William Blake Against The World Machine

“The bounded is loathed by its possessor. The same dull round even of a universe would soon become a mill with complicated wheels….”

Urbi et Orbi

…If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic character. the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things & stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again….

He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only sees himself only.”  [William Blake, “There is NO Natural Religion”]

It occurred to me this morning to embed the famous Flammarion engraving entitled Urbi et Orbi within the context of William Blake’s manifesto of his revolutionary spiritual radicalism, “There is NO Natural Religion“, for they belong together.

And these two belong as much together as they do also with John Donne’s An Anatomy of the World, his requiem for the soul and the Anima Mundi that so much seems to anticipate Nietzsche’s eventual declaration of the death of God, too.

(Although, James Lovelock’s “Gaia Hypothesis”, which conceives of the Earth as an integral biological organism, and equally Howard Bloom’s The Global Brain continue the same mental combat against mechanistic reductionism and linear-minded determinism).

Glancing over Donne’s An Anatomy of the World, I was suddenly struck by the lines…

(For who is sure he hath a soul, unless
It see, and judge, and follow worthiness,
And by deeds praise it? He who doth not this,
May lodge an inmate soul, but ’tis not his)

Upon reading that, I suddenly realised that by ‘inmate soul’ Donne was referring to is what we have been earlier discussing as “the foreign installation” — that which does not truly belong to the individuality and is therefore called “false self.”  From Donne, through Blake, to Nietzsche, the “death” of the soul was, it seems, a very slow, long, historically painful and traumatic process that was co-extensive with the birth and development of the mental-rational consciousness structure itself.

I have been reading Corey Robin’s book The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. I’m grateful for the book as it has helped me come to some greater understanding — as much for what Robin does not say as for what he does say — of the reactionary attitude and mentality (“attitude” being the outward expression of the inward “mentality” or thought structure, so that in those terms, attitude and mentality are related, but not necessarily synonymous).

The contemporary reactionary mentality takes the form of what William Blake denounced as “single vision & Newton’s sleep”, as opposed to the “fourfold vision” as the higher state of the “imagination” or free consciousness, which is Man’s true or fully self-realised state in Blake’s terms. This is equally what Jean Gebser calls “the integral consciousness” in his great book The Ever-Present Origin.

The cunning of the reactionary mind, presently, is to establish a world regime based upon already antiquated Newtonian principles or Newton’s inadequate “Frame of the World”. In such a framework, human conscious action becomes impossible, and therefore any choice of alternative futures becomes impossible. Such a world, of course, would be totally unfree, although it would preserve the fiction, pretense, or illusion of freedom. The way the reactionary mentality has devised this delusion (which is what Noam Chomsky wrote about in his book Necessary Illusions and in Manufacturing Consent) is to confuse in the mind “motion” and “action,” or movement and act. This has become enshrined in the principle of “labour mobility” or “social mobility”, but which does not necessitate the exercise of consciousness at all.

Canada’s present conservative finance minister, Jim Flaherty, has even insisted that “there are no bad jobs“, insinuating that no moral choices at all should be involved in the selection of livelihood. All that matters is the smooth functioning of the economic machine. Apparently, a career as a mafia hitman is, in strictly statistical terms, equivalent to that of a nurse or a doctor. It’s all GDP and economic activity.

In a past post, I quoted the words of a conservative Canadian senator, Hugh Segal, as exemplary of the attitude of the contemporary reactionary. Mr. Segal’s definition of “freedom” as the liberty of movement, and the muting or dampening of civil rights or political rights that it implied, is exemplary of the deceit exercised by the reactionary,

“We are an open society with the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. This has always been the goal of those of us who are free traders at heart. Limiting this freedom for charitable foundations would be a destructive and retrograde step.” (“Tory rhetoric creates chilly climate for free speech”, Globe and Mail, Monday, May 14, 2012)

Now, what this “ideal” envisions is the reduction of all action to merely motion. It is a conception of “freedom” that corresponds to a Newtonian-Galilean ideal of friction-free movement through space, which is the ideal of a perpetual motion machine. Mr. Segal’s rationalisation for the suppression of free speech, dissent, or opposition even in the name of “liberty” is that these democratic or civil rights operate as a kind of friction against the reactionary utopian ideal of a national or global economy functioning as a single, uniform perpetual motion machine quite independently of human will or consciousness.

This is, in fact, the views of arch-reactionary Thomas Hobbes, of a society in which dictatorship or absolute monarchy can function even more effectively to preserve human “liberties” than a republic or a democracy in which the public exercises a share of power, or even is, in effect, the only sovereign. It is the same argument that was promoted by Bush-era neo-imperialist Niall Ferguson, who counseled that subjugated peoples should be granted every economic freedom, but no political rights or share in political power at all. The “masses” should have no power at all to determine the shape or destiny of their societies, which should be solely invested in the hands of an “enlightened elite” of self-interested capitalists.

