“A Government of Death”

Globalisation. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” It was always a lie — a propagandistic slogan only — from the outset, for even its proponents described it in terms of “creative destruction”. There would be “winners” and “losers”. But in public, they overplayed the “creative” and downplayed the “destruction” bit, and they did so in the context of an “age of diminishing expectations” as Christopher Lasch called the period.

“Neo-liberal globalisation” isn’t, actually, the most accurate term for this process. “Globalised neo-liberalism” is the more accurate term. “Globalisation” is actually the creative aspect of this process. Neo-liberalism is the destructive aspect.  But these two processes — one creative and integrative, one destructive and nihilistic — have become conflated as the meaning of “globalism” itself.

I was reminded of this after reading, in today’s Guardian, an appeal to the world issued by the Munduruku people of the Brazilian Amazon — “A government of death is plundering our ancient Mundruku lands. Help us stop it.” But “the government of death” isn’t actually even the main culprit here, for even government has, everywhere, become merely the auxilliary and handmaiden of Lewis Mumford’s Megamachine, for which “globalised neo-liberalism” is simply the standard-bearer. What Mumford (or Roszak equally) referred to as the “Anti-Life” characteristics of the Megamachine is what is precisely involved in this struggle for the Amazon.

If the Megamachine destroys peoples, vital habitats, and older ways of life…. well, that’s tragic and a pity, but, after all, “you can’t stop progress” and, besides, “a rising tide lifts all boats” and these last outposts of “savagery” have to join the modern age, even though nobody really knows what “modern age” really means any longer. (“We have never been modern” writes the Frenchman Bruno Latour — plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Wrong says Zigmunt Bauman, we’re simply now in “Liquid Modernity“. Wrong on both counts, say the post-modernists. It’s “the End of the Grand Narrative” and the onset of “post-everything”. Is the Modern Age a solid, a liquid, or a gas? That seems to be the contested issue here).

The Megamachine, though, is treated as though it were a force of nature itself — like the shark that must keep swimming and eating, or die. Certainly for the Munduruku the Megamachine has the face of death and not of life. And as much as the minions of the Megamachine might regret the destruction of older peoples and habitats… well, all this talk about spirits and gods of the land, rivers, and forests was all just superstitious and irrational anyway. A mightier god is our Megamachine, who wields the sword of Inevitability. None can stand against him. No one has stood against him. After all, we’re “doing God’s work”, as the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, famously insisted (and he’s not the only one who really believes that). That “God”, however, is clearly the Megamachine and is just as clearly Blake’s “Urizen”.

The struggle of the Amazon and the Amazonians with the Megmachine is an object lesson in the merits of Mumford’s analysis of the “miscarriages of megatechnics”. as well as an object lesson in the merits of Gebser’s history of the conflict of consciousness structures.

But, as Rumi puts it, “the cure for the disease is in the disease”. Globalism is the cure for globalisation, which might seem a bit paradoxical, but the Munduruku are evidently quite adept at using the instruments of globalisation — the network — to appeal to the rest of humanity for aid and allies against the Megamachine. Their tragedy — perhaps also ours — is not seeing that “the government of death” is the face of the global megamachine, and not that of Brazil’s alone. All governments have become subservient to “the Global Minotaur“, as former Greek finance minster Yanis Varoufakis called Mumford’s Megamachine. Varoufakis should know. The Greek Syriza government he represented, elected to defy and resist the Megamachine and the Global Minotaur, finally surrendered to it and now does the beasts bidding in Greece.

The fact is, no one knows really how to stop the Minotaur, the Megamachine, from devouring all life on Earth and turning the Earth and everything in it into an image of itself — an automaton. That’s behind Heidegger’s exasperation, too, in his confessing, not long after struggling with the question of the relation of the human to technics in The Question Concerning Technology, that “only a god can save us now”.

Amazon Watch is a group that documents the struggles of the Amazonians, works with the Amazonians, and campaigns globally on their behalf. It’s risky business since assassination of those who resist the Megamachine is pretty common in the Amazon, and even outside the Amazon, since there are plenty of minions of the Megamachine who work to have conservationists, ecologists, environmentalists, or even indigenous peoples branded as “terrorists” and “threats to civilisation”.

