Friday, December 30, 2011

The Cassandra Complex

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was Princess of Troy, the daughter of King Priam.

A legendary beauty, Cassandra promised to be the god Apollo's consort, but at the last minute she refused his attentions.

As punishment, Apollo gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy but withheld the capacity to convince anyone of her predictions.

In other words, she was given the ability to predict disaster, but not the ability to prevent it.

This dubious gift of knowledge drove her mad.

Cassandra's prophecies grew more and more garbled and abstract. so that eventually she barely made any sense at all. It was only in retrospect that others were able to look back at her words and, post-disaster, recognize their precognitive nature.

I think sometimes that such is the nature of all prophecy. Taking prophecy literally leads to error, but ignoring it isn't a good idea either. That leaves us with the problem of interpretation, a task most people refuse because it is 1) scary, 2) uncertain, and 3) difficult.

Most people want to believe that the world is a known entity and that life will go on as it is, or better, indefinitely. We love the illusion of control. Deep down we all know that it is an illusion. But who wants to dwell on disaster if you can't prevent it? Such an orientation would drive anyone mad.

In some modern circles where psi ability and the symbolic content of dreams are taken for granted as valid, the refusal to pay attention is referred to as "The Cassandra Complex."

You have a strong intuition that some specific thing will come to pass, but you ignore it because it doesn't make logical sense. Then the damned thing happens, and you look back and think, "Oh bloody hell."

You should have listened to your gut.

In the Greek scheme of things, sophia or wisdom, is the feminine face of knowledge, whereas logos or word, is male.
In modern terms, we might say that intuition and logic are meant to be used together, married--but in fact what we have now is a rational domination of intuition which denies it even exists or which mechanically contests its validly.

This, in spite of the fact that some of the most famous scientific minds of the past centuries (Einstein, for example) have credited intuition for their greatest scientific achievements.

We may not know the way back to our balanced knowing selves, but I think we have to brave the confusion and the dark to find it. We have to get out of our societal Cassandra Complex.

A good place to start might be Socrates answer when told that the Oracle at Delphi had named him the wisest man in all of Greece.

He defended that verdict, noting that, "he, at least, knows that he knows nothing."