“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.


annuit coeptisis already contained in this

Sacred Hoop /Medicine Wheel

Sacred Hoop /Medicine Wheel

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”)

Jacob Boehme

Jacob Boehme

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.


15 responses to ““New Renaissance” or “Dark Age”?”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    The indigenous sense of truth and justice is very much tied to the Sacred Hoop, by the way, so when the Sacred Hoop shattered and splintered, so did the sense of justice and truth also.

    There is a precedent for this as well in European history — the Reformation also represented a splintering and shattering of the chief symbol of Christendom, the crucifix which, before then, signified the unity of Christendom, as well as the unity of truth and justice. When the cross splintered and fragmented (schism and sectarianism, which are today the hyperpartisan and identity politics equally) so did truth and justice. We remember it as a particularly horrible time in that respect — Peasants war, Thirty Years’ War, Inquisition and witchhunt, etc, etc. That was also a “post-rational” and “post-truth” time. And it took quite a while before a new unanimity and consensus was established about what was to be considered “truth” and what “justice”, in terms of the victorious mental-rational consciousness.

    There are exact parallels with our time, and the disintegration of the perspective structure of consciousness represented by the triangle or pyramid.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Do you not think it is very odd that the very people who scream loudest for the preservation of “law & order” are the very ones also driving social chaos through disseminating fake news and disinformation?

    What does this near total lack of integrity say about the condition of the modern psyche/personality?

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Yes, but isn’t it also odd that as soon as our attention is turned away from the political power-mongering sphere, social chaos amounts to barely a blip on the radar, if/when that?

      • Scott Preston says :

        Who can look upon the “orc” in us and live? That’s just as much involved in “post-truth society” (and symbolic belief) as anything — this self-deception as a looking away from the inner orc and orcery (otherwise known as the Shadow).

        But the orcs were also elves once.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          I have noticed that people are dealing too much with the negative; with what is wrong. They do not touch enough on what is not wrong.

          We often ask, “What’s wrong?” Doing so, we invite painful seeds of sorrow to come up and manifest. We feel suffering, anger, and depression, and produce more such seeds. We would be much happier if we tried to stay in touch with the healthy, joyful seeds inside of us and around us. We should learn to ask, “What’s not wrong?” and be in touch with that. There are so many elements in the world and within our bodies, feelings, perceptions, and consciousness that are wholesome, refreshing, and healing. If we block ourselves, if we stay in the prison of our sorrow, we will not be in touch with these healing elements.

          ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

          “Too much and not enough.” Somewhat reminiscent of a recent post.

          • Scott Preston says :

            Good advice! But tell me, what’s not wrong?

            • Dwig says :

              “What’s not wrong?”

              Look around you, look nearby. Look for people committing random kindness and senseless acts of beauty. For the places where living communities are not just a dream, but an evolving reality. Where theCandides and Cunegondes are cultivating their gardens. Where activists, committed to the long work, see Trump and his kin as just part of the abyss that needs to be traversed, and clambered out of.

            • Scott Preston says :

              “An abyss clambered out of”. Reminds me of a very memorable line of dialogue in Game of Thrones, where Petyr Baelish disputes the meaning of “chaos” with Lord Varys. “Chaos is a ladder”.

              In that very line might lie the whole meaning of the Game of Thrones.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              Surely, you jest. (Yeah, I know. ‘Don’t call you Shirley.’)

              Well, that’s probably for each of us to decide, but you’ve covered quite a few things that aren’t wrong on the “auspicious” side of the “ominous” in The Chrysalis. That none of it happens to be in mainstream economic and political ideologies (and associated pathologies) is a foregone conclusion.

            • Scott Preston says :

              I think George Monbiot’s been reading my blog. His article in today’s Guardian sounds very familiar.


          • Scott Preston says :

            Oh. My. God. ExxonMobil’s CEO shortlisted for Secretary of State.

            This really is the corporate takeover of government isn’t it? Direct corporate rule is the only way to describe it. Reminds me of the sci-fi flick Rollerball.

  3. InfiniteWarrior says :

    [T]he 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).

    I can vouch for that. Excellent advice, especially for empaths. If one is primarily, emotionally empathic (and this probably applies to women moreso than men), be aware that emotional “contagion” cuts both ways. An atmosphere that is saturated with fear and hate can easily overpower even the most well-balanced person.

    Empathy (or compassion) does not require identification with thoughts or feelings to be effective.

  4. Charles Leiden says :

    Scott, I feel that all the ideas that you write are related. I am reading Arthur Koestler who I feel is a insightful writer. As you know he coined the word holon. He writes:

    No man is an island he is a holon. A Janus-faced entity who, looking inward, sees himself as a self-contained unique whole, looking outward as a dependent part. His self-assertive tendency is the dynamic manifestation of his unique , his autonomy and independence as a holon. Its equally universal antagonist, the integrative tendency, expresses his dependence on the larger whole to which he belongs: his ‘part-ness’….that the self-assertive tendency is the dynamic expression of the holon’s wholeness, the integrative tendency, the dynamic expression of its partness.

    The integrative potential of a holon makes it tend to behave as a part of a larger, more complex unit; its self-assertive potential makes it tend to behave as if it were itself a self-contained, autonomous whole. In every type of hierarchy that we have discussed, and on every level of each hierarchy, we have found this polarity reflected in a coincidentia oppositorum . This sometimes manifests itself in apparently paradoxical phenomena.

    One can see the ambiguity. W.I. Thompson wrote about the idea that “goodness works through the unique and evil works through the uniform.”

    One could suggest that the majority of people are in the conformist stage that values dogmatic answers to the questions of life. Detachment is a first step to start questioning one’s cultural conditioning. One then can be critical of so-called reality.

  5. Charles Leiden says :

    Those are from the book The Ghost in the Machine. Koestler is quite the cultural historian. Some parts of the book aren’t timely but his discussion of wholw and parts is insightful. I found the book online https://saxonianfolkways.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/the-ghost-in-the-machine/

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