Losing Our Minds

There’s an article in today’s Guardian, written by an American citizen, which asks the all-important question of whether Americans are losing their minds.

But I can assure you that it’s not just Americans that are “losing their minds”. Go anywhere in the world right now and you’ll see and hear everybody losing their minds — Russia, the Middle East, Africa, China, Europe, Australia, North and South America. (Well, maybe Canada is a little bit calmer after the Harper years, but not by much). Everybody has lost the plot. Everybody is wandering in the labyrinth of the Minotaur.

All Jean Gebser’s diagnosis of the breakdown of the mental-rational consciousness structure amounts to is, in fact, just an extended and detailed treatise on the meaning of “losing our minds”, and why it might not be such a bad thing in the long term (assuming we have a long term).

Of course, a lot of people don’t agree that they’ve lost their minds. Their quite convinced that they are sane and that their mind is fully made up. They’re functional. They get up with the alarm clock, dress, eat breakfast, go to work, work, have lunch, work some more, grouse about it, commute home, eat supper, watch the telly, maybe yell and shout at the telly, maybe drink some beers, maybe pop some pills, punch the cat, kick the dog, go to the bathroom, crawl into bed, and repeat the same thing the next day. All quite normal. Nothing requiring much thought or reflection; running on auto-pilot. Life as Blake’s “dark Satanic Mill”. This running on auto-pilot convinces them they have not lost their minds. This they call “the common sense”.

There’s a lot of chatter in the media these days too about “mindfulness” — the practice of mindfulness. It wouldn’t be such a topic of interest if it weren’t for the fact that everyone has lost their minds. “Mindfulness” is promoted as the antidote to losing our minds. It’s a good antidote, too, but only for those who have become aware that they’ve lost their minds to begin with. The first prerequisite for becoming mindful is, of course, the humbling acknowledgement and recognition that you’ve lost your mind. And so far, not enough people have realised yet that they’ve lost their minds. They avoid the issue completely by calling it “the new normal”. They’re even proud of being mindless. Some even seem to think that the commandments of this inner zombie are the voice of God, or if not the voice of God, simply the natural biological programming of “the selfish gene”.

Mindfulness is actually the practice of losing one’s mind gracefully and graciously — “controlled folly”, in Castaneda’s terms. Those who realise that they are losing their minds are in a much better position, existentially, than those who don’t know that they’ve lost their minds.

The simplest way to understand Gebser’s breakdown of “perspectivising consciousness” and the “deficient mode” of the mental-rational consciousness structure is “losing our minds”, and that the most dangerous people are just those who don’t realise it yet.



14 responses to “Losing Our Minds”

  1. davidm58 says :

    So, even in losing our minds, there is Gebser’s double movement.

    I didn’t watch last night’s Republican debate, but the reports indicate that lost minds were on full display. NPR asks the question, “Is the Republican Party on the Verge of a Historic Crackup?”

    • Scott Preston says :

      It’s possible that the US is simply reorganising politically into a four party system like much of the rest of the world — diversification does not have to be disintegration (although it certainly looks like the end of that “more perfect union”). The GOP and the Democratic Party may both fold and re-emerge as liberal, conservative, socialist and green parties. Then the task is to ensure that they don’t completely fly apart from each other, but complete a quadrilateral. On the other hand, it could foreshadow the emergence of separatist movements if they don’t have much tolerance for each other. There’s lots of that happening around the world presently, too.

      As it is, the political institutions of most nations (not just the Western nations) have been designed for a monopoly or a duopoly, certainly not a “quadropoly” if we might call it that. There’s a fundamental frustrating dissonance between the institutions and the collective aspirations which is discrediting those institutions. It seems pretty clear that neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party can endure much longer their internal contradictions.

      So, there you see this “double-movement” as well — one tendency towards consolidation (preservation of monopoly or duopoly power) and another towards greater political diversification. The problem being that a simple “dualistic” type logic cannot appreciate such diversification as being anything other than a disintegration rather than a re-integration and reorganisation according to an implicit logical pattern — the fourfold human and the fourfold reality.

