Tag Archives: A Christmas Carol

What am I doing here?

I have recently pondered the purpose of this blog and whether I should feel the obligation to continue it. Although I do not feel an obligation to a readership base, there is frequently a lingering thought that I should regularly create and post content. Perhaps this is the result of neural pathways that have been constructed resulting from dopamine released when I see views, likes and comments, or the slight adrenaline released when I debate with the friendly folks at the Orthosphere and the troll that has taken a fancy to my blog. There is also the sense that this blog feeds my need to be creative and strengthens my creative muscle.

But there is also the sense that I have something to say regarding my perception of this world. I have many thoughts, reactions and impressions, but until I write them down they are typically not in their most organized and coherent form. The act of writing works to shape these ideas etc. into a more coherent form. It also helps to process and release the ideas etc. That is, the ideas tend to linger in my conscience until I write them down and organize them. Once I write them down, the lingering tends to cease. I do not fully understand this process but it seems to be true.

So back to the initial question: What is the purpose of this blog? I believe the answer is: The purpose of this blog is to serve as a creative outlet where I can organize, process and release my thoughts and insights. I am not sure that purpose works to serve the interests of blog readers. Perhaps it does. But their interests are not my primary purpose. However, there is something about publishing a blog where other people can read it that aids in this process. To wit, if I write something in my private journal there is not much thought invested in the neatness of my hand writing or the organization of my ideas as they relate to another person reading them. If I am being honest, there is some thought that someone might read my journal. But when journal writing, I cannot worry about that because it defeats its purpose. In other words, my journal is a venue for me to be completely honest with myself. The purpose is simply to put the thoughts onto paper as a means of processing and releasing them. I rarely go back and reread a portion of my personal journal unless there is a specific idea I want to retrieve. In that sense my journal serves as a personal historical record but it also serves to process and release the ideas as I previously described. By contrast, blog writing incorporates an additional step whereby effort is expended to coherently organize thoughts and write them in a manner intended to be presentable to an outside audience. There is something about this extra step that more fully does the work of processing and releasing the ideas. I do not feel I completely understand this last point but it seems to be something along those lines.

This blog has existed since 2013. When I started, the initial purpose was probably more oriented towards amassing an audience. At that time, I was in a different place intellectually and spiritually. To a certain extent, this blog documents my intellectual and spiritual evolution since that time. In that sense, I make no claim that there is an internal coherence to the thoughts expressed except that they document this personal evolution. The purpose of this blog has likewise evolved from its initial state of wanting to put myself “out there” in some form, to a venue to organize my thoughts in a more coherent manner and to release them in order to move on to whatever is next from that intellectual platform.

Before I close, I would also like to touch upon the title of this blog; “Winston Scrooge”, which is a combination of the names of the protagonists in “1984” by George Orwell and “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Both of these literary works have resonated with me deeply for various reasons. I can relate with Winston Smith of “1984” in his feeling of isolation, that the world can be a hostile and oppressive place and that struggling against it can be a fruitless and ultimately self-destructive enterprise. But I also relate to Ebenezer Scrooge of “A Christmas Carol” in his initial hardness of heart, but also in his underlying openness to change through the benevolent intervention of outside and divine forces. The telling of both their transformations through the course of their respective stories have lingered as ideas in my mind for most of my life. The fact that they have lingered so long suggests that I have not fully processed and released them.

I recently reread 1984 for a podcast I recorded and still extracted new and interesting information. I typically, reread “A Christmas Carol” before the end of the year. At the very least, I re-watch the Patrick Stewart version and hope to experience the unique resonance I have with it as well. Perhaps I will never fully process the depths of these stories. I hope I will never fully release either of them in the sense that I do not wish to loose that sense of resonance. I have to admit that my resonance with “A Christmas Carol” has dissipated somewhat of late. Perhaps I am clinging to something that should be released. But even that dynamic is informative. It demonstrates that in this life, all things evolve. I grow older and hopefully wiser. Old wounds can heal and the process of their healing is an evolution and an education if I am open to allowing it to be so.

And so, I will continue with this blog because it serves the purposes articulated above to do so. If there are readers out there who profit with me by my writing, so much the better. It is nice to think that is the case but I will remain on my guard not to let that be the motivation behind this enterprise. I will also keep in mind Winston Smith and Ebenezer Scrooge and their respective transformations that have resonated so deeply with me and continue to ponder why this is so as long as I continue to write.

