Going Astray

Abdulmonem posted a comment recently about the religions having “gone astray”, which is quite true and worth pondering for a moment. For that matter, we can also say that the sciences and the mental-rational consciousness more generally have likewise “gone astray” (which is also true) and that “going astray” is pretty much what Gebser also means by a consciousness structure functioning in “deficient mode”. “Going astray” is just another way of saying “deficient”. “Going astray” is the parable of the Prodigal Son and of “the lost sheep”, of wandering in the desert, and other such metaphors. As Owen Barfield once pointed out, the word “sin” was earlier an archery term which described an arrow that went astray, that deviated from its path and missed the mark. So, there’s quite a bit implied in the meaning of “going astray” which needs to be unpacked, especially because most critiques of modernity are rooted in the sense that things have gone terribly awry, have “gone astray”. It’s really an old question about the nature of “sin” and of the so-called “original sin”, although it’s quite unfashionable today to speak in such terms even though, originally, “sin” wasn’t even essentially a religious or theological issue at all.

The fate of the word “sin” is an interesting case of Nietzsche’s “devaluation of values” and of how significant words become emptied of meaning over time and through abuse. Words like “sin”, “transgression” or “hubris” have simply lost their meaning as all matters of “going astray,” or deviating from a path or trajectory, or overstepping a boundary or limit, or of getting off track, or, for that matter, stuck in a rut. So forget about “going to Hell for your sins”, because it ain’t so. Getting stuck in a rut or going astray is already Hell enough. The “torments’ and “fires of Hell” are just a metaphor for samsaric existence and for wandering in the wastelands of unsatiated desire.

Take the archetype of the path. A pathway is a very significant mythologeme, and every religion has the path. In Islam it’s called “the Shariah”; in Christianity “the Way of the Cross”; in Buddhism the path is called “The Middle Way” or “Entering the Stream”; in North American aboriginal lore the path is called “The Good Red Road”; “Jacob’s Ladder” in the Old Testament is a path; for the ancient Greeks it was “the Golden Mean”; and Castaneda’s don Juan has his “path with heart”. In Jung’s archetypal psychology, the theme of “path” takes many different forms too — stairways going up or down, trails to the sea or up the mountain, and so on.

I particularly like the meaning of “Shariah” — the path that leads through the desert to the oasis. Go astray — deviate to far either way from the path — and you risk dying in the desert. An “enlightened ego consciousness” is, therefore, one which knows the “path” and therefore also knows what it means to go astray and to fall away from the path. An enlightened ego consciousness knows that, regardless of what path opens up before you and invites you to take it — the Sufi Way, the Way of the Cross, The Middle Way or “Entering the Stream”, the Good Red Road, the Golden Mean — it’s always the same “path with heart” everywhere and always. Many Ways, One Path. And in that sense, regardless of which path you take, you are walking all of them. And that is pretty much the whole meaning of “integral consciousness”.

The mythologeme of the “path” or journey (and going astray therefrom) implies a sense of origin and a sense of destination or destiny, or root and flower. The old saying that “if you don’t know where you come from you won’t know where you are going” certainly has some merit, and without that sense you certainly can’t determine at all whether you’ve gone astray or are, as the old talk goes, “living in sin” — that is, in the wastelands on either side of the path with heart. When Nietzsche declared his own “formula for happiness” as “a straight line and a goal” he was simply, in that ironic way that Nietzsche always wrote, pursuing the same “path with heart”.

Most critiques of modernity assume much the same thing implicitly — there is a proper path, a spiritual path with an origin and a destination, but that human beings as a whole have deviated and fallen away from the path or trajectory, ie, an “original sin”. This sense of a divine origin and a divine destiny is still pretty strong in Nietzsche’s philosophy where the path through time is seen as the very same “religious” project of “godman-making”. It is very strong also in William Blake, Rosenstock-Huessy, and Jean Gebser. Nietzsche realised, as much as Blake knew, that as long as a “God” was “out there”, mankind could never fulfill its destiny of achieving god consciousness, which is just another way of saying “integral consciousness” — the union of the divine and the human. Nietzsche’s ostensible “atheism” just as much as the Buddha’s ostensible “atheism” is not what it seems. Both understood that as long as what we call “God” was “out there” someplace and that consciousness continued to “flow out into a god”, the union of the human and the divine (Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell”) was impossible. That “God” as “Wholly Other” had to die in order that the divine light and fire within could live. Christianity had forgotten that “the kingdom of heaven is within you” and that “the body was the temple of the living God”.

