Megalomaniacs Anonymous

One of the primary divisions within the peak oil/doomer scene is the question of fast vs slow collapse. The former group expects a cascading series of crises that creates a positive feedback loop leading to the sudden end of modern civilisation. The underlying concept is the same used by climate change activists who argue that there will come a tipping point beyond which irreversible climate change will come too quickly for society to adapt.

The slow collapse notion posits that natural systems have negative feedback loops and these will kick in and provide a counterbalance when things start to get hairy. This won’t stop the overall trend of decline. In the case of resource depletion, it won’t make more resources available. But it will prevent a quick seizing up of supply and allow time for society to adapt, thereby preventing a sudden collapse.

Until a couple of years ago, I would have counted myself in the slow collapse group. I assumed that, yes, we were pushing a bunch of dumb policies that weren’t going to work. Yes, these were mostly a combination of ambitious politicians promising what they couldn’t deliver, idealistic voters wanting what they couldn’t get and greedy capitalists profiting off that combination. Yes, it was all pie-in-the-sky fantasies that were only ever possible due to the enormous economic surplus enjoyed by modern western societies. But when the proverbial hit the fan, the people who actually understood how things worked in the “real world” would come to the fore. We would stop listening to shysters and charlatans and fall back to the things that worked.

During corona, even in the early days of the hysteria, there were such people who came forward to remind us of the things that had been shown to work. A good example was the Great Barrington Declaration, signed by tens of thousands of experts from around the world. It was little more than a reiteration of the established public health guidelines on how to respond to a middling pandemic. But, of course, it was those exact guidelines that had been thrown out the window in early March 2020. Thus, the Great Barrington Declaration was a bit like the Great Don’t Poke a Bear Declaration or the Great Don’t Stick Your Finger in an Electrical Socket Declaration. It was a statement of the obvious. But we were no longer listening to the obvious.

Maybe if they’d called it The Almighty Barrington Declaration it would have worked
In a strange coincidence, I found out that Gorbachev died today just as I was getting ready to publish this post

If we zoom out, we see that corona is one example of a pattern that has been in play in the West for several decades. It’s the one I described above; pie-in-the-sky fantasies with no basis in history or reality. Why should anything have a basis in history anymore? With the collapse of the USSR, history was over. That’s what we told ourselves. All the old rules were gone and we were free to come up with whatever we liked. And that’s exactly what happened. We came up with a whole bunch of ideas and told ourselves that they had to work because, well, we said so.

In this sense, the Ukraine War is not unrelated to corona. Some pro-Russian commentators have pointed out that the behaviour of the West in relation to Russia since the fall of the USSR has been stunningly dumb. Russia could easily have been integrated into the European economy. It’s what everybody expected to happen. It’s what most people in Russia wanted at the time. And it happened anyway, despite efforts to prevent it. That’s why there’s an energy crisis facing Europe at the moment.

If Russia had been properly integrated into Europe, the West could have completely encircled China and prevented its economic rise from translating into political and military might. With just a modicum of common sense, pragmatism and realpolitik, the unchallenged hegemony of the West that began in the 1990s could have been kept going indefinitely, at least until other problems intervened. But we had other ideas; brand new ideas with no basis in history or reality.

Up until corona, it was possible to argue that such stupidities were allowed to happen because the damage was done in far flung countries where the western voting public didn’t notice or care. But with corona and the Ukraine War, the damage is now being done at home and is going to be felt at home for a long time to come. It is no longer possible to avoid the consequences of the mindset that led to these decisions. Will this fact prompt us to change course?

One theory about what will happen next comes from historian Oswald Spengler. Now that things are getting serious, he predicts we should see the rise of Caesarism alongside a Second Religiosity. As the potential for a fast collapse becomes a real possibility, we will be forced to re-learn pragmatism and fall back on the things that actually worked. This won’t happen through the clueless elites who got us into this mess in the first place, but through a strong leader who overrides them by winning the support of the public who are now suffering directly under the failed policies of the elites.

Oswald Spengler

There are some signs of the Caesar phenomenon in the Trump and Brexit elections but no real evidence of a Second Religiosity yet. Church attendance continues to spiral downwards. However, it’s not hard to imagine that a couple of winters sitting in the cold and dark might incentivise people to seek meaning somewhere other than material progress in the years ahead.

All of this may happen. I’m certainly not going to say that Spengler is wrong as his theory makes a lot of sense and, in any case, time will prove it one way or another. But even if it does happen, it will do nothing more than get us off the fast collapse path and onto the slow collapse one. Caesarism and a Second Religiosity will not return us to the heyday of civilisation but merely to its decadent form which I described in the last post as the deficient Mental Consciousness. The West will still disappear but it will do so slowly and gradually like civilisations past.

If this sounds pessimistic, that is to be expected. Within the framework I have presented in the last few posts, Spengler’s theory fits within the Mythical Consciousness. The Mythical is all about cycles; life and death, night and day, the turning of the seasons, the progression through various life stages; in short, “nature”. Spengler quite explicitly chose a biological metaphor to guide his historical analysis and so these correspondences make perfect sense. Civilisations have a lifespan in the same way as people or animals do and when your time is up there’s nothing much you can do about it.

This kind of pessimism (some might call it realism) is a cornerstone of the Mythical Consciousness. We see a prime example of it in the Book of Job. Job is ruined by God in a completely unjust way. When he objects to this treatment, his interlocutors do not sympathise with him. They don’t even try to address his arguments about justice or morality. They simply point out that God is all powerful and that’s all there is to it. If God wants to destroy you, there’s nothing to be done. Stop whining and accept your fate like the rest of us. We see a similar pessimism at the end of the Iliad where the mortally wounded Hector bitterly tells Achilles that he too will soon die as had been prophesied. The fate of man was to die. The gods and the heavens were superior as they were immortal and eternal.

Against this background, we can start to see why Christian theology was so radical because it posited a God who manifested in human form. But God was eternal, timeless and perfect while humans were finite, mortal and sinful. The idea that a God would swap one for the other was simply absurd. It was like saying black was white and bad was good. Why would a God willingly submit himself to death? The further explanation that this was done to redeem man was equally outrageous. Although Yahweh takes a peculiar interest in man in the Old Testament, he shows no sign of empathy or compassion. On the contrary, his only goal at the end of the Book of Job is to win acquiescence and thereby re-establish the proper cosmic order where Gods are superior and men know their place.

So, why did God do it? In Answer to Job, Jung sketches out an explanation by noting that, through Job’s insistence about the injustice done to him, God actually learned something about himself. Specifically, God also had an unconscious, a part of himself of which he was not aware and that part related to man. This makes some sense. Where would an eternal, timeless and perfect being have his unconscious? One place would be in the finite, mortal and sinful world of humans. If God wanted to learn about his unconscious, that was one way to go about it. Thus, Christianity can be seen as God going through a Jungian individuation process. He was integrating a part of himself about which he had previously been unconscious.

This individuation corresponds to the transition from the Mythical Consciousness to the Mental Consciousness of which Christianity was a core element, at least in Europe. To the extent that this broke down the old Mythical distinction between God and man, it also provided a way to overcome the pessimism of the Mythical.

In our time, we are so used to attacks on Christianity that most people would not take this line of argument seriously. In fact, one of the forms of attack on Christianity has been precisely that it is outrageous and delusional. It’s overcoming of the Mythical with promises of eternal life were nothing more than empty platitudes meant to console the weak. We would all be better off returning to the mentality of the heroes who were able to face death square on.

As the influence of Christianity has continued to wane in the post war years, it seems that we have begun to embrace exactly this kind of ethic and this brings us back to the current predicament of the West. With the fall of the USSR, the West started behaving very much like the God of the Old Testament. Will to power. Might is right.

Karl Rove put it best when he said “we create our own reality.” The “we” he was referring to were the western “elites”. They were now in the position of Yahweh i.e. all powerful. Anybody who was not a western elite was in the position of Job, although it wasn’t until corona that this fact became clear to the rest of us. It’s plainly obvious now that western elites simply couldn’t care less about representing the interests of their constituents.

