Convivium: A Global Commonwealth
I’ld like to return, today, to an earlier theme of The Chrysalis and develop it further — and that is the idea of the Convivium, which should be the real end and aim of the process we call “globalisation” and the meaning of “globalism”. We would be better off talking about the Convivium and convivialism rather than globalism and globalisation. The choice of the right name for things makes all the difference, and the difference here, again, bears on our seeming inability to distinguish between higher and lower things, and our continuing confusion of the Whole with the mere Totality (which is but the shadow of the Whole) — therefore, the fatal confusion of the processes which belong to life with those processes which belong to death.
It is my contention, as you may know, that the confusion of the totality with the whole lies at root of our decadence and our nihilism, for it is a prime example of how “all higher values devalue themselves” — Nietzsche’s succinct definition of nihilism (and particularly that form of nihilism called “decadence”). Therefore, I want to speak to convivialism as life process and of the Convivium as the Community of the Whole Living Earth, for that is what the word means.
What we are doing in speaking of convivialism and the Convivium, of course, is simply elevating the ideas of globalisation and globalism to a “higher” plane of understanding, which is that ideal of Earth Community or, if you prefer, the Global Commonwealth. A Convivium (that is “life together”) does summarise the meaning of that higher insight realised and expressed by Jill Bolte-Taylor, for example, as “one human family” in her marvelous TED talk on her “stroke of insight”. A Convivium is William Blake’s ideal of his “New Age” and is, furthermore, the chief goal of Rosenstock-Huessy’s attempts at “universal history,” as well as the obvious correlate to Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness”, the realised Earth Community of integral consciousness.
Maybe we should even change the name “Earth” to “Convivia” to express this experience of the solidarity of all Life, for the ideal of “Earth Community” really has no meaning other than this fundamental mutualism, underlying cooperation, and the solidarity of all that lives and dies, and which does so precisely for the preservation of the life of the Earth as a whole. That is what Jean Gebser means by his enigmatic reference to “the law of the Earth” in his Ever-Present Origin.
A Convivium, having to do with living processes — aliveness, livelihood, life-time, etc — is a fitting counter ideal to Lewis Mumford’s “Megamachine” (who is also the old god “Moloch” and is equally Yanis Varoufakis’s The Global Minotaur). The Megamachine is a Juggernaut that is indifferent to life or death processes, as is proved by the environmental and climate crisis, and the “sixth extinction event”. Nothing could be clearer. The Convivium and the Megamachine are contraries, and in those terms “globalism” is not the problem. The Megamachine is the real problem.
Roderick Seidenberg’s “Post-Historic Man” is the servant of the Megamachine. (Varoufakis calls these servants of the Megamachine the Minotaur’s “handmaidens”). The Megamachine has no need of history because it has no need of consciousness. It’s ideal is the automaton. It is against this “post-historic man”, and against the Earth as Megamachine, that Rosenstock-Huessy pursued rather his ambitious project for a “universal history” of the collective human experience of the Earth as the only authentic foundation for a true Earth Community, or Convivium. The Convivium is William Blake’s (and Sri Aurobindo’s) “Universal Humanity”.
The Megamachine does not “integrate”. It assimilates. Again, the confusion of integration and assimilation reflects the confusion of the Whole and the Totality, which are treated as synonyms when, in fact, they are contrary in meaning. Not only do they refer to life and death respectively (tot being the Germanic word for “dead”), but they differ in the sense that a “totality” is a mere aggregation, an assemblage of parts into a totality. A Whole, on the other hand, pre-exists its particularisation or analysis. The holonic pre-exists its disassembly into parts, and its reconstitution (or “synthesis”) via rationalisation and systematisation into a “totality”.
As many of you know, this difference between the Whole and the Totality, and therefore to issues of Convivium against the Megamachine, has its source in Iain McGilchrist’s description of the “divided brain” (in The Master and His Emissary) and the two different modes of perception of the left-hemisphere and the right-hemisphere of the divided brain. The Emissary (the “God of the Left-Hemisphere“) is the Megamachine (who is also Blake’s “Urizen”, architect of the “Ulro”). The Master, on the other hand, is Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “Life Force Power of the Universe”, and which is otherwise historically called “soul”. The present conflict between the Whole and the Totality, ergo the Convivium and the Megamachine too, arises from the two very different modes of perception of the divided brain. More specifically, that there is a conflict at all is owing to the interference (or “usurpation”) of the Emissary with the “Life Force Power’s” prerogatives, which pertain to the perception of, and empathy with, wholes.
McGilchrist’s “Emissary” (or what is normally called the “ego-consciousness”, or Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “I” consciousness) is, furthermore, the Prodigal Son of the parables (and the wayward Falcon of W.B. Yeats’ ominous poem “The Second Coming“).
In those terms, then, the “Convivium” is not something that has to be created. It already is, even though it is not. It is not because of the Emissary’s interference with it — which interference McGilchrist describes as a “usurpation”. The “Emissary” — the intellect or ego-consciousness — was meant to be the servant of the Master. All parables about the “servant” are parables about the ego-nature or the Selfhood. In effect, Soul and Selfhood are in conflict, which lies at the root of the problem of “alienation” or “self-alienation”.
Given this, we can appreciate Jean Gebser’s remarks that the key to surviving the “maelstrom of blind anxiety” or “chaotic transition” he anticipated was “knowing when to let happen and knowing when to make happen”. That is, in effect, the harmonisation of the two modes of perception of the divided brain, and a plea, really, to return to the rightful relationship between McGilchrist’s Master and Emissary modes of the divided brain. These also correspond to Nietzsche’s distinction between the Dionysian and the Apollonian consciousness (or Soul and Selfhood as Nietzsche also described it in his chapter from Zarathustra called “The Despisers of the Body“).
Actually, in the few brief minutes of her TED talk that Jill Bolte-Taylor describes her “stroke of insight” you can learn a hell of a lot about the meaning of Blake, of Nietzsche, of McGilchrist, of Gebser, and also of Rosenstock-Huessy, and why I hold that the prime issues of the present and future are already prefigured in her own experience of the two modes of perception of the divided brain, and how this bears on the issue of the Whole and the Totality, and therefore on the issue of Convivium and Megamachine. And quite evidently, too, Rosenstock-Huessy’s maxim that “God is the power that makes men speak” is intelligible when one understands McGilchrist’s “Master” as Bolte-Taylor’s “Life Force Power of the Universe”. “God” is how the ego-consciousness interprets this “Master”.
So, ultimately the question is not whether the Megamachine can be transformed to serve the purposes of life, but whether the ego-consciousness, the Selfhood or Emissary, can be transformed to serve the purposes of the “Master”, which means also, in effect, overcoming merely dualistic rationality and restoring the proper relationship between “truth that sets free” and “the facts of the matter”, and therefore between the Whole and the Totality (for the latter is but the image and shadow of the former). And all this means, effecting the proper relationship between the Emissary and the Master, or Selfhood and Soul.