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.
I’ld like to follow up on a comment I posted earlier to the previous post on “The Great Irony of Our Times” after having come across a review of Marshall Berman’s book All That is Solid Melts Into Air. The review in The New York Times cites a passage from Berman’s book that I find very meaningful as the central theme of The Chrysalis as well: “everything is pregnant with its contrary”.
This is the great insight of our times — in fact, it even is the reason why we speak of “times” in the plural at all, or why we refer to this as an Age of Paradox or why I describe it as an age of great ironies and of “ironic reversals” (or what some call “the Great Unravelling”). It is even essential to understanding “chaotic transition” and the meaning of Jean Gebser’s “double-movement”. “Everything is pregnant with its contrary” is just another way of understanding the Hermetic principle of the coincidence of opposites (coincidentia oppositorum) or the conjunction of the contraries (conjunctio oppositorum), or even the meaning of Blake’s “marriage of Heaven and Hell”.
If also offers a way to understanding what Gebser means in saying that everything — the fate of the Earth and of life — hinges on our knowing when to let happen, and when to make happen, for that is the expertise of mid-wifery. That is, in a sense, what Gebser is summoning us to become during chaotic transition.
Not a great deal of attention has been paid to how this New Testament promise and prophecy — “the meek shall inherit the Earth” — has underwritten much of modern history, and continues to do so in the various flavours of populism, ie, the idea that the “meek” are entitled to the Earth as against the “elites”. That the meek shall inherit the Earth has even come to be seen as an entitlement or as an historical inevitability, both of left-wing and right-wing populisms, as God’s promise to those who labour and suffer under tyrannies.
Nietzsche mocked the whole idea that “the meek shall inherit the Earth”. He dismissed it as being vile herd sentiment or “slave mentality”, rooted in the psychology of resentment. He is somewhat right about that. But Nietzsche was also a philologist, and must surely have known that the meaning of “meek” had (like the words “value” and “virtue”) had undergone an inversion from the original meanings. Words have biographies as people have biographies, and also undergo “mutations”. “Meek” doesn’t mean what most people merely think it means. But a lot of people still invest almost all their hopes for the future in it.
“Hades and Dionysus are one and the same….” – Heraclitus
The mythical imagination (or Gebser’s mythical structure of consciousness) still abides within us and has its way with us. In a vague sort of way we even acknowledge its meaningfulness in naming powerful technologies after the gods of antiquity. And the same may be said for the magical structure of consciousness, which occasionally irrupts in what we call mass “magical thinking” or what Algis Mikunas describes as “technocratic shamanism”.
Heraclitus has pointed out that Dionysus (god of life) and Hades (god of death) are conjoined. Understanding why Hades and Dionysus are “one and the same” is pretty much the key to understanding Heraclitus and his paradoxes more generally, and to understanding Nietzsche and Dionysus too. It may also be the key to understanding our present “chaotic transition”.
The road up and the road down are the same — Heraclitus
A lot of people have puzzled over this particular paradox of Heraclitus. While it might be obvious that a road going up a mountain is also, at the same time, a road going down a mountain, I can assure you that Heraclitus had nothing so banal in mind as to point out the obvious. It was a metaphor for something else — life and death — just as his remark about not being able to put the same foot in the same river twice was a metaphor for what Buddhists describe as “impermanence”, which is Heraclitus’s “panta rei” — “everything flows”.
Panta rei is what informs Zigmunt Bauman’s thesis of “Liquid Modernity”, revealing Bauman as being a Heraclitean at heart, (and perhaps even a Buddhist in principle). For, indeed, Heraclitus has been described as “the Greek Buddha” (as well as “Heraclitus the Obscure” or “Heraclitus the Dark”).
As Mark Lilla frames things, the Pilgrims “did not speak in terms of personal identities; they had souls back then” — (from a review in The Guardian)
Yes, indeed. The identity crisis and identity politics is about the eclipse of the soul, which is the meaning of the symbolism of the Sol Niger or Black Sun. It’s for that reason, too, that restoring the meaning and integrity of the soul — reviving the soul as Jean Gebser’s “diaphainon” — is one of the main objectives of the writings of Jean Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy, among others. It is correct to say that “identity” is only the soul which has shriveled up and has shrunk into a mere “point” — the “point of view”. The zombie image — the living dead — is really identity minus soul.
In yesterday’s posting on Giotto, Picasso and Aperspectival Consciousness, we briefly (perhaps all-too briefly) traced the turbulent unfolding — in “agony and ecstasy”, as it were — of the third dimension of space (or, rather, the tripartition of space into spaces) to consciousness and perception that was prefigured in the Early Renaissance/Late Middle Ages and represented in the works of Giotto and Petrarch; proof that very big things often arrive in very small packages — or on little dove’s feet.
The unfolding (or “evolution”) of a new “dimension”, as I mentioned, also involves a corresponding “in-volution” befitting the law of dynamics that states: every action has an equal and opposite reaction — that is to say, a coincidentia oppositorum. Standard histories of the Renaissance and Late Middle Ages very seldom pay attention to the “in-volution” aspect of the transition — the restructuration of consciousness, perception, and cognition — although this is now what is usually intended to be understood by the term “co-evolutionary” — the co-evolution of cosmos and consciousness. Or, as the great Sufi mystic and poet Rumi once put it, “the whole universe is a form of truth”.