakes, for we cannot improve ourselves if we won’t first look at where we’ve misstepped. Let us listen with compassion and a truly attentive ear to those with whom we disagree, and do so with the intent of better understanding their unique and valid perspective rather than trying to change it. Let us be the first to take the high road in a disagreement, for a conflict will never be resolved so long as no one surrenders. Let us be the first to forget grudges. Let us be the first to ask for forgiveness, even if we do not fully understand what wrong we have done. Let us be the first to forgive others in our hearts, whether they ask for it or not. Let us be the first to show our neighbors and our communities, our friends and perceived enemies alike, and the entire world, by our example what can be accomplished when fear is conquered.

About Thomas Ryan

Tom Ryan is a Freemason of both blue and red lodges, including the Silas Shepherd Lodge of Research. He is the founder and primary author of TemetNosce.org.

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