Consequences of the Split in Western Consciousness (4/1/11)

The splitting of God and Satan, along with our psyches, into good and evil opposites—where good is ‘upper’ and lit up and ‘evil’ is lower and dark—has led to a distortion and psychological falsification of both sides of this psychological equation. A small minority of men and women today are moving into position to undergo a momentous transformation—the transition from being more or less exclusively ‘moral’ in their fundamental orientation to being ‘psychological.’ The long ‘moral’ phase (roughly coincident with Christianity as the prevailing worldview in the West) has been characterized by an ongoing battle between the radically differentiated ‘spiritual’ and the ‘animal’ aspects of our shared human nature. The newly emerging ‘psychological’ phase will concern itself with soul and soul-making. Soul, as middle principle between spirit and matter, is created out of a provisional truce and the suspension of the hostilities between spirit and matter (or body) and an ongoing effort to bring them into a more or less fruitful and harmonious relation. The dramatic and painful split into warring opposites seems, in retrospect, to have been a necessary phase through which an evolving humanity had to pass—in order to differentiate and focus the light of ego-consciousness. (cf. Cornford on the discovery of the pairs of opposites by the ancient Greeks, and the Indian/Chinese parallels—not to mention the dual symbol of the Fishes in Pisces, the ruling astrological sign of the aeon.) The pressures imposed upon the fragile and slowly maturing ego were formidable, especially when a person struggled to take on as much responsibility as possible for his/her actions, thoughts, feelings, impulses, and choices. Those who left these matters to fate, to their masters, or to God, experienced far less inner stress and tension—then as now—but their ego-consciousness was correspondingly dimmer and weaker, as a consequence.

 

On Edinger’s “The New God-Image” (4/4/11)

I will begin this entry by confessing that the Edward Edinger book (The New God-Image) is stirring up powerful feelings ‘below deck.’ I am currently re-reading the middle chapter on ‘The Paradoxical God,’ in which the problematic coexistence of good and evil—or light and dark elements—is attributed to God, along with unconsciousness! These ideas strain even the most fertile imagination and test one’s spiritual courage as few ideas can. They are beyond our ‘Christianized’ ken, while at the same time, the attitude we assume towards these perplexing questions would seem to have profound implications for us, psychologically. And even if we ignore or pay grudging respect to these questions—or never adequately register them so that we can, in turn, be infected or stung by their disturbing power—they will still be there lurking like cancer cells in the unconscious. Of course, as long as they are lurking murkily in the unconscious their power to darken and cripple our journey through life is only that much greater because, in that case, they’re operating ‘behind our back.’ Perhaps most of us will never arrive at the point (of conscious appreciation of these profound religious riddles) ever to recognize what has been eating away, like a corrosive acid, at our insides.

But if, like Jacob, we wrestle with ‘God’—if, that is to say, we surrender to these searing questions which implicate us not only in God’s coming-to-be-conscious, but in the dangerous work of harmoniously reconciling cosmic good and evil—we may emerge with a serious limp, but also as walking and talking contributors to the founding of the way ahead. For me—because of what I now so strongly suspect—opting out of the wrestling match is no longer a viable option.

So where does my own anxiety and inner turmoil come from when I read from Edinger and from the uncharacteristically direct passages from Jung’s letters, where he seems to be very much out on a limb by himself—making connections, speculating, creating a new way to imagine deity?

Part of the anxiety stems from the central notion that God is not ‘perfect’ (nor as capable of looking out for us, like a good Daddy, as many of us were brought up to believe since childhood), but should perhaps be regarded as a ‘work in progress.’ To seriously entertain this notion—which, for me, means getting inside of it and inhabiting it like one might dwell inside a myth or story—is to suffer the most intense deprivation of metaphysical comfort conceivable, for it injects the God-image with a stronger dose of chaotic indeterminacy than of stabilizing cosmos. To be sure, Jung is willing to concede a latent meaning behind this work in progress, which is certainly preferable to a stance wherein no such latent meaning suffuses our experience of existence. But because of where present-day humanity is situated, historically and psychologically, the consolation offered by this idea of latent meaning gradually becoming manifest over the next few centuries is not quite consolation of the deepest and most gratifying sort. If the integration of the ‘Cosmic’ shadow—or the reconciliation of the split halves of good (love) and evil (naked will to power)—does actually take place over the next few troubled and disaster-marked centuries, none of us alive today (who are supposed to draw consolation from this possibility) will be around to enjoy the benefits of such a ‘healed’ split. As for the rest: well, they are left to feed like scavengers upon the rotting corpse of the dead ‘God-image.’

