The End of Reason — Part 2

Light a torch, dark times ahead

Jean Gebser in 1957. Image credit: Wikipedia

Recently I got introduced to the work of Swiss philosopher and poet Jean Gebser (1905–1973), who has contributed greatly to our modern self-understanding. He has made foundational work on the evolution of human consciousness and culture, which I found key in understanding our present situation. I came across his concepts on Simon Sheridan’s truly fantastic blog, and more specifically, in his recent post about Integral Consciousness.

“In a nutshell, what Gebser succeeded in demonstrating through painstaking documentation and analysis was this: hidden beneath the apparent chaos of our times is an emergent new order. The disappearance of the pre-Einsteinian world-view, with its creator-god and clockwork universe as well as its naive faith in progress, is more than a mere breakdown. It is also a new beginning.”

(Excerpt from Gebser’s bio)

In a certain sense his work provides a vital understanding as to why and how our civilization’s Age of Reason ends, what are the underlying dynamics, and what could come after it. (In my previous post I have laid out the reasons behind science and technology hitting diminishing returns, and how this brings about an end to our civilization’s Age of Reason. Be sure to read it for a better understanding as to where I am coming from.)

Now back to Gebser. According to him, there are four types of consciousness, or mental structures as he called them, through which we view and interpret the world around us. (He has identified a fifth one as well, but more on that later.) These are fundamentally different modes of thinking, each with their own limitations, and environments in which they thrive.

Note, however, that contrary to the myth of progress, none of them are superior or ‘more evolved’ than the other. Each has its intrinsic value and usefulness on its own right. Thus, they have not superseded one another: in fact all of them can be found in a society at the same time. The only question is: which one is the dominant mode of thinking in a given age?

Let’s start our exploration of Gebser’s four types of consciousness, giving a better understanding as to why our Age of Reason is set to end, with the first and the most ancient one: the Archaic. This is the classical non-dualist approach to the world where nothing is separate, everything is interrelated and feels just fine as it is.

In my interpretation this is the home to the animal spirit: ever vigilant, ever present, but never judging — just observing and acting in perfect harmony with its environment. This state of mind is the ultimate goal of Buddhist meditation, as well as the famous flow-state, first described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: where the ego dissolves together with all its boundaries between the actor and the environment. No ego (self) is present, or in fact needed, here.

The second is: Magic. No, not the Harry Potter type. “In its highest form, it uses intricate and highly effective rituals to harness (magical) energy. Concepts for “energy” like qi, ki, mana belong here.” For someone living this mental structure symbols and sacred objects do not just represent events and persons, but are those same events, objects and persons. In this sense, invoking powerful symbols move and channel large amounts of spiritual or emotional energy.

Contrary to modern beliefs, magic still very much applies to quite a few areas of life with advertisement and politics being prime examples. In fact it is precisely the later class who has made its use so ubiquitous today, and tends to apply it without self-restraint. As we will see later, this form of Magic plays a huge role in bringing about the end to our present civilization’s Age of Reason — hand in hand with the next form of consciousness.

The third, which is the Mythic. This mode of thinking is intimately related to the images invoked by stories of heroes, villains, lovers and warriors, as well as classical battles between good and evil. It is founded on “cyclical thinking based on nature, the seasons, astronomy and cycles of life and death” and “whereas the distinguishing characteristic of the magic structure was the emergent awareness of nature, the essential characteristic of the mythical structure is the emergent awareness of soul.” (Gebser) Hence, the hero’s journey with all its moral teachings.

In my interpretation thinking in mythic terms helps us to believe that this chaotic world does make sense, while relieving us from the burden of proof. No myth requires the author to provide scientific proof that events took place exactly as it was told, the moral message is much more important. The recent surge in Viking stories (or countless other series set in a fantasy realm) on streaming platforms all serve as great examples. In fact, all what Hollywood produces nowadays fall comfortably into this category.

The fourth is the Mental structure or Rationalism. This was the dominant mode of thinking in our age of reason: “an extreme separation of subject and object not seen in other consciousnesses (which finally collapsed with Quantum Mechanics). The idea of “progress” and linear time comes to dominate”. This is the type of thinking which I was discussing in detail in the first installment of this article: explaining how it reached it’s natural apex and started to fall as we have started to hit diminishing returns — well over half a century ago.

“Rationalism, for [Gebser], was by no means the pinnacle of human existence, but, on the contrary, an evolutionary digression with fatal consequences. He regarded it as a deficient of the inherently balanced mental structure of consciousness. In other words, Gebser did not reject reason, merely its inflation into the sole arbiter of our lives. As he recognized, the human being is a composite of several evolutionary structures of consciousness, and we must live all of them according to their intrinsic value. The individual who is dominated by the rational structure represses all other structures, which are viewed as irrational and hence dispensable. Thus the “reasonable” person is inclined to reject magic, myth, religion, feeling, empathy, and not least ego-transcendence.”

(Excerpt from Gebser’s bio)

Now, that we have a basic grasp of the underlying structures of human thinking (archaic, magic, mythical, mental), comes the fun part. Let’s try and put all these concepts into practice! As we have seen in the previous post, western societies have clearly left pure rationalism behind, as science and innovation duly hit diminishing returns.

As we will see, Magic and Myth have started to fill in the gaps in an overabundant way: marking a tipping point in our Age of Reason’s careening towards its end. In my view the careless overuse of these ancient types of consciousness and the fall of Rationality have contributed greatly to the “chaos of our times and the disappearance of the pre-Einsteinian world-view”.