It’s quite ironic that Neo-conservatism was actually inspired by postmodernism

What they do care about is a source of much speculation. Some think they are trying to usher in a new world order or a great reset. A couple of posts ago, I posited that they were possessed by their own Magic. I still think that’s true. But maybe that is just a symptom. If so, what is the disease?

I see no meaningful difference between Karl Rove’s idea that we “create our own reality” and the notion that became popular in early 2020 that we could eliminate a respiratory virus. These are examples of megalomania pure and simple. And the results of that megalomania have been identical: total failure. The difference now is that while the damage caused by the neocons was mostly suffered by people somewhere else, the damage caused by corona and the Ukraine War is being felt right here at home. Our megalomania is now actively causing damage to ourselves. I say our megalomania because, although it’s clear that western elites suffer the worst from this malady, they also enjoy much support in the general culture.

What does all this mean? It seems almost certain now that western hegemony is finished and there is going to be an extended period dealing with the consequences of the last several decades of megalomaniacal madness. Of course, this is going to have material ramifications. But it will also have psychological and, dare I say it, spiritual consequences. In our materialist culture, we don’t take psychology or spirituality seriously. These are personal issues to be worked through with your shrink or priest. But what seems up for grabs now is not just some psychological symptom but an entire worldview. What comes after megalomania?

Perhaps Jung gave us the answer. The individuation process we may be about to undergo could be similar to the one described in Answer to Job. Of course, this time it won’t be God who is individuating but human beings. As Jung pointed out, humans tend to do anything to avoid psychological introspection and suffering. One of the most common ways to avoid introspection is to find something to blame outside ourselves. That is where Spengler re-enters the picture.

Viewed from this perspective, Caesarism and a Second Religiosity would both be examples of finding blame elsewhere. Caesarism implies a reversion to nationalism which would externalise personal pride onto the nation and then assign blame to other nations i.e. Putin or China or whoever. A Second Religiosity would externalise onto God. We might then expect to hear how all the bad things happening are punishment for our sins. Both of these would fulfil the psychological need to process the failures of the last few decades by blaming external factors.

What if that does not happen? What if we either can’t or won’t find anybody else to blame? This would make sense. Yahweh had nobody else to blame. He was an all-powerful God. The megalomania of our culture puts us in a similar position, at least psychologically. If we are all-powerful, if we create our own reality, then how can Putin or China be the cause of our problems? Like Yahweh, we must be the cause. Is it possible that it’s precisely the megalomania of the West that opens up the possibility for individuation to occur?

In some respects, corona represents an ideal possibility for that to happen. I’ve been fascinated to see that in just the last few weeks the powers that be have begun to float the idea that lockdowns were a mistake and maybe, just maybe, the vaccines were too. For reasons that I don’t really understand, perhaps raw political survival instinct, the politicians seem to be getting ready to throw the “experts” under the bus. Leaving aside why and how this might happen, what would it mean if it does?

The lockdowns and the vaccine had majority public approval. Many people were vociferously in favour of both and not just in an abstract, idealistic sense but in a real, emotional sense. A sizeable portion of the public really thought we were going to stop a respiratory virus. This wouldn’t be the usual business of somebody supporting a political party and then the party not delivering. This would be a real, tangible error made by individuals.

The fact is that the lockdowns and vaccine mandates were not enforceable by the authorities for logistical reasons. If enough people had refused to comply, they would never have happened. Therefore, they only happened because people assented to them. Nobody was forced at gunpoint to take the vaccine. Yes, there were consequences like potentially losing a job but history shows us that people have made far greater sacrifices than that when they truly believe in something. Thus, it was an individual decision to take the vaccine or acquiesce to the lockdowns.

It is these individual decisions and the individual psychological processes that led to them which may be, just maybe, about to get called into question in the West both because the political winds are starting to blow that way and also because the ramifications of the last several decades of dumb decisions are coming home to roost on a daily basis now. As an isolated incident, this might have been be able to be brushed off. But can it be brushed off when inflation is running rampant, the economy is tanking, the lights won’t turn on and the supermarket shelves are half empty? The West could and should have gone down the slow collapse route and all this would have taken place over decades or even centuries. Instead, we have brought it on ourselves in a condensed fashion where it cannot be ignored.

Spengler predicts people will deal with the cognitive dissonance by looking for external things to blame but there is good reason to think that we may not be able to find anybody to blame but ourselves. What Jung implies in Answer to Job is that this might be the time of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit is in everyone, this amount to a personal individuation process. Of course, this is a Christian interpretation that most people in the West would not take seriously anymore but it also seems to fit the psychological context.

Furthermore, just as the transition from the Old Testament to the New marked the emergence of the Mental Consciousness and the decline of the Mythical, this development may also signal the emergence of the Integral Consciousness. Even geopolitical developments point in that direction. If we do indeed see the end of Western hegemony and the emergence of a multi-polar world order, that is broadly in line with the Integral. And if that happens, it will have been the West which gave rise to it. Not the conscious mind of the West, but the unconscious mind.

Just as it was Yahweh’s unconscious which gave rise to Christianity, so it could be the western unconscious which gives rise to the Integral. Thus, the decisions of the last few decades, which look to the conscious mind (the Mental Consciousness) as rank stupidity, may be symbolic of something coming from the unconscious. It is precisely because of the bias of the Mental Consciousness against the unconscious that we are apt to see this in negative terms. The unconscious was for centuries associated with Satan by the Church.

It seems to me that one of the central points of the Integral Consciousness is to transcend this bias against the unconscious and perhaps even to transcend the whole conscious-unconscious dichotomy. Megalomania can be seen as the complete identification with the Ego-conscious mind. The belief that nothing else matters; that we create our own reality.

What if the unconscious is simply what is not currently elevated to focus. In that case, what is currently elevated to focus has no necessary superiority. It is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but simply one perspective among many. The imperative then becomes to ensure that other perspectives are integrated too. To understand that is to overcome megalomania and also to begin to see the Integral.

The deficient Mental Consciousness

In the last couple of posts I’ve talked a lot about the rise of the Magical and its contribution to the craziness afflicting the modern West. The nudge units, spin doctors, psy-ops and other shenanigans all fit into the category of applied Magic, as does the modern propaganda machine consisting of what’s left of the mainstream media plus the various attempts to influence public opinion through the manipulation of social media.

After writing last week’s post, it became clear to me that I needed a separate post to address what I think is the other primary contributor to the modern madness which we can call the deficient Mental Consciousness. The Mental Consciousness arose with the emergence of logic and dialectic in Ancient Greece, Christianity and especially the activities of the Church in Europe, the scientific method and the patriarchy. It is this Consciousness which is breaking down right before our eyes and thus it’s no coincidence that science, logic, law and gender issues are at the forefront of that breakdown.

I gave a general overview of the Mental in a recent post. But in this post I want to focus in more detail on just two just two aspects of the Mental which I think are representative of the current problems. At the risk of traumatising people with memories of high school maths class, we’re going to start with the calculus.

Recall that calculus is all about little bits; increments of different degrees of smallness. The way my high school maths teacher explained it was by reference to the “minute”. The word minute comes from Latin minutus which means “small”. Minuta had already been in use in geometry to describe small degrees of a circle. It then got applied to time with the appearance of the now familiar circular clock face. The word “second” was originally secunda minuta which means the second order of smallness. Since then, we’ve added milliseconds which is derived from the Latin mille meaning “thousand”. The point is that these are all different degrees of smallness.

To return to beginner’s calculus, we start with the simple equation:

y = x2

Then we add the differential:

y + dy = (x +dx)2

When we expand this, we get :

y + dy = x2 + 2x * dx + (dx)2

At this point the teacher informs us that we don’t need to worry about that (dx)2 on the end because it is a second order smallness. It’s too small to matter. So, we can just cross it out. The same goes for equations like y = x5 where we get to leave out the second and third order differential. So, we solve some equations leaving out the smaller derivatives and eventually the teacher shows us that we can apply a short cut for solving such equations, which is nx(n-1).

