Part of the series Perceiving complexity
After Moses, the real life experiences kept honing the perception of this masculinity, growing around the sense of a God who is so vivid, with such a sense of order based on some vivid fluid psychological depths and so demanding of staying focused on its fluid diachronic complexity. Initially it was about a God embodying these tremendous qualities that the people should stay focused on and not enter in static mental plateaus like the Egyptians. In time, confrontations with the cultural expressions stuck in static mindsets increasingly created the image of a God on a whole different level of vivacity, the perception of other gods moving from misleading to inauthentic and even unreal.
The Jewish mindset itself entered in an uneasy relation between the static synchronic perspective and the fluid diachronic one. No mental tools to really express coherently the diachronic perspective, the synchronic perspective is in an unusual situation when used to express the fluidity of the diachronic one. Those Jews who were invested in this psychological perspective were annoyed when seeing other Jews comfortable with static plateaus. They had the propensity to enforce a ban on graven images and to find faults in those other Jews that would determine the crumbling of their static mental plateaus as self-images.
The basic Jewish religious experience is something like in this interpretation of Hineni by Yossele Rosenblatt, an immersion in the mental abyss of the fluid diachronic perspective, with a sense of order that draws its coherence from facing squarely that fluid complexity, not by relying on static plateaus. With no mental tools to apply this sense of order in real life, some static plateaus are still used as mental tools, but with strong restrictions in order to destroy their static aspect, like abstaining from visual images or like purity rules and levels of holiness etc.
There is a more relaxed and comfortable immersion in that fluid complexity, as in this interpretation of Shalom Aleichem by Idan Yaniv. For this, the man has to find a way to be comfortable with that complexity. Usually, in our human species, the men discover this fluid complexity and are comfortable with it in relations with women by dominating them. The Mesopotamian feminine approach turned the tide, turning the man into an airhead “masculine blonde” when he is supposed to dominate the woman (more about this in Perceiving complexity (part 12)). In a sense, the woman had the right to assert the real power of that complexity. But the problem is that such approach does not offer new relevant mental tools for social organization. So, in a sense, the Jewish man too has the right to find an independent approach to that complexity.
The word shalom is usually translated in English as “peace”, but its basic idea is about a state of well-being when you are comfortable in the diachronic flow. It derives from the Semitic root s(h)-l-m, which produced in many other Semitic languages words in this area of meaning, including Islam, as I will get into detail later on. This concept of a diachronic state of well-being is present in many other Asian cultures, it supposes some feminine expertise to express more coherently this diachronic flow so that it becomes embedded in the culture and people think from its point of view in a culturally sanctioned manner.
When you are in this flow as supported by the long-term feminine experience, things are unfolding in a more natural manner and you have a good feeling of a psychological fluidity as opposed to stale static mental plateaus. You sense that complexity of the world revealed by the feminine perspective, but in the same time you have some mental tools to face it, also in a manner directly based on the feminine perspective. This feminine perspective may come with a nuance of going with the flow of the circumstances at hand and it depends on the men how they make sense of this, if they have more proactive tendencies.
In Arabic, there are words derived from the s(h)-l-m root, with a focus on the wholeness of this state of well-being. But also they have words like hal (also further borrowed in Turkish), about circumstances, as seen from a diachronic fluid perspective. Another such example, in the Korean and Japanese speech (another cluster of cultures that I have more experience with), the word kibun (feeling, mood) is used often as psychological orientation in navigating life, people pay attention to the current status of the kibun.
The Jewish masculine take on this psychological aspect is that, as a result of becoming more independent psychologically from women, they need to face all that diachronic complexity directly, without the feminine expertise or with feminine expertise in a manner that does not affect the sense of personal direct masculine immersion in it. In a sense, it is a good thing not only for the psychological independence, but also because it opens new approaches.
The original feminine take on the diachronic fluidity has the tendency to take in consideration the diachronic complexity only to the extent that is necessary around the man’s current static perceptions. As the Jewish men discovered when assuming themselves this diachronic perspective from the point the women use it, you can’t organize well your life in this manner. I should point out that these tendencies are not a given, this to and fro movement of perceptions and experiences between genders can make both become more experienced and proactive.
These Asian cultures with the embedded feminine discovery of the diachronic perspective may have the tendency to have as a result a specific approach to human interactions. To interact with someone else while being immersed in the diachronic fluid well-being, first you need to find some common wavelength, as there is no strong synchronic common ground anymore. This mental fluid perspective opens your perceptions to diachronic changes, your sense of self is rather fluid and first you need to find some common ground with the person you want to interact that takes in consideration the diachronic point of view.