    • Scott Preston says :

      There’s a famous story about a disciple of Bodhidharma’s who comes to him and says he can’t find peace of mind. Bodhidharma tells him to go find his mind and bring it forward to be pacified. The disciple comes back and said he’s looked for his mind but can’t find it. He’s lost his mind. Bodhidharma says, “There. I’ve pacified it for you.”

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    “The first prerequisite for becoming mindful is, of course, the humbling acknowledgement and recognition that you’ve lost your mind.”

    It seems to me that “becoming mindful” is associated with some level of “Angst”, which you recently wrote about.

    I’m inclined to think and plan long term (even decades ahead, as ridiculous as that might seem), but the present, of course, has its own weight and pressures which tend to catch up with anyone’s daily routine.

    In moments like this, it works for me if I take my mind off of the future and instead focus on the present. Sometimes, listening to a piece of music I like, watching a movie I like, or even visiting a favorite restaurant can do wonders in calming my hyperactive mind.

    Before reading Seth, I didn’t know the meaning of this “living in the moment.” It was always about the future – which is crazy!

  3. dadaharm says :


    It does seem that we are loosing our minds. This usually happens to civilisations in their final stages. Eternal return of the same.

    If Gebser is correct, sooner or later something different must happen. I guess we just have to wait and see.

    In the meantime:

    Don’t worry, he is a vegetarian

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    I just came back from the grocery store. While waiting in the cashier’s line, I saw a magazine called: “Mindful”. 🙂

    I didn’t know there was such a magazine. Then, one of the headlines on the cover of the magazine read:

    “Make Peace with Your Anxious Mind” 🙂

    What a coincidence, eh!

    • LittleBigMan says :

      Oooh, I forgot…..the senior age lady who was in front of me purchased a copy of the “Mindful” magazine.

      That was nice to see, given that all the other racks contained nothing but narcissistic tabloid magazines. In particular, the rack right next to the rack that was stacked with copies of the “Mindful” magazine, was brimming with a glossy covered magazine called “San Francisco”, flashing a beautiful model on the cover. Yet, so far:

      Mindful magazine: 1
      San Francisco magazine: 0

      Oh dear, looks like we are entering a new age. I’ll be back at the store in a few days, I’ll check back with the racks again to see which magazine has sold most.

    • LittleBigMan says :

      Sorry, rather it was…….”Make Peace With Your Anxious Brain”.


      • Scott Preston says :

        I suppose there is some utility in these practices recommended by “Mindful” magazine, but it has the potential to become an evasion of the prime issues. “Mindfulness” is simply calm, disinterested, detached observation of the self/mind. The anxiety may not be simply imagination, but an actually reorganisation of the psyche — as Gebser noted, anxiety is ambiguous, being associated both with death and birth.

        I suppose “mindfulness” can be promoted as just another sedative or method of “coping” or “adjustment” rather than transformational. That would be a pity. For that reason, I’m a little skeptical of supermarket magazines that promote “mindfulness” as sedation.

        • LittleBigMan says :

          “……..as Gebser noted, anxiety is ambiguous,…..”

          I agree completely. The source of anxiety is quite ambiguous. It may come on suddenly, and for no reason, and one would not know how long it may last.

          I think, like everything else, knowledge is the antidote. One of don Juan Matus’ quotes to Castaneda that you had posted in several of your essays…..and I can’t remember it exactly, so I’ll have to paraphrase it:

          “A man of knowledge goes through life like he goes to war: prepared…….”

  5. alex jay says :

    I think in order to shed some light into the “losing our mind” topic, especially as regards this current election parody being played out, Andrew Levine has (IMO) been consistently prescient. I link to his latest analysis, which I think does provide a light through the fog:


    The mystery to me is not so much the rise of Trump and Sanders (from opposite perspectives) rather, how could it be that someone who – in an uncorrupted system – should be in prison (or psychiatric hospital) and not the next president of the (dis)united states of amnesia?

    • Scott Preston says :

      Everybody is trying to find some “method in the madness”, some more or less explicit logic in the apparent muddle of ideas and the chaos of the affects (which are twins). Apart from Levine’s recognition of the muddle and the chaos — even the apparent disregard of the self-interest principle — I didn’t learn much from his article. I see he anticipates the likely splintering of the parties, but apart from that, what’s new, doc?