Another cause for inner unrest lies in the (psychological) fact that in pursuing the questions and themes of absorbing interest to me since I was young, I have—nolens volens—become conscripted into this unfinishable project that, as Jung rightly said, consists of ‘endless approximations.’ And as I have noted many times before, the deeper into this work I descend, the more alone I feel since few are seized and caught by this strange and strangely consuming task. How many authentic practitioners of alchemy were there? Because I have the compelling sense that this work and this path are my fate—and therefore cannot be forsaken or abandoned without inviting terrible guilt (the guilt of having betrayed or neglected one’s calling)—I naturally want for my life and my work to contribute something of substantial value to others after I’m gone. And yet, what I have to offer is so very different from the more solid and readily acknowledged contributions made by those talented and creative persons who serve men as they are now. I do not seem to be serving man as he now is—do I? And it’s doubtful that I ever will. My inner sights seem to be trained upon the way ahead—the way beyond the fragmented, decomposing culture I have already diagnosed and painfully come to terms with over the years.

A Word about Jung’s Religious Fantasy (5/6/14)

Jung, in ‘Answer to Job,’ sketches out what the reader might initially suppose to be a significant advance over the traditional Christian idea of man as a puny, impotent creature—a creature who, though created by God (in His image), does not thereby share in God’s divine power or knowledge. Jung’s proposal is that God needs man to carry out or fulfill His creation. This re-definition of man as God’s little helper—his ‘eyes’ and ‘hands’ in the world—is intended, I suspect, to elevate man’s status, to dignify him by assigning divinely creative potentials and a divine telos in the ongoing task of world-creation and world-maintenance. This active-creative function is implicitly contrasted with the stubborn old image of man as the passive, woefully finite and wayward product of God’s unlimited power (Job). Man as mere creature—unable to fully partake in God’s divine power and knowledge—is, at bottom, a kind of prisoner and victim of creation, tainted since the Fall with Original Sin. While I am not about to try and defend such a degrading and pessimistic view of the human being, as such, I’m not sure that Jung’s ‘doctored’ portrait—wherein man is endowed with a divinely creative role, working with his creator to redeem the world—amounts to anything more than a glorified fantasy image of man—perhaps a merely compensatory inflation of the formerly puny creature. Instead of transcending both man and God—as Advaita appears to do—it retains the old fictional dualism (between creator and creature) but with certain ennobling embellishments accorded to the creature. So, the social mobility of the post-Enlightenment, ‘liberal’ West is subtly echoed in the theological mobility of Jung’s philanthropic myth of Judeo-Christian redemption.

Moreover, the Advaitist would unhesitatingly note that Jung’s religious fantasy takes the world—the field of history and temporality—as real, while it is in truth no more than a vivid hallucination, a trick of the mind, a nightmare from which we are better advised to awaken—and not cultivate like some kind of reclaimed Garden of Eden.

Before the Story (3/21/13)

All cultures everywhere and at all times are, at bottom, based upon a story—some kind of structured narrative that assigns meaning, value, and a general orientation to conscious experience in the human world. Because the foundational structure of each culture typically serves as the bedrock and starting point for civilized human consciousness and behavior, its axiomatic assumptions are seldom made explicitly conscious to the majority of human beings. The reason these foundational story elements are seldom made conscious by most of us is because they are almost invariably the very terms in which anything and everything becomes conscious. They are always silently running in the background—like the operating system on this computer upon which I am typing—and they are simply taken for granted, much as we take for granted the water, air, and the daily nutrition that sustain life.

We know that natural philosophy was born a long time ago (or not so long ago, depending on the perspective you take) in the mercantile parts of Ionia where mariners and traders from all over the Mediterranean and the Near East converged to exchange goods and materials. Coming from diverse cultural backgrounds—from radically divergent foundational stories—their various worldviews were attended to by those wise and discerning observers, the ‘Pre-Socratic’ philosophers. These extraordinary, innovative thinkers were the first minds in the West, so far as we know, to discover culture as such—the first to differentiate mythos, or ‘story,’ from physis, or ‘nature.’ In making this game-changing, explosive discovery—one that would be developed and greatly elaborated upon by their direct successors—a new path was opened, one that pointed beyond (or beneath) culture as the basis and ground for all ‘knowledge’ and meaning. In opening up a path to nature, these penetrating minds had discovered (or invented?) a whole new basis for probing into the meaning of things. Philosophy was a new way of accounting for reality and the parts and processes that comprised that whole. And yet, it was only possible to enter this newly discovered territory by ‘seeing through’ the normally binding and sacrosanct mythic structures of one’s inherited worldview. Nothing imaginable could be more radical, preposterous, dangerous—or potentially liberating—than to extricate one’s mind and soul from the authorized and meaning-bestowing articles of faith that were taken for granted by one’s local community—by one’s parents and family, ancestors and countrymen.

As we know, to ‘see through’ an explanation, a moral precept, or a custom can mean two very different, or practically antithetical, things. It can mean to see through as in ‘seeing through tinted or distorting lenses’—where the ‘world’ we behold automatically takes on the color or the distortions inherent in the lens through which we are (unconsciously or unreflectively) looking. Or it can mean ‘un-masking,’ as when we ‘see through’ a lie or a magician’s trick to the truth that is being artfully disguised or concealed.

