Fellowship

In the opening chapter of his great work The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser described what he perceived as the fundamental dynamic of late Modernity towards greater disintegration. It does, in some ways, resemble what Zygmunt Bauman also described in Liquid Modernity. It’s worth reviewing the relevant passage once again as a pertinent diagnosis of our malaise — of what ails us and of our sense of “lack” as described also by the Buddhist sociologist David Loy.  Here are Gebser’s remarks once again,

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 endeavor.

Since these two ideologies are now pressing toward their limits we can assume that neither can prevail in the long run. When any movement tends to the extremes it leads away from the center or nucleus toward eventual destruction at the outer limits where the connections to the life-giving center finally are severed. It would seem that today the connections have already been broken, for it is increasingly evident that the individual is being driven into isolation while the collective degenerates into mere aggregation. These two conditions, isolation and aggregation, are in fact clear indications that individualism and collectivism have now become deficient” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, 1949, p. 3.

This perception of the same dynamic of disintegration — or loss of integrity — is the common theme of many of the authors I’ve reviewed in The Chrysalis or the earlier Dark Age Blog: W.B. Yeats haunting poem “The Second Coming” or Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl“; Erich Kahler in The Tower and the Abyss where he writes of “the breakdown of the human form”; Jane Jacobs in Dark Age Ahead; Pitrim Sorokin in The Crisis of Our Age; Christopher Lasch in his book The Culture of Narcissism; Rosenstock-Huessy when he writes of “modern man’s disintegration“, Rene Guenon in The Reign of Quantity; Nietzsche and his anticipation of “two centuries of nihilism”; Bauman’s liquifaction of Late Modern institutions and values, and so on. There are many others that could be mentioned. They all have described what is now blithely called “the new normal”, but which others call “nihilism”.

This “new normal” is a pathological condition — a very dangerous, disintegrate condition which I’ve described as being characterised by the “normalisation” of double-talk, double-think, double-standard, and double-bind. Some have referred to this as a “crisis of consciousness” now in the throes of fragmentation and dissolution, or as a “spiritual crisis of Modern Man” following the “death of God”.   And there is certainly a great measure of truth to all that.

“Isolation and aggregation” (or “individualism” and “collectivism”) do, in fact, attest to the loss of a sense for the “spiritual” (we will call it that even though I somewhat dislike that term). The corrective to the culture of narcissism is empathy; the corrective to the condition of isolation is friendship; and the corrective to aggregation is fellowship. But the present structure of economic (power- and greed-driven) society not only places no value on the powers of empathy, friendship, and fellowship, it even works to effectively negate them. “All higher values devalue themselves” is Nietzsche’s succinct formula for nihilism, and the proof of that lies in what has happened to empathy, friendship, and fellowship as values.

In some ways, isolation and aggregation are symptoms of a singular fact: the powers of empathy are being bred out of the species. That is the implication of the article to which I referred earlier on early childhood development (“How big-hearted babies turn into selfish monsters”). Empathy is inborn and innate. The “oceanic feeling” that Freud mistakenly identified as “infantile narcissism” is actually the contrary of narcissism. It is actually the basis for full self-realisation, and without it the values of true friendship and fellowship cannot be realised either. It is this quality of innate empathy that is appealed to in the saying “unless you become as little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven”.  It’s the gist of Rumi’s poem,

The mother and father are your attachment
to beliefs and bloodties
and desires and comforting habits.
Don’t listen to them!
They seem to protect,
but they imprison.
They are your worst enemies.
They make you afraid
of living in emptiness.
Some day you’ll weep tears of delight in the court,
remembering your mistaken parents!
Know that your body nurtures the spirit,
helps it grow, and then gives it wrong advice.

So, in effect, self-realisation is less about doing or learning something than about un-doing and un-learning it.

