Transhumanism: A Theology of the Megamachine

Meghan O’Gieblyn, in today’s Guardian, has written a pretty fascinating semi-autobiographical account of her “deconversion” from Christianity, her deep despair and Angst that followed that loss of faith and identity, and the temptations that “transhumanism” held for her as a surrogate faith and substitute theology. “God in the machine: my strange journey into transhumanism” describes what can only be called a theology for Lewis Mumford’s “Megamachine”.

It’s strange kismet, because last night I was obsessing, for some reason, over an early Pink Floyd song called “See Emily Play“, playing it over and over again trying to discover the meaning of who and what was “Emily”. The surrealistic Emily, I was convinced, bore some resemblance to the mood of Lily Allen’s song “The Fear” (as I discussed that earlier in “The Concretion of the Spiritual“). And it was in Meghan O’Gieblyn’s article that the two themes came together. There is something very profound about the human condition struggling to emerge into consciousness in “See Emily Play”, in “The Fear” and in O’Gieblyn’s “strange journey into transhumanism”.

There are a number of themes raised in O’Gieblyn’s article that we’ve addressed in The Chrysalis: the “death of God”, the post-modern “loss of self” and identity crisis, Gebser’s reference to the  “maelstrom of blind anxiety” (Angst, as the existentialists call it). Most expressly though, it is that feature of the Kali Yuga that Marty Glass, in his book Yuga, called “the Fall into Time” and the attempt to escape it. It’s this attempt to escape the Fall into Time that informs O’Gieblyn’s article and the (misdirected) hopes of the “transhumanists”. And certainly Gebser’s “time-freedom”, which is also a transcendence of the Kali Yuga and the Fall into Time, has nothing to do with uploading consciousness into a machine, which is, itself, an image of the clockwork.

What is presently called “transhumanism” (and which should properly be called “post-humanism” and not transhumanism) is itself a “genuine imitation” of the real deal. There are already precedents for the meaning of “transhuman” — the Buddha, the Christ being just two historical examples — and who were already referred to as such in their own day and for one very obvious reason. They had obtained “time-freedom”. They had transcended time and escaped the Fall Into Time, and had tried to show the way to others by which they too could rise above samsaric existence, transcend the Kali Yuga, and achieve “time-freedom”. “Eternity”, in effect, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with “forever and ever” or notions of an everlasting machine of perpetual motion. O’Gieblyn’s article is actually a very good description of how the deficient forms of myth and magic inform the equally deficient thinking about “spiritual machines”. In fact, even if it were feasible to upload consciousness to a machine, it would not be everlasting life but everlasting death. It would be more akin to being buried alive — an entombment in mechanism, a perverse form of “Oneness” with the Megamachine, who is the old god Moloch.

If Dante was the first to use the term “transhuman” (which is disputable) it is certainly not in any sense that our cyborgians understand this. Nor does Nietzsche’s “overman” have any connection with this “genuine imitation” article that presently goes by the name “transhuman”. William Blake’s “Albion”, or Jean Gebser’s “Diaphainon” — these are the most current efforts to awaken human consciousness to its own implicit transcendent nature in time-freedom which is already its birthright, but which it has forgotten due to the descent into the Kali Yuga and the Fall into Time and mere sensate existence. That is the whole meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son — the Fall into Time.

The attempt of the ego-consciousness (which is Iain McGilchrist’s “Emissary” only) to achieve immortality for itself by entombing itself in a machine, like a mummy in the Egyptian pyramids (Rosenstock-Huessy in fact referred to this kind of fear of mortality and attempt to immortalise the ego-nature as “Egyptianism”) is really a perverse attempt to escape the Fall into Time, which is whatever is meant by “salvation” or “redemption”. “Time-freedom” is simply Gebser’s term for what was formerly called “redemption” or “salvation”.

