Dehumanisation and the Double-Movement of Time

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?” — Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

In this post, I want to take up in more detail what I posted in a comment below the last post in “The End of the Human Race” on the double-meaning of “dehumanisation” and the problematic definition of the word “human”. There will be some surprising turns.

First, let’s examine the full quote from Prologue 3 of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra of the problematic character of the “human” or “all-too-human” as Nietzsche saw it,

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

“All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.

“Whoever is the wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?

“Behold, I teach you the overman! The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!”

Nietzsche is very sly — sly in a profound way. The great self-declared “Anti-Christ” is something of a trickster figure, in fact — like Coyote or Raven in North American native lore. Did he not even describe himself as such — as a seducer who leads men (from error) into side-ways and back-alleys? Such is his programme of “Umwertung aller Werte” — or revaluation (or transvaluation) of all values.

Either Nietzsche knew full well what he was up to, or the pious “Little Pastor” (as he was called in his youth) is unconscious of the fact that he is reconstituting the Christian Gospels on a new basis. Such is his “revaluation of values” as an act to countermand the impending total nihilism he foresaw as our fate following the death of God. It is for that reason that Nietzsche in Zarathustra is all imperatival Prophetic, and lyrical Poetic Voice, befitting William Blake’s admonition,

“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.”  — There is NO Natural Religion.

When I read the Prologue quoted above, I am always reminded of Jesus admonishing the crowd of Pharisees and scribes,

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” — Matthew 23:13

Jesus, in these lines, is not talking about “other-worldly hopes” in referring to the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law barring themselves and others from entering into Kingdom of Heaven, which is always “at hand”. “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you”; “the body is the temple of the living God”. There is nothing really other-worldly about Jesus teachings. For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is immanent or latent in this world and within the human form, exactly as it is for William Blake and Nietzsche as well. The “despisers of life” and the body that Nietzsche condemns are the exact same priests and teachers of the religious law that Jesus condemned.

This (and much else in Nietzsche besides) might come as a surprise to those who tend to think of Nietzsche as the great adversary of Jesus teachings and the destroyer of Christianity. But to put Nietzsche’s teaching and his “revaluation of values” in proper context in relation to the Gospel teachings, one has to understand something he wrote which appears in The Will to Power, in aphorisms 158 and 159 (1888),

158: “One should not confuse Christianity as a historical reality with that one root that its name calls to mind: the other roots from which it has grown up have been far more powerful. It is an unexampled misuse of words when such manifestations of decay and abortions as ‘Christian Church,’ ‘Christian faith’ and ‘Christian life’ label themselves with that holy name. What did Christ deny? Everything that is today called Christian.”

159: “The entire Christian teaching as to what shall be believed, the entire Christian ‘truth,’ is idle falsehood and deception: and precisely the opposite of what inspired the Christian movement in the beginning. Precisely that which is Christian in the ecclesiastical sense is anti-Christian in essence: things and people instead of symbols; history instead of eternal facts; forms, rites, dogmas instead of a way of life. Utter indifference to dogmas, cults, priests, church, theology is Christian.
The Christian way of life is no more a fantasy than the Buddhist way of life: it is a means to being happy.”

Nietzsche’s attack on institutional Christianity must be seen in relation to these views, and the meaning of the Prologue quoted above in relation to that purpose which Nietzsche sees Christianity has abandoned — time and history as the process of godman-making as given in the imperative Jesus issued to his followers – “Be thou therefore perfect even as thy Father in heaven…” This project is what Nietzsche resumes with his teaching of the overman or transhuman. “Man is something that shall be overcome”.

Nietzsche’s formula for self-overcoming — for overcoming “Man” — is “Become what you are!” The formula implies that what Man is presently is inauthentic and false — the false self, a mere self-image and construct. What you are, then, is buried or repressed under layer and layer of delusion and self-deception, and is clearly the core “Self” that is the actor behind the scenes, as it were, introduced in the section of Zarathustra entitled “The Despisers of the Body“,

“Behind thy thoughts and feelings, my brother, there is a mighty lord, an unknown sage—it is called Self; it dwelleth in thy body, it is thy body.