Perhaps we should include ‘stories’ with water, air, nutrition, and other absolute requirements without which human beings seem unable to survive for very long. In ancient times—within the various cultural schemes—Sumerian, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Judaic, Persian, etc.—the ‘stories’ tended to be comparatively well-organized, coherent, and—most importantly—wrapped in an aura of sacredness, an aura religiously maintained by priests, scribes, and poets. With the passage of time, the river of Western culture has been fed—some might say inundated—with many different and often incompatible cultural tributaries (chief of which may be abbreviated as ‘Athens and Jerusalem,’ or ‘Caesar and Christ’). This has led to a proliferation of ‘stories’ and cultural perspectives that would have struck our ancient forebears as a kind of ‘tower of Babel,’ no doubt.

We euphemistically (and perhaps a bit innocently) refer to today’s fragmented, incoherent, and diluted assortment of incommensurable story lines as ‘cultural diversity.’ In our schools and universities we are taught that this modern cultural diversity is, for the most part, a positive and enlightened advance beyond the narrow-minded, myopic cultural chauvinism of the past—and certainly there is some merit in these self-congratulatory claims.

I would suggest, however, that while the quantity and variety of myths and stories we have to choose from is perhaps greater than at any time in the past (including the Hellenistic period which, in this regard, bears a striking resemblance to our own era), the quality of these purpose- and meaning-bestowing stories seems to have suffered a rather noticeable degradation over the past few hundred years. And I would further suggest that human beings, in general, are no better equipped (or naturally disposed) to live without a myth or orienting story than the ancient Egyptian farmer or the Assyrian charioteer was. What the ancient and modern philosophers have attempted to do—namely, to ‘see through’ and beyond cultural forms and assumptions into their natural (and perhaps not 100% human) backdrop—has never been a popular pursuit or pastime. Such enterprises have always been reserved for oddballs and anomalies, weirdos and prodigies: peculiar but uncannily gifted individuals like Anaximander and Heraclitus, Socrates and Chuang-tzu, Diogenes and Nietzsche.

Do we see a Catch-22 situation shaping up here? It would appear that under conditions of religious laxity or during occasional periods of ‘enlightenment,’ foundational stories begin to lose a good deal of their formerly undisputed credibility and authority, at least among the educated members of the society. This often leads to a general decline in the quality and richness of the stories and the anchoring beliefs in which culture—all culture—consists. Thus, with the spread of rational inquiry and religious tolerance we frequently see the rise of corrosive skepticism and a relaxation of passionate belief in any one thing. As we have seen, such conditions are conducive to relativism, moral lassitude, and intellectual confusion, if only because the tension and the underlying sense of urgency that attend full and authentic cultural commitment have been collectively slackened under the new lenient conditions.

On the other hand, after we have become accustomed to such relaxed, free, and open-minded conditions, ordinary believers suddenly start to look a bit like fanatics and simpletons. They remind us of ourselves back when we were youngsters and didn’t know any better—how we inwardly writhed and rebelled against the shocking proclamation, made by the older kid up the street, that there was no Santa Claus, no Easter bunny, and not even a tooth fairy! We cannot help but feel an uneasy mixture of pity and contempt for those ‘fundamentalists’ and those ‘political ideologues’ when we hear them spouting their dogmatic certainties! As if they were from an earlier, less ‘informed’ era! How much must such dogged believers block out or willfully ignore in order to hang onto their life-and-sanity-supporting myths and illusions! No, such willful ignorance and misguided passion is utterly abominable to us. Better to graze on the parched plains of the unforgiving modern-cultural landscape than to descend to such luxuriant marshlands of folly and error!

But then we ask, in all seriousness: are these the only alternatives available to us? On the one hand, a ‘sophisticated’ but rather tepid and anemic skepticism, a post-modernist reluctance to take any cultural, religious, or philosophical claims too seriously, since all of them have a place on the ‘lazy Susan’ at the center of the table? Or an unsophisticated, retrograde parochialism that sinks its big, plaque-and-tartar-crusted, yellow-brown, buck teeth into some conservative dogma or another and never looks back? Aren’t these the two antagonistic camps into which contemporary society has been polarized? But there are all those millions of people who are ‘in the middle.’ I am referring to perhaps the largest segment of American society. Perhaps I am mistaken, but don’t members of this ‘middle’ segment often appear to be rather shoddily educated, upon close examination, since typically they know little or nothing in depth beyond their usually quite restricted and narrow area of professional-vocational expertise? Generally speaking, mightn’t it be justly claimed that this large segment of Americans in ‘the middle’ typically possesses only the most rudimentary, bare-boned ‘knowledge’ respecting cultural history, for instance, or literature, religion, philosophy, psychology, or the arts? If this huge population possesses some knowledge of these matters, doesn’t it tend to be dismally superficial—not much beyond the Wikipedia level? Also, their knowledge of such important cultural matters tends to be merely informational—and is seldom passionately gripping or crucially important to them. On the other hand, and to their great credit: they are open to new ideas and experiences—unlike the ultra-conservative ideologues, the closed-minded religious dogmatists, the cynics, and other ‘know-nothings’ whose attitude towards the contemporary scene boils down to fear, hatred, apathy, and/or combustible anger.

