“Eternity is in love with the productions of time” — William Blake
“The whole universe is a form of truth” — Rumi, “Green Ears“
These two statements from Blake and from Rumi are equivalent. They both imply another order of consciousness and value (sometimes called “the noumenal”) behind, beneath, before, or implicit in the phenomenal or secular order of times. This is what truly marks the difference between insight and simple sight, for “vision” is ambiguous in that same sense, and it equally distinguishes between what we call “wisdom” and what we call “knowledge”. And it is, furthermore, implied in Nietzsche’s definition of nihilism whereby “all higher values devalue themselves”, which is, in effect, another way of defining “profanation” (another one of Nietzsche’s many ironies).
But the secular and the profane are not the same thing. Blake, Rumi, and Nietzsche warn us not to despise the things of the phenomenal world (or the things of “flesh and blood”, as the secular order is sometimes called) because the secular or phenomenal world is the self-revelation, or self-manifestation, of the noumenal. “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” alerts us to consider how all dualisms of spirit and matter, or mind and body, the private and the public, the individual and the communal, are false dichotomies, because the noumenal and the phenomenal, (or being and becoming, or eternal and temporal) exist in an intimate and mutual embrace (often described as one of “love”). “The whole universe is a form of truth” means, in effect, that the secular orders of time and the phenomenal order of appearances (related and mediated by the physical senses) are all symbolic form or metaphor for the self-revelation of the timeless or eternal. And that means that, in some strange way and to some strange purpose, the phenomenal or secular order is a kind of mirror for the eternal or spiritual order — something that is meant for learning.
In his interesting book The Dark Ages (which I commented upon some time ago) W.P. Ker argued that he could date the end of the Great European Dark Age to the appearance of the first troubadour, William of Pitou, in 1100 A.D. What is referred to as “the High Middle Ages” customarily (and coincidentally) also dates from 1100 A.D. – 1350 A.D., terminating with the Black Death.
This was a very bold and daring conclusion on Ker’s part. But I’ve always loved this image of the troubadour (or German Minnesinger) arising to sing the world awake, like a robin in the early dawn. I believe there is a lesson in this for us in these, our own troubled and turbulent times.
“Language is wiser than the one who speaks it. The living language of people always overpowers the thinking of individual man who assumes he could master it” — Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
Popular discourse very often encodes “hidden” social and spiritual dynamics long before those dynamics become fully conscious or articulate. Take the phrase “losing the plot”. Everything we’ve discussed in The Chrysalis pertaining to the “culture of narcissism” (Christopher Lasch), the end of the Grand (or Master) Narrative (post-modernity), the crumbling metaphysical foundations of the modern mind and the corresponding breakdown of the mental-rational (or perspectival) consciousness structure (Jean Gebser), the disintegration of the personality and character structure of Modern Man (Rosenstock-Huessy), or “post-truth”, “post-rational”, “post-Enlightement”, and so on, is effectively condensed and encoded in the simple phrase “losing the plot”. All I’ve done in The Chrysalis is, in a sense, try to unwrap what is more deeply encoded by the phrase “losing the plot”.
There is yet another voice of concern, a former Facebook executive, raised about the pernicious influence of social media: “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth“. The technology, says , is “ripping society apart”.
But is it? No. Not really. The divergent, disjunctive, disintegrative and chaotic social tendencies were there before they were projected, amplified, and reinforced by the technology and by social media. Social media has simply amplified the crisis of consciousness. What is travelling through the “global brain” or global “nervous system” is what we call “the stream of consciousness”. And that stream of consciousness is largely impulsive and chaotic. Anything that can pass through the human nervous system now becomes extended through and passes into the global nervous system — the malignant as well as the benign, the dark as well as the light, the conscious as well as the unconscious. The global internet, and social media, are making the stream of conscious manifest.
I awoke the other morning with an insight. It was one of those forehead-slapping moments when you realise you’ve been seeing the truth of something all along but never really recognised it until that moment. After years of pouring through books and essays on the riddle of the technological system, the role of propaganda within that system, and the meaning of the technocrat (and of “technocratic shamanism”), I suddenly realised that it all boiled down to a simple contradiction between the machine-world’s requirement for the “well-adjusted individual”, but life’s and the culture’s drive for the “well-rounded personality”, by which is meant the fulfilled, the complete, the whole.
It became quite clear to me, in that moment of revelation, that when I thought back over all the critiques of the technological system or the “Megamachine”, that this was the essential issue and tension in society — the well-rounded against the merely well-adjusted. Let’s unwrap that a bit further.
“All work, the genuine work which we must achieve, is that which is most difficult and painful: the work on ourselves. If we do not freely take upon ourselves this pre-acceptance of the pain and torment, they will be visited upon us in an otherwise necessary individual and universal collapse. Anyone disassociated from his origin and his spiritually sensed task acts against origin. Anyone who acts against it has neither a today nor a tomorrow.” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin
There is a very heart-rending video making the news of a starving polar bear on Baffin Island. It is in its final moments of life. The film crew spoke of their “soul-crushing” anguish at the spectacle of the starving bear, fighting through their tears to film the poor creature’s slow, agonising death. As one of the film-makers states, it haunts him still, with a warning that this is just a foretaste of things to come.
There is a profound lesson in this tragedy, and it brought to my mind that quote from Gebser about taking upon ourselves, too, the pain and torment of a dying world. What Gebser means by that quote is also the meaning of the compassionate, for compassion is also pain and anguish and a deep sense for the tragical aspect of life. Our hedonistic/consumerist times, on the other hand, aim to dodge this sense of the tragic and the painful which must necessarily also be a suppression of compassion. In the death of the polar bear by starvation, we see the first of the Buddha’s noble truths as well, which is the awakening to the sense of the tragic. Life is dukkha.