The machine will not be “spiritualised” by this. That is exactly what is called “profane” thinking. More likely it is that consciousness will be mechanised, and in that sense deadened. This is exactly what was expressed in earlier concerns about “Organisation Man” or what Roderick Seidenberg (and Lewis Mumford) described as “post-historic man” — the human fully assimilated and fully adapted to the requirements of the Megamachine — as an extension of its own automatism. And the fact that so many find this fate desirable and reasonable is just a demonstration of how estranged and alienated human beings have become their own “vital centre” or Life.

Theological themes like “transfiguration”, “incarnation”, “redemption”,  “immortal soul” all make a reappearance in the bizarre and surreal theologies of transhumanism and of the Megamachine, but in completely distorted and perverse forms. It certainly was not the case that escape from “the Fall into Time” — samsaric existence — was unavailable to human beings before technology and the Megamachine (which is, as far as I’m concerned, what Tolkien intended to be understood by his character “Sauron” equally).

O’Gieblyn concludes her article by calling all that “a pantomime of redemption”. We’ve used the term “caricature” here in The Chrysalis. It’s the same thing.

The teachings — the dharma — of early Buddhism, early Christianity, of Sufism are subtle. But never were they about contempt for the body and organic processes. That was a perversion of later dogmas that seem to have been carried over into ideals of “rationality” and mechanism. The body was always treated with respect and as a necessary partner in the process of self-transcendence, because it is Nature in the flesh. So, behind it all is a deep contempt for Nature. If they do ever succeed in uploading identity into a machine, it will not be eternal life, but eternal death that they will succeed in mimicking.

 

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29 responses to “Transhumanism: A Theology of the Megamachine”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    In a different, but related, vein, the right-wing gadfly and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is being taken to court by his apparently fed-up wife who claims he’s unstable. His defence? That he’s just “playing a character” and is “a performance artist”, ergo, he’s not responsible for what he says or for the consequences of what he says because, apparently, he doesn’t really mean it but is, one takes it, the on-air equivalent of the National Enquirer.

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/18/worried-about-the-us-being-led-by-a-tyrant-who-may-destroy-the-earth-blame-alex-jones

    Hmm. might not even have brought it up except there used to be someone who kept commenting in the Dark Age Blog and the Chrysalis citing Alex Jones as his authoritative source.

  2. Charles says :

    Scott,

    Every human that questions the meaning of life in an open-mined but critical attitude asks the question, “what is reality?”

    Wrote these ideas years ago.

