Observations on Gebser’s “The Integral Consciousness”, III

Continuing with the series examining Jean Gebser’s posthumously published essay “The Integral Consciousness” (which is a brief summary of his much lengthier book The Ever-Present Origin), I find the following to be the most significant and important statement from the essay,

“Our conception of what we call reality depends upon our mode of consciousness.”

Mode of consciousness means perception. When we have a social or collectivised mode of consciousness or perception, we have a distinct and definable civilisation or society. Gebser has identified four such civilisational types which he calls Archaic, Magical, Mythical, and Mental-Rational. These are described as being “structures of consciousness” which are, in effect, modes of perception.

These variable modes of perception determine what is meant by “reality” (or “truth”) to the extent that our experience of the world and ourselves corresponds to that structure of consciousness. In phenomenological terms, consciousness (and perception) intends a world, which becomes the whole of the life-world for that particular structure of consciousness. “You create the reality you know”.  The structure of reality (or spacetime, or “frame of the world”) reflects the structure of consciousness as in a mirror.

The internal combustion engine for example (which is a violent technology) mirrors the mode of consciousness that conceived it and then actualised or realised it.

The “integral consciousness” is Gebser’s anticipation of the emergence of yet a fifth structure, one which answers or corresponds to the emergency of the day — the onset of the planetary or global era. In any other terms, the emergence or “realisation” of a new structure of consciousness into history (that is, into physical reality) is experienced as apocalyptic and therefore, for an older structure of consciousness, as being catastrophic and even nihilistic. If you have any doubts, just recall the emergence of the mental-rational structure of consciousness at the beginnings of the Modern Era some 500 years ago.

The emergence of the integral structure of consciousness, which Gebser observed as “embracing the whole of humanity”, can be dated from the World Wars when the whole of the Earth became a battlefield. Since then, war has come to be interpreted as “total war“, disregarding not only the principle of sanctuary, or the sovereignty and inviolability of nation-state borders, but also all distinctions between civilian and combatant, or rural and urban.

The concept of total war represents a massive breakdown in the mental-rational structure of consciousness, which functions in terms of a dialect or duality of war and peace, familiar and strange, etc. This breakdown into what Gebser calls “deficient rationality” is today called “nihilism”. “Nihilism” is the term that describes the fragmentation or breakdown of any structure of consciousness which then begins to function in “deficient mode” (another term for “decadent”).

In that sense, the World Wars also represented the suicide of the Modern Era — the “perspectivist” era — and of the mental-rational structure of consciousness that defined the era.

In fascism (reactionary nationalism), this manifestation of nihilism towards (liberal) modernity became self-conscious and intentional, and resulted in an “irruption” of deficient (that is, reactionary) modes of mythical and magical consciousness. The deliberate anti-Enlightenment animus of the fascists has, unfortunately, also become the post-Enlightenment condition of “post-modernity”. Essentially, all the multiple and continuing crises of Late Modernity are one crisis arising from the breakdown of the mental-rational structure of consciousness (dialectics) and the suicide of the Age of Reason represented by the World Wars.

At the same time, it is an essentially creative restructuration of consciousness — or the mode of consciousness — born of necessity as a response to the existential challenge presented by the onset of the Planetary Era.

The Planetary Era (or “Globalism”) is not a case of “business as usual” or simply a continuation of the past (modernity) become expansive “modernisation”. This is the delusion of an anachronistic legacy thinking. It is a revaluation and a transformation. But, as Gebser warns, the emergence of integral consciousness could be an abortive development either through perversion or repression. In some ways, it is still inarticulate; still trying to find its true voice and true name. Much of the present global “Occupy Earth” movement appears to be of this character. With no “demands” and no “programme” it is struggling to find its voice. It is moved to act from a sense of urgency that is presently nameless, but which will become self-conscious and manifest in the process of acting itself out. It’s at that point that something hitherto considered “occult” then becomes “self-evident” and “the common sense”.

Until the emergence of the mental-rational structure of consciousness 4 centuries ago (which then became fully articulate and self-conscious in the European Enlightenment) the “self-evident truths” framed in the US Constitution, for example, were not self-evident at all. “Universality” was not self-evident, nor the “common sense”, or concepts of right and wrong. These only took on the nature of timeless truths within that mode of consciousness called “mental-rational” and the ideal conceived therefrom that came to be called “universal reason”.

That our experience of reality and what is deemed therein as “self-evident truth” or “common sense”, is a function of the mode of consciousness appropriate or correspondent to it has a dark side as well — the practice of “perception management” and propaganda. For if what we call “reality” or self-evident truth  is a function of the mode of consciousness appropriate to it, then power elites have a deep interest in controlling and regulating that mode of consciousness — ie, perception. This is the history of propaganda. And the direct manipulation and control of perception has come a long ways since Orwell wrote about it in the mid-20th century.

