Watch Out for the Undertow

I would like to relate a personal experience that might be suggestive in appreciating John Feffer’s article on the coming “havoc” as mentioned in the last post, and which has been very formative in shaping my own outlook.

Some years ago, when I lived on the West Coast, I was a scuba diver. A group of us went diving in an underwater park at Whidbey Island, in Washington State. We were warned before the dive that there was a powerful underwater current near the end of a breakwater, and that, should we get trapped in it, not to exhaust ourselves fighting it, but to inflate our vests and ride it out. Someone would eventually pick us up at Port Townsend where the current would, in all likelihood, drop us off.

Well, I blundered into it.

Nature can be very instructive. On the surface, the tide was coming in. Below the surface, was a powerful undertow moving in the contrary direction. As I was moving in the placid waters along the breakwater, admiring the marvelous undersea flora and fauna there, I blundered into the undercurrent. It hit me with surprising force, so that half my body was in the undercurrent and half still in the fairly placid waters, so that I was able to extricate myself from my predicament.

My personal experience serves as an analogy or metaphor for understanding Gebser’s “double-movement” of the times (integrative and disintegrative) and therefore also helps in appreciating the “coincidence of opposites” described in Fetter’s remarks on the coming “Great Unraveling” of globalisation. That personal anecdote also forms the background to what I earlier posted in a couple of places as “The Parable of the Toothbrush”. The Parable of the Toothbrush was inspired by reading a remark by an American entrepreneur who got all enthusiastic about free trade and globalisation because he would make a mint selling toothbrushes to a billion Chinese. As it turns out, the flow of toothbrushes has been in the entirely opposite direction. Yesterday, I purchased a new toothbrush, and it was made in China. I cited the Parable of the Toothbrush as an analogy of what I mean by “ironic reversal”. And my sense for what is “ironic reversal” as well as “polarity” in coincidentia oppositorum, comes from my personal experience as a scuba diver of also being simultaneously in two contradictory currents — an apparent surface one, and an invisible undercurrent.

Globalisation is similar. “A rising tide lifts all boats” ignores the undertow. Although globalisation is touted as “global economic integration”, politically speaking it is a disintegrative process, which is what Feffer’s article is addressing — the undertow, the other side of the double-movement, or what is equivalent the “underbelly” of globalisation.

The delusion of globalisation, as presently conceived, is that it is a one-way process — the spread of Anglospheric goods and services along with values, lifestyles, and models, all conceived as “modernisation”. It seems quite oblivious to the reciprocal movement of values and models in the other direction, into the Anglospheric domain itself. That’s the elementary nature of the dialectics of globalism — it is a reciprocal movement outwards and inwards. And in the most visible and concrete form, it is the uprooting of entire populations as migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. And in more culturally specific terms, it is the popularity of Yoga, “Western Buddhism”, Confucian values and models of governance, or the peculiar fact that the most popular poet in America presently is Rumi, and in a thousand other ways as well, for both good and ill.

“Globalisation” isn’t just an objective dynamic, but also a subjective one, and as such is being experienced as a threat to identity, both national and personal, or also as a reconstruction of identity. This isn’t a smooth process by any means.

The recognition of this implicit double-movement is why there is a tendency to differentiate between “globalisation” and “globalism”. The former is blind process. The latter is the conscious reconstruction of human identity. So, they differ as objective process and subjective process. But they are dissonant and discrepant because one has to do with the unification of spaces — the “global market” — while the other has to do with time and times. “Globalism” is the quest not for a “universal market” but a universal history of the human experience as a whole.

What does that mean? It means “globalisation” and “globalism” differ as space and time differ, as the surface current and the undercurrent differ. Despite the unification of space and time in the spacetime continuum, space and time remain fundamentally different, too. The “universal market” and “universal history” are not equivalent terms. Spatial thinking dominates the meaning of “globalisation”, time-thinking dominates the meaning of “globalism”. Globalism is integration; globalisation is merely assimilation. Integration and assimilation are contradictory dynamics, even though they are frequently employed as synonyms for one another.

