Kall: (laughs) Well, welcome to the club!
Larsen: If you're ADD and you still have a kind of indefatigable creative drive... People go, “How can you be a mythologist and a psychologist or a neurologist all at the same time?” I do think, and I believe you share this world, that the cultural creatives are sometimes the people who dip between disciplines and then come up with where the holograph that we're all participating in sort of connects its separate parts.
Kall: I think that could be, as interesting and afflicting as it might be. You know, I used to say that I was afflicted with creativity, and then I figured out I was ADD.
Larsen: People who are really creative do use the term affliction, because it is like a daimon that has hold of you and it's where your energy comes from.
Kall: You said daimon. Did you mean demon?
Larsen: No, daimon is the term that Socrates uses, the Greek inflection is d-a-i-m-o-n, and it's not the same inflection as a Christian demon, or a Babylonian demon, for that matter. It's kind of an older idea that we all plug into spiritual, sort of phantom, rulers, or originators, that are both our creative genius and perhaps our downfall at times.
Kall: Yes, that's it. And you're manifesting the deep wells of wisdom that you bring to any conversation here. So, I introduced, before you were on the phone, your book, The Fundamentalist Mind, the subtitle is How Polarized Thinking Imperils Us All. I mentioned how it's an award winner, it won a gold medal in Psychology, the Book of the Year. So tell us a little about it. What's this about? Why would people read this?
Larsen: I suppose I went into a reactive mode after the events of 9-11. I'm a New Yorker, and I live about 90 miles from the city, but I have an office in New York, as well, and I went to college in New York, at Columbia, and I lived in The Village, in the East Village, and in the Soho District. I love that place. It's really amazing. And I was down there just shortly after the event and I saw people doing something I'd never seen before, which was, in all the parks around New York City, making little shrines and praying and meditating and weeping together. It made a profound impression on me. Joseph Campbell had long passed away, but I thought, “Oh, my God, he should see this,” and realized that, in a way, it's a consequence of fundamentalism, on both sides.
Kall: Both sides, yeah, really. So tell me some more. What is the fundamentalist mind?
Larsen: Well, the fundamentalist mind… one of the unique things I bring to this book is this ability to sort of span paradigms. So, I say that fundamentalism is not restricted to religious fundamentalism alone, although religious fundamentalism -- because religion is so powerful a psychological force in people’s life -- the religious fundamentalism manages to kind of climb to the top of the list of human inspirations, madnesses and delusions at the same time. It can be wonderful; that’s where we plug into the trans-rational, the metaphysical, and those of us who are in the mental health field know also how prone to delusion the human mind is. So, people can get very stuck in their mythological kinds of thinking.
So, after this event that happened it was really religious fundamentalism, but I went…no, the division and the tectonic plates that we’re all sitting on is much deeper than that. It’s the division between materialism and the metaphysical kind of perspective. It’s the difference between old, traditional, orthodox ways of thinking and whole families and dynasties and communities that have talked to each other in this language forever and that’s why they all get along – they all understand each other, because they all speak the same language.
So, they’re all starting to war with each other. These tectonic plates that are moving are larger than anything we’ve seen in recent history. It’s not just the Catholics versus the Protestants, or the Hindus versus the Buddhists, or the, you know, really fundamentalist Islamic against the more liberal Islamics. It’s a deeper thing than that. The fundamental quest is: is there a meaning in life? Is the universe alive or is it dead? Are there trans-rational channels of communication that we can plug into, whether you go from Karl Jung’s archetypes to the sublimest insights of modern philosophers and intuitives. Where do we touch the mind of the universe? It’s a very, very dangerous, perilous territory – that’s why I say the perilous thing – because, when people get into this zone, their thinking easily becomes polarized.
Kall: Tell me more about the danger.
Larsen: Well, the danger starts with probably Zaroastrianism, but it’s possible that dualism is even more ancient than that. Through Zaroastrianism, it goes into Judaism and then it goes into Gnosticism and Manichaeism and Christianity and later on into Mithraism and it just comes down through the ages, and it’s this idea that you can really label good and evil. I mean, what a balmy idea. And, you know, use those emotionally loaded words as if everybody understood what the hell you were talking about.
Kall: Now, you start your book off by talking about the “phantom rulers of humanity.” What is that about?
Larsen: There’s a great poetic line… I drew that from one of Joseph Campbell’s favorite poets, Robinson Jeffers. And the poem is right in front of me, so I think I’ll read it to you a little bit, and then I’ll sort of say what I just read.