Recognising the Integral Era

How will we know when we are finally “inside” the integral era? Or, in Jean Gebser’s terms, how will we recognise when the times are fulfilled? For that is how Gebser put it in the first Preface to The Ever-Present Origin, “either time is fulfilled in us — and that would mean the end and death for our present earth and (its) mankind — or we succeed in fulfilling time: and this means integrality and the present, the realization and the reality of origin and presence.”


Gebser highlights a number of attributes by which to recognise the emergent integral consciousness structure. But one of the most revealing signposts that we have shifted “paradigms” in this sense, is when the language of a preceding era — or more acurately, of the structure of consciousness and perception it represents — comes to be seen as almost unintelligible or incomprehensible; even trite and petty.

There are precedents for this in history. An historian of the Dark Ages once boldly asserted that he could name the very date when the Great European Dark Age ended —  1100 A.D. — in the form of a single individual and a singular voice, that of a Provençal troubador and poet named William of Poitou (1071 – 1126). The poetry and song of this troubador, our historian noted, was distinctly “modern”. We recognise him as our contemporary because of his speech. For this historian, in any event, the express concerns and interests of William of Poitou were intelligible and comprehensible — they “resonated” with him as we say — and in a way that earlier or other modes of speech of that day were not fully intelligible. In the song and speech of this one troubador, however, our historian recognised not just a contemporary with whom he shared the same historical horizon (humanism), but also an emergent mutation who was both alpha and omega, or a beginning and an ending — a human being of the modern type.

However exaggerated the claim may be, it expresses a certain authenticity. The name of William of Pitou is remembered, and his speech and poetry preserved, because whoever he was, he had made a great impression on his contemporaries. The Provençal troubadors were also suspected heretics by the ecclesiastical authorities of the day (Poitou was notably contemptuous of the Church) who largely didn’t quite know what to make of them, because of their unusual language which to ecclesiastical ears could appear as cryptic and conspiratorial, bespeaking hidden heresies and apostasies. Eventually, this whole area — Provence — would be subjected to Papal war and Inquisition (the Albigensian Crusade, 1209 – 1229). This “crusade” may have lit the fuse for the future revolt against Papal tyranny and despotism we now call “the Protestant Reformation”, too.

“Language most shows a man, speak that I may see thee”, wrote Ben Jonson. Speak That I May See Thee is also the title of a book by a student of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Harold Stahmer. By speech, we recognise who is our contemporary and who is not our contemporary (or distemporary). For some, the future is already their present, while for others the present is still the past. They are not contemporaries. They are not “present” to each other. The famous “generation gap” is not just a matter of difference of opinion or experience, but also of how that generational experience is represented and symbolised. It is a difference in speech. How those different experiences of time, space, life are symbolised may therefore serve as an index into a mutation of the structure of consciousness itself — (or also of a structure’s dissolution or decadence).

Great irruptions of linguistic creativity or symbolic activity (in general culture as much as in arts and sciences) is a certain sign that a mutation of the consciousness structure is underway. An older language is devalued because it’s terms no longer represent our true experience. We call older, previously dignified names and words passé. We dismiss them from service as having become mere meaningless formula, cliché, or cant — zombie words from which the life (meaning) has fled while their corpses linger around like hungry ghosts and lost causes. We call “lip-service” the speaking of formerly grand names and words from which the life (which is the meaningfulness) has long since departed because they no longer adequately symbolise our true experience. In times of very great change, words and names fall out of usage like dead leaves from a tree in late autumn.

The Modern Era is closely associated with Gutenberg and the printing press. The integral era is closely associated with the internet and digital technologies. It is not the case that these technologies “cause” or determine the structure of consciousness since, obviously, the structure of consciousness must have mutated before it is even possible to conceive of such technologies. In that sense, technologies are as much projections or symbolisations of a consciousness structure as anything else, and can be read off like a poem or an artwork. This was the great insight of Marshall McLuhan that established his fame. A symbol like “Indra’s Net” is completely intelligible to the new consciousness structure now emerging. It is completely incomprehensible to the creature who McLuhan called “Typographic Man” of the Gutenberg Galaxy, and who takes the form equally of Gebser’s perspectivising “mental-rational” structure.

