Creation Against Production

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.

Now, this is related to the Parable of the Prodigal Son. As you recall, the “son” journeys into a “faraway land”, squandering himself and his wealth, until he ends up living as a swineherd among swine. That is the state called the “Kali Yuga”, which is a desolate state of “spiritual materialism”. The herd of swine is, in effect, the spiritual values become debased and degraded. Insight into the meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son goes a long way in understanding Gebser’s cultural philosophy of consciousness, and what he means by “distantiation” of the ego-consciousness from its “vital centre”, towards the outer limits where it meets self-destruction or disintegration.

That is what McGilchrist describes in The Master and His Emissary as the Emissary’s “usurpation”, and disintegration at the outer limits — which is “malaise” — is nihilism. William Blake, too, has different metaphors for describing the nihilism of the alienated ego-consciousness (his Zoa named “Urizen” in his fallen state) — such as stagnant water or “the dark Satanic Mill”, being pretty much equivalent metaphors. These metaphors are related to his proverb that “the cistern contains; the fountain overflows”.

Spatial metaphors like the “higher” and “lower” values aren’t particularly accurate — nor are metaphors like “behind”, “before”, “beneath” or “beyond” to describe the more spiritual values with their material, secular, finite or quantified counterparts. Nietzzche’s distinction between “noble” and “ignoble” is much more preferable in that respect, and it’s more accurate to speak of the “implicate order” as quantum physicist David Bohm does or, indeed, as Iain McGilchrist does in describing the relationship between the Master and Emissary modes of consciousness. We have to get beyond our habits of dualistic thinking because the relationship is better described in terms of the implicate and the explicate, or what Gebser calls the latent and the manifest.

Gebser prefers to speak of “polarities” moreso than “contraries”, which he relates to what he calls the “life-pole” and the “death-pole” of the psyche (or, in Freudian terms, eros and thanatos “instincts”).

Today, we’re going to look at this same paradoxical relationship in relation to the meanings of “creativity” and “productivity” and the question of “growth”. Creativity and productivity are also very often — quite mistakenly — treated as synonyms, and in much the same way that the integral and the systemic are treated as being the same (or the whole and the totality).

Blake, of course, held that this confusion of productivity with creativity was a disaster that would ultimately prove fatal to civilisation. There is the paradox that productivity and growth (so much the obsession today) is taken as proof of life — vitality, vigour and creativity. But in fact, productivity and growth in economic terms may actually disguise the fact that the well-springs of creativity (Blake’s “fountain”) have dried up. The civilisation could actually be dying even as its productivity and GDP are ascending. So rising productivity and GDP levels may well disguise what is, in fact, death and decadence leading to destruction at the outer limits of “growth”.

To confuse creativity with productivity is a fatal error, and is what Blake decried as “the dark Satanic Mill”. And this is, in many respects, why the theme and symbolism of the “zombie” (even as “the zombie economy”) is such a prevalent theme today. Creativity, wholeness, individuation, truth — are all related as aspects of Gebser’s “vital centre”, but they have been eclipsed by their corresponding material counterparts — productivity, totality, individualism, facticity (which are all “quantifiable” and definable terms in contrast to the ineffability of the higher qualitative values.

Ultimately, this seems to be the prime concern of social observers like Lewis Mumford, George Morgan, Jacques Ellul, Jean Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy as well — that ever-increasing numbers (and this is an error Steven Pinker makes) are proof of creativity and of civilisation’s life and vitality. That’s the way statistics can lie and mislead about the actual state of things.

This is Mumford’s critique of “the Megamachine”, essentially. It’s quite possible that ever-increasing productivity and economic growth are not proof of life and creativity at all, but just the opposite — proof of nihilism. That’s what Steven Pinker also misunderstands about Nietzsche.

What Charles Taylor also calls “the malaise of modernity” is very much connected with this drying up of the well-springs of authentic creativity and vitality, replaced by boredom, repetition, routine, and “the dark Satanic Mill”. That’s what horrified me about Fukuyama’s “end of history” screed, and why I consider rationalists like Steven Pinker deluded. There’s a reason why Nietzsche’s “free spirit” and creativity are connected issues.

Rationalism, scientism, economism, productivism — these have confused issues and values that ought not to be confused. That’s the problem of reductionism and fundamentalism. These are only aspects of the shadow-world that Blake calls “Ulro”. But when one sees through the shadows to the spiritual values that ultimately inform them, and perceive that there is a “higher” or “nobler” order of values within the shadows, that is what Gebser calls “the transparency of the world”. And, of course, the architect of that shadow world is the Emissary, Blake’s “Urizen”.

