A Tsunami of Unreason, II

I was reflecting this morning once again on the phenomenon of “dehiscence”, as discussed in the last post and in other places, and how this described the relation between ancient Greece and Rome. Here is another pretty good example of civilisational dehiscence.

When the Romans invaded and conquered Greece after the Battle of Corinth in 146 B.C., and subordinated Greece to being a province of Rome, they were astonished really by the level of Greek civilisation compared to their own. They were so impressed, in fact, that they pretty much adopted and reworked Greek civilisation as their own, importing it wholesale. Most of the Roman deities were originally Greek, and Roman republicanism is pretty much a direct translation of Greek democracy — the Latin “publicus” being pretty much equivalent to the Greek “demos“. Greek slaves were taken to be tutors to the Romans. Such was the fate of the philosopher.

The assimilation of Greek civilisation by the Romans was so complete, in fact, that historians usually call this period of classical civilisation “Greco-Roman“. But we might also ponder whether, with this wholesale metabolisation and digestion of everything Greek, the Romans didn’t also swallow the poison pill and the seed-germ of its own self-contradiction that was also “the Greek Mind”, and that would eventually result in Rome’s later decadence and collapse also.

The question is worth pondering because of the “renascence” or rebirth of the Greco-Roman mind during that period we call “the Renaissance” (or Renascence), which is another case of “dehiscence”. This incredibly fruitful period of time in early Modern history was the fortuitous result of two dynamics — the decadence of the Catholic Church and of the civilisation of the High Middle Ages (then called “Christendom”) and the slow rediscovery of Greco-Roman civilisation after the Dark Ages, largely owing to the mediating influence of Muslim and Jewish scholars in Moorish Spain (Averroes, Avicenna, Maimonides). For the Modern Mind has, in fact, taken much of its exemplars and models of law, politics, philosophy, etc from the Greco-Roman world — it’s structure of consciousness that Rosenstock-Huessy called “the Greek Mind”. The Islamic Golden Age, too, was the fruitful confluence of Judeo-Islamic culture and the Greco-Roman.

So, it is simply untrue, by the witness of the historical record, that religion has been anti-reason. Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Yoga have all nurtured and “civilised” the intellect as an important part of spiritual life. Other reasons for their eventual decline and fall have to be identified, because those symptoms of malaise and eventual decline and fall all look remarkably alike, and completely resemble our own situation and predicament in that period of Late Modernity we are calling “the new normal”. It may have less to do with “cycle” than with a wrong-headed philosophy — perhaps some overlooked factor or secret influence deep within the Greco-Roman consciousness structure that acts as a poison pill and ultimate self-contradiction leading to self-annihilation.

In biological terms, too, this is called cellular “apoptosis” and “lysis“. Apoptosis is also called PCD or “programmed cell death” or thanatic impulse that eventually overrules the eros principle. The cell has a built in self-destruct mechanism. In effect, apoptosis bears an uncanny resemblance to the neo-conservative and neo-liberal doctrine of “creative destruction”.

Death is the hunter, and it hunts societies and civilisations as well as individuals. Disintegration, degradation, decay, decoherence, debasement, dehiscence, degeneracy, nihilism are just so many other names for Death and for Nietzsche’s “stare into the abyss”. And surveying the “sickness unto death” that was the decline and fall of civilisations, they all look remarkably similar in their final stages, and they all look remarkably similar to what we are now calling our own “end of history” and “the new normal”.

If “duplicity is the currency of the day”, as Pope Francis has rightly noted, and is the essence of this “new normal”, then this is not so much a “moral” issue as a survival issue and an existential threat. Duplicity is just disintegration by another name. Dr. Jekyll has become merely a mask for Mr. Hyde — Hervey Cleckley’s “Mask of Sanity“. But is this duplicity that we call “cognitive dissonance” or “culture of narcissism” today really “programmed” into us as an inevitability? Or is it some flaw, some error, in the consciousness structure and in the underlying philosophy that supports that consciousness structure? Or are we doomed by our own biology?