Bacon, Modernity, and the Antichrist (11/6/12)

In the past I refrained from saddling Bacon with the lion’s share of culpability for the catastrophically imbalanced, nay unhinged, technocracy for which he laid the foundations three centuries ago. My willingness to exonerate him was based upon his repeated insistence that the powerful new technologies that his new science would assuredly generate were to be used solely for philanthropic ends—and not for the enormous profit of the few at the expense of the many, which, as we can all see, is pretty much the way things have panned out.

Now that I am learning more about his protracted, virulent smear campaign against Plato and Aristotle—and not simply as thinkers/philosophers, but as characters, as humans—I am less forgiving towards him. His efforts to discredit and to effectively quash Platonic and Aristotelian moral-speculative philosophy (which was concerned, especially in Plato, with the intelligible Good-in-itself) certainly contributed a great deal to the redirection and re-allocation of Europe’s intellectual capital towards exclusively practical investments—and towards the aggrandizement of human power. So, we see the clearing of a path of domination over nature while effectively obstructing an old and well-traveled path of moral-spiritual enlightenment.

My sense is that if Bacon (and others after him who followed in his powerful wake—persons like Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, Bentham, and Mill) had made half as strong an effort to preserve and uphold the spiritual-moral authority of these ancient philosophers as he did to impugn them, the West might not have become so completely deracinated from its moral-spiritual underpinnings. I am not alone in suspecting that Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophical and moral teachings—had they been left intact near the beating heart of Western culture, instead of being thoroughly upstaged and eclipsed by the material science founded by Bacon, Descartes, and Co.—would almost certainly have provided a wise and moderating counterweight against the shameless acquisitiveness, the crass sensualism, and the virulent banality that have inundated the last few centuries.

Why did Bacon deem it necessary to dethrone Plato and Aristotle—categorically, and not just those bits that were obstructive to his natural science project—in order to accomplish his world-historical ‘revolution’ in thought and action? This is a big question and any attempted answer will necessarily be complex and many-sided, not simple. If Bacon had not been such a notoriously subtle dissimulator, we might be in a better position to know if—and how much—he privately believed that the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle were indeed worthless and misguided, as he publicly claimed. It is certainly possible that, despite his indisputably first-rate intellect, Bacon was constitutionally incapable of seeing things ‘transcendentally’—after the fashion of Socrates and Plato (I am very much of two minds about Aristotle’s ability to authentically experience Platonic ideas in other than a merely conceptual manner, so I will keep him ‘on ice’ in this discussion). One might raise much the same psychological observation or question about Hobbes, Locke, Spencer, Darwin, and even Nietzsche, who was nothing if he was not a kind of physiologist in his psychological speculations. One could even argue that a man as intimately acquainted with the psyche as Freud lacked this introverted-intuitive faculty needed to experience the Ideas or the archetypes, which must be distinguished from hypostatized drives, reified instincts, and mere ‘universal ideas’ (nominalism).

If Bacon did, in fact, suffer from this sort of congenital psychological blindness—a defect that seems to have been compensated by an exaggerated, hypertrophic development of ‘extraverted sensation thinking’—then we may have a partial explanation for his extraordinary powers of penetration as an empirical, outer-directed thinker and, alas, his corresponding weaknesses in the internal realm of transcendent/speculative cognition and experience. And what a man simply cannot see or experience for himself (if he’s honest), he will be likely to dismiss as an empty phantom or chimera. In such a case we cannot, in all fairness, impugn the thinker’s sincerity. He suffers from something analogous to color-blindness in his psychic make-up and cannot perceive certain mental phenomena that are plainly evident to persons who do not suffer from the same defect. From this angle, materialism—as a metaphysical scheme or standpoint—is not so much an elaborate concatenation of abstract concepts or intellectual postulates as it is a kind of consciousness that is decisively governed and oriented by sensation, one of the four psychological functions, along with thinking, feeling, and—its polar opposite—intuition, which is precisely the function that is crucial to the symbolic-transcendent cognition that Plato exemplified so impressively.

For the materialist, the senses are automatically elevated in importance and implicitly regarded as the proper criteria when it comes to the reality and the ultimate nature of things in the world. The thoughts that the strict, self-consistent materialist has about sensory data appear to be derived from and shaped by the evidence of the senses. Such a psychic constitution or organization I suspect Bacon to have been endowed with. The general trajectory of his stupendously influential thought fully conforms with the terms and natural conditions of this sense-determined, outer-directed attitude and approach towards reality. Its remarkable effectiveness cannot be disputed. Bacon—pioneering and charting the way into the terra incognita of external nature—has, along with his loyal followers and disciples, radically transformed the world in which we now live. If Bacon’s thoroughly ‘down to earth,’ un-transcendental psychic constitution had been some fluke or anomaly, the scientific revolution never would have taken off—let alone become the intellectual movement that spread like a wildfire through the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries—and is still going strong.