This can materialize in some initial exploratory interaction for sensing a common diachronic wavelength. In the Middle East specifically, the music too reflects this. There is a tendency to start first with an improvisation before the intended musical performance. This grew into musical genres focused on such initial improvisations, like taqsim, layali and others, in which you let your mind flow to get yourself more clearly into the diachronic perspective. The non-Jewish Middle Eastern approach to this accommodation largely keeps the fiction of the classical masculine control of the situation and it is about a masculine pleasurable immersion in this fluid state of well-being, which in turn validates also the woman as sustaining a quality psychological interaction.
The Jewish approach has too this well-being shalom vibe, but at its core there is the masculine direct assumption of the diachronic perspective, which breaks apart the classical masculine fiction of being in control of the situation. The result is the perception of a mental abyss, there is a masculinity there that ideally can be in control of the situation, but it is too much from a diachronic perspective as developed by the women. There are no immediately obvious mental tools to work with it, hence it appears as a mental abyss.
To give some musical examples, Hixa mía by Ana Alcaide has an initial improvisation that expresses well the introduction to the mental abyss of facing directly the diachronic perspective. The song that follows has some rather apprehensive lyrics about being aware of the real complexity of life when facing directly the diachronic perspective. Hassebni by the band Andelucious has an initial improvisation followed by the expression of the well-being shalom vibe (in this interpretation, the initial improvisation goes in some different directions, to give you an idea about the overall role of its fluidity in retuning the mind to sense better the diachronic complexity). It has some differences from the typical Arabic interpretations of this well-being state of mind, as it does not rely anymore on the fiction of classical static masculine control of the situation. It is not so much about the woman as a cushion supporting the masculine control of the situation (which tends to be limited to “this feels so good”, “this is so aesthetic”), but a masculine direct immersion in the diachronic perspective opening the path for psychological perceptions valuable for both genders.
In Hassebni there is no outside pressure of real life issues to make you face all kind of complexities revealed by the diachronic perspective, hence the same mental abyss as in Hixa mía appears so pleasant and satisfying. The sense of self becomes so fluid and, in contact with the presence of the other people in this space with some basic common diachronic wavelength, it experiences all kind of new psychological perspectives out of the usual trodden perception paths. This enriches the personality and gives the sense of a deep meaning and purpose in life. You need to pay attention that the mental abyss is there, this musical expression is not in the sense of a touristic trip into the diachronic perspective, there is an uncompromising mental immersion in the diachronic perspective because of the awareness of that mental abyss (which in turn can turn into such enriching perceptions).
A modern musical example, Bo eleynu layam by Lehakat Heyl Hayam, with no Middle Eastern structure of initial improvisation, but with this specific Jewish permeability of the ego in a safe psychological space where the group of people can share a common diachronic wavelength. Apparently it is just about some relaxing moments on the seaside, but there is a depth of psychological satisfactions with some people you feel comfortable with. Or Sara shara (translation) by Sarit Hadad, the song is about how she has to go for some work in another town, she almost forgot about it, she realizes she did not prepare anything for this, things are not organized in her apartment either, it’s all a mess in her head, but it all slides into this great emotional experience with her teammates. As in the previous song, there is a trigger that takes the self from the orbit of the usual trodden thinking paths, thus revealing all kind of refreshing unexpected perspectives.
The initial Jewish religiosity is about a personal perception of the mental abyss of the diachronic perspective when facing real life, still interpreted in a classical masculine framework, while not relying anymore on the classical masculine synchronic fiction of control of the situation. Thus it appears as an uncompromising God asking for strict allegiance to the diachronic perspective. The Jewish men did not have readily available mental tools to organize life from a diachronic perspective.
In moments of permeability of the ego in safe psychological spaces with not much real life pressure, they experience such satisfying diachronic perceptions that make life so meaningful. The initial Jewish organizational impression was that this state of well-being can just be translated in real life. If I experience it then it is real, I am just going to strive to act like this in real life. The thing with this kind of safe space permeability of the ego experience is that it happens when there is not much real life pressure. The Jews, like the people in general, did not have this direct perception of the diachronic complexity. On the one hand, they experienced the complexity as a mental abyss you don’t really know what to do about, on the other hand as such meaningful psychological experiences in communal safe space contexts that permit a permeability of the ego.
