Fake news, false memory, post-truth, post-rationality — symptoms of the morbidity and social pathology of late modernity or post-modernity, they all seem to refer to one and the same thing, although in another sense they imply different things. They imply the total disintegration of modern civilisation’s “cross of reality”.
Consider the fact that any particular civilisational type and its associated “consciousness structure” is a particular configuration of spaces and times, and how it configures, arranges, organises, or domesticates those spaces and times is its milieu or habitat that we call a “culture”. That culture exists to reproduce human beings in its image, in both its temporal and spatial aspects. A culture’s arts and sciences exist to regulate its inner and outer fronts of life, and its religion and politics exist to organise its relationship to past (origin) and future (destiny). A culture or civilisation, as much as any organism, survives only to the extent it effectively manages its relationships to these four fronts of life. These are termed “the teachings of the Four Directions” or “the Guardians of the Four Directions”. We call them “institutions”. A civilisation declines, falls, or collapses whenever its institutions, or its members, fail to sustain the space and time axes that constitute its life world, in which case it disintegrates because its cross of reality disintegrates, helter-skelter. This is called “nihilism”, “chaos” or “havoc” and so on.
Chaos Theory describes states in relative equilibrium and states “far from equilibrium” (or “chaotic”). Basically, “far from equilibrium” means crisis or critical, a word which is related to “cross” and “crucial” (and “crucible” and “crucifix”) because a crisis is a crossroads, and traditionally crossroads were sensed as being places of evil or evil-doing, mainly because they are associated with life and death decisions. When Francis Fukuyama penned his ridiculous “End of History” thesis, he almost immediately followed that up with America at the Crossroads, apparently without even noticing the self-contradiction. But that kind of double-think — thought descending into self-negation and self-contradiction — is very characteristic of the state of mind of post-modernity, which we might describe as a consciousness structure now in a state “far from equilibrium”.
But to be in a state “far from equilibrium” (which is death by another name, also described as “homeostatic failure”) means that the cross of reality is broken or disintegrate, and along with this decay or disintegration of the cross of reality come symptoms of nihilism, morbidity, and what Erich Fromm calls a “necrophilous” or a thanatic dynamic (destructivness). So, today we want to carry on with the exploration of the meaning of “the Guardians of the Four Directions” at peace and at war (or integrate and disintegrate states) as these pertain to the quadrilateral of the cross of reality and the meaning of equilibrium and “far from equilibrium” as life and death states of the cross or reality.
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”.
“Four strong winds that blow lonely, seven seas that run high…”: those are the opening lines of a song entitled “Four Strong Winds” by Canadian singer-songwriter Ian Tyson. It has been covered by practically everybody — The Band, Waylon Jennings, John Denver, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, among others. I suspect, too, that the song’s popularity is owing to the symbolic significance of the numbers four and the seven. Four, seven, and twelve are prominent archetypal numbers in myth and mysticism.
“Four Strong Winds” has been on my mind ever since I began my musings on the primal imperatives or “the four Fs”, or the “organic drives” as discussed in the last two postings on the Primal Imperatives, as matters also connected with William Blake’s “four Zoas” or Rumi’s “four nafs” or “animal souls” and “the Guardians of the Four Directions”. As it said, “no man can serve two masters” let alone four. Even some neurophysiologists, we shall see, are uncomfortable with the consensus view of the four primal imperatives. What I principally want to speak to today is how Rumi and Sufism understand these “animal souls” or the nafs.
I certainly hope you had an opportunity to read about the role of “imaginal cells” in the chrysalis stage of the caterpillar/butterfly as discussed in the previous post. If you did then the full meaning of Jean Gebser’s paradoxical “double-movement” of our times — a dynamic of disintegration coincident with a dynamic of integration — becomes intelligible as a quite fertile coincidentia oppositorum or coniunctio oppositorum (coincidence or a conjunction of the opposites). Much else besides becomes fully intelligible in our strange times despite the appearance of present chaos, havoc, and pandaemonium.
Dark Age and Chrysalis stage are paradoxically related in those terms. How we choose to look at the global situation is also respectively one of diagnosis and another of prognosis. A Dark Age likewise may well be taken as a period of preparation for a new mutation as described by the chrysalis stage. The historical record bears this out. What cultural philosopher Jean Gebser calls a “consciousness structure” or civilisational type functioning in “deficient mode” means its Dark Age — its time of decadence like that of the caterpillar. This is what we call “nihilism” as its own self-devouring, self-negating dynamic. But that same dynamic of nihilism or disintegration becomes a stimulus also for a new, more “effective” transfiguration, integration or mutation of consciousness — the butterfly. It’s this tension of the opposites — of Being and Non-Being, Life and Death, Cosmos and Chaos, All and Nothing, Genesis and the Nihil, Integration and Disintegration, etc — that underlies Blake’s statement that “without opposites there is no progression” as well as the real meaning of Heraclitus’s “strife is the father of all things”.
Every so often I do a summary or recap of the former Dark Age Blog and the present Chrysalis for new subscribers — of which there have been quite a few lately — as orientation to the history of the blog. With the passing of time, those summations kept getting longer and longer. I want to keep this one blessedly short.
Needless to say, perhaps, the reason for the earlier Dark Age Blog and the present Chrysalis is declared in the blog’s masthead, in the quote from William Blake: “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”. That is the problem of “contraction”, and is the problem of a purely sensate consciousness that is pretty much synonymous with “dark age” (the Kali Yuga) and with “post-historic man” (Seidenberg, Mumford) — this “post-historic man” (or “Urizenic Man” or “Prosaic Man“) being also Nietzsche’s decadent “Last Man” as described in his Zarathustra. It is the de-souling of man via his own mechanisation through submission to mechanism, and what this actually signifies for the further possibilities for all life on this planet. This submission to mechanism is obedience to the Great Clockwork now embodied on Earth as Mumford’s “Megamachine” (or “Death Economy”) and as the shape of the Anthropocene as well. It is W.B. Yeats’ “rough beast” from his poem “The Second Coming“, and is the return of the ancient “Moloch” of Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl“.
And yet, this situation of “contraction” into purely sensate consciousness (which Jean Gebser also calls “disintegration” or the “deficient mode” of a consciousness structure) is strangely ambiguous and paradoxical, for the social isolation, “culture of narcissism”, and “cocooning” that it describes is also the chrysalis stage — the passage through the crucible — that precedes the birth of the butterfly, which is the ancient significance of the word psyche or “soul“.
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.