Smith’s “Invisible Hand” and the Tribal Genius

I woke up this morning thinking about neo-liberal economics, Jean Gebser, Adam Smith and his “Invisible Hand”, and how this metaphor (or simile) of the “Invisible Hand” morphed into  “mechanism” in the term “market mechanism” — and, in those terms, whether in the form of “Invisible Hand” or “mechanism” (Mumford’s “Megamachine”), we aren’t dealing with a superstition masquerading as “science” or ideology.

There is, actually, an ancient antecedent and precursor to this benevolent “invisible hand” — it is the tribal “genius” (“genie”), or tutelary deity. And this relationship between Smith’s “invisible hand” and the tribal “genius” reveals something very significant about Jean Gebser’s philosophy of “consciousness structures” as well.

[The rich] consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity…they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species. (from The Theory of Moral Sentiments).

This is a very curious statement, in fact, because it contains elements of magic and myth, and exploring those elements will also reveal something very important about what Gebser means by writing, in The Ever-Present Origin, that when dialectical or systematising rationality (“the mental-rational consciousness structure”) falters or breaks down, it reverts to older, legacy or repressed forms of magical and mythical consciousness to compensate for the lacunae in its logic.

The word “genius” comes from the Latin “gens” — meaning the people or tribe. “Gens”, in turn, informs many of our common everyday English words like “genesis”, “general”, “gender”, “generator”, “generation”, “genitals”, “genie”, and so on — and “genius” as well. This interesting fact reveals the persistence of the tribal origins of much of our speech and language, including the magical and mythical elements which remain encoded in speech and grammar. And, in fact, the very word “grammar” is related to words for “magic”.

The word “genius” is, in Latin, the possessive case of the word “gens” and means “of the tribe” or “of the people”. The original “genius” was the tutelary deity of the tribe — the protector god that guaranteed its integrity and its fertility, and so was very much involved, magically, in the tribe’s fertility and pro-creation or generation. The association of genius with creativity or with distributive justice in the tribe stems from that earlier form of the “Genius”. In effect, the Genius is the  tribal “We” person of grammar, the original “field of force” as it were in which the members of the tribe lived, moved, and had their being. Elements of this tribal “Genius” are still very much evident in Biblical descriptions of Jehovah, the Genius of the Hebrew tribes.

The “genii” (plural form of genius) are still described, even as late as the 19th century, as the fecund spirits of lake, forest, river, mountain, field and so on. and who may be benevolent or hostile or mischievous. These are the “genies”, in other words, and are related to the Arabic djinn. The Islamic djinn, though, were formerly the various gods and deities of the desert tribes, said to have numbered some 360 prior to Mohammed. (The number 360 is peculiar, since this is the number of days in the old calendar and the number of degrees in a circle). There is a quite evident linguistic link between the “genii” and the “djinn“.

Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” bears some striking resemblances to the old form of “the Genius” of the magical consciousness structure, which probably accounts for why the “Invisible Hand” is treated with near religious conviction by its followers, even though it has now morphed into a more technocratic form as the “mechanism” of the “market mechanism”, largely under pressure of Smith’s critics, and critics of classical liberal capitalism, who charged that the Invisible Hand was a rationalistic superstition. Describing it, rather, as “mechanism” tries to give it legitimacy and to dispel the odour of a misplaced “mysticism” that attends the idea of the “Invisible Hand”.

Smith isn’t the first example of someone having resorted to largely “irrational” forms of myth and magic to try to fill the gaps — the lacunae — in the mental or logical structure of consciousness. Newton was accused of resorting to magic and “occult”  notions of force in trying to account for how gravity functioned as a “force at a distance” without any evident mechanism or medium of transmission of that force, ie, magic.

There  is a peculiar relationship between the meanings of the words “substantial” and “superstition”. They are actually contraries in the sense of what “under-stands” (or sub-stands as also in German Ver-stehen) and what “over-stands” (super-stare). The old understanding, so to speak, was that the noumenal was the true or “sub-stantial” reality while the phenomenal or sensate world was the “superstition” (as “veil of Maya” for example). Materialist philosophy inverted this relationship. The material became the “substantial” while the invisible or numinous became the “superstition” (this was largely Galileo’s doing who inverted the relationship between primary and secondary qualities). The material particles or atoms now became the “substantial” reality underlying the appearances, while the noumenal or “the spiritual powers” or “creative forces” that were formerly understood to be the “substantial” reality and which in-formed the appearances were now relegated to the “superstitious”, and were repressed.

