Ethics, Education, Experience, Expression

I’ve begun reading Daniel Kealey’s largely Gebser-influenced Revisioning Environmental Ethics (1990). I’ve not gone very far into it as yet, but I fully agree with him that most existing environmental ethics, or the environmentalist ethos, is pretty shallow and barely scratches the surface of the implicit problem of the ecological crisis. That’s where I want to pause in my reading of Kealey’s book to muse on the four related issues raised in the title of this post: ethics, education, experience, expression.

The alliteration of the “e-” (or “ex-“) prefix in all four terms was too much of a temptation to resist, but also pointedly made to emphasise this movement from inwards outwards. The dynamic over the timespan of the Modern Era has been pointedly in the other direction — from the outside inwards, the assumption being that we are born “tabula rasa” and it is exclusively the impressions that the external world, or  external circumstances, make  upon our plastic consciousness that conditions who and what we are. This is characteristic of the philosophy of John Locke, for example. This assumption, and the language of “im-pression”, persists especially still in advertising, where “impressions” are a calculable and measurable value that are then monetised for the purposes of cost-benefit analysis. It’s assumed, on the basis of a long-standing philosophical prejudice only, that depending upon whether an ad makes a “high-quality impression” or “low-quality impression” (often depending on the medium that carries it) then it has done something to human consciousness — it has shaped, or influenced that consciousness, and potentially also behaviour, in some desirable direction.

It was against this ideology of impressions that William Blake raged, and raged against Newton, Locke, and Bacon. If human beings were simply blank slates constituted as personalities only by the impressions made upon them by the environment — social, cultural, economic, natural — then it was only a question of developing a proper technique or technology of people-shaping by carefully (and scientifically) controlled impressions. Any notion of “soul” with its own inherent purposes, simply becomes irrelevant — a useless appendage — with the consequence that “soul” withered away like a dessicated flower.

Now, here we come to an important aspect of what Algis Mikunas calls “technocratic shamanism”. Having made the assumption (as Descartes also did) that the human form was basically a soulless mechanism with an empty and formless mind at birth, it became the foundation of the era’s pedagogy and an element of its new “common sense”. The result was that people came to expect to be made by their environment — social, cultural, economic, or natural. In effect, it became self-fulfilling prophecy, which is an essential aspect of technocratic “magic” especially when practiced as “management of meaning” and “perception management” — the careful crafting and engineering of “impressions” that lead to “branded behaviours”. In-fluence is “in-flowing”, and the movement here is from outside inwards.

By contrast, Jean Gebser’s emphasis is not on the “in-flowing” but the “un-folding”, which he sees as the implicit dynamic of the evolution of consciousness. The dynamic is from inside outwards, which is exactly what these four terms imply: e-thos, e-ducation, ex-perience, ex-pression. It’s implied in Heraclitus famous aphorism, ethos anthropos daimon, or “character is fate”. Again, the dynamic here is from inwards outwards, and your life unfolds according to an inner or implicit pattern that is your ethos. This isn’t morality, because morality, or moralism, comes from the outside inwards.

And so, this brings us to the meaning of education. The word e-ducare means “to draw out” or “lead forth”. It might be said that what education as “drawing forth” implied was a bringing into full consciousness your implicit ethos — to develop certain faculties, abilities, competencies, potentialities, patterns already implicit in the human form, but which needed guidance to become express reality. Here again, ex-pression implies movement from the inside outwards, even a pushing outwards. “Express reality” is, in fact, a far better term than “objective reality” which implies our complete dissociation and detachment from it. “Express reality” is also objective, but it does not suggest dissociation or alienation from that reality which we experience, and which we, in some ways, constitute as expression.

Three of the four consciousness structures identified by Gebser are, in fact, express realities — the milieu of the magical, the milieu of the mythical, and the milieu of the mental-rational (or technological) are express realities. To say that they are “express realities” is as much as to say that they are intentional objects, and in that sense like projective geometries of consciousness. (The archaic “structure” is another matter, in Gebser’s views, since archaic wholeness cannot be described at all in terms of “impressive” or “expressive” since archaic wholeness precedes the separation of Sky Father and Earth Mother, or the heavens and the earth, or “the waters above from the waters below” as Genesis puts it, or as Plato’s originary Androgyne. It’s the state that Blake describes in the wonderful words: “when the Soul slept in beams of light”).

