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Nature: The Pursuit of an Idea, II

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. — Kierkegaard

We cannot really understand what it means to live the “post-modern condition” and what it might portend until we come to terms with the passing era called “Modernity”, which generally begins with the Reformation and Renaissance in Europe some 500 years ago in the midst of the disintegration of Christendom and the waning of the Middle Ages.  The quotation of Kierkegaard above highlights the problem of what Lewis Mumford and Roderick Seidenberg refer to as “post-historic man” in this regard. It’s just another way of saying that if you don’t know where you’ve been, you can’t know where you are going. The problem of post-historic man (who Loren Eiseley also calls “the asphalt animal“) is that he is a creature who thinks and acts as if he were born yesterday, and also lives and acts as if there were no tomorrow. Necessarily, such a creature also becomes post-conscious, too. As both Jean Gebser and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy have noted, consciousness is very much a matter of how we structure the times and spaces of our reality. Consciousness, consequently, can undergo the same processes of expansion or contraction characteristic of all dynamic processes found in nature or the cosmos at large. In effect, “post-historic man” belongs to Christopher Lasch’s “culture of narcissism”.

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The Trophy Hunter

I am surprised that, for all the puzzlement and perplexity surrounding the rationales or motives of the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, no one has apparently suggested that the very lack of any declared or overt rationale or motive itself suggests the rationale — it was a trophy hunt; an attempt to bag a record number of people. Surely that must have occurred to somebody? And that’s a more disturbing thought even than any motive derived from radicalisation.

Yet, there are a few anomalies in the present picture as reported that seem to be overlooked or even taken for granted — if not by the investigators, then certainly by the press.

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The Idea of a Book

The old monasteries of Christendom were governed by a single “Rule” from which the monastic order and its activity were derived. The Rule shaped its life. The Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, even The Brethren of the Free Spirit, and so on, all had their own “Rule”, and that Rule was the central idea they sought to bring into the world. The Rule, in turn, was derived from some aspect of the Cross or the Gospels and so the monasteries remained within the “bosom of the Church”. In some ways, then, the monasteries were very much like the faculties of a university, and much of the structure of the university as an institution took its structure from the monastery because it was the Church that founded the first universities. Before the university, it was most often the monasteries that preserved and conserved classical learning and literature through the long European Dark Age. The alleged “first scientist”, Roger Bacon, was a monk, and many of our contemporary technical inventions had their origin in the monasteries (the clock, for instance, or early genetics). And I have argued that even contemporary political ideologies were derived from the monasteries, after Luther sent his monks and nuns out of the monasteries and into the world to make their own way. They simply took their Rule with them.

Today, the monasteries are, for the most part, sad and deserted places. I’ve visited a couple of them. Only a handful of aging monks left to tend to sometimes very large compounds.

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Crisis and the Cross of Reality

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.

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A Quest for Meaning

A Quest for Meaning is the title of a documentary that is available through the video streaming site Vimeo. You have to pay a couple of bucks to watch it, but it’s worth the expenditure.  “A Quest for Meaning reveals the profound aspirations of a whole generation in search of wisdom and common sense – a change in human consciousness is happening all over the planet – a desire to live in harmony with oneself and the world.”

Students of Jean Gebser’s philosophy of culture and consciousness will, I think, find it particularly meaningful. And it certainly brought to my mind Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s prediction from 1938 — made after his massive study of the modern revolutions in Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man — that a fifth revolution, based on the principle of “health” (integrality by another name) would close and seal the Modern Age, and inaugurate a new Era and a “metanoia” (or “New Mind”). That prediction parallels Gebser’s own forecast made around the same time. A Quest for Meaning might be described in such terms also.

The Primal Imperatives: “Four Strong Winds That Blow Lonely”

“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.

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The Primal Imperatives, II

I’m slowly working my way through Erich Fromm’s The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, which is quite lengthy — it does, after all, have a great amount of historical material to work with and account for. I’m still uncertain how he will ultimately avoid dichotomisation of the human into two distinct vital centres, one of instinct (or as he prefers, “organic drives”) and the other of character. I’m not sure at this time whether he can resolve this without ending up with a Jekyll and Hyde conception of “human nature”.

It’s evidently the case that where Iain McGilchrist, in The Master and His Emissary, addresses the horizontal polarity of right-hemispheric and left-hemispheric modes of perception of the divided brain, but largely omits the “vertical” polarity of the neo and paleo aspects of the brain, Fromm, contrariwise, is dealing almost exclusively with the latter. “Instinct” and “character” can be taken as descriptive terms for old and new aspects of the brain, or as “lower” and “higher” functions. So, in those terms the brain is divided not just in two “directions” between the hemispheres and their distinct modes of perception — horizontally — but also vertically in terms of “new” and “old”. The human brain, on other words, is also largely fourfold and itself forms a Sacred Hoop and a Cross of Reality as discussed previously — left and right, old and new.

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