Fascism: The Politics of Narcissism

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.


42 responses to “Fascism: The Politics of Narcissism”

  1. donsalmon says :

    Scott, I wonder if you’ve been following Paul Bloom’s war on empathy. Bloom is chair of the dept of psychology at Yale. He was featured in a NY Times “debate” in which he managed to say what I think may be among the stupidest, most ignorant things I’ve ever heard of about empathy.

    I ended up submitting something like 12 comments to that debate, and it seems – remarkably for a Times debate – almost everyone else was making the same comments about Bloom. Everyone else got it and he was clueless.

    Several people speculated as to whether Bloom has Aspergers (now known as one of the manifestations of autism spectrum disorder). Almost every one of his psychological views i’ve come across in the last several years exemplifies – almost perfectly – everything that is wrong with experimental psychology. It’s almost as if you have to be empathically challenged to be a psychologist.

    They even did a study of students at the California School of Professional Psychology (whom you wouldn’t think were as empathically challenged as academics like Bloom). They measured their capacity for empathy at the start of their training, then retested them after 5 years of graduate school. Dramatic drop in the capacity for empathy!!

    When we’ve gotten to a point that our major psychologists are claiming that empathy is mostly a bad thing – and you have an entire political party in the US on a crusade against empathy (I don’t know if you’ll recall when Obama said empathy was one of the main criteria for selecting judges, at which point Fox and other faux news sites launched endless tirades against empathy) – then you know we’ve gotten about as close to a downfall as possible.

    Bloom has already written a book, “Against Empathy,” and is coming out soon with another on the same theme.

    I suppose it’s only a matter of time before folks start coming out in favor of pathological narcissism – oh wait, it’s already been done. Ayn Rand.

    What’s next? you know how you can tell how far we’ve gone? As soon as I try to come up with something else, Milo Y has already done it.


    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Hi Don.

      This is a good example of the kinds of issues I’m seeing crop up more and more often with our native tongue. Say, simply, ’empathy’ and no one will know what you actually mean. The word will be interpreted according to the foremost definition in the interpreter’s experience.

      I don’t get the impression that Bloom is doing anything more than than singling out one type of empathy as a potential curse. He begins by defining his target as the emotional variety.

      Many believe that empathy — the capacity to experience the feelings of others, and particularly others’ suffering — is essential to all of these roles.

      He then goes on to explain why emotional empathy may not be such a good thing to employ on a scale much larger than person to person.

      For those in the helping professions, compassion and understanding are critically important. But not empathy — feeling the suffering of others too acutely leads to exhaustion, burnout and ineffective work.

      I can vouch for that. I’d been an emotional empath from early childhood and it served me well until I came in contact with large groups of people and situations so emotionally over-charged that I eventually felt completely overwhelmed. I was apparently not alone in this. There is a growing number of articles online on the subject of empathy fatigue.

      Might it be that Bloom’s thesis simply suffers from the same lack of precision that’s come to plague all of us from time to time? Would it make a difference if that last sentence had been written, “But not emotional empathy?” Bloom is careful to point out in the sentence preceding that compassion and understanding are critically important.

      I try not to even use the word ’empathy’ anymore in favor of ‘compassion’ precisely because it carries with it a sense of emotional detachment, i.e. the emotions might be there, but we don’t have to identify ourselves with them to be empathic.

      It actually may be a good thing these kinds of misunderstandings are cropping up. We who’ve been English speakers and writers all our lives may have become a little too complacent in our usage to realize that what we mean may not be what the listener thinks we mean.

      And… Inigo Montoya springs to mind.

      • donsalmon says :

        Really good points, IF, but if you’ve only glanced at Bloom’s writings, I can see how you might think it’s a matter of semantics or vagueness. I don’t think so.

        I’ve been following this now for 4 years. The discussion in the Times involved a debater who went to enormous pains (and did it VERY well) to draw out the distinctions you made. It was clear by the way Bloom responded it wasn’t just a matter of disagreement – he simply couldn’t comprehend how cognitive empathy and emotional empathy might mean something more than the incredibly small-minded narrow boxes he was confining them in.

        I brought up Bloom because Scott made such an impeccably clear distinction. The root, the foundation, the “origin” if you will of empathy is in “knowledge by identity.” You might need to know something about modern conservatism in the US and the neuroscientific studies showing that conservatives tend to have lower activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which mediates what everyone else in the universe besides Bloom understands to be empathy.

