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The Zeitgeist and the Shadow

Zeitgeist is a German term that translates as “spirit of the times” or the common mood or mental attitude, corresponding to what distinguishes historical epochs and eras from one another. The Zeitgeist is the milieu in which we live, move, and have our being, and which conditions our mental environment, outlook, and attitudes. Some define Zeitgeist as a civilisation’s or era’s “ruling idea” or ruling mood, or perhaps its ruling archetype.

For example, William Blake’s mad god or Zoa named “Urizen” is the Zeitgeist of the Newtonian-Cartesian worldview, or what we altogether call “modern mind” or “mental-rational consciousness” or “perspectival consciousness”. “Urizenic Man” is that mode of consciousness aligned or in communion with Urizen as Zeitgeist. But Urizen has a double aspect, too — a lucid aspect, but also a dark and deranged aspect– corresponding to what Carl Jung calls “the Shadow” — just as the Greek goddess Athena has her lucid aspect, and her deranged and shadow aspect, the Gorgon. These correspond to the life-pole and death-pole of psychic energy (or what Freud referred to as “eros” and “thanatos” instincts).

So, today I’m going to try to walk you through the present Zeitgeist, which some identify as “post-modern”, but which for others of a Jungian bent is now “the Shadow” (eg, Carolyn Baker’s Dark Gold: The Human Shadow and the Global Crisis, among others).

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The Function of “the Petty Tyrant”

One of the most interesting matters brought up in Castaneda’s writings is the role of “the petty tyrant”. Surviving Trump and Trumpism — or authoritarian populism and the politics of the hoarde more generally — may well be a matter of learning to see and use Trump as this same petty tyrant in one’s practice of self-overcoming. I can almost believe that Trump, among others today, was indeed fated to serve as this same “petty tyrant” for our metamorphosis. It’s a suspicion that has been lurking around the edges of my mind for a while.

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Jean Gebser on “The Demonic”

It has been an intense last couple of days for me — strange coincidences and synchronicities that I am still in the process of digesting, and which I may get around to posting about at a later date.

Today, though, I wanted to follow up on yesterday’s remarks on Michiko Kakutani’s article on “truth decay” (which has stirred up Twitter it seems) with some remarks on Jean Gebser’s notions of “the demonic” and demonic forces, or what we might also refer to as Mephistophelian forces. And while it’s not very fashionable in a more or less rationalistic culture to speak of “the demonic”, the term is quite appropriate when properly understood.

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Michiko Kakutani on “Truth Decay”

The Guardian has published today what looks to be a lengthy excerpt from Michiko Kakutani’s forthcoming book The Death of Truth. It’s a very good and thoughtful piece on “truth decay” but which doesn’t always hit the mark, in my view. (Michiko Kakutani is described as “the former chief book critic for The New York Times”). Eventually, I will want to tie together observations like Kakutani’s “truth decay” with Gary Lachman’s remarks on “chaos magick” (in Dark Star Rising) and with my earlier critiques posted in The Chrysalis of Rolf Jensen’s “post-rational” The Dream Society along with what is currently billed as “marketing 3.0“.

….and, of course, how all this relates to “Trumpology”, Christopher Lasch’s “culture of narcissism”, and the prescient writings of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser on “chaotic emotion” and historical mutations of consciousness structure.  There are common currents and undercurrents in play here, and they run very deep. So, today I’m going to attempt to provide additional insight — and perhaps a little orderliness of thought — into what we are calling “chaotic transition”.

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Our Mental Meltdown: Mind in Dissolution

Regular Guardian columnist Kenan Malik published a short piece today about the deep connections between Europe and Islam as revealed in Renaissance art. It is necessarily short because the invention of perspectivism in the Renaissance marked a parting of the ways, since perspective in art — and photographic effect — was rejected by Islamic authorities at the time as “competing with God” (ie “magic” or sorcery). Ironically, though, it was Islamic scholars — men like Averroes (ibn Rushd), Avicenna, among others – who helped prepare the way for the European Renaissance, including Islamic works on optics that were used by Europe’s “first scientist”, the monk Roger Bacon (also called Doctor Mirabilis). That work on optics laid the important foundations for the invention of perspective art in the Renaissance, beginning largely with the pioneering works of Giotto.

If you have been with The Chrysalis for any length of time — or have read cultural philosopher Jean Gebser’s account of the ascendance of the mental-rational or perspective consciousness — you will perhaps appreciate how the invention of perspective is foundational to what we call “modern mind” or “modern self”, presently in the throes of dissolution, confusion and chaos. Malik’s short article has reminded me to revisit those earlier postings and the dissolution and incoherence of perspective consciousness now manifesting in today’s social and individual phenomena of chaotic emotion and cognitive dissonance.

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Chaotic Emotion and Cognitive Dissonance

“Cognitive dissonance” is a useful term to describe our present “chaotic transition”, even though it has been known in the past and described in different ways. Cognitive dissonance is a reflection of what Jean Gebser referred to also as our current rampage of “chaotic emotion”. Jesus used the metaphor of “whited sepulchres”, sparkling clean on the outside (self-righteous), but full of decay, corruption, and dead-men’s bones on the inside. “The truth is not in you” he declared to those who were certain they were the custodians of truth. But when his disciples asked how they were to know the truth-speakers from whited sepulchres (or false prophets) he could only respond “by their fruits you will know them”, which “fruits” can only be understood in relation to his other maxim: “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”.

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Time and Chaos

What we call “chaos”, and what is very much implicated in “chaotic transition”, is intimately connected with time. More specifically, it is intimately connected with the breakdown of the Clockwork Universe and the reflection of that Clockwork in the social order. The irruption of the spontaneous and paradoxical — the uncertain and the unpredictable — offends the clockwork orderliness of things. Something or someone, we say, has “thrown a spanner into the works”. Someone has sabotaged our sense of order, and that sense of order is based on the Clockwork. At such times people cast about for someone who, like a Mussolini, “will make the trains run on time” — that is to say, restore the Clockwork. The Clockwork is the pulsing heart of the Megamachine and is, in many respects, also Blake’s “dark Satanic Mill”.

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