Trickle Down or Diffusion?

An example of how our metaphors tend to become opaque to insight, rather than transparent or illuminating, come to comprise the “common sense”, and result in distortions of consciousness and then our social philosophies, with pernicious results.

One of those distortions of conscious, leading to an invidious social philosophy owing to such reification of a metaphor, is the famous “trickle down theory” and its reflection in that controversial (and quite false) slogan of neo-liberalism “a rising tide lifts all boats”. (Up their sleeves, of course, the promoters of that ideology were chuckling about their cunning and cleverness in putting one over on the bumpkins, and muttering words about how a “rising tide lifts all yachts“).

It doesn’t take much reflection to realise that these bon mots are the result of a metaphor gone wrong by becoming opaque to perception, just as reality is often eclipsed by rhetoric. It conceives of the social structure as being a pyramid, narrow at the top, widening at the base. At the very summit of the pyramid is the illuminating eye of “enlightenment”, the “elite” or power elite. This summit is called “point of view”.

You probably all know this structure, and in past postings in The Chrysalis (such as this one) I’ve examined the history and meaning of this structure pretty thoroughly as being derived from the invention of perspective in the Renaissance, even though the pyramid as symbolic form and as model of hierarchy has a much longer history.

Perspectivism: The pyramid of vision

Perspectivism: The pyramid of vision

Following the Hermetic principle of “as above, so below” (or coincidentia oppositorum), not only was this metaphor, derived largely from perspectivism, a self-understanding of the mind and human consciousness as being a pyramid (the mind at the summit, the body or “mass” below), but also became the social philosophy and the template for the ordering of society. That’s reflected today in the rather extreme inequality between the so-called “1% and the 99%”.

But that’s not just true of capitalist society. When the Marxist parties began to think of themselves and promote themselves as “the vanguard of the masses”, they were following the exact same model of consciousness — the “vanguard” was the illuminated eye occupying the same “commanding heights”, the base was “the broad masses of the people”. The notion that there was some absolute difference between the Marxist or Capitalist conception of society was pretty much a hoax.

Quite evidently, there is no real pyramid. It’s a social construction erected upon a faulty self-understanding of the human form as being in this triangular shape, a metaphor gone wrong, which I’ve called “point-of-view-line-of-thought” consciousness structure. In effect, this symbol is the symbol of the mental-rational consciousness structure itself. It reflects the understanding of the cosmos as dialectical in nature, and of a reality conceived in three dimensions of length, width, and depth. “Depth” (and infinity) was the new dimension that irrupted into consciousness in the Renaissance in which a new concern with the relationship of the finite to the infinite (perspective perception) displaced the earlier concern with the relationship of the eternal to time or the “secular order”.

In effect, therefore, the pyramid surmounted by the illuminated and illuminating eye is a symbol (metaphor) of the European Enlightenment conceived as an illumination of space, but not of time, and in terms of a triadic logic represented in dialectical reason — thesis, antithesis, synthesis reflecting the cosmic structure as it was understood at the time. This triadic logic and fundamental self-understanding was (and remains) common to “left”, “right” and “centre” alike. In fact, these political and ideological coordinates are in themselves spatial metaphors that have also become opaque to perception. These spatial coordinates, which have become largely politically meaningless to describe anything, reflect the human self-understanding, mirrored in the cosmology which conceives of reality as a three-fold structure. This is an image of what has been called “the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm” or Newton’s “Frame of the World”.

da Vinci: The Pyramid of Vision

Leonardo da Vinci: The Perspective Eye

Metaphysical Dualism Illustrated by Rene Descartes

Metaphysical Dualism Illustrated by Rene Descartes

As noted also earlier, this same triadic and pyramid structure is reflected in Blake’s portrait of the insane Zoa named Urizen called “Ancient of Days”, who is in fact Jehovah or “the Selfhood”, who is the all-seeing eye of “Single Vision” and Architect of the “Ulro” — the Shadowland.

Urizen -- Architect of the Ulro, "Ancient of Days"

Urizen — Architect of the Ulro, “Ancient of Days”

Basically, now, the Ulro as Land of Shadows and Idols is the bubble of perception that has arisen from metaphors and symbols losing their lucidity and transparency as “meanings” and having become “literal” or reified or opaque to perception. This is what we call “false consciousness”. This “bubble of perception” owing to the opacity of the metaphorical becomes important to appreciate when we turn to Gebser’s meaning about “translucency” and “diaphaneity” as essential features of integral or aperspectival consciousness. It really means the return of the metaphor to its essential transparency or as aid to insight, which is actually the real meaning of the word “Apocalypse”, which means “disclosure”, “dis-covery” or “revelation” or what we mean by the “shattering” truth.

Now, it should be seen that what some refer to as “the natural order of things” or even as being “human nature” is related to such metaphors gone wrong. It’s a mental tautology because “nature” here refers only to the metaphor that has become opaque to perception, not to the truth behind the metaphor which the metaphor is no longer capable of revealing because it has become “deficient” in that respect for having become opaque. We don’t live in that “natural order” any more since Time was added as the fourth dimension. Yet, the triadic logic persists despite the revelation of time. This sets up what we call “cognitive dissonance”. The metaphors which govern our perception and regulate our “common sense”, are no longer adequate to account for our full experience of reality, having become deficient. And that deficiency, which we call “crisis”,  is manifested in problems of consciousness and of social order as well.