The “vital centre” has often been associated with the sun, because it is the sun that casts the shadows. But the ego-consciousness acts as if the shadows came before the sun. Nietzsche calls high noon the “time of the shortest shadow”, and that has some meaning in connection with Gebser’s “diaphaneity” or transparency of the world. It begins by seeing through the finite, material values to the spiritual ones which they merely reflect, and upon which they ultimately depend. Necessarily, then, the more the ego-consciousness becomes distantiated from that vital centre, the more its connection with those higher values — the whole, individuation, truth, creativity — are also severed, and the ego-consciousness has to become content and “adjusted” to their poor substitutes the shadows — totality, individualism, bare fact, and productivism.

This is Taylor’s “modern malaise”.


26 responses to “Creation Against Production”

  1. mikemackd says :

    Oh. The poem i just posted in response to Abdulmunem Othman’s comment on the previous string could have as well gone here.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    What happens when anyone can make it appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did?” technologist Aviv Ovadya warns.”

    Ovadya warns of an “Infoapocalypse” in the making

    That describes pretty well what Algis Mikunas means by “technocratic shamanism” (in his essay “Magic and Technological Culture”).

    If you’ve read Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin, you’ll recall his discussion of the failure of the Aztec sorcerers to bewitch the Spanish.

    But there are other precedents for the “technocratic shaman”. The wizard Klingsor in the Grail legend (Parsifal). There is the legendary confrtonation between Simon Magus and St. Peter. And there is the Biblical account of Moses’ confrontation with the Egyptian sorcerers.

    We do seem to be in very similar circumstances.

  3. InfiniteWarrior says :

    “Paradoxically related.” Against?

    • Scott Preston says :

      Not difficult to appreciate once you understand Heraclitus: “strife is the father of all things” or Blake “without contraries there is no progression”.

      You can call it “sibling rivalry”. And in some respects it’s implied in the meaning of the phrase “nature bats last”.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        “Rivalry is the invention of the males. It’s time females took back our proper place in society and ressurected a future for our children.” — Urdnot Bakara

        • Scott Preston says :

          And you don’t see the irony and ironic contradiction in that statement?

          • InfiniteWarrior says :

            Do I see irony and contradiction in the statement that a societal organization is severely out of balance; the reason why it is severely out of balance; and the corrective for restoring it to a proper balance? No. (But it helps to know the context and history of the Krogan, the Genophage, etc. along with Bakara and Wrex’s, as well as their clan members’, vision for the Krogan future.)

            I find it more interesting in regard to energies rather than genders myself. We can add to the ever-growing list of word pairs under intense public discussion today: “competition versus cooperation.”

            (Who decreed that “versus” means “against,” btw? Is that a uniquely “Western” thing as well?)

  4. mikemackd says :

    I’ve just been listening to a lecture from the Director of the Centre of Environmental History at Australian National University; it’s a podcast at: It provides a good backdrop for this post.

    It refers to the Anthropocene Era, called by Amitav Ghosh as “The Great Displacement” in his 2016 work of that name (Penguin Books)
    From 5:37 into the lecture Prof. Tom Griffiths stresses that “humans have wiped out about two-thirds of the world’s wildlife in just the last half century”.

    That reminded me that I am older than about two-thirds of the nation-states on Earth, and to reflect upon the roles of nation-states in facilitating that destruction by our megamachine. What Mumford called the paleotechnic and neotechnic eras ( and now go by the term the Anthropocene, and its great acceleration started in the 1950s.

    We are living in “interesting times”, as the Chinese curse has it.

  5. Abdulmunem Othman says :

    I always enjoy your dialogue with IW. Self-jehad is the strife of Heraclitis indicating the testing nature of our life that requires both male and female to strife for their higher self, after understanding the negativity of the contrary of that higher station. It is a rivalry toward betterment within and without. It is a never stop flow that carries us to our destination that require our conscious involvement in this co-creative process. A process that does not operate smoothly without obstacles,limits. recalibration toward harmonious balance in a constant state of evolution, absolving the self from its hindering ironic trait. Once the spiritual faculty starts working, light of clarity begins to shine to help the seeker to pursue the path and gives the assurance that the seekers are following the right transcendental route. It is intentional attention away from the lower realm, telling the emissary to know its place. Thank you all.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      It is a rivalry toward betterment within and without.