This inversion and repression has made the mental-rational consciousness structure vulnerable to “invasion” by these repressed elements as “return of the repressed” in all sorts of ways, and I think we have examples of that in Smith’s deus ex machina in terms of the “Invisible Hand”, or Isaac Newton’s appeal to the notion of “force” when an obvious and evident material explanation or “mechanism” failed to account for gravitational “force” or “attraction”.

These are rather simple instances that illustrate Gebser’s concerns about how a faltering dialectical rationality, such as we are seeing with “post-modernity”, becomes vulnerable to “invasion” by “deficient” aspects the return of the repressed — ie, the unintegrated or inhibited aspects of the psychic whole. Unintegrated with consciousness, even as “irrational exuberance”, they rampage and maraud, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Mr. Hyde”, and even without the ego-nature’s awareness or the mental-rational consciousness structure’s awareness, that it is being itself usurped by “deficient” forms of the magical and mythical modes of consciousness because it does not recognise these modes as valid or real. In the extreme case, this is the situation of the “berserker” of the old type (the “wrath of Achilles” being an example) — and possibly of the new as well.

And this is the danger that Gebser sees — a vortex or “maelstrom of blind anxiety” — as a result of the breakdown of the mental-rational consciousness and the weakening of the inhibitions it has erected against the return of the repressed. And that is the situation, now, with what we call “post-truth” or “post-rational” society or “identity crisis” — a rampage of the “Shadow”, in Jung’s terms — the marauding unintegrated fragments or aspects of the psychic whole.

That’s also the essential warning in Yeats’ ominous poem “The Second Coming“. Rationalists are no more prepared for, nor inoculated against, this “return of the repressed” than anyone else, which is not only Gebser’s great concern, but is basically the fundamental concerns of many other contemporary authors we have examined in The Chrysalis who have noted the peculiar relationship between technics, the machine, and resurgent older forms of myth and magic which are insinuating themselves, largely unawares, into technics and thinking with potentially disastrous consequences unless penetrated by insight and understanding.

We have, after all, seen this breakdown of reason and the eruption of ancient psychic forces in a “maelstrom of blind anxiety” before. Nazi Germany was that example of the return of the “irrational forces” of myth and magic disguised as technics and “rationality”. Historians still struggle to understand what happened between 1920 and 1945. We don’t need to see such things again.



40 responses to “Smith’s “Invisible Hand” and the Tribal Genius”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Three new books, all with the same time “Post-Truth”, reviewed today in the Guardian,

    I’ld be interested in following and comparing their arguments about what they see as the causes of this.

  2. InfiniteWarrior says :

    They are actually contraries in the sense of what “under-stands” (or sub-stands as also in German Ver-stehen) and what “over-stands” (super-stare).

    This reminds me of a conversation way back in TDAB days: the difference between “overstanding” and “understanding.” Corresponding contraries, perhaps? Undersee and oversee. As Buddhists contend, wrong thinking is based on wrong perceptions.

    The word we’re not hearing in relation to understand and overstand is “comprehend.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      “Prehension”, and its various morphs — apprehension, comprehension — comes from the Latin term for “to seize” or “to arrest”, and only a short while ago came to be applied to thinking too as “to grasp”. But the general meaning is “to arrest”, something related to Nietzsche’s notion that comprehension freezes action. So, the incomprehensible is, literally, that which cannot be arrested, seized, or grasped and therefore fixed or fixed in place. In fact, Heraclitus says of his “Logos” that it is incomprehensible in that sense, which suggests it is of the same nature as the Tao which is likewise incomprehensible (Lao Tse) in the sense that it cannot be “grasped, seized or arrested”.

      “The Spirit bloweth where it listeth”, from the Bible, is probably another reference to the incomprehensiblily ot the Logos or Tao and to the Heraclitean flux.

        • Scott Preston says :

          That is an outstanding and profound essay, Steve. Thanks for bringing it up with this post. I could spend the rest of my days commenting on it.

          It does end on a curious note, though, and I was uncomfortable with some of Raine’s understandings of Blake’s passages, particularly her comparison to Plato. As the editor notes at the very bottom of the piece, Blake probably would not have accepted Raine’s “Platonic” interpretations of his vision. I’m not comfortable with Plato’s thought either, and am more attracted to Plotinus than Plato.

          Otherwise, there is much in the essay that illustrates some of the matters I attempted to put into the post above.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Isn’t that where we’re stuck…and have been since time immemorial? Not sure if I can get this across.

        We’ve had the “underseers” — the “gnostics,” the “understanders” — going at it for thousands of years with the “overseers,” the “overthinkers,” the “overstanders”… and never, it would appear, the twain shall meet.

