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Daniel Bell and Jean Gebser: Reason and Revelation in Post-Modernity

Reading Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism is a very rewarding experience. It is more rewarding, though, if one also knows something of the cultural philosophy of Jean Gebser. It’s a peculiar experience to read and compare them. Bell and Gebser see the exact same malignancies and pathologies in the culture of Late Modernity — many of which we’ve discussed here in The Chrysalis — but they seem them in entirely different ways reminiscent of the paradox of the half-full or half-empty glass that recalls also Gebser’s notion of “the double-movement” of our times.

In some respects, the relation between Daniel Bell and Jean Gebser is an example of the emissary and master relationship of the “divided brain” described by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Not a dualism or a dialectic, but a polarity of Reason and Revelation. Bell and Gebser are so similar. Bell and Gebser are so different. And the only way I can think of what finally distinguishes them is this polarity of Reason and Revelation which they represent. I think it was Bell’s commitment to “cultural conservatism” that inhibited him finally from making that “leap” or “mutation” that Gebser felt was necessary to overcome the now manifest malignancies and pathologies of Late Modernity by a metamorphosis: embracing a new consciousness structure — the aperspectival, arational, or integral.

So, let’s explore that polarity here. Let’s explore Daniel Bell as representative of Reason, and Jean Gebser as representative of Revelation, and in so doing I think we’ll get a relatively good idea of the difference between perspectival and aperspectival modes of consciousness.

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Paradox and Paranoia

Man is a paradoxical creature. Ultimately, it is what distinguishes the human from the machine. The machine cannot handle paradox. It is paralysed by paradox. That is why the Mechanical Philosophy and its logic had to deny and suppress the paradox in favour of “clear and distinct ideas” (as Descartes put it). But in doing so, it also had to deny and suppress Man in everything but Man’s mechanical aspects. In fact, dialectics and dialectical rationality breakdown in the face of paradox, which is connected, in logic, with what is called “the ears of the wolf dilemma”. When thesis and antithesis become one and the same, thinking dialectically collapses into perplexity, bewilderment, and confusion. The dialectic becomes a self-devouring, self-negating, self-contradictory process.

In earlier posts, I suggested that paradox and paranoia were intimately connected. Today, I want to explore that further as it pertains to the meaning of “chaotic transition”, and how paradox and paranoia can be transcended in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “metanoia“, or Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness”.

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The Senses, Spiritual and Physical

Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? – Mark 8:18

It’s a common enough refrain and lament in the Wisdom literature — eyes they have but see not; ears they have but hear not, neither do they remember. It’s a very simple way of stating that there are inner, spiritual senses which are primary, and for which the external or physical senses are only analogues and not primary. The Kali Yuga or spiritual dark age, or “Fall Into Time”, was really the fall into purely sensate consciousness. And this is also connected with Iain McGilchrist’s notion of the “usurpation” of the “Master” by the “Emissary”, as he describes in his book on neurodynamics entitled The Master and His Emissary. Besides the parable of the Prodigal Son, there are many other parables of the master and servant in Scripture that pertain to this also, but which have been likewise completely misunderstood.

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The Guardians of the Four Directions

Carlos Castaneda’s teacher, the Yaqui Indian “sorcerer” he called don Juan Matus, once described to Castaneda what he called “the four natural enemies of the man of knowledge“. The four enemies are fear, clarity, power, and old age. I also refer to these as the sometime forms of “The Guardians of the Four Directions”, for they do, indeed, map to the Sacred Hoop and to Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” as well. They are also quite paradoxical, being both enemies and yet benefactors.

They also, in an uncanny sort of way, describe the stages, or phases, in the rise and fall of civilisations. In his historical work on the modern revolutions called Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man, Rosenstock-Huessy showed how each of the four principal European revolutions of the Modern Era — the Lutheran (or German) Revolution, the English Glorious Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution — conformed to the pattern or the directions of his “cross of reality”, as phases or stages in the unfolding and shaping of the Modern Age and its particular structure of consciousness.

What I want to do with this post is show how these “four enemies” really do describe the phases, or certain eras, in the life-cycle of the Modern Age, and perhaps of any age — or the life of any individual for that matter — and what this might mean in terms of “post-modernity”.

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The Death (And Resurrection) of The Sacred Hoop

Having worked as a consultant for a spell at the Aboriginal Healing Project, it’s absolutely gut-wrenching for me to see how little progress seems to have been made in the actual healing of indigenous communities, especially in confronting the epidemic of aboriginal youth suicide. Right here is where building “resilience” has become most pressing. Indigenous people the world over have ever been on the front lines what we call “globalisation”, and more than most suffering the often destructive dynamics of the Megamachine.

Nonetheless, as an elder once said, too: “we’re all in the same canoe”. And he’s quite right. Our societies are broken. The Sacred Hoop is broken and the task of mending it is the Great Work of the Hermetic Philosophy which must enlist everybody’s efforts and support. This is where what Gebser calls “the double-movement” of disintegration and re-integration — or death and resurrection from death — is going to be tested foremost. For here, in these broken aboriginal communities, is where nihilism and its overcoming is becoming a test case for the entire fate of the Earth. As Nietzsche put it “If a man has a why he can put up with any how“, and that’s the secret of resilience. Our why must be, collectively, throwing ourselves into mending the Sacred Hoop. This only will give meaning to our acts and our lives in these times.

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The Living Dead and the Unlived Life

Last evening, I rented a pretty campy movie called Resident Evil: The Final Chapter — yet another installment in the continuing saga of the zombie and of the plucky surviving (and outnumbered) humans struggling to survive against chaos and armies of the undead. There seems to be no end of appetite for the living dead, and for zombie movies, zombie carnivals, and the zombie apocalypse.

Campy though it was, watching Resident Evil after reading Stephen Metcalf’s very insightful article on neo-liberalism in yesterday’s Guardian, and having just watched Vice‘s remarkable video of an insider’s account of the recent Charlottesville incident, this present pop cultural obsession with the living dead and its symbolism, along with my recent meditations on “The Shadow”, began to make profound sense. It triggered in my mind a recollection of Jung’s definition of the Shadow as “the unlived life” (and what that means also in terms of “the return of the repressed”) and so I understood then that there is a direct reciprocity between these themes of “the Living Dead” and “the Unlived Life” that also ties into Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism and the fuller significance of “the Anthropocene”. The insatiable hunger and craving that drives the undead, or zombie, is not for flesh and blood but for life.

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Gebser’s Empathetic Epistemics

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins” — translated from an indigenous proverb

Today, I’ld like to spend a little time speaking to cultural philosopher Jean Gebser’s approach to knowledge, which will facilitate understanding and appreciating his major work, The Ever-Present Origin and what he means by the “aperspectival” or “integral” consciousness which he himself practiced. Gebser’s hermeneutics, or “method”, has nothing essentially “mystical” about it. That’s a judgement from the confines, or perspectivism, of mere rationalism. Aperspectival or integral consciousness is an eminently pragmatic and practical matter, manifestly so in Gebser’s own case. I would prefer to describe Gebser’s approach as “empathetic epistemics” rather than “hermeneutics” for various reasons. I hope to demonstrate here why I believe Gebser is an archetype or prototype of the aperspectival or integral consciousness structure that he believed was already in the process of “irrupting” more generally.

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