Post-Historic Man: Diagnosis of a Failed Type
I’m fascinated by “post-historic man”. I’m obsessed with discovering the secret of this type — the man of the “New Normal” who Francis Fukuyama celebrated even as the new normal in his essay (and later book) on “The End of History“. You can learn quite a bit about post-historic man by simply reading between the lines of Fukuyama’s book or earlier essay. You can learn even more about the type through reading Nietzsche’s musings on “the Last Man” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra — the “Last Man” who Nietzsche thought of as being only a caricature of man, as “the ape of his ideals”; an historically exhausted type that had already exceeded its shelf-life and sell-by date.
Post-historic man — narrow-minded, mean-spirited, small-souled, which also describes Musil’s “man without qualities” — is not entirely novel. Aristotle, in The Nicomachean Ethics, described the type as “mikropsychos” who he contrasted with the contrary type, “megalopsychos” — broad-minded, of generous spirit, and great-souled (“megalopsychos” corresponds to the meaning of Sanskrit “Mahatma” — maha atman — or bodhisattva). In some ways, you can’t appreciate Nietzsche’s “overman” without reference to Aristotle’s distinction also between mikropsychos and megalopsychos.
And many of those self-styled “Nietzscheans” who think that they have understood the meaning of “uebermensch” or transhuman have probably confused that with megalomania, demonstrating how easy it is to fall into ego-inflation or psychic inflation. The subtleties and nuances of Nietzsche’s philosophy are often lost on post-historic man resulting in what is sometimes called “vulgar Nietzscheanism” (the “alt-right’s” Milos Yiannapoulos comes to mind).
Aristotle cast his distinction between the small- and the great-souled in terms of the old and the young, although that should not be thought of, alone, in terms of a certain number of years of life, but also in terms of Gebser’s distinction between the “effective” and the “deficient” modes of consciousness. So, the distinction Aristotle wants to make is between decadent and ascendant forms of life, or de-vitalised or exhausted forms of life, and re-vitalised, re-generate, and re-envigorated forms of life — the expired and the inspired. Or, perhaps even to put that another way, between ancien regime and renaissance regime; or the unhealthy and the healthy.
Post-historic man goes by a number of other names, which we have examined in earlier posts: Blake’s “Urizenic Man” of “single vision”, George Morgan’s “Prosaic Man” in The Human Condition, Nietzsche’s nihilistic “Last Man” of his Zarathustra, Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, and, of course, Roderick Seidenberg’s Post-Historic Man as well as Lewis Mumford’s commentaries on Seidenberg’s post-historic man in his book The Transformations of Man, Jean Gebser’s alienated “perspectival” man in The Ever-Present Origin, Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. Each of them has a piece of the puzzle. Each of them has tried to find the pulse — to discover the hidden or secret meaning — of “post-historic man”. Here at The Chrysalis, we’ve described that principally in terms of “point-of-view-line-of-thought” consciousness — the terrible shrinking point-of-view as this type’s time-horizons contract and collapse into this “point”.
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy also addressed the problem of post-historic man (especially in his essay “Farewell to Descartes“), and his grammatical method and cross of reality provide a diagnostic tool for understanding the type, which we can examine in terms of the cross of reality
Post-historic man lives almost exclusively along the space axis of the cross of reality — the subject-object or Ego-It axis, and emphatically in one pole of the axis of space — the egoic “I” or the objective “It”. And in those terms, also, post-historic man is the subject of Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism.
The emphasis on time-thinking in Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy and philosophy of consciousness and in Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy is meant to counteract the deterioration of consciousness and culture represented by “post-historic man”. In order to understand and appreciate what Gebser or Rosenstock-Huessy are about — or, for that matter, William Blake, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Lewis Mumford along with so many others — we must come to understand their own dread of post-historic man. And one cannot understand at all their concern to nurture the emerging “new” type without understanding post-historic man as the Last Man and the Past Man, or why post-historic man is judged as being only a caricature of man (as in the satirical film Idiocracy).
Gebser (as well as Rosenstock-Huessy) describes the present fragmentation and disintegration of the personality and consciousness structure of post-historic man. It’s easy enough, perhaps, to see why in terms of Rosenstock-Huessy’s cross of reality. Post-historic man is unipolar, usually ego-centric, and confuses that unipolarity — whether objective or subjective — with all of reality. I laughed at a line from one of the Men in Black films when Agent K quips to an alien “Well, that’s just not living a full life” — or a fulfilled life. That’s the problem of post-historic man. He is not present in or to his full reality which he could only be by living at the centre of the cross of reality, the same that Gebser calls “the vital centre”, and it is only there that Blake’s “fourfold vision” becomes indisputably true and real, and where the re-integration of the “four Zoas” of the disintegrate “Adam” can occur.