        It’s absolutely true that when there are boundary problems, “feeling” other people’s emotions can be troublesome. I understand that is what Bloom seems to be talking about. But he doesn’t seem to have even the remotest notion that it is possible to be intuitively, viscerally, bodily “aware” of other people’s state of mind without getting lost in it – which is exactly what one would imagine someone without any intuitive capacities might think “knowledge by identity” is.

        I am usually quite loathe to quote ken Wilber, and even when he has a good idea he manages it clothe it in ugly language, but his “pre-trans fallacy” (translation – confusing a supra-rational state of consciousness for an infra-rational or irrational one) fits quite well here. People who live in their left brain and are empathically impaired can’t imagine a direct soul-to-soul connection as being anything but irrational.

        Supposedly, Romain Rolland met with Freud and tried to talk to him about Ramakrishna’s experience of Oneness with God. Freud replied that “I can’t find anything in myself of this ‘oceanic’ experience,” and concluded it involved a ‘regression to the womb.”

        Freud, by the way, admitted once to his nephew that he “hated” music. You really have to let that sink in. Imagine, a person who is supposed to understand human beings, hating music. Perhaps my being a musician makes this all the more shocking to me, but I would hope it would be enough to end any iota of the idea that Freud had even the remotest understanding of human beings. As Sri Aurobindo once said about psychoanalysts, they seem to be believe that by studying the mud in which the lotus is sitting, they can understand the secret of the heavenly Light of which the lotus is such a sublime symbol.

        This, I think, is the upside down, topsy turvy world that Scott has been writing about, which I suppose goes back to Newton and Blake’s “single vision,” though it certainly blossomed with Freud, who i think may have done more damage to the 20th century than almost any other person.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          It was clear [Bloom] simply couldn’t comprehend how cognitive empathy and emotional empathy might mean something more than the incredibly small-minded narrow boxes he was confining them in.

          You’ve been on the case much longer than I, so I’ll take your word for it. Perhaps he hasn’t had the direct experience Scott illustrates below.

          I’m not a big fan of psychiatry and psychology myself, though I make exceptions for the Jungian school. There is quite a lot of debate as to whether psychology is a science or a pseudoscience. This article makes some excellent points on that subject though, by that same reckoning, sociology couldn’t be called a science, either. According to Rosenstock, what plagues these sciences is the Newtonian worldview and the Cartesian cogito. Certainly our wisdom traditions treat “sciences of the mind” much differently than the dominant paradigm. If you’ve ever perused the APA’s encyclopedia of physchological disorders, it’s abundantly clear that having a personality at all can get you classified as certifiable.

          You might need to know something about modern conservatism in the US and the neuroscientific studies showing that conservatives tend to have lower activity in the anterior cingulate cortex

          I’d be careful with those. Such studies are often used as “scientific evidence” to justify bias and prejudice. We’re really just beginning to understand the brain.

          • Scott Preston says :

            By the by, while I’m on this — there’s a tendency amongst “Nietzscheans” to speak of “hard Nietzscheans” and “soft Nietzscheans” which is, I think, a piece of nonsense — precisely the stuff against which Nietzsche battled with his anti-dualistic approach in “Beyond Good and Evil”.

            so-called “hard Nietzscheans” are embarrassed by their idol’s supposed breakdown in Turin, when Nietzsche famously grabbed a fallen horse being whipped by its owner around the neck, and weeping called the horse “brother”. The embarrassment is that they find that out of character with Nietzsche’s philosophy.

            It’s not at all out of character or contrary to his philosophy, and this is simply a misunderstanding of minds still trapped in dualistic reasoning which Nietzsche attempted to transcend with his stance “beyond good and evil”. That “stance” is precisely what Castaneda’s don Juan called “the place of No-Pity”. And it is there that empathy with non-attachment are reconciled.

            It is this that Nietzsche boasted of as his “unique” ability to switch between foreground and background “perspectives”, as he called it (also because he had one foot in the grave and one in life) and therefore to differentiate this between “hard” or “soft” is non-sense.

            This is the kind of stuff that Nietzsche himself despised amongst those who claimed his philosophy as their own — that unless they experienced their own lives and abysses as he had (and that means empathise and not rationalise) they would never understand him. And they don’t because they don’t appreciate the paradoxical except in terms of the self-contradictory,

            And so now we have a bunch of nihilists all calling themselves “Nietzscheans” or claiming Nietzsche as their authority — exactly as Nietzsche himself anticipated — exactly also as the Nazis did.

            That’s why it is said: never throw your pearls before swine.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Odd coincidence. Mr. Bloom’s views on empathy are the subject of an article in today’s Guardian.