Gebser, of course, placed his hopes in the “integral consciousness” to defeat, subdue, or master the Megamachine. Heidegger’s “god” is Gebser’s “diaphainon“, so in an ironic sense Heidegger was right that “only a god can save us now”. And I really do think also that William Blake, in his mythology of the four Zoas, provided us with a map for how to subdue Urizen — the god of the Megamachine.






17 responses to ““A Government of Death””

  1. mikemackd says :

    In their 1997 book, Figments of Reality: The Evolution of the Curious Mind (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press) Stewart and Cohen began by asking the question, “What is the most important thing in the universe?” They then state that any mind that gives an answer to that is a “simplex” mind, which is where many religious leaders and politicians focus (p. 291).

    They describe two other levels of mind:

    A “complex” mind can perceive the many intertwining strands of cause and effect that combine, within some consistent worldview, to constrain and control the unfolding of a particular selection of events. Complexity is a state that is inaccessible to the vast proportion of the human race, but as the global village shrinks, more of us take the complex view. Rarer still is the “multiplex” mind, which can work simultaneously with several conflicting paradigms. It sees not just one interpretation of reality, but many, yet it sees them as a seamless whole. Such a mind is untroubled by mere inconsistency: it is comfortable with a mutable, adaptive, loosely coherent flux (pp. 289-90) and “not make the mistake of attributing features that are important on an individual level (such as purpose) to the system as a whole” (ibid, p. 292).

    The megamachine has no purpose, and is under no-one’s control. From pp 348-349 of The Pentagon of Power (1970):

    “The point to be grasped has been staring Western civilization in the face for the last half century: namely, that a predominantly megatechnic economy can be kept in profitable operation only by systematic and constant expansion. … Now the more highly organized the power structure becomes, the fewer non-conforming factors can be admitted … Without war the megatechnic system in its present spatially enlarged planetary and cosmic form would be choked by its own purposeless productivity.”

    Stewart and Cohen also posit an “omniplex”, all-knowing, mind. I submit that even such a mind would still only be Urizen. So yes, it’s integration, but with what? With the other three Zoas, or is that just a start?

    It’s true that no-one knows how to stop the megamachine. Mumford didn’t, perhaps because he knew that simplex solutions only make wicked problems worse. But no-one started the megamachine either, but we started it, nourished it, developed it to what it is today. No-one can stop it, but that does not mean that no process can address it. The deities that reside in the human breast are not just in this person or that, but in us all, even those who identify with the megamachine.

    Which brings us to what abdulmonem has been stressing here for years: “you’s” are not, can never be, enlightened: enlightenment is not one’s possession, to be parked alongside one’s Porsche. But light can work through “you”, if you can get out of the way from Blake’s fourfold vision manifesting through you. Like Libet’s discovery in 1983 – http://www.trans-techresearch.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Brain-1983-LIBET.pdf – maybe that’s from before any of our explanation of our behaviours.

    One explanation of Blake’s fourfold vision goes as follows: “single vision” is seeing merely materially, twofold vision means seeing not only materially but also the “perception of the human values in all things”, threefold “the creative state”, and fourfold “mystical ecstasy” (Damon 2013, “A Blake Dictionary: the ideas and Symbols of William Blake”, Hanover, NH, Dartmouth College Press. pp. 469-470). Another interpretation goes that the visions are “a loose hierarchy of psychical conditions, consisting in ascending order, of reason, energy, love and genius, each state containing the preceding ones (Beer 1969, “Blake’s Visionary Universe” Manchester University Press. p. 27). I would add that genius means “the individual instance of a general divine nature that is present in every individual person, place, or thing” (Wikipedia).

    The problem is not so much that no-one knows as that few know that knowledge would never be enough. But enactment of fourfold vision – enfolding seeing materially/reasonably, with energetic implementation of values, creative love of all that is living and ecstatic (in Whitehead’s meaning of “out, away from, static’) genius – could it be that if there is enough of that happening, that could be enough?

