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.
- That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
- That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
- That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.
But the following Contraries to these are True.
- 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.
- Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
- 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.