Coordination of discordant spaces (nation-states, territories, etc) is the work of treaties and international agreements for a common “framework” governing the spaces of life, in the absence of which there is war. There aren’t equivalent instruments for what Rosenstock-Huessy called “synchronisation of antagonistic distemporaries”, which is the main issue of globalism proper. Different people don’t inhabit the same historical or time horizons. Value systems are different. So, Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy and Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness” are chiefly about synchronisation. The four consciousness structures — archaic, magical, mythical, and mental-rational — are temporal, not spatial. Their “integration” is the meaning of “universal history”, and there is as yet no formal instrument or framework for reconciling the clash of histories.


9 responses to “Watch Out for the Undertow”

  1. davidm58 says :

    Thanks for your articulation of the distinction between globalisation and globalism. This is why Pogany talks about a chaotic transition/bifurcation – because the global society that embodies integral consciousness will not and cannot evolve seamlessly from the current program of globalization.

    He writes:
    “This brave new world where the global community has become a political society is clearly out of reach. It is, in fact, literally repulsive! Who wants governments getting so deeply involved in economic management; who wants a global currency and a global central bank? No one! — Except perhaps the Illuninati and some secret groups wielding enormous authority, according to the conspiratorial fringes of the Internet. No, no, and no again! In light of the eventual need for a system that does not collapse without compounding economic activities along the line of a radically divergent geometric series, the only possible answer to the question ‘What will it take to go from opprobrium to acceptance?’ is ‘a new chaotic transition;’ that is, an ex ante impenetrably extempore search for a new global steady state.” (Havoc, p. 59)

    • Scott Preston says :

      If I understand Pogany correctly there, it is that he foresees the possibility, even the likelihood, that the most undesirable outcome of the “chaotic transition” is the very thing he doesn’t want to see — the Earth as a single political-economic unit, for that wouldn’t be a true integration but an assimilation or a uniformisation as an attempt to achieve a new “global steady state”, ie, the “havoc” would be so bad, that people would welcome a global Leviathan who would “make the trains run on time”, as the old saying goes.

      That’s already being attempted in terms of the “New World Order” of neo-imperialism advocated by the likes of Ignatieff, Kaplan, Ferguson, the neo-cons, etc — the global Leviathan. It’s having some pretty pernicious outcomes in terms of “unintended consequence”, “revenge effect”, “blowback”, “perverse outcome”, etc, etc. Yet the logic seems to be, if it’s not working, it’s just because it’s not being pursued vigorously and insistently enough, apropos Einstein’s definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results each time.

      Gebser likes to cite the poet Hoelderlin (I think it was Hoelderlin) who once wrote “where the peril is greatest, there lies the saving power also”, or as Rumi put it equally, “the cure for the pain is in the pain”. I liken that to what I call Khayyam’s Caution: “only a hair separates the false from the true”. Lots of people recognise that the seed-germ of an authentic globalism is in globalisation, only that the accent is falling on the wrong syllable, as it were. But it’s also a typically Taoist view also that the seed-germ eventually asserts itself in the dynamic — the polarity — in the process we call “enantiodromia” or “ironic reversal”. (Neo-cons and neo-liberals have a particular fondness for Hobbesian political philosophy).

      The “undertow” is in some sense the Jungian “Shadow”, too. But the Shadow isn’t always a negative thing, as Goethe has his Mephistopheles confess in Faust, that he is “part of that power that would ever evil do, but always does the good”. Perverse outcome and unintended consequence may also work in beneficial ways.

      I just received Aurobindo’s “The Ideal of Human Unity”, so I’ll be wanting to read that to contrast with Leviathan, or the Hobbesian dictatorship of the mental-rational, as we might call it (as John Ralston Saul also termed it in “Voltaire’s Bastards” and “The Unconscious Civilisation”).

      That’s what “globalisation”, as presently conceived, is — the attempt by the already disintegrating mental-rational consciousness structure to assert its hegemony world-wide, or, to use Blake’s terms, the attempt of Urizen to extend his domain. Of course, he is violently opposed in that by the other “Zoas”, so we can learn a lot about the “globalisation” dynamic from Blake’s art as well. For, in essence, Leviathan is Urizen by another name, or (perhaps better) one of the avatars of Urizen.

      If we come to appreciate Blake’s vision, his mythology of the four Zoas is a very precise mapping of the present dynamics of globalisation.

