“New Renaissance” (Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna) and an “Age of Diminishing Expectations” (Paul Krugman, Christopher Lasch) are contending and somewhat divergent narratives about the nature of our times. Charles Taylor’s thoughts on “the malaise of modernity” also align with this sense of diminishing expectations, and the sense of diminishing expectations (or sense of contraction) is also connected with post-modernity and “the end of the Master Narrative”.
These contending and seemingly divergent narratives, at least incipiently, reflect Jean Gebser’s paradoxical “double-movement”, which he described in terms of an integration with an attendant disintegration. And the best way presently to reflect on that paradoxical dynamic is through these contending narratives of “new Renaissance” and “Age of Diminishing Expectations” or “modern malaise”.
We’ve drawn attention, so far, to the difference between values like the Whole and the Totality, Individuation and Individualism, Truth and Fact (or, more properly, between “the truth that sets free” and “the facts of the matter”). To this relationship, that between creativity and productivity must also be included.
If you contemplate this pairing of the values sufficiently, it becomes obvious that there are, here, two distinct orders of value which are, nonetheless. related to one another somehow — paradoxically related. Traditionally, this has provided the basis for a distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenal, the spiritual and the material, the “higher” and the “lower” (or the “noble” and the “ignoble” in Nietzsche’s terms), or between the infinite and the finite orders, or eternity and time. The paradox is acknowledged in the popular saying “same but different”. That drives strict logicians, rationalists, and a dualistic logic of the “either/or” variety quite nuts. So, too, what is called “spiritual materialism” arises from mistaking the “lower” value for the higher one, and is connected with Nietzsche’s understanding of nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves”, and that is related to Iain McGilchrist’s idea of the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the Master.
Having raised the issue of an incipient “Fourth Age” in the previous post, it behooves me, I think, to try to delineate (if that’s the right word) what may well be the likely characteristics of this Fourth Age, beginning with something rather fundamental — the “mutation”, if you will, in our cosmological picture.
Nothing seems more permanent than a long-established government about to lose power, nothing more invincible than a grand army on the morning of its annihilation — John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards
The light of dawn and the light of twilight look very much the same. And you may think of Jean Gebser’s paradoxical “double-movement” very much in those terms as well.
“Eternity is in love with the productions of time” — William Blake
“The whole universe is a form of truth” — Rumi, “Green Ears“
These two statements from Blake and from Rumi are equivalent. They both imply another order of consciousness and value (sometimes called “the noumenal”) behind, beneath, before, or implicit in the phenomenal or secular order of times. This is what truly marks the difference between insight and simple sight, for “vision” is ambiguous in that same sense, and it equally distinguishes between what we call “wisdom” and what we call “knowledge”. And it is, furthermore, implied in Nietzsche’s definition of nihilism whereby “all higher values devalue themselves”, which is, in effect, another way of defining “profanation” (another one of Nietzsche’s many ironies).
But the secular and the profane are not the same thing. Blake, Rumi, and Nietzsche warn us not to despise the things of the phenomenal world (or the things of “flesh and blood”, as the secular order is sometimes called) because the secular or phenomenal world is the self-revelation, or self-manifestation, of the noumenal. “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” alerts us to consider how all dualisms of spirit and matter, or mind and body, the private and the public, the individual and the communal, are false dichotomies, because the noumenal and the phenomenal, (or being and becoming, or eternal and temporal) exist in an intimate and mutual embrace (often described as one of “love”). “The whole universe is a form of truth” means, in effect, that the secular orders of time and the phenomenal order of appearances (related and mediated by the physical senses) are all symbolic form or metaphor for the self-revelation of the timeless or eternal. And that means that, in some strange way and to some strange purpose, the phenomenal or secular order is a kind of mirror for the eternal or spiritual order — something that is meant for learning.
The will to a system is a lack of integrity — Friedrich Nietzsche
In his Ever-Present Origin (Ursprung und Gegenwart in the original German edition) Jean Gebser spends some time untangling the meanings of the words “whole” and “total”, arguing that they are, in fact, contraries and not synonyms for one another. “Whole”, he points out, has the meaning of health or wellness or integrality, while “total” is connected with words signifying death (German tot or Tod). And it is that distinction that is reflected in Nietzsche’s comment about integrity and systems. Whole and totality are quite different values, and I would say, too, that in the collapse of the meaning of the one into the other there is a perfect example of Nietzsche’s understanding of nihilism, or of how “all higher values devalue themselves”.
And I would also say that what Gebser describes as chaotic transition and the “double-movement” of our times is also connected with the “irruption” of the holistic into mere systems and totalities, resulting in a disaggregation or decoherence of those systems and totalities (connected with what Jacob Bronowski calls “the crisis of paradox” in his wonderful little book The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination). It’s in that sense, too, that I want today to draw a distinction between what is called “individuation” process and “individualism” as also being contraries parallel to the distinction between wholes and totalities. This is equally demonstrated in Iain McGilchrist’s fabulous (must-read) book The Master and His Emissary about the divided brain (and its two modes of perception) as well as in neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor’s experience described in her “My Stroke of Insight” TED talk.