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”.