Conflict and Spiritual Development

The Ordeals I write not. The rituals shall be half known and half concealed. The Law is for all…

One of the more questionable tenants of what I have come to call Muscular Fascist Crowlianism (the coopting of Crowley to suit the needs of a reactionary and covertly authoritarian political agenda) is the notion that conflict is a good in and of itself. The basic argument is that conflict between two hostile parties serves the spiritual “evolution” of both parties and ultimately the human race itself. It’s essentially an esotericized version of Dialectical Materialism, only, unlike Marxists, the proponents of this view get kind of shy when you point out that they’ve already decided that “evolution” is on their side, which would be in no way certain if they were referring to an organic process of development.

This confusion over the nature of “evolution” is at the heart of the MFCs’ error. (Though I am well aware that they are not the only ones who engage in what I feel is a misuse of the term.) As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, individuals can not be said to “evolve” in the way that this argument suggests. They can, however, be said to develop, which is a process with known stages and landmarks. What an individual might look like at the end of this process is anybody’s guess, but the major transition points are known. One of these transition points, at least according to the research of Ken Wilber, is that which takes a person from a totally self-center, narcissistic view to one focused on relating to others. And, sad to say, there are ways of doing that which are considered better than others by professionals who work with lots of fucked up people all the time.

Where the MFCs’ position really becomes a problem is when, as a group of more or less developmentally arrested narcissists, they attempt to impose a set of absolute requirements on the development of others. This map or set can be quite sophisticated, or at least sound that way, and may include elements that are true enough on their own to lend credence to the overall picture. That’s what happens when you grab at anything that remotely sounds like what you’re aiming for. Eventually you will hit on a few raw facts that will lead those who are impressed by your machismo to follow you over your cliff.

Ultimately, though, no one really knows what you need beyond a few basics such as those given in Maslow’s Hierarchy. They certainly have no right to “push” you so that you conform to their notion of what a fulfilled individual is. Such a judgement hinges on a thousand little prejudices, fears, and projections.

And the notion that conflict with others is valuable and should be courted has just as many problems. It assumes that you will emerge somehow “better” for having engaged in such an activity. If this is taken to the level of actual physical violence, the idea that it will make a person “better” is of course nonsense. It could simply make them dead. Which is what makes the Muscular Fascist Crowlianite fascist. This idea that the “law of the strong” is simply a sexy way of saying “might makes right.”

Individual spiritual growth does involve turmoil, conflict, even grief. For further reading on a healthy approach to using “darkness” for spiritual development, I recommend Miriam Greenspan’s Healing Through the Dark Emotions. But the attempt to impose a set of ideological requirements on that development short circuits it rather than enhances it. We have no better example of this than the individuals promoting the idea themselves. If given a choice between facing my own demons without worrying about the hang ups of others, and facing the demons that someone else tells me to in order to become a humorless, pretentious sixteen year old, I don’t think I need to do much deliberation.

The end is indeed encoded in the beginning. Which is why some people end up with their head in their ass.

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4 comments
  1. Khephra said:

    I agree with your assessment of trends among Crowley-ites; but since you mention Wilber somewhat favourably, I wonder if you think the same critiques don’t apply to him and his warped version of spiral dynamics?

    Also, could you elaborate more on why you think people can’t evolve through conflict, but they can develop through conflict? This seems like a false dichotomy to me, because I feel like both evolution and development are apt.

    • Actually, my main disagreement with Wilber is his view of evolution. Basically, I don’t think the term “evolution” should be applied to individuals at all. It’s a group thing. Species, societies, those sorts of categories. Individuals mutate and/or develop.

      I don’t think artificial conflict that is supposed to prod a person in the direction that someone else thinks is “right” for them is actually helpful at all.

      • Gotcha. Cheers for the elaboration. 🙂

  2. Amy said:

    Yes. Nice. I make it a point to approach with a raised eyebrow anyone who suggests that they know exactly what the yardstick of spiritual development is, as frequently these people are less than shining examples. I think that a *willingness* to enter into situations of conflict can be useful, and can indeed develop strength, but not generating more conflict frequently requires more strength. I don’t find that going up and punching someone in the face is a particularly sophisticated or evolved response.

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