Ethos, education, and expression have, in some ways, been falsified in their essential meanings, or we might say have acquired inverted meanings. And the same might be said for “experience”. Experience and experiment have pretty much the same meaning — “from danger” or “from peril”. And, of course, those meanings bear on Nietzsche’s famous maxim: “live dangerously”. It’s ironic because you can’t really do otherwise. Life is risky. In the end, it’s fatal in fact. There’s a kind of implicit reference to Xeno’s paradoxes or fractal geometry in Nietzsche-Zarathustra’s depiction of man as a tight-rope walker over an abyss. The poor devil will never make it across to the other side, which is a good thing, actually. As Gebser, as Nietzsche, and as Jung knew, the soul needs to die. It needs to experience death as the way to its adopting new forms as new expressions of itself.

Do you know why McGilchrist’s Emissary has usurped the “Master”? It’s because it is temporary, adapted to the conditions of physical existence. As such, it is the mortal self in time, the ego-consciousness, and it does not want to die. Therefore it revolts against the decree of the Master, the decree being what Freud calls “the thanatos instinct” or what Gebser calls “the death-pole” of the psyche. The soul wants to die precisely so it can experience itself in new forms and in new ways.

Experience and experiment as “risk taking” ventures, are what the soul harvests from mortal life. What it takes away from experience is what it processes and digests nightly in your dreams, playing with that experience, rearranging it in creative ways, comparing it to other experience in often kaleidoscopic and baffling arrays of images and metaphors and symbols, and even arranging for “you” to have other experiences. Your experiences in the day are the soul’s “food for thought”, as it were. While the little you is asleep, the big You of you is very busy indeed — digesting, comparing, arranging and re-arranging elements of experience, and rehearsing potentially new experience. You may often have the startling realisation at times “Hey! I dreamed this!” It’s not clairvoyance, per se. It was a rehearsed dream scenario that was then assembled and activated as your experience. The Emissary is never as fully separate from the Master as it likes to think it is, or as the divided brain might suggest.

There is an aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy that never really gets the attention it requires, and is often otherwise completely misconstrued. Nietzsche’s “live dangerously” is simply the meaning of experience itself, but for Nietzsche authentic experience was never that engineered by the ego-nature, but by the “Self”, as Nietzsche called what Gebser calls “the Itself”. This is what Seth also calls “the You of you”. And, in Nietzsche, it is described carefully in the section of his Zarathustra called “The Despisers of the Body“. If you read it, what I’ve written hear about ethics, education, expression and experience should become much clearer. Existentially speaking (and Nietzsche was an existentialist in this sense) the energies of life, which are creative energies, always proceed from inwards outwards — expressively.

There is, in this passage from Zarathustra, an additional paradox. Nietzsche makes the body and soul equivalent. True enough as it goes, except that Nietzsche didn’t believe in the existence of matter. He didn’t believe that atoms were material entities, but energy vortices. That makes his equation of body and soul a bit paradoxical. And the only way to resolve that seeming contradiction is by turning to Blake and Blake’s understanding of soul and body not as belonging to separate realms of spirit and matter, but as energy in two distinct states or forms,

All Bibles or sacred codes, have been the causes of the following Errors.

  1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
  2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
  3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True.

  1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
  2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
  3. Energy is Eternal Delight.

Reason as “the bound or outward circumference of Energy” is, of course, McGilchrist’s metaphorical “Emissary”, the Nietzchean ego-nature. And, for the most part, all this was pretty well expressed in neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor’s TED talk on her “stroke of insight”. What Nietzsche means, what Blake means, are equally represented in Bolte-Taylor’s express experience.  (Here to view online for those who haven’t seen her talk yet, which is wonderfully illustrative of McGilchrist’s two modes of attention of the divided brain  — the Master and the Emissary).

Just a few thoughts after reading up to page 6 of Daniel Kealey’s book. And if he can make me do that, I’m sure it’s going to be a great read.