And so, Origin or “root” had nothing to do with beginning in time. “As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever more. Amen” as the Christian formula goes, is just another way of saying “ever-present origin”. “We’ve never left the Garden”, as a song by The Oyster Band once put it, except psychologically. When Luther staged his revolution against the Church, he was accusing it of having sinned in the sense of going astray from primitive Christianity and looked to the Urtexts to refound a more pristine Christianity (and even learned, apparently, ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to do so). Today, ISIS looks to the original Muslim community at the Oasis of Medina for its models. This “back to basics”, though, has really nothing to do with roots in time. It is, in itself, sin because origin has nothing much to do with beginnings in time. As Rumi knew himself, the path is not in time: it’s always opening and beckoning, here and now, right in front of us.

To be sure, Blake, Nietzsche, Gebser, and Rosenstock-Huessy, still have notions of “sin”, but they all raged against the theological and religious dogmas about the meaning of “sin”, and all are of the conviction that human consciousness has gone astray — the “Prodigal Son” — for having dislocated the vital centre, life, God, Origin outside oneself and in time or space, in the merely transient phenomenal — in the “Ulro” or samsara. But, essentially, “the truth that sets free” of Jesus and don Juan’s “path with heart” are one and the same issue, and are the same path whether called the Shariah, the Middle Way, the Way of the Cross, the Golden Mean, or the Good Red Road or, for that matter, Nietzsche’s “bridge” to the transhuman. That “bridge” is not a bridge in time, something that connects the “now” with “then”. It’s the bridge between the “self that says “I”” and the “self which does not say “I”, but does “I”.

(That “bridge” exists, by the way. But it’s not in time. In one of his states of non-ordinary consciousness, don Juan showed Castaneda that bridge. It’s the archetypal bridge. But at that time, Castaneda was too weak to cross it. In psychological terms, that bridge is as real as any “existing” bridge).

You are familiar with Heraclitus’ maxim that “character is fate”. Henry David Thoreau put it equivalently: “Thought is the sculptor who can create the person you want to be.”   Both amount to Seth’s statement that “you create the reality you know”. This is the authentic magical and creative factor in consciousness — intentionality. But just because “character is fate” and “thought is the sculptor” (Blake’s “Imagination”) that means there is great incentive for dominant elites to control and shape “character” and imagination, which is what all “perception management” aims for. All sophisticated propaganda, branding and so on aim to construct and control what is called “character” and imagination, and to a certain extent, has become exceedingly good at it. And until we do realise in what way “character is fate” or that our thought really isn’t our own (but is “branded”) and that we do, in fact, intend our world and our mode of being in the very mode of attention we bring to it, we are always going to fall victim to the spell-casters and the “brand engineers” and “brand architects” (both phrases are used in the lingo).

We really do live in “The Matrix”. It’s what William Blake referred to as “the mind-forg’d manacles”. Some people know it but seem to think it’s a good thing, since brand names are the guiding stars of our consumer society by which we navigate. Others know it and seem to thing that it is a bad thing. Some aboriginal groups refer to it as “the White Man’s Dreaming”, but it really doesn’t matter whether you’re white or some other skin-tone (I’ve never yet met anyone who is “white”, “black”, “red” or “yellow”. Those, too, are just “brands”). But “the Matrix” and this “Dreaming” are one and the same, aren’t they?  We are, of course, encouraged to “live the dream!”. But really the question is, whose dream is it? And are we even aware that we are dreaming?

Well, the only question is whether we want to know “the truth that sets free” or are going to be merely content with the “facts of the matter” and the comforts of the “mind-forg’d manacles”. I happen to think that the “free spirit” is worth the struggle, even though this “free spirit” has also now been “branded” — off-road vehicles, sold as a certain packaged “lifestyle” and so on. The very fact that brands can sell themselves as being “free spirited” and for the free-spirited is probably testimony to the fact that there is something in us that yearns for this liberation or freedom, and is, nonetheless, being co-opted and deliberately frustrated. They “ask for bread and are given a stone”, as the saying goes. That’s what it means. We are asked to be contented with the illusions because “the perception is the reality” (ironically true, but not in the sense it is being used).