As mentioned, without empathy, real friendship and fellowship — let alone any real marriage — are impossible to achieve or sustain. The human being of the modern type has “buddies” and “pals” and “partners”, but no real friends. His or her marriage is a “partnership” rather than a marriage, as if it were something akin to a business arrangement. Corporations, unions, political parties, churches, colleges and faculties today are not real fellowships, but human aggregates. They are not “fellowships” in any real sense, as were the earlier forms of church, sangha, or ummah. The modern marriage, like the modern corporation, union, political party, church, university, etc, never forms a true “we”. It is a mere aggregate of self-interests, a formal arrangement of interests rather than values.  People today are starved for real friendship and fellowship or, as the old saying goes, they ask for bread and are given a rock.

This loss of fellowship and how to restore or recreate it in Late Modernity is what obsessed Rosenstock-Huessy. It’s pretty much the gist of his short book The Multiformity of Man.

Friendship against isolation, fellowship against aggregation. These attest to a spiritual aspect of the fourfold human that is being starved and suffocated. Empathy, friendship, and fellowship are exactly those spiritual values that are completely absent in most novels about our dystopian future, in which their recovery is also necessarily a rebellion.

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17 responses to “Fellowship”

  1. alex jay says :

    ” Friendship against isolation, fellowship against aggregation. These attest to a spiritual aspect of the fourfold human that is being starved and suffocated.”

    Fortunately, some creatures serve to shame us into recognising this “spiritual aspect” as we have lost it – even forgiveness (as attested to by the whales off the east coast of Baja, Mexico). Makes you wonder: who is really a superior creation? : )

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b013wpxz/ocean-giants-2-deep-thinkers

    • Scott Preston says :

      Unfortunately, that programme is not available outside the UK.

      • alex jay says :

        What a shame. : (

        The gist of the programme was to demonstrate the qualities of empathy, friendship and fellowship in the dolphin and whale population – behaviour that would put our species to shame as you point out in the article.

        • Scott Preston says :

          As recently revealed also in the behaviours of rats, too.

          http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2014/01/14/social-experience-leads-empathetic-pro-social-behavior-rats

          Basically affirming what Seth had insisted upon decades ago. Animals have their friendships as human beings do, and at a deeper level, all animals are aware of their interconnectedness, including with the human. Something that you also find in Blake, who was sensitive to that too, particularly in his poem Auguries of Innocence. Some other humans have been sensitive to it, too. It is the true “net” or web.

          That deeper interconnectedness is the empathy of the whole,and Seth insists that our theories about competition of species are quite erroneous. Life evolves as a whole, not piecemeal, and all species cooperate in this process. He also warned that the insects and the animals may withdraw from their cooperation with the human — for the very reasons this blog exists; the problem of human narcissism.

          • InfiniteWarrior says :

            [T]he insects and the animals may withdraw from their cooperation with the human — for the very reasons this blog exists; the problem of human narcissism.

            Why would they need to do that when we withdrew our cooperation from them long ago?

            Can’t help but connect this to what is presently occurring in response to climate change. Insects and animals are evolving, adapting and migrating, as they are naturally wont to do, quite independent of largely thwarted efforts on our part to mitigate the destructive impact of human activity on the ecosystem. Some may even survive.

            Not surprisingly, Nature is doing her part without complaint and will continue to respond as she always has while, thankfully, messages regarding the problem of human narcissism in this scenario are not going entirely unheard.

            at a deeper level, all animals are aware of their interconnectedness

            Including homo sapiens. The only difference between Blake and others is that he consciously acknowledged it whereas too many of us harbor the delusion that we are somehow insulated from the environment. Hopefully, that particular bubble will burst sooner rather than later.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Soil and soul, humus and human. Even farmers today have lost that connection. They never get out of their air-conditioned tractors to actually renew their relationship with soil, and “land” has come to mean only private property.

              That’s the poverty of modern farming — something Steiner attempted to correct with his agricultural lectures (even if Steiner’s biodynamic approach looks more like witchcraft). A “poor dirt farmer” was always someone who worked impoverished soil. Dirt is soil bereft of life, soil is dirt that is enlivened.