    The machine has been in my thoughts. I tend to go from different thoughts to different thoughts. I’m fascinated by the idea of the machine and why western man seems to think that the machine will solve all our problems. I went to the library and got two books. One is called “The Myth of The Machine” by Lewis Mumford and “The Machine in the Garden” by Leo Marx. Another book, The New Biology by Robert Augros and George Stancu also proved valuable.
    Many of us aren’t aware how much the premises of the early architects of the “mechanistic program” (from The New Biology) still guide us today in our world views. In the beginning of the New Biology, the authors give a description of the machine. They write how Descartes separated the universe into two categories, mind and matter. Descartes wrote, “The laws of Mechanics…are identical with those of nature.” With the help of Newton, Kepler and others the world became imagined as a big clock, a big mechanism. In Leo Marx’s book, he mentions, the writer, Thomas Carlyle, who is talking here about the philosopher, John Locke: “His whole doctrine, is mechanical, in its aims and origin, in its method and its results.” Locke made the mind contingent on events outside of itself. Carlyle is saying that according to this metaphysic (my word), we no longer have will, imagination and creativity. We will be directed by outside forces. Here are the differences between a machine and an organism.
    A machine has to be directed from without. An organism is directed from within. “No machine rebuilds its own parts. All organisms, however, constantly renew their tissues and cells right down to the molecules.”
    “Another difference is that machines do not grow from seeds or eggs, but are composed of unchanging parts, assembled from the outside. Consequently, when a machine begins to function it already has all its parts. Not so the living thing. From its beginning it grows, not only in size but with an increasing differentiation of parts, organs, and new functions.”
    Another difference: “machines have only a unity of order, not a unity of substance. A horse, through growth, determines its own shape and structure; consequently, its organs, tissues, and cells are identfiably horse organs, horse tissues, and horse cells. Every part of the living being, down to its macromolecules, bears the signature of its owner.” If you took a clock, you wouldn’t know the origin.
    The next page P. 28 “Another fundamental difference between organism anmd machine is that organisms are natural things, whereas machines are artificial things….Artifacts are man-made and assembled from without. Organisms are made by nature and develop from within.
    P.29 ” A further difference is that the parts of a machine cab be completely separated, ten reassembled, so that the machine again runs normally. “The New Biology Robert Augros and George Stancu (1987)
    Many of us aren’t aware how much the premises of the early architects of the “mechanistic program” (from The New Biology) still guide us today in our world views. In the beginning of the New Biology, the authors give a description of the machine. They write how Descartes separated the universe into two categories, mind and matter. Descartes wrote, “The laws of Mechanics…are identical with those of nature.” With the help of Newton, Kepler and others the world became imagined as a big clock, a big mechanism. In Leo Marx’s book, he mentions, the writer, Thomas Carlyle, who is talking here about the philosopher, John Locke: “His whole doctrine, is mechanical, in its aims and origin, in its method and its results.” Locke made the mind contingent on events outside of itself. Carlyle is saying that according to this metaphysic (my word), we no longer have will, imagination and creativity. We will be directed by outside forces. Here are the differences between a machine and an organism.
    A machine has to be directed from without. An organism is directed from within. “No machine rebuilds its own parts. All organisms, however, constantly renew their tissues and cells right down to the molecules.”
    “Another difference is that machines do not grow from seeds or eggs, but are composed of unchanging parts, assembled from the outside. Consequently, when a machine begins to function it already has all its parts. Not so the living thing. From its beginning it grows, not only in size but with an increasing differentiation of parts, organs, and new functions.”
    Another difference: “machines have only a unity of order, not a unity of substance. A horse, through growth, determines its own shape and structure; consequently, its organs, tissues, and cells are identifiably horse organs, horse tissues, and horse cells. Every part of the living being, down to its macromolecules, bears the signature of its owner.” If you took a clock, you wouldn’t know the origin.
    The next page: “Another fundamental difference between organism and machine is that organisms are natural things, whereas machines are artificial things….Artifacts are man-made and assembled from without. Organisms are made by nature and develop from within.
    As Erich Fromm wrote “Man is a not a machine.”

  3. abdulmonem says :

    Eye is designed to see others but not itself,that is why all mystics warned against it as a tool of sure knowing and emphasize resorting to the ear as the real tool that transverses time and space to wider horizon where the seeker can find his real self in the presence of its originator. The journey from religious eschatology to secular eschatology with the ignorance of the connection is revealing.in showing how the ear is being hijacked again by the eye through the image of the captivating machine. The vision of uploading the incomprehensible limitless consciousness into a machine if it tells us anything it tells us how deep our humanity has swooned in this destructive abyss that only god can save us from its complete demolition. Moving from raw, young Lily whose vision is dictated for her to mature Meghan who is formulating her vision through her journey that led her to the beginning without resolve, show us clearly the dilemma our humanity is striving to recuperate from without success. It is a humanity that is denying its responsibility like the figure you cited in your comment which I think is connected to the same spiritual loss described by the post. Falsifying the divine narrative can not end without severe consequences which we are only seeing some signs of its beginning. I do not want to sound gloomy but this the truth that have encountered all previous oppressive and untruthful systems. It seems people do not trust the divine words of warning until they face the calamity, calamities that are occurring across our globe for those who have. sensitive heart.

    • Scott Preston says :

      humanity has swooned in this destructive abyss that only god can save us from its complete demolition

      Well, the German philosopher Heidegger would certainly concur with you there. Back in the late sixties, in an interview he gave in a German magazine, he reportedly stated “only a god can save us now”.

      I’ve always found that a worrying statement, mainly because Heidegger, it seems, earlier thought he found that “god” in Hitler. And it seems many today are tempted to find this “salvation” in today’s strongman politics.