8 responses to “Ethics, Education, Experience, Expression”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    If we are entering a “Heraclitean Age”, that would mean inner-directed, rather than a now long period of outer-directed or other-directed. The present situation is pretty ambiguous, though. That means especially a challenge for our “managers of meaning” a.k.a. brandmeisters and advertising, So yes… the Universal Market may be the Mother of All Bubbles (if I can borrow and slightly twist Saddam Hussein’s words). It very probably is the Mother of All Bubbles.

    There is, in fact, a sense of disquiet and uneasiness in the stuff I’ve been reading on branding and marketing 3.0. That especially comes out in Bond’s and Kirschenbaum’s Under the Radar: How To Talk To Today’s Cynical Consumer which frankly admits that admen have to take rather extraordinary measures today to defeat the consumer’s psychological defences — they compare advertising now to stealth bombing. They’ve noted, too, that popular credibility about advertising has plunged from 61% to about 38%, so there also seems to be a bit of panic and exasperation, reflected for example in this passage from their book,

    “Consumers are like roaches. We spray them with marketing and, for a time, it works. Then, inevitably they develop an immunity, a resistance. And the old formulas stop working. So what we need to do is keep breaking the rules to stay ahead of consumers’ ever evolving defences…. So we as marketers are in competition with our consumers’ defense shields. As if were were in an arms race, we are trying to advance our technology for getting through their defences, and they are constantly building up new defence strategies to tune us out. The good news for marketers is that this competition does nothing else if not breed innovation, and that’s what under-the-radar marketing is all about.” (p. 92)

    This cynical mood of contempt for the public is pretty nigh in every book I’ve read on branding — it betrays an insecurity, and it may not be just because people are becoming more skeptical about advertising, but because they may be becoming more inner-directed.

    It’s also an interesting statistical fact of my blog here. The most common search terms by far that bring people to The Chrysalis are Heraclitus’s “character is fate” or “ethos anthropos daimon” (or variations on the spelling) There seems to be a very high degree of interest in that which might be pertinent.

  2. Mystic sofa says :

    Wow! Useful bit of synchroncity right there. I’m currently putting together a PhD proposal based on the notion that the many converging crises of our time are a result of a fundamental mismatch between our images of the world (world-views) and the complex nature of reality itself. I had not heard of Kealey’s work before so I just googled Revisioning Environmental Ethics and the first quote I came to was this: ‘The first thesis of this book is that our present mode of world-viewing does not match what is in fact reality, and that the environmental crisis is evidence of the dissonance between world and world-view’.

    Time to buy I think – thanks for the reference!

  3. abdulmonem says :

    The human dialogue never stops. It seems falling in the emissary mode of attention is a constant recurrent story across the human history in order to keep the dialogue going. It is a process of reframing the perverted frame. It seems also that the human is a thick specie who is prone to perversion, the easy down-slope than to the up-slope of self-realization. The purpose of all prophets is to make the human recognizes the invisible aspect of the cosmos built deep in his soul. To expose ourselves to the transphysical domain, the source with a high feeling of expectancy and receptivity, to stir and activate the inter-mental apparatus of communication, not only to the other human mind but to the non-physical intelligent entities that fill the cosmos, that are near despite their apparent remoteness and exalted origin. The source of the human thought ever since the start of our cosmos, that reflects the saying that I am nearer to him than his trangular vein.The humans that need to trust the existence of the inspirational process that await the activation of the humans, through devotion, stillness and meditation A communication that works in an atmosphere of uncertainty and adventure and any claim to the final knowledge by the human is not acceptable, since each person has his unique observational mode, that is why the prophets bear witness and not impose their views despite the source of their views is divine. The frame of anthropocentrism is the problem. All calls are directed to the cure of this disease. The ethos of love-mongering to money and its sick extension in commodities and denial of death, the ethos that refuse any counter corrective message despite the apparent reversal effects. When the human forgets his self-wiring and let himself be wired by others, the decline starts to gain an dangerous momentum, enhanced by a process of education that is built on cut and paste, an education that depends on collecting data and information away from the acquisition of the art of how to utilize knowledge in the betterment of the human character. Half-digested knowledge is deplorable,inert ideas are not useless but harmful, so says the traditional wisdom. God has always emphasized the aspiration for first hand knowledge.condemning those who depend solely on second source knowledge. The problem of the world resides in reading outside the realm of the infinite, thus obscuring the Origin and thus humanity is paying for its own misdeed. The call of religion is visioning what is beyond away from the seen and the near toward the infinite that eludes apprehension and defies any one phraseology. It is again the question of moving from disjunction to conjunction,leaving the memes of the given disjunction toward creating new memes , in the field of conjunction. It is an adventure that needs patience, perseverance and mindfulness in the realm of the infinite that calls us to live in the uncertain and in the flux of change and never let youself be besieged by fear. remembering always the divine rules. It is a mission.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    It is a mission, An awareness in his awareness. God gave us consciousness in order to correct our own initial excess of subjectivity. to recover the wholeness that has been obscured by our individuality,to infuse in our particularity the conception that the whole is the only real being, to remember his resident in our soul. To conceive god through his cosmos, as the self-expression of his own variety of opposites,of his freedom of manifestations that display his creative necessity, his oneness that seeks expression in the multiplicity and that is exactly what Ibn Arabi meant by god needs physical support to express his presence. It is a call to free oneself from the loops of limitations and darkness irrespective of their different forms of expression and to enter the field of the limitless, the field of the supreme integral consciousness. Of course this is not an easy errand since religious or cultural coding can not evaporate overnight nor can entrenched beliefs be modified by intelligent argument or more facts that is why prophets are instructed to say, to you your path and to me my path and only divine events will prove who is on the right path. The human is trusted with the heavy duty of being just and truthful. True human is he who exhibits these two qualities of our existence. No wonder, recognizing the obvious is the quality of unusual mind that is why all scriptures want the human to recognize the obvious signs that fill our cosmos, seen and unseen

