Between You and I (Part II of II)

See also the first part of this blog series: Between You and I (Part I of II)

Shame – a coordinate and the reflection to reality

Consider the following:

For, Izukawa had specifically been designated by the Emperor as the Master Swordsman, the one who, as legend holds, had single-handedly defeated the three Katanoye brothers in a duel which left the eldest decapitated, the middle one without his sword & arm, and the youngest without a discernible face. All within a span of an hour, and without a single wound. Yet, before the noon of this particular day, Master Izukawa – the one whom, as he walked down main street of the Ishidori District of the bustling city, the peasants, the shopkeepers, the men and women of every class and structure, would bow, and bow lower than even he felt comfortable; for he was the Master Samurai, the one who could kill for a reason, or no reason; all with the assent of the Emperor.  At noon, he received the ransom letter – it detailed his actions as a young man; actions which he had relegated to the deep, secreted recesses of his mind.   Before noon, he had possessed the self-image of an invincible Master Samurai; but the Master Samurai has by necessity a personal image, hidden behind the mask of an impervious and emotionless face, for the samurai neither reveals emotion, nor unveils the eyes which reveal the emotion; then there is the public identity; the watchful eyes of the non-samurai class who sees the samurai as the protector, the feared warrior who could arbitrarily end one’s life with no fear of retribution; the one who lives by the Bushido Code.  For the Samurai’s code provided fixed coordinates – of behavior; of thoughts; of correspondence between one’s grasping of karma and the events which unfold in the dream in which we walk, the dream of a butterfly, fleeting and delicate, yet harsh in the reality of death and the sharp edge of a samurai’s sword.  For Izukawa, the fixed coordinates included a public persona of a person who was without fear, who had summarily defeated three swords with the sharp edge of one.  Yes, in his personal “I”, he knew of a shame; and the shame, if revealed, would fail to correspond to the public coordinates which are fixed by the Emperor.

He could find the “other” who knew and who sent him the ransom letter, and kill him; or he could commit seppuku.   Either act would not change the fixed coordinates, for his karma had already been determined long before, just as the butterfly already dreamed the dream which controlled his fate, and the gods dreamed of the butterfly who dreamed the dream which controlled his fate.

Once, in the dream of another butterfly, Princess Sakumito gave him the honored gift before going into battle against the Katanoye brothers – a duel which everyone, including the Emperor, had expected would end with his death.  Indeed, he suspected that the Emperor had pre-arranged his death, and was prepared to consolidate his power by offering Izukawa, whom many had considered to be an unknown quantity, a loner and a pawn in a complex political climate when the power of the Shogunate was being crafted in delicate steps, a cherry blossom opening in the morning dew of a Zen garden. The gift of a teardrop.  It was, for Izukawa, a foreign sensation.

From childhood, of the Daikusu clan, he was destined to be a warrior.  Left with the Zen  Monks at age 3, Izukawa was trained to become a master of the sword:  to meditate; to fear nothing; to master the sword; to serve the Emperor.  Training to be a samurai meant long hours of disciplining the body and the mind; the discipline of the former was an easy task; it was always the latter which presented a question.  The tests implemented were harsh and brutal – for a child, it often meant near death.  Though the ‘sword’ was merely a bamboo pole slit so that when it hit the flesh, the slits would open and catch the body upon impact, then close and tear the skin off when pulled away; for a young boy, the pain of such raw separation of flesh from body left deep ravages.  Pain became a daily confrontation; avoidance of pain taught young Izu to be quick.  Quickness is taught; while some may have inherent swiftness, pain is a master teacher which enhances that inherent swiftness.  For most young boys, swiftness was learned in order to avoid pain; for young Izu, he learned first to bear pain; then, once mastered, he disciplined his mind to welcome pain, to embrace it, to savor and to gently preserve it; and only then did he allow himself to fight to avoid pain.  Pain first was his friend; as would be fear.