          Strikes me as flawed, first because it attempts, dialectically, to erect a synthesis of the contradictions — empathy and rationality as “rational compassion”, and second because it seems to confuse sympathy (or pity) with empathy, when they are not at all the same.

          Empathy is the fact that already underlies the so-called “collective unconscious”. It’s the basis of the Yoga principle “Thou Art That”. Empathy is the same as the unity of life, and is not an abstraction or a rational principle or “moral”. It’s the underlying reality of all that is. To treat this as an either/or issue is a false logic. Empathy is otherwise called “participation mystique”.

          And, of course, it is precisely this against which Gebser’s reified “perspectivity” become isolation of the ego-consciousness into the “point-of-view” works — to deny that empathetic awareness that knows itself as the unity of life — Jill bolte-taylor’s “life-force power of the universe” in effect. This process of isolation of the ego-consciousness is Gebser’s corresponding “distantiation” as opposed to “presentiation”. You need both, for Gebser did not deny the value of perspectivity within the integral consicousness overall. But in effect, what “distantiation” and “presentiation” refer to is the conditions of “non-attachment” and “empathy” (or compassion and so on)_.

          I’m pretty sure that what Castaneda’s don Juan once called “the Place of No-Pity” is exactly that Hermetic coincidence of opposites — empathetic awareness but with non-attachment. And in Nietzsche that becomes one of his principles of self-overcoming — amor fati.

          Bloom could probably use a dose of Buddhism, or at least a better appreciation for the paradoxical.

          Gary Olson, who has visited this website and has cited The Chrysalis in his book “Empathy Imperilled” would be a good counterpoint to Bloom’s “Against Empathy”

          I think it would be good to read both together for this, because, in some ways, this is the key contest of the present political situation, isn’t it? For the Empathetic and Against the Empathetic, and so, in those terms, “presentiation” versus “distantiation”, or, to put that another way, the aperspectival and the entrenched perspectival.

          • mikemackd says :

            On p. 360 of his book 2012 “Lewis Mumford and the Architectonics of Ecological Civilisation” (available online via http://mmu.academia.edu/PeterCritchley/Books), Peter Critchley (http://petercritchley-e-akademeia.yolasite.com) notes that:

            “The common world is constituted by complex symbiotic interactions which require empathy, mutual aid and sensitive accommodation. These are the key values for Mumford, and it is these which are denied by mechanical and political absolutism.”

            Therefore, to implement mechanical and political absolutism, one must devalue empathy, mutual aid and sensitive accommodation.

            From Technics and Human Development (Volume One of Mumford’s Myth of the Machine):

            “The present failure to use the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’, higher’ and ‘lower’ in judging conduct, as if such differences were unreal, and such words nonsensical, has brought on a total de-moralisation of behavior. Yet so important is the directive and formative function of language that the essential human values now secretly re-assert themselves in a topsy-turvy form: for intellectual confusion, crime, perversion, debasement, torture, random murder have in the language of many of our contemporaries become ‘good’ while rational thought, continence, personal probity, and loving-kindness have become ‘bad’ and hateful. This negation and corruption of language is a plunge into a murkier darkness than that from which man emerged when he first achieved speech.” (pp. 88-89).

            • donsalmon says :


              I read this almost 40 years ago, yet it remains for me one of the best explanations of how it came to be that we can no longer talk about “higher and lower” or “good and bad”

              From Schumacher’s “Small Is Beautiful”, chapter 6, “Our Greatest Resource: Education”


              Science cannot produce ideas by which we could live. Even the greatest ideas of science are nothing more than working hypotheses. useful for purposes of special research but completely inapplicable to the conduct of our lives or the interpretation of the world. If, therefore, a man seeks education because he feels estranged and bewildered, because his life seems to him empty and meaningless, he cannot get what he is seeking by studying any of the natural sciences, i.e. by acquiring ‘know-how’. That study has its own value which I am not inclined to belittle; it tells him a great deal about how things work in nature or in engineering: but it tells him nothing about the meaning of life and can in no way cure his estrangement and secret despair.

              Where, then, shall he turn? Maybe, in spite of all that he hears about the scientific revolution and ours being an age of science, he turns to the so- called humanities. Here indeed he can find, if he is lucky, great and vital ideas to NI his mind, ideas with which to think and through which to make the world, society, and his own life intelligible. Let us see what are the main ideas he is likely to find today, I cannot attempt to make a complete list; so I shall confine myself to the enumeration of six leading ideas, all stemming from the nineteenth century, which still dominate, as far as I can see, the minds of ‘educated’ people today,

              1. There is the idea of evolution – that higher forms continually develop out of lower forms, as a kind of natural and automatic process. The last hundred years or so have seen the systematic application of this idea to all aspects of reality without exception.