I’ve described duplicity as having four aspects to it: double-talk, double-think, double-standard, and double-bind. All aspects of the “forked-tongue”, and they are all aspects of “the new normal”. There is, I think, a sound reason why duplicity comes in four forms. Rosenstock-Huessy identified four diseases or “evils” of society — war, anarchy, decadence, and revolution. They have all played a role in the decline and fall of civilisations, but also sometimes as precursors and stimuli to their resurrection and transformation too. “The cure for the disease is in the disease”, Rumi once wrote. It’s also true that there is no re-integration without a prior dis-integration and loss of integrity. It may be painful to admit, but Blake’s Proverb of Hell that runs “if the fool persists in his folly he will become wise” may be our own issue at our “end of history”, assuming we survive it… and ourselves and our own self-contradictions.

If war, anarchy, decadence, and revolution are four forms of social death, society has erected four fronts against the abyss and Death — arts and sciences, politics and religion. The four fronts are four because our reality is a fourfold structure of two times (past and future) and two spaces (inner and outer). This is also reflected in our current politics — liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and environmentalism, or individual, family, commonwealth, and nature, respectively. These are the representatives and agents that guard over the four fronts of social reality. The “ratio” of rationality is the balance of these four dynamics. The irratio is the disintegration of these four into separate “points of view” that consider themselves alone final and total. And in my own survey of the decline and fall of civilisations, this has been what happened — one point of view attempted to imperialise and colonise the others, or exaggerated its own significance at the expense of the others.

Hyper-individualism or hyper-collectivism, hyper-conservatism or hyper-liberalism all lead to the same place — social decay and social death; or, as W.B. Yeats’ put it in his poem “The Second Coming” — “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”. That centre is what Jean Gebser calls “vital centre” or “ever-present origin”, or what Blake calls “the fountain”, what Rumi calls “the well”. It is also called “Eternal Now” and corresponds to the centre of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”.

cross of reality

We’ve already noted that consciousness is also fourfold in structure — corresponding to Jung’s “four psychological types” but which are aspects of the unity of consciousness itself. Thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing (or intuiting) are four faculties of consciousness, the four aspects of the fourfold human. Exaggerating one of these over another leads to imbalance or what we call “eccentricity”, which really means loss of the vital centre or dislocation of the vital centre. Our social institutions are really elaborations of these consciousness functions, and when they are functioning properly, they are functioning harmoniously and cooperatively — arts and sciences, politics and religion. This is what we call “conviviality” or the “convivium“, and that is the issue of the “integral consciousness” structure and the new “ratio” and the new sense of proportion and balance. “Eccentricity” is connected with paranoia. Metanoia or “new mind” and its relocation to the vital centre is also transcending paranoia. Paranoia is disintegrative, metanoia is integrative.

Jung's four psychological functionsI think we can put it more concisely, even: decline and fall is consequence of a consciousness structure that is not functioning effectively or harmoniously, in the mode we call “intelligence”. It has become too narrowly focussed and exaggerates only one function. These consciousness functions are not moral issues, or luxuries, they are geared towards our survival within the terms of physical reality. Spacetime is a fourfold structure, and these consciousness functions are not metaphysical or mystical or occult. They are life’s weapons against extinction and which have become, in human beings, conscious of themselves as functions. Their harmonious functioning alone has the meaning “intelligent” and not otherwise. Intelligent and integrate are related words.  To over-exaggerate the importance of one is what is called “hybris” (or “hubris”), and the decline and fall stage is the fruit of hubris called “Nemesis”.

I do not recognise this “new normal” or “end of history” as at all “intelligent” in its fullest sense. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is quite unintelligent and fatally so. Intelligence has nothing to do with “points of view” — the very word means “to draw connections between” to discover and disclose correlations. Intelligence is William Blake’s warring four Zoas reunited and reintegrated in the quintessence, who is Albion.

William Blake -- the Fourfold Vision

William Blake — the Fourfold Vision



7 responses to “A Tsunami of Unreason, II”

  1. Dwig says :

    Not specific to this post, but I just noticed your arrangement of Jung’s four functions, specifically that Thinking is associated with the past, and feeling with the future. I can imagine an argument for the opposite. Could you elaborate on these associations?