    We will never know until we allow that general divine nature that is present in every individual person, place, or thing to manifest.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The Latin verb for “fold” is plicare, from which is derived plexus, plexa, plexum a fold or folding (or the idea of network or a weaving). So when we speak of evolution as “unfolding” (as Gebser does — an “out-turning” literally is the meaning of e-volution) the form of that unfolding is subsumed in the suffix -plex.

      So, yes, Blake’s “fourfold vision” can be described in terms of “simplex”, “duplex”, “triplex” or “quadruplex”. There is of course the per-plex which is the chaotic, illogical, unintelligible — the seemingly patternless or dis-integrate.

      Blake’s “quadruplex” or “fourfold” vision is obviously related to the unfolding – or e-volution — of his four Zoas, corresponding to the four dimensions. This would pertain, then, to the meaning of “multiplex” and so, in those terms, to multiformity as Rosenstock also understood this in his Multiformity of Man, which is also as quadruplex being, and the fourfold Atman

      The “omniplex”, though, would be that which does the actual work of integration of the four, which might be described as “the fifth” — the “quintessence” — and is represented by Albion. Albion is the representative, then, of Gebser’s “universal way of looking at things”, and corresponds to his “diaphainon”. As such, it corresponds to the meaning “omniplex”. This “omniplex” would correspond to the knowledge of the One and the Many, or Legion or Myriad or what the Taoists call “the 10,000 things”.

      The quintessence, though, is what Heraclitus means by the Logos, and it has no form itself, but is the source of all form — the omniplex. It’s quite clear from the snippets of Heraclitus that we do have that subsequent philosophers (like Plato) erred in thinking the Logos was a rational principle, and that translators erred also in translating St. John’s Logos as “Word”. For Heraclitus, the Logos is in all things, and is, furthermore, boundless, fathomless, and therefore infinite in respect to space and time or the things of space and time. It is the substantial, the substance of things (sub-stands or what “under-stands” the phenomenal). This is quite clearly the same as Blake’s “infinite in all things” or “eternity in the hour”, “universe in a grain of sand”, “Heaven in a Wild Flower” and so on. The same is the Heraclitean Logos.

      The elephant in the room of the parable of the five blind scholars is probably a symbol of the same Logos.

      So, Gebser’s notion of “unfolding” of consciousness structures pertains to the various forms of plexus. These “folds” Gebser calls “dimensions”. His “a-mension” would therefore correspond to the omniplex, while his other structures would correspond to the simplex, the duplex, the triplex and the quadruplex, since each structure is characterised by an augmentation or incremental addition (a “plus mutation”) of a dimension, ie, a “fold”.

      • mikemackd says :

        I like it: simplex, complex multiplex and omniplex as emergent levels in Stewart and Cohen’s single (cognitive) vision, and the same simplex, but then duplex (axiological), triplex (universally loving), quadruplex (dynamic expressing of divinity) and Albion (Logos) in Blake’s vision.

        As Box and Draper put it in 1987, “all models are wrong, but some are useful” (“Empirical Model Building and Response Surfaces”, New York, NY, John Wiley and Sons, p. 424). With that in mind, with this model, one could then impute an elegant sufficiency of sound knowledge for emergence into duplexity, and elegant sufficiency of sound value judgements to emerge into agape, and so on. And one could regress, get stuck, or fixated anytime, anywhere – just as you mentioned in politics, with liberals focussing on individuals, conservatives on family, socialists on societies etc. when they all require political care.

        By the way, after yesterday’s post I eventually went to bed, and decided to get back into Cowan and Todorovic’s “The Never Ending Quest: Clare Graves Explores Human Nature” (2005, Santa Barbara, Eclet Publishing). (Chris Cowan wrote Spiral Dynamics with Don Beck, the guy with Ken Wilber to whom I mentioned my metaphor of gear changes).