At the beginning of the Modern Era stands the Church and the Holy Roman Empire, “universal and triumphant” as it was conceived even in the midst of it’s debauchery, disintegration, and decadence. The Church was still then the main institution and engine for the collectivisation and socialisation of human beings, and when what was called “the secular arm” was subordinate to the tyranny of Pope and Church. The Church was the main engine for determining at that time the appropriate “mode of consciousness” for the Age of Faith and thus of what was deemed “reality” (which wasn’t what Copernicus or Galileo were to make of it with their new perspectivist mode of perception and consciousness).

The Renaissance rediscovery of the Greeks presented the first real challenge to the authority of the Church and Pope to shape that mode of consciousness and its monopoly of “perception management”. The Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, and the Inquisition and witch-hunt against “innovations” and heretics, were responded to with bloody wars and revolutions, and the State emerged from the abyss as the inheritor of the Church’s functions for collectivising and socialising the “innovation” — the “new man” of reason, while Hegel declared the State the perfected embodiment of “Reason”. The meaning of the nation-state and the modern era are indistinguishable, really. The Church was now subordinated to the previously humiliated “the secular arm” — the State — and “Christendom” became “Europe” (significantly, a Greek name).

The post-modern condition, since the First World War, now sees the subordination of the State to the Corporation. The corporation is the successor to both Church and State and subordinates both to its prerogatives. The corporate form, as presently conceived, is precisely that which knows “the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” The State is no longer the supreme or the sovereign power of Late Modernity. It is the corporation that is now the main engine for the collectivisation and socialisation of men and women. By law, it is even granted equal status with the old idols of Church and State as transcendent (immortal) “persons” (gods, in other words) and thus are conceived as having their own “egos” (or cogito) with all the constitutional rights granted to citizens and individuals — and far more besides. It is also in the process of assuming the functions of Church and State for determining the “mode of consciousness” of “the masses” (as described in Stewart Ewen’s book Captains of Consciousness).

Basically, the nation-state is being refashioned in the image of a giant corporation or corporate form — Canada, Inc. or USA, Inc. Those who still believe that the State is in the driver’s seat and holds the whip hand are very deluded. Democratic politics is an illusion which has become no more than entertainment and vaudeville because it is impotent to do anything but act as the hitman and enforcer for the “hidden hand” — the power elite or “establishment”. Much of this surrender of popular sovereignty came about in the 1970s when governments everywhere threw up their hands in the face of the seemingly intractable problem of “stagflation“, turned against Keynesianism, and surrendered economic and social policy to “the market” (actually, to corporations), which became known as “neo-liberalism”.

Sovereignty does not lie any longer in the hands of the State. Those who believe so are bogged down in “legacy thinking” and delusion.  The transfer of sovereignty from State to Corporation, and the refashioning of the nation-state in the image of the Corporation, has been observed for some time now (sometimes disingenuously called “private-public partnership”. We no longer even speak of “nations” but of “economies”.

Yet, all this has gone on under the pretense of “preserving Western culture and values”, which is a falsehood and a deflection of attention from the real issue. Even post-modernism is a philosophy most appropriate to the reality of a corporate society. It has been said that the post-modern “end of the Grand Narrative” reflects the end of universality as a principle. That is partially true. Even that last bastion of “universality”, science, has been incorporated and patented as a corporate asset. The vast bulk of all scientific research today is carried on in corporate laboratories and reflects corporate priorities. Public science is being privatised, and that means corporatised. In many ways, corporatism reflects the fragmentation of society into clans and tribes rather than the “classic” model of classes and estates. The immortal and transcendent corporate “ego” or person very much resembles the tribal/pagan “genius” — the tutelary spirit or tribal god who guarantees the fertility of the “gens” (the tribe. The English word “genius”, derived from Latin gens is related to the Arabic djinn or “genie”).

To endow a corporation with “djinn“, or personhood or immortality in law is not reason, it is mythology. Almost all “perception management” today is not carried on by the State, but by corporate public relations, advertising, corporate sponsored “think tanks”, or the corporate media which provide these think-tanks with access to the public for winning over ‘hearts and minds’. The vast majority of it is devious and self-interested, and designed to confound reason, mystify our perception, and pre-empt insight and clarity, and is purely will to power.

In the face of these powers that attempt to determine and fix “the mode of consciousness” and perception, the emergence of Gebser’s “integral consciousness” might appear to be already an abortive development, or something that will become only a perverse caricature of itself — a “deficient integrality” corresponding to “deficient rationality”.  That’s why it is important, I think, for the “Occupy Earth” movement to forego defining itself in terms of “demands” and “programmes”.

There is a precedent for that, too — it is the refusal of Jesus to excuse or justify his actions before his accusers or Pontius Pilate. The only response that the future could give to the past was “so you say”.

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