              2. There is the idea of competition, natural selection, and the survival of the fittest, which purports to explain the natural and automatic process of evolution and development.

              3. There is the idea that all the higher manifestations of human life. such as religion, philosophy, art, etc. – what Marx calls ‘the phantasmagorias in the brains of men’ – are nothing but ‘necessary supplements of the material life process’, a super- structure erected to disguise and promote economic interests, the whole of human history being the history of class struggles.

              4. In competition, one might think, with the Marxist
              interpretation of all higher manifestations of human life, there is, fourthly, the Freudian interpretation which reduces them to the dark stirrings of a subconscious mind and explains them mainly as the results of unfulfilled incest-wishes during child- hood and early adolescence.

              5. There is the general idea of relativism, denying all absolutes, dissolving all norms and standards, leading to the total undermining of the idea of truth in pragmatism, and affecting even mathematics, which has been defined by Bertrand Russell as ‘the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, or whether what we say is true’.

              6. Finally there is the triumphant idea of positivism, that valid knowledge can be attained only through the methods of the natural sciences and hence that no knowledge is genuine unless it is based on generally observable
              facts. Positivism, in other words, is solely interested in ‘know-how’ and denies the possibility of objective knowledge about meaning and purpose of any kind.

              No-one, I think, will be disposed to deny the sweep and power of these six ‘large’ ideas. They are not the result of any narrow empiricism. No amount of factual inquiry could have verified any one of them. They represent tremendous leaps of the imagination into the unknown and unknowable. Of course, the leap is taken from a small platform of observed fact. These ideas could hot have lodged themselves as firmly in men’s minds, as they have done, if they did not contain important elements of truth get their essential character is their claim of universality. Evolution takes everything into its stride, not only material phenomena from nebulae to home sapiens but also all mental phenomena, such as religion or language. Competition, natural selection, and the survival of the fittest are not presented as one set of observations among others, but as universal laws. Marx does not say that some parts of history are made up of class struggles; no, ‘scientific materialism’, not very scientifically, extends this partial observation to nothing less than the whole of ‘the history of all hitherto existing society’. Freud, again, is not content to report a number of clinical observations but offers a universal theory of human motivation, asserting, for instance, that all religion is nothing but an obsession neurosis. Relativism and positivism, of course, are purely metaphysical doctrines with the peculiar and ironical distinction that they deny the validity of all metaphysics. including themselves.

              What do these six ‘large’ ideas have in common, besides their non- empirical, metaphysical nature? They all assert that what had previously been taken to be something of a higher order is really ‘nothing but’ a more subtle manifestation of the ‘lower’ – unless, indeed, the very distinction between higher and lower is denied. Thus man, like the rest of the universe, is really nothing but an accidental collocation of atoms. The difference between a man and a stone is little more than a deceptive appearance. Man’s highest cultural achievements are nothing but disguised economic greed or the outflow of sexual frustrations. In any case, it is meaningless to say that man should aim at the ‘higher’ rather than the ‘lower’ because no intelligible meaning can be attached to purely subjective notions like ‘higher’ or ‘lower’, while the word ‘should’ is just a sign of authoritarian megalomania.

            • mikemackd says :

              Excellent summary. Thank you, Don.

              A good example of these six “large” ideas was Francis Crick’s assurance:

              “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules … You’re nothing but a pack of neurons”
              (Crick, F. 1994. The Astonishing Hypothesis, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons. pp. 3, 11).

              So are we to assume that if I placed a pack of neurons beside Crick’s wife, he would not be able to discern a difference?

              After all, how could a mere pack of neurons like him ever do any such thing?

              “No! Of course not!”, they would say. Why not? The Machine can provide no answer. To its functionaries, it is no worse to kill a person than it is a gnat. After all, what difference could there possibly be? They are both nothing but packs of neurons. Empathy? Mutual aid? Sensitive accommodation? Surely you are joking, Mr Mumford.

              This is the sort of cockamamie codswallop you get from mere Gorgonic gazers. When William Irwin Thompson said “think big, think myth”, he didn’t mean it as an injunction, but as an observation. When you think big, you have no choice but to think myth, and these six large ideas are myths of the machine.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes, empathy is not about drowning in the world’s pain and suffering, although really knowing this directly is the first of the four Noble Truths of Buddhism — dukkha. It must be truly experienced as such.