        It seems my attempt to finish that book is a never ending quest too. My problem is, I engage myself with a book by underlining, asterisking, commenting on the text, and this book was so beautifully presented I was reluctant to sully it so. But I got back to it last night because it is about Blake’s twofold vision: “So, if we are to have a meaningful psychology of adult man, it must depict man as he is – as one who values, as one whose values change in peculiar ways, as one who values rise from pylons rooted in the deep recesses of his biological nature” (pp. 31-32).

        Years ago, when I last looked at the book, unlike Charles I had not read Mumford. So I went to the index, and there he was. There are three quotes of his in the book, all from The Transformation of Man. One of these was apropos a point we discussed earlier, and is the last sentence in the quote below, which I was able to put into more of its context by an internet search:

        “Every (human) transformation…has rested on a new metaphysical and ideological base; or rather, upon deeper stirrings and intuitions whose rationalized expression takes the form of a new picture of the cosmos and the nature of man… So we stand on the brink of a new age: the age of an open world and of a self capable of playing its part in that larger sphere. An age of renewal, when work and leisure and learning and love will unite to produce a fresh form for every stage of life, and a higher trajectory for life as a whole. In carrying man’s self-transformation to this further stage, world culture may bring about a fresh release of spiritual energy that will unveil new potentialities, no more visible in the human self today than radium was in the physical world a century ago, though always present” (p. 192).

        We are in a Chrysalis, as it were.

        • mikemackd says :

          I just went on to my Facebook page, and saw that someone had added a new TED talk by Pope Francis, calling for “a revolution of tenderness”, at:

          I quote:

          The third message I would like to share today is, indeed, about revolution: the revolution of tenderness. And what is tenderness? It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future. To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.
          Tenderness is the language of the young children, of those who need the other. A child’s love for mom and dad grows through their touch, their gaze, their voice, their tenderness. I like when I hear parents talk to their babies, adapting to the little child, sharing the same level of communication. This is tenderness: being on the same level as the other. God himself descended into Jesus to be on our level. This is the same path the Good Samaritan took. This is the path that Jesus himself took. He lowered himself, he lived his entire human existence practicing the real, concrete language of love.
          Yes, tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility. Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.


          On the above, a call for a revolution of tenderness would be a call for Blake’s threefold vision, a world culture providing a fresh release of spiritual energy that will unveil new potentialities, including that of Gretchen Gano’s soft megamachine.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    Yes Mike we never know until we allow the divine manifests itself into the field of our hearts. It is a formless flow as Scott alluded to in his comment, that can not be captured in one form. It is an experimental process that attentively and intentionally works to leave the physical form to its natural abode of the formless consciousness that can takes all forms without letting itself be fixed in one form against its formless construct. It is a process of harmonizing the rhythm of our nonphysical consciousness with the consciousness of the divine that gives consciousness to everything. The purpose of all retreats and meditations is to invoke that rhythmic coordination. It seems that the divine disclosure of his different aspects of his knowledge through the human is bounded by a time frame and people frame that need to be respected otherwise calamity may occurs as happened to Al-Halij when he released his knowledge in a non-ripe time and in a non-ripe human environment. Fortunately we are living in a time that is ripe to accommodate all new chrysalises, providing we flow with the formless flow without constraints and without fear.

    • mikemackd says :

      Perhaps that is why A.N. Whitehead referred to peace as the harmony of harmonies. The megamachine nails down and enboxes, for there lies power: the formless consciousness takes form in life, for there lies love.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    After I made my comment I saw a video on youtube for shiek Hamza Yusuf, a person who, after a near death experience, moved with his christian experience into the islamic realm heading from there to an open space and time that incorporates all religious experiences in a unified way that is connected to the only one formless unknown essence, whom we do not know save through its names and their impacts in us and in everything surround us. I do not believe in conversion but the awakening of the soul to the truth that knows no home. It is a world of concepts and ideas. I mention him because he quoted Mumford in the context of the story of Moses and the pharaoh and how pharaoh represented the megamachine and how Moses demonstrated the availability of the defying forces that put an end to such machine. We are living in a field of antagonistic forces and one has to be aware as with what forces, one should align his/her forces until the truth appears, now or afterward. I do not think we are living in a machine. Life is a serious game and those who made it into a mechanical movie have distanced us from the real and moved our real problems to the margin of our attention thus killed the truth like the war in irak that they have turned it in a movie where the suffering , demolition, death and scattering the once settled millions all across the globe, disappeared into fictional fantasy. It seems the words have lost their communicating aroma and the images took the role of distraction and destruction thus turning our hearts into a machine that feel nothing but delivers its function likes slaves. I feel there must be an end to this tragic comedy in one of the double movements our sages speak about.