      I’m not sure what Heidegger, then, understood by that statement. Surely he must have understood Nietzsche’s meaning of “the god within”, and that it is to that god within we must turn to find the resolutions to our difficulties. “God is & acts only in existing beings and men”, said Blake equally. So I’m not sure Heidegger ever really understood Nietzsche’s objection to “flowing out into a God” as wrong. Nietzsche was only saying what many others had said before him, but apparently without much understanding either: “god is closer to us than we are to ourselves”. That, to me, is a very meaningful statement.

      • abdulmonem says :

        There is a verse in the quran which says , god is nearer to us than our jugular vein. I find it perplexing until my soul tastes his closeness to bow in awe to the meaning.

  4. Charles says :

    Scott,

    The teachings — the dharma — of early Buddhism, early Christianity, of Sufism are subtle. But never were they about contempt for the body and organic processes. That was a perversion of later dogmas that seem to have been carried over into ideals of “rationality” and mechanism. The body was always treated with respect and as a necessary partner in the process of self-transcendence, because it is Nature in the flesh. So, behind it all is a deep contempt for Nature. If they do ever succeed in uploading identity into a machine, it will not be eternal life, but eternal death that they will succeed in mimicking.

    I agree. My studies and meditations of cultural history from many disciplines suggest that reality can’t be taken literally through a language. Closure is a not a sustainanle idea. Every human that questions the meaning of life in an open-mined but critical attitude asks the question, “what is reality?” Reading a fascinating book by Bernardo Kastrup. Meaning in Absurdity- What bizarre phenomenon can tell us about the nature of reality. His writing about logic is fascinating. He writes:
    “much of our logic is grounded on the so-called ‘principle of bivalence’ – the idea that any statement about reality has a determinate truth value: it is either true or false, regardless of our ability to find out which.

    • Scott Preston says :

      “bivalence” applies to a very limited range of statements we can make, and the attempt by some to reduce all language to such statements is very wrong-headed. For the most part, the “principle of bivalence” applies only to statements of the indicative type — what is or what isn’t. It doesn’t apply to imperatives or optatives, and is quite limited in applicability to narrative statements. Take an imperative like “Love!” or even “Shut the door!” How do you evaluate that bivalently? Likewise the optative form like “May I love” does not conform to the principle of bivalence — of being either/or, true or false.

      So almost two-thirds of speech does not conform to, nor can it be made to conform to, binary statements or “is” or “is not”. And a lot of the meaning of “post-truth” is the attempt by people to force imperatives and optatives and narratives to act like indicatives.

      • Charles says :

        I agree Scott. Bivalence is one of the ideas that must be let go. The mechanistic paradigm is a cultural construct that developed over time.

  5. davidm58 says :

    I haven’t yet had time to read the full article, but I come from the same ‘dispensational’ background as O’Gieblyn, so this will be an interesting read. Unlike her, I didn’t succumb to Ray Kurzweil’s philosophy. However, Kurzweil has for some reason become a popular reference for many Wilberians, which always disturbs me.

    I’m not familiar with Pink Floyd’s “See Emily Play,” but this sparked the connection for me to Esperanza Spalding’s last project, and I wonder if there are some useful parallels.

    From an NPR Review:

    ” ‘Emily’s D+Evolution’ marks a new sound for Spalding. Here, she picks up the electric bass (and occasionally the piano) and surrounds herself with a power trio of electric guitar and drums — a louder, proggier, weirder funk-rock direction for the jazz-trained bassist and vocalist. It’s part of a broad theatrical vision for the character Emily, inspired by broad philosophical musings on resourcefulness and the nature of progress. On stage, she was surrounded by choreographed routines, a marionette closet and three backup singers dressed all in yellow.

