Friday, November 16, 2007

Last Man or Omega Man?

Unfortunately, this post may have turned out to be a bit of a ramble, which will become more or possibly less clear as you read along. The problem is, we have a house guest, my six year-old nephew. Not only did he wake me up at 4:00 AM, he was soon bored and required my attention. So, just when I needed all of my faculties, including my fully activated cOOnvision, to be able to pull off what I am attempting to do here, I was disabled by fatigue and distraction. If there are typos or slightly incoherent passages, I'll correct them later.


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.


Anonymous said...

Great post today, Bob.

What I'd like to know, is why everything seems untethered in the post modern world. There were times when people united together either for country, or faith. And even superficially (or not so superficially) under a common tent of music or fashion. It seems that anything goes now, and that we've seen it all. Where do we go as a people from here? It seems there's nothing to rebel against anymore, except maybe rebellion.

And what role do you think language play in this evolution of stages for mankind? Does it change as man evolves or vice versa?

River Cocytus said...

That's no snoozer, though.

Bracing, about the subjective age. It is the age in which subjective no longer means 'merely arbitrary'. Or 'individualistic' in the base sense.

But rather, the age in which:

"No man shall say to his neighbor, 'Know the Lord', for everyone will already know Him." (paraphrase.)

Now if I can just get my Orthodox acquaintances to stop pining for premodernity and actualize the content of the doctrine which they have so meticulously and correctly preserved. They're the best critics of the failings of modernity and postmodernity, but they also miss greatly the positives - and the inevitability of the age of Spirit.

They came over here as a mangy band - very few and under quite difficult circumstances - but here, in America, what we need of them is their teaching. We need those 'Ortho' 'Doxa' that resonate with the real world.

But if there's something holding us back its the insistence on pre-modernity. You can't go back; primordial man is not 'back', as the life of any Saint would demonstrate, but FORWARD. But 'ahead' is a fork in the road; one way leads to perdition, the other to paradise. It has always been so...


Anony, funny you mention 'rebellion against rebellion' because I think it lies at the heart of the path ahead.

River Cocytus said...

By the way, Bob- India has always struck me as syncretic rather than synthetic. It's more 'authentic' but also unfused.

So, that's beside the point. There can still be a melting pot there; it's just not explicit like it has been in the USA.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Well put, River.

Petey said...

Primordial man is in the future.

Precisely. Nietzsche's Overman is the demonic shadow of this Omega Man, just as the Last Man is their neutered cousin.

River Cocytus said...

By the way, this is the core idea of a science-fantasy series that has been brewing in my mind since age 5 - the great 'Heroes vs Villains' idea - but made full-manifest. Primordial men against Overmen. I think that all of our literature and myth of heroes and villains is form and shadow of something to come.

River Cocytus said...

Blast! I'm repeating myself again! ...... ('by the way...')

It proves that I haven't been reading enough literature lately. I repeat prepositions every other minute....

Also.. Smoov, Van, I have an idea involving facebook that I've started. I call it 'Information Techonologists' Association'. The idea is for it to be a group/groups of local young techs who know each other as a resource for each other to find work (maintain security in the insecure age) and a resource for businesses looking for young IT talent/skill.

Tell me what you think.

Robin Starfish said...

Event Horizon
particles to waves
cyclical continuum
do the monkey dance

hoarhey said...

Heh, “The Voice of the Neuter”; although I find Joel Stein to be an unbearably self-centered twit, I guess I will have to give him some credit for me finding my way to One Cosmos. He inadvertently got the ball rolling on the sequence of events which led me here, from hearing Hugh Hewitt‘s smack-down interview with him, to Rush Limbaugh subsequently talking about it and mentioning the American Thinker article, to its link to One Cosmos and lastly the gift of cOOnvision which recognized the goldmine I had “stumbled” into.
Thanks for being here Bob.

Dilys said;
“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.”

Discussions of philosophy, morality and ethics are for the well-fed.

And Bob, could you give a brisk rub through both of those boys hair for me at exactly the right time?

Ricky Raccoon said...

I had a similar path, although different circumstances: Rush->American Thinker->OC.

dilys said...

