Hari Kunzru is paying attention. Kunzru has an article in today’s Guardian about “knowing the enemy“, and it’s a pretty good one. It’s here where the rubber meets the road, as it were, in terms of Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy and his description of the mental-rational, or “perspectival,” consciousness become deficient, with the collapse of consciousness into the ever-narrowing “point” — or vanishing point — of the “point-of-view” (also connected with Seidenberg’s meaning of “Post-historic Man“). That condition (connected equally with the decay of Reformation into fundamentalism and Renaissance into reductionism) is ultimately the significance of Christopher Lasch’s critique of “the culture of narcissism” along with what he calls “diminishing expectations”. That sense of “diminishing expectations” is the counter-part to the contraction of awareness to the point, and which has resulted in a crisis of identity and a reactionary “identity politics” which is the politics of the culture of narcissism.
It’s against this that Gebser has strived to present a more “universal way of looking at things”, which we want to look at today.
The chief symptom of pathological narcissism is empathy deficit, and we might say that this is also the chief “deficiency” of the reified perspectival “point-of-view” as interpreted by Gebser in his Ever-Present Origin. Narcissism is, as I’ve argued in the past, just another interpretation of what was once called “idolatry” before anyone had heard of the myth of Narcissus and Echo. Narcissism is, essentially, the idolatry of the self-image — the reflection in the mirror that is called “false self” and which was ably rendered by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Fascism is the politics of mass narcissism and, as Kunzru has also observed, the politics of the shrunken and withered powers of empathy and, with that also, the corresponding “Mutation into Machinery” that is one of the five aspects of Glass’s description of the Kali Yuga or Dark Age. For corresponding and correlative to the empathy deficit that is characteristic of pathological narcissism is also the sense of being merely mechanical or a machine.
So, we want to talk about what I call “empathic awareness” as a mode of knowing which is the basis for Gebser’s authentic “universal way of looking at things” which isn’t confused with the “point-of-view” or ego-nature, and which is, quite evidently, the mode of knowing that is described by Jill Bolte-Taylor in her “My Stroke of Insight” and as the “Master” in Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary.
This issue of empathy deficit very much brings us to a final showdown between the Hermetic Philosophy and the Mechanical Philosophy in our time. It’s a cornerstone principle of Hermeticism that “to know a thing you must become the thing you want to know”, which is what some refer to as “empathetic epistemics” or “empathetic epistemology“. This possibility (which also serves as the basis for Gebser’s description of telepathy) is denied by the Mechanical Philosophy, and very much owing to a fundamental flaw in its logic — the law of noncontradiction which deliberately excludes the validity of the paradoxical.
The ultimate achievement of empathetic epistemics is what is called “cosmic consciousness” or is called “Oneness”, and my favourite example of this is Rumi’s poem “Say I am You”, the mood of which would be self-evident, say, to Jill Bolte-Taylor
Say I Am You
I am dust particles in sunlight.
I am the round sun.
To the bits of dust I say, Stay.
To the sun, Keep moving.
I am morning mist,
and the breathing of evening.
I am wind in the top of a grove,
and surf on the cliff.
Mast, rudder, helmsman, and keel,
I am also the coral reef they founder on.
I am a tree with a trained parrot in its branches.
Silence, thought, and voice.
The musical air coming through a flute,
a spark off a stone, a flickering in metal.
Both candle and the moth crazy around it.
Rose and nightingale lost in the fragrance.
I am all orders of being, the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence, the lift and the falling away.
What is and what is not.
You who know Jelaluddin,
You are the one in all, say who I am.
Say I am you.
And what is this but the Hermetic principle that describes God as “a circle whose circumference is nowhere, and whose centre is everywhere”? Realising that is what is called “Ultimate Truth” by the Buddha.
Without that empathetic mode of knowing, there is no integral consciousness and whatever bases itself on other foundations isn’t integral but is a pretense of integrality. There is no “universal way of looking at things” without it. Integral consciousness is awareness of the multiformity and multidimensionality of consciousness, and this reality of the soul is not accessible to narcissistic consciousness or those who have already mutated into machinery — those who have become completely alienated from the “vital centre”.
This is the situation not only described by Gebser, but also in Kunzru’s article in The Guardian. The contempt expressed for empathy in Kunzru’s description of the fascist right couldn’t make the issue clearer — that fascism is the politics of narcissism.
This seems to be rather the key issue — the deficiency of the mental-rational being its deficit of empathetic awareness, while the “empathetic awareness” is practically synonymous with “integral” and the holistic. This is the contest and the conflict, and Gebser is confident that, eventually, empathetic awareness will defeat the deficient form of the mental-rational or, to put that another way, that “overview” will eventually overcome “point-of-view”.
The solution is simple, but hard in practice: if you want to become more than human, and not inhuman, you must let go of the “point-of-view” that has become mechanical and deficient — a shrunken, withered, and deformed thing far from truth.