One of the things I’ve always found amusing about our modern atheists is their penchant for trying to discredit the entire Bible by quoting something, inevitably one of the many laws written in Leviticus, that seems silliest to us today or jars against modern sensibilities. That morality and law has changed over thousands of years is not surprising. Trying to discredit the whole book on that basis is also just plain dumb because the Bible presents us with numerous universal themes that are just as relevant today as they were back then, even for secular readers. One of them is organisational form and that’s what I want to talk about in this post as we track the changes that occurred from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus and beyond.
The Bible marks one of the primary documents of the beginning of what Jean Gebser called the Mental Consciousness. One of the key elements of the Mental is the concept of law and we see this is two forms in the Old Testament; firstly, in the person of Moses as lawgiver and ruler and, secondly, in the lineage of his brother Aaron whose sons are initiated into the priesthood by Moses as described in the aforementioned Book of Leviticus.
In the establishment of the priesthood and the laws listed in Leviticus we see a development that occurred in many other civilisations around the same time, for example, the Law Book of Manu (Manusmriti) and the Arthashastra in India or the legalist tradition in China. The formulation of laws was no doubt a big step forward in the project of civilisation. But laws come with drawbacks and the weaknesses of the legal approach led to a subsequent revolt or critique not just among the Jewish people but also in India and China too.
The Old Testament story of Moses provides us with one of the clearest case studies of the problems with the legalist development especially when it revolves around a single ruler. Moses is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest lawgivers as can be seen in the simple fact that, about three millennia after his time, millions, if not billions, of people around the world could cite at least a couple of the ten commandments. Despite the memorability of the commandments, what we see in the Old Testament is the repeated failure on the part of the Israelites to follow the laws. Moses has but to turn his back for 5 minutes and the people will stray.
The most famous example is the story of the golden calf. Moses has led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the desert performing countless miracles along the way. You might think that he had earned the people’s trust, attention and fidelity. Nevertheless, when he goes up the mountain for a time, the people start to wonder “whatever happened to Moses. We haven’t seen him in a while.”
Seemingly through boredom, the people approach Aaron and demand that he help them to make some idols, a clear violation of the second commandment. Aaron is Moses’ brother and has been his right-hand-man through the whole journey out of Egypt. Aaron and his sons have been inducted by Moses into the priesthood. If anybody should know that this is a bad idea, it should be Aaron. And yet, apparently without giving it a second thought, he acquiesces and gets to work helping the people melt down the gold to make the golden calf.
Moses comes back down to see what is happening. He goes up to Aaron and, translating into modern English, says something like “bro, what the hell are you doing?” Aaron shrugs and says, “it’s not my fault, dude. It’s the people. They forced me into it.”
In fairness to Aaron, he was probably right. In this story and the larger story of Moses, we see the whole problem of the Lawgiver and Ruler. Even a genius like Moses, who has formulated the most memorable set of laws ever written, is trapped in a system which is reliant on his own leadership. The people might remember the laws, but they only follow them to the extent that they expect punishment. Moses provides that punishment multiple times throughout the Old Testament. But, when Moses is gone, the threat of the punishment goes with him and the people stray. We see the pattern repeated after the golden calf incident where Moses instructs the Levites to put the people to the sword and we are told that three thousand were killed as punishment for the transgression.
The tragedy of Moses is that he knows the problem with this system. Just before his death, as he is re-iterating the laws and appointing his successor, he tells the Israelites that they will inevitably stray from the path for they are a stiff-necked and rebellious people. His prediction turns out to be true. Moses was unable to create a system that was self-sustaining. It is a poetic note that God allows him to view the promised land from the mountain top before he dies. What he is viewing is the future, a future in which there will be more rebellion and straying from the laws but also the emergence of something that transcends the laws.
The arrival of Jesus represents that new movement but it’s worth noting that a similar progression happened in India with Buddha and in China with Confucius. In fact, this quote by Confucius perfectly summarises the problem with the law-based system.
“If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of the shame, and moreover will become good.”
Jesus’ critique in the New Testament is similar to this but the social context among the Jewish people had changed from the time of Moses. There were no philosopher kings on the scene when Jesus arrives. Rather, it was the priests – the scribes and Pharisees – who lead the various communities in the Jewish diaspora. Jesus rails against them and calls them hypocrites.
The main type of hypocrisy we are familiar with today is the do as a I say, not as I do variety e.g. world leaders who fly in private jets to climate conferences and chow down on prime cuts of steak over lunch only to blab on about reducing carbon emissions and cracking down on cow farts (literally a thing in New Zealand although apparently now withdrawn).