This is about the historical limitations in the feminine psychological work with the diachronic perspective. Most of it was a limited use of the complexity of this perspective, only around the existing synchronic organization of the man, the value of the diachronic complexity was usually used to influence the existing masculine organization, not for really facing the entire complexity of real life. The Jewish men had to organize things about the real life in general. No readily available mental tools for that, thus such an organization appeared as a psychologically abyssal masculine figure knowing how to work with the diachronic perspective and upholding a strict allegiance to it.
In communal moments with not so much real life pressure, they also experienced meaningful psychological perceptions, the kind of context the original feminine use of the diachronic perspective has much more experience with. These experiences were taken too much at their face value, this feels so good, let’s just live like that in real life. In practice this turned into an endless chase of seeing this state of well-being unfolding in real life. This is because in real life you really need to face all the diachronic complexity. Add to this the location of the land of Israel at the bottleneck between Asia and Africa, a piece of land every regional power was interested in controlling. This kind of chasing the application of that well-being state of mind in real life, irrespective of the complexity of the real life, would have been more suited for an isolated place, something like the Easter Island. There is this trope in the ancient texts about the people endlessly dreaming about finding moments of peace when they can just mind their business and “tend their orchards and vineyards”.
Another aspect about the real life application of this state of well-being taken at its face value is that even in the isolated “Easter Island” context real life issues crop up between the people engaged in such communal experiences. They may have moments with satisfying psychological experiences as a result of the communal context, but real life issues creep up among them too. I notice two kinds of issues, those non-ideological, about mundane real life aspects, and those ideological, about the overall direction of the group.
For the non-ideological issues, the first example that comes to my mind (but which is not a general experience for everybody) is something like in Chagigah of Sarit Hadad. A childhood with parents focused on keeping a simplistic self-centered linear coherence in their minds amid all the fluid complexity they notice exactly because this feeling of overall well-being was not considered in all its real life complexity and thus it rather enabled lazy-minded inter-human approaches. That house somewhere in the middle of nowhere, nobody else knows what is going on in there, that expresses well this disconnected state of mind in which you are under impression everything is so harmonious in your controlled space.
I don’t remember a masculine musical example for this, plus that my approach to this was rather to see my parents failing to take seriously that mental abyss and I had to assume myself the responsibilities for that abyss, as no one else did in that psychologically closed-off space (I have male cousins on my father’s side who tried the rebellious approach seeking outer outlets like in this song, but their “against the system” approach was rather like a moth endlessly dancing around a light bulb or like Kafka in The Castle endlessly trying to tackle that tremendous place of absolute power; my way was to really face that mental abyss).
The ideological issues crop up when the group of people with such communal experiences taking the individuals out of their trodden paths need to organize the communal life. If there is no relevant psychological experience about what is with this diachronic perspective, then exactly because of this communal experience the sense of shared psychological aspects can become so suffocating. If people process these diachronic perspectives too much into synchronic plateaus, they may become annoyed by the tiniest differences they notice at how other people process this communal experience into their own synchronic plateaus.
Especially when real life showed its complexity, there was a tendency for strong factionalism among the Jews, with people ending up very convinced of their own point of view as the right mental opening to the diachronic perspective. It starts with different synchronic coagulations of fluid diachronic immersion in real life, like a group saying that the direct relation with God is in their own land in Jerusalem, while other group finds very natural to say that the direct relation with God is in their own land at Mount Gerizim. And then it extends at every minutiae of real life.
In these exchanges of points of view (many times using deep psychological approaches, aiming to break down mentally the other party), there was still there the feeling of the original mental abyss originating these synchronic point of views. I am saying this when I am thinking about the misery and suffering brought in the world by Christianity, Islam and Communism as ideologies that took this factionalism at face value, they do not have the awareness and respect for the original mental abyss, thus turning it into exacerbations of the egos of their believers.
The Jewish factionalism does not go into such an exacerbation of the ego or if it goes it cannot cross a line, as there is some background awareness of the mental abyss and the sense of self is based on that. For some Jews it even feels refreshing to be in such communal factionalism, it is a sui generis way to take them out of the orbit of their trodden thinking paths. It reminds me of that joke about the Jewish variant of a Robinson Crusoe shipwrecked on a deserted island. Realizing he may be stuck there for some time, he proceeds to organize his life, he builds stuff there, including two synagogues at the opposite sides of the island. When he is finally rescued by a passing-by ship, the crew is amazed by what he accomplished on the island, only that it is puzzled by the synagogues, why two of them? The guy is quick to reply with satisfying emphasis: “this one is the synagogue I use for my religious life, that one is the synagogue I never set my foot in.”