        I’d liken it to a knot in the “corpus callosum” of the “Global Brain,” if not for the obvious ramifications. We just keep perpetuating this physical vs non-physical crap in various forms. “This is the “origin.” “No, that is the “origin.” “This is correct.” “No. That is correct.” “Science vs religion.” “East vs West.” “‘Left’ vs ‘Right’.” “Left brain vs right brain.”

        Makes your brain hurt after a while. “Origin” (as you suggest) is beyond both of them and can’t be “comprehended” in its “entirety.”

        So, what then? If this dichotomy is baked into our languages, what can we do? I might suggest we all take up Sign Language. It is, after all, one of the most beautiful languages ever created, but of course, the same “dichotomy” is baked into that as well.

        • Scott Preston says :

          He who binds to himself a joy
          Does the winged life destroy
          He who kisses the joy as it flies
          Lives in eternity’s sunrise — Blake

          This snippet of verse from Blake could be unpacked indefinitely, as it reflects, say, the Buddhist law of impermanence, or the Heraclitean flux. But it also says something about “prehension” as “arrest” or “seizure” or “grasping”. There is also a lot of Rumi in this little snippet of poetry too. (for example, Rumi’s poem “The Guest House”

          “Eternity’s Sunrise” is also a pretty good book on Blake by Leo Damrosch. (Maybe I should write one called “The Winged Life”?).

          The “winged life” brings to mind Castaneda’s teacher, don Juan, who once described “sorcery” as “unfolding the wings of perception”, which is a very lovely phrase that brings to mind… a chrysalis.

          We aren’t stuck with the controversies and dichotomies of the past, you know. This is Gebser’s main point about a “plus mutation” of consciousness. We need to learn from them, sure. But we owe them nothing — not loyalty, not credulity.. no homage. Not much point in being a mutant if we cling to obsolete controversies. We want to live like Blake, after all, don’t we…. in “eternity’s sunrise”?

          • InfiniteWarrior says :

            We aren’t stuck with the controversies and dichotomies of the past

            But we — i.e. the whole of humanity — are sure as hell stuck between them. “Scylla and Charybdis,” indeed. That is our “crucible.”

            • Scott Preston says :

              “Without contraries, there is no progression” (Blake). That is, in effect, Blake’s acceptance of dialectics, but only within the greater whole and context of “fourfold vision”. It is also Heraclitus’s “strife is the father of all things”. Same idea. The yin and the yang is simply owing to the fact that all energy is polarity, and this polarity is paradox.

              I was looking for my copy of rosenstock-huessy’s Speech and Reality just now, but seem to have misplaced it. He also had a statement in there that resemble’s Blake’s “eternity’s sunrise” and Gebser’s “ever-present origin”. Hopefully I’ll locate that. But Rosenstock also embeds dialectics in his quadrilateral logic, as one might expect if one is pursuing a truly integral philosophy and outlook. Dialectics is valid. It’s the essence of the mental consciousness structure — discernment, and it is as valid as the magical or mythical.. The problem is when it thinks its the “one best way” (as Ellul calls the spirit of technics). Rosenstock, Blake, and Gebser don’t dispute the value of dialectics, but these guys have already moved into a fourfold world. And the most interesting thing about that is that they also have a very similar appreciation for what Blake calls “eternity’s sunrise”.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              But we — i.e. the whole of humanity

              Allow me to correct myself. We — i.e. the whole…. Period. I’m afraid I can’t accept that even humanity’s “dialogics” and “dialectics” together are the ultimate determinator of our future. Human affairs and relations? Hmm. The jury’s out on that.

              Rosenstock also embeds dialectics in his quadrilateral logic

              Quadrilateral…logic. Right.

              And we wonder why some compare the mind to a computer program?

            • Scott Preston says :

              Well, that’s because “mind” IS a computer programme. But it is still only ONE term of Rosenstock’s quadrilateral. It is not synonymous with consciousness. Buddhism doesn’t treat “mind” as identical or synonymous with consciousness or awareness either. Mind is the sixth sense. But Buddhism insists that one use it “skillfully” rather than unskillfully. Most of Buddha’s “morality” as such was expressed in terms of skillful or unskillful thinking or action.

              The doctrine of No-Mind (or No-Self) is subtle, but not nihilistic. It’s a matter of letting go and of return, as expressed in the koans
              First there is a mountain
              There there is no mountain
              Then there is.

              Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water
              After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

              Mind transformed by the experience of metanoia is not mind annihilated.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              Mind transformed by the experience of metanoia is not mind annihilated.

              I didn’t say it was, did I?

              Buddhism doesn’t treat “mind” as identical or synonymous with consciousness or awareness either.

              I didn’t say it did, did I?