      I hope no one minds if I prefer to think of it as a dance of light.

      • Dwig says :

        Or maybe a dance of light and dark? “Glorious the moon, therefore our thanks when dark clouds come to rest our necks.” Having had to deal with a pinched sciatic nerve bundle since last fall, I’ve been learning to do what I call “dancing with the pain”.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          I was going to say light and shadow (not dark), but a quote from The Abyss suddenly popped to mind: “It was a machine, yes, but it was alive. Like a dance of light.” (Why that popped in there, I have no idea. I was just thinking about Life, the Universe and Everything.)

          That, of course, led me to ruminate about the “Megamachine” and wonder why so many of us seem to be preoccupied with “breathing new life” into the Megamachine (even in a “third industrial revolution” kind of way — I have reservations about that); why so many of us apparently think “ecological consciousness” or “spiritual ecology,” etc. is something new, something we’ve lost or something we’re just beginning to remember or what-have-you rather than something that has been with us all along and merely overshadowed by the Megamachine, which goes back to something I said earlier in response to Charles:

          No one I have known personally over the course of my life thinks of the Cosmos, Nature, herself or himself as a machine and, indeed, rejects any and all of the above being viewed or treated as a machine. Ergo, the most pertinent questions, in my mind, is when, where and why such thinking is (and has been) purposeful (intentional) and when, where and why it is not (and has not been) purposeful, which makes it a bit easier to discern whether an intention in question is malicious or benign, if nothing else.

          • Scott Preston says :

            why so many of us apparently think “ecological consciousness” or “spiritual ecology,” etc. is something new

            That’s because it is, although it was prefigured in certain aware individuals in the past.

            To understand why it is new consciousness it is necessary to understand also what Blake means in speaking of the time when “the soul slept in beams of light” — meaning, it was not awoke. It was not aware of itself as such. The original “archaic consciousness” in Gebser’s terms is the same. It was certainly not aware of itself as being such. Gebser notes as much in quoting the Taoist “dreamlessly slept the original men”.

            It would be a mistake to identify the various structures of consciousness — the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational — as somehow representing ecological or “spiritual ecology”. They were never integral in that respect. “Spiritual ecology” or such terms are anticipations of the integral.

            It’s an important point. They weren’t “ecological” because they weren’t self-conscious in that way. And it would be a great mistake to confuse archaic consciousness with ecological or “biospheric consciousness”. In fact, in many respects the Megamachine was even necessary in order to learn about integrality or ecology at all.

            Likewise, it’s a great mistake to attribute “biospheric consciousness” to the tribes. They had absolutely no idea about anything like a “biosphere”. The Sacred Hoop applied only to “Turtle Island”. Only now is the Sacred Hoop beginning to be thought of as three-dimensional — in terms of sphericity. Earlier, it was thought to be like the turtle’s back.

            The term “spiritual ecology” is an anticipation of integral consciousness, and quite inconceivable until the full spectrum of the possibilities of consciousness had manifested themselves. Before now, you had only speciations of consciousness in terms of animism, vitalism, psychism, or mentalism. These are aspects of the spectrum of consciousness and its various metamorphoses or restructurations, and Gebser certainly warns about becoming over-identified with any one of these and confusing it with “integral consciousness”

        • Scott Preston says :

          Ouch. I’m sorry to hear that, Dwig.

          • Dwig says :

            Thanks for the sentiment. It’s almost literally a PITA from time to time, but it drives me to learn, and appreciate my mortality.

            Re Turtle Island: the legend I’ve read about features Sky Woman, who fell from another world above, and landed on the turtle’s back (assisted by the local aquatic animals). Does that speak of an awareness of “this world” as being one among others? (If I remember rightly, the Hopi legends also speak about coming from a different world.)

