Last Man or Omega Man?
We shall now attempt to transition from Mead's God and Gold to a plane beyond it -- to depart and bewholed whether history is just history (i.e., a purely exterior process) or whether it actually has a purpose and is linked to, and shaped by, something beyond it -- a meaning and a destiny, which amount to the same thing.
Otherwise, I'm afraid there's no denying the fact that the purpose of all the conflict and suffering of the past 5,000 years -- when human beings left prehistory and entered history -- was to be able to shop in peace, which is to say, no real purpose at all. We will have reached the end of history, when the living cosmos has been reduced by reason and contained within science. And "on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small":
There comes the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There comes the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself. Lo! I show you the Last Man.... They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health. "We have discovered happiness" -- say the Last Men, and they blink. --Nietzsche
Yo, The Voice of the Neuter is Heard Throughout the Land!
But if history has a meaning and a destiny, it can only be because it has an interior, for there is no meaning in the absence of an interior. And what is meaning? I would suggest (following Polanyi) that meaning reflects a "gradient of deepening coherence" in the cosmos, and that time reflects the achievement of increasingly comprehensive interior unities. Only within the soul of man is this Unity able to achieve its greatest breadth and intensity, encompassing all of creation, both vertical and horizontal.
Interestingly, I just looked up when prehistory ended and history got kookstarted. Wikipedia says it was in Egypt in around 3200 BC; however, in New Guinea, prehistory only ended in 1900. This is an example of what I mean by humanity not having its calendars synchronized, so that "geographical space is developmental time." In other words, human groups -- and now individuals -- are evolving at different rates of speed, which comes back to our conflict with the Islamic world, which still has one foot in premodernity while we already have one in postmodernity.
When the external world does not match your internal world, the result is alienation. Thus, all of us are inevitably alienated to one degree or another, which is another meaning of our so-called "fallenness." The only time man was not alienated was in paradise, but that's partly because paradise was outside time.
In fact, this is one of my central deviations from Schuon, as he obviously felt profoundly alienated by modernity, let alone postmodernity. Thus, he insisted that premodern traditional societies best reflected man's true needs -- that they embodied eternal principles that made man's soul feel "at home," so to speak. I don't buy this for a second, even though I do see his point.
While I certainly don't idealize the postmodern West -- about which there is much to criticize and from which to feel deeply alienated -- there is still no doubt that, if you are so inclined, it offers the average person the greatest opportunity in history for self-willed spiritual development, if only because it provides the time and the space to do so -- i.e., the slack. Don't blame the modern West if you waste your precious slack on video games, the New York Times, and other trivialities. As Dilys put it in a comment the other day,
"In this catastrophic historical moment (like perhaps all others not rotting and static), I think the argument is that liberty and prosperity best create the tear in the collective-illusion fence for humans at all levels" to live in proximity to the sacred, "if one is so disposed. At this point freedom is a necessary, or at least contributory, condition, though never a sufficient one [emphasis mine]. And arguments about misused freedom, 24/7 celebrity culture etc., do not demonstrate that un-free is better.
"Enforced communalism, or the tribal scheme in which resources, time, and prestige are scarce and rationed, offer no such opportunity to the ordinary man, though aristocrats might be better placed. Those arguing for the now-imaginary traditional arrangements I believe imagine themselves stationed among the privileged, not the slaves."
Exactly. If Schuon had publicized his ideas in the traditional cultures he idealizes, he'd be lucky if they didn't burn him at the stake. Imagine telling some medieval cleric your ideas about the "transcendent unity of religions." That wouldn't exactly be compatible with survival, any more than it would be to live in the Muslim world and insist that Judaism is every bit as "absolute" as Islam. Please. Ironically, saying such a thing is only possible in the postmodern world (although perhaps India as well, which has always welcomed religious pluralism).
Now, there are two reasons Schuon could freely publicize his ideas in the postmodern west. First, because people don't take religion seriously, and second, because they take it so very seriously. While he was all too aware of the first, he didn't seem to appreciate the irony of the second, despite his small but devoted following. In other words, because of multiculturalism and moral relativism, many contemporary people regard religion has a hopelessly subjective and unprovable enterprise, so your personal beliefs are of no consequence, so long as you don't hurt anyone or try to force them upon others. But what Schuon missed about modernity -- in particular, within America -- was the deep spiritual hunger that has always animated us.
Sri Aurobindo differed with Schuon with regard to traditional societies, which he called "conventional." The problem is, traditional societies begin with the living impulse of spirit, but eventually contain and suppress the very impulse that gave birth to them. We see this time and again in history. Not only is this what animated the Protestant revolt against Catholicism, but it is what has animated most every sect and schism since. As Rodney Stark wrote in For the Glory of God, people who split off into sects do not do so because they want to have some watered-down version of religion. To the contrary, with the exception of cults (which have an entirely different psychology), they are composed of people who have become dissatisfied with convention and are seeking greater religious intensity.
