The Meaning of “the West”, II

In the last post, I attempted to show that “the West” as used by politicians and punditry (including and especially, perhaps, neo-conservatives like Niall Ferguson or Samuel Huntington) is really a fatal confusion — one that tends towards an absolutist, totalitarian politics in its very conception. This is, in essence, the “dictatorship of reason in the West” that is the thesis of John Ralston Saul’s book Voltaire’s Bastards and The Unconscious Civilization.

I attempted to show, following Rosenstock-Huessy’s approach, that what is called “the West” isn’t a unitary entity or civilization at all, but a more or less stable equilibrium of four, more often than not, contradictory streams of influence — the Tribal, the Greek, the Roman, and the Judeo-Christian (Abrahamic), and that these influences persist in the form of social archetypes — the Poet, the Philosopher, the Politician, and the Priest, or in the institutions associated with these types.

To a certain extent, these types map to the “species of consciousness” (Seth) or Jean Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” or civilisational types as a) archaic consciousness b) magical consciousness c) mythical consciousness or d) mental-rational consciousness, and reflect the reality of “the fourfold human”, as William Blake understood that in his model of the four Zoas — the human form as (ideally) an equilibrium (or homeostasis) of thinking, feeling, sensing, and willing or, as is sometimes represented in other terms — mind, body, soul, and spirit.

Therefore, another way of thinking about the “integral consciousness” anticipated by Gebser and Blake (and modeled also in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”) is as a dynamic equilibrium of these aspects, or “homeostasis“.

The history of conflict in the West is a reflection of their struggles for dominance or hegemony. Today, in secular society, that takes the form principally of ideology. Liberalism, conservatism, socialism, environmentalism are the “moods” of these streams, these “moods” having been massaged and translated by the mental-rational structure of consciousness into ideological terms native to its mode of cognition and perception. In mythological times, these “-isms” took the form of the Titans or the gods or beings simply called “the Powers”.

Now, these “powers” are what William Blake calls the Zoas, and the Zoas are represented in terms of the Poetic, the Prophetic, the Philosophical, and the Experimental, as previously discussed.

The Poetic — oriented towards origins, the past
The Prophetic — oriented towards destiny, the future
The Philosophic — oriented towards the subjective, the contemplative
The Experimental — oriented towards the objective, the “natural”.

In that sense, Blake’s “Zoas” are not only aspects of the fourfold human, but a cosmological model as well — they are the powers of space and time. Blake’s human form is also the form of the cosmos.

Our politics is fourfold because the human is fourfold, as a being of thinking, feeling, sensing, and willing. This fourfoldness of the human form and the cosmos is what is represented in the early Christian mandala called Agnus Dei in which Jesus on the cross is depicted as a lamb surrounded by the four evangelists — Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John — in their zoomorphic forms.

Agnus Dei: Christian Mandala of the Fourfold Self

Agnus Dei: Christian Mandala of the Fourfold Self

Or, as illustrated in the Book of Kells

The Four Evangelists in The Book of Kells

The Four Evangelists in The Book of Kells

The four revolutions that established the Modern Era or “the West”  — the Lutheran, the English Civil War, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution — have their unlikely roots in the four Gospels (as we discussed extensively in the former Dark Age Blog). Contemporary political ideologies began life as theological schisms, sects, and controversies in the Reformation period as attempts to translate the Gospels into secular categories, ie, in terms intelligible to the emerging mental-rational consciousness.

What disintegrated was the unum necessarium or “vital centre” or “quintessence” (the fifth element) which is represented as “Christ consciousness” or the Logos. This loss of the unifying centre is equally the theme of Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” and of Nietzsche’s death of God and his remark that “since Copernicus, man has been rolling from the centre toward X”.  This clash of apparent competing or contradictory powers is ancient, and was represented in Greek thought as the conflicts of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

The four evangelists represent these four elements equally. The Gospels famously contradict one another on the life and message of Jesus, as has been noted and lamented by the disillusioned. They do contradict each other, for a good reason: the human form as a whole can only be represented fully in terms of man’s fourfold character as thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing. Without “the Logos” or quintessence, they fall apart — loss of equilibrium, loss of homeostasis (which is the current definition for “death”). What is called “the Christ” as the Logos is the unity of opposites maintained in dynamic equilibrium. It’s the same principle that we find represented in William Blake as “Albion”, and the same principle we find in Rosenstock-Huessy as “the synchronisation of antagonistic distemporaries”. Christ consciousness is the coincidentia oppositorum, which is why John called him the Logos in response to Heraclitus.