For Rosenstock-Huessy, this was the real meaning of “Christ on the Cross” — an image of man’s being in suspense or at the critical juncture between Soul and World in terms of space and Origin and Destiny in terms of time. Soul, World, Origin, and Destiny are the quadripartite poles of our full reality, corresponding to the meaning of the “fourfold Self” and are likewise coincident with Blake’s Four Zoas, Gebser’s four “structures of consciousness”, Jung’s four psychological functions, and the meaning of the traditional “Guardians of the Four Directions” that one finds represented in some form or another in practically all cultures (the four dragons and the Jade Emperor in China, for example, are the same Guardians of the Four Directions that one finds in the indigenous Sacred Hoop or Medicine Wheel as the powers of the North, the South, the East, and the West). It’s the meaning of the mandala form and the similarity, too, between Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and Blake’s “fourfold vision” and the fourfold Self is not accidental
The mandala form as it is represented here in terms of Rosenstock-Huessy’s cross of reality and Blake’s own quadrilateral, allows us to interpret Gebser’s “deficient” mode of a consciousness structure as a loss of equanimity or loss of equilibrium through the exaggeration of one pole (or bias) of the cross of reality (or a Zoa). Different civilisational types are described by that bias along one dimension or direction — towards the past, or towards the future, or towards the inner or towards the outer. The result of that exaggeration is, as Gebser states, eventual destruction at the outer limits, which we call being “far from equilibrium”, and is equally a loss of equanimity or “loss of integrity”. The “vital centre” is the place of equilibrium or what is much the same, equanimity. Equanimity means integrality and integrity. This is called “the Sacred Balance” when Soul and World (or Nature), Origin and Destiny — or inwards, outwards, backwards and forwards — are held in relative balance or in dynamic equilibrium. This is what Gebser calls “presentiation” as opposed to distantiation. Much of Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy and grammatical method is precisely about how one goes about effecting this “presentiation”, or the integration of Soul, World, Origin and Destiny. We see this same structure of integration in Jung’s four psychological functions
As well as in the indigenous Sacred Hoop or Medicine Wheel
The same structure is represented in Buddha’s reception of the gifts of the Guardians of the Four Directions as well as in the Christian Book of Kells
Such illustrations could be added here indefinitely, because they are universal. They are maps of equilibrium and also of equanimity. The two are inseparable.
Do you see now the problem of post-historic man? Post-historic man is neurotic, if not psychotic, by virtue of the fact that he has failed to reach the equanimity that alone could ensure a relative equilibrium of things. That absence of equanimity is the driver that has pushed our world and its climate into a state of chaos “far from equilibrium”. As within, so without.
Gebser, Nietzsche, Rosenstock-Huessy, and Jung (among others) were and are attempts to get beyond or transcend post-historic man as a failed (and doomed) historical type. Rosenstock-Huessy called it “outrunning the modern mind” or outrunning “our withering from within”. They all foresaw the planet headed towards a global catastrophe unless we did overcome or outrun post-historic man.
What Gebser calls “distantiation” is alienation from the vital centre — the proverbial “still point of the revolving world” called “ever-present origin” or “eternal now”. That is where one finds the equanimity that makes for equilibrium or “the Sacred Balance”, or what Castaneda’s don Juan also called the “totality of oneself”, when Fear, Clarity, Power, and Old Age are all held in balance and in check. That, too, is a description of the Sacred Hoop. Fear and Old Age are East and West, and lie along the time axis of the cross of reality as dawn and dusk, beginning and ending. Clarity and Power are the North and South, and lie along the space axis, as inner and outer. To “speak from the centre of the voice”, which is wisdom, is to arrive at the centre of the Sacred Hoop, to achieve and speak the equanimity or integrity that preserves the equilibrium of the powers, when the “Guardians of the Four Directions” are at peace with man and the world.
Because when they are not at peace with man and the world, because man has lost integrity and equanimity — has “lost his marbles” — the Guardians of the Four Directions are the same four Riders of the Apocalypse of the Book of Revelation, who are the forms of Nemesis, goddess of retribution for hubris. And hubris is the problem of post-historic man. This is not only mythic. It’s another way of describing what happens as a result of pushing matters “far from equilibrium”, because man does not understand equanimity as the meaning of integrity, and integrity as arriving at the “totality of oneself” — a holon.