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”.




8 responses to “The Ideals of the Enlightenment”

  1. davidm58 says :

    I’m interested to hear more of what Algis Mickunas has to say about “technocratic shamanism.” The translation he and Barstad made of Gebser is quite excellent, and which must have been a monumental task. In the process, they must have absorbed Gebser’s thought very deeply.

    I recently discovered a 1990 book by Daniel A. Kealey, “Revisioning Environmental Ethics” which is also based on Gebser’s “psychohistorical” framework, following Georg Feuerston’s interpretation of Gebser. Kealey maintains that “it is consciousness that constructs paradigmatic contexts that form the guiding principles of concrete actions.” Therefore he concludes that “since the environmental crisis is largely endgendered by the mental structure itself, means developed within that structure to negate the damaging effects of its impact on the environment are constitutionally incapable of success.”

    Possibly in harmony with Mickunas (definitely in harmony with a Gebser quote I posted previously), I found the following quote by Kealey to be very interesting in regards to the double movement of the magic structure, and the deficient magical operative today:

    “Magic becomes increasingly a counterspell to the spell of nature, such that the experience of unity is increasingly shifted over to the tribal ego. In the magic structure we see, therefore, the urge to freedom and, as a result, the need to be against something (the whole or nature, or whatever represents it particularly in its negative, consciousness-swallowing aspect). This ‘being against’ creates the separation which constitutes the possibility of consciousness. In other words, the magical structure adumbrates modern man’s alienation from nature and the technological arsenal (machine magic) employed by the modern will to secure our sense of independence, freedom, and intensity of consciousness.”

  2. Scott Preston says :

    I’ll have to get Mr Kealey’s book. That’s the first I’ve heard of it. Your quote from his book I mistook to be a quote from Gebser — in fact, it could be.
    Magic has to do with will, not with intellect or reason. It needs no reason or rationale and seeks none. It has no “logic” in that sense. This is why so many historians have trouble understanding Nazism or fascism — the keep looking for an “ideology” or a rationale for it but never find one. That’s because it was all about “triumph of the will” — vitalism. It was all about myth and magic. Reason was made subordinate to magic and myth.

    That’s essentially what Mickunas also means by “technocratic shamanism”. Fascism is the expression of technocratic shamanism. You could say that in technocratic shamanism, ethics are made subordinate to efficiency, or you could say that efficiency is made itself the ethic. But as far as Mickunas is concerned, anywhere there is an emphasis on “method” or “procedure” we are in the realm of magic. This was so for the Greeks, too, for the word “techne” which generally meant “way” or “art”, was also used for magic even though they had “magikos” as a word. “Techne” and “magikos” were related in that way.

    I’ll speak more about “technocratic shamanism” in later posts, to be sure, in relation to advertising “technique” or formula. I’ve read a number of books recently which question whether advertising (and by extension ‘propaganda’) works at all. But, that’s a question about the efficacy of magic, really. They don’t see that because they don’t believe magic is efficacious. And they’re wrong about that.

    • davidm58 says :

      Fascinating. The Technocracy movement ( ) was an effort to bring a very “rational” approach to governance. What they didn’t realize was that to rely exclusively on rationality, opens up pathways for deficient magical to express itself, preparing the way for fascism, etc.

      Another topic your reply relates to for me is in relation to the permaculture movement. David Holmgren, co-originator of the Permaculture concept, has long emphasized the need to build one’s approach first from ethics and principles, and basically from a patterns to details perspective. However, many in the movement get caught up with specific strategies and techniques as their definition of permaculture – an emphasis on method and procedure as you say.

      So there is currently a debate around all of that. Holmgren understands the nature of polarity and continuums (he makes a statement about right and left brain thinking that is somewhat consistent with McGilchrist), but others are not as wise and seem to be initiating an enantiadromia in response to those who are too attached to specific techniques.

      • Scott Preston says :

        It’s really quite impossible, actually, to argue or reason with someone who is possessed by the magical mode of consciousness, or even the mythical, for the very reason that reason itself becomes the instrument of these modes and is, in a sense, co-opted by them — ie, by will and by emotion respectively.