The beauty of a butterfly is felt in its silent flow of grace, where color flutters effortlessly in a deafening roar of silence; for in the very soundless folding and unfolding of its wings, mirroring a sensu held with delicate ease in the palm of a Kyoto-trained geisha, opened in fullness in unfolding quietude, then as a stream guided back to its essence; or as the fingers strum the shamisen in the still dawn to evoke neither music nor rest, but a twilight as marked by the flowing entrance to a Shinto Shrine, where the kami resides; and it is here that the warrior became a swordsman; the swordsman became a master; and the master became a legend.

Ah, but that legends should die, as worms and other creatures found within the crevasses of soil and filth; so the truth of the blood which coursed through his veins, Izukawa could not rid of.  Once, while still at the Zen monastery, young Izu witnessed a gaijin enter the sacred grounds; a krish-chan, a priest in black, who spoke his language, but with a haughtiness of oral delivery unbecoming of one who was neither a warrior nor a Zen master.

“Who was he, Master?” young Izu asked humbly, eyes cast down, after the gaijin had departed.  He could feel the piercing eyes of his teacher searching, perhaps with his customary mocking grin, as one who reads the essence of his soul through the tonal unfolding of his voice, words, and wisdom of ages.

“The young butterfly inquires, but to what end?” The master responded.  Izu could not detect whether the question to the questioner was asked in an admonishing manner, with sincere inquisitiveness, or with cunning mockery.  With the Master, any one, or all three together, could be contained in a single sentence.

“I just wanted to know.”

“To know for knowledge’s own sake, without an end?”


“That would indeed be strange, but that would mean that the answer given would have no end, as life would not end in death, nor birth in life, nor mind in consciousness, nor…”

The silence of the trailing statement meant that the Master was engaging in the third of the tripartite avenues; of cunning mockery; he quickly looked askance at his Master, and saw the glint of mischief in his Master’s soul; young Izu now knew how to proceed with his Master.

“But does a gaijin have consciousness, as he is less than human?  Can he therefore have true life, as he was not truly born a man?  Can he have the mark of a man, of honor and shame, if he cannot be a warrior?”

These questions, Izukawa remembered in his youth.  The shame which he had attributed then to the gaijin was not of his making, and of course, even as a youth, he recognized that fact; but the karma which governed the krish-chan’s life was the same which determined his own, and in that sense neither mattered.  But shame, for a samurai, was a reality; it was the disjointed disharmony which arose between that which is seen, that which is known, and that which is perceived.  It is a cultural judgment, a potential corrective action by a community upon an emerging discordance – between you and I.  For you see me as X as I have conveyed to you the X; but there is a Y coordinate which I have either failed to disclose, or deliberately covered.  When that Y coordinate emerges, and is finally uncovered; as the being of “I” presents itself in the full clothing of truth; when revelation unfolds, in that moment when the geisha unravels the sensu and pushes the warm air of the summer evening to brush upon the forming droplets of sweat – perspiration formed in the heat of the season, or the anxiety of truth, for truth is indeed an angst, an anxiety-stricken state of being, an explosion of tension built up from an admixture of object, coordinates, perception, personality, language, the depths of human complexity formed by a chasm deep and mysterious, a strangeness and tension lost by love, between you and I.

“What is truth?” the Master asked.  Young Izu immediately suspected that this was a koan.  But the Master did not turn away; instead, he looked upon the young lad with eyes anticipating a response.  He hesitated.  “It is, well, it is…”

“It is, above all else, not easy.”

“But should not truth be simple?”

“Is the village simpleton easy to direct?  Or is simplicity the most difficult to grasp?  To attain truth, one must have the perspective of the kami – neither of you, nor of I; not a man’s view, but a view based upon a removal of one’s self.  This is the true nature of a Zen Master – not to answer a koan rightly, but to answer it without the self.  And, young Izu – remember that shame is the surest path to truth.”