    “Whether you want to see it as devolution and evolution, and the place where they co-exist without one diminishing the other, or you could look at it like barely having the tools that you need, but having to move forward, and having to keep moving,” Spalding told NPR. “What do you do when you don’t really have all the tools that you need, but you have to survive? And you need to grow and expand?”
    http://www.npr.org/event/music/468290664/first-listen-live-esperanza-spalding-emilys-d-evolution

    • Scott Preston says :

      “See Emily Play” is a bit surreal and spacey. David Bowie also used it in his “Pin Ups” album.. But there might be a connection between the song and the French movie “Amelie”. The character in the movie bears an uncanny resemblance to Emily in the song

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Am%C3%A9lie

      There seems to be something archetypal about “Emily”. I don’t know whether there’s any connection, but Syd Barret, the composer of the song, went mad shortly after it became Pink Floyd’s first real “hit”. Some of Pink Floyd’s later songs pay homage to Barret or document his descent into insanity (like “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”). Meghan O’Gieblyn brought “Emily” to mind.

      Here’s Pink Floyd’s version.

      Here’s Bowie’s version

      Is there a connection between all these things (including Lily Allen’s “The Fear”?). It’s not entirely a visible one, but it seems an interesting example of how a “meme” develops and circulates. And I’m not sure there is any difference between what Dawkins calls a “meme” and what Jung calls “an archetype” of the collective unconscious (which would be quite ironic).

  6. mikemackd says :

    This morning I was listening to Australia’s Radio National. Its “Life Matters” program included an interview with Steve Biddulph, a parenting consultant, called “Nurturing Wild in Our Daughters”, at:

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/nurturing-wild-in-our-daughters/8442030.

    It reminded me of a quote from Robert Ardrey’s 1972 “The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations” (London, Collins: The Fontana Library), where he observes on p. 34:

    “Only in the wild does [an animal] face those pressures and opportunities which give expression to his total nature … Captivity has subtracted fear from his life, and substituted boredom. And it is for this reason that we should feel sorry for him.”

    Apparently, addressing our need for the wild now requires far more than feeling sorry. According to Biddulph, somewhere around a quarter of girls suffer from significant mental disturbances, an unnamed proportion of which he considers are related to adjusting to what we here call the megamachine.

    As Mumford put it somewhere in The City in History, “No urban existence that pushes the primeval background out of sight, that makes it remote and unavailable, that deprives people of intimate contact with it, hunting, fishing, rambling, exploring, collecting, boating, is likely to produce adequate men and women, able to cope with the realities of life and death.”

    That Mumford connection is made more explicit in another work, by Mark Seely, called “Born Expecting the Pleistocene”. On p. 102, Seely says “We – you and I – don’t control technology, it clearly controls us. When it comes to relationships between technology and personal freedom: ‘While any new technical device may increase the range of human freedom, it does so only if the human beneficiaries are at liberty to accept it, to modify it, or reject it: to use it where and when and how it suits their own purposes, in quantities that conform to those purposes’ (Mumford, The Pentagon of Power, p. 185). I am hard pressed to find a single example of a modern technology that meets these criteria.”

    However, it is a few pages on where he informs Biddulph’s concern for the mental health of children. On pp. 108-109, following a quote from p 240 of Mumford’s Technic’s and Civilization about the psychological implications of the telephone (What will be the outcome? Obviously, a widened range of intercourse: more numerous contacts: more numerous demands on attention and time. But unfortunately, the possibility of this type of immediate intercourse on a worldwide basis does not necessarily mean a less trivial or a less parochial personality. …), he cites studies indicating that our social distances from one another have increased in parallel with our adoption of electronic communication, and that “the electronic flattening of our world seems to strip out something essential … [and facilitates] an egocentrism that is generated by the isolating context”.

    Whether or not they consciously realise it, we have passed on to our children –
    for them to answer for themselves – questions Mumford asked decades before they were born, in 1970, on p. 178 of The Pentagon of Power:

    “What merit is there in an over-developed technology which isolates the whole man from the work-process, reducing him to a cunning hand, a load-bearing back, or a magnifying eye, and then finally excluding him altogether from the process …? What meaning has a man’s life as a worker if he ends up as a cheap servo-mechanism, trained solely to report defects or correct failures in a mechanism otherwise superior to him? If the first step in mechanization five thousand years ago was to reduce the worker to a docile and obedient drudge, the final stage automation promises today is to create a self-sufficient mechanical electronic complex that has no need even for such servile nonentities.”

