Observations on Gebser’s Essay “The Integral Consciousness”, I
I don’t know whether to be disappointed to encouraged by the lack of reader response to Gebser’s posthumous essay on the Integral Consciousness in the last post. Either it is so transparent and self-evident that it requires no further comment, or it is so perplexing that one doesn’t know what questions to put or what, if anything, to say about it. Yet, it has depths to it that are as unexplored as the Marianas Trench.
Let’s try and go through it step-by-step, piece-by-piece, despite Jim Morrison’s impatient and unfulfilled “we want the world and we want it now!” that he sang too many years ago. Morrison was a connoisseur of the poetry of William Blake (as well as the work of Nietzsche). Even the name of his band “The Doors” is taken from William Blake’s “doors of perception”.
But, the “occupation” of the world has finally begun, has it not? I know what voice really spoke through Jim Morrison when he sang those words. It was Blake’s “More! More! is the cry of the mistaken Soul; less than All cannot satisfy Man.”
And that is also the theme of Jean Gebser’s Integral Consciousness and of “the new mutation” — less than All cannot satisfy Man. That is why the Occupy movement has no “demands”. As the wonderful essay by Charles Eisenstein put it, nothing less than a total transformation of consciousness and a new civilisation is sought. And no single “demand” or set of demands is adequate enough for that.
Forty years ago (and earlier), when Gebser penned this piece, this “All” was already in the forefront of his mind. He called it “the integral consciousness” and he claimed he saw it already emerging in his life-time, and after the First World War impressed upon some of the more sensitive minds of his generation that we had now entered upon a different era and a new age. Gebser’s essay serves as a kind of Ariadne’s Thread through the maze of events and generational transitions (Lost Generation, Beat Generation, “Woodstock Nation”) that have occurred since the “great conflagration” of the World Wars.
Let’s begin to trace the path as Gebser maps it out…
“The growth of a new integral consciousness is important, even decisive, for our times, for it is a theme of universal scope, embracing the whole of humanity. As such, it deserves to be treated as a coherent whole, for the common destiny of Asia and the Occident depends largely upon the extent to which this new consciousness is realized.”
Properly speaking, this is the path of “globalism”, but not in the sense of “globalisation” as presently understood and pursued, and which is simply the very destructive aspect — the obverse of the coin — of authentic globalism. The counterpart to the Greek Athena, goddess of reason, was the Gorgon, as the equivalent Roman Medusa was to Minerva. Jung called this dark counterpart “the Shadow”, and Robert Louis Stevenson called it “Mr. Hyde”. The concurrent processes of “globalism” and of “globalisation” have been completely confused in people’s minds. Globalisation is presently the dominant or foreground aspect, as detailed in many critical writings, but particularly in Amy Chua’s World on Fire or Naomi Klein’s Disaster Capitalism. Both works (and others besides) are deserving of your attention as diagnoses of that destructive or nihilistic aspect of globalisation, which is the “Shadow” of globalism.
The implicit positive, vital, or truly life-enhancing aspect, on the other hand, but which is still only flowing within the undercurrent (or background) of events, has been named “globalism” to distinguish it from this destructive aspect called neo-liberal or corporate globalisation — destruction for fun and profit, even if under the guise of “freedom” (actually libertinism) it managed to deceive many. This aspect of the flux of events is what Gebser wants to address and highlight about the present trends. Rather than destructive standardisation, Globalism entails the synchronisation of the Earth’s peoples and traditions, and has to do with time and history for that fact. “Globalisation”, conversely, is merely about standardising spaces (nations) now reduced to “markets”, “resources”, “labour”, or “economies” and then the assimilating of these spaces (facilitated by the IMF or World Bank) into a “system” designated “global market capitalism” (or a “corporatocracy” as some have described it). This is now also called “international community” in the perverse rhetoric of the day.