Compatibility with "modern science" is an important piece, but it is not the whole story, rather an issue because tangled with history and who we are now. The deeper challenge, only the beginning, is:

how do we understand religion in such a way that it is fully compatible with [modern man], and yet does not undermine the traditions from which it arose and through which it was nurtured over the millennia?

Most of us who share OC inclinations probably distinguish from ourselves alienated post-existential man as "that other, less 'together', less spiritually-aware, more Jerry-Springer audience guy." But we are all children of our age soaked in its presuppositions, facilitated by them at every turn so that they are transparent to our introspection.

For instance, Walker Percy, the novelist, spent the majority of his effort to find an end of the thread to tug on "questions of language, consciousness, and the unique nature of mankind, while situating his ideas in contrast to those of a Darwinian-naturalistic bent."

That is, how do we begin to think authentically, from within our era and taking it into account, without swallowing the poison pill?

In non-novelist dimensions (though she is married to the fine writer Stephen Mitchell) The Work of Byron Katie offers a proven means to gain effective traction in critical and analytic reason constituting the step into becoming actively self-conscious and not merely self-critical. "Not merely [self-satisfied or] self-critical" is the descriptor that marks discontinuity with habitual thought.

So the challege includes "to do" as well as "to think," to seize and anchor that Vertical flutter I notice in merely reading the excerpted material. Perhaps Sri Aurobindo also recommends specific measures not restricted to disciples.

Petey said...

Somewhat surprisingly, I have received no word of thanks from Rush for having dispatched so many Raccoons back in time in order to "discover" him and make him so successful. Perhaps it awaits "in the future."

River Cocytus said...

No foolin', Petey.

Self-critical reminds me of many of my peers; neuters many. It is not self-criticism that is necessary but self-awareness. When we judge ourselves it is an act of perception; and not an act of condemnation. For if we do evil truly we stand condemned already. Once the parasite is perceived, it must be done away with.

"God is so simple in his holiness, that a single impure thought drives us from his presence."

walt said...

Petey -

I think when Rush says, "With talent on loan from God-d," he's trying to acknowledge your help, but...uh...without being too obvious about it.

Petey said...

Hmm, I see what you mean, since Godwin's talent -- such as it is -- is clearly on loan from me.

Smoov said...


Funny you should mention that. I had cocktails with one of my favorite high-octane VC madmen just last night.

You're not the only one spinning out these experimental new webs, but your definitely someone I'd like to have in mine.

Check out the story behind this company for more on where I'm coming from:

Smoov said...


your = you're

Smoov said...


In particular see their model for employee/owner organizatinal structure.

Facebook and the like provide the oportunity for radically new structures and modalities in the IT sector. I've noticed a change just in the past year. I've travelled less on business this year, and have conducted at least half of my meetings in virtual space (including many with full video). I've worked with teams spanning five countries on three continents.

There is a massive dark-matter like opportunity out there...

Anonymous said...

"...although perhaps India as well, which has always welcomed religious pluralism"

Are you kidding me? The problem is that Westerners (most Indians too) are completely ignorant of the volatile history of Indian religion. The Hindu chauvinists have succeeded in spreading this myth. Check out "The Gita as It Was" by Phulgenda Sinha. He documents how the Gita was used to as a propaganda document by the Brahmins to destroy and coopt atheistic Buddhism, Jainism, Samkhya, Lokayata, etc:

"This invaluable study of the history of the text of the Gita is unfortunately out of print, but a must read for anyone interested in unraveling the enigmas of Indian spiritual history and wresting the gold from the illusions here. Attempting to show that the book we now have is a very late version from the period ca. 800 A.D. with a theistic cast not present in the original, the book also uncovers the connection with the Samkhya tradition, a very early form of which was probably part of Gautama's path. As if the text of the Iliad had fallen into Christian revisionism and made a document of spiritual monotheism, the Gita that we have is an eloquent but misleading series of confusing layers. The author also suggests certain interpolations in the text of the Yoga Sutras designed to make it seem compatible with the tide of monotheism sweeping India in the later medieval period."

hoarhey said...

"So the challege includes "to do" as well as "to think,"..."

