Interpreting the Anthropocene

It is Time. It is High Time. It is high time we interpreted the construction of the Anthropocene as the project of neo-liberal globalisation which is, in principle, the corporatisation of the Earth as the one World Economy — Earth Inc. — and this in the form of the universalisation of commerce and “the market mechanism” — of the Earth conceived as this single market mechanism itself, administered by the “Invisible Hand”. And it is also this Anthropocene that we know as anthropogenic “climate change”.  It’s all conjoined.

The Anthropocene is the corporate form of the Earth, being realised through globalisation, although this is not the first time in history that it has been conceived as such. Presently, even though it is largely a technocratic construct, being corporate led and driven process, it is also informed by the irrational, by the implicit mythical and magical, or “return of the repressed” — even as “technocratic shamanism”.

The Anthropocene, as corporate form of the Earth, can’t be considered separate from neo-liberal globalisation, any more than these can be separated from the climate change crisis. This is the culmination of the crisis of Modernity and the Modern Age overall.

In a sense, in trying to read the Anthropocene, neo-liberalism, and climate change as conjoined issues and as symbolic forms in their own right, we are engaged in something very akin to dream interpretation and analysis, or what scholars call “hermeneutics”. I’m sure in this term “hermeneutics”, too, you will recognise the contemporary form of the Hermetic Philosophy and its praxis of alchemy as well.

To understand the Anthropocene, neo-liberal globalisation, and anthropogenic climate change as symbol forms and symbolic processes, that are, in fact, referred to by some indigenous peoples as “the white man’s dreaming” (although it’s more correct to say, the dreaming of the mental-rational consciousness structure rather than “white”) we will have to summon up the interpretations of the cultural philosopher Jean Gebser as well as Friedrich Nietzsche.

First, we must appreciate the fact that this world of physical manifestation and appearance is a world of Time and Death, otherwise called “samsara” or “samsaric existence”. Even if we call it “entropy” and “the entropic” today that doesn’t change the meaning much. Impermanence, or change, is the rule, and that means Time and Death. Yet, Time and Death are not really what they seem to the sensate consciousness, which is what I refer to as the human condition of narcissistic consciousness — trance or delusion — and from which many now wish to be emancipated, liberated or “delivered”.

We may wonder how these present more nihilistic processes involved in the Anthropocene, corporate globalisation, “sixth extinction event”, and the climate change existential threat can at all be related to notions of “the Awakening Earth“, as Duane Elgin and others have insisted, or in fact to Gebser’s confidence in these processes as even belonging to the laborious birth of a new consciousness structure — a metanoia, or a mutation of consciousness he calls “the integral”. It seems rather counter-intuitive to suggest that these very destructive and thoroughly Mephistophelian processes are implicated in the awakening of the Earth or that they belong to the incipient forms of a new consciousness structure. Given their current trajectory, idealised in the growth model of economics, they will not realise their aim, but will very possibly — in fact quite probably — result in the destruction of the Earth as a planet become inhospitable to life.  That is to say, itself become anti-biotic.

These processes are Mephistophelian, and Goethe, in his famous play Faust, has his Mephisto describe himself as “part of that power that would ever evil do, but always does the good”. This is the spirit of what Gebser refers to as “the double-movement” of our times, the spirit of “creative destruction” — the path of dis-integration is also the path of re-integration, exemplified in the paradox of Heraclitus that “the road up and the road down are the same”. Paradox is polarity. The relativities are polarities rather than dualisms: here and there, up and down,  then and now, before and after, foreground-background, positive-negative, good and evil. They co-determine one another. It is the evaluative act of consciousness or perception that is the decisive factor in selecting between them, whether they shall be one or the other. This is called “intentionality” of consciousness, and this act always involves values as evaluation and selection for the attention. Intentionality and attentionality are also polarities of consciousness, like the poles of a battery, manifested in the acts of speaking and listening respectively. In effect, consciousness creates form by this act of intentionality, and all form is a value. What we call “evolution” is about value selection, manifestation and realisation. What we call “the archetypes” are essentially values. But before they were called “archetypes” (or the eidola or ideals) they were called “the gods” of the mythical consciousness, or the “manitous” — powers or spirits — of the magical consciousness.