  4. mikemackd says :

    Abdulmonem, chasing up on your comment about Shaykh Hamza Yusuf quoting Mumford, I clicked on a page where the Shaykh was being interviewed by Chris Hedges.

    Don’t go there! I got a pop-up telling me in a machinic voice that all my data is being stolen, and that unless I dial a toll-free number the sky would fall and, impoverished and alone, I would be banished to the outer darkness of the world without the internet.

    Perhaps I might even banished to a world without the megamachine which, as you know, I do not want. I just don’t want it to be as utterly lacking in wisdom and compassion as it manifested in the twentieth century through so many totalitarian regimes and others employing various implementation strategies, all of which included the militancy and other methodologies of the megamachine.

    It’s clear now that these strategies are flourishing into the twenty-first century, including by evisceration of freedom via installation of techniques of authoritarian governance as are implemented worldwide, notably but by no means exclusively in and from the USA, by flouters not only of the principles of that country’s constitution but of all that country was once thought to have stood for.

    Rather, it seems to need McGilchrist’s master within all such flouters to get a grip, and get their emissaries back into their proper role, that role including what Pope Francis just said. Odd how such mental cripples consider themselves real men by thinking they are “tough guys”, whereas they often anti life and set out to destroy real men such as the Pope described.

    Mumford said somethings about such people: I shall post the comments I half-remember shortly, if on review I consider them to be appropriate in this context.

    I couldn’t get rid of that virus or whatever-it-was, so I had to crash the computer. When I rebooted, my anti-virus scan could not find anything wrong.

    What a coincidence, that it should be on a page like that. As I have said, I do not belong to any religion, but respect all them insofar as they facilitate intrinsic values, such as the Pope just did. I wonder if the same could be said for whatever set-up that hacker’s emissary think it’s serving? Whatever religion it may have, it would seem that freedom of speech is not part of its agenda.

    • mikemackd says :

      Ah, here they are. I see Mumford’s essential point as that we are not capable of handling the surge of power the megamachine can deliver to us, so the more primitive levels of our minds dominate our behaviour for the feeling of empowerment the megamachine can provide.

      In that context, he stated in The Pentagon of Power (1970, pp. 274-275):

      “Theoretically, at the present moment, and actually soon in the future, God – that is, the Computer – will be able to find, to locate, and to address instantly, by voice and image, via the priesthood, any individual on the planet: exercising control over every detail of the subject’s daily life by commanding a dossier which would include his parentage and birth; his complete educational record; an account of his illnesses and his mental breakdowns, if treated; his marriage; his sperm bank account; his income, loans, security payments; his taxes and pensions; and finally the disposition of such further organs as may be surgically extracted from him just prior to the moment of his official death.
      In the end, no action, no conversation, and possibly in time no dream or thought would escape the wakeful and relentless eye of this deity: every manifestation of life would be processed into the computer and brought under its all-pervading system to control. This would mean, not just invasion of privacy, but the total destruction of autonomy: indeed the dissolution of the human soul.”

      Then on p. 274 (again), but this time in The Culture of Cities, he asks:

      “What follows? External conflicts pile upon internal contradictions. Psychologically, a violent paranoia, with pronounced delusions of grandeur, takes hold of the ruling classes: the alternative is something like collective dementia praecox: suspicion, hatred, isolation, desire to inflict destruction, appear in extreme forms. These psychological states are deliberately fostered by a positive cult of irrationality: intellectual disintegration is expressed in wishful systems of anthropology, sociology, and philosophy, which hold in contempt the most elementary obligations to respect fact or to establish new truths by the discipline of objective verification. The inactivity of despair alternates with national delusions of persecution, followed by attempts to inflict damage upon the putative persecutors”.

