The Prospects for Integral Consciousness

Abdulmonem, in a couple of comments to the last two posts, has raised some concerns about the real prospects for integral consciousness. Gebser, of course, freely acknowledged that the emergence of integral consciousness could be abortive, in which case it would have to await another thousand years for agreeable conditions and circumstances to once again arise for its unfolding. And it can be safely assumed that Gebser saw that thousand year interregnum as being quite probably a very deep and lengthy global Dark Age, brought about as the consequence of the “global catastrophe” he anticipated as the fate of Late Modernity and as the endgame of the mental-rational consciousness structure.

In Gebser’s terms, then, our choices are pretty straightforward: it’s swim or sink. What gives Gebser the confidence in this diagnosis and prognosis?

Firstly, integral consciousness is, in some respects, an answer waiting for its question. It’s the only structure of consciousness that can provide a satisfactory answer to the questions: Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going?. All earlier structures of consciousness could only give partial, provisional or conditional answers to such fundamental questions. The reason is that the transparency of time is a necessary precondition for discovering an answer to these questions at all. Since “time-freedom” is the chief feature of the integral consciousness, in Gebser’s terms, the transparency of time is its necessary precondition.

Here, though, we come up against a certain stubbornness of the present consciousness structure. The questions themselves are latent. In fact, they are the kinds of questions that are asked only in the midst of a spiritual crisis, if not a spiritual catastrophe. It’s then that such questions cease to be the playthings of idly abstracted minds with too much time on their hands and take on the urgency of survival. The questions will not be asked with the requisite intensity and sincerity unless there is great need and urgency, and when old dogmas, formulas, “common sense” and institutional responses no longer satisfy. In short, pretty much like the present.

Secondly, Gebser’s conviction that evolution unfolds not randomly or haphazardly but according to a “pre-existing pattern” is crucial in understanding his anticipation of integral consciousness as the quintessence of history — the fifth structure and World Age, as it were. This pre-existing pattern is the Logos of evolution, in a sense, and it is fourfold just as our reality is fourfold, or as the human form is fourfold, and is the form of a mandala corresponding to Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” or the Sacred Hoop, and so on. This evolutionary unfolding of latent potentialities of consciousness is a “progression” only in a special sense. It is non-linear, and is more appropriately (and often is) represented as a flower — as the petals of a flower. The Buddha’s Lotus flower has this meaning explicitly.

When Gebser states that “progression” is simultaneously “distantation” or estrangement and alienation from Origin, this applies to the human ego consciousness. Indeed, the human ego consciousness is the Prodigal Son of the parable, and its “progress” is also an alienation and estrangement from the vital energies from which it emerged in history. It is this ego  consciousness, now overdeveloped, that has “progressed”, in its terms, but completely at the expense of the whole and the fourfold human. The Selfhood’s quest for absolute autonomy and hegemony over the soul is this “progression“, but which is simultaneously necessarily a repression also of the other aspects of the fourfold human. This is what Iain McGilchrist calls “the Emissary”, who is the Prodigal Son of the parables. No doubt, Gebser has this very parable in mind in speaking of progression as simultaneously distantiation. But this distantiation is repression.

In Gebser’s taxonomy of civilisations, the fourfold human has been articulated (or precipitated out) in four identifiable consciousness structures: the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational. If you prefer, you can speak of these as vitalism, animism, psychism, and mentalism respectively, and therefore as body, spirit, soul, and mind according to the particular consciousness structure. These were represented in classical terms as the element of earth, the element of air, the element of water, and the element of fire, respectively, as the Archons. As the Archons, they correspond to “the Guardians of the Four Directions”, corresponding to William Blake’s “four Zoas” of the disintegrate human. In one form or another, these Guardians appear in all cultures, and their number and relation conform to Gebser’s “pre-existing pattern” that he finds in the evolutionary dynamic. Evolution, in those terms, is value-realisation.

It makes perfect sense that evolution would have this pattern. For as we are fourfold beings of thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing, so is our cosmos a fourfold structure of time past and time future, as well as spaces inner and spaces outer. A Guardian is set over each of these domains, as wardens of the past or the future, or wardens of the inner or the outer.

In Blake’s mythology, the Guardians are called the Zoas, and they correspond each to the vitalistic, the animistic, the psychistic, and the mentalistic aspects of the fourfold human. The tyrant Urizen, who is the usurper, is the mentalistic and is called “Selfhood”. Not Satanic by nature, he becomes so only in his usurpation and his hegemonic will which is “Single Vision & Newtons sleep.” This is McGilchrist’s “Emissary”. Urizen is the repressor, in those terms. “Albion” is Blake’s name for the integral consciousness of “fourfold vision” and is called “the Universal Humanity” because re-integrated.

In secular society, the Guardians of the Four Directions are also present, only they take the form of ideologies: conservatism, liberalism, socialism, environmentalism.

Given this, the historically realised structures of consciousness, being four — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational — and these evidently being specialisations of one aspect of the fourfold human form as sensing, willing, feeling, and thinking being respectively, there is not latent “fifth” other than their full integration. This is the basis of the emerging Holistic Philosophy, and what Gebser calls “the arational” or “aperspectival” consciousness. Consciousness has no other recourse, no other direction, than to realise the integral. All that is possible to consciousness in terms of physical reality has been made except the integral.

The exhaustion of all further possibilities for the articulation of the mental-rational mode of consciousness is very evident today. It is disintegrating. The climate crisis is just one symptom of that disintegration through overspecialisation of function. In those terms, we either effect integration or face a number of consequences from our failure to do so. The disintegration of the psychic structure of modern man, though, is, while necessary to effect a new integration, can lead to a lapse to older, archaic modes of consciousness at the expense of the mental-rational or enlightenment or reason, and is basically the refusal or rejection of integration. This is the concern about “the Triumph of the Irrational” (Richard Stivers) and “mythomania” (Gordon). As long as the mental-rational consciousness thought it could do without the body, or the spirit, or the soul in the name of “pure reason”, it was destined to collapse and become “zombie logic”. Pure Reason expressed its hostility and antipathy towards the vital, the animate, and the psychic or subjective — those matters of earlier structures of consciousness that became repressed and inhibited from expression in and through the human form and which are beginning to assert themselves with the loss of confidence in this “pure reason”.



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