      But then comes the tricky bit, the teaching of which seems contradictory: the teaching of compassion (empathy) and the teaching of non-attachment. It’s a very delicate manoeuvre, which can easily slide into a kind of maudlin sentimentality on the one hand or complete indifference on the other. Therefore, it is called “Middle Way” although that should not be taken to be some kind of dialectical synthesis of empathy and non-attachment. It’s something quite different.

      This is, I’m persuaded, what Nietzsche thought of as the “transhuman”. If you read the opening passages in Zarathustra this is pretty much how he describes the transhuman.

      Scientific “disinterestedness” should be (and probably originally was intended to be) that, but has very often swung into this condition of maudlin sentimentality or, usually, complete indifference. And much of the conflictual politics today is very much this polarisation. And likewise, a lot of Buddhists are unable to reach that “zone” of empathy with non-attachment, and end up in an “either/or” condition.

      It seems impossible to reconcile this contradiction between compassion and non-attachment, but that is why the koans take the form they do.

      • donsalmon says :

        Excellent! This fits in with the brain studies.

        I wondered for some time why libertarians (in the US: it’s probably different in other countries) describe liberals as purely “emotional” and themselves as “rational” (i.e. Ayn Rand and her “objectivist” philosophy).

        I was corresponding with a libertarian Ted Cruz supporter. he wrote to me after one of the Democratic debates and said of Sanders and Clinton, “I heard nothing but emotion last night.”

        That was funny to me, because I heard nothing but vital/pranic vitriol and hatred coming from the conservatives, with an intellectual overlay about 2 centimeters thick.

        Then I realized – and this was a real epiphany to me – that when Sanders in particular spoke from the “heart” – that is, he conveyed, at times brilliantly, and perhaps more rarely, even with a deep philosophic understanding, an intuitive “knowing” about the need for a certain policy, my libertarian empathically challenged correspondent could only hear “emotion.”

        That’s my sense about Paul Bloom. He’s obviously a bright guy (though “bright” may not be the right word) – he’s the chair of the psych dept at Yale. But I’ve heard him spout other purely materialist beliefs. The man, I think, is profoundly challenged, and quite a few, as I wrote before, have speculated he might be autistic to some degree.

        But yes, ultimately, it’s not something to be solved by “reason.” It’s funny, when you stop trying to figure it out, the integration of compassion and non-attachment is the most obvious thing imaginable. But the more you try to analyze it, the more it becomes something utterly impossible, like Zeno’s paradoxes.

        • mikemackd says :

          >> I wondered for some time why libertarians (in the US: it’s probably different in other countries) describe liberals as purely “emotional” and themselves as “rational” (i.e. Ayn Rand and her “objectivist” philosophy).

          Don, there’s a handwritten side-note on p. 163 of that Dimensional Accrual and Dissociation paper by Eric Mark Kramer I gave the link to before: it reads “Modern pragmatism conflates egocentric desire with objectivity and rationality”.

          Which conflation is to be expected from a merely mechanistic mentality, per se wholly concerned with extrinsic valuation and thereby blind to intrinsic valuation. As we are mere cogs in machines, how could it possibly be other?

          Rest assured that such axiological howlers are not confined to the good ole US of A.

          PS: The printed text beside the note reads:

          “The hypertrophic Modern gains personal freedom while losing social ties and purpose. The existential crisis erupts with the specter of nihilism. Things are clear but meaningless. Mystery has been resolved into the simplest explanation. Since the universe is dead and empty, technological manipulation of the material base proceeds without restriction or care. Things, including people, have value only in the act of exchange. If a forest cannot be exploited, it has no value because inherency has been displaced by utility as the essence of value.”

          • InfiniteWarrior says :

            Things, including people, have value only in the act of exchange.

            That’s why we’re called “Human Resources” today.

          • donsalmon says :

            Hey Mike, great points. Great description of nihilism too, as well as rather frightful.

          • Scott Preston says :

            That’s a pretty good description of the spiritual crisis of modern man — this eclipse of “inherency”. That’s another reference to Gebser’s “vital centre”.

            “-herence” is an interesting word, along with its phases — coherence, inherence, decoherence, and so on. It’s implied that the “inherent” is the actual logos, or organising power that makes coherence possible at all. What “inheres” is what makes co-herence possible.

            Applied to Rosenstock’s “cross of reality” (or the Sacred Hoop) “God is the power that makes men speak” is the logos, that which inheres in the cross of reality, while the cross of reality itself is the coherent (or what Rosenstock calls “articulate” or “articulation”). Articulate is another term for cohere. In the Sacred Hoop, it is the one “who speaks from the centre of the voice”, which is likewise the centre of the Sacred Hoop, and so, in that sense, co-incident with the “vital centre” in Gebser’s terms.

