The Disintegration of the Modern Era
“Nothing seems more permanent than a long-established government about to lose power, nothing more invincible than a grand army on the morning of its annihilation.” — John Ralston Saul
When, at this point now, of mankind’s development, his emerging unconscious knowledge is denied by his institutions, then it will rise up despite those institutions, and annihilate them. Cult after cult will emerge, each unrestrained by the use of reason, because reason will have denied the existence of rampant unconscious knowledge, disorganized and feeling only its own ancient force.
If this happens, all kinds of old and new religious denominations will war, and all kinds of ideologies surface. This need not take place, for the conscious mind – basically, now — having learned to focus in physical terms, is meant to expand, to accept unconscious intuitions and knowledge, and to organize these deeply creative principles into cultural patterns…– Seth, The Unknown Reality
Our situation in Late Modernity, as described by Ralston Saul above (including in The Unconscious Civilization), by Seth and by Jean Gebser in his Ever-Present Origin, is not without precedent. Surely, the parallels between our time and the breakdown of the Late Middle Ages — of the disintegration of the Church and of what was then called “Christendom” or Holy Roman Empire — could not have been overlooked. The same symptoms of disintegration and decline, the same fragmentation and dissolution of form and structure, and even the same misguided and deluded responses to these events, including and especially the Inquisition — the parallels are precise and accurate.
The “universal” (or “catholic”) nature of the Church was on everybody’s lips even as this universality was disintegrating into sect and schism. The more fractured the Universal Church became, the more authoritarian, dogmatic, intolerant, reactionary, totalitarian, violent and murderous the Universal Church became, ironically further accelerating its own dissolution and disintegration. To this period also belongs the beginnings of “propaganda” in the form of the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide.
The fate of Universal Faith then is reflected in the fate of “Universal Reason” now. It is the principle of universality itself that is undergoing destruction once more. The ideal of the University — the very incarnation of the modern idea of universality — has decayed into the reality of the “multiversity” along with the fractured state of knowledge and consciousness. Instead of a proliferation of sects and schisms, however, we have a proliferation of ideologies and “perspectives”, reflected equally in what Rosenstock-Huessy called “the ballyhoo of competing propagandas”. The incoherence of much of what is called “post-modern” in arts and letters simply reflects the disintegration of the principle of universality itself, and the disintegration of the unity of consciousness — the “Grand Narrative”, as such — into fractured perspectivisation — the logical end, nonetheless, of that “point-of-view, line-of-thought” consciousness (the “mental-rational consciousness structure” in Gebser’s terms) in process of development since the Renaissance artists discovered perspective and revealed the third dimension of space, thereby also altering the structure of perception and ego consciousness itself.
It’s a little known fact — and perhaps a deliberately suppressed fact — that the Scientific Revolution associated with the name “Copernicus” and the heliocentric theory only followed a full century after the disclosure of the third dimension of space by the Renaissance artists. The struggle to represent the third dimension of space on a two-dimensional surface begins with Giotto in the 13th century. And only after another four generations — nearly a full century after Giotto — does Leon Battista Alberti finally present the mathematical axioms governing perspective perception, shortly after to be elaborated and further perfected by Leonardo da Vinci. And yet, it is exactly one century after Alberti’s formal mathematical representation of the laws governing perspective perception and for rendering the accurate representation of deep space in proper aspect ratio, that Copernicus delivers (for prudent reasons, post-humously in 1543) his famous De Revolutionibus. Alberti’s Della Pittura was published in 1435.This span of time between Giotto, Alberti, and Copernicus may account for why the connection between the Renaissance artists’ discovery of perspectivism in unfolding the third dimension of space, and the Scientific Revolution have seldom, if ever, been drawn out until very recently (which is itself significant, as we will see).