He was in this sense an outstanding prototype—a groundbreaking pathfinder—who opened up territory that was quickly and enthusiastically colonized by hordes of lesser, but thoroughly competent lights. Outstanding, similarly-oriented scientific geniuses—Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Lavoisier, Boyle, Darwin, Marie Curie, Einstein, and Heisenberg, to mention only some of the most renowned—lent enormous and well-deserved dignity to the scientific enterprise. Aside from the brilliant theoretical insights of these luminaries, there are the countless comforts, conveniences, and medical marvels with which applied science and the new technologies have blessed a grateful humanity. Of course, it is not an unmixed blessing and the costs—both to the natural environment and to our spiritual balance and well-being—may soon bring the brilliant success story to an unexpectedly sobering denouement.

I am not oblivious to the fact that in ‘profiling’ Bacon[1] as psychologically ‘blind’ to the ‘transcendent’ or spiritual dimension of our human endowment, I am surreptitiously linking modernity to a kind of mental imbalance that afflicted one of its principal architects. Having read Bacon (and about his legacy) for many years—and having ‘placed’ him, to the best of my ability, within the general scheme of Western cultural evolution—I strongly suspect that, like Nietzsche, his understanding of the whole was perilously skewed and incomplete. Nietzsche’s lopsidedness and mental disequilibrium were of a somewhat different ilk than Bacon’s: there was a good deal more innate piety and religiosity that had been rather brutally traumatized by his own ferociously critical intellect and forcibly repressed, causing all sorts of related complications, while Bacon often seems not to have had a sincerely pious bone in his body.

I also suspect that Bacon—supremely conscious of his bulging intellectual endowment, confident in his vast learning and his privileged access to the highest social and political circles of the Elizabethan and Jacobean courts—was possessed of an exceptionally ambitious soul. He was not only a peerless analytical and inventive thinker—but a sly and artful man of action who had little doubt in his ability or his calling to steer the course of mankind’s future—the sort of legacy that few sane persons in a century have the wherewithal even to contemplate soberly. Bacon surely must have recognized that his particular genius was splendidly tailored for the task he set before himself—to become an actual, as opposed to a merely fabled, Prometheus or Dædalus. As such, he would unlock the carefully hidden secrets of nature—secrets the knowledge of which would forthwith transform the earth itself into a bountiful cornucopia, controlled for the first time by its most magnificent and godlike creature—man. This—if anything—was religion for Bacon: the relief of man’s material estate with himself as the benevolent author and creator of the Novum Organon, a book that made the (formerly) impossible possible.[2]

I believe it was this preferment of the spiritual over the (‘corrupt’ and chaotic) material world that Bacon and Nietzsche both found unforgivably repellent in Plato. These were very much ‘this-worldly’ thinkers who, while attentive to the grandeur of the Bible (or rather, the Old Testament), saw little besides error and useful fictions in the actual content of religion—at least to the extent that they were able to appreciate its cultural significance. Bacon—like that other extraordinary secular thinker across the Channel, Montaigne—had witnessed the senseless mutual slaughter of Catholics and Protestants during that bloody era of religious wars. Very bad business for the implementation of the communal research—the peaceful collaboration—that Bacon’s grand scheme would require before the scientific revolution could get rolling! The tempests of religious fanaticism certainly had to be calmed—and sectarian agitators had to be de-clawed and de-fanged—if the proper conditions for Baconian science were to be established.[3]

*****

In the fabled ‘Bensalem’—Bacon’s pleasant, science-founded (and secretly governed) utopia depicted in his posthumously published The New Atlantis—the great co-architect of modernity presents us with a materially seductive alternative to Plato’s equally fabled Republic, a sterner and rather less cozy regime ruled over by ascetic philosopher-kings who place the highest value on spiritual and moral excellence, while setting little store on technological innovations and sensual pleasures. Was it this hedonistic appeal that won over the hearts and minds of Bacon’s initial (bourgeois) fans and followers? Is it any coincidence that improvements in technology brought increased trade, prosperity, and a growing middle class that wanted its share in the political freedoms that had heretofore been confined to the few, the well-born? The generation and the distribution of wealth—drawn both from the new industries and from exploited colonies scattered throughout the world—set Europe (and later, America) on the complex economic, social, and political trajectory that carries us to the present day.

Bacon was decisive in plotting and inaugurating this materialistic/terrestrial trajectory, but in order to put his contribution into a larger perspective it should be remembered that the Renaissance in Italy had already, a century earlier, heralded a sea change in European culture—a kind of swing of the world-historical pendulum away from the spirit and towards matter and the outer world of sensuous experience. When viewed within the vast context of this great reversal of collective psychic energy and attention, Bacon’s project can be seen as facilitating and formally articulating this new direction that life and consciousness were already moving in. The ‘Great Man’ theory of history (Carlyle) turns out to be woefully inadequate here, even if it is true that extraordinary geniuses—persons like Bacon, Descartes, and Newton—may be crucial for establishing the actual roads and drawing up the maps through territory that is already being entered by the ‘spirit of the era.’

