Responsibility is nothing other than how we heed our calling. Commonly confused with duty, it is rather only indirectly an element of the ethics of our response to others. At the deepest level of being, it is where we integrate self and the product of behaviour, the world as we perceive it. From our beginning, we obey in every action a call, to obey or disobey, to gratify or deny, to emulate or invent, to laugh or cry, to love or fear. Where this call comes from has been debated for millennia. Is it the voice of God? The Earth? Our species? Our ancestors? Whatever it is, we can all agree that it commends effort. It does care less for disinterest and boredom. It may evolve towards activism or submission, but the last thing it means is that life doesn’t matter, that it makes no difference what you do, for you’ll soon be dead.
But we will soon be dead, and notwithstanding the nobility of ‘responsibility’, there is more than a touch of absurdity in it, and when we judge it in others, madness too. Am I not mad to devote myself to reconfiguring a mediaeval world-view? Is it not madness to dedicate one’s life to preparation for the next life, or to perfect oneself in the knowledge that there won’t be one? Is it not madness to shake one’s head at the obsessions of others which have turned the world into a madhouse, believing that only one’s own responsibility is sane?
The Bardo is just like a huge department store: in every direction rows and rows of identical white display cabinets all the way to the hexagonal walls which announce its realm if only you could see that far; and on your way to a wall every cabinet reveals in its compartments, identical compartments, an infinite range of character inhabited by personality and opportunity changing as you pause and behold the particular combinations of compensation and destiny you can recognize as the madness of everyone you have ever known, as well as your own, even though you still haven’t been able to identify the department. Everything seems, like an expanding universe, to radiate from wherever you are.
In many ways, the midwinter Moon is the Big One, the cyclic root of discrimination and prejudice. The entire history of the human race has enacted our reaction to winter: will it kill us, what will we eat, what is it for, whose fault is it, what have we done wrong, will it end, when will it end, how will we prepare for its return, how can caring be so cruel? Actually, midwinter crosses the sky every day. Rug up your feelings, and contemplate the panorama of country on this occasion eclipsed by cold sunlight.
Saturday’s iconoclastic child works hard for a living while her shift-working idolizing sibling sleeps, because she lives a life of anguish. Benoit‘s third type, her being is strong in both animal and abstract nature. The twins complete each other in a self tending to overcome the not-self, but each, the brighter one deferent—deferential in the Ptolemaic sense—and the other subservient, reduces the other’s individuality to a not-self. What is unconscious is terrible in its imperative.
Yet the twins stand on the banks of the Lethe, and the self’s struggle to overcome fear of annihilation is blessed thereby in the imagination. Not in the law is human survival to be sourced, but in the instinctive assertion and satisfaction of responsibility. Reason determines it, but responsibility in the gut is what drives human resilience in community through the signs of winter and spring. God help you if you get in the way of human resilience!
The problem is, responsibility, that primeval driving force of humanity in the face of death and meaninglessness, constellates the self in opposing directions, as we know. Fracture is built into community, as separation is built into love. The autonomous principles of rationality and instinct are not united in Malkhut, but in Yesod, which has no existence other than as a rung on a transcendent ladder. Radicalization is a probability as immanence is a probability. The physical world was always a fetish for humanity, always a commodification, always a consumption.
Esmeralda, the transgender judge of the high court, is an activist in the rehabilitation of the suppressed gender which underlies all miscreance. Igor, the Eastern European-Aboriginal saint of the public bar, is hell-bent on refusing to accept less than he deserves. Uki, the fool of the Tarot deck, lives in a magical world of continuous transformation of human flesh and spirit engendered by what the latest cultural implant is selling at the corner store. Meanwhile, country is a usurpation of indigenous culture, and ‘centering‘ prayer is sold by Amazon. Is there a way towards a cultivated space in which voices all speak the same language? Can the world we leave our grandchildren transcend madness, thanks to our effort?
How to be responsible by not speaking out and causing offence. How to enjoy a Sagittarian cup of tea with the twins. How to submit to a culture of mental illness, consuming the culture of others and teaching only consumption to your children. How to project mental illness as the condition for rejection without defining it, and therefore without judging it. How to be in good mental health by excluding others not of your caste who might reveal your shadow. How to do something for youth by teaching the culture of an outcast. How to live and teach a complete life without reading a book of ideas or listening selectively to music, or learning to fish and hunt and cook. How to invent a life in the spirit. How to be responsibly irresponsible.
Incidentally, the opposite of responsibility, the irresponsible, is boredom. There is no other place to find your vocation than right where you’re standing, in the centre of the landscape, though you might never get to read the sign on the wall.