The “irruption” of time into “nature” and “human nature” is what Gebser means by the “irruption of a new consciousness structure”, while the old one (the mental-rational) becomes deficient for being insufficient. The human form is changing. That is to say “human nature” is changing by the irruption of time into consciousness, throwing all the old metaphors into disarray and confusion. It should be obvious that “trickle down theory” in economics was based upon a deficient metaphor as well, and which is no longer true of our real social situation.  Right here is the essential meaning of that traditional saying that “time makes hypocrites of us all”. We are trying to live with our feet in two different worlds, a “three-dimensional” past and a “four-dimensional” future, and according to cognitive maps and metaphors which are no longer adequate. This is the prelude to catastrophe.

The new quadrilateral logic is a revolution in human consciousness because it replaces the “pyramid of power”. It’s not a model of “trickle down” of wealth so much as “diffusion of knowledge”.

Rosenstock-Huessy's "cross of reality"

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”

Implicit in Blake’s “fourfold vision” and in Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral “grammatical method” and Cross of Reality is also a critique of contemporary economic theory. There is no “trickle down” here. Rather the model is one of “diffusion”. Nature and human nature ain’t the same anymore because the human form and the cosmos have become fourfold in structure, not threefold as in the mental-rational consciousness and in the limits of its dialectical or triadic self-understanding, which could only be represented as a triangle or pyramid.

Idolatry, or what we call “culture of narcissism” as well, is the result of metaphors that have become opaque to penetrating insight. The symbolic form actually becomes “diabolic” because it no longer reveals, but obstructs, obscures and hinders perception and insight (or for that matter, hindsight and foresight as well).

But as you will perhaps observe about the Cross of Reality also (and this is the “integral” nature of the integral consciousness), each of the quadrants of the cross itself forms a triangle or pyramid. The illuminating eye is still at the “summit” as it were, but now there are actually “four summits”, four directions and not just one. This is perhaps most clear in Jacob Boehme’s illustration of the fourfold vision,

Jacob Boehme

Jacob Boehme

This is the “Holistic Philosophy” and holistic/integral consciousness illustrated. The centre of the cross of reality corresponds, in effect, to Gebser’s “universal way of looking at things” rather than the “point-of-view-line-of-thought” structure.

So, yes indeed, the “cross of reality” and the fourfold vision are very revolutionary ways of reconceiving “nature”, “human nature” and therefore the “good society”, with profound implications for social philosophy and a reordering of the social times and spaces, not according to a pyramid structure and metaphor, but a diffusionary one.



6 responses to “Trickle Down or Diffusion?”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    I should probably mention, too, that pushed to the logical limits of its intelligibility and application, the pyramid of power leads logically to totalitarianism or authoritarianism as the notion of the “one best way”. This is also the “deficient” side of the pyramid. We are already at those limits, which is why so many are concerned about a “post-democratic” age.

    Far from “liberal democracy” being triumphant at “the end of history”, it appears to be devouring itself from within. And in Hungary and Canada, at least, the destruction of “liberal democracy” has become official policy, as Mr. Harper, like Mr. Orban in Hungary, promises that “when I’m through with it, you won’t recognise Canada”. Ominous words indeed.

    But there’s a certain hybris in that that will probably rebound on Mr. Harper in ironic ways. Having set out to destroy the Liberal party (if not all opposition or dissent to his party’s rule) he has actually paved the way for the Social Democrats to become the official opposition and “government in waiting”. Having promised to remake Canada in his image, and as a “more conservative country”, the irony is that he may have accomplished just the opposite — enantiodromia — having actually made it more social democratic.

    Anyway, the Theatre of the Absurd begins today, as the election has now been officially called for October 19.

    • LittleBigMan says :

      Excellent essay and comment.

      Still, I have to admit that I am struggling with a portion of the statement that:

      ” In effect, this symbol [the pyramid with the eye at the apex] is the symbol of the mental-rational consciousness structure itself. It reflects the understanding of the cosmos as dialectical in nature…………”

      How does the pyramid with the eye in the apex “reflects the understanding of cosmos as dialectical in nature”?

      I’m having trouble connecting the definition of “dialectical” from the dictionary to the symbol’s expression of that definition within a cosmic context.

      Philosophy beats my brains out 🙂

      • Scott Preston says :

        Easiest way to answer your question is with an illustration, one which I found on the internet as an example

        Dialectical reasoning is not “wrong”. Not arguing that. It’s just not the whole picture. As noted, the Cross of Reality includes dialectics, only in the form of dialogics. This “triangle” shape is simply one of the four quadrants of the Cross of Reality when considered in isolation from the rest.

        • LittleBigMan says :

          Extremely informative. Beautifully, concisely, clearly, and very meaningfully depicted. Thank you, Sir.

          In the late stage of antithesis, we have “larger class exploited by ruling class.” However, in the late stage of synthesis, we have “productive class becomes ruling class.”

          This suggests that in the dialectical reasoning, the productive class ultimately wrestles power out of the ruling class’s hands. An example of this that I know is the Ford family that began as producers and now they are among the ruling classes. Or, so it seems.

          If I understand it correctly, the entire pyramid structure as a whole suggests that – the “struggle” itself – is a source of melding together, or synthesis, of the ruling and productive classes in the synthesis stage. And, what’s interesting is that all the exploitation of the ruling classes during the thesis stage backfires in the late synthesis stage.

          Am I on the right track of understanding this? 🙂

          • Scott Preston says :

            In some ways, this is an image of Marx’s “dialectical materialism”. But for a fuller appreciation of dialectics in general, see my last post (today) called “Dialectic and the Cross of Reality”. I was motivated by your question to put it into broader context.

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