              The philosophy of “no-mind” (or mindfulness) pertains to the faculty of focus — present-mindedness as opposed to absent-or scattered/distracted-mindedness — or, as abdulmonem has described it in the past: “dispersement.” Almaas’ “Diamond Mind” is also an apt metaphor. “Facets” (and expressions of “facets”) are not inherently “factions,” after all.

              A fairly recent, familiar illustration (but by no means the only one and/or the be all, end all) of “no mind”-in-action is this one.

              that’s because “mind” IS a computer programme.

              If that were true, those who consider our shared reality akin to a computer simulation wouldn’t be too far off, if at all, would they? I don’t know, Scott. That’s…a bit too cold a metaphor for me.

              it is still only ONE term of Rosenstock’s quadrilateral.

              Contrary to popular belief, I’ve read the Rosenstock recommendations: I Am an Impure Thinker, et al. as well all his appropriate lamentations over the Newtonian/Darwinian “worldview” having been applied to the social sciences. Now, it’s being applied to everything, , of course, including the Humanities. Woe is us.

              Speaking of “quads” and “fours…” That is a very “earthly” orientation, which I respect. In fact, “four” has always been my favorite number for some reason I never questioned until my teens. Four cardinal directions; four winds; four elements; etc. “That’s us; that’s here; that’s home.

              At the same time, though, the earth is not the center of the Cosmos, though we’ve tended historically to think it is. Examples of “harmonious” (as opposed to fractious and “discordant”) thinking abound, though this kind of thinking barely registers on the “popular” radar.

              When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or of acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.

              ~ Carl Sagan

              When we’ve had enough of those unoriginal, “post-modern” analyses masquerading as “insight” (which — note — I didn’t say was by any means all of them), perhaps we can get on with assisting the generation of a new “world” amid the rubble of the old.

            • Scott Preston says :

              At the same time, though, the earth is not the center of the Cosmos, though we’ve tended historically to think it is

              Actually, it is, if only in a paradoxical and ironic sense. It follows from Nicholas of Cusas “definition” of God (or infinity) as a circle whose circumference is nowhere, and whose centre is everywhere. So, paradoxically, Gebser’s “vital centre” is likewise nowhere and everywhere. This also pertains to Blake’s statement that “every creature carries its universe around with it”.

              Now, this isn’t abstract at all. The belief that the Earth is not the centre of the cosmos is the abstract belief. Consciousness always experiences itself, prior to abstraction, as the centre. Not only does it really experience the sun rising and setting on Earth, but it notes that wherever it looks outwards in space, all galaxies seem to be moving relative to the Earth as though the Earther were, in fact, the centrepiece of the cosmos. Our scientific explanations actually contradict our experience leaving us with a quandry we often have difficulty reconciling.

              Old Christian maps of the cosmos actually had the soul (represented as perhaps Jerusalem or Rome as Holy City or Eternal City respectively) as the centre of the known world, or the Earth as the centre of the cosmos. Dante’s cosmology is the same. For Blake, then, it is this actual truth of experience that is primary and immediate, and that’s what informs his perception of “Eternity in the hour” and “World in a grain of sand” or “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” and he means that in a quite sexual way — coitus, although he calls coitus “commingling” — the image of the archetypal or Hermetic hermaphrodite.

              Now, the ancients weren’t at all interested in the nature of physical reality except as a symbolic representation of the soul or divine reality, as “the Book of Nature”. That’s one of the reasons Gebser looks a Plutarch’s experience of space after his ascent of Mt. Ventoux with such interest, after which Plutarch retreats from the site of the infinite into his own soul again (much as Pascal was to do later). The ancients were more interested in the relation of eternity to time than the infinite to the finite spaces. In fact, the perspective artists justified perspectivism to the intitially skeptical ecclesiastical authorities (infinity and the vanishing point) as the visual representation and symbolisation of eternity. This is peculiar because it means that, initially, the switch to the eye and the realtionship of the infinite to the finite spaces were initially seen as only metaphors for the relationship of eternity to the times — the visualisation of time and its antithesis — eternity or timelessness.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              Infi’s comment keywords: ‘at the same time;’ ‘tendency;’ and ‘orientation.’ (No mention of ‘belief.’ And, perhaps, too much — i.e. “perspectivism” — is being read into the choice of an Internet handle?)

              The “Overview Effect” has been discussed in the pages of both The Chrysalis and TDAB, as has “switching between foreground and background ‘modes’ of perception” — both ‘modes’ considered valid — as are “directions” of consciousness, i.e. Judith’s “thousand-petaled lotus.”

              Is Sagan’s spiritual orientation ‘wrong’? I wouldn’t think so. No more ‘wrong’ than mike’s “confirmation bias.” But perhaps we should pass a law against such ‘orientations’… just in case.

              See what I mean? Why am I reminded of GLaDOS…?

