“New Renaissance” or “Dark Age”?
“New Renaissance” or new “Dark Age” seems to be the stark choice ahead of us, (although they are only two pathways it is possible to take). On the one hand, you have proponents of the “New Renaissance”, such as Ian Goldlin and Chris Kutarna in their recently published The Age of Discovery, and on the other Jane Jacobs and her forecast of Dark Age Ahead, which we could just as well call “Age of the Shadow” (ably described recently, to some extent, by Pankaj Mishra also in The Guardian as an “age of anger” and today in the same paper by German economist Wolfgang Streeck as a new “dark age”).
My own career as a blogger has swung between the earlier Dark Age Blog and the present Chrysalis equally, weighing the possibilities of either “Dark Age” or “New Renaissance” because our present “times out of joint” show tendencies towards both — toward the Great Nihil and toward Genesis — a great No to life or a great Yes to life — reflecting that polarity of the soul that Freud described in terms of the thanatos and eros “instincts”, expressed in the strange doctrine and perfect Jekyll-and-Hyde paradox (or schizophrenia) of “creative destruction”.
The debate that today moves sections of the intelligentsia to prefer the “New Renaissance” narrative or the “Dark Age” narrative reflects Gebser’s “double-movement” of the times — the coincidentia oppositorum of the dynamics of disintegration and integration he describes in The Ever-Present Origin. The powers of creative destruction, formerly reserved for only the most fearsome of the gods, the modern mental-rational consciousness in the folly of its own hubris has appropriated for itself — the perfect example of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice of Goethe’s parable: seizing command but without mastery.
That is the essential hubris of the mental-rational consciousness, or what Gebser calls the perspectival consciousness now functioning in “deficient” mode. It’s deficiency lies not alone in the fact that it confuses the Whole and the Totality as being the same, but parallel, and related to this, that it also confuses having the command of powers with the mastery of power, which it could only assume if, indeed, the mind had perfect knowledge of the Whole, which it does not possess anymore than it has perfect knowledge of itself.
The powers of creation and destruction, so conjoined, is what Blake earlier anticipated as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell — the conjoining of the poles. But that also implies a restructuration of consciousness able to handle that convergence or conjunction of the powers of heaven and the might of hell, which is not presently much in evidence, and which is called “integral consciousness” or is otherwise simply known as “wisdom”. It was this that Nietzsche was groping towards with his philosophy of “beyond good and evil” and which he referred to as “Dionysian wisdom”. Dionysian wisdom is what lies “beyond” (or even “behind”) the technocratic rationality which, in its presumption that it can manage and control the powers of creative destruction, is now identical with what Algis Mikunas calls “technocratic shamanism”. Mastery or command is precisely the fault-line between wisdom and knowledge, the whole the the totality, insight or merely a calculating instrumental rationality which, as someone once remarked, makes an excellent servant but a very poor master.
It should be obvious, then, why we need a new consciousness –a genuine “awakening” — if we are to survive the powers of creative destruction that the mind itself has unleashed, and now finds itself wholly incapable of regulating and mastering. Climate change and the “Anthro-obscene” is simply one symptom of this. The powers of creative destruction are not only marshalled and assembled in our technologies, but also in political mass movements, and especially today in the form called “demagoguery” or propaganda, and is connected, also, with what Mishra, citing Camus, refers to as “autointoxication” — simply another way of saying “mania” or “frenzy”.
Mastery is, then wisdom, while command and control is only knowledge. Wisdom, or mastery, is as Gebser described it: knowing when to let happen, and when to make happen, and the difference between the one and the other. In Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy, this is equivalent to knowing the difference between the “too soon” and the “too late” and avoiding the extremes of either.
I would say that the fate of the earth very much depends upon whether we develop the wisdom to positively handle the now chaotic powers of creative destruction, and this is rather key to Gebser’s concerns in his Ever-Present Origin when he speaks of the powers of technology grown incommensurate with man’s sense of responsibility. That has become only too evidently the case. Only the integral consciousness represents this wisdom and this responsibility, this mastery that goes beyond mere command and control — the know why beyond the know how.
Our “why” is this: we are here in physis to learn wisdom, to learn how to responsibly and effectively handle the powers of creative destruction, and we are bungling it very badly. Alchemy was pretty much this process of learning to master the powers of creative destruction symbolised by the crucible and the transmutation. The powers of creative destruction are our energies, mobilised by the Imagination, and propelled into form by the passions. If our imagination, thinking, and passions are chaotic or malign, then the forms that manifest will be chaotic and malign. As above, so below and as within, so without. This isn’t even a matter of speculation or “occult lore” any longer. We know, today, that how we imagine, think, or feel profoundly affects our reality in quite mysterious ways, reflected in the term “co-evolutionary”.
In some ways, too, the times are perfect and ideal for learning lessons about what Buddhists call “non-attachment”, connected with the practice of mindfulness (and which, for Gebser, has great survival value). Non-attachment is somewhat akin to the “disinterestedness” of the scientific observer, but is deeper and more encompassing. It corresponds more to the meaning of the “contemplative” moreso than the objective or experimental. And this distinction between the contemplative and the applied or experimental is also what distinguishes the Sacred Hoop, for example (or mandalas generally) from the narrower “pyramid of perception”. It’s very clearly the case that the Sacred Hoop (the fourfold vision) pertains to wisdom and the contemplative while the triangle or pyramid of perception pertains to applied knowledge or instrumentalising reason and is contained within the Sacred Hoop (or Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”), as one quadrant. a pie-slice, of the fourfold relation. So, in those terms the Sacred Hoop serves also as a guide for the proper application of instrumental reason and its proper place within that fourfold relation.
as simply one of its quadrants. This is what distinguishes Blake’s “Single vision & Newtons sleep” from his “fourfold vision”. Blake’s poem about the fourfold vision is a precise poetic translation of that which is symbolised also by the Sacred Hoop or “cross of reality”
Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And three fold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep
Simple to understand, isn’t it? And yet everybody thought Blake was a madman when, in fact, the shoe was on the other foot. Here Blake’s fourfold vision, which so resembles the meaning of the Sacred Hoop, is also figured in the Hermetic philosophy of Jacob Boehme, which likewise bears a great resemblance to the Sacred Hoop (and Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”)
Nothing mad, or even “occult”, about any of this. It is very simple to understand.
Each of these quadrants can be thought of, equally, as corresponding to Gebser’s “four structures of consciousness” (or the Guardians of the Four Directions) as archaic, magical, mythical, and mental-rational and the central eye in Boehme’s illustration corresponds to Gebser’s “vital centre”, although in the Sacred Hoop this vital centre is called “the centre of the voice” (because “the Sacred Hoop is in language”).
Makes perfect sense.