Now, as a high school maths students who’s already sick of solving equations, this is music to your ears. You eagerly embrace the short cut, whizz through your homework and go and play computer games or upload a video of yourself dancing to TikTok. But that shortcut is based on having excluded the higher order parts of the equation. Strictly speaking, all of the answers given by the shortcut are a little bit wrong. But your maths textbook doesn’t reflect that and your final grade for the subject doesn’t require you to know it. No doubt most students forget it instantly. But it always bugged me. When, some years later, I read Gerald Weinberg’s Introduction to General Systems Thinking, I realised that this trick of leaving things out was more fundamental than I had realised.

Excluding things that were too small to matter was how Newton arrived at his law of universal gravitation: F = G(Mm/r2). Firstly, Newton deliberately ignored all the other celestial bodies in the solar system and focused on just the seven planets. Next, he assumed that because the sun is so huge relative to the planets only the pairwise relation between each planet and the sun was relevant. This allowed him to rule out all other combinations and reduce the number of calculations required. In essence, he did the same thing that we see in the calculus, he simplified things down by excluding elements that were assumed to be too small to matter. Just like in calculus, the simplifications free up our time and cognitive resources to solve more difficult problems. It’s only in this way that we are able to calculate anything because when there are too many variables the number of calculations grows astronomically (see the Three Body Problem as an example of that).

This use of simplifications is the secret to what is now known as classical mechanics. Recently, I randomly stumbled across a thread on an online physics forum. Somebody posted a question in relation to a university level physics problem which went something like this: “Are we supposed to leave out this part of the equation?” There followed a long conversation where people tried to remember why that part was left out but ultimately nobody could remember the reason. The resolution of the thread was that it should be left out but nobody could remember why. So, we see that this business is simplifying and excluding things that don’t matter is still a core part of the way physics is done.

Simplifying things is not a problem but it becomes a problem when we forget that we have simplified. Newton and others at that time knew the simplifying assumptions he had made. But sometime between then and now this knowledge seems to have been lost and science became reified into the quasi-religion that we see nowadays. Models which are descriptions of the behaviour of objects have come to be seen as if they are the word of God himself; as if they are reality itself. But the map is not the territory.

One way to think about the territory is that it is the testing part of the process. There are simplifying assumptions built into the theoretical models. Then there is the testing of those models and this introduces further difficulties. Newton worked out his theory of gravitation in relation to the massive bodies of the planets of the solar system. Down here on Earth, the force of gravitation is much weaker and this makes testing a problem because the equipment we have lacks sensitivity. This means that the empirical evidence is not conclusive that the law of universal gravitation holds for objects smaller than a human body. There’s no evidence that it doesn’t. But we just don’t know.

And this is the key point to be made. We need to know the simplifying assumptions we have made in the theory and we need to know what level of accuracy we have achieved in the testing. In other words, we need to appreciate that there is uncertainty. This is true even of something as fundamental as the law of universal gravitation (which isn’t really “universal” anymore since we know it doesn’t hold for black holes, to take one example).

Here we see the first element of the deficient Mental Consciousness. It’s the hubris of supposing that physics held the keys to the universe and that we would soon be able to calculate everything. The second element is related to the first and came to be known as physics envy. We took the methods of classical mechanics and began using them in other scientific domains including the life sciences. This led to an attempt to measure anything and everything, including things which could not and should not be measured. But the more damaging problem was related to the simplification trick.

In maths class, nobody’s life depends on us ignoring the second order differential. And in physics class, the other celestial bodies in the solar system are not going to get upset if we don’t include them in the law of universal gravitation. But if we are testing a new medication, let’s say a brand new type of vaccine, simplifying assumptions become a matter of life and death. If I told you the “safety calculation” was that the vaccine was 99.999% safe, that seems pretty good. A 0.001% fatality rate sounds pretty small. Is it “too small to matter”? Well, if we are going to give the medication just to people are who are on death’s door, it probably is too small to matter. But if we are going to give it to “everybody on Earth” including healthy people, then even a fatality rate of 0.001% mean tens of thousands of people will die. Who gets to decide that this is “too small to matter”? Who gets to the decide that any other injuries caused by the vaccine are too small to matter? Context matters and simplifying assumptions become questions of politics and morality.

The deficient Mental Consciousness counts things which don’t count and ignores things which do. It reached its peak in late 19th and early 20th century materialism but lives on in the idea that the calculating power of computers will enable us to reach into domains previously inaccessible. When that didn’t work as planned, we heard it would be quantum computers that would solve the problem. More computing power is all we need. Or smarter computing power. Somebody fetch me the AI. 

This is a familiar pattern in science. A new theory comes on the scene, addresses some well entrenched problems that weren’t previously able to be solved and opens up new horizons. There’s a period of excitement and “progress”. Then the theory is pushed into new areas where it doesn’t work so well. It starts to accumulate “debt” and the beautiful simplicity of the original formulation gets lost as explanatory additions are tacked on to try and explain the parts of reality that just don’t seem to work. Eventually a new theory comes along and the process starts over.

“Remind us again how the Earth revolves around the sun.”

Sometimes this process happens within a single discipline. Sometimes, it happens to an entire worldview. The mechanical theory of the universe that constitutes classical physics was, at the time, a revolutionary change of worldview. We know that because the Church fought hard against it for centuries.

One of the things it entailed was a new understanding of Earth vis a vis the heavens. When Newton compared the moon to an apple, he was implying that the same laws applied to both. But for millennia the heavens had been seen as more perfect than the Earth. This idea has strong religious and cosmological roots (e.g. The Fall) and also had a basis in theory as the movement of planets was seen to be more geometrically ideal than movement on Earth. The revolution Newton, Galileo and others brought was that the movement of the heavenly bodies and the movement of objects on Earth were subject to the same laws. The heavens were, at least in this respect, not more perfect than Earth, just different (frictionless).

These days we have divorced science from theology, cosmology and philosophy (another aspect of deficient Mental Consciousness). Thus nobody cares about these kinds of issue any more and they don’t get taught about them in school. As a result, few people can recognise that the Newtonian revolution looks incredibly similar to a pattern implied by the emergence of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. That is, there are technical and mathematical advances but those advances imply an entirely new world view. The change of worldview implied by relativity and quantum mechanics could be as revolutionary as the change that happened around the time of Newton. But this time it is not the Church that is working to prevent the emergence of the new worldview but the scientific establishment itself which is married to the materialist view of the universe. History has a sense of irony.

We can summarise the arrival of the deficient Mental Consciousness as follows.

Firstly, the success of classical mechanics went to people’s heads. We forgot about the simplifying assumptions and came to believe that physics was reality and not just a more or less approximate description of reality. Through the phenomenon of physics envy, the model of physics was used in other sciences where it did not belong. Applying simplifying assumptions to inanimate objects isn’t going to cause any problems. When you apply simplifying assumptions to domains involving living beings, especially human beings, you are treading into very dangerous territory not just from a technical but also from a moral point of view. It is no coincidence that early medical experiments and procedures were carried out on marginalised people i.e. those who were deemed “not to matter” (in the same way that people injured by or who refused to take the corona vaccine have been made to feel that they don’t matter).

Of more technical importance is the fact that, once the low hanging fruit of the mechanistic model had been picked, what was left were the domains where simplification could not occur and therefore the number of variables could not be brought down to a level where computation was possible. This is most notable in the living sciences: biology, medicine, psychology, ecology. These are the medium number systems talked about by systems theory. Models which attempt to simplify these domains don’t give us reproducible results; hence the reproducibility crisis in modern science.

Medium number systems display organised complexity

On top of these problems there is the fact that science is now a career-path and most of the people who call themselves scientists earn their living from the system. It is said that science progresses one funeral at a time and this points to the fact that human beings really don’t like changing their mind, especially about deep elements of their worldview. But when you earn a living from the scientific establishment, you are even less likely to change your mind as this will likely hurt your career prospects, especially when the money that is paying your salary comes from sources that have a vested interest in certain outcomes.

Money, prestige and power now infest science. As we saw in the last two years, the number of scientists and “experts” willing to challenge the system that pays their salaries is small. Such dissenters were “too small to matter”. They were easily character assassinated by the propaganda machine, kicked off social media and relegated to the sidelines.