To be is to do -- Socrates
To do is to be – Sartre
Doo be doo be doo -- Sinatra

Aesop said...

Regarding the last paragraph, in which Aurobindo describes an intellect functioning in the service of spirit-- therein lies the rub.

One may arise in the morning and state "I offer myself to You, Lord. Let my intellect be an instument of Your will."

Then you to the kitchen to make coffee, still feeling thoroughly ordinary.

So you then pray "Bring me in closer proximity to You, Master, so that I can feel Your will for me."

You eat breakfast and go out to your car, still feeling perfectly ordinary. You blank out your thoughts,and try to feel intuitions as they arise. Nothing special presents itself.

And on. Only in occasional moments will you feel God coming through. Suddenly you sense an intuition, recieve an instruction. Then the presence is gone again.

The question I pose is, how does the seeker break through the oppressive wall of banality that seems to veil God, so that continous contact can be maintained?

hoarhey said...

Not sure where to find it but the interview of Joel Stein by Hugh Hewitt is very instructive of how clueless many people today are of the sacrifices and debt owed to our military.
Popular media does virtually nothing to raise this awareness.

Is that some sort of Japanese Zero pilot's get up?

ximeze said...

meaning reflects a "gradient of deepening coherence" in the cosmos, and that time reflects the achievement of increasingly comprehensive interior unities

Yup, that's exactly why I keep coming back to OC. Nothing like it anywhere.

You Go Bob


Ricky Raccoon said...

Thanks, Petey!

River Cocytus said...

Hoarhey: dunno. I was just messing around with photo-effects. It would be cool if I look like a pilot. So far everyone who saw the picture saw something different.

Van said...

"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. "


Within us, through capital R Reason, intellection, the high Vertical conceptions contact with the Horizontal perceptual and integrate in all directions, upwards, outwards and deeply inwards - their depths dependent upon the consideration you lay upon it. The relational threads that unite those integrations can be singular and thin, extending only from one point to the next, or twined with the application of additional senses and thoughtful perspectives, woven together and extended, so that what was once a single point to point connection, begins to extend beyond, and through other connections.

Leave your integrations to logic and perception alone, and your connections are choppy, and though they may be extensive, anemic, less likely to touch the current within them. The deeper the consideration, meditation, an openness to reflective inspiration, the stronger the relational cords - potentially to the point that nothing would remain disconnected, all becomes revealed as One deep integration.

Sight, sound, smell, thought and emotion, all have their part in capital R Reason, and all together reach towards a larger one - shape and symmetry evoke impressions, concept, principle, reaching deeper inwards and wider outward. A beauteous and graceful sculpture or painting of something such as a Madonna and Child can wrest little more than a nod from one person, or with but a glance, evoke all that is deepest and central to a persons heart and soul, set all that is wholly within them thrumming like a deep brass bell.

Hopefully not cracked.

Van said...

River said "Also.. Smoov, Van, I have an idea involving facebook that I've started. I call it 'Information Techonologists' Association'."

Interesting... seems like several ways you could go with that... hmm....

Van said...

hoarhey said... "Heh, “The Voice of the Neuter”; although I find Joel Stein to be an unbearably self-centered twit, I guess I will have to give him some credit for me finding my way to One Cosmos..."

I thought I saw a few more sets of coon prints on the trail - I heard Rush mention Van Der Leuns article, and one of the comments led me here.

Cue The Fixx "One thing [one thing] leads to anahhther..."

Van said...

"Is that some sort of Japanese Zero pilot's get up?"

That or Johnny Depp's getting into character for another movie...

Van said...

Oh boy, long day - looks like I got a CD in the mail though I Will give that a listen to tomorrow - cool!
[the preceding was a coded message into the racoonosphere]

Nite all
(Psst! Skully! Wake Ben up, it's his watch! ehm... where'd you leave the medicinal Grog?)

Skully said...

Medicinal grog? Urp! Haven't seen it. Urp!

walt said...

Well, since you mentioned it, I've felt a tad "unsteady" of late...

Perhaps some medicinal grog ... would take the edge off my trigger finger ... yeah ...