There is more sagacity in thy body than in thy best wisdom. And who then knoweth why thy body requireth just thy best wisdom?

Thy Self laugheth at thine ego, and its proud prancings. “What are these prancings and flights of thought unto me?” it saith to itself. “A by-way to my purpose. I am the leading-string of the ego, and the prompter of its notions.”

The Self saith unto the ego: “Feel pain!” And thereupon it suffereth, and thinketh how it may put an end thereto—and for that very purpose it is meant to think.

The Self saith unto the ego: “Feel pleasure!” Thereupon it rejoiceth, and thinketh how it may ofttimes rejoice—and for that very purpose it is meant to think.”

Compare this passage with Blake’s First Principle from his “ALL RELIGIONS are ONE

“That the Poetic Genius is the true Man, and that the body or outward form of Man is derived from the Poetic Genius. Likewise that the forms of all things are derived from their Genius, which by the Ancients was call’d an Angel & Spirit & Demon…. As all men are alike (tho’ infinitely various) So all religions & as all similars have one source… The true Man is the source he being the Poetic Genius”.

Blake’s “Poetic Genius” or “true Man” is, quite patently, the Nietzschean “Self” and which is often confused with “God”. Reflect on Nietzsche’s “Despisers of the Body” in relation to another passage from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell called “The voice of the Devil”,

All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors.

1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True

1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3 Energy is Eternal Delight

In fact, one can say that Blake’s “marriage of heaven and hell” is, in meaning, the equivalent of Nietzsche’s “beyond good and evil”.

Hence we return to the theme of “dehumanisation” and the double-movement implied in Nietzsche’s understanding of nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves” includes the value “human”. But the debasement and effacement of the value (or definition) “human” or “Man” is, from one perspective, the devaluation of what is only the false front. This aspect of “dehumanisation” is what Nietzsche intends by that quote above from Prologue #3 in Zarathustra, and is connected, too, with the apocalyptic vision of William Blake cited earlier (A Vision of the Last Judgement) and the potential “shattering” revelation of “the true Man” presently latent or hidden within the “human form”,

“Error is created. Truth is eternal. Error, or Creation, will be Burned up, & then, & not till Then, Truth or Eternity will appear. It is Burnt up the Moment Men cease to behold it. I assert for My Self that I do not behold the outward Creation & that to me it is hindrance & not Action; it is as the dirt upon my feet, No part of Me. “What,” it will be Question’d, “When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying, `Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.’ I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative eye any more than I would Question a window concerning a Sight. I look thro’ it & not with it.”– William Blake, A Vision of the Last Judgment

These are generally taken as the words of a madman who is not to be taken seriously, as Blake was often judged to be in his time and since. Nonetheless, the sentiment is not very different from what we also find in Nietzsche, who is often taken very seriously indeed, merely because (with the exception perhaps of Zarathustra) Nietzsche employs a philosophical, discursive language while Blake employs a poetic and mythical one. But, in either case, real truth when it is revealed is always “shattering” because of what I have been calling Man’s “narcissistic condition” in which mere self-image (the false self) is accorded more reality and finality than the true Self. By a mere definition of “human” (and they abound, as homo faber, homo sapiens, homo loquens, homo grammaticus, homo oeconomicus, homo ludens, homo religiousus, Aristotle’s “featherless biped”, or; “the rational animal” or “the political animal”, “the social animal”, or even “I’m only human!”), the human has imposed upon itself certain very limiting constraints and, consequently, denied within himself or herself other expansive possibilities which, for Blake at least, are infinite. Since the true Man is infinite and is infinity itself (boundlessness, limitlessness) it’s revelation within the finite human form must necessarily be “shattering” of that form.

This shattering of the human form could easily be called “dehumanisation” or “the end of the human race”. It is this limited and limiting (inhibited) form of the “human” (and Nietzsche’s “all-too-human”) that is the issue when Blake writes that,

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narow chinks of his cavern.”