              “Where man is not nature is barren” is one of Blake’s Proverbs of Hell. The inverse is also true, today. Where man is, nature is made barren too.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    I rushed this one into print, yesterday. I had wanted to say more about the meaning of “fellowship”. For example,

    The word “community” as it is used today is really a hollowed out word — a demoted and devalued value. It is said that I live in a “community”, for example. It has really just become a term that pertains merely to geography and statistics. It is not a real fellowship. A living, vibrant community is a fellowship, and that’s the quality that is missing from all definitions of “community” today. Consequently, real community can’t be realised. Shared geography, shared demographic profiles, shared interests don’t form a real community without this quality of fellowship. Without this quality of “fellowship” a community is just a dead form — a statistical abstraction. It never forms a genuine “we”, but remains merely an aggregation and sum.

    If we have a problem with inequality these days, it is because the meaning of fellowship has been lost to us. But that points to a deeper problem.

    Community without fellowship is a very good example of the rage for quantification that reduces the spiritual to the mental alone. Fellowship is the soul of any real community, and without it you have a corpse or a corporate entity only. We call that “an idol” because it has no real inner life. It is purely formal or nominal.

    Community without fellowship illustrates perfectly the old saying that “they asked for bread and were given a stone”. Our system speaks hypocritically of the value of “community” where none really exists because it makes the realisation of fellowship — a shared consciousness or empathy — virtually impossible. For this neglect, it must substitute other involuntary forms of the binding power — “law & order” or “moral absolutes” or consumerism in the absence of empathy or fellowship — exactly those things that Blake called “the mind-forg’d manacles”, and it is a small example of what Gebser wants to indicate by speaking of the “deficiency” of the mental-rational consciousness or “perspectivising” mode of perception.

    A community without fellowship is a corpse from which the spirit has flown. In weighing that remark, I think you will also come to understand what is meant more broadly by the term “spiritual”, too, and how it has come to be expunged from our social philosophy — disastrously. In like manner, “interests” and “values” are confused willy-nilly in contemporary discourse.

    So, this is, I think, the real secret of Rosenstock-Huessy’s peace-making sociology as the task of “synchronising antagonistic distemporaries” — how to create fellowship in the midst of the anarchy of competing interests; how to create fellowship against the depersonalising and disintegrating forces of late modern life; how to create a sense of human fellowship for the planetary era; or how to put the soul or spirit back into “community” — how to form a vital “we” in a culture where the “I” – the ego-nature — has become all too dominant and domineering. Likewise to that dreadful term popular amongst politicians — “international community”, which is a joke.

    And that was even the subject of one entire book of Tolkien’s trilogy of The Lord of the RingsThe Fellowship of the Ring was really about how a fellowship — a genuine “we” — is formed amongst creatures that are “natural” or traditional enemies — dwarves, elves, men, hobbits. It seems magical and fantastic only because it is so absent in contemporary life. When Rosenstock, for example, speaks of the “suburban mentality” — of “mentality” as being merely the residue left behind after the spirit has flown — he is likewise speaking of community without fellowship, without this quality of fellowship. Without that, it is merely an aggregation, a sum, a total, but it never forms a real whole.

    So, likewise, a totality is mere aggregation — a sum from which the spirit has flown, which is the “whole”. The word “total” is connected with words for death (tot, Tod in German), while “whole” is connected with words for life and health (and the holy). So, if you want to know what “spiritual” is, meditate on that distinction too. The polarity of interests and values, community and fellowship, the “pal” or friend, the totality and the whole — these distinctions point to the difference between the quantitative and the qualitative, or the material and the spiritual, the lower and the higher, or what Nietzsche calls the ignoble and the noble.

