Hubris and Nemesis
It’s harvest time on the Canadian Prairie. It’s a busy time of year for me, so I’ll be very brief. I just wanted to point out with this post how we can come to understand the meaning of hubris (or hybris) and Nemesis in relation to the Cross of Reality or, for that matter, the Sacred Hoop/Medicine Wheel.
For all practical purposes, what the ancient Greeks called “hubris” and what early Christians understood as “sin” or “transgression” are much the same — excess, and corresponding to excess in one direction is deficiency in another. So excess or deficiency (or “lack” in David Loy’s terms) are the same issue also. When Jean Gebser, in The Ever-Present Origin speaks of the “mental-rational consciousness structure” now functioning in “deficient mode”, you can alternatively think of that deficiency in terms of “sin” or “hubris” also. That is to say, the loss of “the vital centre” corresponds with hubris or sin. And that is, in a nutshell, the basic theme also of the parable of the Prodigal Son.
This may come as a surprise to Gebserians, but there isn’t much in Gebser that doesn’t have its precedent and precursor in the Christian New Testament. This reflects the influence of the Catholic theologian, Romano Guardini (and author of The End of the Modern World), on Gebser’s thinking while he was a student at the University of Munich. And, coincidentally, Guardini has been a major influence on the present Pope as well.
So, to put it straight away — what Gebser calls “deficiency” corresponds to the terms “sin”, “transgression” or even “hubris”, and that deficiency (or sin or hubris) of the current consciousness structure is described by Gebser in the following passage from his EPO.
The current situation manifests on the one hand an egocentric individualism exaggerated to extremes and desirous of possessing everything, while on the other it manifests an equally extreme collectivism that promises the total fulfillment of man’s being. In the latter instance we find the utter abnegation of the individual valued merely as an object in the human aggregate; in the former a hyper-valuation of the individual who, despite his limitations, is permitted everything. This deficient, that is destructive, antithesis divides the world into two warring camps, not just politically and ideologically, but in all areas of human endeavor.
Since these two ideologies are now pressing toward their limits we can assume that neither can prevail in the long run. When any movement tends to the extremes it leads away from the center or nucleus toward eventual destruction at the outer limits where the connections to the life-giving center finally are severed. It would seem that today the connections have already been broken, for it is increasingly evident that the individual is being driven into isolation while the collective degenerates into mere aggregation. These two conditions, isolation and aggregation, are in fact clear indications that individualism and collectivism have now become deficient” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, 1949, p. 3.
The “vital centre” correspond, in effect, to what the ancient Greeks called “the Golden Mean”, and that corresponds to what the philosopher Heraclitus also called “the Logos“. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, this corresponds to the son’s “homeland”, while the “faraway land” into which he travels, to end up as a swineherd amongst the swine, corresponds to the extremities in Gebser’s diagnosis of the contemporary deficiency of the consciousness structure.
“Pride goeth before a fall” has the same meaning as “sin” or “hybris”, while the counterpart to that is the saying that “the wages of sin is death” in Christian terms is what the ancient Greeks called “Nemesis”. It is the disintegrative or centrifugal tendency that reappears in striking terms in W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming“.
Now, in Rosenstock-Huessy’s terms — in terms of his quadrilateral logic and “cross of reality” — the “wages of sin” or “Nemesis” are called the “four diseases of the social order”, which he names as war, decadence, anarchy, and revolution, and which are also the consequence of the loss of the vital centre, which corresponds to the centre of the cross of reality or, for that matter, of the Sacred Hoop. Hubris or sin or transgression is the over-exaggeration of one of the arms of the cross of reality. It means to fly off into one direction of the cross resulting in unbalancing. This unbalancing is called “injustice” (or what we call hyper-partisan, bias, or prejudice), and in Buddhism, restoration of the balance is called “equanimity”. For all practical purposes, “equanimity” and Gebser’s “integral consciousness” are identical terms. Where Gebser differs somewhat from Buddhism is in the belief that “Christ consciousness”, we might call it, is the model of the integral consciousness, which is the significance of “the Word on the Cross”.
I’ve also pointed out that Gebser is an “apocalyptic thinker”, much like Rosenstock-Huessy as well. When Gebser speaks of the “irruption” of a new consciousness structure in our time — the “integral” — this term “irruption” means “revelation”. “Irruption” has the same meaning as “apocalypse” and “apocalypse” has the same meaning as “revelation” or “uncovering”. This “uncovering” is what Gebser refers to as the “diaphaneity of the world”, or its transparency or translucency.
Now, my purpose in drawing out these connections is not to discredit Gebser or Rosenstock-Huessy for their apparent reliance upon theological precedents, and especially Christian ones. There is no doubt of that influence, and that might be a turn-off for some (it certainly was for me, initially) since it seems to be very partisan in itself. It is true that they are small-c “catholic” thinkers. But that’s not an objection if you understand the meaning of the word “catholic” in its primal sense — making whole or “universal”. In the process of interpreting the underlying themes in Christianity, they discovered the universals that underlie all authentic spiritual practices the world over, although it was Rosenstock-Huessy who articulated why this universal pattern is, and must be, lawful.
So what the enlightened Muslims say is quite true “no people has been left without guidance”, albeit often in quite mysterious ways. What Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy discovered is a common undercurrent (which in Jung was called “collective unconscious”) which has been called variously “godhead” or “fountain” or “well” or “Source” that feeds into the particular consciousness structure of human beings. This common source is called, in Gebser, “ever-present origin” or “Eternal Now” or the Logos or Rosenstock-Huessy’s own formula “God is the power that makes men speak”, and amongst my aboriginal friends it is the meaning of the man or woman “who speaks from the centre of the voice”, which is the vital centre — the centre of the Sacred Hoop.
But, today, “the Sacred Hoop is broken”. And so is the Christian cross. This is the meaning of “atomisation”, “fragmentation”, and fracture. It’s reflected in the hyper-partisanship of our politics, in “the culture of narcissism”, in self-contradiction and duplicity. So, when my First Nations friends speak of “healing” or “mending the Sacred Hoop”, it has pretty much the same meaning as restoring the “cross of reality” in Rosenstock-Huessy’s terms, and both are references to “integral consciousness”.
So, the world over, we are all in this bloody mess that we’ve made for ourselves together.