This is what I have been calling Man’s “narcissistic condition” — the despotism of self-image and self-definition, which have become the limiting factors inhibiting full human self-realisation. Against that Nietzsche posits his “free spirit”.

The character of the double-movement is this — Nihilism and Genesis coincident with one another. What is it that gives men like Blake, Nietzsche, Aurobindo, Gebser, and others (including Seth) the confidence that what has been latent or occluded in the human mold, frame, or form is about to “irrupt” into manifestation (epiphanisation)? Even Erich Kahler, in The Tower and the Abyss, speaks of “the breakdown of the human form” or “destruction of the human form”, which we also might call “dehumanisation” as the crux of the nihilism of our time. But could it be, as Gebser put it also in The Ever-Present Origin, that this kind of dehumanisation is also the passage of the true Man (the integral human or Blake’s “Albion”) finally “emerging from his cave”?

This “double-movement” (or what is being called “creative destruction” in contemporary parlance) is a double-movement of time — one tendency stretching backwards towards conserving the human form (we’ll call this, the reactionary movement), the other stretching forwards to realise the future (the revolutionary movement). This is why the double-movement is intimately connected with a conflict of times or experienced as “times out of joint”, as Shakespeare put it. This accounts for the duplicitous character of our age — for these contradicting trends — one pressing backwards, the other forwards — are coincident, because, in reality, both this “past” and “future” are actually in the present. When this is understood, then you have understood what Gebser means by “ever-present origin” and why he chooses to use the term “irruption” to describe the emergence of a new consciousness structure — all past and all future are both contained within the Now, in terms of latent or as manifest possibility. “Irruption” is the manifestation of what has hitherto been only latent or “unconscious” in relation to ego-consciousness.

Enough for now, although more could be said about this double-movement, and why the nihilistic trends of our times identified by others — “dehumanisation”, “loss of self”, “breakdown of the human form”, etc — may not be quite as completely pathological as they may appear, or as they have in fact been. It was this faith that allowed Nietzsche to remain “cheerful” despite the horrifying prospect he foresaw in his time as the onset of “two centuries of nihilism” — incipit tragoedia, he wrote before his own breakdown — “the tragedy begins.”

And he wasn’t wrong about that.


11 responses to “Dehumanisation and the Double-Movement of Time”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    Seth noted that (and I’m paraphrasing) “No two individuals will experience death the same way.” By the same token, we can say that no two individuals will experience this “dehumanisation” the same way.

    To me, ‘the human form’ is exactly as you describe as “Man’s “narcissistic condition””, and its marker is the attention of the mind pointing outward toward beauty and comfort in the material world. Dehumanisation, then, is the opposite of this and it will entail the attention of man pointing inward toward beauty and comfort in the non-material world. But for this to happen, first this inner non-material world must be recognized by anyone undergoing the process in much the same way that the outer material world is recognized by the human form.

    The question is then what would make billions of people turning their attention to the inner world? That is, if we are to experience the “irruption” that Gebser talks about. To my mind, the events of the recent past hold one answer to that question: lots and lots of disasters and tragedies.

    How unfortunate that our species could not alter course before it is too late. I’m truly looking forward to the age that this “me! me! me!” branch of our consciousness has become extinct. We are nowhere near realizing the full potential of our consciousness.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Gebser speaks of an “intensification” of consciousness, rather than “expansion”. This has the same meaning, I suppose, as the “quickening”. Intensification is an interesting description, because of its association with the meanings of intentionality and intent.

      This intensification can happen suddenly (otherwise, it wouldn’t be experienced as such). Shock and trauma may be associated with this (for example, in Jill Bolte Taylor’s it certainly was, ie her book My Stroke of Insight). Something of a similar shock or trauma seems to be required for whole societies to reach this intensification, and this is something you find in both Marshall McLuhan’s work as well as Alvin Toffler. There are even general physiological changes associated with this shock, as it is known that neural pathways and connections can change. Changes in the genetic structure may occur also.