Jesus mentions this kind of hypocrisy in the New Testament but he is more concerned with another type of hypocrisy; that which comes from following the rules too well. He criticises the scribes and Pharisees for making a big song and dance when giving alms to the poor or loudly complaining about how hungry they are while fasting in order to draw attention to themselves. He is accusing them of following the laws not because they really believe in them but simply in order to gain social benefits. If this sounds familiar, it’s exactly what we see today in the concept of virtue signalling. Jesus was way ahead of the curve on that one.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.5 Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. Matthew 23:1-7
Although the context between Jesus and Confucius (and also Buddha) is very different, the underlying idea is roughly the same: individual people must internalise the law. In Confucius, this is done through shame and striving for virtue. In the Christian tradition, it is about faith and spirit.
What is involved here is the distinction between the exoteric and the esoteric. The exoteric is the public structure that includes the laws and the rules. In its most extreme form, the exoteric involves nothing more than mechanical obedience devoid of any internal feeling. You show up to the ceremony on time, you wear the right clothes and you say the right things. It is irrelevant whether you believe what you say, only that you do what is required.
Jesus represents the esoteric in arguably its most extreme form: the man who is prepared to die rather than even acknowledge the exoteric. In the New Testament, we see that Pontius Pilate really does not want to have Jesus killed. Even Pilate’s wife asks him to let Jesus go. Pilate gives Jesus every chance to save himself but Jesus remains mute. He will not recognise the exoteric even when it means his own death.
It was not without irony that the subsequent Christian church built by the apostles had to formulate its own (exoteric) rules. Thus, we see the disputes between Paul and the others over whether Gentiles may be part of the faith and whether or not they must be made to follow the Mosaic code (Moses’ laws) including the most controversial requirement of circumcision. Nevertheless, the early Christian church was very informal and for a couple of centuries the Roman authorities didn’t even consider it a religion but, rather, a superstitio.
In any case, Paul won the argument and the Gentiles were allowed to become Christians. This was revolutionary because it unlocked the network effects that were already present in the Jewish communities around the Mediterranean and Middle East. In the early days, the Christians were mostly converting Jewish people via baptisms, which were an existing practice in Judaism at the time. Once Paul won the argument about allowing Gentiles into the faith, anybody and everybody could be converted and the network could grow and expand indefinitely. Apostles (messengers) were sent out to new geographic areas where they established new nodes in the network. With each new node, the network became stronger. It was possibly the world’s first viral marketing campaign.
All this was happening from within the political structure of the Roman empire. The empire had a very tolerant attitude to religion. As new areas were conquered, the local religions, rites and customs were allowed to be practiced as long as the people followed the Roman exoteric rites required of them which signalled allegiance to Rome.
Herein lay the problem because, even in Rome itself, the exoteric rites had been hollowed out. They no longer had esoteric resonance. What is esoteric resonance? In a word: energy. It’s the extent to which people actually believe in what they are doing from their own conviction and their own belief (spirit) rather than just going through the motions. Jesus’ argument against the scribes and Pharisees could just as well have been levelled against the average Roman citizen.
Thus, we see a stark contrast between the Roman civic religion which becomes more and more exoteric and devoid of esoteric energy as the empire grows and the insurgent Christian religion which is filled with esoteric energy spreading as a decentralised network. One advantage of such a network is that you can lose some nodes and the network survives. The network of the early Christian church survived even the loss of its two biggest names, Peter and Paul, both put to death by Roman authorities.
The Roman authorities sensed that the esoteric religious practices taking place, of which Christianity was just one, were a threat to the established order and there were various crackdowns mostly by local governors and eventually from Rome itself. As everybody knows, the Christians ultimately won the day and Christianity became the official religion of Rome some centuries later. But if you’d asked a Roman in, say, 50 A.D. whether the Christians were a threat, they would have said “what Christians?”
Esoteric networks are less visible than exoteric structures, which makes sense since the power of the network is in the number of nodes and the relationships between them while the power of exoteric structures is precisely in their visibility and authority. A giant billboard advertisement is exoteric. It signifies the power and stability of the company which can afford to pay the high price for such marketing. Word of mouth is esoteric. It takes place node to node. It is, by definition, not visible to the general public. Networks can grow and change without drawing attention to themselves; making the governance of such networks far more difficult and costly.
Moses is the ultimate visible lawgiver. Yet I doubt even practicing Christians could name all 12 apostles. We can only remember so much exoteric content before we hit cognitive limitations. On the other hand, Moses’ rule ceased to work the moment he was not visible to his people. The Christian Church’s power and scope continued to grow despite losing Peter and Paul in the early days. It had energy behind it.
