Ambivalence is the skin of the world pulled tight over everything. It creates an interesting tension of opposites that govern the world. It is the slim thread woven into the tapestry of life and we do not like it. We have been taught to see contradiction as the enemy of clarity, reason and problem solving. This is a pity.
The most glaring contradictions are so obvious they are invisible. They are clunky and dull and we all know them. Our age has embraced democracy as the ideal form of governance since it safeguards the rights of all of its citizens. Yet the choices we have are presented to us and governments monitor us to protect our right to choose between the options they have presented us with? Television, film, social media are the modern day equivalent of the circuses of ancient Rome; a distraction creating the illusion of participation in something grander than the mundane reality of everyday life. Contradiction cloaks international politics. States proclaim allegiance to God and then claim moral justification for murder. The central tenets of love, tolerance and allegiance to humanity as laid out by various teachers are replaced by cultural ideology. Democracy is delivered by force and submission to God’s love brought by explosives, bullets and blood. Billions of dollars change hands daily while people starve in faraway places. The first world cares, governments care, politicians care-everyone cares. ‘Care’ is becoming an obsolete word.
The more interesting contradictions are more subtle. Loss informs our sense of what we have. The inevitability of death enlightens our perspective of life. Dark nights of the soul prepare us for renewal and extra crunchy peanut butter is enhanced by silky syrup. Ambivalence is inescapable since the words comprising our language are each strung taut between opposites; each defined by what it is not. Having two opposing or contradictory attitudes simultaneously is generally considered as flimsy or weak; an inability to decide. I think we would all be better off if we embraced ambivalence more often and lost the need to always have an opinion. Science may shed some light on the matter.
Quantum mechanics had fame thrust upon it when photons (particles of light) were seen to operate as waves and particles-a contradiction called the wave-particle duality that has opened up more avenues of scientific exploration than Newton’s fabled apple. Today the study of atoms, their composition and how they behave is riddled with fascinating contradictions like the fact that matter is composed more of empty space. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle implies we cannot measure the momentum and the position of a particle at the same time, much like tracking teenagers?
Children can swing from saying “I love you” to “I hate you” in seconds with unflinching intensity and integrity. When adults do the same we feel betrayed by the words; as if for the first time words have been able to detect and accurately measure the delicate frequency of our hearts. The constants in our lives exists beyond the reach of any language that must snake and ladder between positive and negative poles. When we struggle to articulate we sense the collision of two worlds of certainty-up/down; positive/negative; good/bad and the panic that ensues we have come to term ‘contradiction’ and regard this as an invalid state of being. A pity, there’s so much good stuff in between. Our humanity shines through when we rebel against this two dimensional tendency.
Holding two or more contrary thoughts at the same time ought not to be called ‘confusion’. Sometimes a thing is neither right nor wrong but what Richard Bach calls the “Isness”; it just is what it is. Contradiction emerges when we try to pin an idea or perception to a fixed place and keep it there. Ideas that become fixed as constant and unmoveable are called dogma and dogma that insists on allegiance is called propaganda. We like certain constants because they make our world seem more stable and deep down we all know that things always change. The only constancy is change.
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” 49 , 1324-1326.