Now, you may note something peculiar about this story and the image of Christ on the cross surrounded by the four evangelists. It is the same legend as we find in Buddhism — that the Buddha, upon his enlightenment, was presented by the Guardians of the Four Directions with the gift of their own begging bowls, but which the Buddha, “for the sake of the dharma” united with his own. These “Guardians of the Four Directions” are the same as Blake’s “four Zoas”, and are the same as the classical four elements, and are the same as the four evangelists of Christianity, and probably the four nafs of Sufism. It is the man or woman in Sioux legend who “speaks from the centre of the voice” — from the centre of the Sacred Hoop with its four directions North, South, East and West. They are, in short, thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing.

And in political society, in secular, mental-rational society, they have become liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and environmentalism (or neo-paganism) in dissociated or disintegrate state, looking for their unum necessarium or quintessence, or claiming themselves to be the essence and entirety of the true human form. When they do this, they become totalitarian and fascistic — the image of Blake’s savage and false god “Urizen”.

“Man” is a multiform being — a being of thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing. Integrity is a matter of maintaining these functions in dynamic equilibrium, which is called “the sacred balance”. That has certain implications for how we think about society more generally. “Integral consciousness” is this dynamic equilibrium.

We live in odd times, disintegrate times: Chris Hedges fears the rise of “Christian fascism” while Ralston Saul fears the “dictatorship of reason”, while still others protest the tyranny of “cultural Marxism” or “illiberal liberalism” and so on.

Is there not something mad about all that? The four “diseases” of social order described by Rosenstock-Huessy — reactionary decadence, revolutionary terror, nationalist war, and economic anarchy — seem to be our permanent state in “liquid modernity” — the signs of our civilisational and personal disintegration. Eric Kahler is right to call it “the breakdown of the human form” in his book The Tower and the Abyss.

So, effectuating “integral consciousness” — consciousness of dynamic equilibrium, the quintessential consciousness — has become a matter of survival for us. We will need all our resources of thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing to survive ourselves.

Liberalism, conservatism, socialism, or environmentalism: the truth does not lie in any one position or point of view, but in the hidden relation between them, the recognition that they are reflections of the fourfold human — of thinking, willing, feeling, and sensing — who grapples with a fourfold cosmos, too — of two times (past and future) and two spaces (inner and outer) that need to be balanced, ie, synchronised and coordinated.  That which accomplishes this synchronisation and coordination is the holistic or integral consciousness.



One response to “The Meaning of “the West”, II”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    A beaming essay. Thank you.

    I still believe that looking to the future, the Mother Earth is likely to play the role of the integrating and liberating “fifth element.” At the same time, I watched a series of 6 video clips of a discussion between Jiddu Krishnamurti and David Bohm entitled “Is there evolution of consciousness?” In the 5th clip, this fifth element is identified as “the mind,” or “intelligence.”

    Below is the link to the first video clip (for anyone interested), and a series of excerpts from each of the 6 videos that I found very insightful and thought provoking. The main question that was pondered over the 6 videos was basically can “foreign installation,” as you have called it, be dissipated? As I understood it, “the mind,” in this discussion, was taken to be the “unconscious,” which was discussed to be inseparable from the collective unconscious, while “the brain” was taken as the conditioned.

    CLIP 1:
    “The evolution of consciousness is a fallacy…….there is no evolution of the psyche……..the self is the result of the conditioning of the brain. The whole question is can that conditioning be dissipated?”