            In those terms, then, the eclipse of the spiritual is the devaluation of the inherent, or what Gebser calls “distantiation”, and the result of that is nihilism, or Walter Benjamin’s extremity of “self-alienation”, which others call “Hell”.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          He’s obviously a bright guy… he’s the chair of the psych dept at Yale…. The man, I think, is profoundly challenged, and quite a few, as I wrote before, have speculated he might be autistic to some degree.

          This might be a good time to employ some empathy for Bloom and reshare a little jewel I discovered a few years ago.

          The existence of multiple forms of intelligence has become a commonplace, but however much elite universities like to sprinkle their incoming classes with a few actors or violinists, they select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic. While this is broadly true of all universities, elite schools, precisely because their students (and faculty, and administrators) possess this one form of intelligence to such a high degree, are more apt to ignore the value of others. One naturally prizes what one most possesses and what most makes for one’s advantages. But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite. The “best” are the brightest only in one narrow sense. One needs to wander away from the educational elite to begin to discover this. – The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

          Multiple forms of intelligence always have been commonplace. “Each according to his gifts,” as it were.

          Our institutions of learning are as much a part of the system in need of transformation as all other facets of it and there are quite a number of educators who just so happen to be on top of it. Granted, most of those have actually left the educational system it in frustration, pursuing careers in writing and educational activism rather than put up with the “arrogance of ignorance.”

          • donsalmon says :

            Ah yes, multiple intelligence. I was almost on that track, but I managed to get suspended for fighting in my 10th grade year and then nearly flunked all my courses. Went the next year to a private school for performing artists, living on my own in NY City at age 16, and came back to my suburban high school a completely different person, able to relate to everyone very easily.

            meanwhile, one of my best friends, a straight “A” student who, without lying about it, really didn’t ever study, got an off the charts IQ score and a full scholarship to Harvard, and gave it up to go to auto mechanics school in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

            I think between figuring out that an intellectual education would have killed my soul, and learning to read music (at age 4) before learning to read, may have saved me.

            I also was fortunate to have 20 years as a musician in the avant-garde NY music scene before going to psych grad school, and still it took every ounce of energy not to be soul-deadened by the doctorate (I was actually threatened with suspension during my doctoral internship for telling my therapy supervision group that I had been talking about a patient’s “soul” with him. They were all horrified and worried it might make the guy psychotic – turns out he got over his PTSD and went back to school after nearly dropping out – turned his life around, but they still nearly suspended me!)(

            it was some time in my late 40s or early 50s that the whole intellectual/intuitive-musician thing came together. I never really understood the deeper place of music in my life since I fell in love with spiritual psychology in my teens, but since composing music for our ‘remember-to-breathe” website, it’s been making perfect sense. Makes my whole life make sense. Could never have imagined it, but it all points in the same direction. It’s like one synchronicity after another, all reflective of an infinitely larger pattern. Nada Brahma!

  2. Patrick Linton says :

    Dear Scott,

    I discovered The Chrysalis a few months ago and have enjoyed reading and saving every new posting. Thank you for all your good efforts.

    My strong suit has always been my intellect, but years ago I began to realize its limitations. I then began to balance my meditations, reflections and “mentalizing” with practices that focused on deepening and expanding the feeling nature of my heart. When the Dalai Lama talks about wisdom, he points to his heart. I would have to believe that when he speaks about compassion or empathy, he again would be pointing to his heart. And when we reference the poems of Rumi, I can’t help but sense that Rumi was always speaking from the heart, about what the heart knows.

    The postings and discussions of late around the topics of empathy and empathy deficit are very much appreciated, but it feels like the heart, the very instrument of empathy, is not present. Is there a place for the heart, the heart’s wisdom and compassion, and the heart’s knowing in these discussions? If so, then what is the role and function of the heart?

    Thank you

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks for the comment, Patrick. As for the “heart”, it’s exactly what we call here “the vital centre” or “core”, just a difference in wording, that’s all. The actual heart, the physical heart, the organ that perishes with the body and breaks down, is a symbol for the vital centre that doesn’t. So, wherever you read “vital centre” in The Chrysalis, feel free to substitute “heart”.

      • Patrick Linton says :

        Thanx for the timely and thoughtful reply, Scott. Drawing upon my own years of reading and reflection, that is where I was placing the “spiritual” or eternal heart in my understanding of the various models and authors that you frequently reference. Glad to know that I was in relative alignment with your clarification.