These thoughts rushed through as the kami rushes through the valleys of his village, swirling around the green moss growing upon the rocks of the Eh-Daiji Temple.  The Emperor, noble and great in his position, was constrained by his culture and society.  His society required his subjects to possess a purity of coordinates – from the Emperor’s perspective; the public reputation of Izukawa; the known reputation of his warrior samurai.  Yet, Izukawa recognized that he was the same man before receiving the information about his past; the sense of shame resulted from his knowledge, lost to a relegated past, in conflict with the human perspective of “the other”, now revealed  within the historicity of the time he lives in.  But truth was not necessarily that which would explode in full authenticity at a given time in history; it might take generations before it would come to fruition.  Shame was the tension which would force the truth to emerge.  For the butterfly, beauty would never fade, for moral judgments could not be made upon such beauty.  It was only for man – between you and I.  Shame was for man, for shame was the arbiter of human secrecy – that act which was a conscious and deliberate act by a man to conceal.  But the thoughtful act to conceal was the same consciousness of man which forced him to reveal – shame.  For shame merged the coordinates of human consciousness, the objective world as I perceive it; as you perceive it; and the attempt to conceal truth.

Izukawa knew what he would have to do.  He would disappear, and roam the countryside as a ronin.   He would find his extorter and kill him.  In the process, his shame may be revealed; but as the truth would be revealed, it would be his shame which would reveal it.


A World Without Shame – Leaving only I

We live in a world of “I”s.  We are shame-less.  The exponential explosion of information, the complete abandonment of objective coordinates, the total embracing of subjectivity, has resulted in the inverse but victorious consequence of Syme’s vision of the world:  “The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect”; or, conversely, it will be complete when there is utter imperfection.  Thought has become thoughtless because the infinite world of information has come to fruition; there can be no truth where shame does not exist; shame is the surest path to truth.  It is the guiding principle between you, I and the world “out there”.  For, if it was merely between you and I, we would be battling between the power of your subjectivity as opposed to mine.  The world I perceive and the one you perceive must have a corrective principle.  Once, when legends no longer explained, and myths no longer persuaded, Truth was thought to be the prevailing compass, and the guiding coordinate.  For brief centuries, the primacy of Truth prevailed; but just as legends faded and myths merely entertained, Truth became replaced with information, and information resulted in deconstruction, meaninglessness, and the loss of Being.

Being became merely a language game.   Yet, there would one day come an age of resurgence.  The uncovering of Being was always an inevitability, and as shame is the surest path to Truth, the convergence of Man, Shame and Truth was only a matter of time, between you and I.


Years later, the decapitated head of a man was found in a ditch a few miles south of the Eh-Daiji Temple.   The grotesque, gargoyle-like expression, frozen in timelessness, purple tongue jutting out with eyes white and rolled upwards in fear and agony, Kyoji Katanoye was the fourth and last brother.   He had died in fear.  He had attempted to avenge the shame of his three brothers’ deaths, only to fail at the hands of the Master Samurai, of whom legend holds became a faceless ronin, wandering the countryside, emerging when necessity arose, as when the soft wings of a butterfly became trapped in the thorny bushes of concealed human stories of shame.


See also: Between You and I (Part I of II)

Between You and I (Part I of II)

We all recognize the differentiation between the “I” in my conscious identity – that separate being who speaks thoughts silently in the privacy of one’s mind; the one who “sees” the external world, and decides upon acts and restraints of acts; then, there is the “self” which is seen by the reactions of “others” we encounter:  a friend who, upon seeing, smiles and greets with familiarity; the wife who responds differently and with intimacy; the child who treats the person who is the “I” as seen by others, in a manner differently than other adults; and through the myopic perspective of reactions – raised eyebrows; a smile; a frown; a “look” of recognition; we consciously recognize that there is an “external” world which “sees” the “I” in a manner different from the self-recognition of the “I” in my internal world of thoughts, ideas, desires and language-games.