    Here’s my point: the megamachine has huge extrinsic value, but less intrinsic value than a bug. And these children, even though they may not be able to intrinsically value themselves, have vastly more intrinsic value than a bug!

    How are they to become “human beings capable of understanding their own nature sufficiently to control, and where necessary to suppress, the forces and mechanisms that [their ancestors] have brought into existence”? “If the world we have put together with the aid of science is, by its own definition, a world that excludes values, by what logic can we assign values to either science or automation? When one empties out the proper life of man, all that is left, humanly speaking, is emptiness” (Mumford, The Pentagon of Power, pp. 178 and 187-188).

    And that emptiness of intrinsic valuational capacity and understanding is what these children inherit. They feel worthless because, to the machine and its minds, blind to or even denying the reality of intrinsic values, they are. But it is the machine and its minds, insofar as they are only machine minds, that are intrinsically worthless: not children.

    • mikemackd says :

      I was a bit suspicious of it, so I went back to my copy of The City in History to find that alleged Mumford quote about people able to cope with the realities of life and death. As far as I can see, it’s not there. So although it’s attributed to Mumford I can’t locate the source – which I like to do, because words are often attributed to people who did not say them at all.

      The researches that Mark Seely cited could be of great import. I think I’ll chase them up.

    • Scott Preston says :

      As Mumford put it somewhere in The City in History, “No urban existence that pushes the primeval background out of sight, that makes it remote and unavailable, that deprives people of intimate contact with it, hunting, fishing, rambling, exploring, collecting, boating, is likely to produce adequate men and women, able to cope with the realities of life and death.”

      Actually, sounds like something Marx said when asked once to define what he meant by “communism”. Reputedly his reply went something like “fish in the morning, hunt in the afternoon, philosophise in the evening”. Apparently, he meant abolition of the division of labour or specialisation of function.

      I’ll have to get a copy of The City in History as some people think high-density urbanisation is the way to go. I don’t find that very appealing myself.

      • Dwig says :

        As a complement, or perhaps a counterpoint, Toby Hemenway’s The Permaculture City might be worth it. Maybe David could add something useful.

        • davidm58 says :

          Yes, because some have come to realize all the negatives associated with sprawl, they come to believe that high density urbanization is the answer. This is a false binary choice. Hemenway’s “The Permaculture City” is a good resource.

  7. Scott Preston says :

    Big Oil’s “last hoorah”? Pretty interesting article in The Financial Post. Any way you look at it, it seems, the climate change deniers are fighting a losing battle.

    http://business.financialpost.com/news/energy/down-forever-no-last-hoorah-why-the-market-for-fossil-fuels-is-all-burnt-out

  8. abdulmonem says :

    I was reading an essay by Schuon friend of Guneon in the field of perennial philosophy called, to have a center, in which he mentioned, that those who lose their center will go mad. T thought of Syd Barrett the composer of the song, see Emily play which describes the state of self-lost. It reminds me also of Nietsczche madness. Schuon said that the worth of the human lies in his consciousness of the absolute and in the absence of that, spiritual deformity and loss takes place. The absolute the source of our knowledge but alas our humanity got lost by taking the starting point for its knowledge the greek, the roman, the egyptian, the indians, the chines the the etc etc and thus threw itself in all types of enmity, disparagement, arrogance and all types of unhealthy complexes etc, and as a result it forgets its god oneness as the source of its oneness. We are all contributors to the conveyer belt of the information but alas it seems we are passing each other in the running speed of the conveyor belt. Yes big data may seem dispersive at some stage of its movement only to redirect itself to the right path. It seems the way to god involves inversion from outwardness to inwardness,from manyness to oneness, from dispersion to concentration,from anxiety to serenity and from the compression of the lower ego to the enlargement of the higher self, thus the process of appeasement is motivated to move the self from darkness to light. The sufis say, the greatest calamity is the loss of the human center( god) and abandoning the soul to the confusions of the multiplicity of the periphery. I remembered also Charle Chaplin making fun of the age of the machine. When the rosary is broken in darkness we need light to collect the beads and god is the only light that makes us see with our heart and not with our physical eyes.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The sufis say, the greatest calamity is the loss of the human center( god) and abandoning the soul to the confusions of the multiplicity of the periphery

      Yes, the Taoists call that periphery “the 10,000 things” (which is Myriad or Legion). But that statement is interesting, too, because it corresponds to something Blake wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell about Reason at the periphery

      Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.