The truth is, that this “something in us” that wants emancipation and which, like the puppet Pinnochio, wants to “become a real boy” or girl will not be satisfied the “genuine imitation” or with stones for bread and illusions for reality, and accept the “facts of the matter” as a valid substitute for the “truth that sets free”. Time and again, in human history, it has proven itself. That “something in us” knows its origin and its destination, and it won’t be satisfied with illusions, substitutes, surrogates, and resemblances forever. As Blake put it “More! More! is the cry of the mistaken Soul; less than All cannot satisfy Man”. For a while, the ego-nature might be fooled into thinking that this fulfillment or perfection can be satisfied by consumption or overconsumption, but eventually it too will tire of the fantasy and the charade because the promised benefit is inauthentic and insincere, and is never realised in the act of consumption. What the soul wants is wholeness and integrity. But what the market wants is “segmentation”, and to claim a “piece of the mind” as its own territory and property. That’s exactly how they speak of it — taking “ownership” of that territory in the consumer’s mind.

It really is quite unbelievable how much control “brand engineers” (or “architects” or “managers”) have over the public discourse and the images. As Iain McGilchrist expressed it in The Master and His Emissary, the “left-brain” is busy shutting down all the possible exits from the Matrix, and that becomes pretty evident when you begin studying branding. Everything becomes “a brand”, even as the “Me Brand”. Everything must submit to being branded and to be justified within a narrow calculus of cost-benefit analysis. Everything must be “marketised”. And the irony is often that, even some critics of “brand culture” like James B. Twitchell in Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc, and Museumworld end up analysing brand culture in terms of branding and the market logic of supply and demand itself, exemplifying the boast of brandmeisters that they have even co-opted the process of thinking itself for “brand culture”.

The only way to understand what’s really going on here is through the prism of Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy and his take on the various “structures of consciousness”, especially in their “deficient mode”. Gebser already saw that the breakdown of the mental-rational would see it revert to the “deficient magical” — in terms of “magical thinking”. And although Gebser recognised “magic” as a valid mode of consciousness, “magical thinking” isn’t, because magic is not “thinking” but intentionality, which may not even be conscious (and usually isn’t, and which is pretty much synonymous with what Nietzsche called “will to power”, which means Nietzsche saw “magic” as the fundamental doing of the cosmos).

Still not convinced that “brand engineering” is voodoo and spell-casting and will to power (and ubquitous at that)? Stick around, then, because I will eventually bring in the witness of former admen who bolted the profession and then wrote their exposes about how branding has replaced reality with an illusion of reality, and the “truth that sets free” with an illusion called truthiness.

 

 

 

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3 responses to “Going Astray”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    Thank you for an inspiring walk in the landscape of how the human has lost his way through his encroachment on the purity of the words and denying the source of the words and their guidance. In this context I like to translate some of the Quran verses that are envisioned to help the human in his difficult journey on this earth, They go like this, Oh! come let me recite unto you what god has prohibited you from doing, do not associate anything with him, to your parent be nice and loving, do not kill your children in fear of poverty, remember we sustain you and them, do not come near bad deeds apparent of not apparent and refrain from killing any self wrongfully, these are our recommendations in order to understand and be reasonable, do not violate the right of the orphan with wrong conduct until they reach their maturity and hand to them their full right, be fulfilling in your dealings with others in just and truthful manner.within your human capacity to do knowingly, speak justly even in matters of your relatives and execute the divine bond responsibly and fully and remember you are not living in a ruleless world. Follow my straight path, lest you get lost in the paths that lead you away from my path. These are my recommendations and up to you to be in a state of gratitude or state of denial and remember that these recommendations rich me but definitely rich your life.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    please put not after me in the last line, thank you.

  3. InfiniteWarrior says :

    Love it. The ever-present “now” is the time to regain the “straight” path and… thanks, for stressing that so eloquently.

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