This is not an attempt to revisit the controversy as expounded in Gilbert Ryle’s ‘logical behaviorism’ in his major work, The Concept of Mind; I do not want to get bogged down in whether there is the infamous “Ghost in the machine,” or revisit the problem of Cartesian dualism, the pendulum of historical philosophical debates between Descartes and Hobbes.  Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture, le Penseur, is indeed thinking; whether by words, strings of words, or in a wordless suspension of meditative cogitation, we can certainly say that, with his right hand raised to his chin area representing a universally recognizable posture, he is in a classical stance of deeply contemplative public persona.  Now, were we to ask The Thinker, “What are you doing?”  The limitless potential responses may alter our initial presumptuous view of the matter:

“I was thinking about murdering my mother.”   Though we may be somewhat taken aback by the contemplated action (the classical posture may be deemed to be somewhat incommensurate with thoughts of pre-meditative murder), the fact that he is conceptually mapping out the plan certainly verifies a man who is “thinking” — Freudian implications aside (concerning thoughts of murdering one’s mother, which might complicate things further by bringing up the concept of a “subconscious”.  This, we will have to set aside for the time being).

“I had no particular thoughts at the moment.”  This might surprise the questioner, because the public posture taken would seem inconsistent with the statement, but we would generally not consider this to be shockingly disjointed; for, we might excuse the person as attempting to hide his true thoughts; perhaps the interruption of our question resulted in a dismissive response because le Penseur wanted to return to his deep state of contemplation; and, finally, the statement itself, “I had no particular thoughts at the moment” is a reflective response of self-awareness on the state of his immediately-preceding mental state, which shows a certain degree of thoughtfulness, nevertheless.

“A bee stung me just below my lip, and I paused, sat down, and placed pressure on my injured area with my right hand.”  Here, an apparent inconsistency develops between the acknowledged posture of meditative thoughtfulness, our assumption that one who postures in that manner reflects a depth of contemplation, and the statement by le Penseur.  One’s disapproving reaction to such a statement might, of course, be somewhat mitigated if we detected an expression of sheepishness or an apologetic tone in his voice; and some other reactions might include:  for the cynic, it would reinforce the view that very few humans actually engage in much contemplative thought; for the naïve onlooker, it might scar one for future encounters; and so it goes.

And, of course, there may be limitless other possible responses, all of which underscore the view that there is a difference between you and I; there is a “you” that I see, and I interpret based upon an “I” which is you; and there is the “I” which is me, which I distinguish from the you which is your “me”.

For, whichever statement The Thinker were to make, and whatever the reaction of the onlooker, the encounter between le Penseur and “the other” only reinforces the acknowledgment of the reality:  there is a difference between you and I.   In this world of “I”, the focus in recent decades has been the increasing emphasis upon self, satisfaction of self, self-esteem, the importance of self, and the penultimate focus upon the betterment of self.  The Copernican Revolution of the philosophical stature and status of the I; the reversal of identifying the “other” as an objective being in an objective world, and recognizing a commonality of definition:  that man is a ‘rational’ animal; and with it, a fixed coordinate that all can agree upon; to the Existentialist abandonment of a recognized objective cosmos with meaning, and instead to posit that we simply are, and that there is no fixed coordinate of our essence – that the “I” of the “self” can strive to create an essence.  And so it goes, where you and I are essentially left without coordinates in common.   We have come to a point where we believe, and “feel”, an estrangement with the world.  The compass which guides the subjective being in an objective world no longer can be depended upon, because the coordinates no longer provide the level of certainty necessary for effective guidance.   And so we are left with a subjectivity within which we must find our own personal meanings.  But since most of us are not bright enough to attain a satisfactory level of meaning, we despair of the meaninglessness of our personal ventures.

The “I” possesses what we ascribe as a “personality” – a uniqueness which is, at its most basic level, distinct and distinguishable from someone else.  Now, one could argue that the difference is of no consequence; go into any Steiff Bear store and the appearance of each stuffed bear distinguishes each from the other.  Add a sequence of recorded sounds and exclamations and growls and whistles, and we have a distinctive “personality” different from one Steiff bear from another.  And, indeed, each Steiff bear has a distinctive look; each has an outward appearance of a “personality” different from another.  As the universe of words and concepts is limited by the convention of each age at any given moment in history, so the difference between one personality from another is merely the difference of sequence and groupings of words, delivered by a changed pitch, executed by an appearance distinct from another.  There is no “ghost in the machine”; merely a machine.