      Consciousness is energy. Energy is defined as the ability to perform work or produce effects. The immediate effect of any intensification of this energy of consciousness would be registered as effects in and on the body. This fact is within everyone’s experience. You think a certain thought, your respiration increases; your pulse quickens; you may perspire; chemical changes occur in the body. This energy is what is called “personal power” in Castaneda’s writings. And one of the effects of the increase in this “personal power” is to shift the assemblage point that regulates perception. So, changes in the human form or human abstract are inevitably also changes in the physical form as well.

      Reaching “critical mass” (also called “tipping point” or “omega point”) is a matter of intensification of energy. Here there are gradual increases which accumulate until a very sudden state shift occurs (some call this “paradigm shift”). The entire “gestalt” is then transformed. There is a new constellation or patterning of elements and factors. One of the best ways to appreciate this is to read Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine’s very valuable book Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue With Nature. He’s a very sensitive scientist.

      This notion of consciousness as energy, energy as potency and potentiality, and this associated with the notion of “personal power”, also has some connection with Nietzsche’s “will to power” as fundamental operative principle in the cosmos. And, evidently, by positing this “will”, Nietzsche had some intuitive insight into what is called “intent” in Castaneda as being, equally, the fundamental operative principle or principle of action in the universe at large.

      Whether the “deformation” or dehumanisation of the human form is final depends on the organisation of the energies involved in the mutation. It is what Seth refers to as the “ancient force”. The organising factor is Reason, as both Blake above and as Seth (mentioned in earlier posts) assert. Without that, the intensification of this “ancient force” or primal energy which is consciousness will scatter in madness. In personal and social terms, it would be as if all the laws of the cosmic order were suddenly suspended. Reason is the guide, but not the instigator. This is the meaning of “sobriety” or “impeccability” in Castaneda. Here’s how Nietzsche put in in his Zarathustra,

      “Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman–a rope over an abyss…
      What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under…

      “I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.
      Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.”

      Like Dante’s journey in Hell, the path to the transhuman passes through chaos, the abyss, madness. Yet Dante had his psychopomp, Virgil, as guide. Virgil is this image of sobriety, reason, impeccability without which Dante would be lost in Hell.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Let me add to the above…. that, apparently, we missed the boat when Seth advised earlier that we could avoid the perilous problems (proliferation of warring ideologies, cults, “clash of civilisations”, etc) as unnecessary during the transition. It seems we have blindly walked right into them instead. This makes our situation, globally, very precarious indeed. The problem is compounded by the fact that Reason, which must be our guide through this, has been compromised as well, in the form of what Gebser calls “deficient rationality”. The fruits of this deficient rationality are all those things that Seth warned against.

        One might be led to the conclusion that the situation for Man — if not all life on this planet — is hopeless. Certainly, many have come to this conclusion. The Jonestown mass suicide is one example; Hitler’s forced march of the Germans into his Wagnerian “Twilight of the Gods” is another example. I have, repeatedly in this blog, re-interpreted Gebser’s “deficient rationality” as the breakdown of the dialectic in its most extreme form — the identity of thesis and antithesis in that the “rational pursuit of self-interest”, as cornerstone principle for the “good society”, has now become completely indistinguishable from the irrational pursuit of self-destruction. Just another form of mass suicide.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        I read the same thing into the “intensification” of consciousness as you do: to be ‘tense’ or intent on doing something — or bring about a change (i.e. “irruption” in the form of the integral consciousness).

    • Scott Preston says :

      By the way, when I use the term “human form”, it has something of the same meaning as Blake’s “The Human Abstract”, which has some connection with what he calls “The Selfhood”, and is, in some ways, a narcissistic construct.

      It’s a difficult poem to decipher, and I can only guess what Blake intended to symbolise by “the Catterpiller and the Fly”. But I believe these to be Church and State, but that is just supposition on my part.

      The true form of the human — or, really, Blake’s equivalent of Nietzsche’s “overhuman” — I already gave earlier in that posting on the Cross of Reality, pointing out how Rosenstock’s cross of reality bears an intriguing similarity to Blake’s image of what is apparently his vision of the true human shape.