As I recall, Jung—perhaps echoing a previous observer—postulated the notion that the first half of the Christian aeon was governed by spirit and by inner realities, while the second half, beginning around the 12th century, has been (enantiodromically)[4] governed by the pull outwards towards matter, the body, and the senses—which were disparaged and, to a great extent, repressed throughout the first millennium. Understood in this way, Christ (as living symbol of spiritual, transcendent reality) ruled over the first half of the aeon (which currently is nearing its end), while the Antichrist (complementary symbol of material, immanent, sensual reality) has ruled over the latter half (our own ‘end times,’ as Jung makes clear in the cited passage. Whether or not one goes in for such mythological or theological readings of historical-cultural trends and energies, the recorded evidence quite persuasively corroborates this rather dualistic, spirit-versus-matter, inner-versus-outer dynamic that has been played out upon the grand stage of human history these past two thousand years.

The powerful, generally unconscious determinants alluded to in this narrative transcend mere human rationality and control. Within the context of such a cosmic scheme, human cultural and collective psychological developments emerge chiefly as effects, rather than as primary causal factors. For those, like myself, who find philosophical merit in such narratives, it makes more sense to view transformative figures like Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Bacon, Descartes, Nietzsche, Freud, and Jung as oracular articulators and avatars of these transpersonal, course-determining energies and worldviews than as the sole creators of the legacies they bequeath to us. The work of a Plato, Jesus, Bacon, or Nietzsche is not produced ex nihilo but in sensitive, intelligent response to archetypal energies and to ‘daimonic’ inner realities that few can encounter without being overwhelmed or even crushed. Thus it stands to reason that skeptical and extremely strong-willed egos (Bacon, Nietzsche) are perhaps more susceptible to dangerous inflation or madness than more pliant and transcendentally-minded ones (Jesus, Plato, Jung).

[1] …and, by extension, those among his followers and adherents who embraced the new science without adequately reflecting upon its darker implications for a species that, in retrospect, appears to have been manifestly unready to responsibly manage the incalculable material power and the personal freedoms that came along with the political reforms of the past few centuries.

[2] As Laurence Lampert points out in his provocative book, Nietzsche and Modern Times: A Study of Bacon, Descartes, and Nietzsche, the young author of Thus Spake Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil entertained similarly Olympian ambitions of redirecting humanity’s trajectory in accordance with his own superior will and special wisdom. And he, too, incidentally, regarded Plato as his arch-enemy—and for much the same reason that Bacon did: for his ‘after-worldliness,’ i.e., his ‘transcendental’ claims for the philosophically enlightened soul.

[3] One could argue that it was largely because religion had gradually degenerated into such a dismal and destructive state of dogmatic-sectarian warfare that Bacon’s genius for improving man’s material conditions through science and technology was given the warm and enthusiastic welcome it received by, up and coming, middle class men of learning. Had Western Christianity managed to remain spiritually effective and coherent instead of succumbing to schisms and splintering, then the seductions of materialism and earthly comforts would perhaps have been somewhat easier to resist. But this question must be saved for another time.

[4] Jung’s controversial idea is explored in his work on psychological symbolism in Christianity: “If we see the traditional figure of Christ as a parallel to the psychic manifestation of the self, then the Antichrist would correspond to the shadow of the self, namely the dark half of the human totality, which ought not to be judged too optimistically. So far as we can judge from experience, light and shadow are so evenly distributed in man’s nature that his psychic totality appears, to say the least of it, in a somewhat murky light…In the empirical self, light and shadow form a paradoxical unity. In the Christian concept, on the other hand, the archetype is hopelessly split into two irreconcilably halves, leading ultimately to a metaphysical dualism—the final separation of the kingdom of heaven from the fiery world of the damned…For anyone who has a positive attitude towards Christianity the problem of the Antichrist is a hard nut to crack…the devil attains his true stature as the adversary of Christ, and hence of God, only after the rise of Christianity, while as late as the Book of Job he was still one of God’s sons and on familiar terms with Yahweh. Psychologically the case is clear, since the dogmatic figure of Christ is so sublime and spotless that everything else turns dark beside it. It is, in fact, so one-sidedly perfect that it demands a psychic complement to restore balance…The coming of the Antichrist is not just a prophetic prediction—it is an inexorable psychological law whose existence, though unknown to the author of the Johannine Epistles, brought him a sure knowledge of the impending enantiodromia…In making these statements we are keeping entirely within the sphere of Christian psychology and symbolism. A factor that no one has reckoned with, however, is the fatality inherent in the Christian disposition itself, which leads inevitably to a reversal of its spirit—not through the obscure workings of chance but in accordance with psychological law. The ideal of spirituality striving for the heights was doomed to clash with the materialistic earth-bound passion to conquer matter and master the world. This change became visible at the time of the ‘Renaissance.’ The word means ‘rebirth,’ and it referred to the renewal of the antique spirit. We know today that this spirit was chiefly a mask; it was not the spirit of antiquity that was reborn, but the spirit of medieval Christianity that underwent strange pagan transformations, exchanging the heavenly goal for an earthly one, and the vertical of the Gothic style for a horizontal perspective (voyages of discovery, exploration of the world and of nature). The subsequent developments that led to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution have produced a world-wide situation today which can only be called ‘antichristian’ in a sense that confirms the early Christian anticipation of the ‘end of time.’ (Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self; CW, vol. 9, part. 2, pars. 76-78)