      • Scott Preston says :

        I might add to the foregoing, too, that far too much emphasis in present analyses are placed on groups and ideologies or nationalities involved in “globalisation”, when it really is the attempt of a particular “consciousness structure” — the mental-rational, which is Blake’s “Urizen” — to impose its hegemony — as Feffer describes it, a single “global market of rational actors” (very appropriate description of Urizen, in fact). Groups, ideologies, or nationalities are simply, in this respect, serving as agencies of that consciousness structure, which is already itself in the throes of disintegration (cynicism, hypocrisy, duplicity, self-contradiction, etc).

        The Coming Anarchy that Robert Kaplan wrote about (Pogany’s “havoc”), and which he believed required an “imperial response” in the form of a Leviathan (the Roman Empire as exemplar and Tiberius as the model ruler) is really the voice of Urizen. Kaplan, and his fellow neo-cons, are simply Urizen’s minions.

      • davidm58 says :

        I think what Pogany is saying is that he does anticipate the integral epoch to manifest with some sort of global governmental system, but he is emphasizing that we should not mistake the current trends in globalization (WTO , TPP, etc.) to represent a move toward the ideal that he is advocating, for all the reasons you’ve outlined.

        I wish Pogany had spent more time explaining his positive vision for Global System 3, which he states will require an integral consciousness for it to be able to function in a healthy manner. (“Our consciousness is simply unfit for the task.” – p. 70). He does offer an outline:

        “A new world order (GS3) is needed. It may be characterized as two-level economy/strong multilateralism/mostly government money (maximum reserve banking).” – p. 59

        “GS2 -> GS3 will be much more difficult than GS1 -> GS2 was. It presupposes the generalized transformation of national, racial, and religious out-groups into in-groups on the way to the cosmopolis. Since this process is not conceivable through unilateral gestures, it presumes the simultaneous appearance of bilateral reciprocities, hence becoming a multilateral phenomenon, most likely as the result of a global-scale moral catharsis at the concluding phase of the impending chaotic transition.” – p. 66

        “Unless the state reappears in a new, updated form on the stage of universal history as the global res publica, sometime later in this century, the law of the jungle will grab the world by its throat.” – p. 67, referencing Hobbes.

        “Rationality” makes the economist consider Nature as if it were bundled in the global self-organization, behaving as just another pliable production factor that man’s entrepreneurial-engineering genius has already forced into diminishing significance. Integral rationality sees the bundling exactly the other way around.

        Contemplation of integral totality (uninhibited by the compartmentalization of scholarship and free from the childish notion that socioeconomic evolution is over) raises analytical thinking above the sound and fury of daily politics; it becomes trans-ideological. Its foundational thesis bears repetition: The harmony between growth and demand for growth is not timeless; ‘rationality’ is a transient and expiring version of rationality.” – p. 79 [as he explains elsewhere, the current deficient understanding of “rationality” by the mental-rational stage of consciousness has split from what is truly rational.]

        “The difference in institutional terms between GS3 and GS2 is so significant that bridging it is impossible without envisaging a major transformation of individual consciousness; yet, the average individual would not – could not! be inwardly transformed as long as socioeconomic institutions characteristic of GS2 prevail. …The transformation-disabling circle is complete and strictly closed. Through their mutual cogency, the average individual’s internal and external worlds keep each other in check.” – p. 98-99

        “The unfolding collision between the elemental force of man’s volition and its ecological constraints, along with a historic crisis of epic proportions, may be regarded as the struggle of integral consciousness to deprive ‘rationality’ of its current dominance. The immanence of thermodynamic reality and integral consciousness, straining to become empirical life, is one and the same process. The dissonance that will have to be resolved is manifest in a faintly recognized, innermost nostalgia of the individual for wholeness and in the deficient conduct of organizational groupings at all levels… The factual presence of new, transparent and controllable institutions will mark the end of the watershed, eliminating the historically persistent fued between self (interiority and outside reality.