The well-known historian of science, Thomas Kuhn, did however note the connection in his biography of Copernicus. Kuhn mused, all too briefly but significantly, that Copernicus could not have come up with his heliocentric theory of the heavens without some knowledge of perspective. Copernicus had imagined himself on the sun looking outwards and, from this perspective or point of view, surveying the movements of the planets in the spatial field. This perspectivism itself was a radical departure from the past. And it is of some interest to note that Galileo too, before undertaking his famous experiments in motion, had applied at the Academy of Florence to teach…. perspective! His application, ironically, was rejected. But the thing to note about what is called “Galilean space” or “Ideal Space” is that it is perspective space. This “ideal space” is the space of the Renaissance artists.
(As a point of interest. I was effectively harassed out of graduate school for saying that. I had a big red file folder stuffed full of evidence going back centuries, even in Latin, to support my thesis. The professor who had launched the complaint against me — an astronomer by training — refused to even look through it. I thought of the irony of it all…. how the Papal Inquisitors also refused to look through Galileo’s telescope. This was before I had discovered Jean Gebser and his wonderful historical work on the subject of the origins of the mental-rational structure of consciousness in perspectivism).
Rene Descartes’ famous “wondrous strange method”, summarised in his well-known formula cogito ergo sum, is itself a perspective construct. It is the formal principle by which the “point-of-view, line-of-thought” mode of perception and consciousness was established as the norm of perception and the essence of reason. It is the triumphant self-declaration of what is now called “the mental-rational structure of consciousness”, which is itself a perspectivising mode of consciousness, an ego consciousness constructed according to perspective principles and which became “the common sense”, and now considered “the natural order of things”. It is, however, 3D consciousness, based upon a “point-of-view” — the cogito — that has translated the dimensions of space — length, breadth, and depth — into formal abstract and logical terms as thesis, antithesis and synthesis — the elements of the dialectic. The individuation of ego consciousness in the contemporary sense – even the notion of the “self-made man” — began with the perspective “point-of-view” of the Renaissance artists.
What is called “Modern Era” and what is called “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” are interchangeable terms. If we now live in the twilight of this incredible Era, it is because the success of the individuation of consciousness in terms of “ego consciousness” has now become its very liability. The “point of view” mode of perception formalised in Descartes’ cogito ergo sum has ended in the isolation of the ego consciousness altogether, a kind of inner exile that Blake calls “the cavern”, Nietzsche, the “chamber of consciousness”, Gebser calls “cave”, or, in sociological terms, “the lonely crowd”. Perspectivism has trapped the ego consciousness within its own “point of view”, and it is this extreme isolation of the ego consciousness that is at the root of the contemporary “culture of narcissism”, and which is finally destructive of the unity of knowledge, the unity of consciousness, and the unity of life, the result being fragmentation, atomisation, disintegration. The “death of God” and the “end of the Grand Narrative” were simply announcements that the unity of knowledge and consciousness and life had dissolved.
Hence Nietzsche’s remark “Since Copernicus, man has been rolling from the centre towards X”
The very success of the perspectivising consciousness has now become its undoing. “Point of view, line of thought” (or “train of thought”) consciousness was competent to handle, within limits, simple cause and effect relations, things happening in orderly and logical temporal succession. It is not competent to handle what is, perhaps, the most salient feature of the global era — “everything all the time”, as former Eagles’ frontman Don Henley once put it in a song appropriately titled “Life in the Fast Lane”. Marshall McLuhan, earlier recognising our situation, mused that “pattern recognition”, not syllogism, was now the only mode of perception adequate to handle life in the new electronic reality of “the Global Village”. Another term for “pattern recognition”, though, is “integral consciousness”, and it is the principle implicit in ecological modes of thinking as well. So, one could equally call it “ecological consciousness”, a way of dealing with wholes and integrals.