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The Spiral Dynamics of “A Christmas Carol”

[T]he wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for.

marley's ghostIn Stave One of “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens makes this observation in reference to him not knowing why the phrase “dead as a door-nail” aptly describes the extent to which Jacob Marley is actually dead. From a Spiral Dynamics viewpoint, this observation expresses a very Stage Blue sentiment. That is, it not only expresses reverence for the wisdom of ancestors but it also connects reverence for this wisdom to the Country’s well being. Of course, the term country could easily be replaced with tribe, race, religion or culture. In Stage Blue, these identities are of primary importance as is the belief that one’s identity is supreme and the beliefs and values of the identity are true. This naturally implies that other identities are inferior and the beliefs of other identities are false.

Of course, Charles Dickens lived in 19th century England during the industrial revolution. This was a time when the country in which he lived was transitioning from Spiral Dynamics Stage Blue to Stage Orange. You might say that it had one foot firmly in each stage. Religion at the time still had great influence over the culture, the white race was supreme in England and increasingly so around the world. At the same time Stage Orange capitalism, scientism and liberalism were taking on a larger role. The Stage Green doubt of white supremacy had not yet formed in the European consciousness or in the consciousness of Europe’s daughters (North America, South Africa, Australia etc.). But Stage Green does play a role in the story.

Indeed, the Stage Green sentiments of compassion for one’s fellow man are certainly strong themes in the story. In Stave One, the ghost of Jacob Marley rejects capitalism’s negative effects on the poor and disenfranchised by exclaiming:

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

In Stave Three, the most outwardly judgmental of the three spirits who visit Scrooge after Marley’s ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Present, chastises Scrooge for thinking that the religious authorities correctly represented divine Truth in all aspects:

“There are some upon this earth of yours … who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived.”

The “us” to which the spirit refers are spirits and the divine in general. Later, the same spirit chastises Scrooge’s political beliefs as to the government social policies of his day:

“Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

GCPHere we see a rejection of Stage Blue religion and Stage Orange capitalism. However, it is probably safe to assume that the “common welfare” to which the Marley’s ghost refers applied more strictly to his own country and not so much to mankind as a whole. In the same respect, the Ghost of Christmas Present’s criticism (in Dickens’ mind) probably assumed the supremacy of white Europeans and the truth of Christianity. Whereas, to our more modern sentiments (generally speaking) which have been more heavily influenced by Stage Green would interpret the ghosts’ references to have a more universal application. In this respect we can see the still strong influence of Stage Blue in the telling of the story.

When we speak of applying the principles of Spiral Dynamics to cultures we are necessarily speaking in general terms. The culture from which Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” was one transitioning from Blue to Orange with some influence of Green. By contrast, our culture at present can be described largely as transitioning from from Orange to Green with a waning influence of Blue. Within this larger dynamic, each individual can be described as embodying different stages in different amounts. Moreover, there are pockets of people who are influenced by various stages to greater and lesser degrees. For example, modern day San Francisco is more heavily Stage Green than is say Houston, Texas generally speaking.

A recent blog post on the (very Stage Blue) Orthosphere entitled “The Modern Cosmopolitan Cult Tends to the Cult of Moloch” is a very clear example of a Stage Blue mindset describing the Stage Orange and Green culture in which we live. The post argues that modern Stage Green notions of toleration effectively cannot tolerate Stage Blue notions of intolerance. From the Stage Blue perspective there is no higher stage than Stage Blue. Stage Orange and Green are errors. In fact, the entire Spiral Dynamics model is an error and salvation lies in a return to Stage Blue. Obviously, a Stage Blue person would not employ this terminology to describe this idea.

According to the Spiral Dynamics model, however, it is impossible to revert back to a prior stage except in extremely traumatic circumstances and this reversion tends to be temporary in nature. No, each stage is a necessary precursor to the stage that follows. Each stage solves the problems of the previous stage and creates problems that must, in turn, be solved by the next stage. From this perspective, we can see that the story of “A Christmas Carol” describes Ebeneezer Scrooge’s transition from Stage Orange to Stage Green. From a larger perspective, “A Christmas Carol” is an interesting time capsule within the larger Spiral Dynamic.

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Spiritual Isolation

treesI have always been very confident that there is a greater reality that underlies the reality in which our every day life takes place. I suppose this is what the terms “heaven” and “the Kingdom of God” attempt to describe in Christian terminology.

I once had a dream where I experienced this greater reality directly. In my dream I was in a green room lit from some unknown source. There was a low humming sound in the background like a florescent light bulb. What was distinctive about this experience was that it felt “more real” than my every day experience. Along with this feeling of “real” there was also the feeling of recognition or gnosis. It seemed very familiar but not in the deja vu way where I am aware that something is familiar but cannot connect all the dots. In this experience the feeling was simply a timelessness and I felt like I knew with absolute certainty that what I was experiencing was the reality that underlay reality. When I woke up I felt an extreme sense of disappointment and a longing to get back to that ultimate reality. I had the feeling that that place was home and where the important action was happening. It pointed out the fact that in my waking life was an exile hidden by the illusion of normalcy. I had the sense that I was being left out of something that I should be a part of.