  6. Abdulmunem Othman says :

    Never blame other for your faults and do not clam more than you deserve. The two chronic calamities of our civilization. Human is built with both destructive traits and constructive traits, here where the strife starts. All scriptures as documents for guidance, have described these two traits and warned from the danger of the low path and the reward of the higher path. Emphasizing that the earth will never be free from these two antagonistic traits and that destructive people may seize the rein and destroy the earth as it is shown in Mike links and Scott links about the trend toward machine thinking and fakes news and its moral repercussions which we are reaping its rotten fruits. It is both the kind of thoughts and actions that determine our present and our future and even how we benefit from the past. Mumford as well as Ovadya are aware that it is a value question that determine the color of our extensions in the social, economic, political etc fields that give signals to the path of the trajectory of that extensions. It is not data but how to use that data. It is not data but the intention behind how we produce our data. All know that when quantity measure is the weighing scale and quality is abused reasonable people should not be amazed to see all this turmoil. We talk about the awakening parables but we refrain from using them as guiding principles in the path of correcting the march toward the abysmal pits. It is pain that find its incarnation in words, may the words at lest soothe the inner restlessness. No wonder all this aspiration toward arts as the catharsis of human emotional tension in order to visualize the prospect
    anew in the realm of higher aspirations. We live in a theater where criminal governing bodies running a helpless herds, a situation that can not be corrected without the involvement of the unseen divine that has always put and end to corruption. It remind me of Noah story when he had turned to god saying,I am defeated ,take over and the flood started whose story every culture has a version of it.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      We live in a theater where criminal governing bodies running a helpless herds

      Sometimes I think, though, that if I hear one more person refer to the (supposedly) helpless “herds” as “sheeple,” I may go Xena on them.

      Those “governing bodies,” unfortunately for all of us, are not themselves “governing,” but unconsciously (and unconscientiously) governed to all our detriment and, just as unfortunately, utterly clueless that the late, great paradigms they promote and serve are dead. Finished.

      We, on the other hand, must move on.

      While I can spot a number of crinkles (and am personally uncomfortable, to say the least, with the notion of a “Third (or fourth or fifth) Industrial Revolution,” I found this lecture [via Ian MacKenzie] notable for its articulation of an emerging “biospheric consciousness.” I would be interested to hear from the energy experts among our little troupe as to what they think. I get the impression it’s still indelibly tied to the old paradigm and, yet, note glimmers of the emergent.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Just posted something new somewhat related to this as “New Renaissance in an Age of Diminishing Expectations”. — these two somewhat divergent narratives about the nature of our times.

        Not having yet read the lecture on “biospheric consciousness”, I’ld say it is probably carrying forward Nietzsche. There are two maxims in Nietzsdhe’s doctrine that are complementary and very fundamental to Nietzsche’s thinking. One is “Become what you are!” and the other is “Be true to the Earth!”.

        Superficially, those look like two distinct projects or processes. But they are actually one life process. To think of them as two separate processes is to commit the Cartesian error — that mind and body are separate and incommensurate. Nietzsche just saw that as disguised “otherwordliness”.

        so, yes: “biospheric consciousness” would fit the bill. I’ll have to review the lecture to see how well it accords with Gebser’s “integral consciousness”.

      • Scott Preston says :

        That’s a very engaging talk by Rifkind. His “biospheric consciousness” is a great term. Thanks for linking. I’ve forwarded that to a couple of friends as well.

      • Dwig says :

        IW, I agree with your impression. I didn’t sit through the lecture, but I’ve read some of RIfkin’s work before, and the written summary sounds familiar. He appears be one of the many who take technology as a given, assuming that the necessary energy sources will appear as needed.

        Here’s a couple of perspectives that I find more in tune with the reality of energy decline: Kris DeDekker’s Low-Tech Magazine, and Richard Heinberg’s musings as part of his work with the Post-Carbon Institute. That said, I like the sound of “biospheric consciousness”.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          Thanks for those links. I’ll definitely bear them in mind while I sift through Rifkin’s propositions.

        • Scott Preston says :

          I’ve been uncomfortable with some of Rifkind’s work in the past. But I understand where he’s coming from in this particular talk. He’s anticipating the subordination of the Megamachine to biospheric consciousness.

          The “Megamachine” in Mumford’s characterisation is such because it subordinates consciousness and the individual to it — the famous “cog in the machine”. That subordination is the sense of powerlessness and isolation/loneliness. The Megamachine is Moloch. It’s the Megamachine that requires individualism/specialism rather than authentic individuation. It’s the Megamachine that turns us into robopaths and makes us believe we are “unique individuals” merely because we have a specialist function or role via division of labour in relation to it. Individualism becomes confused with division of labour.

          It’s all an illusion.

          Rifkind’s conception of this “Third Revolution” is an inversion of that relationship. He’s really talking about an end of the division of labour along with the transformation of consciousness — to biospheric (life) rather than mechanics and our mechanised consciousness, and more co-operative or mutualist ways of living. So he has, in his own way, rightly made a distinction between individuation and individualism as the distinction between this “biospheric consciousness” (authentic individuation) against the cog or the robopath (false individualism).