It all starts to look a hell of a lot like history repeating and the last two years have a lot in common with the psychology of The Inquisition. It is the view of Gebser and others that quantum mechanics and relativity are part of a larger change of worldview known as the Integral Consciousness. It is this which is trying to emerge but because it is such a threat to the existing worldview it is being fought tooth and nail. If this comparison is true, the change awaiting us could be as fundamental as the Earth no longer being the centre of the universe.

Viewed this way, it looks as if there is a quite specific dynamic in modern society that has developed as a way to prevent the Integral Consciousness (or something like it) from manifesting. On the one hand, we have postmodernism. There are some good ideas in postmodernism that fit with the broader concept of the Integral Consciousness but these are buried beneath a set of theories whose only reason for existing seems to be to sow division among the public (always a useful tool for politicians looking to divide and conquer).

Because postmodernism arose out of the arts disciplines, it is by definition relegated to second-class status in the general culture where only the rigor of “real science” matters. The arts are no longer thought of as a vehicle for new ideas (a notion which is not surprising given the current state of the “high art” in the West). The result is that postmodernism, and the grains of truth about the Integral that it contains, is easily written off.

Meanwhile, the idea of science based on the principles of classical mechanics as eternal and infallible truth about reality continues to hold sway in the general culture. This idea is, of course, promoted by all the practitioners of science who wish to partake of the prestige and power that comes with it and all the business interests who earn money from the system promote the idea through their propaganda efforts while beating into submission anybody who dares challenge the dogma. It’s not hard to see that such a system serves financial and political interests. But what is less obvious is that it also serves to uphold the worldview of western culture. That worldview is the deficient Mental Consciousness. It had metastasised so much that when it was challenged in early 2020 it had to respond with all the hubris and cluelessness that we have seen in the last two years.

The general culture no longer understands how science (classical mechanics) worked, has reified science into a religion, and is willfully blind to the fact that science no longer produces the goods. With corona, all of these elements came to the fore in the most spectacular fashion and the result has been a dismal, comprehensive failure of nearly all the institutions of society at the same time. All done in the name of “science”. Although many people are still in denial, you couldn’t hope for a more comprehensive defeat of the worldview of modern Western culture. For that reason, I think that corona represents a major turning point. In the next post, I’ll finally get round to explaining what I think that is.

Drowning in Magic

In last week’s post, I presented an interpretation of Freudian psychology as the re-discovery of the Magical Consciousness in the West. Freud said all societies are based on the repression of instincts and drives. But if those instincts and drives represent primal energy, when that energy is channeled into the structures of society it becomes Magic because Magic is, by definition, the channeling of energy. When society channels Magic energy, it is called exoteric. When the individual channels energy, it is called esoteric.

Although I hadn’t realised it at the time, this interpretation also fits with developments in modern physics eg. mass and energy are different manifestations of the same thing. Materialism and Magic are then also different manifestations of the same thing. In any case, we are here using the Magic (energy) lens rather than the materialist one which is still the default option in the modern West.

Dude, it’s totally magic

For most of human history, the Magical energy available to any society was limited by the lack of “connectivity”. One way to view the Church in Europe (and prior to that in the Roman empire), was as a network which spanned across geographical and political boundaries and channelled Magic energy. That would explain why the Church used that network to actively suppress folk magic. It didn’t want the competition. The Church’s Magical power was allied with political power up until the 19th century. Some materialist cynics might say the Church was the propaganda arm of the State. To paraphrase Napoleon, religion was the only thing stopping the public from defenestrating the 1%.  

A Labour Day parade

The 19th century was the turning point when the Magical power of the Church began to wane and the State gained ascendancy. It’s not a coincidence that this was the time when the labour movement began. As the Church yielded it’s power over the public, other actors stepped in to fill the void. We can explain all this in materialist political terms in the way Marx did. But this neglects the extent to which modern politics is based on Magical power. The ability to form groups and channel energy into votes is what drives a democracy. The practical aspects of doing so require Magic. That’s why the Communist Manifesto was needed alongside historical materialism.

So, we end up at the start of the 20th century with two Magico-political power bases in Labour and Capital. This dynamic began to dissolve after WW2. Partly this was because labour had won a number of concessions from capital that eased the pressure (energy) in the political sphere. But there were a couple of other important trends.

One was the advent of consumerism and this is where we see the applied Magic of modern marketing via Edward Bernays as discussed in the last post. The workers were no longer to be beaten into submission on the waterfronts and picket lines. Rather, they would be turned into consumers via the Magic of modern advertising. All this was paid for by Capital who were the ones selling the products and so stood to benefit from the arrangement. In the process, however, marketing turned from an appeal to reason to an appeal to unreason i.e. Magic. The success of the new system meant that increasing amounts of Magic were practiced in the guise of a “free market economy”.

The consumer economy and its associated marketing Magic further reduced the Magical energetic base of the labour movement. The appearance of Blair, Clinton and Keating as leaders of the labour parties in the 90s was actually the official symbol that it was all over. Those supposedly labour leaders promptly implemented the neoliberal economic agenda. It took about 20 years, a very short time in historical terms, for the blowback to manifest as Trump and Brexit. But by then it was too late.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was also the era of “spin” in politics. Not that politics had been a bastion of moral purity before that, but that there was a noticeable, shall we say, loosening of moral restrictions at this time. But spin is just the use of the same applied Magic that had already been shown to work in the consumer economy in the realm of politics. Some have called this the “post-truth” era of politics. But in our terminology, it’s the Magical era. Combined with the already high levels of Magic practiced in the market economy, this extra dose of Magic into the public discourse seems to have come mostly at the expense of rational discussion. Then came the next development really changed the equation: the internet.

In some ways, the internet follows the other development in the post war era that we can analyse using the Magical lens; namely, the rise of pop culture; aka sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. This was a bottom-up, grassroots Magical movement that allowed four working class lads from Liverpool to become the Beatles and a talented but disorganised dropout from America to become Jimi Hendrix. Although not many people would have thought about it this way, the movement was predicated on the same kind of esoteric spirituality that had become popular in the 19th century. It was a kind of personal magic. As Frank Zappa noted, the record company capitalists had no idea what was going on but they were happy to let it happen as it earned them small fortunes. They owned the infrastructure. The energy, the Magic, came from the people on the scene. This same pattern would later be reproduced on the internet especially in rise of social media.

Grunge was the last gasp of rock’n’roll

Rock’n’roll died shortly after the internet arrived and not just because people now pay more attention to uploading selfies of themselves at a gig than they do to the music. There’s an obvious economic reason which is that the internet destroyed the monopoly of the recording labels on the distribution of music. Without that control on supply, the market was flooded, the price went down and a classic race-to-the-bottom quickly ensued.

From a Magical point of view, what happened was the dissipation of energy. The old record label system channeled the energy coming up from the grassroots music scene. When that system fell apart, the energy was dispersed and the power disappeared. The same thing happened to any other domain that was predicated on the exchange of information. The one that has had perhaps the most profound effect on the public discourse was the disappearance of the news media as the (genuine) fourth estate. Again, this was due to a collapsing business model caused by the loss of monopoly on supply but, in magical terms, we think of it as a dispersal of energy.

Beginning in earnest in the early 90s, the bottom-up movement that had manifested as post war pop culture was channelled into the internet. Steve Jobs is the best representative of that development because the early internet and computer practitioners were tied up quite closely with other esoteric, bottom up movements that were taking place. Jobs was hanging around with the hippies in northern California talking about systems thinking and open source software.

He went on to develop the iPhone and become a squillionaire. Did he sell out? Did he open the door to a tidal wave of narcissism? Maybe. But is Jobs really to blame? You can do all kinds of things with your iPhone. You can use it to watch porn or post videos of yourself dancing half naked on TikTok, or you can use it to dictate the next War and Peace. The fact that most people use it for the former and not the latter is not really Jobs’ fault. One thing the internet and iPhone did achieve was to network together billions of people around the world and that has had massive Magical ramifications.

With the Magical collapse of labour that became official in the early 90s, the political situation in all western countries was that there was no longer a single difference between the two major parties. Most countries became essentially one party states. Meanwhile, the public was no longer divided but had become a single mass of consumers. The Magical techniques that had worked so well in selling products now became ubiquitous in the political sphere. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, what all this amounted to was an enormous amount of power (Magical energy) suddenly concentrated in the hands of the western “elites”. To say that the power went to their heads is an understatement.