Thinking Outside the Gap (8/11/10-Buenos Aires)

Sky Gods and Father Gods are perhaps more comfortably associated with spirit, the unobserved Observer, and with the transcendent realm of Death beyond this visible, tangible world. Earth divinities and Mother Goddesses, on the other hand, are more readily linked with Nature, the Observed, with cycles and processes of Life in its immanence. Sr. Yang and Sra. Yin. We Westerners worshipped one of those Father-Sky Gods for a long, long, long, long time. He has pulled back a bit—or, did we push him? At any (cosmic) event, neither He nor any She appears to be strongly felt or generally recognized today (by anyone with his or her eyes and ears really open). We are all waiting for Godot or Godette to make His or Her divine presence felt, but I suspect that a dozen or two more generations of our kind will inhabit and then perish from the Earth before the first faint waves of that awaited Presence lap tentatively against our thirsty shores.

There is nevertheless much work of preparation to be undertaken before that fateful arrival. We do not want our great- (multiplied by a factor of 12) grandchildren to be caught with their pants down or their thumbs up their butts when those first divine ripples (or nipples) reach our thirsty shores.

Nietzsche’s (sane) ‘Madman’ ran into the marketplace declaring that ‘God is dead’—to deaf ears and mocking tongues—but perhaps He merely retreated into the vacuum of space that Newton and Co. mapped out for Him. He-She is not entirely persona divina non grata with us, after all. If He-She can play Hide and Seek with us, we can certainly play Hide and Seek with Herm. This may very well be the one exceptional case of co-dependency that we do not want to allow those well-meaning little psychotherapists to ‘cure.’ It would appear that we do, in fact, need each other in a symbiotic way—

Gods and Goddesses—Gods and Humans—Sky and Earth—Men and Women—Jews and Christians—Heaven and Hell—God and Rome—Rome and the Clergy—the Clergy and the Laity—Men and Boys—Faith and Reason—Man and Nature—Gogo and Didi—Rock and Roll—Here and Now—Now or Never.

Some Reflections after Reading Karl Löwith’s Meaning in History (9/14)

Does our modern Western ‘progressive,’ linear paradigm of history—whether religious/providential or secular/material—implicitly entail a kind of imperative to act in the world, while the cyclical (pagan and Asian) scheme does not tacitly involve such an imperative (due to the hopelessness entailed in this relentless, unalterable scheme)? Rather, does not the cyclical paradigm—precisely because of its ‘hopeless,’ self-canceling and fatalistic character—inwardly nudge one towards (liberating and/or stoically resigned) contemplation instead of towards (futile) active involvement? This way of approaching the moral implications (or imperatives) lurking within the core of the Judeo-Christian historical paradigm may shed valuable light upon the West’s activist and generally extraverted tendencies, might it not?

If it is implicitly assumed that the field of history is either a God-created or humanly constructed stage upon which an inherently meaningful drama of salvation is to be sincerely enacted, some remarkable psychological implications follow. If we genuinely believe that everything of vital spiritual and cultural importance depends on our actively playing our parts in this drama of redemption—we are certainly going to ‘think twice’ before opting out of that drama and retreating to a life of non-participatory, solitary reflection and contemplation. Nietzsche was certainly on the right track when he acknowledged Zarathustra (Zoroaster) as the deviser and promulgator of this powerful alternative paradigm—which is so different from the even more archaic, cyclical model wherein nothing ever really changes (or breaks free from the eternally repeating cycle). Nietzsche recognized that the Zoroastrian ‘world-historical’ struggle between the forces of light (Ahura Mazda) and the forces of darkness (Angra Mainyu)—a struggle which would engage the whole of humanity and which would culminate in a final victory of light over darkness—was the invisible moral motor that has driven Western culture since its incremental assimilation of the Zoroastrian paradigm. This paradigm was, as we know, assimilated into Jewish Messianism and later into Christianity’s central notions of providence and of a Day of Judgment, as conveyed in the Book of Revelation. That wonderfully pesky and atavistic little troublemaker, Herr Nietzsche, attempted to rewind history to its pagan, pre-Zoroastrian-Judeo-Christian childhood with his resuscitation of the Eternal Recurrence idea. And then he raised the truly interesting—but probably unanswerable—question: Was this earlier, pre-Christian period childish—or mightn’t our distant, relentlessly-recycled forbears have been bigger, braver adults than we are? And this, despite (or because of) the fact that they were continually riding on a (not-so-) Merry-go-Round? We, on the other hand, have dismounted the horses of the circular carnival ride and saddled up the very different horses of the Apocalypse, assuming that the battle we’re riding them into is ours for the taking. Now, who is being puerile or ‘naïve’ here?