      You may note something rather uncanny about Blake’s image, here. It bears a remarkable resemblance to what don Juan described as the true human shape as it appears to Seers — as a luminous egg or sphere or energetic mass with fibres of light shooting out in every direction, and that the physical form of the human is an interpretation imposed by the senses.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        I found this interpretation on Blake’s The Human Abstract, which says that “the Caterpillar and the Fly,” are “the clergy.”

        I love that parity drawn in the interpretation. 🙂 But I can’t tell if that’s in fact what Blake meant to express.

        • Scott Preston says :

          I’m not sure why “Caterpiller and Fly” would refer, on the one hand, to decay and death and also to the clergy as well. That sounds like a stretch, given also that Blake already uses the Raven as the symbol of death in the poem — or as carrion feeder.

          It’s possible that by “Caterpiller” Blake is referring to the larval form of the Fly, rather than the butterfly, but that’s unlikely since Blake already uses “worm” for that elsewhere. There is, though, a kind of polarity between the Caterpiller and the Fly, in that the Caterpiller crawls upon the earth, while the fly is a creature of the air. That, however, may not be relevant to his intentions here. He can be damnably obscure at times. I also question the interpreter’s conclusion that the poem is suffused with references to Norse Mythology. Blake is here attempting to paint a picture of the false human form — the “human abstract”. Allusions to Odin, Balder, runes, etc, seem not very relevant to that. Moreover Yggdrasil, the World Tree, is the axis of the world, and it seems particularly inappropriate to associate Yggdrasil with the Tree of Mystery. The reference to the “Mystery” may a reference to the Church doctrine of the MYSTERIUM INIQUITATIS (the mystery of evil), which Blake would probably find particularly repugnant to his sensibilities. The Tree that Blake is referring to is probably the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and not the Tree of Life (which the human was barred from eating from). Such allusions would be more familiar to his audience than obscure references to Norse mythology.

          I’ll see what Northrop Frye has to say about the poem, as he was well-versed in Blake and very sensitive (for the most part) to Blake’s idiom and idiosyncratic style.

        • Scott Preston says :

          It’s possible that the reference to the Fly is an allusion to Ba’al or Beelzebub, who is the Lord of the Flies, and was earlier associated by Christians with the Devil (but then, so was lusty Pan).

          It wouldn’t be surprising if Blake turned the tables on the clergy, though, and accused them of actually being worshipers of Beelzebub, as he often associated the clergy and the Church with images of parasites, decay, death, corruption and as a species of anti-life (exactly as Nietzsche did).

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    ” He can be damnably obscure at times.” — I couldn’t agree more.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    I just realised this morning that Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” conforms exactly to that condition of “stand still” that Blake warned about here,

    “…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”]

    The last line, of course, pertains to the narcissistic condition of the human, who is trapped in mental tautology (the Ratio) — somewhat like Joni Mitchell’s song “The Circle Game” — or the closing of the modern mind into tautology, that has been the theme of some recent literature.

    The citation above leads into another famous remark by Blake about the doors of perception and the narcissistic “enclosure” of the mind upon itself — the Ratio,

    “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.”

    Now, compare this to don Juan’s analysis of Castaneda’s disposition (which, don Juan states, is common to his “kind” — that is, to man of the modern type, the “mental/rational”)

    “You think about yourself too much and that gives you a strange fatigue that makes you shut off the world around you and cling to your arguments.
    A light and amenable disposition is needed in order to withstand the impact and the strangeness of the knowledge I am teaching you. Feeling important makes one heavy, clumsy, and vain. To be a man of knowledge one needs to be light and fluid.”

    This disposition — the disposition of the man on the path of knowledge — is quite contrary to the condition of narcissism, as diagnosed by Blake. One could say, then, that Fukuyama’s thesis of “The End of History” is the supreme doctrine of “the culture of narcissism”, the ultimate product of it, and nothing more than the autobiography of Late Modern Man fallen into this condition, and that therein lies its real significance.

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