In his book The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser described what he called “the double-movement” of our times. Indeed, we call it “times” in the plural because it evinces this double-movement. This double-movement accounts for the paradoxes and ironies of the present, but also underlies the situation of predicament and dilemma. “Double-movement” is just an optional way of describing crisis, and a crisis is a parting of the ways, being a word related to cross, crossroads, crucial, and also crucible.
During times of rapid change, there is always a lag between events and our perception and understanding of those events. “Thought” is past tense. Reflection is always after the fact. Someone once said that “time makes hypocrites of us all”, but what that really means is that there is a dissonance between change and the adequacy of our responses to that change. We are already living in the future, but our thinking is still in the past, so that we live divided between the past and the future.
I call that “the Horseless Carriage Syndrome”, because the emergence of the automobile in its time could only be understood for many be reference to the past and precedent, in much that same way that indigenous people could only understand the locomotive as “Iron Horse”.
George Santayana is remembered for his remark that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Marx thought that, yes indeed, history does repeat itself — first as tragedy, but then as farce.
It’s a quip that brings to mind slap-stick comedy. When the man first steps on the rake and batters his face, we feel and empathise with his pain. But when he steps forward and does it again — and again and again — we sense only his folly. We sense, in other words, the truth of Einstein’s judgement that repeating the same thing over and over again expecting different results each time is a mark of insanity. These are hallmarks of “post-historic man”, as described by Lewis Mumford and Roderick Seidenberg.
In that respect, Santayana, Marx, and Einstein are in complete agreement. The monotony of repetition and recurrence.
Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? – Mark 8:18
It’s a common enough refrain and lament in the Wisdom literature — eyes they have but see not; ears they have but hear not, neither do they remember. It’s a very simple way of stating that there are inner, spiritual senses which are primary, and for which the external or physical senses are only analogues and not primary. The Kali Yuga or spiritual dark age, or “Fall Into Time”, was really the fall into purely sensate consciousness. And this is also connected with Iain McGilchrist’s notion of the “usurpation” of the “Master” by the “Emissary”, as he describes in his book on neurodynamics entitled The Master and His Emissary. Besides the parable of the Prodigal Son, there are many other parables of the master and servant in Scripture that pertain to this also, but which have been likewise completely misunderstood.
We tend to think of the vastnesses of the interstellar spaces as a Vacuum, a Void or The Big Empty, while in fact it is full of energetic activity. Our scientific apparatus reveals what our organic senses do not. Our organic senses register only a very narrow spectrum of that activity and that energy — a mere “octave” as the Scottish psychiatrist Maurice Nicoll put it. We rely on very sensitive instruments to perceive the vast invisible (and inaudible) spectra beyond that narrow range of the sensate consciousness and the limitations of our organic perception.
We also think of the vastnesses of interstellar space as lifeless, and when we muse on the possibilities of life, or evolved life, elsewhere, it is always in terms of organic life or of advanced technological aliens, bound to some planet or another. We populate the interstellar spaces with mythological creatures and creatures of the imagination as readily as the medieval monk imagined fantastical beings living beyond the edges of the known world. It doesn’t seem to occur to us whether life could have evolved, not on planets, but in the vast spaces between the stars and planets — as inorganic intelligence that never had material or organic form and never developed a “technology” as such. After all, why not?
“They gave their lives and their service in the name of technological advancement, paving the way for humanity’s many forays into space.“
The Independent published a piece today on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the first dog in space (1957), Laika, and commemorating all the other animals subsequently used in the space programme. It is quite moving, but then ends with this peculiar statement quoted above — a statement that struck me as rather iconic of the meaning of Mumford’s “Megamachine”. “In the name of technological advancement” In a theocratic age, things were done and sacrifices demanded in “the name of God”. In an age of absolute monarchs, it was “in the name of the King”. In a more democratic age, it became “in the name of the Law”, and in our present technocratic age, sacrifice is demanded in “the name of techological advancement” or Progress.
We civilizees tend to look askance at animal sacrifice as a barbarous superstition when it is conducted by others, largely ignoring our own considerable contribution to the practice when done in the name of Progress or “technological advancement”. We know where our value priorities lie. We do not stand in awe of Life, but we are in awe of our own technology. In the name of Technology, life is dispensible and, in fact, a necessary sacrifice for the sake of “technological advancement”.