      In this case, Muslims. But it works with any group; Jews, Catholics, Protestants, you name it.

      Same old same old. Works like a charm every time, because like a charm, it does cast a spell.

  5. mikemackd says :

    And these comments describe the spellbound internal victims of the megamachine: Physically much better off than the millions of others whose lives they destroy, but emotionally often far more crippled than they, as Mumford describes below:

    “Those who have not lived their own lives experience a violent desire to impose a humiliating death on others” (The City in History, 1961, p. 229).

    “Unable to create a meaningful life for itself, the personality takes its own revenge: from the lower depths comes a regressive form of spontaneity: raw animality forms a counterpoise to the meaningless stimuli and the vicarious life to which the ordinary man is conditioned. Getting spiritual nourishment from this chaos of events, sensations, and devious interpretations is the equivalent of trying to pick through a garbage pile for food.” (The Conduct Of Life (1951) Ch. 1).

    And, again from The Culture of Cities’ 1938 p. 274:

    “This is the crowd whose simple hates, fueled by propaganda, transfers to foreign devils the unconscious hatred it dare not express for the classes that exploit it, or the unconscious contempt each member feels for his own thwarted self. Essential to this metropolitan regime are these passive atoms: metropolitan barbarians: a million cowards upon whose blank minds the leader writes: Bravery. A million scattered, bewildered individuals whom the rulers cajole, bully, and terrorize into a state of unity.”

    But, as Mumford points out elsewhere, calling the phenomenon “transferred reproach” (for example, in chapter one of the Culture of Cities), it’s no good dumping that on others like they dump bombs on others, and those who do so with passion are probably simply scapegoating others at the same primitive levels of consciousness as those who bomb others.

    While Mumford doesn’t quote Jesus, I see Jesus’s comments about “judge not, lest you be judged” and “take the plank out of your own eye before trying to remove the speck from another’s” as coming from similar insights as that of Mumford’s recognition of transferred reproach.

    Therefore, the positive potentials of Mumford’s abovementioned comments may optimally arise from each of us examining how much they personally apply, what that therefore says about the mental balance between our masters and emissaries, our souls and our autonomy, and what, then, must we do.

    • mikemackd says :

      I further submit that these behaviours are Mumford’s description of the “devastating pestilence” that Shelley described as being attributable to power in Queen Mab, which “pollutes what e’er it touches”, like that whatever-it-was.

      There is no genuine meaning in power: none. In McGilchrist’s framing, it’s from the wrong hemisphere. But there can be meaning in how it is employed once one’s master is able to participate via twofold vision, and it may increase exponentially through the complex adaptation of the hemispheres responding to their common challenges into the new worlds of threefold and fourfold vision and beyond – from knowledge to values to agape to genius …

      Even when it comes to knowledge, where single vision excels in the realm of parts (and wherein Stewart and Cohen’s knowledge can develop from simplex to complex to multiplex):

      “Books cannot take the place of first-hand exploration; hence any study of technics should begin with a survey of a region, working through from the actual life of a concrete group [I would add, including those groups in one’s mind] to the detailed or generalized study of the machine. This approach is all the more necessary for the reason that our intellectual interests are already so specialized that we habitually begin our thinking with abstractions and fragments which are as difficult to unify by the methods of specialism as were the broken pieces of Humpty-Dumpty after he had fallen off the wall. Open-air observation in the field, and experience as a worker, taking an active part in the processes around us, are the two fundamental means for overcoming the paralysis of specialism” (Mumford 1934, Technics and Civilization, p. 447).

      My weekend’s over now: time to get back to work. Which is, by the way, of the nature Mumford describes.