Similarly, I remember feeling left out in elementary school when I was not in the smart kid group but felt I should have been.  I was always picked last for kick ball.  I could never get the girls to like me.  People treated me like a loser.  Anytime I put myself out there and tried something new I was humiliated. To defend myself I isolated myself.  This provided some measure of protection but now I know it was me who was leaving myself out.  Because it hurt less than being actively left out by others I kept at it.  But as a result I never got good at those things I isolated myself from.  In a sense I perpetuated my sense of being left out by preventing myself from mastering those skills I would have gained had I put myself out there despite the fear of humiliation. Regretfully, I never had that moment of recognition and struggle to set things right. Now in many ways I am an adult struggling to catch up with everyone else.

I always felt the saddest part of A Christmas Carol was the scene where Ebenezer Scrooge finally shows up to the dinner party hosted by his nephew Fred.  Fred had been inviting him for years to come to dinner on Christmas Day but Scrooge always declined.  When Scrooge finally knocked on the door I imagine he half expected to be rejected but he took a chance and knocked on that door anyway.  I have cried many times watching this scene late at night and perhaps a bit buzzed. There is something about seeing Fred welcome Scrooge with non-judgmental acceptance and genuine happiness that elicits this emotion in me.

There is a connection between these three anecdotes. I am aware that I have been separated from my true self or home. Whether this means my soul, heaven, my true calling in life or all of these things I am not entirely certain. Along with this separation is attached the emotions of longing and sadness. When I see this separation depicted allegorically through literature I experience an emotional release. Emotions (particularly uncontrollable emotions) are always true. That is, they are always there for a reason. Their existence is a clue or a piece of evidence pointing towards a greater truth that what I suspect most people normally experience in their everyday life.

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The Solipsism of Scrooge

ScroogeThere is a great deal of evidence in Charles Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol” to suggest that Ebenezer Scrooge lives within a solipsistic universe. Solipsism is the theory that the self is all that can be known to exist and possibly all that does exist. If Scrooge did in fact live in a solipsistic universe then the world he perceived himself to live in including all the other people inhabiting that world would be merely creations of his own mind. They would therefore have no real form or substance of their own. In his solipsistic universe only Scrooge would exist. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the idea I am going to relate. For the purpose of understanding I submit the following exhibits into evidence.

Exhibit A – Solitary as an Oyster

Scrooge himself felt very alone in the world. Dickens describes him as “solitary as an oyster” and that “… the very thing he liked [was to] edge his way along the crowded paths of life warning all human sympathy to keep its distance…” He lived alone in a dark, empty, “gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had little business to be …” hidden behind other houses. I have read many books on dream interpretation that interpret a house in a dream to represent the human mind. If it was Dickens’ intent to have Scrooge’s house represent his mind I think the metaphor is apt. Finally, Scrooge pushed all other people aside as if they were truly “surplus population” and not entirely real to him. We see this when his nephew comes to his office to invite him to dinner, when the two solicitors visit and when the child sings a carol on the steps of his office. We also see it quite clearly in the way he treats his clerk, Bob Cratchit.

Exhibit B – Bah Humbug

Scrooge’s go to catch phrase is “Bah Humbug.” In my last post we discussed how the actual definition of “Humbug” is “language or behavior that is false or meant to deceive…” It is this deception that lies at the heart of the solipsistic universe. In other words, the other people in Scrooge’s world are not separate beings but rather creations of Scrooge’s mind. The fact that they appear to be separate on the surface level is the deception. Scrooge sees his universe as a humbug because the truth of it is not how it actually appears. In a sense there are two minds at work; one that is of the universe and lives within it (i.e, his ego) and one that is aware of the falseness of the universe (i.e., his true self).

Exhibit C – Jacob Marley

Marley’s ghost tells Scrooge that the purpose of his visit is to warn Scrooge that he has a chance to escape Marley’s fate. Scrooge sees that Marley is fettered with a ponderously long and heavy chain. Marley tells Scrooge he wears the chain he forged through his neglect of his fellow man and that Scrooge’s chain was as heavy as Marley’s chain currently appears to be seven Christmases ago. Scrooge is not aware of his own chain but the implication is clear that he will become painfully aware of the chain once he dies.

