Dwig, a couple of posts back, issued something of a challenge for me to unfold the meaning of the shamanic consciousness, or what Jean Gebser calls “the magical structure of consciousness”. This I will attempt to do today, although my first impulse was to comment on an article that appeared in The Atlantic on the limits to scientific understanding. I can work some of that into today’s post also. It is often the case that the limits to scientific understanding are also the beginnings of the mythical or the magical and shamanic one.
You may recall the Hermetic principle of epistemology — empathetic epistemics: “to know the thing, you must become the thing you want to know”. This, naturally, requires great fluidity and flexibility of consciousness and identity and a readiness to forego the mere “point-of-view” and “line-of-thought” approach associated with what is called “the objective attitude”. This is sometimes represented as “the descent into the Underworld”. This is possible for any one of us, as Gebser, Jung, and Blake also demonstrate. Since these “structures of consciousness” or modes of perception are latent within us still, we can access them. In fact, we frequently do without really being conscious of doing so. The boundaries between the consciousness structures/modes of perception are rather porous and permeable.
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.
Consider these questions (hat tip to Penelope Whitworth) – “Where does that commitment [to growth] come from? Is it programmed into our genes, or our consciousness, or inherent to biological life forms? Part of the “genetic code” of the cosmos? Is it a sociocultural thing? Could we have a humanity whose value system isn’t around growth?” — from David MacLeod’s “The Cognitive Prison Habits of Economic Growth and Development”, Integral Permaculture.
“Jesus is coming! (Look busy)” — popular joke.
David’s posting on the growth model (if not mania) is fortuitous in the context of our discussion of Daniel Bell’s “cultural contradictions of capitalism”, for this may well be the greatest contradiction of them all — the pursuit of unlimited growth despite the finite nature of our world, which is certainly irrational despite its pretensions of being completely rational. It is also one of those “ironic reversals” where growth, once relatively benign and healthy, reverts to disease and malignancy without hardly anyone seeming to notice that it has become inverted or reversed (ie, enantiodromia). Like Alice through the Looking Glass, the White Knight starts talking backwards, and you get, as consequence and outcome of this ironic reversal or enantiodromia, Sheldon Wolin’s idea of “inverted totalitarianism“. We become the very thing we claim to hate.
So, to that question Penelope Whitworth puts via David’s post, “where does that commitment [to growth] come from?” I will give an answer. It comes from Jesus’s curse of the fig tree that bore no fruit.
Owing to my distressed kidneys, I’m periodically required to have lab work performed by the local hospital, which I did today. The nurses’ station there also regularly posts “fun facts” about this or that subject. Today’s “fun facts” were about dreams, and so while the nurse was draining me of my precious bodily fluids we engaged in some banter about their posted “fun facts” and dreaming.
Afterwards, it occurred to me that I might also share that conversation with the readers of The Chrysalis, as it just might also aid you in gaining insight into your own dreams, and perhaps even why you dream at all.
In his book The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser described what he called “the double-movement” of our times. Indeed, we call it “times” in the plural because it evinces this double-movement. This double-movement accounts for the paradoxes and ironies of the present, but also underlies the situation of predicament and dilemma. “Double-movement” is just an optional way of describing crisis, and a crisis is a parting of the ways, being a word related to cross, crossroads, crucial, and also crucible.
During times of rapid change, there is always a lag between events and our perception and understanding of those events. “Thought” is past tense. Reflection is always after the fact. Someone once said that “time makes hypocrites of us all”, but what that really means is that there is a dissonance between change and the adequacy of our responses to that change. We are already living in the future, but our thinking is still in the past, so that we live divided between the past and the future.
I call that “the Horseless Carriage Syndrome”, because the emergence of the automobile in its time could only be understood for many be reference to the past and precedent, in much that same way that indigenous people could only understand the locomotive as “Iron Horse”.
George Santayana is remembered for his remark that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Marx thought that, yes indeed, history does repeat itself — first as tragedy, but then as farce.
It’s a quip that brings to mind slap-stick comedy. When the man first steps on the rake and batters his face, we feel and empathise with his pain. But when he steps forward and does it again — and again and again — we sense only his folly. We sense, in other words, the truth of Einstein’s judgement that repeating the same thing over and over again expecting different results each time is a mark of insanity. These are hallmarks of “post-historic man”, as described by Lewis Mumford and Roderick Seidenberg.
In that respect, Santayana, Marx, and Einstein are in complete agreement. The monotony of repetition and recurrence.