        But who can say what it will take to turn today’s world into a newly enlightened one of enhanced global solidarity; with societies that favor cooperation over exaggerated, competitive self-assertion; responsible sociability over alienation; integrative, open-mindedness over stubborn, perspectival dogmatism, altruism over estrasomatic hedonism.” – p. 99-100

        Finally, on pages 128-130 (Appendix B) he outlines a little more detail about his recommendations for GS3 with its two-level economy/strong multi-lateralism/mostly government money:

        – legally binding international agreements on the use of nonrenewable energy and material resources. This is “strong multi-lateralism.”

        – a free market AND a public authority dominated sector (two level economy.

        – a global currency issued by a global central bank which would enforce maximum bank reserves rather than the current minimum reserve banking. Today’s system encourages debt based growth; the proposed system would require “the consent of depositors to make loans, making financial intermediation once again the modest helper that draws together scattered household savings in order to place them into the hands of bona fide entrepreneurs.”

        – the economic role of grass roots communities would increase significantly. This increased emphasis on the unique expressions of small communities – localism, brings to mind Edgar Morni’s adage that we must “globalize and de-globalize.”

        • Scott Preston says :

          I wish Pogany had spent more time explaining his positive vision for Global System 3, which he states will require an integral consciousness for it to be able to function in a healthy manner. (“Our consciousness is simply unfit for the task.” – p. 70)

          I think Pogany may have had some difficulty understanding integral consciousness in relation to economics. Just what is an “integral economics” in relation to “integral consciousness”, as Gebser understood it? I don’t blame Pogany for that, but I have some doubts that his GS3 will look quite like he foresees it. He’s pretty good at describing the “deficiency” of the current rationality in relation to economics, though.

          I just finished watching the DVD “Lucy”. Pretty interesting. That theme of the integration of consciousness and cosmos is pronounced in the film, even if a little exaggerated in some respects. There are a few other film works that are starting to touch on that theme of “mutation” in the direction of integral consciousness, perhaps a portent or intuition about the very thing Gebser or Aurobindo have anticipated.

          • davidm58 says :

            Perhaps, but I’ve not yet seen evidence demonstrating a conflict between Pogany’s and Gebser’s views on economics. It would be interesting to delve a little deeper into the views of the economists that Gebser himself references in Part 2, chapter 7 of EPO (Sociology and Economics).

            Note, for example, that on p. 430, Gebser writes, “The necessity of escaping from the ultimate alternative of individual versus collective has become unavoidably evident to the most diverse sociologists. This is even indicated by Wilhelm Ropke’s theory of the ‘third way,’ which provides a compromise between capitalistic and communistic economies (between a free and a planned economy), supported as a neo-liberalism by certain powerful political interests. Yet his model-thinking (see p. 387) excludes him from any extra-systematic thought and prevents his breakthrough to the new consciousness structure.”

            Gebser goes on to name Fritz Marbach, Ludwig Preller, and even Husserl and Buber as others attempting to overcome the dualism between individual (capitalism) verses mass (communism). I think Pogany’s approach is also attempting to find this balance that honors both.

            Perhaps reference to Pogany’s 2012 paper, Value and Utility in Historical Perspective, would be helpful here (though his writing is sometimes hard to follow). Pogany writes,
            “The oeuvre of Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl (1859-1938) represents the fulcrum of all reasoning and inference that relates the temporal unfolding of consciousness to macrohistory because (in a “phenomenological” vein) ―. . . consciousness derives its
            meaning from the world, and the world derives its meaning from consciousness” (Stewart and Mickunas, 1990, p. 51).
            Thus, the proposed integral approach disowns the categorical dualism that separates the individual‘s internal life from its socioeconomic setting. (For a poignant critique of the dualistic tradition of Western thought, typified by the ―mind-body problem, see Mickunas, 2004.)
            The validity of this starting point is confirmed by Gebser who maintained that consciousness is ―the ability to survey those interconnections which constitute us and it includes ―a function which reacts to the visible course of events in reality (Gebser, 1984, pp. 203 and 204).
            Specifically, it is argued that the socioeconomic environment, with its ground rules and concrete demands toward intentionality-driven individual behavior, characterizes an epoch’s global system-related consciousness. Consciousness is the arena in which
            adaptation to the socioeconomic environment is experienced through an essentially inseparable relationship between individual and society. Indeed, it is not difficult to see the circular relationship between the two. Individual consciousness, as a subject, studies society as an object and society as the subject ―works on the individual and shapes its consciousness as if it were an object.”

