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.
There is a tradition in the Bible, one that extends across the Old and New Testaments, that human beings are essentially gods in training, and it certainly has nothing to do with technology or cyborgism or what struts about today as “transhumanism”. From the Book of Genesis (“they shall be as gods…”) through the Psalms to the Book of John in the New Testament (“Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?…”). It is also implied in Jesus commandment to his followers “be thou therefore perfect even as they Father in heaven”.
More recently, I have also read the same thing in one of the Seth books — that human beings are “gods in training”, and that this is also the meaning of Jean Gebser’s “diaphainon”.
If human beings are, indeed, gods in training, then evolution and history are not matters of chance — random and arbitrary — at all, but unfold according to a “pre-existing pattern”, as Blake, Gebser, and Rosenstock-Huessy hold. In that case, Harari’s more technocratic version of Homo Deus is a misunderstanding of that historical process — at best only Plato’s shadow on the cave wall or a part of Blake’s “Ulro”. Has Harari familiarised himself at all with Lewis Mumford’s thoughts on the Megamachine? Or, Jacques Ellul’s on The Technological System?
But what does it mean, really, to be “gods in training”? This is also very relevant to understanding Nietzsche’s overman, which has nothing whatsoever to do with contemporary technocratic “transhumanism”. And what is implied in the “knowledge of good and evil” that makes for godhood?
Seth and Gebser are very close in this respect, so I will rely on Seth’s explanation (it also has some resonance with Nietzsche’s views on this). What does it mean to be a “god”, or “goddess” for that matter. For Seth, it has to do with creativity. We are in the human form to learn how to responsibly handle power or energy in a creative way. Human creativity is the meaning of the human being “made in God’s image”, and it is also in such terms that the Buddha insisted that it was an incomparable privilege to be born into the human form, because the opportunities for learning — and for emancipation from ignorance — were so much greater.
For much of human history, though, that power with which human beings have been endowed has been used irresponsibly, and that means destructively, and that ability to use the powers of creation for destructive ends and purposes has been magnified many times through technology — the Megamachine, (or as we also see today, in the social media). The modern day Moloch. For Blake, this Moloch is the howling madness of his false god “Urizen”, who has fallen away into darkness from his “Eternal Form”. His Eternal Form is “Reason”, his fallen form is “Rationality”.
“I will not reason and compare. My business is to create”. So Blake, speaking as his “Zoa” named “Los”. Los is Imagination and the Eternal Prophet, and is the only one of the four Zoas to remember their mutual divine origin until the human form shattered on “the stems of vegetation” and fell into “Generation” (the meaning of the word “secular”, which basically means “time”. Urizen fell into Time because he over-identified with the physical senses).
There is a very interesting passage in the Book of Genesis that bears witness to this idea of human beings as gods in training, and I do not think it has been properly understood in its meaning, for it is a metaphor
And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
Here, God endows the human with the very same power of the creative Word with which the cosmos was called forth from the void. The Word that was in the beginning is also Adam’s. The very first act of specifically human creativity is naming. Speech, not tools or technology per se, is the very first instrument of human creativity. Speech is the initial means by which humanity is to be raised up to divinity. The abuse of speech does the opposite. It debases and degrades, as exemplified in Orwell’s 1984.
There is a certain irony in the fact that, originally, the word “technology” referred to grammar — the logos of the techne. The word “techne” means “art”, “skill” or “means”, while “logos” has many meanings, one of which is “reason” or “reasoning”. Originally, technology meant articulation, articulating, or “reasoning about the means for representing eternal, abiding truth” in speech. In time, this meaning of articulation was transferred to machinery or all forms of systematisation or technics, which was the work of instrumental rationality or of what Gebser calls “the mental-rational structure of consciousness”. Technology, which originally applied to the art and science of truth-speaking, became transferred to machinery, so that we could really speak of a “grammar of machinery” or a “grammar of technology”. The original template and blueprint for machinery was grammar, in the idea of “articulation” or “knitting together”.
Originally, then, the road to human divinity lay through speech — creative speech. And this still informs Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy and “grammatical method” (as discussed in many past posts). This is actually also true of Nietzsche, whose ideals of the noble and ignoble are related to his “aesthetic” ideal, ie, creativity. This aesthetic ideal is also represented in what, for William Blake, was his chief principle of politics — “The Arts, and all things in common”.
That our essence is actually divine is the meaning of Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “stroke of insight” and of her experience of what she calls “The Life Force Power of the Universe” — not at all the “Clockwork Universe” or Megamachine of the Modern imagination. She knew herself as identical with that Life Force Power in all its epiphanies or manifestations, and that’s what we call “god consciousness”. Rumi knew it. Blake knew it. Jesus and Buddha knew it. Probably Heraclitus knew it and called it the Logos. Nietzsche knew it somewhat and called it the “Dionysian”.
Harari’s conception of Homo Deus is a technocratic distortion and a perversion, exactly what is called “spiritual materialism”, and there are dreadful consequences for human destiny in accepting this view, which Gebser also dreaded — the confusion of what is only “deficient” forms of magic with the authentically spiritually enlightened. This false conception of creativity will only lead to mass destruction, and the human experiment will fail, as it seems to be doing now.
It is said that when one arrives at the root and origin of speech, this is the same as enlightenment. The root and origin of speech is Gebser’s “ever-present origin” and not something that begins in antiquity or the remote past as a “beginning”. It is what people call the Here and Now of things. My indigenous friends call it “speaking from the centre of the voice”, which is the creative centre or vital centre, synonymous with “ever-present origin”. The more the ego-consciousness (Iain McGilchrist’s “Emissary”) becomes estranged or alienated from this vital centre, the more destructive it becomes likewise, which we call “nihilism”, and even to the point of self-annihilation. And this is the meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son and of Yeats’ ominous poem “The Second Coming“.
To “speak from the centre of the voice” is a very profound saying, and its related to another indigenous saying “strength is the feeling of comfort within”. Both pertain to the experience of the vital centre, which is also the ever-present origin. “God consciousness” isn’t about power and magic tricks. It’s about “time-freedom” and creativity. Everything else is pretty much narcissism, disease, and trickery or what is called “spiritual materialism”.
Which is pretty much what all our contemporary “celebrity gurus” preach and teach.
We are here to learn. We are here to learn to use energy creatively, because energy is all there is. And we are doing a very piss-poor job of it, too.