The Paradox of the Anthropocene
The Anthropocene is a giant egregore, or, to put that another way, a giant golem. The ideal of the Anthropocene is the perfect automaton, in fact, which advances in artificial intelligence may well soon achieve — the Anthropocene as a self-organising automaton. It is, in a way, the realised form of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster.
It is in that sense, also the realised form of near complete human self-alienation, a massive “projection” in that sense that grows in power to the same extent as the human form is depleted and emptied. And therein lies the grave danger and peril of our times that Walter Benjamin recognised in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction“,
“Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, is now one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art”
Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) was a brilliant (and controversial) book that few understood when it was published. It was, coincidentally, the same year that the father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, published his book God and Golem, Inc: A Comment on Certain Points Where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion (1964). Both are important books because they were uneasy anticipations of the very thing we now call “The Anthropocene” as a gigantic egregore, golem, or automaton, and I was reminded of that after reading an article in today’s Guardian by Rachel Holmes that expresses the fear of that egregore: “We let technology into our lives. And now it’s starting to control us“.
1964, coincidentally, was also the same year that the English translation of Jacque Ellul’s book, The Technological Society, was published, and it was met with as much controversy — and even outrage — as McLuhan’s Understanding Media. In effect, what McLuhan means by “media” and what Ellul means by “technics” are the same thing. (The Technological Society is available online for the adventurous, as is Wiener’s God and Golem, Inc.). And in those terms, it may be said that The Anthropocene is the realised form of that Zoa of the fourfold human form that Blake calls “Urizen” and of Urizen’s constructed shadow world Blake calls “Ulro”. That in which today, “we live, move, and have our being” is an egregore, a collective thought-form realised in technics, now called “Anthropocene”, and is a gigantic bubble.
Urizen is, in turn, that which Iain McGilchrist calls “the Emissary” in his wonderful book on neurodynamics The Master of His Emissary.
In essence, what McLuhan means by “extensions of man” is “the projections”, a common enough term from depth psychology, but which also plays a very crucial role in Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy (The Ever-Present Origin). The Anthropocene can be described as a conjuration of an egregore by the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” — the Emissary — and in those terms is connected with what Algis Mikunas calls “technocratic shamanism” in his essay on “Magic and Technological Culture”. These “extensions” or “projections” are the doings of the magical structure of consciousness, but which are not understood as such. Therein lies the significance of the aforementioned works on this strange conjunction of technics and sorcery (that also concerned Jean Gebser): Peter Sirk’s Technology as Magic, Lee Worth Bailey’s The Enchantments of Technology, and Robert Romanyshyn’s Technology as Symptom & Dream.
Technics, in that sense, are a mimics, and as extension or projection, are an objectification of the human form in various ways. This is clear enough in terms of computer technology which even deliberately seeks to mimic and objectify even the human nervous system, in the process of which it then also acquires mythical and magical, and not just technical-rational, aspects. For it is also the case that the human brain and nervous system is the seat of Blake’s “four Zoas” as well. These Zoas of the fourfold human are connected with Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational, too. And it is therefore in these terms that Blake’s “Vision of the Last Judgment” and his other works on the wars, conflicts, alliances, and reconciliations of his disintegrate Adam come to also be mimicked in the Anthropocene without our being aware of this fact. This is what lends to the times their “chaotic” aspect. Shakespeare’s “times out of joint” is a reflection of the inchoate, dissolute, and mutually antagonistic state of the Zoas in Blake’s mythology, which is written in Hermetic code and is a precise map of the present “chaotic transition” and also of its greatest danger which he calls descent into “non-Ens”, otherwise what we call “the Abyss” or Oblivion.
Non-Ens is also what Benjamin means in the quote posted above — complete and total self-alienation become self-annihilation.
The Anthropocene is presently a projection of the Shadow, which is then granted autonomy. The Shadow, a Jungian term for the repressed aspects of the psychic totality, is called “Dark Side”, but also is that which Carolyn Baker calls Dark Gold. Her book on that is subtitled “The Human Shadow and the Global Crisis“, because presently the Anthropocene is an objectification of the Shadow. “Dark Gold” refers to the paradoxical nature of this beast — a coincidence of opposites — inasmuch as the Anthropocene is also, potentially, the realised form of what Blake calls “the Universal Humanity” and the form of his “Universal Adam” he calls “Albion”. Albion is the transcendental form of Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man”. Know this: Vitruvian Man is Urizen.
Albion is the metamorphosis of Vitruvian Man as Gebser’s “arational-aperspectival” or integral consciousness and is there called “The Universal Humanity”, and was somewhat anticipated too by Nietzsche as his “transhuman”, or by Aurobindo as the “supramental”.
This is the paradox of the Anthropocene. It is potentially “Albion”, the integral human. This is also reflected in the paradoxical relationship between “globalism” and “globalisation” as presently understood — “same but different” is an understatement. It is our contemporary version of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities as it were — as also Baker’s “dark gold” is a coincidence of opposites.
“IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
The Shadow is only a shade and shadow because it remains in the dark, not penetrated by insight and therefore unintegrated with the consciousness structure (the “perspectival” in our context). The Shadow is that vast unintegrated zone outside the perspectivist pyramid of “enlightenment” — represented as a terra nullius or wasteland beyond the parameters of the dialectical consciousness, as clearly evident in the chief symbol of perspective vision and of the modern mental-rational consciousness structure,
What we call “the beyond”, or “the behind” or “the beneath” and so on is only this incipient wholeness “outside” the parameters of the perception of Vitruvian Man, who is the perspectival or mental-rational consciousness.
It’s in this sense that the Anthropocene could easily devour us indeed, and perhaps not even metaphorically speaking. It’s the fear that is expressed in things like the Terminator series or The Matrix series. But it is also potentially the incipient form of Albion, called “the Universal Humanity” or the “Adam Kadmon” by the Kabbalists (or the Alpha and Omega as first and last “Adam” in which the archaic consciousness or “originary” is reborn as the integral consciousness).
That’s the present paradox — the “double-movement” — that is the Anthropocene. I’ll have more to say about this in subsequent posts.