            • Scott Preston says :

              Note, for example, that on p. 430, Gebser writes, “The necessity of escaping from the ultimate alternative of individual versus collective has become unavoidably evident to the most diverse sociologists. This is even indicated by Wilhelm Ropke’s theory of the ‘third way,’ which provides a compromise between capitalistic and communistic economies (between a free and a planned economy), supported as a neo-liberalism by certain powerful political interests. Yet his model-thinking (see p. 387) excludes him from any extra-systematic thought and prevents his breakthrough to the new consciousness structure.”

              “Third Way” was what fascism also called itself, and was also what Tony Blair called “New Labour”, too. Goebbels even praised Roosevelt’s New Deal as being Third Way. So, “Third Way” is the synthesis, still, of a dialectic, and that’s why Gebser thought it prevented a breakthrough to a new consciousness structure. It was still tripartite logic.

              As I wrote in an earlier post, I cringe whenever I hear the term “Third Way”. I’ve yet to read Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”, because that’s more like what we probably mean by “extra-systematic thought”, I suspect.

              Rosenstock-Huessy’s Multiformity of Man is, perhaps, an anticipation of the “fourth way”, if we might use that expression in his thinking on economics (it’s quite short because he wasn’t an economist). It’s only about 80 pages long or so, and is available online


              I have some issues with it, to be sure, but at least it’s an attempt to visualise economics according to his “metanoia” or “metanomics” of society in terms of his four “ecodynamic laws”. Too bad Gebser wasn’t aware of it.

              Husserl was on the right track, and Gebser acknowledges his debt to Phenomenology. Also, Husserl’s student, Merleau-Ponty, wrote one of the great books on perception called
              The Phenomenology of Perception
              . (I think I need to take both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty up again). Castaneda’s don Juan apparently endorsed Husserl’s philosophy after Castaneda explained it to him. Husserl would appear to be the pivot or nexus for a number of things.

              Of course, the act of perception is foundational, and precedes even thinking, and yet very little attention has been paid to perception itself, which is where Gebser and Castaneda come in, or Blake for that matter. When you think about it, it’s amazing that it was ignored for so long, and that primacy was given to the act of thinking rather than perception. That ignorance has made us vulnerable, particularly to “perception management”. So, a good dose of Phenomenology is very needful.

              On dualism, to my mind the “Buddhist sociologist” David Loy has probably written the definitive book Non-Duality. I’ve not read the whole thing, just excerpts and some of his many articles (many of which are available online). “The Suffering System” is a notable one. Many of his writings are available online


              Worth getting to know Loy and his “Buddhist Revolution” for what he can also teach about “integral consciousness”.

            • davidm58 says :

              Thanks, I’ll check out the links when I have time. Husserl seems to have been on the right track, but there were a number of others after him who have further developed some of these ideas.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    It is the four basic forces of our cosmos, whether in their scientific phraseology or in their theological phraseology need to be addressed in order to understand the crisis of our time, To confine the forceful factors that are playing in our life interactions, to only the individual and the collective, the cooperative and the competitive or any such limited pairs, is to fall in the trap of duality which we are trying to flee from. Morality can not be captured by legality. International law did not prevent America from invading Iraq. Honesty is an elusive concept and the human can avoid it in so many ways. The dilemma of our age is dishonesty. When the human consciousness is directed to himself and to his faulty intention that everything around are for his exploitation without rules or limits and forget the source of his consciousness. God is the source of all values and when god is denied and replaced by crooked human values or even go against the forbidden, all perversions become possible. That is why there is a divine standing day to know the honest from the dishonest, away from this world of concealed intention and bad attention. It is very nice to discuss and analyze, providing we start from the proper premises and be brief in addressing the covered belief. Too much details are always misleading, The call to read the universe must not be away from the creator of this universe. Nature is instructive, providing we know who put in her the instructions. Language is everywhere, god has his language, so is the angels, the devil, the human and the universe. It is the interactions of these languages that compose the symphony of the world. We have to be soft where we tread and ask god to increase us in knowledge to understand how to understand the waves of this ever-expanding energetic cosmos.

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