I’m not sure if this is absolutely true, but I would hypothesise that esoteric “energy” can only scale through networks. It cannot scale through hierarchical organisational forms. Hierarchical organisation forms are exoteric and hollowed out. They can still exist for a long time even though devoid of esoteric energy. A network runs on esoteric energy but, if the energy goes, the network ceases to exist. Thus, esoteric networks are more transient, something which would also reduce their visibility, especially in a context when many networks are springing up and disappearing.
The archetypes of the authoritarian lawgiver and the esoteric network are still with us today. For example, the Moses archetype can be seen in small businesses which revolve around a single owner. A primary difficulty that such owners have is to find and train people to take over the business. Training people (esoterically) requires a different set of skills than actually carrying out the work of managing a business. Moses was unable to esoterically train somebody to replace him and most small business owners fall into the same trap.
Corona provided us with a prime example of authoritarian leadership as political leaders around the world did their best impersonation of Moses, only instead of claiming God as their source of authority they claimed “science” instead. Who can forget New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern’s, quip, “we will be your single source of truth“; reminiscent of the 1st commandment: I am the Lord your God. Thou shalt not have strange Gods before me. Part of what made Ardern’s statement so ridiculous was the fact that we live in a world with an essentially infinite numbers of sources of truth. If government wants to compete, it must show itself more trustworthy and accurate, something which governments failed to do throughout corona (at least on a logical/rational analysis).
Or government can just lock everybody in their houses and assert their “truth” by force. What we saw in practice during corona was a more or less arbitrary set of rules imposed on the public as if they were written in stone tablets. Thou shalt take this safe and effective vaccine. Clearly, we are not ruled by philosopher kings, but they did their best to pretend.
In fairness to the politicians, I think corona revealed another important difference between networks and authoritarian hierarchies which is that only networks can deal with complexity. An authoritarian hierarchy is able to scale and it can impose its will on its environment through its size. What it does in practice is to simplify its environment down so that it can deal with it. Whatever else can be said about lockdowns, they do simplify society. But the whole point of modern society is that it is complex. Decentralised networks allow scale without simplification. A network can handle complexity. The price you pay is that there can no longer be a leader who can be a single source of truth. Networks are kryptonite to Philosopher Kings.
We have built modern society on networks and they facilitate the enormous complexity of the modern world. But that complexity is a source of anxiety and uncertainty. Networks change and adapt quickly but also with far less visibility than exoteric structures. Think of the pomp and ceremony of the Queen’s funeral vs the collapse of FTX. One is out there in public for all the see and to comprehend. The other is supremely murky and requires extensive investigation to be able to understand because one needs to tease out the network of connections that were at play. The reason why white collar criminals get away with it so often is not just because of entrenched class favouritism but because their crimes are more complex and harder to prove.
FTX was a node in multiple networks. It was part of the WEF network. It must have been a part of some financial networks to get its initial capital. It had network connections with major MSM outlets and with famous politicians and celebrities. We even heard how FTX had financial connections related to corona propaganda.
The globalism of the last 30 years has been built on networks. Unlike the network of the early Christians, these are networks of the elites. It’s actually an inverse of the story of Jesus and the Apostles. Rather than the public disrupting the elite power structures from the bottom up, the networked global elites have disrupted the exoteric power structures of the nation states. They have done so using the relative invisibility that networks provide. Just like the early Christians, the network holds together based on ideology. Although, unlike the early Christians, there is a big dose of greed thrown in for good measure.
There is no rule that says the esoteric energy flowing through a network has to be “good” energy. I wonder if what we are seeing in the modern world is a saturation of networks. We have learned how to unleash the power of networks to facilitate complexity. But these networks cause destruction to the existing exoteric structure of society. That was true in biblical times and it’s still true. The corona hysteria was caused by network effects and so are the economic dislocations of globalisation. What we are left with is a society that has very little in the way of exoteric structure while the esoteric energy is dissipated through a variety of networks in a way that becomes increasingly meaningless and random.
The cry for philosopher kings to take charge during corona was partly the desire for some structure, any structure, to hold onto in a world of too rapid change. The fact that the philosophers didn’t deliver the goods has not negated the underlying desire and has arguably only strengthened it.
Perhaps the lesson is that neither the exoteric or the esoteric is good enough on its own. We need a balance of both; perhaps some philosopher kings ruling over networks. Sounds a bit like what Elon Musk is doing with twitter.
All posts in this series:-
Philosopher Kings vs Networks
The Unconscious Empire
The Unconscious Empire Pt 2: The Hitler Complex
The Unconscious Empire Pt 3: A Prison for your Mind
The Unconscious Empire Pt 4: Becoming the Other
The Unconscious Empire Final: Benevolent Totalitarianism