A key point to bear in mind is that the elites have been practising a form of Magic that had been accidentally discovered through Freudian psychology. But they don’t call it Magic. They call is marketing or public relations or spin or nudge units or whatever. The typical conspiracy theorist explanation is that they are all psychopaths who are using manipulative tactics to confuse and deceive the public. No doubt some of them are psychopaths. But if we think about this in Magical terms and we assume none of them know what they are doing when it comes to Magic, then another possibility opens up: they are possessed by their own Magic.

The robotic hypnosis of a Justin Trudeau with his ever-perfect, so serious, speech intonation or a Jacinda Ardern with her automatic “smile” or here in Victoria with our very own political terminator, Dictator Dan Andrews, betray all the hallmarks of Magical possession. Modern politics has become based almost entirely on Magic to the exclusion of reason and logic. Why else would politicians continually back projects that have no chance of working (like stopping a respiratory virus with an experimental vaccine). This would make them not just psychopaths, but imbeciles too.

[Edit: since writing this I’ve realised I need to distinguish between two definitions of “psychopath”. The one I used in the above paragraph is the standard definition in our culture: the calculating but morally reprehensible person who feels no empathy. The second definition is the one I am implying in this article in general: a person overtaken by magic and therefore not operating either at the level of soul (psyche+pathology) or reason (Mental Consciousness). I probably should have called this post “Redefining Psychopathy” as that would fit with the redefinition of psychology].

Politics is now nothing more than a power game and Magic is power. But when you practice politics as nothing more than a power game, when you are willing to say anything, absolutely anything, to hold onto power, you must give up any last vestige of the Mental Consciousness, which is to say any last grasp you might have on reason, logic and law. That seems to me to be a pretty good description of where the leaders of most western nations are right now.

Thus, we have one form of Magic which is the top-down Magic of the elites channelled mostly through the mainstream media which is now owned by the state, the corporations and the billionaires, the only entities in society who still pay for its services. The other primary form of Magic rests with the public via the internet. This is the personal, esoteric Magic that began in earnest with post war pop culture. The way in which this energy is channelled is the same as the old recording industry model. The capitalists own just the infrastructure i.e. the social media platforms, the search engines and the server farms. The energy comes from the ground up. This energy is mostly dissipated in narcissism but the networking effects of the internet allow for new, uncoordinated, decentralised blow ups.

These blows up look a lot like the kind of positive feedback loops we saw in the boom-bust cycles of 19th century capitalism. From the point of view of Mental Consciousness, they look crazy and irrational and that’s because cause and effect goes out the window. Nobody could have predicted that The Beatles would become The Beatles or that James Marshall would become Jimi Hendrix or that Apple Computers would become the biggest company in the world. Similarly, nobody could have predicted that Trump would become President or that a supposedly new cold virus discovered in China would lead to the entire global economy being turned on its head.

None of these can be analysed logically, rationally and causally. But the Magical doesn’t care about logic and reason. It just cares about energy and how it is channeled. The internet is the new medium through which that channeling occurs. Trump could never have won without the internet and corona could never have occurred without the internet. It took network effects, the random conglomeration of individual energy into a giant snowball of energy channeled through the internet, for these things to happen.

In the Trump presidency, we saw the bottom-up magical forces of the internet defeat the top-down magical forces of the elites and this is why the elites proceeded to have a total freak out and be reduced to blubbering incoherency. Corona also had all the features of a bottom-up Magical event again driven through the internet where daily case counts and videos of people supposedly collapsing on the street in China or whatever else. It’s not hard to see that Trump’s opponents saw what could be done with the situation early on and started pouring petrol of the fire. The role of the Church once was, theoretically, to be the fire brigade to try and control such magical energetic outbursts. But there is nobody to do that nowadays.

Where will things go from here? Is the west going to devolve completely into the Magical Consciousness? Perhaps. The problem is that you can’t run an advanced industrial economy that way. You need at least a modicum of Mental Consciousness for that to work. But the advanced industrial economy underpins modern society, including the internet. If it goes away, so does the Magic. We’ll discuss that more in the next post.

The Magical, the Mythical and the Mental

A couple of posts ago, I did a brief summary of the Integral Consciousness which included some preliminary definitions of the Magical, the Mythical and the Mental. In this post, I want to expand on those definitions and sketch out how each plays an active role in modern life and society. We might tell ourselves that we don’t believe in Magic and Myth, but they are pervasive in our world. By denying their existence, all we do is relegate them to the unconscious from where they bubble up and manifest in negative form. Only by taking them seriously can we learn how to integrate them properly, the first step on the path to the Integral Consciousness.

The Magical

One of my favourite Bill Hicks comedy routines is the one where he talks about the use of sex in advertising. He describes the “ultimate television commercial” featuring nothing but a beautiful naked woman being associated with a brand name. It’s funny cos it’s true. The use of sex in advertising and marketing is so common these days that there’s probably few people left alive who remember a time when it was different. But the truth is that the gratuitous use of manipulative tactics has only become commonplace in advertising in the post war years.

One of my favourite random finds a number of years ago, which I’ve mentioned before on the blog, is the 1923 book by Claude C. Hopkins called “Scientific Advertising”. As the title suggests, Hopkins was doing empirical experiments in advertising, making him a practitioner of the Mental Consciousness. But it was not just the behind-the-scenes activities that were part of the Mental. Hopkins states in the book that the advertising executive’s job is to appeal to the consumer’s rational faculties. One of the main ways to do that is to provide factual information in the advertising itself. He explicitly says that a good advertising executive should verify the facts before presenting them to the consumer.

This made some business sense in the world of 1923 when the general public was, by modern standards, incredibly information poor. An advertiser who provided reliable information would have won trust and that would have turned into financial reward via repeat sales. That was how you got to the top of advertising back then. Hopkins assumes that the consumer is a rational agent and the advertiser’s job is to provide them with appropriate information for them to make a rational judgement.

Edward Bernays

If this sounds hard to believe to modern ears, it’s because sometime between 1923 when Hopkins wrote his book and the 80s and early 90s when Bill Hicks was doing his stand-up routines, advertising changed from being fact-based and appealing to the rational mind of the consumer to being manipulative and appealing to the irrational. How did that happen? If we were to sum up the answer in a single person it would be Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew who moved to the US and got into advertising.

The connection with Freud is no coincidence here because what Freud discovered, although he wouldn’t have thought it about in this way, was the Magical. To the extent that modern advertising is based on Freudian psychology, it is actually a form of applied Magic. When Bill Hicks called modern marketers “Satan’s little helpers”, it was this incorporation of the irrational via Magic that he was referring to. (In doing so, Hicks betrayed his Christian heritage because the Church had for millennia suppressed Magic by associating it with Satan).

One way to think about modern psychology is that it’s the Magical and the Mythical viewed through the lens of the Mental. It was the attempt, fashionable at the time Freud and Jung were working, to achieve the same level of clarity and certainty in relation to the psyche that physics had achieved in the material realm. That attempt was always doomed to fail because the Magical and Mythical are entirely different realms not amenable to the methodology of the hard sciences. We would do better, I think, to de-Mentalise them i.e. remove the veneer of science and call them by their real names: Magic and Mythic. Then we start to deal with them on their own terms.  

This doesn’t mean that Freud and Jung were wrong. On the contrary, in Civilisation and Its Discontents, Freud sketched out a theory of the development of civilisation using concepts that have become well-known in the culture, including the Oedipus Complex, Eros and Thanatos. Freud saw the repression of desire as being built-in to the structure of civilisation. But if we reframe this idea in terms of Magic, we might say that civilisation is built on the Magical. Here’s how that looks.

Man is an animal and like all animals has certain instinctual drives of which one of the most powerful is the sex drive. Let’s call all these drives and instincts by the generic term “energy”. As anybody who has lived on a farm or spent time around groups of animals knows, the physically largest animal is not necessarily the alpha of the pack. Often an even much smaller animal can be the top of the pecking order. If raw physical power is not the determinant of dominance, what is? The answer: energy. A smaller animal often has more “spirit” than a larger one and wins the top position that way. Even in the brute force world of the animal kingdom, “energy” (spirit) seems to trump “matter”.