Religion. Viewed from a purely rational (mental) perspective religion makes no sense. In fact it is full of self-contradicting claims. This view however leads to a complete misunderstanding of religion, downplaying its role in human existence. Viewed through a Mythic lens though, it provides a moral compass and hope in a incomprehensibly complex world cursed with a dismal outlook for its participants.

Stir in some Magic (in strictly metaphorical terms of course) in the form of symbols used and rituals performed during masses, or the prodigious acts of saints, and you have got a really powerful force. It is no wonder that religion has survived the countless rise and fall of civilizations with their Ages of Reason coming and going. In fact, closer to the end of periods of Rationality traditional religions experience a boom in popularity.

In this sense the green movement is no different: offering a morally superior view of the world (we, the good people, against evil CEO-s) combined with public rituals in the form of mass protests, speeches, self-sacrifice (a’la Extinction Rebellion) and powerful symbols. I would not be surprised at all, if far-far into the future the voyage of Greta Thunberg over the Atlantic ocean would be enshrined in sacred texts referring to her as a Saint.

Mainstream media, fake news and the post-truth world. Another great example for the fall of Mental Consciousness or Rationality. Viewed from a purely reasoned perspective news, published in the official mainstream media (MSM) outlets, make less and less sense, in fact one can claim that the media is now full of self-contradicting claims, propaganda, mis- and disinformation. For someone interested in the truth MSM has become a pain to consume.

Viewed from a mythic perspective, however, it fulfills a very important role. It is presenting us with what the ruling class would like us to think of ourselves, our nation, our shared stories, who is good and who is evil — so that we don’t have to bother ourselves too much with what they actually do. In this ‘post-truth’ world what has actually happened became less and less important compared to a noble goal of achieving moral victory over the opposing party or nation. Narrative control is the name of the game now.

The problem is, that apart from an ever shrinking minority nobody actually believes anything the media has to say nowadays — and that, as we will see later, will have devastating consequences.

Neoclassical Economics, Political Science, Management Schools. All excellent examples on how Magic have actually replaced science. None of the statements churned out by these ‘institutions’ stand even the furthest smell test of logic and a coherent scientific approach, but as I increasingly tend to suspect this was never the goal. Building on the magical impact mathematical symbols, formulas and hard to decipher ‘terminus technicus’ have on average humans (creating an illusion of authority and providing proof without proving anything), these schools of thought have actually become really good at one thing: building castles in the sky. They are beautiful, shiny and good to look at, but ultimately filled with hot air, nothing more.

Magical symbols. One of them is used to summon a demon, the other conjures infinite growth on a finite planet.

In reality, these ideas serve no other goal than to justify greed and exploitation, and to sway the rich into believing that growth can go on indefinitely on a finite planet… So, in return, elites keep funding these institutions and think-tanks to churn out even more magic. Instead of real science it is this magic that is now serve as the foundation for the ‘experts’ in government — the technocratic elite — culminating in the legendary powers of the High Mages of the Central Bank, and their magic number: the interest rate.

True scientific results have become unpalatable with all their blathering about limits, climate chaos and all the rest — pointing towards the an inevitable end to this version of a global civilization. Unsurprisingly, there seems to be an increasing demand for sorcery warding all these bad thoughts off and providing much needed tranquility in an age of increasing turmoil.

As their Age of Reason comes closer to its end, societies tend to go haywire. Institutions applying Myths and Magic in ever greater amounts slowly erode the last bastions of Rationality, but they also blow themselves up in the process. Well, as they say: too much Magic can kill you.

A period of chaos thus duly sets in. Gebser was an optimist in thinking that an Integral Consciousness would arise as result, successfully integrating all modes of thinking into a harmonious whole. He hoped — as opposed to Spengler, who wrote about the fall of the West roughly at the same time — that we will somehow avoid our civilization’s fate and skip the fall and decline part. This turmoil we have is clearly not an ideal environment to develop an integral consciousness en masse. That ship has left.

While what Gebser proposed as an integral way is perfectly possible on the individual level, it is wholly impossible on a societal level. People live their daily lives and make their innumerable small decisions based on their impulses, past conditioning, personality type and character — and only a very tiny minority indulge in philosophical debates about the topic outlined above. Our elites are no exception to this rule.

This brings us to the question: then what’s next? As I explained in an earlier post:

While being busy continuing ecocide by different means and amazed by their own technocratic powers, our elites forgot about the mounting problems at the bottom half of the society: unplanned de-industrialization, rising food and energy prices, increasing inequality — an overall cost of living crisis. All begging for a correction, which, if delayed too long, might neither be rational nor technical, but visceral: based on a religious belief that the end days are here and the sinners of the world must burn in a cleansing fire…

People in times of hardship want the good days to return. They will blame their ruling class for their fate, and if things really go awry, start overthrowing them (for examples look no further than Europe in the past, or as many presume: this winter). Elites in turn might be tempted to double down on everything what is already failing. Mental. Myth. Magic. But these are mere lenses. They were invented to interpret the world around us. Whenever they were used to alter it, they have failed reliably. Nevertheless, lacking palatable alternatives, all will be tried… with predictable results.

Meanwhile, over the pond in America, the Christian far right is on the rise for the same reason. Ditching Mental altogether, they’re doubling down on the Mythic instead. In their world logic does not matter anymore (it has only brought ‘us’ trouble), now we must ‘do what is right’. And as usual ‘right makes might’ culminating in religious wars or getting rid of ‘deviants’. Besides its obvious dangers, this mode of thinking also brings about the risk of lighting the world up in flames of a holy nuclear fire.

I can but hope, that we will never get to this point. Nevertheless I see tumultuous times ahead, as we leave the last vestiges of reason behind and see magic running rampant hand in hand with mythic thinking.

Until next time,

B

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B

A critic of modern times - offering ideas for honest contemplation.