  6. abdulmonem says :

    Yes no scientific, artistic or religious narrations can take the place of self exploration both internally and externally. Leaving the self blank is an invitation to all viruses to be the guests of our precious abode. Emptying the self from the negative forces and filling it with the positive forces is a guarantee from the invasion of the transferred reproach killing disease. To be awake like Mumford is our antidote for the devastating pestilence. Yes queen mab is a call for the possibiliity of human perfectibility through moral means expressed mainly in compassion and sharing imitating the one who has given everything freely including the treasure of our consciousness.

  7. mikemackd says :

    Eesh! One more comment! Then I really must get back to work!

    A couple of the Mumford quotes above were from as section of The Culture of Cities (1938) called “A Brief Outline of Hell”. It would seem from an article posted on my Facebook page after all of the above from http://evonomics.com/america-regressing-developing-nation-people/ that this is hell is precisely where America’s leadership has been taking that country since around 1970, not just regressing 80% of its population back to a developing nation status, as is the claim in the book the article is a commentary upon, a book by Peter Temin called “The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy (2017 MIT Press).

    I posted that full “brief outline of hell” here some time ago, but the extracts above bear repeating in this context, as does the following extract from pp 278-279:

    A humane life, a civic life, is one that restricts the fear-producing elements and reduces fear to a prudent provision against the common mischances of existence. Only in a well-wrought domesticated environment, protected against disaster and the gnawing anticipations of disaster, can the higher activities for long flourish: solicitude for the young, tenderness for the aged, an underlying co-operation between rival groups and interests, prolonged and systematic thought directed toward truth, free expression in the arts, and creative release, under the discipline of humane standards, in the arts of living: in short, a mode of life in which man’s biological and social needs are artfully wrought into a many-threaded and variegated cultural pattern.

    Concentrated upon war, the metropolitan regime opposes these domestic and civic functions: it subordinates life to organized destruction, and it must therefore regiment, limit, and constrict every exhibition of real life and culture. Result: the paralysis of all the higher activities of society: truth shorn or defaced to fit the needs of propaganda: the organs of co-operation stiffened into a reflex system of obedience: the order of the drill sergeant and the bureaucrat. Such a regime may reach unheard-of heights in external coordination and discipline, and those who endure it may make superb soldiers and juicy cannonfodder; but it is for the same reason deeply antagonistic to every valuable manifestation of life.

    Plainly, a civilization that terminates in a cult of barbarism has disintegrated as civilization; and the war-metropolis, as an expression of these institutions, is an anti-civilizing agent: a non-city. To assume that this process can go on indefinitely is to betray an ignorance of social facts: decay at last halts itself. While the tasks of building, co-operation, and integration are never finished, unbuilding may be completed in a few generations. The chief question now before the Western World today is whether disintegration must be complete before a fresh start is made.


    I think that Pope Francis, and perhaps Bernie Sanders, are working towards the first paragraph, and that every recent American President, including the present incumbent, have been working towards the second and third paragraphs. It may seem unfair to think that of Trump after only 100 days, but his words and actions since his elections, particularly his cabinet appointments of billionaires and generals, is a strong indicator of this.

    If I were an American, I would have to seriously consider the possibility that there is now no hope of escaping complete disintegration and the hell that Mumford outlined. That would be a disaster not only for America but for the entire planet. All we non-Americans can do is to wish those Americans who consider the first paragraph a preferable future to the second and third paragraphs to set about making it happen. And to those, I say good luck, the rest of the world needs you, and you are going to need all the luck you can get.

    A pointer from Mumford again. “A man [or woman] of courage never needs weapons, but he [or she] may need bail.”