        • Scott Preston says :

          “Eternity’s sunrise”, by the way, is the same as Gebser’s “ever-present origin”. They are the same.

          • abdulmonem says :

            Without involving the eternal there is sun set as there is sun rise. We know god from what he told us he is and also from the different human speculation about him. Living in a mixed culture for a long time I come to learn the different views without letting myself be arrested by any one interpretation. God is out of any human imagery. Any excess is prone to wrong assertion ,like our favorite Blake who can not join the hardware and the soft ware in the human creation, pushed himself to conclude that the human is either ark of god or phantom of the earth and of the water. Balance is hard to attain that is why we are faced with the rein of the quantity on the expense of the quality in everything, that is why we have all these past not post truth talk.This seems part of the divine program which is so wide and so complex and which need to be recognized and respected because once we work against it we will release all types of uncontrollable diseases. Any causal look around make one see so many things that testify for that sad scene. The problem started when the person left looking after his domain and busy the attention with the outside. Scott said the mind is a computer programme, yes but who made it with all these complex and dexterous qualities, how it utilizes the hard ware of the cosmos including the humans computers which are provided with all the necessary qualities that enable them to tap in both the divine hard ware and the soft ware and derive from them all the benefits and yet they can not turn themselves around to appreciate and venerate all these wonders. What surprises me is to come across some people who refuse to acknowledge such greatness and revert to some new phraseology to cover the real, whether with good intention or bad intention only to mislead and throw the society in destruction, like the story of the invisible hand or other similar claims, like the banker who said they are doing god work. Yes we are all doing god work but with one difference some are honest and some are dishonest , the honest path that will come to the front and will bulldozer and the labels that were used as mask to do the dirty work. God loves the truthful and the just and never let the perverters to reign and run without punishment. One has only read the fictional story of Moses with the Pharaoh. It is unfortunate that we only see the ugly part despite the acknowledgement of the paradoxical vase which we are in dispute regarding its potter, so is our problem regarding all other beautiful artistic manifestations.

            • abdulmonem says :

              Ibn Arabi spoke about the macro mind ( spirit )and the micro mind ( soul ) and how the latter sinks in the mundane the moment it loses its connection to the source but the consequences of the resulting deterioration takes time to make itself felt. Emphasizing that all expression of perception are the extension of the one divine consciousness.It seems we have reached that time where we have started feeling the signs of the above mentioned warnings. The warnings which are being repeated by all the visionaries that are covered by Scott posts. it is the law of contraries that covers all the different aspect of our existence and misses nothing from its operation, only that we do not know where the positive ends and the negative starts or vice versa, like the day of our death. yet there are always warning signs for those who want to change. As I said in my former comment that for everything there is soft ware and hard ware in order for the thing to be felt that is why Ibn Arabi keeps repeating that god needs physical support to make himself known and perhaps the humans are the best support created and that is why we also hear that god loved to be known and have created the humans to know Him. Look at all this consciousness but the humans are still veiled from the real not only because they have forget the basic purpose of knowledge but also because they are reading outside the confine of the divine replacing what he has created for the creator. Life is the story of worship,of love and alas there are so many attractions that disturbs the attention and push the many in the wrong direction save those that god wants to save. Freedom is a dangerous thing in the hand of those who do not know how to use it but intend to abuse it. Life is not any experience but that type of experience which looses trace of the one not. No wonder we encounter all these voices to return to the root. It is a question of living the experience and not speaking or reading about it. This mania of reading and numbers must be rethought and trace the path of Whitehead who restricted his reading and said about the goal of mathematics as being the elimination of any need for intelligent thought no wonder he left it for intelligent thought. God words must be easy and within the reach of all the high and the low away from restriction or sophistication. The level of knowledge has no ceiling and one has not to look down on the less lucky but to guide them for the higher and to be careful with the circulating thoughts because most of them are not useless but harmful. We do and He does and the final round is for the one who made us know and do.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              Great comment, as usual, sir.

              the goal of mathematics as being the elimination of any need for intelligent thought

              Mathematics is as much an expression of intelligent thought as any other language, the danger being “taking the map for the territory.”

              Mathematics, at its finest, is an expression of “the order in the chaos.” Geometric patterns, such as some of these carvings ,wouldn’t be possible without the “miracle” of mathematics.

              Life is not any experience

              Any experience is part of life and, as Scott noted earlier, there is something to be learned from everything.

