When people talk about perfection, they often fall into the trap of assuming a linear world: a place like the mythical Heaven where there is no bad, only good, and good of the purest sense. While as symbol that sounds appealing, when one goes through the process of plotting out life, it sounds terrible, because it would rapidly lead to repetition. If there's one right answer to every question, and every activity turns out excellently, is there any enough contrast to claim one has actually had an experience? Without danger, adventures would become tourist play; without the possibility of failure, success would have no greatness. Without death, there would be no reason to make one decision over another in life, as all experiences would be exactly equal thanks to infinite days and thus zero consequences. Screw up your life? Live another lifetime, within your lifetime. Boundaries give meaning to what lies within them, in other words.
Much as in an equation, we can cancel out elements in common between items being added, or can arbitrarily multiply or add any number to one side of the equals sign so long as it is also done to the other, when we think about life we must recognize that it is the difference between experiences that gives them meaning; the same experience, like the reduced factors of the number cancelled, have no impact on the overall direction of the equation. They are extraneous in part because they are tautological: a known thing requires no activity.
Some of us have identified ourselves as gnostics because we have grasped the concept of relativity as expressed in such spiritual ideas, which is not properly "dualism" in that it does not assert duality for the sake of having two things. It is better described as "contrast" or "opposition," because if one analyzes any single thing in a closed system, it is clear that all other things relate to it and often counterpoint it, much in the way that mice are balanced by hawks and foxes. The contrast between two things is what separates them, for our consciousness; a lighter object appears closer, a slower sound farther, a mission statement the principle around which the rest of a speech is organized. It is this contrast that redefines perfection from "100% good" to "balanced." Every dark thing permits a light thing, and vice versa. For each good that exists, there is also a negative, although those terms describe human perfections and not the balance in nature.
This opposition can be seen as a manifestation of the perfection of nature. Instead of creating a pure world, which would rapidly cycle into repetition and therefore lose all benefit to making one decision over another, soon drawing itself into a mathematical nothing-state where no change or transfer of energy would exist, our world of positive and negative sustains itself by balance, ensuring that the system as a whole retains energy even if its parts are constantly created and destroyed. A system of a single part would do transfer energy exactly, and have one will between a singular part ("God") and all else, but this would become entropic as described above. Our system maintains a constant balance between spaces where nothing exists, and things that exist seeking to consume those spaces; it is a universe where even nothing is a meal for something. To a gnostic, this opposition is superior to dualism, where a perfect world (one god, one will, everything right the first time) commands or balances a physical world that might even be seen as evil; to a gnostic, good and evil are not opposed in this moral sense, but are contributive to a "meta-good" or good of the whole. This is why in most gnostic mysticisms, nothingness existed first, and because of an implied contrast, somethingness arose; then to keep from dominating itself into tedium, somethingness elected to produce its own form of nothingness, that which lives yet asserts the void, where in the void there was no life -- this is what most people call evil.
Modern people are too accustomed to sorting out life as if it were the objects on sale at a mall. Keep the good, throw out the evil; then you have what is pure. We figure that people are the same way, and that good people never make mistakes, and bad people never do good things. We deny that life is a learning process, and prefer to refer to ourselves in the constant present, as if aging does not change us and learning does not make us grow. This is a philosophy of personal instability, a fear of being prey to the void, and therefore, it seeks to deny the void by looking only at positive and negative. It forgets that much as there is a meta-good, there is a form of "meta-bad," which is a return of the void; nothingness is less of a consignment to a hell of torture than a relegation to non-existence, where there is not even consciousness to feel pain (in this sense, Hell is a promise against the fear of death: to those who fear death more than anything else, living on in eternal torment is preferrable to nonexistence). Our modern view denies the gnostic and pagan view of the universe as something which created itself and maintains its order through the cycles of creation and destruction which we try to sort into, respectively, "good" and "evil."
If you look at any scene, your mind will try to understand it, and will thus select some feature of it on which to center. When you look at that object, everything else in the scene becomes background, and your mind orders it according to the dominant object perceived: in relations of distance, or flow of action, or physical connection. This is not an artifact of humans, or of being conscious, but the way that all complex information systems are organized. This is relativity at its most basic: for there to be somethingness, there had to be nothingness first, and when somewhere in nothingness stirred an awareness of the possibility of somethingness, it was created by the process of inverting background and foreground focus in this way. Similarly, we do not know destruction unless something has been created first, although we might classify the void as being entirely destruction except for the lack of preexisting things to destroy. Gnostics divided the world similarly into an unconscious will, which could not be quantified, and a conscious aspect, which takes the form of what we describe now as "data." Thoughts, numbers, items, words, recognitions -- these are data. They are derived from the actions of the formless, which manifests itself in forms recognizable by consciousness.
The ancients therefore did not remove their thoughts from reality entirely, as they recognized that our brains are part of physical reality and therefore interact with it in ways not requiring physical action -- this is the basic of gnostic occult warfare, called by some "magic." Like the modern cosmic idealists, most importantly Kant and Schopenhauer, they believed that humans were entirely of the conscious side of life, except when they tapped into the unconscious and were thus able to see (and manipulate!) the cosmic order. Yet in that view to understand the cosmic order enough to manipulate it was to aquiesce to its wisdom and act within its precepts; even the evil sorcerers of old were players in a metaphysical drama, acting out a role not dissimilar to that of the wolf or another predator. Same with the parasites. The reason for this balance, in the gnostic view, was to keep the people who would be neither predator or parasite from becoming repetitive and cyclic and thus weak. Evil was the province of unconscious will, where consciousness was its counterbalance and yet just as much dependent upon it.
There is a tendency among us moderns to wonder at the imperfection of the world, evidence of which we see in its many evils. The gnostic view is ultimately more positive in that in it we see evils not as a cosmic negative but as empty spaces into which more creation can expand, if it is strong enough, and we see the challenges to creation not as imperfection but as part of a perfect order that keeps good strong. It is a sad fact of history that while the ancients did not have our technology, unlike us they had a population which could understand this "double negative" logic and thus look beyond good and evil to see their role as creative agents in a perpetual nature of immaculate goodness and perfection.
March 5, 2006