        There is no doubt at all about the efficacy of the magical mode. For one thing, it’s already implied in the placebo and nocebo effects. Husserl’s and Merleau-Ponty’s investigations of intentionality is all about the magical mode of consciousness. Castaneda’s “mastery of intent” as the essence of sorcery is the same. Seth, for that matter, says a great deal about the magical mode of consciousness in one of his books (which I’ll have to look up again I think to compare with Mickunas’s “technocratic shamanism”). In fact, Seth’s oft-repeated insistence that “you create the reality you know” implies intentionality and the efficacy of the magical mode of consciousness, and is also implied in the “observer effects” of quantum mechanics, as OCR (Observer Created Reality) or CCR (Consciousness Created Reality).

        In a post some time ago, I wrote that the problem of techno-science was that it has command of powers but no mastery of those powers (the problem of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, in effect). I wrote about that in connection with the Fukushima nuclear accident. Having command gives the illusion of mastery, but they are quite different, and this is in effect the problem of the “deficient mode of the mental-rational” inasmuch as reason becomes the plaything of the magical structure as “instrumentalising rationality” or “operative rationality”. Particularly, in Mickunas’s estimation, its reflected in the power to turn something into something else on the assumption that all parts are interchangeable (pars pro toto).

        I’ll have more to say about that. Mickunas’ article on “Magic and Technological Culture” doesn’t, unfortunately, address the issue of intentionality, without which it becomes quite difficult to speak meaningfully about the magical, and he doesn’t speak to the issue of the positive form of the magical which makes it difficult to assess the deficient mode of the magical, too. For that, I need to review also what Seth says about the magical mode of consciousness.

        • davidm58 says :

          Would you say that books like “Manifest Your Destiny” by Wayne Dyer, and “The Gifts of Unknown Things” by Lyall Watson are valid forms of implementing intention and the magic structure for today?

          • Scott Preston says :

            Don’t know. don’t know these books. I think read something many years ago by Watson called “Supernature”, but I don’t remember a thing about it.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    This post and the comments or actually all that I have read about all this search for clarity and the proper understanding for the human predicament and the appropriate human path stir into my mind two basic issues that of the divine contract that is built on truth and justice and the consequence of the human detachment from it that will lead and has led across history to all this endless fragmentation and mental disintegration. The second issue is the law of return or non-return and all these voices that are crying for the return to the original contract in order to avoid the catastrophe or in case of non-return to be devoured by the abyss. The human is a creature of history that is why he is the son of time, the time which is the record of history. It is the story of non-observance irrespective of its type or field. As Scott always emphasizes that all secular isms are the offspring of the different scriptures. It is this bad replacement is what has bred all these rotten fruits which we are forced to digest. Religion is basically is one we make it many, god is one we make him many , humanity is one we make it many. All prophets have been sent to remind us of this oneness and to avoid perversion and misinterpretation, But it seems that the law of perversion is a must in order to put the law of return and non-return into operation and to see who will serve the original contract and that is the purpose of the law of polarity. We have to wake up to the original energy of our cosmos and its three subsidiary energetic extensions that are the activators of all the events of our cosmos old and new across the field of time and space. This is the only way to avoid getting lost in detail and that is exactly the path of the true integral that is crying for integrity. This is the only way we understand infinity and eternity combined away from contradiction and duality.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Sometime I wonder why god the supreme, the first and the last, the seen and the unseen, the one who knows everything, ask the human to bear witness for him, for his oneness, if it is not to save the human from getting lost and to make him avoid living in debasement and degradation. The story of our civilization that has denied him or misunderstood him or intentionally abused him and as a result has fallen in this swamp of debasement despite all the material abundance and the fancy appearance. After all what is god but the truth that encompasses all the polarity that keeps the whole creation going. The polarity that has to be seen in its unified mode and not in its disjointed appearance and be aware of the strike of the opposite. God is one in his unknowable essence but many in his knowable names (concepts) that help us to know him and to use his words in our communication, oblivious that we are using his concepts, using him and unaware of his closeness and his living company, I am the sight you see with,the hearing you hear with, the feeling you feel with etc etc and yet we find the unaware is in a state of denial despite that he is talking through him. How subtle closeness can often time be forgotten, that is why the prophets have been sent to remind the forgetful humanity of his presence and his instruction and to warn the deniers and the abusers of their unhappy ending. It is really strange that despite all these constant reminders we are still faced with an ever expanding arrogantly tyrannic trends that defy truth, justice and beauty oblivious of the tragic consequences. The consequences that their prescient signs are popping up all across the globe, heralding a gloomy future for the whole earth.

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