              As if it’s not obvious, of primary interest to me is how the subjects under discussion here are playing out in so-called “mainstream” or “popular” culture. That is where the tides will and are turning…for better and worse, though I sincerely get the sense it’s mostly for the better. I gather that’s of little interest to anyone else, however, and will strive to keep the “distractions” to a minimum.

              humans are still veiled from the real

              No, they’re not. There is nothing standing between any human and his “inner teacher.” I’m with you on that 100%. That’s what’s most perplexing to me about our present quandry. How is it that a so-called “ordinary” person (I don’t think there is such a person myself) intuit the reality of something as significant as climate change, then go on to deny it — to himself — unequivocally? We could blame propaganda; so-called “powerful” or ‘authoritative” people and their “factions;” force of habit; lack of consensus on what to do about it; or any of a number of things; but when it comes down to it, that person obviously doesn’t trust his or her own senses and intellect nearly as much as whatever he or she is hearing from whatever source for whatever reason. Considering that whomever-it-may-be is in no way “ordinary,” I find this our most appalling tragedy.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              PS In light of the quote Scott posted from The Human Predicament (just saw it after awakening from a long nap — how apropos is that?), perhaps we (as a global society), might consider revisiting the origin of the term, “ordinary,” and question how its modern definition along with that of the term, “average,” are (constantly and nonchalantly) being applied to human beings, even by some of the great authors mentioned here.

      • John Lawlor says :

        The chaos that later appears orderedd.. contraries that ultimately unify and dance apart in a fluid dynamo.. multidimensioned awareness.. aperspective.. diaphanous.. spherical comprehending wholes.. structures.. time freedome.. all we got is this baby

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Just noticed this article citing the thinking of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams: “Britons are staring into the abyss…” which addresses some of the issues I put in the post.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    I just thought of another example of the meaning of the tribal “genius”, but it’s further along when we leave the magical and enter the mythological age — it’s one that Gebser alludes to in his discussion of Homer.

    If you told Homer that he was a “genius”, he certainly wouldn’t understand your meaning. He as simply the channel or medium for the muse or the muses, and his poems always open summoning the muses to speak through him. And so you see in this case, the actual meaning of the word “enthuse” as “a god within” (en-theos). Homer consciously asks the Muse or the Muses to take possession of him and “sing”. Homer’s “genius” is the Muse.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    The terrorist bombing in Manchester immediately brought to mind Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907), written about terrorism then. I never read the book, but I did see the movie, with Robin Williams in the unlikely role of “the Professor”, the most nihilistic of the terrorist cell.

    The movie wasn’t all that great, but perhaps the book is better at delving into the psychology of terrorism and nihilism, particularly the mentality of “the Professor”, who seems to be completely estranged and alienated from life and totally lacking in any form of empathy. He seems, in that sense, to be the most extreme form of McGilchrist’s “Emissary” — the intellect divorced or estranged from its roots in life or Gebser’s “vital centre”.

    From what I’ve read of some of the background of these terrorists, they seem also to resemble Conrad’s “Professor”. Many of them were petty criminals or drug users, like the Professor, alienated, resentful, and anti-social types with a propensity already to nihilism in annihilation and self-annihilation and are driven to carry out that resentment to its final conclusion, or perhaps seek relief and redemption from it in a misguided act of “martyrdom”. Nihilism, far more than fanaticism, seems to be implicated, and Conrad’s novel seems also to trace both in his characters. In that sense, his most famous book about the journey into The Heart of Darkness is revisited in the nihilism of “the Professor”, who only rationalises his alienation and nihilism.

  6. mikemackd says :

    I’ve less time to post here now; I hope I won’t sound terse. I’ve been reading and reflecting, but have had no time for posting.

    Some points:

    1. I chased up that Adam Smith quote; it’s from Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments IV.I.10. I wonder what his reaction would be to his so-called followers these days, and the gross wealth imbalances in the world today?

    Perhaps he would be prepared to revise his theories?

    2. From my Star Key, where the numbers in it add up to 360, I would see the 360 for the number of djinns as a metaphor, meaning “the full round”, “all of them”; forty was similarly employed, but that’s not prominent in the Star Key.

    3. I discovered Mary Midgley years before I discovered Lewis Mumford. I’m reading her book “Science and Poetry” (2007 London and New York, Routledge Classics). Much of what she has to say is consonant with insights expressed by several in this forum. She has a quote from Blake’s “Jerusalem” with a sad topicality: “For Bacon and Newton, sheath’d in dismal steel, their terrors hang / Like iron scourges over Albion …

    4. Finally, today I discovered a post by Adam Curtis called Happidrome Part One at which tracks a path from Mumford to Bookchin to new forms of governance being tried in Kurdistan. It includes the quote:


    Which makes the alternative – the vision put forward by Lewis Mumford in the film, and which inspired Murray Bookchin – and the Kurds, seem more interesting as an alternative.

