Contra-Trilling #2: The Gospel of Monistic Simplicity

spiritual oneness

In addition to Lionel Trilling’s dialectical pluralism which is exemplified in the form of the modern novel, there is the gospel of Dualist Struggle. But there is also the Gospel of Monistic Simplicity. There are two forms of monism. One is spiritual and the other materialism. The spiritual monists believe that ultimate reality is divine consciousness,  eternal being or the trans-personal absolute is One without a Second. The materialistic monists believe just the opposite, that the ultimate reality is “matter and the void,” that mind, consciousness, spirit, being, essence, all this is at best an epiphenomenon of matter. When the body/brain dies, so does consciousness. There is no universal consciousness or intelligence that pervades the whole universal. There are just individual bodies, some of which have been endowed with central nervous systems and brains.

Whether idealists or materialists, monists agree that ultimately is one thing, mind or matter. Dual-aspect monists and panpsychists try to straddle the fence between dualism and monism, claiming that both mind and body are co-arising and that all of matter, or at least complex individuals if not aggregates possess at least a fractional degree of sentient consciousness.

But here’s the main point. Even those who do not consider themselves to be card-carrying monists, whether idealists or materialists, may, for temperamental reasons, prefer simplicity to complexity, silence to sound, rest to motion, unity to diversity, convergent thinking to divergent thinking. The convergent sensibility prefers unity, synthesis, permanence, simplicity and meditation. The divergent sensibility prefers diversity, plurality, change, complexity and conversation. And of course many of us prefer a combination of both.

In any case the pluralist, dualist and monistic represent more than belief systems. At a more fundamental psychological and social level they represent different casts of mind, different mental preferences, different styles of thinking, feeling, perceiving and relating to the world. If we can at least make room at the table as a matter of tolerant and respectful practice in a democratic republic for those who embrace the gospels of pluralism, dualism, and monism, we can at least grant them the right to breathe the same oxygen that we do and to express their views without the fear of being banished from the land of the living.

 

 

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