In other words, “there is nothing new under the sun”, as Ecclesiastes put it. There is just an “eternal recurrence of same” — which is the continuous translation of the values into new forms — the manitous become the gods, the gods become the eidola (the Ideals, “idols”, or archetypes), and the Ideals become images and the images become brands and brand names in the context of commercial civilisation and economistic thinking. There is only a continuous story of the devaluation of values and the revaluation of values. These values are the “eternal forms” or “eternal verities”. The form they assume depends solely on the consciousness structure in which they manifest — the magical (as the manitous), the mythical (as the gods), or the mental (as the Ideals or Archetypes) or the “rationalistic”, where they now appear as commodities, technologies, or “brands”. This is the meaning of “eternal recurrence” — values rising into manifestation or realisation from the ever-present origin or source of all (Elgin’s “meta-universe” is the same), and descending into latency once again to await their resurrection in new forms as “revaluation of values”. This polarity of the process of manifestation and latency is the process we call “Time and Death” or Rise and Fall and can be considered to form a wave-like structure of crest and trough or ebb and flow. The Real does not change. Only the form of its manifestation called “Maya” or, by Blake, “Ulro” — the Mundane Shell or Shadow World.  And so Gebser quotes Shakespeare in that regard that “our virtues lie in the interpretation of the times”. But the corollary to that is St. Augustine’s insight that “time is of the soul”.

And in this lies the paradox of being: that nirvana and samsara are the same; that nirvana and samsara are not the same.

Now, Gebser’s “transparency of the world” or “diaphaneity” is insight into these processes of Time and Death in which Time and Death become transparent to awareness as not at all what they seem to the merely sensate consciousness, as being the process of revaluation of values and devaluation of values respectively, and so the process of arising from the ever-present origin (or meta-universe) into manifestation and descending again into latency or return to the origin. In those terms, there is no “linear time” and so no such thing as “progression”, but only a continuous process of translation from the Realm of Permanence into the Realm of Impermanence. Manifest or latent, though, are only terms for the perception which evaluates, selects, or decides whether they shall be manifest or latent, for even the ego-consciousness has it’s roots in the origin. What Nietzsche calls “the revaluation of values” is the Hermetic or alchemical transmutation of lead into gold that is associated with “magic”.

All this sounds very wonderful, except that there is a dark side to it. If the implicit intentionality of consciousness determines the mode and form of the manifestation of values, then there is a great deal of incentive among power-seekers to control and manipulate that intentionality. This is what is called “perception management”, and certain social groups and classes ascend to power, wealth, and authority — warrior castes, priestly castes, financial castes, “brand managers”, etc — by how effectively they can control that implicit intentionality of consciousness and so condition the form of manifestation that those values may be permitted or allowed to take. In the present context this regulation of perception, or manipulation of intentionality, is what Algis Mikunas refers to as “technocratic shamanism” in which there is a kind of reverse alchemical process in which what is gold is transmuted into lead.

And this is the present problem with the Anthropocene and the neo-liberal version of globalisation become sixth extinction event and climate crisis. It is the deficient form of the manifestation of values which are actually quite ancient and yet ever-present as well, which is why I call it “Mephistophelian”. Within the Anthropocene lies the latent possibility of the authentic “Universal Humanity” of Blake’s vision. As Rumi put it, “the cure for the disease is in the disease”, and this is especially true of current events. Hence Gebser’s paradoxical “double-movement”. It is not a question of “rollback” or of a “return”, but of a revaluation of values, by which the Anthropocene is transmuted into the realisation of the Universal Humanity (which is Blake’s “Albion Reborn”) and the process of globalisation is revalued or transmuted into the authentic process of universal value realisation in which the true values are retrieved from their debased commercialised and quantified form as is presently the case with the corporate led  and market driven process of globalisation. This is the potential of the internet, too, as “global nervous system”.