In Freudian terms, it is this energy which society represses. But let’s take a more neutral approach and call it control. Society is predicated on the control of innate energy (drives and instincts). To take just one example, every society has marriage rites and sexual norms, these work to focus the sexual energy of the population in a way that ensures the stability of society. But focusing energy is practically the definition of Magic. Therefore, society is built on Magic. The marriage ceremony is one ceremony among many which takes energy and directs it to a certain purpose.

What Edward Bernays discovered was a way to manipulate energy for the purpose that his customers were paying him for; namely, to get consumers to buy products.  Sex was an obvious tactic because the channelling of the sex drive is foundational to society. Moreover, the Victorian era had an extreme form of control of sexual desire and so there was a whole lot of built up sexual energy waiting to get channelled somewhere. The baby boom was just one direction for it. In fact, it might not be an exaggeration to say that the whole of post war pop culture was predicated on the use of that energy. Elvis was decent singer and Marilyn Monroe a decent actress, but pretty sure their artistic skills were not the main drawcard.

The recent turn towards the darker energies of fear, dread and death (Thanatos) also makes sense from this perspective. As Hicks alluded to, the blatant use of sex in advertising and pop culture has been taken almost as far as it can go short of putting full-scale porn on billboards. Combined with a huge liberalisation of sexual norms, there’s simply no more sex energy in the tank. Thus, the advertisers, public relations people and politicians have turned to the darker Magical energies of fear, dread and terror to wield control. It’s almost certain they are not doing it “on purpose”. They just do whatever works and that’s what works at the moment.

In general, we can think of Magic as any activity, ceremony or structure that manipulates energy. Examples in modern life are the aforementioned advertising and marketing, music (especially loud and rhythmic music like rock’n’roll and electronic dance), sporting matches and any kind of group activity involving large numbers of people such as a Trump or Obama political rally, drug use including performance enhancing and recreational drugs, religious or quasi-religious ceremonies such as marriage etc.

A great deal of modern public discourse is also Magic. A good example is trolling, which has become all pervasive in recent years. The point of trolling is not to communicate and exchange ideas, it is to “get a reaction”. But that reaction is energy. Trolling achieves the involuntary release of energy on the part of the victim.

Again, Trump was the master of this. He trolled the entire US media establishment. That was Magic on a grand scale. His banning from social media platforms was an attempt to shut down the effectiveness of the Magic but it’s not hard to see that many are having Trump Withdrawal Symptoms now that the object of their hatred (energy) has been taken away. The FBI’s recent raid of Trump’s home is an example. Apparently, they just can’t help themselves (or they may be ensuring he does not get to wield his magic again in 2024).

Finally, we shouldn’t get the wrong impression here. Magic is not necessarily bad. In fact, it can be a great source of pleasure. To paraphrase Nietzsche, a world without Magic would be a mistake. Magic is the foundation of music, sex, romance and many other enjoyable activities. The point is to recognise it for what it is so that when Magic is being performed on you, even from somebody who doesn’t consciously know what they are doing, you are able to deal with it and perhaps even utilise it yourself.

The Mythical

If Freud re-discovered the Magical, it was Jung who re-discovered the Mythical. His Red Book is probably the ultimate document of modern man in search of his soul. If the Magical is primarily about energy, the Mythical is primarily about image. Jung’s experiments with active imagination are a prime example of this. The Red Book is full of encounters with biblical characters; the Mythical archetypes that resonated most strongly to a man raised in a religious Christian household in the late 19th century. Psychology’s interest in painting, dreams, psychedelic drug experiences and vision quests also fit this pattern of a focus on the image.

The Mythical is also about cycles and so any kind of attunement to nature belongs here too. Even in modern cities, which are otherwise removed from the cycles of nature, we nevertheless create the regular cycle of the working week while the seasons are marked by proxy through sport (football in winter, some form of bat and ball in summer).

The “grind” of the work week captures some of the pessimism which marks the Mythical Consciousness; the feeling of being trapped on a hamster wheel, stuck in a loop with no way out. Life and death are perhaps the ultimate cycle that defines the Mythical. In both the Old Testament and Homer we find a pessimistic (some might call it a heroically honest) attitude to death which differs from the Magical and the (Christian) Mental in presupposing that death is the end of the line. Even the greatest of heroes are humbled by it. Christianity was revolutionary partly because it offered a way to break out of the cycle.

The Mythical’s focus on imagery is primarily evident in modern society in the form of television and film. As an actor friend of mine once said: films are just dreams. Although the content of film and television might not have explicitly mythical content, ultimately they are images on screens. Poetry and literature fall into the same category given that both stimulate the imagination and facilitate visualisation. Standard narratives that are baked into the culture are part of the Mythical. Thus, The Plague Story belongs here as does the Devouring Mother as a Mythical archetype.

David Lynch is perhaps the ultimate exponent of movie as dream

Psychoanalysis, especially that which focuses on dream and imagery, belongs to the Mythical. Jung had his patients create their own mythology through visualisation, painting and writing. One of Jung’s dissident followers, James Hillman, realised the onanism inherent in such activities and attempted to get around it by removing the Ego from the picture and reconnecting with the collective elements of myth. Jung had already presupposed this to a certain extent but he took the idea of the archetypes in a different, and I think more fruitful, direction with his collaboration with Wolfgang Pauli. But that’s a subject for another post.

Pursuing the Mythical from the point of view of the modern Ego is a dangerous activity. Even Jung thought he was going crazy at times. The reason is because the Mythical, like the Magical, requires the suppression of the Ego but the average modern Westerner is so wound up in the Ego after two millennia of pursuing it with vigour that lapsing into an ego-less state constitutes a form of terror. That’s partly what a “bad acid trip” is all about. In our materialist society, much of mental illness gets attributed to physiological disorders and treated with medication. But the modern concept of mental illness grew out of the tradition which traced the underlying issue to Magic (through Freud) and Myth (through Jung). It’s no accident that mental illness correlates very strongly with drug use and social isolation.

Jung pursued his active imagination experiments in a closed room by himself. But he was a married man with a vibrant career and social life. From that foundation, he was able to experiment with a more pure form of the Mythical without going nuts. For younger people with a less developed Ego or people more socially isolated, such “experiments” are dangerous. It’s an outcome we are seeing more of these days with the so-called mental health epidemic. Isolated people stuck at home watching movies and television are over-indulging in the Mythic without knowing it. Throw some drugs into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Nevertheless, like the Magical, the Mythic is not inherently bad or good. It depends on how you use it.

The Mental

Although modern society was built on the Mental Consciousness, we see mainly its decadent aspects these days. The formative elements of the Mental – logic and dialectic, monotheistic religion and empirical science – no longer play a role in the everyday lives of the average Westerner. We still “believe” in science but science was never something to be believed in. That was the whole point. Science was about truth even if that truth happened to go against belief. Socrates was made to drink the hemlock because he broke with the beliefs of his society. That the single individual, whether as philosopher, scientist or prophet, could be right while the collective was wrong was one of the foundational concepts of the Mental and distinguished it from the Magical and Mythical.

In the Mythical, words are abundant with a variety of meaning, a feature which natural language still holds to this day. One of the first requirements of the Mental Consciousness is to remove the ambiguity from words so that their meaning can be fixed and placed in clear and stable logical relations. If words can be replaced by mathematical symbols, all the better. This precision is the strength of the Mental. Whereas the Mythical is based on polarities of meaning that, from the modern point of view, go round in circles and never achieve anything (aka circular reasoning), the Mental Consciousness is directed. It leads somewhere. It gets to an endpoint. The spatial metaphors here are valid because vision is the primary mode of the Mental while for the Magical it is hearing and the Mythical is about imagination. One way to think about the Mental is that it seeks clarity

The law is another example of the Mental. Again, we are used to seeing it in its decadent modern form of legalese; an indecipherable maze of jargon designed to increase the social power of lawyers and bureaucrats. But once upon a time the law brought clarity to the jungle of informal relations that constitutes normal human society. The law was also a way to restrict the power of the executive. We saw an example of a lapse into that old world during the last two-and-a-half years. The law was overridden as governments imposed arbitrary and often contradictory rules by diktat. Gone was any pretense of reason and logic and the idea of explaining things rationally. This was replaced by gaslighting, appeals to emotion and brute force, all indicative of the Magical.

