The Ideals of the Enlightenment
In many jurisdications of the Late Modern West, the ideals of the Enlightenment are being challenged, and most especially in terms of the principle of “universality”. And as I mentioned earlier, in America the present presidential campaign — perhaps more than in previous electoral campaigns — begins to look like a popular referendum on the Enlightenment and the value of its ideals and principles. In effect, the very ideals and principles upon which the United States, as a constitutional state, were founded, not so much as established facts, but as ideals to be realised historically.
So, before I plunge into the meaning of what Algis Mickunas calls the present attitude of “technocratic shamanism” and its connection with what Jean Gebser foresaw as an impending ‘global catastrophe’ that would make the madness of the last century look like “child’s play”, in his words, we need to clarify something about Gebser’s own understanding of Enlightenment and the mental-rational (or logico-mathematical) consciousness structure.
Gebser, it should be pointed out, remains committed to many of the ideals and principles of the Enlightenment, particularly the principle of “universality”. His critique of Enlightenment (much akin to the critique of the Frankfurt School and Critical Theory) is that it could not achieve its ideals based upon its selected methods, where “method” (or technique) and “mode of consciousness” become pretty much interchangeable — that is to say, the “perspectivising consciousness” or mode of perception. As far as Gebser is concerned, perspectivism precludes the very possibility of a “universal way of looking at things” which was the idea of Enlightenment itself, because perspectivism leads to the narrowing of awareness into a “point of view” (or tunnel vision) that contradicts “overview” or comprehensive awareness and self-knowledge. I have discussed, in broader terms, the problem of this myopia or “point-of-view”, perspectivising mode of perception in earlier posts (particularly in “William Blake: The Cistern and the Fountain” and in “The Shape of Consciousness: A Review“).
Mickunas prefers to speak of the “two Enlightenments”, really: the scientific-technical and the political, and the persistence of a tension between them, which we might summarise as the conflict of “efficiency” and “ethics”, although the “two Enlightenments” nonetheless share some common assumptions about consciousness, “human nature” and “reality” — assumptions that Gebser (and not only Gebser) feels are too limited and limiting, and which are so because of the narrowing possibilities of perspectivising consciousness itself. This “narrowing” of awareness into the “point-of-view” — the “angular” approach — is, for Gebser, the chief cause of Late Modern Man’s anxieties — the words “angle”, anguish, and Angst being very closely connected in meaning, or what Nietzsche decried as “nook-and-corner perspective”.
It should be apparent, then, that such a “nook-and-corner perspectivist” approach to consciousness and reality leads to fragmentation and disintegration, and therefore cannot achieve its goal — an authentic “universal way of looking at things”. Integral consciousness is Gebser’s answer and response to this deficit of the mental-rational, perspectivist mode of perception and consciousness. That is to say, the ideals of the mental consciousness are valid ones, but that the “rational” mode is the “deficient” or self-contradiction of the mental. What is “reason” and what is fully “reasonable” has decayed into the mere rational and in terms of a narrow “technique” of instrumentalising rationality. Athena’s alter ego or polar character — as the Gorgon — begins to assert itself, particularly noted by Robert Louis Stevenson in his novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — a theme of the divided nature of the human that becomes very prominent beginning in the late nineteenth century — with Oscar Wilde, Nietzsche and then formalised in Freud’s “discovery of the unconscious” — symptoms of the mental consciousness structure beginning to negate itself and its ideals and reverting to barbarism — as manifestly made real in the whole period from 1914 to 1945 and subsequently so — Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism” working itself out, while more contemporary authors wonder if we aren’t entering a new “Dark Age”.
It’s into this dissolution that “technocratic shamanism” fits, as a kind of magical attempt to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, and is, I conclude, the meaning of “marketing 3.0” or “holistic branding”, as it is presently described. Goethe’s parable of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice merits close attention in this respect, as does the figure of the sorcerer Klingsor in the Parsifal legend. As you know, Gebser saw the history of civilisations as mutations in the structure of consciousness — from archaic wholeness, to magical unity, to mythical polarity, to mental-rational duality. The integral consciousness is the integration of these various structures of the fourfold human (or Blake’s “fourfold vision”) and in this pattern from wholeness to unity, to polarity, to duality — you see the increasing “individuation” or centrality of the ego-consciousness in the psychic household of the human form. However, magical “unity” is not integrity or integrality or even authentic universality, although people easily enough confuse uniformity with universality and unity. And this appears to be the outcome that Gebser anticipates as the endgame of the mental-rational and its reversion to magical thinking.
That’s what we have to examine now in terms of the meaning of “technocratic shamanism”.