The Anthropocene is, after all, not really new — as the Earth remade or understood in the shape of the human form. It is the image of the mental-rational consciousness.  It was formerly once the Goddess, Gaia, and then “World Soul” or Anima Mundi. It, too, is a value or “archetype” in those terms. But the revaluation of the Earth as corporate form, as Earth, Inc., is its deficient mode of realisation– as a technocratic reductionism. And that’s what Paine’s “universal civilisation of commerce” leads to — Earth, Inc. Climate change and the sixth extinction event are, in a way, Earth’s objections to the attempt to remake it in the image of the corporation.



4 responses to “Interpreting the Anthropocene”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    All the above could really be summarising by saying that “transitioning” involves a revaluation of values, and is the same process, and that implies the recovery of the very meaning of “value” from its debasement and degradation through fundamentalism and reductionism and quantifying ways of thought.

    Transitioning involves revaluation of values (the ethos). But revaluation of values itself involves a “mutation” in the consciousness structure.

  2. mikemackd says :

    Me again, quoting Mumford again, and partially repeating myself again! Sorry, but putting these three sets of quotes from Mumford’s oeuvre (from the Myth of the Machine, 1967 and 1970),seems particularly apropos in seeing “what we are up against”, as described above. However, your last paragraph above, that “evaluation of values itself involves a “mutation” in the consciousness structure”, also involves revisioning the we being up against:

    For mark this: the automaton was not born alone. The automaton has been accompanied, we can now see, by a twin, a dark shadow-self: defiant, not docile… The aim of this subversive superego is to destroy those higher attributes of man whose gifts of love, mutuality, rationality, imagination, and constructive aptitude have enlarged all the possibilities of life. It is in the light of these impending negations and destructions that the whole concept of subjugating nature and replacing man’s own functions with collectively fabricated, automatically operated, completely depersonalized equivalents must at last be reappraised
    But the suppression of personality is already so complete in an automated economy that the reputed heads of our great organizations are as incapable of changing its goals as the lowliest filing clerk. It is the system itself that, once set up, gives orders. As for anyone’s confronting the principals in person, our automatic agencies are as obscure and as bafflingly inaccessible as the authorities that Franz Kafka pictured in his accurate prophetic nightmare, ’The Trial’. Humanly speaking, then, the proper name for automation is self-inflicted impotence. That is the other side of total control. (—) Automation has thus a qualitative defect that springs directly from its quantitative accomplishments: briefly it increases probability and decreases possibility.
    Theoretically, at the present moment, and actually soon in the future, God – that is, the Computer – will be able to find, to locate, and to address instantly, by voice and image, via the priesthood, any individual on the planet: exercising control over every detail of the subject’s daily life by commanding a dossier which would include his parentage and birth; his complete educational record; an account of his illnesses and his mental breakdowns, if treated; his marriage; his sperm bank account; his income, loans, security payments; his taxes and pensions; and finally the disposition of such further organs as may be surgically extracted from him just prior to the moment of his official death.
    In the end, no action, no conversation, and possibly in time no dream or thought would escape the wakeful and relentless eye of this deity: every manifestation of life would be processed into the computer and brought under its all-pervading system to control. This would mean, not just invasion of privacy, but the total destruction of autonomy: indeed the dissolution of the human soul.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Good quotes. briefly it increases probability and decreases possibility. That is very good. You could unpack that one statement into a whole book!

      I really do have to catch up with Mumford one of these days.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    I like the way you summarized your post. Brevity in time of information overload is needed. Automaton can not succeed because it is against the law of opposites where each pole consumes its fixed span prescribed for its duration. Nobody knows his life span on this earth. We are living in a cosmos where the unseen is far more more what is seen. I feel sad for those who are the prisoners of the seen.

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