Of traditional, or what he called "conventional" societies, Aurobindo observed that they tend to "arrange firmly, to formalise, to erect a system... to stereotype religion, to bind education and training to a traditional and unchangeable form, to subject thought to infallible authorities, to cast a stamp of finality on what seems to it the finished life of man." In short, this is precisely what Mead meant by static religion. True, as Aurobindo writes, traditional societies have their "golden age," during which time "the spirit and thought that inspired its forms are confined yet living, not yet altogether walled in, not yet stifled to death and petrified by the growing hardness of the structure in which they are cased." The golden age "is often very beautiful and attractive to the distant point of view," what with its "precise order, symmetry, fine social architecture, the admirable subordination of its parts to a general and noble plan."
But in romanticizing the admirable features of these golden ages, we can be blind to the "folly, ignorance, iniquity, cruelty and oppression of those harsh ages, the suffering and the revolt that simmered below those fine surfaces, the misery and the squalor that was hidden behind the splendid facade." As I expressed it in One Cosmos, it is easy to look at the Great Pyramid of Giza and appreciate its awesome majesty: "Then again, I don't see how we can avoid being disillusioned if we take a moment to empathize with the hundred thousand or more luckless slaves who spent their lives dragging these blocks around, for what noble end? For the purpose of creating a ridiculously oversized crypt to house the carcass of a dead pharoah who also had to have his wives and slaves buried alive with him in order to amuse him in the afterlife."
Now, as I mentioned a few posts back, I believe Mead faltered in his attempt to answer the question, What Does it All Mean?, because the question cannot be answered on the plane he is asking it. Despite his emphasis on the importance of dynamic religiosity to Anglo-American success, in the end he falls into a subtle modernist trap of evaluating religion on utilitarian grounds. In other words, while he is unlike most secular scholars in that he takes religion seriously, he evaluates it in pragmatic terms -- as if the only point of religion is to make us fit to function more effectively in a modern economy. As a respectable secular scholar, he can hardly do otherwise. What's he supposed to do, analyze history in terms of its proximity to the nonlocal eschaton drawing us in its wake? No, of course not. That's the job for a disreputable Raccoon.
The problem is, as soon as you analyze religion merely in pragmatic terms, you have essentially made it a flatland enterprise ultimately answerable to, and explainable by, horizontal factors. Thus, you have simply taken the long way around to Nietzsche's last man, or worse yet, Joel Stein.
Just as Polanyi concluded some fifty years later, Aurobindo wrote that the "discovery by individual free-thought of universal laws of which the individual is almost a by-product" -- i.e., the reductionistic stance of positivism and scientism -- leads "logically to the suppression of that very individual freedom which made the discovery and the attempt at all possible."
But how do we understand religion in such a way that it is fully compatible with modern science, and yet does not undermine the traditions from which it arose and through which it was nurtured over the millennia?
I'm just about out of gas here, so we'll have to get more deeply into the answer later. But Sri Aurobindo worked out a scheme in which he saw the development of secular science as more or less inevitable and necessary to man's continuing evolution. He called this the "individualistic" age. But beyond that is what he calls the "subjective" age, which easily transcends but includes the earlier stages. Thus, as one poster has repeatedly affirmed, the atheists are not necessarily our adversaries. Rather, they are merely the most vocal advocates of stage four. While we have no need of them here in Coonworld, frankly, we could use a few of these evangelists in the Islamic world. Why don't they go there, where they're actually needed? I think you know the answer. They'd be treated like Schuon.
Here's how Aurobindo described the fifth, "subjective age" of man (yes, he's a tad wordy, a result of his 19th century classical education):
"[T]o find the truth of things and the law of his being in relation to that truth he must go deeper and fathom the subjective secret of himself and things as well as their objective forms and surroundings. This he may attempt to do for a time by the power of the critical and analytic reason which has already carried him so far; but not for very long. For in his study of himself and the world he cannot but come face to face with the soul in himself and the soul in the world and find it to be an entity so profound, so complex, so full of hidden secrets and powers that his intellectual reason betrays itself as an insufficient light and a fumbling seeker: it is successfully analytical only of superficialities and of what lies just behind them.
"The need of a deeper knowledge must then turn him to the discovery of new powers and means within himself. He finds that he can only know himself entirely by becoming actively self-conscious and not merely self-critical, by more and more living in his soul and acting out of it rather than floundering on surfaces, by putting himself into conscious harmony with that which lies behind his superficial mentality and psychology and by enlightening his reason and making dynamic his action through this deeper light and power to which he thus opens. In this process the rationalistic ideal begins to subject itself to the ideal of intuitional knowledge and a deeper self-awareness; the utilitarian standard gives way to the aspiration towards self-consciousness and self-realisation; the rule of living according to the manifest laws of physical Nature is replaced by the effort towards living according to the veiled Law and Will and Power active in the life of the world and in the inner and outer life of humanity" (emphases mine).
It's nap time for me.