It is the same situation that drew neo-liberal economists and “free market” ideologists like Milton Friedman and (Margaret Thatcher’s favourite) Friedrich Hayek to Pinochet’s Chile to square the circle of economic libertarianism while heaping praise on Pinochet’s brand of political and social dictatorship and murderous tyranny.

How are they able to square the circle in this way? Only by reducing action to motion, in effect, and this is Blake’s brilliant insight into “single vision & Newton’s sleep,” and his hatred of the British utilitarian philosopher John Locke (the darling of the economic libertarians).  It is the perverse outcome of an entirely mechanistic philosophy that confuses, deliberately in many cases, action with motion, and is therefore able to persuade the many that “freedom” and “liberty” are exactly the same, when they are not. You can be completely deprived of your freedom to create, but still have liberty of unimpeded movement or motion. And this has been the real success of the project of “perception management” as was documented by Adam Curtis in The Century of the Self.

Corey Robin put it rather bluntly in assessing the Hobbesian argument:

“As Hobbes understood, it takes an enormous amount of repression to create the type of men who can exercise their “Liberty to buy, and sell, and otherwise contract with one another,” without getting stroppy. They must be free to move – or choose – but not so free as to think about redesigning the highway.”

This is the real issue of Blake’s revolt against the tide of the times. Real freedom is the ability to act creatively, not just an issue of arrested, unimpeded movement or mobility of the body. The insight that real freedom is the freedom to create is what underlies Rosenstock-Huessy’s definition of an authentic citizen: a true “citizen” is someone who is capable of founding a city. This is the act of creation in time, not of mere motion or “mobility” through space. It expresses the conviction that a true citizen is the freely socially innovative, imaginative, creative.  So, just as the creative “act”, in the reactionary mentality, must be reduced to a mere mechanical “motion”, so freedom for the masses must be reduced to a mere “liberty” of movement while preserving the privileges of the ruling elite to alone act. And correspondingly, the “citizen” in the classical sense is reduced to a consumer or a client, not a potential creator or innovator.

And, of course, this parallels what is now referred to as “the infantilisation” of human beings. The potentially creative citizen is daily fed the equivalent of ideological pablum, and reduced to a childish condition of dependency, which is the whole point of it. The deconstruction of the soul, as creative principle (being Blake’s “Poetic Genius” in every living being, and which is, in fact, their life itself) parallels the efforts of reactionaries to get human beings to sacrifice their true freedoms for the mirage and hallucination of “liberty”, for the sake of the perpetual motion of the World Machine.

There is a Biblical precedent for this: to “sell one’s birthright for a mess of pottage” as Esau did to Jacob, and subsequently became disenfranchised.

This post will have served its purpose if it provokes you to an appreciation of why action cannot be reduced to motion, and correspondingly, freedom cannot be reduced to liberty, or creativity reduced to production, and therefore integration cannot be reduced to assimilation; for all these values relate as quality does to quantity. If this post does provoke you to reflect on how quality cannot be reduced to quantity (or value to price, in other terms), then I guess that makes me an “activist” and an “agitator” relative to the reactionary mentality.


12 responses to “William Blake Against The World Machine”

  1. amothman33 says :

    Thank you Scott the post has served its purpose, it has made more aware of the difference betwween action and motion, freedom and liberty, creativity and production, integration and assimiliation. Thank you I now know clearly what is the real issue of Scott’s revolt against the tide of the times.May god help us to emancipate ourselves from the limit of the ratio to be able to swim in the limitless expansiveness of the infinite. I am happy you are an intigator and not a victim.We are all waiting to meet our understanding of the God.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’m glad Abdulmonem. I was a little bit concerned that I hadn’t been very clear in this post, as I felt that I was rushing it a bit.

      There are many more such “pairings” of value terms, of “higher” and “lower” valencies. “Freedom and liberty”, or “action and motion”, “creativity and productivity”, “integration and assimilation”. If we arrange them differently, “liberty, motion, productivity, assimilation” belong to what Seth calls “Framework 1” (the outer ego) and are quite evidently the values of the World Machine as Global Economy. They are the materialistic values. They are the images in the physical system of those values that arise in what Seth calls “Framework 2” (the inner self) “freedom, action, creativity, integration” being their corresponding. Framework 2 is what Meister Eckhart called “The Aristocrat” or Ralph Waldo Emerson called “the Oversoul”. Blake called it “the Poetic Genius”, the Sufi’s, “the True Self”. It is in this that Nietzsche, for example, recognises as ‘noble’ and ‘ignoble’ values, but in other terms are described as qualitative or quantitative.

