The Rootlessness of the Ego Consciousness
If, indeed, “man is the sick animal” as Nietzsche insisted, then it has a lot to do with the estrangement of the ego consciousness from its roots, as discussed in the last post. In fact, Nietzsche is just giving us another version of the parable of the Prodigal Son.
(And for the one who keeps googling the question, “what land did the prodigal son visit?”, and ending up at The Chrysalis, the answer is, the realm of ego consciousness, or what we call “ordinary reality”. In other respects, the prodigal son is you, and so the land you currently live in is the land the prodigal son is visiting. In short, the Prodigal Son is Man, and the land he finds himself in is the ego consciousness, and at the lowest nadir of his alienation or homelessness, living amongst the pigs, he comes to remembrance of himself, of his roots — for which he should thank and honour the pigs for their help).
Let’s conclude, here, our discussion of the first part of Seth’s warning about the potential self-destruction of the human race, as it is an important subject that has also been raised by others — Nietzsche, Einstein, Kahler, and Gebser among them. In due course we’ll see that they are all responding to the same underlying problem that has come to articulation in Seth.
“Ego consciousness must now be familiarized with its roots, or it will turn into something else.”
The problem of such rootlessness — self-alienation or homelessness — is that once the ego consciousness (which is always what is implied in the general or universal concept “Man” or “human”) looses its awareness of its true roots, it then must locate the sources of its identity and vitality elsewhere, in objects. These objects (which can be anything) then acquire power over the ego consciousness precisely because they are then perceived as the sources of identity and vitality. Thus the problem of idolatry arises, and what we call “narcissism” is just a modern, secularised term for idolatry. What the Psalmist once decried as “idolatry” is the problem of narcissism, and is the “something else” that Seth refers to in the quote above,
But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will become like them,
and so will all who trust in them.
To repeat, having become estranged from its true roots, or the real sources of its identity and vitality, the ego consciousness displaces this into objects, to which it becomes subordinate and subjugate. These “power” objects can be anything, big or small — motherland, fatherland, parents, nation, state, money, political ideology, love, drugs, cigarettes, institutions, technology, authorities, celebrities, corporations, religions, gods, books, “Science”, “Reason” or other colossal collective nouns like “Capital” or “Labour”, and so on. In other words, once such objectifications occur, all means become ends, the self is depleted and diminished, while the object increases in power. This is the issue called “projection” or what Nietzsche referred to as our “flowing out”. This is the situation of Narcissus in the myth. If we live in an Age of Idols or dominating images, as some assert, it is because we have displaced into objects the source or root of our identity and vitality, which then “fascinate” in the true meaning of that term — the fascinum being an enchantment or binding power or spell (this is, of course, connected to the term “fascism”). The counterpart to such “fixation” is that consciousness freezes. It becomes, so to speak, in-animate while the object becomes more and more animate. In extreme cases, loss of the power object may lead to suicide, for the individual or groups.
This is our malaise or illness, which much commercial advertising and other propaganda or perception management practices exploit for profit or power. The “pursuit of happiness” actually makes no sense without assuming this “malaise” (or dukkha) as the normal condition of the ego consciousness. And in some ways “acquisitive individualism” or “possessive individualism” or consumerism are forms of sickness, and evidence of the basic truth of Nietzsche’s statement that “man is the sick animal”. The irony of this transference of well-being into objects can’t have been overlooked, when we have a “healthy economy” but epidemics of sick individuals.
This is the issue, too, with Jean Gebser’s “being” and “having” distinction and the issue of “fulfillment” (malaise being the absence of such) to be achieved through either “being” or “having”,
“The current situation manifests on the one hand an egocentric individualism exaggerated to extremes and desirous of possessing everything, while on the other it manifests an equally extreme collectivism that promises the total fulfillment of man’s being. In the latter instance we find the utter abnegation of the individual valued merely as an object in the human aggregate; in the former a hyper-valuation of the individual who, despite his limitations, is permitted everything. This deficient; that is destructive, antithesis divides the world into two warring camps, not just politically and ideologically, but in all areas of human endeavour.” — The Ever-Present Origin
To summarise — the rootless condition of the ego consciousness may tempt it to invest authority for its identity and vitality in external objects or images. The additional danger here is that when anything changes in these external objects or images (as it must) the change is felt as an existential threat. Like an addict deprived of his or her “fix”, loss of the fixation can result in great and irrational paranoia, anxiety, and anguish. One has emptied oneself completely into the object, so that with the the loss of the object comes “the stare into the abyss” or the Big Empty — the tabula rasa.
In some ways, the issue can be conceived as the twin problem of “fulfillment” or “malaise”. The quest for fulfillment through “being” or through “having” implies the prior existence of this condition of malaise and the attempt to negate that condition. So far, man’s attempts to overcome the condition of malaise, and the means chosen, have not proven very successful. In fact, they’ve been disastrous, but they probably had to be attempted in order to learn that they were disastrous.
Seth leaves indeterminate the “something else” that ego consciousness may mutate into if it does not, now, take steps to rediscover its roots. That is consistent with his conviction that the human species is in a time of transition — of uncertainty — where any probability may become actualised. One of those probabilities is self-extinction. Malaise (which Nietzsche calls nihilistic “self-loathing”) is a powerful motivator for self-extinction and self-annihilation, particularly when it appears that every avenue to overcome or transcend it has proven vain and fruitless, and the nihilism of our time threatens to become a runaway train.
We’ll see how our authors deal with the problem of existential malaise and its resolution in a grand act of self-overcoming.