Revelation and Revolution
I concluded my day yesterday by posting a comment to the last entry in The Chrysalis that, in a nutshell, summarised The Chrysalis and served as a kind of synopsis of everything I’ve read about or thought about regarding the meaning of contemporary events. I arrived at the synopsis as a culmination or climax upon concluding my reading of Thomas Berry’s book The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future, and reflecting on the intersection of concerns expressed there with the work of Jean Gebser, Rosenstock-Huessy, Iain McGilchrist, Nietzsche, Aurobindo, and many others, all of whom have attempted to articulate the theme of an impending or incipient “new integration”, even a species change, and all of whom might well be described as “apocalyptic thinkers”, (or as we might put it optionally, “thinkers of the chaotic transition”). By “apocalyptic” I understand its original meaning as “revelation” or “disclosure”, also represented by the dancing god Shiva — the dance of creative destruction or the dance of “the shattering truth”.
The specific instance of this meaning of the apocalyptic as the coincidentia oppositorum was neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “stroke of insight” as she described it in her TED talk, which was in a quite literal way a shattering revelation, a revelation born in the midst of the catastrophic — the dance of disillusionment in the ambiguous or paradoxical sense of that term. And I can’t emphasise enough, really, how much Bolte-Taylor’s personal experience is the model and pattern for what we can anticipate as the meaning of the “chaotic transition” on a larger scale. Her trauma and revelation was Shiva’s dance played out in microcosm.
So let me here recap what I posted in a comment yesterday, which was copied in from my notes after reading Berry’s The Great Work, and attempt to unwrap it further,
What we are headed towards is a crisis of general well-being, as should be evident. This crisis of well-being is the prelude to the fifth revolution event, which will be a world revolution and close and seal the modern era, and will be based on the principle of health, as forecast by Rosenstock-Huessy. Nature and the non-human world, formerly excluded from the councils of the nations, will take its place in the councils of the nations. Democracy will mutate into biocracy. This reflects Rosenstock’s view, also, that biology, rather than physics, is destined to replace physics as “queen of the sciences”, with all the parallel historical implications of that (just as physics dethroned theology as queen of the sciences). Biocracy is, in effect, realised political ecology or ecodynamics. Biocracy is the form of politics for the Ecozoic Era, which is the integral era, and decidedly not of the “Anthropocene” or the anthropocentric perspective.
I’m reasonably confident that Berry was familiar with the writings of Rosenstock-Huessy because of nearly identical turns of phrase and similar approach used in Berry that one also finds in Rosenstock’s writings. If not, it’s a very uncanny coincidence. There are even evident references to William Blake, although Blake is not mentioned directly either, as in Berry’s chapter on “The Fourfold Wisdom”, and in keeping with this “fourfold wisdom” throughout the book Berry applies a quadrilateral logic rather than a dialectical one to understanding the ecodynamics of society. It’s the same quadrilateral logic that was articulated by Rosenstock-Huessy. In any event, the goal of the two is the same — metanoia, or the “new mind”. Berry’s “Great Work” is this metanoia, and is what Gebser called the incipience of the “integral consciousness structure”. The Great Work is a significant contribution to understanding this.
Just what is it, though, that gives so many contemporary writers confidence that this emergent “metanoia” is the very meaning, even high-stakes gamble, of the “chaotic transition” (or Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism”) and the endgame of the Modern Era? A big part of the solution to this question is certainly Iain McGilchrist’s research in neurodynamics, and what he sees as “enantiodromia” in action — the mode of attention of the left-hemisphere of the brain, having overreached the limits of its intelligible possibilities and now lapsed into the absurd (H.G. Wells’ sense of “Mind at the End of Its Tether“) now reverts to the mode of attention of the right-hemisphere of the brain, which is holistic, empathic, intuitive, and even the source of those vital insights and energies necessary for the left-hemisphere’s mode of attention to function at all. In other words, the old issue of hubris followed by Nemesis. “Mind at the End of its Tether” is Nemesis, and Nemesis is reversal. This reversal is more or less recognised as the contemporary “paradigm shift”, but is also “chaotic transition”. In Berry, this reversal is also expressed in the notion of “communion”. “Communion” is but another way of saying “integration”, realised as “Earth community”, and politically as “biocracy”, and would presumably correspond to the harmonisation of the “divided brain”.
It was, though, in 1938, upon the conclusion of his massive study of the modern revolutions in Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man, that Rosenstock-Huessy concluded that the series was still incomplete, and that the revolutions that made the “Modern Era” beginning with the Lutheran Revolution (or Protestant Reformation) and ending with the Russian Revolution, would require yet a final and conclusive revolution that would consolidate or integrate the gains of the previous revolutions, fulfilling the meaning of the “Modern Era”, at the same time sealing and closing the Modern Era itself. With that sealing and closing, a new era would begin also — “Planetary Civilisation”. In his study of the revolutions, Rosenstock-Huessy saw what few, if any, had seen before — the connections between them – their implicit relationship. They weren’t isolated or single events, but various articulations of a singular dynamic. That single dynamic was the articulation of a new idea of “Man” — a new form of the human.
The error of the revolutionaries, which doomed the revolutions, was the delusion that their specific revolutionary principle was final, complete, and decisive, which gave them all a totalitarian cast. This overspecialisation of the “idea of Man” constituted overreach or hubris. Each revolution was only a special instance or partial principle of the “idea of Man” mistakenly believed to be final and definitive. It was not understood at all that “Man” was a fourfold being. Each revolution, though, articulated a partial truth about this “Man”. Although the revolutions ultimately failed, the principle which each articulated became inviolable, and became enshrined as “right”, then collectively as “human rights”. The human of the modern type is defined as a creature with a collection of “human rights”. This is what Rosenstock-Huessy means by describing the revolutions as “autobiography” of the human being of the modern type. The human of the Modern type is a kind of collage or pastiche of rights. “Rights” are his or her constitution, and indeed often conflicting rights and principles.