Apparently it was safe for Djokovic to play last year but not this year

Tennis player, Novak Djokovic, has found himself on the losing end of this dynamic twice in the last year. He was famously kicked out of Australia on the purely arbitrary decision of the then Immigration Minister after having won his initial court case showing that he had followed the rules while the government had not. This month he will miss the US Open despite the fact that he was allowed to play the exact same tournament this time last year.

That this should be affecting sport is fitting because sport is another manifestation of the Mental Consciousness. It’s all about rules. If the rules changed in the middle of the game because the referee suddenly decided he didn’t like them, sport would become exactly the kind of farce that public health pronouncements have been recently.

All of these developments are indicative of the weakening of the Mental Consciousness in western societies. That weakening can also be seen in the sorry state of modern science and philosophy. The ability to logically reason through an issue was the highpoint of the first iteration of the Mental seen in Ancient Greece and then later on in the scholastic era in Europe. It was then followed by the discovery of the scientific method where logically reasoned hypotheses were empirically tested. It was this combination of logic, maths and empirical investigation which has quite literally created the modern world.

Tycho Brahe’s empirical investigations of the heavenly bodies were later invaluable to Kepler who did the hard maths; a combination of logic and empiricism

These two developments were the crowning glory of the Mental. With corona, both were relegated to the sidelines. We had people who claimed to be scientists insisting that testing was not required while pursuing arguments that were clearly illogical at first and then empirically wrong as things unfolded. Science was replaced by dogma. Phrases like “100% safe and effect”, “trust the experts”, “listen to the science” have nothing whatsoever to do with the Mental Consciousness. They belong to the Magical. They are mantras whose purpose is to focus the will. The Mental does not care about the will. A scientist might wish for an outcome as much as they like but logic, reason and evidence are the arbiters. This does not mean the will has no role. In takes willpower to get up every day and go to the lab. But, unlike Magic, will is not the determining factor for the Mental Consciousness.

Interestingly, there is one way in which the Magical and the Mental feel similar and that is the question of focus. To do Magic properly and to engage in extended empirical testing requires focus. But the focus of the Magical is to empty to the mind, at least to empty it of everything except the single point of focus. The Magical retains the single point of focus until it is no longer required. Meanwhile, the Mental is exploratory. It moves. It gets from point A to point B. Is it a coincidence that the modern West invented railways? I don’t think so. I think it was the external manifestation of the Mental Consciousness which must always be going somewhere. Moving. Progressing. Again, we see this in decadent form in the modern West where pie-in-the-sky, hail Mary projects are launched time and again at enormous expense. This is the Mental Consciousness’s desire for movement at any cost.

The focus of the Mental is its strength and also its weakness. It leads somewhere but that somewhere now takes the form of hyper-specialisation where experts know more and more about less and less. They end up down the rabbit hole of some sub-sub-sub-discipline unable to connect their work back to a larger, more holistic meaning. This kind of solipsism has always been a risk of the Ego-driven Mental Consciousness. If the Magical and Mythical are about an egoless state which is inherently connected to the “world”, the Ego of the Mental can all too easily wander off into the forest of abstractions and end up isolated and alone with no way back. In this way, the phrase mental illness has an interesting double meaning.


Although for clarity’s sake I have analysed them separately here, in everyday life, the Magical, the Mythical and the Mental are all mixed up to a certain extent. Even the most disciplined team of scientists are still human beings with emotions and dreams. The trick is to ensure that the emotions are not driving results that must be predicated on logic and evidence and, conversely, that logic is not suppressing emotions and dreams that are valid and need an outlet.

What is required is Integration. That’s what Jung was getting at with the concept of Individuation but the problem with that concept is in the word individual because, as Jung himself knew, the focus on the individual is itself a problem of the Mental Consciousness. We need to get over the Ego without abandoning it altogether. Otherwise, we slip back into irrationality. There must be an integration between the Ego and the collective and also back into time. That’s what the Integral Consciousness aims for. More on that in a future post.

Education and Elitism

I deleted my twitter account a few years ago but every now and again I’ll end up on twitter by following a link I find somewhere on my internet travels. People who have visited twitter know that it has a “What’s happening” section on the right hand side which is mostly filled with paid propaganda. You know the kind of thing – “Hollywood celebrities reveal why eating bugs is super cool”; “10 reasons why using air-conditioning is worse than kicking puppies”. But the section also includes trending words and phrases and so it was another “coincidence” last weekend when I happened to be on twitter and noticed that the phrase “Patrick White” was trending after I’d just finished writing a couple of long blog posts about him. I decided to click and see what people were saying.

It turned out that some celebrity with lots of followers had asked for recommendations to Australian literature and numerous people had responded by telling her to check out Patrick White. What was particularly interesting, though, was that the recommendations were almost universally something like this: “I don’t understand/like Patrick White. But he won a Nobel Prize, so he must be good.”

This is yet another example of an Appeal to Authority. Rather than recommend an Australian author that they actually like, people felt it more appropriate to recommend one they didn’t like but who had been formally recognised by the authorities. This was a dynamic White was well aware of and apparently he had strongly considered rejecting the Nobel Prize for the exact reason that he didn’t want to become one of those writers that people read just because he was officially certified. No doubt he is turning in his grave as we speak.

In any case, the responses on twitter didn’t surprise me because I had noticed the same problem in reading some of the longer reviews of White. Most people don’t understand his books and if you don’t understand what he is doing you can’t appreciate it. White was doing things in his books that hadn’t been done before. Unless you know what those things are, you can’t parse the book and grasp the bigger picture.

That is what I was getting at in my recent post about White’s book, Voss. I barely even scratched the surface of interpreting the themes in the novel itself. Rather, I was trying to provide a high level understanding of how to parse the book. This requires some knowledge of the theory of stories as well as a knowledge of some classic literature and, arguably, some Jungian theory too. Without these, it’s not possible to understand White in the same way that you can’t just start learning calculus one day unless you have a solid foundation in geometry, trigonometry and algebra.

The reference to maths here is directly relevant to another important development in modern thought which is Quantum Mechanics. My maths is nowhere near good enough to validate this claim, but I’ve heard it said that the mathematics of Quantum Mechanics is quite simple and elegant once you get your head around it. Thus, even though the concepts of Quantum Mechanics violate our common sense understanding of the world, the maths is quite straightforward. I think the same is true of White. It took me a long time to unpack Voss, but once I did I could see the elegance of the underlying structure and, crucially, that the structure built on top of what was already there historically. White did not throw all the rules away, he added to them and extended them in the same way that Quantum Mechanics built on and extended the science of physics. These developments were not the arbitrary whimsies of people with too much time on their hands. They were responses to the larger historical and social context.

Of course, both White and Quantum Mechanics are not understood in the general culture and this is where Gebser and systems thinking come into the picture because they both believed that what was really going on was that we had reached the end of the road with the old ways of thinking and it was time to move to a new paradigm. That new paradigm is not a break with the past but a response to it. The 20th century showed exactly what happens when you try and break with the past and declare a Year 0 (I suppose the French Revolution had already foreshadowed this lesson). Spoiler alert: everything goes to hell. We don’t need to reject the old thinking. On the contrary, it’s only through an understanding of that old thinking that you can follow the path into the new because the new came out of the old.

What we are talking about here is education. To understand White, you need a certain education that you bring to the task in the same way that you need an education in maths and science to grapple with Quantum Mechanics. If we assume, with Gebser, that both White and Quantum Mechanics represent a new form of consciousness, it follows that a new kind of education might be required to bring that about. What might that education look like? Before we try and answer that, let’s do a lightning history lesson on the modern education system.