      An interesting statement, too, in response to the expectations of the “transhumanists” who think they can “upload” their life into a machine. According to Blake, here, not very likely.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Actually, what your Sufi friends say about the periphery and what Blake says about the “circumference” is also what Gebser says about “the outer limits”. It’s all the same place

        “The current situation manifests on the one hand an egocentric individualism exaggerated to extremes and desirous of possessing everything, while on the other it manifests an equally extreme collectivism that promises the total fulfillment of man’s being. In the latter instance we find the utter abnegation of the individual valued merely as an object in the human aggregate; in the former a hyper-valuation of the individual who, despite his limitations, is permitted everything. This deficient, that is destructive, antithesis divides the world into two warring camps, not just politically and ideologically, but in all areas of human endeavor.

        Since these two ideologies are now pressing toward their limits we can assume that neither can prevail in the long run. When any movement tends to the extremes it leads away from the center or nucleus toward eventual destruction at the outer limits where the connections to the life-giving center finally are severed. It would seem that today the connections have already been broken, for it is increasingly evident that the individual is being driven into isolation while the collective degenerates into mere aggregation. These two conditions, isolation and aggregation, are in fact clear indications that individualism and collectivism have now become deficient”

        • mikemackd says :

          A powerful quote from Gebser, a worthy response to abdulmonem’s penetrating post: my thanks to you both.

          Megamachine at one extreme, megalomania at the other.

          > These two conditions, isolation and aggregation,

          On p. 512 of The City in History, which I just revisited as part of my abovementioned research, Mumford coined what for me is a telling trope about the isolation part of Gebser’s two conditions: “an encapsulated life”.

          • mikemackd says :

            Eek! I just re-read my post!

            “Megamachine at one extreme, megalomania at the other” was my epitome of Gebser’s insight. It was not meant to follow on from my previous sentence!!

            Rest assured that I do not consider either Scott or abdulmonem as either megamacines or megalomaniacs!!!!!

        • davidm58 says :

          Yes, that’s a key, important quote from Gebser. When we come back to the vital center, perhaps the key word to emphasize is “Relationship.” I’ve started reading an excellent new book by Richard Rohr and Mike Morelli, “The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation.”

          The cover of the book feature’s Russian iconographer Anrei Rublev’s fifteenth century icon of “The Trinity.”

          “Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three – a circle dance of love.”

          It is speculated that the icon originally featured a mirror, designed to bring in a fourth person – you, the observer. “God is not seen as a distant, static monarch but – as we will explore together – a divine circle dance, as the early Fathers of the church dared to call it (in Greek perichoresis, the origin of our word choreography). God is the Holy One presenced in the dynamic and loving action of Three.

          “But even this Three-Fullness does not like to eat alone. this invitation to share at the divine table [reference to Abraham’s experience in Genesis 18, and Rublev’s depiction which shows an empty space at the table] is probably the first biblical hint of what we would eventually call ‘salvation’.”

          Rohr sees “Disconnection” as a root cause of most of the problems we face today. He refers to the “fourfold isolation” of “Disconnection from God,certainly, but also from ourselves, (our bodies), from each other, and from our world.” This seems a bit like Scott’s fourfold liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and environmentalism.

          Rohr’s antidote is to shift our perspective from God as ‘removed one’ to “God as ‘most moved Mover,’ intimately participating in ongoing co-creation,” making a “joyous re-union possible.”

          Relationship is the vehicle. “We’re not of independent substance; we exist only in relationship.”