    A “mentality” is what is left over after the spiritual has been dumbed down.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    This recalled to my mind your post of august 2013, isolation and aggregation which you ended it with the movement of our perverse civilization toward the subhuman, that is the lose of community life, and this is a natural trend to the misled attention of our overall orientation, when some are benefiting from the disaster of others, when all types of corruption are legitimized, accompanied by the pervasive fear and paranoia.Faithless society descends automatically in all sort of mayhem. What we need is a new way of seeing things, a new spiritual vision away from the savage market driven education, the swindle tent of progress, but also with the willingness to struggle for the new vision. The mental vessel is not a replacement for the spirit, when the spirit dies everything dies, in a valueless mental culture, as you said at the end of your comment on the comment of our fellow friend in this messy swamp of degeneration. The speediness of the life tempo, has a negative impact on human integrity that is why we need to slow down, to be still and to listen to silence, To know what is god in accordance with the new knowledge disclosure and the new exposure to all spiritual traditions of the world. It is a process, as you said, of unlearning and as visioned by Rumi ,decapt ivating oneself from the prison of family and society. It seems the human has the capacity to formulate his own independent vision and now I understand why are those who wanted to pursue the tradition of their fathers are condemned and decried.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The loss of a spiritual quality to our perception or vision is what concerned Blake, in terms of his horror of “single vision”. This is what I have attempted to highlight in the post above, to a certain degree. And this loss of a spiritual quality to our perception is also what is meant by the Kali Yuga. In effect, when Oscar Wilde gave his famous definition of a cynic as “someone who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing” he was only stating also what is characteristic of the Kali Yuga, even as Rene Guenon addressed it in his book The Reign of Quantity.

      It is possible to recover this quality of seeing or what Blake calls “vision”, but it requires a task of unlearning certain habits of perception that have become ingrained over generations and centuries. “Unlearning” (which Castaneda calls “Not-Doing”) seems to be harder than learning, however. Unlearning habits of perception is really what the Buddhist practice of “mindfulness” and meditation aim to accomplish. Many of those “habits” of limited beliefs (Blake calls them “mind-forg’d manacles”) are socially transmitted from generation to generation by parents, schooling, propaganda, etc. Those habits don’t belong to the spirit. They are put there only for political and social control of the individual, and belong only to what I’ve been calling “the foreign installation”. They are basically enslaving habits of thought and belief, which is why Blake calls them “manacles”. Castaneda’s don Juan, on the other hand, taught “total freedom”, and for him freedom meant “unfolding the wings of perception”. This is also exactly what Blake tried to teach through his art and poetry.

      “Unfolding the wings of perception” is a great and beautiful metaphor for this emancipation of perception, since it implies we are normally like caged birds, or like sad birds whose wings have been cruelly clipped so they can’t fly. I’ve called this our “bubble of perception”. This bubble is a cage. When the bubble bursts, that is what is called “apocalypse”.

      Perhaps now you’ll understand why I rage against propaganda and politicians and everything that makes for what is called “the System”. They are designed to enslave, and most assuredly when they pretend to do just the opposite. Very cunning. The bubble is a cage, a kind of imprisonment of the human spirit. It’s very ghoulish (a good useful Arabic word, ghul).

      • Scott Preston says :

        By the way, “mind-forg’d manacles” is, in a way, quite literally true in the sense that the brain’s neural net becomes “hard-wired” in certain ways. To interrupt that net requires great energy or shock — what in Castaneda is called “personal power”. This is the gist of Joe Dispenza’s TED talk to which I referred earlier in the post “And the Word Became Flesh”. Powerful, inspiring speech can also disrupt the fixity and rigidity of the neural net. Consciousness can change the brain. It is desire that drives evolution.

        An example of that is in Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke of Insight. It’s a very interesting book in which a brain trauma brought on by a stroke disrupted her normal “neural net” resulting in far different perception of herself and her reality. Some spiritual practices employ sexual energy for this same purpose (kundalini yoga) — to break the normal bonds of perception requires energy and a disciplined use of energy.

        Our social systems, however, have found other uses for this store of personal energy than for purposes of self-realisation or emancipation (self-overcoming), and they exploit and divert that store of energy ruthlessly — in warfare, in conflicts, in spectacles, in systems of production and consumption, etc. When we speak of “exploitation” it means to exhaust or exploit that fund of personal energy that is needed for self-overcoming and self-realisation, so that what is left afterwards is really only a tired, worn-out, fragile shell of a human being — a zombie. Our social systems have found all sorts of clever and cunning ways to tap that energy, almost vampire-like.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Thank you for a lucid explanation of the dilemma, words are the attires of thoughts and attires can be deceptive, also the sexual energy is behind the fall of Adam and we are the captive of deceptive attires and perverted sex. When abnormality is accepted as normality, there is no way to stop the cancerous disease but death. The dream is sick and democracy is sick and exporting both, only to increase the sickness of the world and the example of Iraq is shouting. It is the perverted, center as you always emphasize, is the ailment which reflects glaringly the lie and dishonesty of the world and nothing saves us but truth, the honest spiritual path.Thank you.