    Here is Mumford from the film. He starts by criticising the managed utopia – how it turns people into sleepwalkers. He has a great quote:

    “You reward them. You make people do exactly what you want with some form of sugar-coated drug or candy which will make them think they are actually enjoying every moment of it.

    This is the most dangerous of all systems of compulsion. That’s why I regard Skinner’s utopia as another name for Hell. And it would be a worse hell because we wouldn’t realise we were there.

    We would imagine we were still in Heaven.”


    Which quote of Mumford’s could be well applied to the future being set up for us in that link Steve provided; “Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future”, at:

    Mary Midgley attacks Skinner and his ilk in “Science and Poetry”. As she would put it, they “simply will not do”.

    And yet, they are still doing.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Ee gads, yes it is from the Theory of Moral Sentiments. I just grabbed it off the net, where it seems it was misattributed to Wealth of Nations (which I have, but have always postponed reading because it looks daunting — big fat book — while I’ve only read here and there in the Theory of Moral Sentiments). I’ve changed the attribution for the quote in the post. Thanks

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      You reward them. You make people do exactly what you want with some form of sugar-coated drug or candy which will make them think they are actually enjoying every moment of it.

      This is the most dangerous of all systems of compulsion.

      The cake is a lie.

    • John Lawlor says :

      If ignorance is bliss why are we all on prozac

  7. davidm58 says :

    This is a great post. I’ll be reading it a few times over.

    I haven’t yet watched the new Richard Heinberg video below, part of a series at But it looks like it may be relevant to this post and the post preceeding (The Megamachine and the Metamachine). Below is the introductory text, then the video.

    “Every society has institutions for making decisions and allocating resources. Some anthropologists call this the STRUCTURE of society. Every society also has an INFRASTRUCTURE, which is its means of obtaining food, energy, and materials. Finally, every society also has a SUPERSTRUCTURE, which consists of the beliefs and rituals that supply the society with a sense of meaning.

    How do these three systems interact with one another, and which is most important?

    Here, Richard Heinberg explores how our current systems of political and economic management — the things that we tend to think of as the driving forces behind the way our society works — are actually a byproduct of our interaction with the physical world, especially our sources of energy. And we’ll explore very briefly explore what a shift to different energy sources might mean for the politics and economics of future societies.

    This is the sixth video in our 22-part online course “Think Resilience: Preparing Communities for the Rest of the 21st Century,” which explores how communities can build resilience in the face of our intertwined sustainability crises. The series is intended for students and concerned individuals of all ages.”

    • Steve Lavendusky says :

      Complementary antagonism is the definitive characteristic of this illusory and relative world. The relative world exist as an infinitesimal geometric point of incessant change within the one absolute and infinite world, beyond time-space and without limitations or restrictions. This relative world is a theatre of performances in which all the tiny and ephemeral parts are woven together in endless variations. The great universe itself, however, is one unified existence without beginning or end. The latter is an ocean of absolute infinite expansion, while the former is a world of fleeting and transitory sense data that is continually multiplying. The universe is infinite not only in time and expansive space, but also within the geometrical constitution of each or the individual elements or parts existing within that great expanse.

      “Without contraries there is no progression.”(Blake)

      George Oshawa quote.

      • John Lawlor says :

        This really hit me. And then i thought of Horton Hears a Who and how every voice counts.. divine beauty .. phi infinity and beyond!

    • Scott Preston says :

      Nice car. Must be the swimsuit. A Cougar I take it. Thanks for the link. I’ll follow it up when I get a spare moment here these days.

      How the “Invisible Hand” became the vital centre of market society, and in turn the vital centre becomes “market mechanism” is an interesting history to follow up on as it pertains to gradual shifts in perception, or how Adam Smith’s universe is rooted in Newton’s cosmology. But it’s very interesting, too, to see how the “deficient mode” of logical discourse appeals to magical or mythical factors (or “irrational” factors) to fill in the gaps in the face of uncertainty.

      I don’t think I’m finished with this morphing of the tribal genius into the invisible hand into the market mechanism. But to say we live in a “market society” (or, as Polyani puts it, that society has become embedded in the universal market mechanism rather than vice versa) means that this “hand” or “mechanism” is that society’s central institution, and is treated as its actual “vital centre” around which everything else orbits (hence, the commercialisation or commodification of everything). Technocratic shamanism is related to this, as described by Mikunas, because everything exists to be changed into something else through its mere exchange value, and so the Amazon or forests can be converted into money and so on. The “casino economy” as it has been called exists because of “the invisible hand”, which becomes a superstition in the sense that we rely on this mysterious “invisible hand” or “market mechanism” to guide our fortunes, its distribution also of “luck”, since it indifferently rewards or punishes based solely on “merit” (or lack of merit), and so we have, supposedly, a firm conviction in “meritocracy”, which seems mostly contradicted by reality.

