Facing the Dragon | On The Rise of Autonomy (Pt. II)

This is Part II of a IV part series. For Part I click here.

So having now shone a light on our omnipotent inner dragon through a surface level psychological, philosophical and spiritual analysis, I believe the onus is on me to explore a methodology of healthy relation.

Before I can do this however, I think it’s necessary to delve into a final school of thought; that of sociology and the warping impact of the modern world.

Only after this final reflection do I feel we’ll have the appropriate context to truly understand how we, as individuals and collectively, can harmonise with our inner dragon and escape the trappings of pathological narcism, effectively connecting with ourselves and each other.

Spiritual Strip Mining

“We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

It feels rather blasé to initiate a section of any essay with what is fundamentally one of the most infamous quote of the 21st century that, through its Hollywood ascendence, spawned a wave of questionably relevant ideological nihilism. I’m afraid needs must — Tyler Durden had a point ( for the avoidance of doubt, this isn’t my personal rallying cry to go full Project Mayhem and bomb the Square Mile — I’ll explain).

For most of human history, society has generally been centred around cultural tribes; this could be organised religion, a political party, an extended family unit or, at times of crisis, ‘the great cause’ so to speak. These structures enforced a set of ethical codes & values which absorbed egotistical energy, allowing individuals to channel their personal grandiosity towards something greater than themselves, to the end of spiritually grounding them.

The conclusion of the second world war slammed shut a period which reflected the darkest depths of human savagery; what began soon after was an age where technology was teasingly transitioned away from the realm of solely ending life, to one which aimed at improving it for the masses. Yet this end also marked another beginning, one characterised by a post modernistic rejection of the aforementioned institutions which had traditionally reflected cornerstones of our society.

For you see, without the binding moral cause of the war and with the introduction of the marvels of technology into our daily lives, the cultural goal post shifted from a collective one to a personal one; the pursuit of individualistic autonomy.

People no longer wished to rally their life around organisations such as government or religion which repressed individual freedom; they didn’t have the time. Culturally modern people began retreating into secular individualism and, in doing so, had no channel to contain their grandiosity. Thus began the strip mining of hedonistic autonomy in an attempt to fill that void; self-medication through excessive indulgence in consumerism, cults of personality, celebrity, addiction or other forms of pseudo-spirituality. [1]

Whereas the cultural tribes of religion & politics championed poverty, chastity and obedience, personal autonomy promised a world of sex and prosperity. “Get rid of spirituality and you get the goodies” as Moore puts it.

This is the modern fantasy, but we did not anticipate its fallout; a rise of cultural narcissism and a worsening epidemic of pathological grandiosity. [1]

We are now masters of our own private world, able to curate a view of our lives to the masses via the web. Sure, we are less fearful of physical suffering but we are more individually & emotionally vulnerable than ever before, putting us at risk of real social harm.

Thus, we attempt to vaccinate ourselves against this new found anxiety by consuming so much digital content that we numb ourselves to the extremes of life; our phones are our prescription pad and we can write whatever the hell we want. We gravitate towards strong personalities and create false digital deities, expose our own weakness and proudly name them strengths, our own unfiltered ideas and label them gospel; all within an echo chamber that feeds our growing self importance.

There is no denying that for all the wonders technology brings forth, it also pushes us towards the edge of a dangerous new risk frontier — one that each and every one of us must face.

With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility

I thought I’d lighten the mood a bit by naming this next section after another very famous but equally poignant quote, courtesy of Uncle Ben from the Spiderman series.

So here we are! Together, we’ve experienced the ‘joy’ of birth — the genesis of the dragon inside. We’ve witnessed the spark which ignites its power, as it feeds off a growing awareness of our distinctly human condition. Finally, we’ve contemplated the corruption that modern society has wrought on our ability to effectively relate to this creature.

It’s now time to bear the fruits of this intense introspective labour and analyse how to go about forging a symbiosis.

You see, we don’t want to eliminate these archetypal energies entirely — but neither do we want them to condemn us to life as a thrall, living in the metaphysically cast shadow of our own vanity.

Pathological narcissism is a spiritual problem that no one in the modern secular world can avoid having to cope with. [1] Thus, the true meaning of human spirituality on a psychological level is facilitating productive contact with these energies.

So the question becomes this: how do you decide which prompts to listen to?

how do you discern the angel from the devil on your shoulder?

King, Warrior, Magician, Lover

When attempting to rationalise the driving force behind how we react in a given situation, often the stimuli is obfuscated behind human complexity; any attempt at comprehension hits a brick wall when confronted with the endless subtle emotional and behavioural cues which trigger our ultimate reaction.

It’s very easy to fall at the first hurdle — this is why so many people struggle to understand themselves but form immediate conclusions about why others react in certain ways; decisions are much more black & white when you strip them of their emotional baggage.

Simply put, what we feel is a real challenge to understand.

This is why I find it incredibly helpful to lean on another of Moore’s works, a collaborative effort with Douglas Gillette in which they break down the Dragon energies into four distinct archetypes: The King, The Warrior, The Magician and The Lover.

Each one of these archetypes have their own distinct behaviours in a psychological context, as well as what Moore & Gillette describe as a ‘shadow form’ — an inverse state where the energy and raw emotion is the driving force of a reaction as opposed to a mechanism to siphon from in order form a logical response.

In the final two parts of this series, i’m going to convey some of Moore & Gillette’s teachings by briefly delving in to each emotional paradigm, their respective forms and how, through viewing the complex landscape of human emotion through these archetypal lenses, I find it much easier to gain a holistic understanding of my own emotional reactions.

This is the second in a four part series. Stay tuned for part three “On Kings & Warriors”.

Click here for Part 3: Facing The Dragon | On Kings & Warriors

References

This article was heavily inspired by:

[1] — “Facing the Dragon: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity” by Robert Moore

I'm a perfectionist with realistic expectations, a recovering Sales Engineer turned Product Marketer, and I'm trying to be more cynical about being cynical.

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