The conscious attitude is one thing. The unconscious intent is another. If it were not so, there would be no such thing as “perverse outcome” or “ironic reversal” or “unintended consequence”. When William Blake wrote that “what is now prov’d was only first imagined” and insisted on the primacy of “the Poetic Genius” in man (also called “True Human Being”) there is nothing to say that this “imagination” and this “Poetic Genius” is dependent upon or identical with the conscious attitude. The ego only daydreams and fantasises. When a man or woman prays “not my will, but thy will be done” they already feel divided in themselves between their will and a “transcendent” intent for which they hope and pray to bring about a unified experience of reconciliation between that intent and the estranged “will”, which reconciliation is called “the peace that surpasseth understanding”. When a man writes a book called Ego & Soul, then one understands by this distinction (which is possible to overdraw and exaggerate) that here, also, will and intent are meant, and that these are not presently harmonious but divided and estranged in their activities. The internet, for example, was first conceived as a weapon of war and a symptom of global strife, but this is not how it is actually functioning. Those who dreamed of a continuation of the clash of civilisations — an historic contest of values or ideologies — are largely anxiety-ridden today because that will and purpose is being frustrated by the emergent reality that points, instead, towards a planetary integration and a convergence of peoples and traditions that they fear will overrun and swamp them.

Relationships are becoming horizontal, rather than vertical. For many, this is a powerfully unsettling and even threatening experience. Providing people with the weapons to overthrow the hierarchies of the Modern Era was never the conscious intent of the state or the DARPA engineers who first conceived of the internet. For Gebser, there is presently a power that transcends our will and our conscious attitude that is at work, although he also recognises that it could be perverted, distorted, or inhibited in its action (with catastrophic results). It is a prospect that is closely linked with Nietzsche’s observation on human nihilism: “man would rather will Nothing, than have nothing to will”. What Nietzsche set up as a task worthy of our will — the transhuman — is also Gebser’s “integral consciousness”.

“Ecology” is the present term for “Indra’s Net”. And just as much as biology now requires ecology, so Gebser’s “integral consciousness” is an ecology of consciousness structures — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational. So, too, is Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method” reconceived as an ecology of names and words, speech and language — therefore, of society.  His hopes for, and attempts at, a “Universal History” appropriate for the planetary era is as an ecology of peoples and traditions now recognisable one to the other within an integral common understanding that also respects each other’s autonomy. “Environmentalism” is not necessarily synonymous with “ecology”. But without ecology it would be just a form of lop-sided behaviourism or  determinism.  In this one word, “ecology”, the integral consciousness is penetrating and reforming the conscious attitude and the egoic will, and is at the same time the same process in which ecologics attempts to penetrate and transform economics, transporting it to a higher level of understanding and functioning. “Ecology” is transforming the era as well as human and national identities. But many people find this prospect very threatening.

There is virtually no department of human activity today that is not being penetrated by ecological consciousness and thinking, which is a mode of perception, and which is transforming those activities. Even grammar, in the work of Rosenstock-Huessy, is now appreciated as being a kind of ecology! The global internet is simply the manifestation of this consciousness — its symbolic realisation. Even physics (and much to the relief of many physicists) finds it cannot do without ecological consciousness now that the conscious living subject is implicated in and entangled with the activities of the cosmos. Cosmology is therefore also being penetrated by ecological consciousness, which is one of the wonderful things about astrophysicist Adam Frank’s NPR series on time, culture, and consciousness (cosmology and society). Ecological consciousness is displacing and superseding the Mechanical Philosophy everywhere. This is why, presently, “the times are out of joint”. This is why, presently, you have something called “culture war”.

Ecology is not just a special branch of biology. Nor should ecology be reduced to environmentalism alone. Environmentalism may be conceived as one branch of ecology, only, that itself belongs to a greater ecology.  What speaks through this word “ecology” is something that is not framed or produced by the human mind or intellect alone, for it, like Indra’s Net, is always something more than can be conceived by that mind. That is the proof of its autonomous arising and functioning, in that sense. Ecology is dynamic complexity, and this dynamic complexity — the flux — is always greater than the mind (the mental-rational structure of consciousness) can fully master through analysis, reduction, or measurement and quantification. To me, this is proof enough that what speaks through this word “ecology” does not originate from within the mental-rational structure of consciousness itself, which overwhelms it, and which situation is now formally represented in things like Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

None of our grand systems of thought will ever be comprehensive enough to account for the full meaning of “ecology” as an integral whole, is what Gödel’s theorem implies. This is the situation that informs Nietzsche’s objection: “the will to a system is a lack of integrity”.

Therefore, to my mind, “ecology” is the principal form that the “irruption” of the integral consciousness structure now assumes. The logic of the past could confidently assume that wholes were built up merely by summing together all the parts. Ecologics, contrariwise, begins with wholes, and sees the parts and the particulars (species or forms) as crucially dependent upon the whole. That, in itself, is a revolution. Nothing exists in isolation. Wholes precede parts. Parts articulate wholes. Gebser’s “ever-present origin” eternally precedes the division of spaces into inwards and outwards or the segregation of times into past and future. (Or, as Blake put it, “eternity in love with the productions of time”).

If you can’t even wiggle your toes without affecting the cosmos in some way (the Butterfly Effect), your speech has an even greater potential to alter the functioning of the cosmos in some fundamental way, and is also an implicate part of the integral cosmic ecology.

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