“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
What does it mean to judge someone by the content of their character? What are we judging exactly? Most people would say something like, “whether they are a good person”. But what is a “good person”? Aristotle would say “a virtuous person”. He explains what he means by this in The Nichomachean Ethics.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an Aristotelian and a Christian. He believed in virtue and character and the possibility of cultivating them. He believed that being a good Christian meant having a good character and that having a good character meant that you didn’t judge people by superficial things like the colour of their skin.
King’s dream was that his children might live in a society made up of wise people who could see into the human heart, rather than foolish people who only judged by appearances. For King, as for Aristotle, wisdom and virtue are closely related. The better your grip on reality, the less egocentric you are. And the less egocentric you are (the more decentred), the holier you are. This is why King’s dream is ultimately a religious dream.
As a religious man, he dreamed that he might become as holy, virtuous and wise as possible. As a civil rights activist, he dreamed that his country might become as holy, virtuous and wise as possible. But he was a realist. He knew the depths of foolishness in the American psyche. This was part of his wisdom.
If you are familiar with my work, you will know that I make use of two different psychological systems based on the six realms of the Bhavachakra, the Tibetan Wheel of Life. The first is a loose translation in which I identify six ego states corresponding to the different realms, namely, Diva, Demon, Victim, Addict, Muppet and Muggle. The second is simply these ego states flipped over into their positive counterparts, that is, Mystic, Shaman, Warrior, Monk/Nun, Philosopher, King/Queen. (The two systems are depicted on the Home Page).
These two “mind-maps” are really just descriptions of what a foolish character and a wise character look like. It is quite a radical claim, because what I am saying is that foolish people and wise people live in different worlds according to different principles. You find this idea expressed in Christianity in the St. Paul’s distinction between the “old man” and the “new man”:
“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
Ephesians 4: 22-24
In my book, The Confessions of a Psychedelic Christian, I relate the six aspects of the “new man” to the three qualities of holiness, virtue and wisdom. The “Mystic Shaman” represents holiness, the “Warrior Monk” represents virtue and the “Philosopher King” represents wisdom. Thus to develop and embody these archetypes is to become holy, virtuous and wise.
Conversely, the six aspects of the “old man”, the unregenerate man or woman, are associated with the opposite tendencies. Thus, the “Diva Demon” represents selfishness, the “Victim Addict” represents weakness and the “Muppet Muggle” represents foolishness. The more entrenched these archetypes, the more selfish, weak and foolish we are.
Look at yourself. Are you cultivating wisdom or foolishness? And what are you doing to cultivate it?
Look at your culture. Is it growing wiser or growing more foolish? And what is your culture promoting? The development of character or the denial of character in favour of identity politics?
I still believe in Martin Luther King’s dream, but sometimes I wonder whether it will come true even in my own children’s lifetime.
“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”
Matthew 7: 24-27