Not Achilles as leader, but St. Francis of Assisi: Terry Patten on the "yin heroes" we need to be revolutionary

Daft Punk Yin Yang

Daft Punk Yin Yang

A demanding world ahead of us in 2019. We need to come together in new collectives, to face unprecedented challenges in climate crisis and technological revolution.

Yet given that our various forms of “We” are failing us - democracies voting to subvert themselves, populisms pushing politics to purist extremes - we maybe need to turn as much to our inner development, as our outer reforms (the “I” of our “I-We-World” framework).

How can we present better faces, and hearts, to those who we wish to bring along with us, as we grapple with planetary limits and technological disruption? What kind of story should we tell, what kind of leadership could make a difference? We want this to be a stronger theme of A/UK in 2019 - the subjective equipment required for genuine progress.

Here’s a first foray, by means of the integral scholar Terry Patten, who made a presentation a few days ago on what he calls Yin Leadership (see video at end of post), based on his new book, A New Republic of the Heart - an ethos for revolutionaries.

[Patten refers here to the ancient Chinese philosophical notion of yin/yang, the relationship and interpenetration of opposed forces. Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity, and night time. Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and active; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime.]

As Patten explains:

In my new book, I have introduced the idea of the “yin hero,” a new model of leadership that draws on virtues associated with artists and the sacred feminine. It expresses not the yang masculine dominating capacities of the warrior hero, but heroic joyful love, the self-transcending care and generosity associated with great saints.

What is the nature of this kind of leadership? Might it be already invisibly getting stronger in millions of us? How can we nurture these capacities in ourselves? How we can cooperate to bring this counter-intuitive disruptive leadership to bear on behalf of the human future?

Interestingly, yin leadership embodies radical creativity, and it draws on the capacities associated with art and artists. It breaks down boundaries, not just between love and politics, but between creativity and power. The classic books, The Art of War, and The Art of Loving, seem to come from different worlds, but the kind of yin leadership our world needs now, requires a reunification. What is the art of loving so profoundly that love commands power — and thus transforms (and “wins”) the war for the more-than-human future?

I have written that the icon of yin heroism is “not Achilles, but St. Francis.” At this point in human evolution, some of our biggest threats come from innumerable pumped-up egos, vying for yang pre-eminence and dominance over others. But now we need something radically different. Instead of slaying any outer enemy, we now need a new generation of heroes who will at last slay the monsters within so profoundly as to be able to relate to one another differently, co-creating a truly new way of being human, a post-egoic cultural pattern.

Instead of heroism that presumes separation, this heroic spirit sees through the story of separation and enacts wholeness instead. It refuses to put anyone out of one’s heart. But it is hardly soft; it is a ferocious stand for care. Such heroic love is required for us to break out of our fragmented, conflictual ways of being in relationship to one another—and that’s the crucial challenge of our time.

It’s interesting to note that St. Francis of Assisi is also invoked by one of the intellectual lodestars hovering over A/UK - and that’s the “networked commons” philosophy of Antonio Negri and Micheal Hardt (mentioned here in previous months). See below, from Empire (1999 - free PDF copy):

…Consider Assisi’s work. To denounce the poverty of the multitude he adopted that common condition and discovered there the ontological power of a new society. The communist militant does the same, identifying in the common condition of the multitude its enormous wealth.

Francis, in opposition to nascent capitalism, refused every instrumental discipline, and in opposition to the mortification of the flesh (in poverty and in the constituted order) he posed a joyous life, including all of being and nature, the animals, sister moon, brother sun, the birds of the field, the poor and exploited humans, together against the will of power and corruption.

Once again in postmodernity we find ourselves in Francis’s situation, posing against the misery of power the joy of being…

So does St. Francis’s modest point towards a slaying of internal monsters of fear and anger - or towards a joyful embrace of what we powerfully have in common? Or is each the foundation and condition of the other?

We cut to the chase on A/UK! For more in-depth exploration, enjoy Terry’s video from below