Yet, few of us accept such a conclusion.  Between you and I, we wink at such nonsense.  We know better.   The “common man” believes that there is more to the “I” than merely an automaton with the ability to mix and remix sentence structures.  A lifetime of individuals who have known me, know me as a distinctive personality; I have accumulated a lifetime of experiences which somehow makes me unique – “uniqueness” being defined merely as that which is unable to be recreated by a clever compositing of aspects which are commonplace in their independent parts.


“I” have a context

Of course, one can always designate Descartes as the bogeyman.  The cogito encompasses the “I”, because it is the self-referential coordinate which does the thinking; the ‘therefore’ embracing the conclusory existential beingness of the I referring back to the thought process which entails the self-referential I.  But what could this mean than to merely state in tautological absurdity:  the self-referential I is nothing more than the identity learned through the learned use of language.

Thus the frog which croaks, does the croaking identify the existence of the frog anymore than the assertion that the  “I” pre-exists a thinking process, resulting in a conclusion that existence is ascertainable?

Consider #257 of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations:  “What would it be like if human beings shewed no outward signs of pain (did not groan, grimace, etc.)?  Then it would be impossible to teach a child the use of the word ‘tooth-ache.” —  Well, let’s assume the child is a genius and itself invents a name for the sensation! – But then, of course, he couldn’t make himself understood when he used the word.  —  So does he understand the name, without being able to explain its meaning to anyone? —  But what does it mean to say that he has ‘named his pain’? —  How has he done this naming of pain?  And whatever he did, what was its purpose?  —  When one says “He gave a name to his sensation”  one forgets that a great deal of stage-setting in the language is presupposed if the mere act of naming is to make sense.  And when we speak of someone’s having given a name to pain, what is presupposed is the existence of the grammar of the word “pain”; it shews the post where the new word is stationed.”

Indeed, what Wittgenstein is attacking is the utter lack of contextual memory in the very assertion of the “I” in Descartes’ so-called proof of certitude. Look at it this way:  when a child first learns to maneuver through the object-filled universe, he is taught to identify those objects in his path which, in a very elementary sense, are everything but his “I”.  Thus, he learns that “x is a sofa”, “y is a table”; “spoon”, “fork”, “doggy”, and so on.  We don’t begin to teach a child our language by pointing to him and saying, “Now this is who you are,” and proceeding to identify the wonderful essences which make up the child, precisely because, as a young, malleable and not-as-yet uniquely identifiable personhood, there is not much to work with, at this stage in the game.  But by identifying the object-filled world around him, the very negation of the world – of identifying those things-in-the-world surrounding a being-in-the-world, which are “things” which are not the person seeing the “things” – in that life-long act of identifying everything that is not “I”, one begins to formulate an identity of the “I”.  For the relationship between the objects which are not I, gets connected to the person who identifies those objects, as in, “I want that piece of candy.”  Concurrently, in the normal course of learning about the world of objects, it becomes clear that other object-subjects who can be identified as another “I” treat the “I” who is the me as a subject-object, as in, “I love you.”  Thus, to paraphrase Wittgenstein, a great deal of stage-setting has been forgotten by Descartes.  For, in order to get to the “I”, it necessarily presupposes a lifetime of identifying, with certitude (or as certain as one could be), an object-filled world.

Where does this leave us?  This analysis does not prove any “ghost in the machine” – that very concept which was deliberately intended to be avoided at all costs in this essay.  It does not undermine the precepts of materialism.  It does not threaten the post-modern reductionism of the world into innocuous language games which have no correspondence to an external, noumenal world.  Instead, where this leaves us is to the point of discussing the concept of shame.