          • Scott Preston says :

            Yes, indeed. The orientations we now call “liberal”, or “conservative”, or “socialist” or “environmentalist” are simply the forms that abiding truths about the human experience take, but now cast within the mental-rational framework or structure. In other times, they took different forms, but represented the same reality — the personal or individual, the familial or clan, the community or friendship, the natural world. Within the different structures of consciousness, though, they would assume forms other than “ideological”. Sometimes they are represented by gods, or by saints or spirits.

            Yet, always they seem to jockey for supremacy over the others — the clan (or family) over all, the tribal over all, the individual over all, the natural over all which is basically what we call “totalitarian” or “tyranny” in those terms. But, basically, Gebser saw that any one — even as a every structure of consciousness — eventually ends up as a tyranny through over-specialisation, so that its apparent “victory” is also the incipience of its downfall (hence, “end of history” was a Cadmean Victory in those terms).

            Hence the necessity for a more ecological approach that recognises the eternal validity of the personal/individual, the familial, the social, and the natural, or what we mean today by “liberal”, “conservative”, “socialist” and “environmentalist”. In one form or another, they have always existed. And some of Rosenstock’s terms of his “quadrilateral” or “cross of reality” are just alternative names for these, especially in terms of the prejective (liberal), the trajective (conservative), the subjective (socialist) and the objective (environmentalist) orientations.

            But, in other times, these would have been represented by other figures — the Bard or Poet, the Priest or Prophet, the Hero or Saint, and so on. Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, or Environmentalist are simply the way these archetypal forms appear within the mental-rational matrix.

  9. Charles says :

    David, Richard Rohr is a favorite writer. I agree that is it disconnection that is a root of many of the dysfunctions today.

    The current situation manifests on the one hand an egocentric individualism exaggerated to extremes and desirous of possessing everything, while on the other it manifests an equally extreme collectivism that promises the total fulfillment of man’s being.

    Always appreciated that quote.

    Are people familiar with The Failure of Technology: Perfection Without Purpose Ernst Junger? A quote from the intro

    the characteristics of technological rationalism are so well known that it suffices merely to list them in this place: the elimination of sense qualities; the suppressing of the organic; the mechanization of time; the patterning of the world after the dead dynamism of the machine; the suppression of the richness and idiosyncrasy of personal existence; the ideal of an horizontal and featureless cosmos; the postulate that the universe is less rich and beautiful than it looks. In Jünger’s mind, the clock stands as symbol and type of technological thought:-Clock time is lifeless time, tempus mortuum, in which second follows second in monotonous repetition. Lifeless,clock-measured time flows along side by side with the lifetime of man, but aloof from it, utterly regardless of the high and the low tides of life where no two moments are
    alike. To the reflective mind, the clock summons up the thought of death. The figure of the dying Charles V, pacing among the clocks in his collection and attempting to regulate their movements, emits the frost of death. He watches and he listens to the passing of time that inevitably leads to death.. . . In an era when the public clock, visible from far off,was still looked upon as a rare masterpiece, it proclaimed an unmistakable Memento mori.

    http://www.ernst-juenger.org/2012/11/fg-jungers-failure-of-technology-as.html

    • Scott Preston says :

      That’s an excellent quote. And it pretty much sums the issue in a few words: tempus mortuum dead-time versus life-time. That tempus mortuum is what underlies Gebser’s statements about “our guilt about time” or “our anxiety about time”.

      Rosenstock-Huessy addresses that issue also in many places but prominently in The Multiformity of Man (Mumford uses the same phrase and I have, on occasion, been led to believe while reading Mumford that he knew Rosenstock-Huessy’s work or vise versa.

      I’ll have to get a copy of Juenger’s book. .

  10. Charles says :

    It is available on line through the link I posted. There are so many books that articulate in their unique way what Mumford was saying. I probably mentioned Floyd W. Matson’s The Broken Image as one of those books. His thesis is similar to Mumford’s. Matson writes “that the historical reliance of the social sciences upon root metaphors and routine methods appropriated from classical mechanics has eclipsed” a more holistic vision of the human and all living phenomenon (my words) and given us a “radically broken self-image.” Hence the title of the book.

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