Reactionary (and anti-modern) forces have challenged this notion that “Man” is a creature with rights, especially “universal human rights” (and Rosenstock-Huessy described his own political orientation as only “counter-reactionary”). But as a creature of abstract and plural “rights”, the idea of Man remained, still, unrealised as an integral being. The dynamic would have to be fulfilled and realised in a final revolution that would be based on the principle of “health” or “integrality” — the unity of mind, body, soul, and spirit.
So, in that sense, there is a certain ironic truth to Fukuyama’s “end of history”.
It is not at all difficult to see in the modern revolutions the spectres of Blake’s disintegrate “four Zoas”. In fact, Blake thought of the revolutions of his time as the eruption and wrath of the Zoas, the constituent elements of the fourfold human form. There is, indeed, an uncanny, but quite intelligible, identity of the Zoas and the great revolutions as described by Rosenstock-Huessy. And like Rosenstock-Huessy’s anticipation that the Modern Era must culminate in yet a fifth revolution based on the principle of “health” (the whole or integral), Blake’s “Albion” is the image of the “Human Integer” or “homo integralis“, the consciousness in which, and through which, the primordial conflict of the four Zoas with each other (the disintegrate “Adam”) is finally pacified and reconciled in a higher unity. Albion is the quintessence, the “fifth”, the form of the human in the “New Age”. As such “Albion” is identical with the “metanoia“.
The uniqueness of Rosenstock-Huessy’s interpretation of the interconnectedness of the modern revolutions and their role in shaping our self-understanding as “autobiography” lies in his ability to see their relatedness as aspects of one single process. This distinguishes his history of the revolutions from conventional histories, which tend to treat them as isolated and singular events without any implicit or underlying pattern or interrelationship (a typical “left-hemisphere” approach). Rosenstock-Huessy insisted, though, (much like Gebser insists) that the revolutions unfolded according to an implicit and necessary pattern, and that each preordained, anticipated, and conditioned the other. That pattern is the fourfold human form. And the only reason I can think that Rosenstock-Huessy saw this pattern (or Blake for that matter) when others overlooked it, was because Rosenstock’s awareness was already shifting to the right-hemisphere’s mode of attention, as described by McGilchrist. And what seems to have brought this about was the personal shock and the trauma which the First World War had on Rosenstock-Huessy. In fact, Rosenstock credits that shock and trauma as being the cause of his own “metanoia“. He had achieved peace of mind, he says significantly, only after finishing Out of Revolution, and concluding it with his important essay “Farewell to Descartes“. The war was Rosenstock-Huessy’s own “stare into the abyss”, his own “shock and awe”.
And the significance of that “farewell” should be evident to anyone who has read McGilchrist’s research on the divided brain in The Master and his Emissary.
So, the question becomes whether we are all also about to bid “farewell to Descartes” and that means, to the domination of consciousness and perception by the left-hemisphere of the brain as described by McGichrist, only as the effect of our own global “shock and awe” and trauma. It seems to be the consensus that this is so, as “Dark Age” or “Chaotic Transition”, “two centuries of nihilism” (Nietzsche) or “Havoc” (Peter Pogany) — a further descent into chaos and decadence followed by a revolutionary counter-dynamic. This counter-dynamic seems already in preparation, for the human world is very restless. Even the Earth is restless.
The anticipation of this is based on the insight of Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy, amongst others, that there is an implicit energetic pattern underlying reality which becomes manifest in both evolution and revolution, and in the meaning also of Blake’s “four Zoas”, too. That pattern is fourfold and is inscribed in the human form as a fourfold being, also, and in terms we describe as “mind, body, soul, spirit”, or in terms of “earth, air, fire, and water”, or in terms of the four cosmic forces of electro-magnetism, gravitation and the strong and weak nuclear forces, or in the four functions of consciousness we call thinking, sensing, willing, and feeling. This fourfold pattern is, indeed, ubiquitous and universal. But the “fifth element”, the quintessence — the “unknown reality” –, is the full awareness of this fourfold pattern as pattern. This is Blake’s “fourfold vision”, or Berry’s “fourfold wisdom”, or Rosenstock-Huessy’s “quadrilateral logic” or Gebser’s taxonomy of civilisations as “four structures of consciousness” — archaic, magical, mythical, mental-rational and the prospective “fifth”, the integral.
This would appear to be the essence of the “metanoia” — the full realisation of Blake’s “fourfold vision” manifested in Albion which will come about as a consequence of the shift to the mode of attention of the right-hemisphere of the brain, in McGilchrist’s terms. That, however, would also be dramatic and also traumatic, and this turbulence was also described by Blake in his mythology of the four Zoas.
As a note of interest, Berry insists that what McGilchrist describes as the usurpation of the “master’s” role by the “emissary” (by the left-hemisphere or ego-consciousness) was the shock of the plague or Black Death in Europe in the 14th century. What followed as a new attitude to “Nature”, now seen as a malevolent power, leading to the perceived need to “become masters and possessors of Nature”. This is a novel interpretation, since it is more commonly assumed that it was the shock of the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 that led to the perception of Nature as a threat to humans. Berry dates the new attitude to nature much earlier — from being a benevolent power to being a malevolent power. Perhaps the “death of God” and loss of faith actually had its beginnings in the 14th century and with the Plague.