      With this understanding, it is now easy to appreciate, for example, what Rene Guenon and Gabriel Marcel are concerned about in The Reign of Quantity or Man Against Mass Society.

      I present this exercise of “pairing” of “higher” and “lower” states of a value as proof of the truth of Seth’s words, in that regard. Seth’s insistence that the true creativity of the soul, and its expression in time as ‘evolution’ is the process of “value fulfillment” within the physical space-time system. Desire is the propellant or Energy in Blake’s terms. In the notions of ‘liberty, motion, productivity, assimilation” we see the distorted echo or image of the true spiritual values which are attempting to become fully realised and manifested, but which are insufficiently realised because the outer ego has lost contact with the source of its own creativity and values — Framework 2. Therefore, being insufficiently realised, the remain what are called “half-truths”, which are, in some ways, soulless values for having lost connection with their spiritual origins and roots — the source that Jean Gebser equally calls “the ever-present origin”.

      Things which appear as ‘half-truths’ are often indistinguishable from a lie, for that reason. They are not whole or entire. It is this which Blake means when he says “More! More! is the cry of the mistaken soul. Less than All cannot satisfy Man.” This “satisfy” means fulfillment. The condition of “malaise” is the condition of unfulfilled or blocked creativity of the soul, in which the energies of life no longer circulate freely. Action becomes inhibited, repressed, or unfree.

      With that, then, we understand why Blake considers the inhibition or hindering action (repression or oppression) to be the greatest of evils, a violation of the soul and its innate creativity and attempts to realise its freedom, for it is intended to realise the spiritual values fully, and this creativity is time. Hence, “eternity is in love with the productions of time”. The temporal (or secular) is embedded, as it were, within the eternal or timeless — this is the connection between Framework 2 and Framework 1.

      This applies equally to sex. Sex is the image within Framework 1 of Desire, which is Energy and belongs to Framework 2. It does not arise from the body, but is itself “embodied”. Without Desire, there can be no existence.

  2. amothman33 says :

    From the limited local to the world at large. This is the actional motion of our time. Your synthronicity with the time is amazing, you are a visionary artist and not a mental machine, running away speedly from the Newton machine and the blind sleep.Thank God for making me run in steps with exploration and discovery.

  3. alex jay says :

    Profound as usual. Speaking of “Newton’s single vision”, I am finding things pleasantly encouraging with what appears to be a positive shift within the “scientific” community away from said “single vision” (excepting, of course the usual moronic element like Dawkins et co.). With that in mind, I think you’ll like this little interview with Herr Schafer, ’cause he’s talking our language (even refers to Gebser):

    • Scott Preston says :

      Well, alex… long time no hear. Hope you doing fine. Thanks for the link. I’m just rushing out for a bit, but I’ll give it a view when I return.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes, some things of interest there. I was surprised to hear Dr. Schafer speak of Gebser’s conscious structures in terms of “species” as I did above, but that is, after all, what “species” means — form or structure.

      I thought the interviewer was quite unskillful, though. He seemed to want to ask leading questions that would merely affirm himself, rather than anticipate that he might be changed by what he heard from Dr. Schafer.

      I don’t have the original German edition of Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin (entitled Ursprung und Gegenwart, which translates directly as Origin and Present), so it came as a surprise to hear that the English version uses “integral” where the German word is actually “integrative” or “integrating” consciousness. That distinction is very important, so it’s convinced me I need to order and read the German edition. “Integral Consciousness” does not have the same meaning as “integrating consciousness” or “integrative consciousness”. This is very important.

      Still, Herr Schafer might regret speaking of Gebser’s structures in terms of “levels”, or speaking of such things in strictly evolutionary terms, because it’s misleading. Gebser’s structures are all implicit or latent potentialities that appear or disappear again (“irrupt”, as he puts it) anywhere and anytime. They aren’t “progressive” developments one after the other, in that sense, any more than Blake’s Zoas are progressive developments or levels, one atop another. Speaking of such things in terms of “levels” or “stages” can be misleading, because it implies a kind of hierarchical relationship between them. But the relationship is more like Rosenstock Huessy’s “Cross of Reality” or Blake’s fourfold vision. And, for that matter, Rosenstock’s Cross of Reality is just as good a graphic illustration of Blake’s own fourfold vision, even as Blake rendered it visually himself. The archaic, the magical, the mythical remain active in daily life, only we are usually oblivious to their actual functioning, or experience them (depending upon the conscious attitude) as mutually or self-contradictory and conflicting factors in the psyche, as a soul at war with itself say, in the manner of Jekyll and Hyde. In Sufi lore, the “nafs” (the animal souls) are the same Zoas we find in Blake. Vices in their disintegrative aspect, they are virtues in their integrative state. This is Khayyam’s Caution, in effect: “only a hair separates the false from the true”. They are the animal energies that make existence possible, which is why they are the same four “beasts” who draw God’s chariot, or as depicted in Revelation, the same four beasts who surround the throne of God. They are probably the same as “the four riders of the apocalypse” as well as the Buddhist “Guardians of the Four Directions”. Of course, in Christian lore, they are the same Four Evangelists in their Zoomorphic aspects. All traditions seem to have them in one form or another, and they are the four directions also of the Sioux Sacred Hoop, which are spirits.