The real subtlety here is that “universal reason” misconstrued as a “system” to be realised through assimilation, uniformity, homogeneity, and standardisation according to a vulgar economistic paradigm, is now in conflict with the value of “integration”, which is ecological, holistic, multiform, pluralistic and which values and respects diversity within a whole now called “planetary” or “global”. “Globalisation” is imperialistic modernity or modernisation because it is a “legacy” space-oriented logic now become, Gebser’s terms “deficient rationality” — a deficient (and that means demented or deranged) conception of “universal reason”. And it is deficient rationality because it now interprets this “universality” only in perverse terms of power, imperialism, or domination for the purpose of engineering a global human uniformity and standardisation.
“Globalism”, however, respects the integrity of histories and traditions and attempts to synchronise these traditions within a shared history of the common human experience as “universal history”.
It is very easy for most people to confuse “universal” with “integral” because they confuse the meanings of assimilation and integration. This is why I keep harping on what I’ve called “Khayyam’s Caution” — only a hair separates the false from the true. And that means, really, death from life, or nihilism from genesis, Kaos from Kosmos, or why the “rational pursuit of self-interest” has now become indistinguishable from the irrational pursuit of self-destruction. And that means, in terms of dialectical reason now become “deficient rationality”, that the thesis and the anti-thesis have become one and the same process, or what is called “coincidence of opposites”. This is why Nietzsche in his Thus Spoke Zarathustra also described the creature Man as a tight-rope walker over an abyss. That “rope” is the same as Khayyam’s “hair”.
Once you understand this, you will understand Nietzsche’s succinct formula for our nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves”. They do so because the higher and lower values become completely confused. The higher value is debased and demeaned. This is often the devious work of propaganda, spin, and perception management, which are also aspects of what Gebser calls “deficient rationality”. The confusion (the word means literally “melting together”) of the higher with the lower is exactly what some people mean by “dumbing down” or “appealing to the lowest common denominator”. Demeaning is literally the act of depriving a value of meaning.
Acknowledging and recognising what Gebser calls “the common destiny of Asia and the Occident” in the global era is exactly what the “clash of civilisations” theorists, and their pimps and shills in the mass media, do not want you to realise. They know who butters their bread and who they depend upon for their “deadlihoods”, so to speak, and it’s not you. Am I saying they are gollums and orcs in Tolkein’s sense?
You bet. The pimps and shills who serve their corporate masters through the mass media are gollums and orcs, hobbits and elves perverted through the spell of money and the idolatry of power, however they may publicly rationalise it or excuse it as “normal” and as “human nature”. It takes no moral courage to sanctimoniously compare oneself to a Hitler or a Stalin and come out, in one’s own eyes, smelling like a rose. It does take courage to compare oneself to a Jesus or a Buddha, which (you will observe) the punditocracy studiously avoids. That also is an aspect of Nietzsche’s formula for nihilism. For the most part, they are simply puppets who have slavishly and obediently performed a role fore-ordained for them decades ago by Nietzsche when he forecast two centuries of nihilism.
I have only addressed the very first line of Gebser’s essay. It required, however, extensive treatment to set the context for what must follow. One must understand, here, that the “new integral consciousness” as “decisive” means that we are at a crossroads — a pivotal juncture — in human history, and not a mere change or smooth transition from “industrial” to “electronic” or “modern” to “post-modern”, etc. The word “decisive” means that the past and future now confront each other in a decisive and critical way, and this word “decisive” is related to our word “scissors” (or, a sword). One possible route or path must be cut off. But the whole point of propaganda and perception management today is to confound our reason and to make people confused about the signposts and the decision. It is a deliberate disorientation and illusioning.
There is a rationale for that, even if this “rationale” belongs to neither reason nor intelligence. Do you think it is a “mad, mad world”? Well… as we work through Gebser’s essay, I’ll try to show you just how truly deranged and demented this mad, mad world really is, and why the counter-current emerging today of which Gebser wrote is the struggle to discover the anti-dote to the madness.