*****

As we know, the traditional idea of divine providence was pretty much bludgeoned to death in the West, during the so-called ‘Enlightenment,’ and replaced by the modern (secular) notion of social-political-material progress. Meaning in history was no longer to be provided by the supernatural Creator-God—who had been reduced to a bearded superstition from the superior standpoint of natural science—and would henceforth be assigned by man (or, if any such specimens rose up, an Übermensch) himself. During the Renaissance, the old reliable idea of the Great Chain of Being, which located man somewhere in the middle of a grand hierarchy—above beasts and minerals but below God and the angels—was discredited and dismantled by anti-hierarchical thinkers and experimenters who were far more interested in visible, tangible matter than in invisible, intangible (and most probably ‘non-existent’) spirit. Most persons living today—unless they have gone out of their way to dig up and investigate these peculiar and intriguing matters—know next to nothing about this enormously consequential revolution in thought and feeling that took place four hundred some-odd years ago in Europe. The upshot (or up-squirt) of this scientific-humanistic revolution—literally—was ‘modern man.’ In re-conceiving himself, the anti-traditional, self-educated Western man shot up from the middle (of this discredited and defunct Medieval-scholastic fantasy-scheme) and became the tyrannical lord and morally dubious master of the material world. Henceforth, ‘modern man’ would consult only his (apparently limitless) desires and his (extremely restricted or altogether undeveloped) sense of moderation to guide and orient his increasingly successful appropriation of the mineral, vegetable, animal (and selectively human—usually brown-skinned and/or childbearing) property and the seizable wealth that had been opened up and expanded through the power of the new science and technology. Perhaps most persons living today—precisely because they have nothing else to compare it with—are unaware of just how utterly material our modern ‘culture’ and everyday experience actually is. Thus, they can have little objective awareness of how spiritually bankrupt and psychologically imbalanced our modern world is.

When modern persons get just a fleeting glimpse of the always-present (but systematically misunderstood and ignored) spiritual dimension and then they look back at the ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ of reckless modern materialism, their very hearts and souls are momentarily dissolved into a pillar of salt—for they are so violently shaken and shocked by the unbridled excesses and the pandemic madness they behold. And it is only possible to behold this shocking and potentially paralyzing truth about what has ever-so-gradually become normal when we are able, if only briefly, to wrest our souls from its infectious and glutinous grip. Obviously, most persons who read this and have more than a faint glimmer of what is being discussed here also know that it is always easier to adapt or surrender to the anti-spiritual free-for-all and authorized disequilibrium of ‘normal’ life (where practically all of their friends and family also live and move and have their messed-up being) than it is to extricate their souls from the ‘dark satanic mills’ of (ab-)normality! But this ‘accommodationism’ does nothing to alter the cold, hard truth that we must ‘die’ to the lesser, mad world before we can be reborn into the greater, real world of the spirit. What path we take to climb that mountain—Buddhist, Christian, Vedanta, Sufi, Zen, what have you—is not nearly as important as the fact that we have committed our minds and our wills to such a path that leads out of this valley of darkness. Whatever it takes to snap us out of our intoxicated or somnolent stupor and launch us upon a path of ascent and purgation, we must first have the desire in our heart—in our deepest will—to liberate our souls from this epidemic aberration called ‘modernity.’ And of course our liberation from the modern madness has nothing to do with reviving paganism, Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, alchemy, Wicca, Orphism, Druidism, or other bygone cults and practices from earlier eras. All of these—and others—may provide us with an enriched understanding of the imaginative and spiritual journeys taken by our forebears, but it is our task to create a path fitting for our own times—our own rather different problems, challenges, and opportunities. Our liberation has everything to do with the courageous, often solitary and inwardly-propelled dive into the quiet, living center—far from the gale-force winds out near the periphery, just as one might move from the tempestuous rim to the still, silent eye of the hurricane. If we thus substitute this hurricane metaphor for the ancient cyclical paradigm of history, we see that the atemporal (or eternal) circle can in fact symbolize a kind of liberation—both from the ‘flow’ of time and from the drama of clashing opposites at the periphery. The same use of the circle or mandala can be found in Hinduism and Taoism. If we synthesize the pagan circle and the Judeo-Christian line we get an interesting hybrid—the spiral—which combines the virtues both of repetition and development, wholeness and individual motion within the gyre. Perhaps the spiral is the naturally-emerging symbol that conjoins our ‘pagan’ and Judeo-Christian, our providential and progressive, dual inheritance.