Viewed in historical terms, our current system of education is both very new and also very unusual. In terms of years spent in education, we are the most educated society in history by a long way. No other large societies achieved universal education beyond elementary level.  Even as recent as the pre-war years, the majority of students in western countries did not finish high school and only a tiny minority would go on to higher education. Nowadays, a significant fraction of students in western countries will go on to university. That’s historically unprecedented.

The current system of education in western countries was based on the Prussian model introduced by Frederick the Great in the 18th century. Prussia achieved a version of universal education well ahead of other western nations. Even the United States sent envoys to Prussia in the 19th century to learn about the education system there in order to set up something similar in the US. Meanwhile, Britain and France did not achieve universal education until the 1880s.

Frederick the Great or, as his friends called him, Fantastic Freddy (No, they didn’t. But they should have).

No doubt there were many good intentions and high ideals in relation to the idea of universal education. But, as G K Chesterton pointed out, the two main drivers for universal education in most countries were the fact that child unemployment had become widespread due to increased productivity from industrialisation and automation. Children who were out of work would often turn to crime or get themselves into other kinds of trouble and so universal education became a way to get them off the street.

The second driver was the desire by the State to get the Church out of education. This was a long battle and was a big part of the reason why Britain and France were behind Germany. Germany would later have its own fight with the Catholic Church in what was called the Kulturkampf (yep, the culture wars are nothing new). Of course, the State eventually won the battle and the rest, as they say, is history.

In Hong Kong now, apparently students are having to sing the Chinese national anthem

Another big driver for the rollout of universal education was nationalism and we shouldn’t forget the role that universal education played in creating the conditions that led to the world wars. With the universalising influence of religion removed from the picture, states were free to push nationalist dogma in the schools. To take just one small example, it’s only in recent decades that the Australian national anthem is no longer sung at the start of the week in schools. That was a relic of the nationalist agenda tied up with universal education.

The Prussian system of education, in line with Prussian culture at the time, was by modern standards unbelievably rigid. Rote learning was the norm and strict discipline was maintained. Again, this is another element of modern education that has only very recently disappeared. The use of physical punishments such as the strap and the cane were all par for the course until recent decades. Teachers quite literally beat the education into you in the old system.

The Prussian system was partly inspired by the Chinese system that goes all the way back to Confucius. Europeans thinkers such as Voltaire had just started to learn about Chinese culture and history and the meritocratic system of education that had been instituted in China all those millennia ago appealed to the thinkers of the 18th century. That system was never designed for universal education. It’s purpose was to educate bureaucrats in the tasks required of them in the administration of the State. Exams were there to determine who got a job in the civil service. Since only a small fraction of the public could become bureaucrats, it made no sense to educate them as such but that’s what European countries accidentally ended up doing by rolling out universal education in the late 19th century. Is part of the reason why we have all these bureaucracies these days simply because we educated so many people in a system designed to produce bureaucrats?

Within Gebser’s model, this all fits into the Mental Consciousness. The bureaucracy is, in fact, the ideal organisational structure for that way of thinking. It makes everything explicit, concrete and rule-based. It’s no coincidence that a system partly designed by Confucius would work because, according to Gebser, he was the leading exponent of the Mental Consciousness in ancient China in the same way that Plato, Socrates and Aristotle were for the West. Thus, the modern education system also had its exponents among the intellectuals such as Fichte, Humboldt and Voltaire.

Let’s summarise.

The modern education system in the west is a very recent development by historical timeframes. It emerged via a conglomeration of social, economic and political factors. It was based on a style of education aimed at training bureaucrats for the boring, mundane work administering the state but got rolled out to everybody in western societies as universal education became the norm. This style of education fits into the Mental Consciousness as seen in the strict, rule-abiding discipline that was followed.

Here’s the problem from a Gebserian point of view. At exactly the same time we were rolling out a form of education based on Mental Consciousness, the Integral Consciousness was starting to appear. The modern education system was already out of date by the time it started. If this is true, it raises the question of what type of education is required for the Integral Consciousness. Here is one guess at an answer.

Let’s take Quantum Mechanics and Patrick White as our starting point and let’s assume, as I believe, that they are both paradigm examples of the Integral Consciousness. As we are trying to teach Integral Consciousness, we start there. The first thing to note is that an Integral understanding of both is only possible if you grasp the historical precedents that led to them. In the case of White’s Voss, the main historical precedents are Goethe’s Faust and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But in order to understand Faust, you must have read the Book of Job and in order to under Pride and Prejudice you probably need to know Romeo and Juliet as a bare minimum. You also need a basic technical understanding of literature and storytelling and modern psychology. Based on all this, we can surmise the following syllabus; the minimum set of requirements to parse what White was doing in Voss:

The Book of Job
Romeo and Juliet
Pride and Prejudice
The Hero’s Journey and 3 Act Story Structure
Basic Freudian and Jungian psychology

We could do a similar thing for Quantum Mechanics. I’m not in a position to write it, but I think it would look something like this:


Note that these syllabi also entail a history lesson as the locating of things in historical context is crucial to the Integral Consciousness. Thus, rather than just teach the Pythagoras theorem and how to use it, you have to understand what problems Pythagoras was trying to solve. Same with Newton. Same with Einstein. In doing so, you place Quantum Mechanics in its historical context and we give it meaning as the result of real people grappling with real issues.

This raises the question also for the student: what issues are you grappling with? Why are you learning Quantum Mechanics? Why are you reading Patrick White? Are you doing it just to get good grades which you think will lead to a well-paying job? Do you need it for some practical engineering problem? Are you trying impress your friends and family? Are you trying to figure out the meaning of life or the secrets of the universe? Are you just curious? All these and more are valid reasons and by making them explicit you also put yourself into historical perspective. Pythagoras, for example, would have thought it pathetic to learn something just to impress others. That was called sophistry back in the day. For the Pythagoreans, there was no vocational education, there was only spiritual education. Thus, to remove the Pythagoras theorem from its spiritual/historical context is to miss the most interesting bits.

All of this might sound impractical. But without this understanding, what happens is that people perceive writers like Patrick White as “breaking the rules”. Then everybody decides that the way to write modern literature is to break all the rules and churn out stream of consciousness vomiting the contents of their mind onto the page and calling it high art. Thus, what gets called modern literature explicitly rejects any form of structure. It throws away all the old rules and replaces them with, well, nothing.

That is not what Patrick White did. In many respects, he was a very disciplined writer who followed the rules to the letter. He didn’t throw away the rules, he built on top of them. That is an incredibly important distinction because everywhere in the modern world we see the old rules being abandoned. This is, in fact, exactly what our modern elites do all the time in all areas of life, not just the arts. That’s how we got the unprecedented idea of lockdowns and the equally impossible idea of a vaccine stopping a respiratory virus. There was never any evidence these would work; no foundation in history or science. They just got wished into existence while all the old rules of public health were thrown in the bin.

The mindset that encourages such things to happen is the mindset taught by modern education. It’s a mindset that explicitly rejects or problematises history. As a result, it has no clue that the new developments in the culture (Integral Consciousness) were built on the foundation of the old. That’s what our modern elites believe. They were educated to think that everything old is wrong. Accordingly, the “new” ideas they come up with are completely untethered to history, to culture, to common sense and to practical reality. Because those ideas don’t make any sense, the public doesn’t understand them. So, they are fed through the propaganda machine which turns them into the form we see in the public discourse; an endless stream of hysterical fear and dread whose sole purpose is to discombobulate the public into bewildered acquiescence.

In the face of the constant exposure to absurd ideas and feverish propaganda, the public is naturally tempted to fall back onto the safe old ideas which, even though they got us into this mess in the first place, are at least understandable. Thus, modern society swings back and forth between demented neophilia and reactionary populism. This is a system without a future. It’s falling apart before our very eyes.

So, even though Gebser talked in abstract terms of “consciousness” and “spirituality”, the Integral Consciousness has a very practical element and tying modern developments back to history is a crucial part of the picture. Only by understanding that past can we track where we might be headed. Gebser’s message was the same as Jung’s. Either we educate ourselves properly and face the future standing up, or we get dragged through the mud kicking and screaming. Currently, the west is choosing the latter option but it doesn’t need to be so.