        Kind regards,

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Chris Kutarna, co-author of The Age of Discover, and who I met with earlier this year, had an article in Time a few months ago that some may find suggestive. I compared the Trump — Clinton contest to a contest between the Dreadful and the Dreary. Chris compares it to Savonarola and Machiavelli.


      • Steve Lavendusky says :

        Nietzsche sees in philosophers and priests, critics and politicians, a fundamental ascetic nihilism. The asceticism comes from the denial of the life force naturally arising in the human being. The nihilism comes from serving not a changeable and shifting life force, but an unseen god, fixed, stable, and dead. Alignment with “divine will” or a “categorical imperative” or a patriotic ideal or any grand concept, when defined as unknowable, is allegiance to a Nothing. Allegiance to a Nothing annihilates life.

  4. mikemackd says :

    Well Scott, your question about whether Mumford ever read Gebser (or, for that matter, the other way around) led me on another very fruitful journey, particularly when I arrived at the portal of Prof. Erik Kramer, who considers both Gebser and Mumford as foundational to his Dimensional Accrual and Dissociation approach to cultural dynamics.

    It also led me to a response to this current post of yours on fascism as the politics of narcissism. It is a small (4 pages, including references) 2016 journal article by Velten and Alexander entitled “Recognizing and Preparing the Narcissist for the Expatriate Experience: Practical Notes on Affecting Intercultural Communication Competence”, which is online at:


    It seems from that article that there’s a chance those enclosed in their caverns of narcissism, seeing only through the narrow chinks of their caverns, can be counselled out of them.

    Trump is not other. While he is clearly suffering from a bad case of grandiose narcissism, at least as persona, that is not all that he is, even if he thinks it is.

    Sadly, on the negative side, in terms of relationships he is an exemplary candidate for what Mumford termed “transferred reproach”: we want to watch out for that. We all have our inner narcissist: without it, we could never have become mature adults. Some have grown beyond it, others have not. Similarly, some have grown beyond highly valuing that identity-fortifying strategy of transferred reproach, and others have not.

    I do not know the inner Trump, or even if there is one beyond what we see and hear second, third, and x-hand. But if there is more to him than the grandiosely narcissistic creature paraded before us (ironically, grandiose narcissism is so commonplace) – and I consider that there must be, because like Terence I am human and find nothing human alien to me – then with counselling of the kind Velten and Alexander describe there is a chance he may grow into the role he must now fulfil.

    That may be possible now, while he is settling into the role. But without it happening now, that door will quickly close as the more he is attacked the more he will strike out against his attackers and Mumford’s, Gebser’s and our worst fears could well come to pass.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Eric Kramer is fairly well-known in Gebser circles. He’s also the editor of Consciousness and Culture (which is too damned expensive).

      I read the article on ICC and narcissism: quite interesting. But, as they note, dealing with narcissists can be “upsetting” — and can drive even experienced clinical psychologists around the bend, apparently.

      • mikemackd says :

        Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And given the stakes, around the bend, up the wall, entry to the universe of galloping wazzockry … none would be too high a price to pay!

  5. don salmon says :

    I don’t know if everybody will see the same Amazon page, but when I click on the Seidenberg link in Scott’s post, I get to the 1957 Seidenberg book, and right below that I see an ad for the Amazon TV show “Sneaky Pete,” whose slogan is “The Truth is always changing.” TV for the post-truth era! (note – it’s actually not a bad show:>)

  6. Scott Preston says :

    The contagion of “blind anxiety” of which Gebser warned seems to be spreading


    We do seem to be in the quaqmire now.

  7. abdulmonem says :

    We are living in a time of spiritual autism that does not lack awareness,but its awareness has been perverted to such a degree that it is seeing in its perverted awareness the right path , like mr bloom referred to by Don in his first comment, who is clueless of his blindness. When faithful awareness in doing good and saying good is lost all types of diseases are possible to manifest themselves across the human horizon. They say humans are originally born in the cradle of innocence, but alas parents and society are the source of good breeding or bad one, that is why people are warned to be critical and choose the right path as if the right path is innately built in the human when his awareness is enhanced through his own personal consciousness in line with the original consciousness that permeates everything. The faithful awareness that guides the humans to the original awareness they are sharing in its beautiful vitality and co-evolving with its expanding disclosure, provided they put themselves in a state of intentional preparedness and attentive receptivity. When the human forgets his self-reproach developing tool and his mission to grow spiritually and not only biologically and there is more to life than this short trip on earth, loss is inevitable. I fully agree with Mumford if I have understood him correctly that transferred reproach is a dark alley that throw the humans in a state of self-forgetfulness. It is sad that the perverted path is higher in sound and action and is blinding those who are submerged in it while raising the anxiety of the sensitive soul who think with their hearts and not with their rational brains, The ones who are grieving in the way of spiritual rebirth for themselves and other and who are destined to reach the happy end station prepared for all those who desiring goodness to all without separation. I aspire fo spiritual growth out of respect to the One who puts awareness in me and provided this earth to feed me, water me, shelter me and accommodate me after death. It is a personal journey in a collective setting to end with Him.