When Marley first appears, Scrooge explicitly states that he does not believe Marley is real and that he assumes Marley is a creation of his own imagination. There is then a dialog where Marley’s ghost attempts to convince Scrooge that he is real. Scrooge argues that Marley is probably the byproduct of poor digestion. This is not particularly convincing but it illustrates the point that Scrooge assumes himself to live in an (at least somewhat) solipsistic universe. Marley finally frightens Scrooge into admitting he believed in Marley. But what exactly does this mean that Scrooge “believed” in Marley? I think the only logical answer to this question is that when Scrooge says he believes in Marley he means to say he believes Marley is a separate person and therefore repudiates his own belief that he lives in a solipsistic universe. Perhaps this is repudiation is necessary in order for Scrooge to believe the redeeming power of the apparition. Perhaps this belief is necessary for his redemption.

But even if Scrooge is forced to admit that he does not live in a solipsistic universe this does not necessarily prove that his universe is more than just his mind. Consider the question, why was there no ghost that appeared to Marley before he died? Why does Scrooge deserve this chance at redemption and not Marley? It could be argued that Scrooge actually deserves redemption less than Marley given the relative sizes of their respective chains. The fact that Marley appears for Scrooge’s sake but no ghost appeared for Marley’s sake appears to be evidence that Scrooge does in fact live in a solipsistic universe.

Exhibit D – Your Past

The final piece of evidence I will present to support the argument that Scrooge lives in a solipsistic universe is what the Ghost of Christmas Past says to Scrooge when he makes his introduction. When he tells Scrooge who he is, Scrooge replies, “Long past?” to which the ghost counter-replies, “No. Your past.” The ghost is in effect telling Scrooge that his whole reason for being is for Scrooge’s benefit. In a sense the ghost would not have a reason for being if Scrooge did not exist. This only makes sense if Scrooge lives in a solipsistic universe. One can assume the subsequent ghosts exist for the same reason.

Conclusion

I think it is important that Scrooge’s universe is solipsistic because it explains both how and why his redemption takes effect. First of all, there must have been a repressed subconscious part of Scrooge that desired redemption. This subconscious part of him was his true self that had been suppressed by an overbearing ego. This ego had its genesis in Scrooge’s mother who died in childhood and his father who blamed him for his mother’s death. Scrooge “feared the world too much” and built up defenses against it by allowing his ego to take control. With the onset of advanced age his true self reached a point where either redemption happened now or it would never happen. Because Scrooge lived in an egocentric solipsistic universe his subconscious true self was able to send Marley and the three ghosts to ferry Scrooge through the redemption process.

This redemption process, however, was a transformation from solipsism to a world where the other had real form and substance. In a solipsistic universe, there is only the self. The “others” cohabitating this universe have no real existence. As such, they can be easily marginalized as “surplus population” and treated as lesser beings. But this is a lonely, dark, hostile and ultimately undesirable world to live in. When one lives in that world for too long he becomes like Scrooge; angry, bitter, afraid and distrustful of the other. Redemption can only happen when one frees himself from the shackles of the ego and migrates from its self contained, solipsistic universe into the real world in which the other exists with real form and substance. In order for the command to love thy neighbor to be meaningful, the neighbor must be real and other. Otherwise love of neighbor is merely a love for a phantom created by the mind.

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Humbug and the Spirit of Christmas

FredIn Stave I of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Fred debates the value of the spirit of Christmas with his uncle Ebenezer Scrooge. The debate takes place in the evening on a dark, cold Christmas Eve in his uncle’s office. Fred invites his uncle to dine with him on Christmas Day and his uncle declines calling Christmas a “humbug.” I have always thought the term “humbug” meant something frivolous or devoid of meaning. It turns out the definition is a little more specific than this. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary “humbug” is defined as “language or behavior that is false or meant to deceive people.” If this is the definition of humbug Charles Dickens intended it casts a slightly different shade on why Ebenezer Scrooge chose this word to describe Christmas.

Throughout the novella Scrooge retorts “humbug” to various things he encounters. For example, when Marley’s ghost appears in his room he utters “humbug.” It seems clear that by “humbug” he means that he does not believe what he sees to be actually real. But according to the definition of the word it would seem that he does not believe what he sees because he feels that someone or something is trying to deceive him. In the same respect he tells his nephew that “Christmas is a humbug” which I therefore take to mean that he does not believe in Christmas because he sees it as some sort of grand deception. Given his material preoccupation I assume he sees Christmas as a deception by the people who profit from the economic activity associated with the holiday. But perhaps he also senses a more spiritual deception going on. This would explain all the ghostly activity to come later that night.