      Loyalty is a very conservative value, and healthy up to a point at which it becomes quite unhealthy — reactionary loyalty and the tyranny of tradition. Behind a lot of climate change denialism is loyalty to a tradition that can no longer justify itself intellectually or morally. It stutters and stammers in trying to justifiy itself and eventually just gives up all pretense of justification and so becomes completely irrational.

      Loyalty trumps reason and reason becomes mindlessness, insincerity, and hypocrisy. Duplicity, in all its forms, is largely the issue of trying to remain loyal to a tradition that is no longer viable, or even worthy of loyality for having become deficient — or “devaluation of values” phase (“release” phase of Holling’s adaptive cycle). The tradition is no longer life-preserving (and corresponds to the “conservation” phase of Holling’s adaptive cycle). “Loyalty” is the human value for expressing that conservation phase. This corresponds to what Rosenstock-Huessy calls the “trajective” orientation as opposed to the “prejective” (the “reorganisation” phase of the adaptive cycle).

      The inchoate character of contemporary politics is precisely owing to the situation in Gramsci’s remark that the old will not die, and the new cannot be born. This predicament will end in violence in which the past attacks the future, the future attacks the past. Whatever opportunity we had to avoid this scenario we missed, barring some miracle. It has become, instead, a fate, largely owing to a misguided sense of loyalty to an outlook, a worldview, a perspective, a social philosophy that is no longer viable or sustainable.

      So, in effect, the old — the tradition — has become inarticulate and incoherent, ie, decadent. The new, on the other hand, struggles to become articulate and coherent. This is the essence of the “double-movement”, one towards disintegration (incoherence of the tradition as “losing our minds”) and another towards integration (the new’s struggle for articulation or “metanoia”).

  6. alex jay says :

    “… I didn’t learn much from his article. I see he anticipates the likely splintering of the parties, but apart from that, what’s new, doc?”

    Oh really? That surprises me, squire?

    In fact, the main reason I thought you might find the article of interest was his confirmation of the “likely splintering of the parties”, which you stated in a comment further up this post:

    “The GOP and the Democratic Party may both fold and re-emerge as liberal, conservative, socialist and green parties.”

    So, ironically, that’s the one prediction that isn’t “new” to you. As far as the rest?

    If you learned nothing “new”, you must be following the campaign relying on more credible sources than your toilet-paper of choice, the Guardian … or any other mainstream media that wants to preserve the rotten status quo.

    Or just to be contrary … : )

    • Scott Preston says :

      Well, you’ve already had a four-party system living in a two-party body for some time, now…. at least since the split on the right between neo-conservatives and paleo-conservatives (and of course “Tea Party”) and on the left between neo-liberals and left-liberals or social democrats. The spintering isn’t really the surprise. What would be the real surprise is if they didn’t splinter finally into a four-party system. The splintering seems to be a foregone conclusion.

      The real story, then, becomes how the political culture can accommodate a four-party system when it is designed for a monopoly/duopoly type structure? This is the issue Mr. Levine should have addressed because it’s just otherwise straight-forward analysis.

      I suppose the prerequisite for the Democratic Party splintering is the GOP splintering. Then the question becomes how do you hold the thing together despite this diversification of political factions? For Cruz it’s just a matter of holding “the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other” (and under other circumstances it might just as well be “the Koran in one hand and the Caliphate in the other”). How about the Arts & Sciences, too? You need an extra set of hands for those…. or a four-party system. Of course, then you have to start contemplating the move to proportional representation.

      And this is where Rosenstock-‘s “cross of reality” becomes relevant to the issues of holding a society together that is splintering into factions, but rather than seeing them as schisms, they can be appreciated as complementary poles of a quadrilateral structure. If you don’t have the proper perspective, here, you will see it as either a disintegration or as a diversification still within an logical pattern.

      So, it’s fine for Mr. Levine to note this splintering. But the question that should have followed this observation is, how to keep it together despite the splintering?

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