Following the dramatic events we have seen unfold in Egypt’s ‘Freedom Square,’ and as we watch the rest of the Arab world (as well as Wisconsin, USA) stand up against dictators and centralized power structures, the question that now hovers in the atmosphere of the Earth is, ‘What now?’
Approaching us on the back of this question, as if it were a rider upon a horse, is, ‘What pictures do we have for the kind of world we are actually fighting for?’
With Egypt in the centre of many people’s consciousness at present, we can perhaps turn our gaze to that which stood as such a significant imagination during the height of ancient Egypt – that is, the sphinx.
The sphinx approaches our consciousness of today as something of a riddle. A significant later expression of the sphinx (and therefore closer to our own time) has the head and face of a human, wings of an eagle, torso and forelegs of a lion, and backside of a bull. What could this mean?
If we attempt to enter into the imagination of the sphinx – especially into the eagle, the lion and the bull – we can begin to ask, ‘What are the qualities of these particular animals?’
If we observe the eagle we can see that, in spreading its broad wings, it lives high in the overarching sky, looking down onto the earth. It moves and sweeps freely in large circles on the updraft of air, able to strike down upon its prey at any moment, if it so chooses.
The expression we associate with the lion is that it is ‘king of the jungle’ – it regulates the equality of the whole of jungle life. It does not fly like the eagle, however. Culturally, the lion has recently played a central role in the films The Jungle King and The Chronicles of Narnia.
The bull is firmly connected to the earth. It eats huge quantities of grass before digesting it in its four stomachs and producing one of the most fertile substances in the world – manure. The female – the cow – also produces milk. The cow/bull is the great provider. It is strong, however, even wild if provoked. It cannot fly freely, nor can it be said to regulate activity in the same manner as the lion. Likewise, the lion and eagle could not be said to provide in the same way as the cow/bull.
Many many more observations could be made, of course. If they are made, we can begin to see and experience that what approaches us in the riddle of the sphinx is nothing other than a true imagination of the human being – it is us.
We see in the eagle a kind of archetypal or poetic expression of the activity of thinking. We see in the lion an ideal expression of the activity of feeling. And in the bull, we find an ideal expression of what it is to actually do something – of willing.
That which holds it all together – all our thinking, feeling and willing – in a balanced, harmonious way (where each aspect is clearly autonomous yet interdependent) is that which only each one of us can say ‘I’ to. That is, our I – our Selves – the head and face of the human. Thus, this sphinx is nothing other than each one of us imaginatively expressed.
So how can such a picture – and such an understanding of it – help us in our present time, particularly in connection to all that we are watching unfold in the Arab world?
If we observe all that is unfolding, we can clearly see that what is taking place is an uprising against an out-of-time Pharaoh-ism. No longer do people wish to be held down by a dictator of any kind. The dictators of today are not, however, cultural-spiritual leaders, as the Pharaohs had been, but are those, generally speaking, who have inserted themselves into positions of political (and/or economic) power. From there, of course, they are also able to dictate much of cultural and spiritual life, as well as economic activity.
The great problem with this situation is the fundamental urge of human beings today towards two things: freedom and equality. The human being of today – consciously or unconsciously – seeks to be free in all that he/she does in cultural and spiritual life, while at the same time striving to be equal in all matters of law and politics.
Any kind of dictatorship – and we have as many forms of dictatorships in the world today as we have countries – suppresses these fundamental realities, and will ultimately find itself in conflict with them, as we have seen. The question that still remains is, ‘And so, what now?’
In the Arab world we currently see many cultural organizations – what we can call civil society – standing up against the overarching power of government. Economic organizations – businesses – are, or will be in the future, also involved in this liberation of their field of activity from governmental control (whatever form that may look like).
We are seeing, in a way, a new expression of that which was striven towards but remained unfulfilled during the French Revolution all those years ago. That is, freedom, equality and fraternity/solidarity. Freedom in all cultural and spiritual life; equality before the law – equality in all matters of the rights life; and brotherhood/sisterhood/solidarity or association – working together rather than endless competition – in all matters of economics.
But what is it we see here taking place in social life across Egypt and the rest of the Arab world? It is nothing other than the expression of that which have so far observed in the imagination of the sphinx.
What we are seeing happen unfold – consciously or otherwise – is a revolution towards the sphinx in social life. It is a sphinx in which each aspect – culture, rights and economics – like the animals of the sphinx – is striving to find an autonomous yet interdependent working relationship with one another in order to form a whole and healthy social organism.
In the same way that the sphinx is a picture of a balanced, harmonious and ideally healthy human organism, so the sphinx is also an imagination of a harmonious and interdependent working together of autonomous aspects within a healthy social organism.
What these revolutions are therefore striving towards – and none of us are excluded from this, for we are all engaged not only in our own inner revolution, but also a revolution in the society in which we stand (the ‘I’ of the social sphinx) – what all these revolutions are striving for is nothing other than to find and locate ourselves – the human being – within the social organism as a whole.
We seek to create society in our own ideal image. And in changing society we seek to create conditions suited to the further development of ourselves and of one another.
We must sit up and pay attention, therefore, to what is unfolding in the Arab world. For we find ourselves there. And we find the tasks – the revolutions, both within ourselves and within social life – that we have thus far left unfinished.