The Overview Versus the Point-of-View
I have been asked what my vocation is.
My vocation — my calling, as it were — is the constant quest for the words to say it; the quest for the proper idiom to describe and interpret the changes in consciousness and society as I see them today; to attempt, to the best of my ability, to articulate my perception of those changes and what they might mean for the evolution of human consciousness. For that is my main concern and interest: Whither consciousness?
By turns and degrees I am quite pessimistic about the prospects for the human species and the fate of the Earth. By turns and degrees I am quite optimistic about the prospects for the human species and the planet. Those moods are linked to the events of the day, so there is hardly any way to avoid the political and social question and to treat is as something separate from the question of consciousness and of its expansion or contraction.
I think I have made it clear in The Chrysalis that if I am a follower of anyone, it is the poet, artist and visionary William Blake. If I also bring in the names Jean Gebser or Rosenstock-Huessy or Nietzsche (or others) frequently, it is to try to further illuminate the meaning of William Blake, and of his faith that humankind is now poised on the edge of a “New Age” of consciousness.
That “poise on the edge”, however, has all the shuddering perils and dangers of Nietzsche’s rope-dancer over the abyss. And I cannot help but feel the eeriness and uncanniness of this peril with the tragic death of the man whose fatal tumble from a high tower I witnessed this last Saturday. There goes the creature called “Man”.
Like Blake, also, I am given to fury at the manifestations of human folly. Politically, like Blake, I am counter-reactionary. The birth of that salvific idea or vision for which Blake laboured in both ecstasy and fury — that struggle and fight is worth our while. It was reactionary resistance to the birth of that idea that drove Blake to fits of wrath and fury. And it is the idea that has arrived, whose time has come. Against it has arisen also all the forces of folly and reaction.
That idea is the “overview”. There are other names for it — integral consciousness (Gebser), holistic consciousness, “supramental” consciousness (Aurobindo), cosmic consciousness, and so on. And although it has always been accessible to human beings, as the “Perennial Philosophy”, the conditions in our time are especially ripe for it, and have even made it absolutely necessary if we are to survive, which is not assured at all.
Recently, I expressed my disgust at the reactionary and repressive tactics of the ruling party in Canada (and not just in Canada) in singling out environmental groups in particular for their attack in collusion with their corporate sponsors in Big Oil (but which now prefers to call itself “Ethical Oil”). And when a “free speech” charity raised objections to it — PEN Canada — the ruling party and its reactionary base went after them, too, apparently for daring to criticise and condemn the ruling party openly.
So, I’m not too surprised to even find apologists in the media for this blatant affront to democracy. But this particular article by columnist Margaret Wente in The Globe & Mail excusing and rationalising the government’s repressive tactics enraged me. It is, nonetheless, very, very revealing, and not only in the suggestion that free speech is best left in the hands of professionals (like Ms. Wente), but that politics should also be left in the hands of professional politicians and a political elite rather than with citizens and civil society.
The rest of us can continue to pretend that we live in a democracy. But we should understand what actually lies “behind” all these maneouverings and the machinations. At a deeper level, it has to do with the emergence of a new idea that is coming now into conflict with an older idea, and the irruption of a new consciousness and mode of cognition coming into decisive conflict with an old, and now reactionary, consciousness and mode of cognition. The prospective future, in other words, is now in conflict with a receding past.
I have more or less summarised this as “the overview versus the point-of-view”. This is not the only way to describe it, but it has the merit of being succinct and descriptive. What of real value the astronauts brought back with them from their experience of space was not moon rocks, but this new mode of consciousness, which has been adequately described as “the overview effect”, and it is challenging the very basis of the Modern Age and its particular mode of cognition and consciousness — the older idea of the primacy of the self-interest, of the national interest, of the citizen, that is, of the narrower, perspectivist “point-of-view” consciousness.
Understand this, then: the “overview effect” is the restructuration of human consciousness. This restructuration is simultaneously a deconstruction of an older consciousness which is being weighed in the scales and found wanting in our emerging planetary era. This “overview effect” best describes Nietzsche’s imperative “be true to the earth!”. Nietzsche was hardly “socialist”, but Ms Wente can find no idiom to describe this new idea of a planetary consciousness than “left-wing”. That’s typical of the reactionary mentality and its distortions of perception.
If you have viewed the video entitled “The Overview Effect”, and have understood its implications, you will have taken a big step also towards the necessary change in consciousness and understood the meaning of Nietzsche’s imperative “Be true to the Earth!”; and, of how that relates to his vision of the “overman” or “transhuman,” or what is being called “the global soul” — a consciousness, expanding and integrating, that is capable of embracing the whole Earth and not just confined to its narrow “point-of-view” partisan perspective.
The “overview effect” is also, I submit, a clear example of what I have been calling “empathetic epistemics”. You don’t have to be an astronaut to experience it, you can experience it through his or her experience. That is, imaginatively. Know that, and you understand also Blake’s keenness to elevate the creative Imagination as the true driver of human evolution, and why Einstein believed imagination to be more important than knowledge. If you are not capable of empathy, you are probably incapable of being transformed by the experience of seeing the Earth as the astronauts saw it — a profoundly life-altering and consciousness-changing experience.
That’s the other dimension to this: in some ways, the “overview versus the point-of-view” is the clash of the empathetic consciousness with mere “mentality”. Perhaps this clash is even occurring in your own consciousness — the new man or woman in conflict with the old man or woman, the “New Adam” with the “Old Adam”, as it were.
There is, therefore, great significance in David Suzuki’s response in organising of “The Blue Dot Tour”. The very name says it all — overview effect — and it is a challenge to the narrow parochialism and nationalistic ideology of the ruling party, and its propaganda that compels national interest and self-interest to coincide and occupy the same semantic space — the “point-of-view”. Different historical types are now in conflict — the global soul with the patriotic soul.
Let’s face the truth of it, for the evidence around us is abundantly clear — the human being of the old type is a failing human type. The unprecedented and abundant crises of our time is proof enough of that. These continuing crises are proof enough that the human being of the present type is incapable of adequately mastering his or her circumstances and is flailing. The very stresses, fractures, and pressures of our times demand a new human type who can adequately master crises that have become global, planetary-wide, in scope. And the old “point-of-view-line-of-thought” consciousness structure and mode of cognition is incapable of doing that. It is just compounding folly with folly.
So, it’s either overview — or no view at all.