      One of the interesting things that Schafer mentioned was the difficulty of a three-dimensional being (in this sense, the mental-rational) to imagine a four-dimensional being (in this sense, the integrative), and to find it even wicked, evil, etc, etc. This is the attitude I’ve been exploring in my study of the reactionary mind, and how to overcome it so it does not wreck havoc in the future by “backlash” — the attempt to suppress and do violence against any irruption of the integral, as is usually the case with reactionaries (or pervert it by misappropriation and cooptation). One must be careful not to inflict this upon oneself, too, since there is a bit of the reactionary type in every one of us. In any case, this inability of the mental structure of consciousness or state of imagination to conceive of the integrative was already understood by Blake, for both Blake and Rumi were manifestations of the integral. This is represented in Blakes first argument [a], from “There is NO Natural Religion”

      I. Man cannot naturally perceive but through his natural or bodily organs.
      II. Man by his reasoning power can only compare & judge of what he has already perceiv’d.
      III. From a perception of only 3 senses or 3 elements none could deduce a fourth or fifth.
      IV. None could have other than natural or organic thoughts if he had none but organic perceptions.
      V. Man’s desires are limited by his perceptions; none can desire what he has not perceiv’d.
      VI. The desires & perceptions of man, untaught by anything but organs of sense, must be limited to objects of sense.

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    This post on ““pairing” of “higher” and “lower” states of a value” has been illuminating. Thank you. I’ll try to keep up. You have given us much much much valuable thoughts to think and ponder about.

  5. Sarmoun Darq says :

    Excellent post..now for my ‘constructive’ criticism. I find it very good that “creative” action is used, yet I am more convinced that it is “movement” that has more positive meanings and implications than action, due to the real connotations of action in juxtaposition to movement.
    As Umberto Eco has pointed out in Eternal Fascism(and fascism is the ideology and practice of the reactionary mind), is that irrationalism depends on action for action’s sake. Action is deeply rooted in(for good or ill) in militarism and is evident throughout culture. Movement has more connotations of freedom and creativity. Being a musician myself, I see this obviously in compositions which(at least in the classical period etc.) were considered and often times named as movements(think Bach); and so movements have more positive associations to creativity. Having a linguistics and philology education background, I am quite picky(almost to the point of nits) about how language is used and I agree with pretty much everything in the post and the only thing I would change is how ‘action’ and ‘movement’ are used.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Scott Preston says :

      Hi dariq… any action for action’s sake would be nothing but “movement” as I’m using the term, mere motion on the circumference of a circle (much like the swastika symbol in fact) without a goal beyond itself. Even the meaning of a ‘movement’ in a piece of music is secondary to the actual act of creation. Motive informs the movement. The goal of action is to actualise, to make real. This is why Goethe has his Faust declare Im Anfang war die Tat! This line has sometimes been translated (inadequately, in my view) as “In the beginning was the Deed!”, and this is supposedly to highlight Faust’s mood of opposition to “the Word”. I don’t think so. Goethe meant “act” for that is a closer translation of German “Tat” than English “deed”. The act is the act of creation or actualisation. “Movement” is the implementation of the act as it becomes manifest in time and space. As Blake insists, imagination, perception, and thinking are themselves acts, and the distinction between action and movement is best brought out by a Buddhist proverb: “he who sees the action that is in inaction is wise indeed”. In other words, true action is not sensually registered. “Movement” is the act as it becomes sensually registered in the process of taking place and making time. Movement is the reflection in space-time of the originating act which is itself invisible. The act is originating and unique event, while motion is repetition.

      A political ‘movement’ might be compared to a musical movement, but the actual vision that inspires both is the act of creation itself. The movement is what Seth calls “value fulfillment” — the attempt to completely realise the inspired ideal or value. A machine, for example, can be described in terms of its motions and movements, but not in terms of acts.

  6. Mark Dotson says :

    Brilliant post, Scott. Thank you for opening my eyes to these profound truths.


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