This is about an underground psychological understanding of the need for another Jewish point of view to not keep you really stuck in your own beliefs. My impression is that the initial full-fledged factionalist period determined by real life Hellenistic and Roman pressure was not in the vein of the need for a “synagogue I never set my foot in”. At that time, they really believed in their synchronic plateaus, but, after a while, especially after the devastating impact of the Roman destruction, it settled in the feeling that this is something futile, they don’t really grasp in this manner the depths of that mental abyss they are supposed to represent with this kind of straightforward synchronic understanding. That belief was not in the manner of an exacerbation of the ego and they could go beyond that.
The Talmud has the subsequent more direct view of the diachronic perspective beyond the futility of believing in all kind of simplistic synchronic plateaus that crop up in your mind. This permitted a more relaxed view about the possibilities of a variety of well-thought points of view that can increasingly reveal more about the complexity of real life. It did not answer entirely how to proceed in life, how to have a clear point of view and the tendency for factionalism is there for some Jews, but rather as something continuing inertially because of the lack of other valuable organizational ideas. Hence the underground understanding of the need for a “synagogue I never set my foot in” for those Jews who become too stuck in their own views as simplistic synchronic plateaus.
Not that I condone this, as when you realize the overall context it feels stupid to proceed in this manner. The tendency is to see what is with this mental abyss. But it is still rather innocuous compared to the other approaches that grew from that initial factionalism and determined ideologies exacerbating the ego like Christianity, Islam and Communism.
This is about Jews who construe their lives around the belief in some mental structure. As there are Jews who just face that diachronic flow directly from a masculine perspective, only to realize how difficult is to have an organized approach the way you are used to have as a man. The header photo of this BBC article can give an idea of the extremes of this Jewish masculine experience. Woody Allen as the man psychologically overwhelmed by that complexity (this is still better for him than the dreadful cul-de-sac of becoming an airhead masculine blonde by just leaning on the Middle Eastern feminine expertise). Harvey Weinstein as the man who turned to the easy, but illicit and morally reprehensible way to force himself upon women in order to be comfortable with that complexity while not being psychologically controlled by the woman.
Of course, not every happy-looking Jew has done something illicit to get into that state of mind, these are the extremes in terms of approaching the situation. There are happy-looking Jews as a result of the communal satisfactions of fluid and refreshing well-being, as in the previous musical examples. Or like Sacha Baron Cohen, who is constantly destroying his public image in a controlled manner, thus breaking down stale static plateaus in his mind and finding back the mental fluidity. Or like Adam Sandler, with a controlled masculine blonde immersion in life and some soft spot for older women visible in his demeanor (a more experienced woman can make the man comfortable with the complexity without giving this vibe of imposing herself psychologically on him).
The man himself needs to have some opening for this experienced feminine approach. For example, Woody Allen tends to be very apprehensive about such women. Another example of controlled masculine blonde approach to life were the Marx Brothers, unleashing the fluid craziness around the characters of Margaret Dumont.
Another approach with some success is like in Hutz La’aretz (translation in the comments section of the video) of the Israeli band Balagan. “You should walk around the streets of your city as if it were a foreign place”. Thus you see everything with fresh eyes, no static plateaus. But this also may mean “do not look for love, look for a short moment of happiness”. In this situation, no static plateaus means no mental organization for long-term planning.
This fresh look as though everything is foreign may not necessarily end in the nuance from this song. In the sitcom Seinfeld, this goes into a nuance of long-term bonding, continuous discovery of unexpected fresh views and analysis of minute aspects that otherwise you would not think much of. It was “a show about nothing” with clear boundaries about personal involvement, but it still had some long-term organization.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the Jewish woman pretending not to be Jewish, thus unfolding the complexity of the Jewish worldview while alleviating the pressure for the man in facing the organization of his Jewish identity (thus the approach to that complexity was rather exploratory and pleasant). Larry David was relaxed with just projecting himself as the masculine blonde character of Jason Alexander and endlessly experiencing the complexity of the world without the daunting responsibilities of organizing your life from the point of view of the Jewish identity.
When he starred himself in the show Curb Your Enthusiasm, now with all that experience accumulated in facing the diachronic complexity in Seinfeld, he cast a non-Jewish woman as his wife. It felt like he was really experiencing in this virtual psychological environment how it is to face the world as a man. Some of the moments when they were only the two of them had a vibe of real life, of really facing the unknown of what the next second would bring.
