Lately, I’ve been re-thinking Jean Gebser’s description of civilisations as “structures of consciousness” in terms of Antonio Gramsci’s (1891 – 1937) theory of “cultural hegemony”, and this seems a quite suggestive and fruitful way of reflecting on power, values, and consciousness structures.
“Hegemony”, from the Greek hegemonia, translates as “leadership”, “rulership” or “domination”. “Rulership” is the theme I want to stress in reconsidering consciousness structures in terms of hegemony, which means I must take Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony to a whole other level of interpretation that he didn’t consider.
It’s a curious thing that free radicals, rogue states, and factoids should have become such dominant memes within their respective cognitive frameworks and our perception of things. We might refer to them as memes of disintegration or incoherence. “Free radicals” in biochemistry are said to be implicated in aging; rogue states in the breakdown and fracturing of internationalism and of the modern Westphalian system of nation-states. “Factoids” is a term used to describe discrete or rogue pieces of information, often news clips or reports, that have no apparent meaningful relationship to each other and don’t seem to fit meaningfully in a broader framework of knowledge. They are texts without context, answers without a question, isolates, the “free radicals” and “rogue states” of the datasphere.
“Factoids” are a symptom of the aging and atomisation of a consciousness structure; the flip-side, as it were, of “the end of the Grand Narrative”; “the end of ideology”; and “the end of history”, too.
Last evening, I drove to the city to hear the now elderly but evidently still vigorous Canadian environmental activist (some say “shit-disturber”) Dr. David Suzuki deliver a talk as part of his cross-country Blue Dot Tour. The talk was surprisingly well-attended by some two or three thousand people who gave Suzuki what might be described as a “rock-star’s welcome”.
Dr. Suzuki has been characterised as both a “national treasure” by some, and by others (particularly in the present Conservative government) as public enemy number one — as both saint and sinner, as it were. Personalities who arouse such polarised judgements of adulation and revulsion always interest me, as they seem particularly representative of the times. They become symbols.
These are very strange, turbulent times; quite unprecedented in some ways. In some ways, also, not so unprecedented. We call such moments and times “pivotal”, which is to say crucial or critical. Past and future, new and old (or “neo-” and “paleo-“), origin and destiny, come into decisive confrontation and conflict. Many paths open up, leading in different directions, all of them contending for our loyalties and for “hearts and minds”.
The ballyhoo of competing propagandas for this way of life or that way of life is an omen, not of the “end of history” so much as of the breakdown and disintegration of the human form — the human psycho-spiritual configuration or “gestalt”, if you will. Eric Kahler calls it “the breakdown of the human form” in his book The Tower and the Abyss. Jean Gebser describes it as the disintegration of a consciousness structure in his book The Ever-Present Origin. It’s called “crisis of identity” in other circles. Nietzsche described it in terms of nihilism and the death of God. It has also been called “post-modern condition” and “end of the Grand Narrative”. It was the theme of W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming“.
The “times are out of joint”. What do these things mean?
I do occasional work for a local farm owner and businessman. I allow him to draw on my time when his full-time employees are spread too thin, being overasked and overtasked, which is fairly often. It is pretty demanding work because he’s a pretty demanding fellow, actually. He operates a farm, a seed plant, a grain elevator, and a rock quarry, all of which are in varying states of dilapidation or functioning only on the edge of chaos.
He is a fascinating character, although erratic and, by his own admission, quite “rash”. He thinks of himself as being an exceptional individual and an individualist, but in fact he is extraordinarily typical. Because he is erratic, rash and impetuous, he is also highly controlled and controlling. That seems like a contradiction, and it is. He’s my bellweather for what ails society, which is why I appreciate him so much. He’s the perfect representative of late modern society’s self-contradictions. He’s also extraordinarily narcissistic.
The gist of Nietzsche’s philosophy is this: life is value realisation. The principle of Seth’s teachings on consciousness is this: evolution is value realisation and “you create the reality you know”. The core teaching of Castaneda’s don Juan Matus is this: this is a universe of intent, and the intent of the universe is… value realisation. And what Nietzsche calls “will to power” is what is called intent in Castaneda. What is called “creativity” is value realisation.
Properly understood, this should blow your mind. That the meaning of life is value realisation should come to you as what Zen Buddhists call a “satori“. The problem is — the problem of why we do not perceive this clearly and without doubts — is because we have a very deficient and very distorted understanding of “value”.
It’s an old joke I once saw on a bumper sticker, and it made me laugh out loud. “My karma ran over my dogma”.
There’s a lot of truth in that, if it was properly understood. Another interpretation of that is Robbie Burns ode “To a Mouse“, in the famous verse and line:
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!