In reaction to his uncle’s branding of Christmas a humbug, Fred begins to defend the holiday’s good name by saying:

… I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that…

Here he pays a winking acknowledgement to the reason for Christmas (i.e., Christ’s incarnation) but does so in a way to suggest that this is not the thrust behind this story (i.e., A Christmas Carol). I do not believe this is a Fox News “War on Christmas” type of thing. It is merely to say that the story Dickens is telling, although set within a Christian context is not about Christianity per se. Rather, it is the story of one man’s spiritual redemption from himself. In a sense Scrooge in this story has pulled the wool over his own eyes. He is perpetrating a humbug on himself, so to speak.

Fred further describes Christmas as:

 … as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. 

I assume most people recognize the childlike spirit of the season he describes. I remember feeling this more intensely when I was younger. Essentially, there is something about the Christmas season that makes people want to be nicer to each other, to relax their egocentric judgment and to pay less attention to false excuses for division such as politics, race and indeed religion.

Children are not as fixated on these things. They only come to value them when they are taught to value them by adults. Jesus himself said, “… Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (MT 18:3). Perhaps this childlike spirit of Christmas is a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps this childlike spirit is revealed when one pulls back the various humbugs of adulthood.

Clearly Scrooge is the antithesis of the childlike spirit Fred describes. For one thing, he is old. I have often heard people react to “A Christmas Carol” by saying that even though Scrooge redeemed himself he must have been disappointed or regretful that his redemption did not happen earlier in life. But this observation misses the point, I think. It is precisely Scrooge’s age in spirit that required redeeming. He had to become more childlike to enter the kingdom of heaven. As such, his physical age is symbolic of his spiritual age which exudes all the traits of ego dominated adulthood.

Fred continues:

And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!

Here he contrasts this childlike spirit of Christmas with the materialism with which it stands in opposition to. A childlike spirit is not cynical. It does not suspect a humbug around every corner. It is not greedy, grasping or full of ego. It is not mean spirited, judgmental or racist. Rather, the childlike spirit of Christmas is open hearted, compassionate, full of life, anticipation and excitement. It exposes the humbug of division and reveals the true fact that we are all “fellow passengers to the grave” and this earthly existence and our physical, skin deep appearances are not what is ultimately important.

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Thoughts on Advent and Christmas

Stores started putting up Christmas decorations after Halloween this year. I do not know one person who thinks this a good thing. Even the clerk in the Verizon store agreed with me. Everyone hates it and yet they do it anyway. And there is the sense that there is no way to put that genie back in the bottle. In my house I established a rule that no one can talk about Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Christmas looses its power after a while when it is stretched out to long. By the time the day actually rolls around I become resentful of Christmas under these circumstances. The four weeks of Advent seem to be a psychologically appropriate amount of time to prepare.

There is a sense of anticipation about Advent. There are four candles on the advent wreath. Every week a new one is lit. There are Advent calendars where every day a new ornament is placed or window opened. Advent is a count down. When I was young this sense of anticipation was exhilarating. I felt like something great was about to happen. Now that I am older the sense of anticipation is stressful. I want Christmas to be as magical for my children as it was for me when I was a child. I feel like the good thing might not actually turn out to be as good as I want it to. But when the good thing finally happens there is a sense of relief. It is disappointing that I cannot feel it the way I did when I was young.

Why are there so many TV shows and movies where the central theme is someone “saving” Christmas? It is the anticipation that leads to this sense that if the payoff does not happen then there will be disappointment, like when the kicker misses the game winning field goal in a football game. There is so much at stake. What exactly are they saving Christmas from?

I like the idea that Christmas is a light entering the world during the darkest time of year.

I love “It’s A Wonderful Life” but if I think about it too closely I think the message that George Bailey should be happy that he made other people happy by himself being miserable is a little suspect. I love the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” where Santa speaks to the young girl in Dutch. He makes a connection. He is merciful.

I love “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. (See below for links to my blog posts on this story). Scrooge waited his whole life before he redeemed himself. I wonder if he felt cheated. Sometimes I feel like I have waited too long to redeem myself. I realize that sort of thinking comes from my shame ego but sometimes it scares me into believing it. This fear of never being redeemed is the darkness. It is the darkest day of the year of my life. Perhaps there is a way to find redemption through the light of Christmas. I am not sure how that would happen on a technical level. Maybe I do not need to know. Maybe I just need to be open to it and let it happen. It is a nice thought anyway.

 

 A Christmas Carol Part I

A Christmas Carol Part II

A Christmas Carol Part III

A Christmas Carol Part IV

A Christmas Carol Part V

A Christmas Carol Part VI

A Christmas Carol Part VII

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