  5. abdulmonem says :

    I read, this early in the morning, and I thought to leave it on this post for remembrance to feel the taste of fellowship,, Friendship is like a book. it takes few seconds to burn, but it takes years to write. Life is to taste after knowing.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    I was reading today about the decay of the Mexican city of Tampico in The Guardian, and thought it reflected some of the issues addressed here on the problem of creating fellowship, and what happens to a community when this is not formed — when a vital “we” is not formed. I may comment on this again in relation to the future of cities and urban decadence, since it has become such an issue (Detroit being another example).

    http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/jun/02/the-tragedy-of-tampico-mexico-a-city-of-violence-abandoned-to-the-trees

    Oddly enough, the banner ad over this article was an invitation to a forum on the problem of creating “resilient cities for the 21st century” sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation.

  7. abdulmonem says :

    Oddity is a room of wonder, I was looking at the M of me and thought if I turned it upside down what will happen, I found this reversal turns the M into W, that is moving the me into we. that is turning the self-centered egg into social ego and this is the purpose of all spiritual endeavors, love to your neighbor what you love to yourself.

  8. abdulmonem says :

    Let IW be assured, this is not to negate the I and assert the We but to make the I recognizes its role in the We. I hate the herd also.

  9. LittleBigMan says :

    A beautifully insightful essay.

    I want to add something about the role of “family” in Fellowship……

    In my observations, I have noticed that the desire to jump on the band wagon and have a family – that is to get married and have children and settle down so-to-speak – has undermined the desire or dedication to a life that enjoys spiritual quality.

    I can’t count the number of times I have seen “free spirited” people transformed into “get-out-of-my-way” personalities upon approaching a status of becoming a family-oriented person.

    So, I think in this late modern era “family values” have become a major obstacle or eroding factor against “spiritual values.”

    In the animal kingdom, where uncorrupted instincts, genes, and the environment are strong determinants as to how and when social groups and couplings are formed, we see neither the explosion in the population of any of the species nor do we see a permanent and long term shift in how the members of a species conduct themselves within Nature.

    But among humans, where couples often force the situation to form a family, we not only see a significant reason for the explosion in populations on every continent but also we see a permanent shift to atomized family values (in most cases) in how human beings conduct themselves. But this behavior often prohibits self-realization which is a corollary to spirituality.

    I am not saying forming a family is bad, but simply that many form families when they can’t really afford it and end up selling their soul to material causes in the process.

    As long as forming a family detracts from an human adult conducting a life that leads to self-realization, one is not ready to have a family.

    These same family values (or family obligations), where the adults involved are not really in a position of committing to them in a holistic manner often lead men and women to become so ambitious to succeed financially that often translates into becoming enslaved by corporations and organizations they work for.

    When I look around me, the only ones – and I mean the only ones – qualified to have a family without endangering their own self-realization are 50+ years old. But of course there are much younger individuals who have a family, but the last thing on their mind is self-realization and spirituality and fellowship within the community. All they want to do is to make lots of money to keep the family together – sometimes working two jobs to keep the family going.

    This type of dedication to force-forming a family where one cannot really afford it is very much antagonistic toward self-realization and spirituality.

    I am confident we do not set foot on this earth to commit ourselves to corporate wishes and desires in order to support habits we cannot afford to hold.

    Yet again, I believe entirely in Seth’s remark that we determine the most minute details of our life – even in regards to who our parents are to be – before setting foot on this planet. In that case, a life that is designed to commit so much of its time on this earth to materializing the wishes of the corporate world must have a very very narrow focus for self-realization, indeed.

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