    As to the post, I like the way you combined the various elements.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Ooops. I was afraid someone would bring that up. The Jungian quadrilateral is a screenshot from a web site devoted to all things Jung, and they certainly didn’t have Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral or cross of reality in mind when they arranged the psychological functions in that way. Nor did I rearrange the consciousness functions to correspond or map to Rosenstock’s “cross of reality”. My intent was to illustrate the same “ecodynamics” of the four consciousness functions, but not necessarily to correlate them with Rosenstock’s mapping nor, for that matter, with Blake’s arrangement of his Zoas in the accompanying illustration.

      In any case, in Rosenstock’s own model, the position of any consciousness function constantly shifts, but always this fourfold relation prevails despite the shifting relation. While the accent for any consciousness function does fall on some aspect of space or time — subjective, objective, trajective, or prejective — they shift continuously in relation to one another. Normally we consider “thinking” to be oriented towards “objects”, “willing” oriented towards “future” and so predominantly “prejective”; “feeling” normally associated with “inwards” or subjective. It’s a little less clear that sensation would correlate with the trajective or past, but I suppose an argument can be made for that.

      In the case where one function is the dominant function, then it tends to supplant or condition the others — like Blake’s “Urizen”. Then we see a game of “musical chairs” in which the other functions try to assert themselves in different ways, but always keeping to the same fourfold, ecodynamic relation. For example, the mystics would say that thinking about the future (objectification of the future) is distraction from Now, or that using “feeling” to evaluate objective reality is narcissism or projection, and so on (Jung makes a distinction between “feeling” or emotion and “intuition” as penetrating insight). And, of course, Gebser’s own history of consciousness structures as civilisations shows that one function has been dominant over the others at various points in time. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” is the antipathy of the mythological for the magical, and of course we know the deep antipathy of the mental-rational for the others — archaic, magical, mythical too. That mutual antipathy is still performed in our adversarial politics.

      On the other hand, in Castaneda you find his don Juan saying that “reality is a feeling we have for it”, which is also true — but it’s one thing to act it and another thing to know it consciously. This isn’t much different than Nietzsche’s statement that “fundamentally we experience only ourselves”, which is true, and that corresponds to Seth’s “you create the reality you know” — in which all the consciousness functions are involved — thinking, feeling, willing, sensing — as constructors of that reality. But this is usually performed below the level of ego-consciousness, at the level of “intent”. Nietzsche’s and don Juan’s definitions look like “narcissism” — and they are, in a way. The difference being, of course, that it’s not narcissism when you know it. It’s only narcissism when you are unconscious of it. Narcissus in the myth didn’t fall in love with himself. He fell in love with an image that he really thought was someone else, and that delusion was reinforced by the role of Echo. That way of looking at it sort of turns the usual understanding of narcissism on its head. Idolatry or fetish is the same as narcissism.

      Furthermore, each of the four consciousness functions also can have four aspects to it. In the example of Blake, his four Zoas also have their “emanations”. Take the thinking function, in that respect — it can be directed and focussed in different directions of the cross of reality, in which case we often use different words for that particular orientation — ratiocination or mentation, or cognition or contemplation or reflection, hindsight, foresight, and so on. The same with “sensing” (Percival insists that there are only four senses, for some reason in his Thinking and Destiny which so far I haven’t been able to get very far into). “Feeling” is also quite multiform and complex.

      Now here’s something curious about this complexification, and it’s sometimes why Blake’s mythology of the four Zoas and their emanations also becomes rather turgid and entangled — even for Blake. If the four consciousness functions also each have a fourfold aspect to them, then you get 4×4 = 16 different facets. That’s an odd number because it corresponds to the number of sorcerers in a “Nagual’s party” or coven, with the Nagual forming the “vital centre” as the 17th. So the four directions are represented by some archetypal character (scholar, healer, stalker, dreamer, each according to their “predilection”) and then each of these has three additional associates that would seem to resemble Blake’s “emanations” of the four Zoas.

      From what I’ve read of ibn Arabi’s memoirs of the Sufis of Andalusia, that seems also to have been the arrangement of Sufi “cells”. Ibn Arabi talks about the “pole” (the central guide) and then the arrangement of participants around this “pole” in terms of dreamers and scholars, etc in much the same way. His book “the Sufis of Andalusia” isn’t complete, though, so it’s hard to make a final judgement about that. It would be quite intriguing, though, if a Sufi cell or coven corresponded in structure to the “Nagual’s party”.

