In today’s Guardian I read an excerpt from Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Lanier is a digital pioneer turned digital sceptic. He has developed a model he calls “BUMMER” of what is wrong with social media. It’s interesting in that it does describe some aspects of the contemporary Megamachine. For Lanier, it’s not just the fact that digital technology and social media amplifies the dark side. It is also the business model that drives social media that Lanier focusses on, one that seems to even suggest that capitalism in the era of social media might even be an anachronism that we haven’t even recognised yet — the “horseless carriage” syndrome, which is our tendency to interpret radically new environments in inappropriate old formulas and habitual ways, like referring to the automobile as a “horseless carriage” or a locomotive as “the iron horse”. In may well turn out that the implicit potentialities of the new technology and the old business model are radically incompatible, and that this may well prove to be one aspect of the contemporary crisis. The problems faced by conventional corporate news media (print in particular) seems to be a case in point.
I refer to the cultural philosopher Jean Gebser quite a lot in the pages of The Chrysalis. His history of consciousness and “civilisations as structures of consciousness”, described in his magnum opus entitled (in the English translation) The Ever-Present Origin, is among the most profound contributions to the “hard problem” of consciousness I have read.
So, following upon my brief discussion in the previous post of what I consider the deficiencies in Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus, (judging from the reviews alone) I thought I would today provide a brief account of Gebser’s very different understanding and of what Gebser means by “structures of consciousness” and civilisational types as structures of consciousness.
Until a few days ago, I had never heard of Yuval Noah Harari, allegedly one of the most popular and best-selling contemporary public intellectuals (or “celebrity gurus” if you prefer). Harari and his book Homo Deus came in for some criticism in Mark Vernon’s and Rupert Sheldrake’s podcast on “The Jordan Peterson Effect“. I guess I move in the wrong circles.
Harari is an historian who has a side gig as a fortune-teller and futurist, and not having heard of his book Homo Deus until recently, I decided to look up a few reviews, most of which found Harari’s book unpleasant reading (The Oxonian Review, The New York Times, and The Guardian as a selection). Harari’s thesis is that some human beings are on their way to godhood thanks to technology and the Megamachine.
I think not. I think Harari has confused what Algis Mikunas calls “technocratic shamanism” (magic, essentially) with the meaning of divinity and epiphany.
One of my favourite German expressions is “ein Kobold im Keller”, which roughly translates as “a goblin in the cellar” or basement. It means something similar to the English phrase “a skeleton in the closet”, although goblin in the basement seems much more expressive, much more animate. Ein Kobold im Keller would be like Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll.
Nature abhors a vacuum. So does human nature. Vacuum and “the soul shuddr’ing Vacuum” is a frequent theme in Blake’s poetry. Pascal, likewise, shrunk back terrified before “the silence of the Infinite Void”. In Blake’s poetry, Chaos, Vacuum, Void, and Nonentity are pretty much treated as one and the same.
The disintegration of the modern ego-consciousness, (which has also been described as “crisis of the individual” or “malaise of modernity” or “the crisis of the Modern self” or “deficiency” of the mental-rational consciousness structure, and so on), also results in a “soul shuddr’ing Vacuum” — Nietzsche’s “stare into the Abyss”, modern “emptiness” that we generally refer to as “nihilism”. Into this psychical vacuum attending the disintegration of the ego-consciousness (and the consequent “return of the repressed”) flow all sorts of monsters from the deeps, either from deep space or the depths of the sea: ghouls, demons, goblins, aliens, krakens, ancient chthonic forces from the Underworld. This has been referred to as “opening the gates of Hell”.