But first, let us look at the reversal of the process of witnessing the exciting, mysterious blossoming of the “person”.   In George Orwell’s 1984, Syme describes the process of reducing the “I” to Winston:  “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?  In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.  Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.  Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we’re not far from that point.  But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead.  Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.  Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime.  It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control.  But in the end there won’t be any need even for that.  The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.  Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak.”  Language is the foundation of thought.  Language has life and vibrancy within a context of a community of language-sharing.  To have a “private language” where a sole person is the only person who understands a “language” would be an absurdity; for the meaning of language is found in its very sharing in order to communicate.  Orwell’s 1984 is terrifying in its implications:  that a dictionary (the irony, of course, is that a dictionary is supposed to be a compendium of an ever-growing vocabulary reflecting the richness of a society’s language) is now a deliberate tool of reducing the vocabulary of a totalitarian society, thereby reducing the ability to formulate concepts.

Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.    The process of reduction leads to a shrinking of the range of consciousness; concepts disappear; thoughts become limited, constricted, coerced into a range of repetitive slogans and meaninglessness.   But, you say, there will always be rebels.  And the rebels will always be able to expand individuality; look at the fall of Communism; totalitarianism is everywhere being shattered and broken; the range of consciousness is ever expanding because the capacity of human rebellion, emanating from man’s inherent creativity and uniqueness, will forever be successful in preventing such a diabolical attempt to delimit man.  Ah, but if only such an idealism of man’s capacity reflected reality – and so it goes.


What does it mean “to think”?

Let us digress for a moment.  Sometimes, a tangential pathway leads to the terminal of a maze; while a straight line is always the shortest distance between two points, a circuitous route is often the solution to a problem presented by a maze.  For the very same capacity inherent in a human being – of creativity leading to rebellion leading to an ever expanding range of consciousness – is that same capacity which creates the possibility of a totalitarian state.  While 1984 recognized the diabolical nature of reductionism of consciousness, what would be the result of its very opposite – the infinite exponential explosion of the range of consciousness?

Our digression must first investigate:  “What does it mean ‘to think'”?

Between you and I, we both acknowledge that we engage in the process, in various ways, of this thing called Thinking.  If you disagree with such an assertion, we are probably unable to engage in a Rorty-like¹  “conversation”, because we cannot even agree upon a basic, fundamental activity.  When we speak about “thinking”, do we agree on the common thread of such an activity?  Consider the following different modalities of thinking (and this compendium is by no means exhaustive):

To ponder:  perhaps some semblance of complete sentence structures; periods and intervals of silence; perhaps some confirmation of an underlying, non-conscious (subconscious?) mechanism of problem-solving.  To ponder often involves silence without complete sentences; incomplete concepts.

Problem-solving:  Intense and sustained focus and attention; sequential thought-process; silent paragraphs; images of advanced steps many steps ahead and anticipating a maze of possible problems.

Meditate:  long periods of silence; peaceful blanks of focusing upon a word, a concept, a psalm or a touch of God.

To worry:  repetitive statements of doom; of potentially disastrous consequences and results; of often irrational thoughts and impending images of dire events and occurrences.

Playing Chess:  moves; anticipated moves; mental images of moves and potential counter-moves; fatigue and surrender.

To reflect:  quality and depth, as opposed to a scattering of thoughts without structure; a time to focus upon narrow foundational issues.

Making a list:  conscious and deliberate; constructing word sequence; recalling information for careful annotation.

Remembering while grocery shopping:  attempts at jogging one’s memory; looking at various food items and aisle signs to try and recollect; mental imagery of one’s refrigerator, cupboard, to pick out needs; an attempt to re-imagine the list one left at home.

Shame: an image of self; an image of friends, family, associates and how they view me; a coordinate of statements about one’s self; a collection of public statements, memories, recollections, images, from those other than I; a coordinate, and the reflection to reality.


See also: Between You and I (Part II of II)

¹ Richard Rorty, whom I had the privilege of studying under while a graduate student at the University of Virginia during the mid-80s, was a very kind and thoughtful philosopher.  The irony was that, with all of his encouragement of inter-disciplinary conversations, the Philosophy Department (of which I was a student) looked upon Mr. Rorty with some contempt.  Though considered a “Philosopher”, he was the professor emeritus of the Humanities Department – meaning, the Department of Philosophy, Lite.  Human envy and egocentricities were common roadblocks to such Rorty-like conversations, even between departments in the same University.  But I digress from the digression.