To some extent it was like he was able to restore the classical masculine sense of “real life”, which supposes a rather controlled environment (thus kind of virtual, not really raw real life). This was made possible by the woman’s lack of that perceived psychological fluid coherence that the Middle Eastern women have. All while he was still facing that diachronic raw reality, something like still being able to stay in the paradise after eating from the tree of the knowledge of the good and bad and then venturing out in the world on his own terms (as, some seasons later, his character divorced and embarked on a more self-confident independent path).
All this time, on the sideline there was the Jewish couple of Jeff and Susie, with the woman portrayed as too unreasonable and domineering. From what I have written until now, probably you realize that I don’t agree with this characterization. There are issues, some Jewish men may have reasons to vent out frustrations, but such Jewish masculine approach can be escapist if you just go along with the frustrations. Plus that the men themselves need to notice some aspects beyond the classical human masculine mindset if they want to move things forward.
Let me give also a few personal experiences around seeing everything as foreign in order to alleviate the daunting pressures of the Jewish organization. In May 2000, I participated at a debate conference for students in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was the first time I was leaving Romania, everything was so new for me, the students were from all Balkan countries, I was absorbing with all my senses all those cultural vibes. In the first day, when we were preparing for the first sessions and the people were still moving around, with the corner of the eye I saw someone getting up from his chair. It was just someone raising up from his chair, one of the most mundane things you can imagine, but there was something there that drew my attention. He had such a natural vibe when getting up, I have never seen in my entire life up to that moment someone getting up in such an authentic, natural, yet unassuming manner. I wouldn’t have ever thought to notice such psychologically enriching perception in such a mundane action if I didn’t see it.
“He must be Bulgarian”, the first thought that came to my mind. But it was something so fulfilling in the authenticity of that action, so effortlessly transcendental. He is the perfect Bulgarian, the most Bulgarian among the earthlings (a paraphrase that came to my mind on the spot from the title of the Romanian novel “The most beloved among the earthlings”). Only to find out later that in fact he is an American Jew teaching at a Bulgarian university. Probably he was experiencing a natural flow of the Jewish masculine diachronic perspective by being away from the American environment he grew up in. He also had a beautiful blonde girlfriend, which probably was also helping in this sense (and probably the situation had some degree of escapism).
Other cases occur when I notice some musical interpretation that I find so unexpectedly fulfilling in musical genres that usually I don’t find so interesting. And, when I look around to find out more about the respective musicians, I discover that they are in fact Jews. For example, this Rachenitsa of the band Gaidushka. Normally, I don’t find interesting this kind of music, the usual Balkan interpretations are some sort of exaltation of the ego that lacks psychological value for me (except for the Albanian music). This was the first time when I found an interpretation of this kind of music that really drew my attention. Such an effortless and fulfilling mental fluidity, who are these guys? I am looking in the description section, they are Jews.
In this case, I don’t see it escapist, probably the escapism occurs when you find the peace of mind of a static plateau and start developing an ego around it, thus abandoning the array of psychological responsibilities of really facing that mental fluidity. This immersion in a non-Jewish cultural expression, thus without the daunting responsibilities of the Jewish organization, can give some unexpected perspectives to someone used to only see the daunting complexity of that mental fluidity. With this you can come back to the task of assuming responsibilities with some new valuable perspectives.
I also found valuable the other way around of expressivity, that found among some of the converts to Judaism. For example, this interpretation of the Psalm 93 by the Abayudaya from Uganda, whose ancestors converted to Judaism by the beginning of the 20th century. It has such a natural immersion in that mental fluidity, it gives me new ideas how to see it. This is not Christianity or Islam with a focus on a static plateau as control of the situation, they really face that mental fluidity. I don’t know how would things evolve in time for such people, if it is inevitable to notice the complexity this mental fluidity supposes in contact with real life or if it is necessary some spreading of the original Jewish femininity to notice it and to really “take them out of the paradise”. Sometimes it is valuable to have a more detached view to realize or remember you can still have some personal organization in facing all that complexity (but this does not mean for me abandoning facing the complexity).
I also noticed this live interpretation by Iris and The Shuk at the 2011 Limmud conference in Odessa. The vibe is that this is a psychological space on the sideline of the Jewish organization, a place where people can discuss about the Jewish mindset, without all those daunting responsibilities incumbent in facing the complexity of real life from a Jewish perspective. The complexity is there, but this concept of a retreat of all the Jews participating in that conference from assuming the responsibilities of a sense of self facing real life makes possible to just study it in a more detached manner. If they were feeling facing real life, most likely they would be very factional and some of them could not stand each other even for tiny issues.