The Formula and the Fetish
E=mc². In hoc signo vinces. There is a sense in which Einstein’s famous formula has become the sign and motto of the Age Electric, or Age of Energy, somewhat displacing Francis Bacon’s scientia potens est (knowledge is power) which as served as the motto, and commandment, of the Age Mechanic — the Age Industrial.
The formula is tinged with magic and myth as well as mathematics. Few people, I think, really understand what it means, but pay it extraordinary veneration, deference and awe knowing that it has something to do with the atomic bomb, and so it becomes a kind of fetish — a power object. The formula in general has magical properties, inasmuch as magic also relies upon the precise and exact repetition of the formula to effect desired outcomes. Any deviation from method, procedure, or exact replication of the spell can result in undesirable and disastrous outcomes. In that sense “operative magic” and “instrumental rationality” do share very similar approaches, just as much as propaganda is a form of spell-casting. Technology, it might be said, is magic by other means. Especially in propaganda or “perception management” we find all the hallmarks of the “deficient mode” of the magical consciousness structure — expressed by Hitler as “the triumph of the will”.
Willing and magic are pretty much synonymous, in as much as “make” (in the sense of “make happen”) is related to magic (as is also German “Macht” or power, and “machine”, “majesty”, “magnificence”, “mana”, and so on. And so is “mania”). “Making happen” is the aim of magic. Will, without the proper moderating and balancing influences of the other faculties of consciousness of the fourfold self, becomes demonic. In fact, the loss of equilibrium / equanimity by the hper-exaggeration of any one of the faculties — willing, sensing, feeling, or thinking — becomes demonic. And what motivates techniques like behaviour modification or “operant conditioning” is not reason, it is magic. For, akin to magic, the aim of technique is command and control. Technique translates wish into demand and command, but also gravitates towards the morbid or thanatic, in the form of conjuration and necromancy.
In that respect, it might be safe to say that, for Jean Gebser, the problem with “rationality” as the deficient form of the mental mode of consciousness (ie, Reason) is that there is more unconscious magical influence in rationality than actual reason.
In another aspect, E=mc² arouses a more contemplative mood of the soul — the mythical, the mysterious transposability or convertability of energy and matter and the mystery of the wave-particle duality (or really polarity). The mythical is always characterised by polarity or the mystery of coincidentia oppositorum — the conjunction of ostensible opposites, and in that sense the mythically-attuned consciousness also gravitates towards eros or the erotic as the coniunctio oppositorum — the conjoining of the poles. iN that sense, E=mc² is less formula than symbolic form, which expresses a great mystery.
So, there lies the historical conflict between the magical and the mythical, and that conflict transpires also in the human soul. The magical is the willful, and the willful is concerned with power, and not with thinking but with action. The mythical is the contrary. It is not concerned with power or “making happen” but with meaning. The magical consciousness is not concerned with meaning, only with manipulation. The mythical is more attuned to the meaningful, and is suspicious of manipulation. And in the statement “Not my will but Thine be done, O Lord” is an implied proscription against the magical consciousness structure and its emphasis on will.
Then comes the mental aspect to complement the magical and mythical. The mental (which is the reasonable as contrasted with the rationalistic) is the conceptual, the representational or factual. As the magical is predominantly willful and attuned to technique and power, and the mythical predominantly affectual and attuned to the symbolic and the meaningful, the mental is predominantly intellectual and attuned to the conceptual or philosophical and analytical.
It occurs to me that the simplest way of describing the distinctions between the magical, the mythical and the mental is:
a) the magical is predominantly concerned with the how.
b) the mythical is predominantly concerned with the why.
c) the mental is predominantly concerned with the what.
And casting about in my mind for a term that could similarly summarise Gebser’s “new consciousness structure”, the integral, it occurred to me that
d) the integral is predominantly concerned with the when.
That seems to reflect what I call “Gebser’s Rule” for the achronic, arational, aperspectival consciousness: the knowledge of when to “make happen” and the knowledge of when to “let happen”.
“When” moderates all the other ones — the how, the why, the what. When also has the merit of highlighting the outstanding role of time, timing, and tempo in Gebser’s cultural philosophy. And when framed in this way, we see that the unfolding of the human form has followed a very steady pattern in responding to the questions and challenges put to it by existence. “When” is also the central question of Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy and “grammar of society” — of the twin processes of permanence and change, or the evolutionary and revolutionary aspects of time. And in that respect, you see also precisely reflected Gebser’s Rule — of knowing when to “let happen” and when to “make happen”.
Responding to “when” is largely a matter of the intuitive, and emphasises the adequate and the appropriate and avoiding the pitfalls of the inadequate and inappropriate (issues of the twin problems of “too soon” and “too late”).
And we really are, today, flirting with the “too late”.