What has changed is time and the revelation of time as a new “dimension” of consciousness. The mental-rational consciousness structure of perspectivist perception was adequate to handle and master the phenomena of space only and the disclosure of the third dimension to the inner eye. It could not, by Descartes own admission, account for time. “Time”, Descartes declared, “is a daily miracle of God” and confessed that his wondrous strange method was not adequate to handle time nor account for it. Therefore, the armies of intellect summoned to master nature and erect a World System under the banners of cogito ergo sum or scientia potens est could safely ignore time.
But the irruption of time as an additional, but invisible, dimension of consciousness is the source of the modern mood the existentialists call anxiety or Angst. Time has become a problem, experienced even in daily life as a constant pressure on consciousness — one is pressed for time or stressed by time. So this factor of time has become critical to our ability to actually organise the irruption of unconscious knowledge into meaningful “cultural patterns” as Seth suggests. But the pressure of time as a new dimension is also forcing the ego consciousness to experiment with new approaches, new modes of perception, new “lifestyles” as they say today, that transcend or surmount the problems of perspectivism and the limitations of “point of view” perspective perception in relation to time.
If the irruption of unconscious knowledge is not time itself, it is certainly implicated in it. The so-called “unconscious” does not, in fact, know time or space in the physical sense at all. That is why it needs the guidance and organisation of an “enlightened and expanded egotistical awareness” that can guide, organise or distribute its manifestations in spacetime terms. The unconscious, as such, knows itself only in terms of synchronicities and non-locality, the former once investigated by Carl Jung, the latter by new physics and quantum mechanics. They are both, nonetheless, issues of psycho-dynamics, which is the issue of “entanglement” and the measurement problem — the difficulty in actually separating experimenter intent and consciousness from the observations and measurements of phenomena.
And if synchronicity and non-locality belong to the mode of functioning of the “unconscious”, and the “unconscious” is irrupting into space and time as Seth, Gebser, and others suggest, then this problem of “unconscious knowledge” and its organisation are the very things being grappled with currently in trying to come to terms with synchronicity, non-locality, and entanglement, amongst many other issues that will, inevitably, affect how we will organise our societies as well. One should still be cognisant of what these issues mean for a consciousness accustomed to the methods of “prediction and control”, and which derives its sense of purpose, direction, and organisation from those functions as its very self-understanding. For the manifestations of “superstition” and “chaos” of which Seth warns, are connected with an ego consciousness trying to predict and control in its terms, what are essentially unpredictable and uncontrollable in its terms.
In other words, “everything all the time” or “all-at-once-ness” is the very mode of manifestation of the unconscious, and an ego consciousness vulnerably exposed to this all-at-once-ness simply implodes and disintegrates or, as they say, “falls to pieces”.
This is a big topic, and I haven’t done it justice here. The subject doesn’t really lend itself agreeably to a step-by-step or “stages of development” kind of unwrapping. I didn’t even touch upon why the techno-corporate state or “New Colossus”, as I’ve been calling it — the historical embodiment of “Reason” — is a symptom of the same situation that the Universal Church, or embodiment of “Faith”, found itself in during the Late Middle Ages. And its own attempt to consolidate itself and its power in such absolute terms is a reaction to the disintegration of its Era. It employs today much the same means to stave off its own fate just as the Universal Church did in its time of degeneration and decadence — everything we today know by the name “Inquisition”. Perhaps the only thing that has not been resorted to again is purification of the soul by fire, otherwise known as auto-de-fe or burning at the stake.
Everything the Church did to try to hold itself together and dominate the times only accelerated its own disintegration and the final shattering of Christendom, so that even a new name had to be invented for the shards that emerged from the wreckage of Christendom and Holy Roman Empire. The New Age baptised itself with its Greek name and came to be known, instead, as “Europe”. Europe is, actually, only about 500 years old.
The “New Colossus” is in the same situation today as the Medieval Church was in its time, and its efforts to preserve control and to dominate the times will have (and is having) the same self-negating results. Today, that self-negating tendency of the reactionary dynamic even has come to be recognised in a formal name — “blowback”.