    • mikemackd says :

      I viewed the video, David: an interesting perspective; I need to reflect further on it. Afterwards, I looked for some more information on Richard Heinberg, and found an interview of him at

      The interviewer’s introduction of him provided a mini bio, including the following: “In the late eighties Heinberg started reading the works of historian Lewis Mumford, who helped him understand the history of technology from an ecological and humanistic perspective.”

      • davidm58 says :

        That’s a pretty old interview, from the early days when the peak oil movement was gathering steam (odd metaphor for the subject at hand). Pretty interesting that Mumford was a significant influence. Heinberg helped design and teach the “Human Ecology” course at New College, California, before it closed in 2007. Before becoming one of the leading “peak oil” voices, and publishing The Party’s Over in 2003, these were his first four books:

        Memories and Visions of Paradise: Exploring the Universal Myth of a Lost Golden Age (1989; revised edition, 1995; British edition, 1990; Portuguese edition, 1991)
        Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth’s Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony (1993; Italian edition, 2002; Portuguese edition, 2002)
        A New Covenant with Nature: Notes on the End of Civilization and the Renewal of Culture (1996; Portuguese edition, 1998) ISBN 978-0-8356-0746-9
        Cloning the Buddha: The Moral Impact of Biotechnology (1999; Indian edition, 2001; Japanese edition, 2001; Chinese edition, 2001)

  8. John Lawlor says :

    Your comments about perspectivism piercing the ancient worldview and the similarity between blake and gebser and blakes quote.. too apt to comment further right now =)

  9. Scott Preston says :

    I’ve begun reading George Morgan’s The Human Predicament: Wholeness and Dissolution (1968, Brown University) and thought I would post here some notes I made after reading the introduction. (The book received a prominent endorsement from Lewis Mumford as well)

    “Today we are engulfed in the gravest of predicaments — our lives, our selves, our ways of being, are subject to dissolution”

    (Introduction, p. xiii)

    George Morgan will discuss the “five elements of the dissolution” as
    1) the diminution of understanding;
    2) the destruction of language,
    3) the nullification of values,
    4) man’s loss of nature, his fellow man, and learning and art; and
    5) the reduction and fragmentation of the person.

    Part One of the book addresses each of these in turn (the present). Part Two deals with the history of “the prosaic mentality”, and Part Three deals with recovery of wholeness (future). In those terms, addressing the pattern of each of Gebser’s “three questions” in turn: “Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going?” — present, past, and future.

    Compare Morgan’s five elements of the human dissolution with Marty Glass’s five features of the Kali Yuga as 1) The Fall Into Time, 2) the Death of Nature, 3) the Mutation into Machinery, 4) the Reign of Quantity, and 5) The Prison of Unreality.

    Morgan introduces the notion of “the prosaic mentality,” which orientation of mind he believes to be at the root of the present dissolution. We can see that this “prosaic mind” is Gebser’s “mental-rational consciousness structure” equally. Morgan’s concern is with “human wholeness”.

    “Wholeness is seen as the never-final, discord- and risk-embracing, living unity of different approaches to the world and of the many facets of the human being.”

    (p. xv)

    So, this is the antithesis of “the one best way” approach that Jacques Ellul critiques as this same “prosaic mind” or mentality of the Technological System.

  10. Scott Preston says :

    Also from George Morgan’s The Human Predicament, the following draws the same distinction between reason and rationalisation that Gebser does, as well as being a pretty good description of the problems of what Algis Mikunas calls “technocratic shamanism”

    “The overriding role of irrational forces is seen also in the considerable proportion of the art of the twentieth century in its rejection of reasonable order, sense, and harmony, and in its emphasis on fragmented, cacophanous, and even chaotic experience. These forces confront us constantly in everyday life, where the extreme rationalization and standardization of our technological and functional world is conjoined with the most blatant irrationalities in the social, political, and moral spheres. To witness the inversion of reason in nationalistic and racial fanaticism, in the hysterical restlessness of modern society, in the insane pursuit of power and speed, is quite enough to lead one to doubt that reason has even a precarious lodging in the human soul. Added to all this, a calculated attack on everything that is reasonable has recently grown to stupendous proportions to the persuasions of mass propaganda and advertising. Not only are the views and attitudes to which propaganda is bent unreasonable in the extreme, but its methods are an assault upon the reasoning faculty, designed to put it to sleep, to crush it, and to pervert it, until even the most reasonable men are in danger of losing the distinction between a conclusion arrived at by the free exercise of thought and one on which one has been ‘sold'”.

    (pp. 7-8)

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