  8. Scott Preston says :

    Bannon is a Leninist?



    Should I be surprised? Canada’s former Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was infatuated with Stalin, reputedly (and it showed).

    The ironies never stop in “the new normal”.

  9. donsalmon says :

    Regarding the integration of empathy and non-attachment:

    There’s a verse in chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita which folks often trip over, which involves both empathy and non-attachment. Krishna tells Arjuna that the awakened sage is intimately aware of the grief and suffering of all beings. Without a careful reading, it may appear strange that the sage is feeling grief and suffering.

    Here is the way it is often translated: “I regard them to be perfect yogis who see the true equality of all living beings and respond to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were their own.”

    “respond to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were their own.”

    This is exactly what Bloom is worried about. If I respond to your sorrow as if it were my own, it will make me xenophobic, racist, and all kinds of other horrible things.

    For a non-Vulcan take on this, here is Sri Aurobindo’s commentary, starting with Sri Aurobindo’s translation of the verse:

    “He, O Arjuna, who sees with equality everything in the image of the Self, whether it be grief or it be happiness, him I hold to be the supreme Yogin.”

    And by this it is not meant at all that he himself shall fall from the griefless spiritual bliss and feel again worldly unhappiness, even in the sorrow of others, but seeing in others the play of the dualities which he himself has left and surmounted, he shall still see all as himself, his self in all, God in all and, not disturbed or bewildered by the appearances of these things, moved only by them to help and heal, to occupy himself with the good of all beings, to lead men to the spiritual bliss, to work for the progress of the world Godwards, he shall live the divine life, so long as days upon earth are his portion. The God-lover who can do this, can thus embrace all things in God, can look calmly on the lower nature and the works of the Maya of the three gunas and act in them and upon them without perturbation or fall or disturbance from the height and power
    of the spiritual oneness, free in the largeness of the God-vision, sweet and great and luminous in the strength of the God-nature, may well be declared to be the supreme Yogin. He indeed has conquered the creation.

  10. Scott Preston says :

    Can you detect the double-think, the duplicitous logic, that is at work in this article by a “professor of political science and law” at Vanderbilt that appears in Financial Times.


    It really is so typical of the decoherence — the loss of integrity — of the modern personality and consciousness structure when even academics are blind to their own double-think.

    • Steve Lavendusky says :

      Scott, been reading a book called LIVING IN THE NEW CONSCIOSNESS by German Jesuit priest who is also a Zen Master(whatever that means) it’s his take on Gebser, Aurobindo, Chardin, and Jaspers. Not bad. Your better.

  11. onedayatatime says :

    Hi, I recently realized that my ex of 25 years is narcissistic and I had no idea all that time! Now I can see it in others. weird.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. But real insight and enlightenment is also to see it in oneself. It’s the predicament of the human condition.

      • donsalmon says :

        hi one day – yes but there are degrees. I remember watching Trump during the spring campaign, and being astonished at how similar – really, almost identical – so many of his phrases and responses were to someone I know quite well who has very severe narcissistic personality disorder.

        Seeing similar things in oneself is a great foundation for compassion and empathy, but also recognizing that some have it to a much more pathological degree is helpful as well.

        As you see this more clearly, you’ll see humanity in a profoundly different light. Krishna said it well in the Gita: “All people follow me in all ways.” Everything we do, every breath, every blink of an eye, is ultimately a search for the Divine. It’s just a matter of how far we go in Divine substitutes – some find their substitute God in art, beauty, selfless service, fighting for sustainability, etc. some find it in cruelty, violence, exploitation. I think there’s a categorical difference between those (the Indian philosophers do too – there are tamasic, rajasic and sattwic substitutes – the Gita counsels us to harmonize our lives along sattwic lines to make ourselves more receptive to Divine Grace)

      • onedayatatime says :

        speaking for yourself right. not for me…..just checking.

      • onedayatatime says :

        I stand corrected. thanks.

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