    • Scott Preston says :

      Of course this is not an easy errand since religious or cultural coding can not evaporate overnight nor can entrenched beliefs be modified by intelligent argument or more facts..

      That seems to be the case, which is why Gebser (and Rosenstock for that matter) anticipated a rather rapid, and inevitable, descent into the maelstrom. Both Gebser and Rosenstock (and it appears that Rumi and Blake were too) are apocalyptic thinkers. Blake’s vision of “the Last Judgement” which is what Gebser ominously describes as “the Consequential” too, is a vision of the fall of Urizenic Man. And of course Nietzsche’s pronouncement of his two centuries of nihilism: “incipit tragoedia” — “the tragedy begins”.

      Nobody now, I think, believes that new consciousness is going to arrive gently and on little dove’s feet, but born in the midst of anguish, torment, and hellfire and from the extreme pressure and stress of Absolute Necessity, and not as something merely voluntaristic like a simple change of clothing.

  5. abdulmonem says :

    While the light is lightening the way I like to add that paving the road to him, we must not ossify the multifariousness of the divine in one image or one interpretation thus confining the spaciousness of the limitless and preventing the self from accomplishing the purpose of creation in completing the circle of the one and the many and let itself falls in the abyss of the near and the normal. Call him Jehovah, Allah, Brahma,father in heaven, supreme being, first cause, the unrecognizable one etc etc and remember that all these different names add nothing or subtract nothing as far as he is concerned. Their impacts are on the human who uses them for he, as the sufis say, can not be captured in the same image twice nor he reveals himself in the same image over time. That is why we need to upgrade our image to him and not downgrading his image to fit our human image with all the negative repercussions on human understanding. The epistemic journey needs always be directed to him as we all going to meet death.

  6. davidm58 says :

    OK, now I’m going to have to re-read those first 6 pages of Kealey’s book. Amazed to see how those pages led to this post.

    Mystic Sofa, yes, I think you’ll find the book worthwhile in relation to your pursuit. You might also check out Edgar Morin’s “Homeland Earth” and “On Complexity” in regards to the complex nature of reality and the converging crises.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Well…it’s only really an extended musing on the meaning of “ethos” or “ethic”, in anticipation of what Kealey is going to say in the rest of the book. In fact, Kealey’s quite consistent here. The movement of ethics is from the inside outwards. I’m up to his discussion of Plotinus, where this becomes clearer in his writing, and I’m just about to post something on that that I doodled up after reading a bit of his discussion of Plotinus and his relevance for Gebser studies.

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