          There are many other points I could raise about that, but might be of interest to compare Rifkind’s talk of “biospheric consciousness” with Howard Bloom’s The Global Brain and the Anthropocene as it exists. Certainly “biospheric consciousness” would be a metamorphosis of the meaning of “Anthropocene” (which is, right now, a destructive manifestation). I’ll have to go back to Bloom to see whether his “Global Brain” lies closer to Rifkind’s “biospheric consciousness” or closer to Mumford’s Megamachine.

          Rifkind thinks of the internet as the nervous system of the biospheric consciousness. He may be very right in that. Besides porn taking up about 70% of internet traffic, biospheric awareness has also grown up with social media.

  7. Charles says :

    Good writing Scott. Michael Polanyi is a writer that is insightful. His books are relevant for many of these ideas. Polanyi would suggest “Malaise” describes the present for many reasons. He writes in his book Personal Knowledge the Preface

    This is primarily an enquiry into the nature and justification of scientific knowledge. He rejects the ideal of scientific detachment.

    You wrote:

    The herd of swine is, in effect, the spiritual values become debased and degraded.

    Fascinating. Glass (Yuga) “to reveal esoteric truths to “ordinary people”, to preach the esoteric Way and its other-worldly rewards, is tantamount to casting pearls before swine…who will corrupt those truths, hate, reject, condemn and revile them.”

    The esoteric was lost.

  8. Dwig says :

    A couple of thoughts on the essay:

    “To confuse creativity with productivity is a fatal error”: agreed, but what popped into my mind was a paraphrase of a Blake dictum: “Eternity is in love with the creations of time”. How is that the same as the original, and of course simultaneously different?

    Since you’ve mentioned Bohm, you might find the works of his collaborator F. Davd Peat of interest. I’d be interested in your take on his concept of “gentle action” and his take on synchronicity.

    • Scott Preston says :

      How is that the same as the original, and of course simultaneously different?

      Many of the last few postings in the Chrysalis have been about that same fatal error, just as it is a fatal error to confuse the things of time with the things of eternity — which is the temptation of the conservative. The conservative’s “preference for the familiar” may well become the denial of impermanence and therefore reactionary. (I don’t agree with Corey Robin’s Jacobin-biased argument in The Reactionary Mind though, that every conservative is a reactionary anyway.)

      “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” draws attention to the relation between permanence and change, the timeless and the time-bound and the paradoxical relation between the two. It’s also implied in Rumi’s statement that “the whole universe is a form of truth”. That’s just Rumi’s way of saying the same thing. And both are implied in Gebser’s notion of the latent and the manifested reality and the role of “diaphaneity” in manifesting what is latent or “presentiation”. He just calls Blake’s “eternity” — “ever-present origin” which is identical with his “diaphainon”.

      It’s a common theme in much indigenous culture and in Buddhism too that what we call “the Sacred” and what we call “the Secular” just aren’t that far apart (or that “only a hair separates the false from the true”). The apparent contradiction between the Sacred-Eternal and the Secular-Temporal is a result of the dissociation of the Emissary from the Master. You see this quite clearly in Bolte-Taylor’s experience. Her whole experience of her stroke of insight was an example of Blake’s “eternity is in love with the productions of time”.

      The Buddhist, likewise, will insist that everything has “Buddha Nature”, or that the dharma is everywhere — under a rock; in the whisper of the tree leaves; in a running brook, etc. Heraclitus called the same “Logos” and also said it was everywhere and in all things. The same is called the Tao by the Taoists. St. John just called it “the Word”. Gebser just calls it “the Itself”.

      “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” is the paradox of the One and the Many restated (or “Eternity in the hour”) — how the one and indivisible can be, simultaneoulsy, the plural and divisible. But after McGilchrist and Bolte-Taylor, this paradox should not be too difficult to appreciate as being, in fact, just the way things are.

      On another note, yes I’m familiar with F. David Peat from the Perimeter Institute. I reviewed his book Blackfoot Physics a while back in The Chrysalis. He was a student of David Bohm’s, so it’s interesting that while Bohm looked to Buddhism for clues to physics (or Krishnamurti), Peat turned to the indigenous worldview for insight into “the implicate order” or “the holomovement”. They were looking for the same “thing”, as it were — evidence of the presence of the eternal within the time-bound, or of the infinite within the finite. Scientists just happen to call that “universality”. It would make sense that they would do so because real science is the quest for the universal — what is eternally valid.

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