  8. mikemackd says :

    The positive paragraph by Mumford above was directed at the sociocultural level, not the personal level. However, in a 1930 address called “Towards an Organic Humanism” at a symposium entitled “The Critique of Humanism: A Symposium”* he made the following comments directed more to the level of the individual:


    The inner and the outer, the subjective and the objective, the world known to personal intuition and that described by science are … aspects of a single experience …The real problem of life, both for men and societies, is to keep the organism and the environment, the inner world and the outer, the personality and its creative sources, in the state of tension wherein growth and renewal may continually take place … [there, he anticipates Csikszentmihalyi]

    Two conditions must be observed: one must not … ignore vast tracts of existence merely because they cannot be appraised by the quantitative methods devised by the physical sciences; nor must one adopt the curious error of [seeking] to abolish every expression of life except that which conforms to our particular dogma … The new philosophy will comprise the skepticisms as well as the faiths of society. The synthesis we seek must be an open one: that is, it must not merely hold the knowledge and belief that is at present available, but it must be capable of keeping a place open for new areas of expression and interest …

    The way to safeguard against the perversions of personality is not to depersonalize man or banish his ideologies, advising him to conform to a pattern outside of himself: the proper way is to enrich his personality itself so that man will react creatively upon his materials, and be able to carve fine molds of conduct as well as an apparatus for the regulation of his utilities.

    The most complete personalities are precisely those that have assimilated the most diverse elements in their cultures and have lived least to themselves … what a truly human life demands are positive channels of effort, useful and dignified tasks, fine and significant actions, and quiet states of beatitude, which by their very pursuit or enjoyment provide, incidentally, such checks and restrictions as may be necessary to their success …

    In such individuals, a society finally lives; and in such societies fine individualities become widespread and frequent.


    * Online at: https://archive.org/stream/critiqueofhumani007783mbp/critiqueofhumani007783mbp_djvu.txt

  9. abdulmonem says :

    As Postman said Mumford is a great noticer and no one can notice the ills without possessing an intuitive soul. Guenen said the malady of the western science is that it does not go deep in knowledge but it gets itself dispersed in details, in the superstition of quantity on the expense of the quality the actual symbol of life. Like Mumford he goes directly to the malady as it is identified by the megamachine, the best representative of the quantity approach the machine which the humans created only to forget and turns to be slaved to it. The new god of our modern time. Does society see but through its human members, that is why the message of all religions addressed to the humans who represent the cornerstone of all institutions and systems. Society can not survives without the individual, as Mumford put it, that lives lest to themselves. This is again the message of all religions to be of service to others. Yes we do live in an institutionalized abuser systems but we must not forget that they are running by humans. This is one of the worst diversion. imposed on the humam attentions to make it avoid seeing the real problems. Attention management, Scott never stopped referring to it and that is the whole issue the writers mentioned in the post are complaining about. Thank you Mike for keeping quoting such brilliant human.

    • mikemackd says :

      > Thank you Mike for keeping quoting such brilliant human.

      And thank you for your engaging and insightful responses, abdulmonem.

      As you may recall, some time ago I thought I was posting too many quotes from Mumford here, and said I would stop doing so, but Scott asked me to continue. I am glad he did, because a less solitary study has greatly increased by own understanding not only of Mumford’s oeuvre, but of what others who have referenced him are saying. And many who quote him have had much else of value to say.The vast majority of these references have been positive, but there are a few negative ones I have found (I can only think of three), and two of those viscerally so.

      An unintended benefit of this process is to rebalance my consideration from almost exclusively what is being said to why it is being said: what statements may say about the stater. More precisely, what statements imply about the frames where people may be coming from in making them: what their agendas may be, considering the pointer as well as the pointing. Once again, McGilchrist’s framings and the ones Scott and I discussed above come to mind in such contexts.

      Naturally I cannot set too much store on my conclusions in that context. As Infinite Warrior and I were discussing, the medium limits the message. Moreover, my conclusions may say more about me than the writers, and people can adopt personas that have almost nothing to do with their normal one or ones. But when pursued long and well enough, engagement in that process can be quite clarifying.

      Those insights, too, emerged more strongly from that engagement than they were before. I think they are part of a process of osmosis from all my intensive readings of Mumford.

      I no longer have any intention of continuing quoting Mumford as such; it’s like leaving a ladder behind so others can scale the wall you did if they want, rather than carry the burden of the ladder with you. But for as long as Scott is happy for me to do so, I will still quote him when I recall quotes that seem particularly relevant to the contexts of Scott’s posts.

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