    CLIP 2:
    “As long as the brain is conditioned, its relationship to the mind is limited……but the mind, being free, has a relationship to the brain……..time belongs to the brain……thought can invent space…….space between two noises, two nodes, two thoughts….space between walls…..but that kind of space is not the space of the mind… is not bounded by the psyche…….can the brain, with all its conditioning, including the condition of its cells, be changed? We are saying that it can, through insight………insight is not the result of remembrance……insight is of the nature of the mind…..mind can act in the matter of the time…..brain is an insight of the mind when the brain is not self-centered……Experience is always limited……so knowledge is always limited…..and the knowledge is the brain……thought is of the brain, and so thought is limited. So, the brain is always operating in a very small area……and it’s thought that is preventing it from covering a broader area [of knowledge.]”

    CLIP 3:
    “Intelligence is mind……..compassion is related to intelligence. There is no intelligence without compassion. And compassion can only be when there is love which is completely free from all remembrances, personal jealousies and all that kind of thing. And you cannot be compassionate if you are attached to any particular experience or any particular kind of ideal… between the brain and the mind can happen only when the brain is quiet……quiet is not a trained quietness. Not a self-conscious meditative desire for silence. It’s a natural outcome of one’s understanding of one’s own conditioning…….Choice is the result of confusion…..and choice implies duality. Totalitarian communist ideals and democratic ideals are the results of ‘thought,’ which is limited, and it’s [thought is] creating havoc in the world. Mind is unpolluted by thought….you have a brain which is conditioned……but you cannot say “my mind”…….each of us is isolated from another by ‘thought’…….insofar as someone thinks he is separate from others, then he has no mind……it’s very important to understand not the mind, but my conditioning. That my conditioning, human conditioning can ever be dissolved? That’s the real issue.”

    CLIP 4:
    “Space is not invented by thought…..conscious meditation, conscious activity to control thought, to free oneself from conditioning is not freedom…….In attention there is no center as the mean……attention is not concentration…….in attention, thought has no place…….effort is not attention…….attention can only come into being when the self is not………As long as there is measurement, which is the becoming, which is the process of thought, meditation or silence cannot be…….attention is of the mind. The mind can contact the brain when the brain is free from conditioning and has “space.”……….What is the “space?”…..the brain has no space now because it’s concerned with itself, it is programmed, it is self-centered, it is limited…….the thought has limited space when the thought is silent, the brain has space……..intelligence is born out of compassion and love. That intelligence operates when the brain is quiet……..attention can only be when the self is not…… is not jealousy and all that………love is not personal…… has no relationship to thought……’s not “my love.”

    CLIP 5:
    “When there is no interference from the movement of thought, there is perception…….intelligence is perception…….insight is the action of the mind…….when there is that insight, intelligence wipes away suffering…..would you put it that mind is pure energy?……but matter is energy, too……yeah, but therefore, matter is limited, thought is limited. Yes, but we are saying that pure energy of the mind is able to reach into the limited energy of the matter, and change that limitation……..thought cannot bring a change in itself…….we are saying that the old instrument which is “thought,” is worn out……if each one of us, whoever listens, sees the truth of this that thought and its activity both externally and internally has created a terrible mess, great suffering, then one must inevitably ask “Is there an ending for all of this?” If ‘thought’ cannot end it, what will? What is the new instrument that can put an end to all this misery? So there is a new instrument that is “the mind” and so on and so on, which is intelligence…….physical revolution has never changed psychologically human state…….the mind is universal and is not located in our ordinary space……And therefore the self is not, there’s beauty, there’s silence, space, then that intelligence which is born out of compassion operates through the brain.”

    CLIP 6:
    “Since the self is active widely [among the poor, the rich, even with the Pope], is there some aspect of meditation which can be helpful here when the self is acting?……See, suppose this person says o.k. I’m caught in the self, but I want to get out, you know, what shall I do?…….the observer is the observed, and when that actuality exists, you have really eliminated all conflict. Conflict exists when I am separate from my quality……when there is no division between the quality and me, when there’s no perception of a difference, the brain stops fighting and we have tremendous energy…….energy means attention……before we said that ‘Attention was the contact of the mind and the brain,’ but the brain must be in s state of high energy to allow for that contact. A brain that has low energy cannot allow for that contact……That’s why self-knowledge [which is to know the conditioning of oneself] is so important.”

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