      • Scott Preston says :

        There’s another curiousity I might mention in this regard, pertaining to the Christian cosmos. There, also, you have the “Guardians of the Four Directions” in the form of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, especially in their zoomorphic depictions as equivalent to “the beasts surrounding the throne of God”. There were 12 disciples, and yet these four and their Gospels, it was decided early, best portrayed the life and teachings of Jesus. The other gospels of the other disciples were only considered variations on the different themes covered by the four evangelists.

        So, you have this arrangement of 12 — a significant number in Western history, which is 4×3. That difference may have something to do with a statement from Matthew: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I also”. The two or three thus become the three or four by the addition of the spirit of Jesus. So whether you end up with an arrangement of 12 or 16 depends on how you evaluate the meaning of the four principals — whether they are emanations, articulations, or emissaries of the vital centre itself — in Christian terms “the Logos”.

        This isn’t such a moot or trivial question. The witches in Castaneda’s group really did think there was a direct relation between the sorceric cosmos and the Christian one, and between apprenticeship and discipleship in those terms. So whether we consider a “Nagual’s Party” as also a 12-fold structure or a 16-fold structure depends on how we understand the role of the Nagual as “vital centre” in the same sense as the spirit of Jesus.

        So, let’s see if I can put this another way, and in relation to Rosenstock’s “cross of reality”. If the “guardians of the four directions” are considered, in Christian terms, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, who are each located in illustrated manuscripts as being each at one end of the four arms of the Christian crucifix, with the “logos” in the vital centre, the same may be stated for the four “guardians” of the nagual’s party — the stalker, the scholar, the dreamer, the healer — as emissaries of the Nagual to the four directions, then each of these has an additional three “supports” (the term that ibn Arabi uses to describe the Sufis of a Sufi coven) then you have 4×3 or 12. In which case, we would have to recognise something universal and lawful about this particular number — 12. I haven’t actually sat down to count in Blake’s mythology the Zoas and the number of their emanations, but I’ll bet it’s also 12 altogther — 4 zoas, each with 3 “emanations” or emissaries — bearing in mind that the Zoas are also “emanations” or emissaries of the integral Albion? I should probably do that.

      • abdulmonem says :

        On the question of poleship I like to mention that the sufis spiritual leadership cell consists in addition to the pole the tow immams, the four columns and the seven subsitutes, the last resemble the nagual in their ability to change forms. Ibn Arabi emphasizes that his writing depend on dreams and revelations and does not pursue the usual intellectual writings. He emphasizes also the human ability to activate the spirit process , thus withdrawing down the divine knowledge through silencing the thinking kit, meditation and sincere devotion.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    I also might mention that the “poison pill” that I refer to in the above post has, likely, some connection with an insight of Jean Gebser, that the alter ego of Athena, goddess of reason, is the Gorgon — the serpentine headed whose visage paralyses those who look upon her. The “Gorgon” as polar companion to Reason, could be said to be the “poison pill” implicit in the mental-rational consciousness or “Greek Mind”. The Gorgon’s head could represent the deficient aspect of the mental-rational — eventual descent into self-contradiction, pretzel logic, Gordian knot, and tautology in which the Gorgon comes to displace and supplant Athena through the process of enantiodromia. The parallel of course, is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Mr. Hyde is also Rumi’s “dragon” in the poem “The Snake-Catcher of Baghdad”, and a representative of what Seth also calls “the ancient force”. In contemporary economic theory it is called “the animal spirits”.

    Likewise, as Gebser also notes, Heraclitus saw that the god Dionysus (who is the “Green Man” in lore and legend) was also the alter ego of the god Hades, dark lord of the underworld. Or, you could say that “Hades” is the polar companion of Dionysus. That would be consistent with Heraclitus’s paradoxical and anti-dualist view of the world — life is in death, death is in life, and the two cannot be separated. “The road up and the road down are the same” is one of his paradoxes that probably pertain to that.

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