It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Well, in the modern world, the better formulation might be that when the student is ready, somebody will comment on their blog to point the way to the teacher. That’s happened twice here in recent times. On both occasions, I was writing in an exploratory fashion by following a hunch and trying to figure it out as I went.
Back in my Age of the Orphan series, I was the following a hunch about how the dominant archetype of modern society is The Orphan. As part of that, I was struggling to tie together the individual spiritual journey with the social and then a commenter (Austin) referred me to Rene Guenon who had already explained this with his exoteric/esoteric distinction. That gave me the answer I was looking for.
In this series of posts, I’ve been following the Jungian hints about what I’ve been calling the eternal feminine and how it seems to relate to a major transformation going on right now in the world. I’ve been wondering whether this is happening because the feminine is being re-integrated after a couple of millennia of patriarchy or whether we are being called to deal with the unconscious itself. This was what Jung implied in Answer to Job. Just as Yahweh learned about his unconscious through the mistreatment of Job, we are all now having to learn about our collective and personal unconscious through the machinations of modern society where the unconscious seems to be given free reign including to do previously unthinkable things like lockdown society.
It’s fitting, given that we’re talking about Jung, that another synchronicity has taken place and given me the answer I have been looking for. This time, another commenter (massive thanks to William) referred me to German linguist, poet and philosopher, Jean Gebser’s, work “The Ever Present Origin” published in Germany in 1949 but only translated into English in 1989. It turns out Gebser had already trod this path before, incorporated the thought of Jung and concluded that what was happening was the incorporation of the Fourth Face of God (not his words, but same meaning).
Before we get into Gebser in more detail, allow me to indulge in a little autobiographical story which I think will help to set the context, at least for why I think Gebser is so important.
I did my university degree in linguistics and worked briefly as a linguist after graduating. Linguistics had a burst of popularity in the post war years under the work of Noam Chomsky and his generative grammar. A big chunk of my uni degree involved learning Chomskyan analysis. I’m going to skip over all the details and give you my conclusion: Chomskyan linguistics was a failure. It was a failure by trying to use the methods of the “hard sciences” where they don’t belong. What’s more, all kinds of hand waving argumentation gets used in modern linguistics to make it seem like linguistics is a hard science. Articles and books are written making claims that cannot be empirically tested. It seemed very clear to me that Chomskyan linguistics and similar approaches were the attempt to shoe horn a field of study into a type of thinking which simply didn’t work. That was how I felt at the time and it was partly this that led me to leave the field.
After deciding to change career, I landed a job in IT. Purely by chance (actually, I know believe it was a synchronicity), the training I received at my very first job involved the study of what is known as Systems Thinking. In particular, we focused on the work of Gerald Weinberg who wrote about the subject from the computer science point of view.
As I was reading Weinberg I had a eureka moment because in that book he explained with great clarity the reasons why Chomskyan linguistics can’t work. Again, I’m going to skip all the details here. But the issue was bigger than just modern linguistics. Systems thinking was a critique of the whole of modern science. It explained why science had worked so well in certain domains (physics and chemistry) but not in other domains (biology, psychology and linguistics). That gave me the theoretical basis to my criticism of modern linguistics.
But there was a problem. I was learning systems thinking within the context of a job that was firmly based in science and technology. We were learning these ideas because people believed that incorporating the lessons of systems thinking would let people do better science and technology. They believed systems thinking could fix the problems of science. That’s still true to this day. What gets called Systems Thinking now is nothing more than a way to do science better. In fact, the goal of the original thinkers like Weinberg was to set limits of what science can do. They didn’t say “here’s a better way to do science”. They said “beyond this point you can’t do science as we know it”.
During corona, I’ve watched as people I know who are evangelicals about “systems thinking” fell for the nonsense. I realised that they too had drank the kool-aid. They believed in science and they believed that systems thinking was a way to do better science. They had missed the fundamental point.
When I started reading Jung, it occurred to me that the “language faculty” that modern linguistics is predicated on could best be thought of as an archetype in the Jungian sense. Early in his career, Jung also fell into the trap of trying to explain why the archetypes must have a material basis (in genetics) using the same hand waving argumentation as in modern linguistics. However, he changed his position as he got older and started to abandon the old paradigm. I believe this is a big part of the reason why Freud became far better known than Jung. Freud’s work fits better within the materialist presuppositions of the modern world. Jung’s work does not. It raises uncomfortable questions. Much like systems thinking, Jung’s work became a challenge to the paradigm. But nobody wanted to think about that. They wanted to continue with business as usual.
Although I had not connected the dots, it was always clear to me that ideology was overriding what seemed like genuinely interesting new ideas in the seemingly unrelated disciplines of linguistics, IT, science (systems thinking) and psychology (Jung). With the corona debacle, somehow these things got tied together. We had the great Chomsky seriously suggesting the unvaccinated be allowed to starve to death. The IT industry has been used to censor the internet, freeze bank accounts of political protestors, track the movements of citizens etc. We’ve seen “science” completely fail while being told to trust it without question. And, we’ve seen the psychology of the unconscious manifest before our very eyes in a mass hysteria. It’s because all this has continued to roll along and shows no signs of going away that I have started to wonder whether something more fundamental is happening and that’s been the hunch I have been following in this series of posts.
Enter Jean Gebser (stage right).
I’ve been speed reading through Gebser’s The Ever Present Origin over the past couple of days. I’ve only read through the highlights but, in some ways, I don’t need to read the details because the concept is almost exactly the same as I formulated at the start of this series. I have been trying to find the starting line, but Gebser had already run the race. It was a marathon, too. His book is almost 700 pages long.
I found myself furiously nodding along to almost every sentence I read, especially the parts on Jung. It’s only because of my biographical background that I’ve just described that I feel confident summarising Gebser’s work without having read the whole book. Gebser was a linguist too and I don’t believe this is an accident. There is something to the practical methods of modern linguistics (not the Chosmkyan ideology) that seems relevant to the issues at hand. But that’s for a future post. For now, we can understand the key to Gebser’s analysis in this diagram taken from his book.
Each of the rows in the table is what Gebser calls a “mutation” of consciousness. We could think of them as layers on an onion. Note that the first row refers to what Guenon and others call the realm of “timeless non-duality”. The cyclic view of the world comes to view in the Mythic Consciousness and thus the idea from Hindu cosmology of the Kali Yuga and other enormous cycles of history belongs in that category. The relentless, ongoing thrust exemplified most clearly in Faustian culture with its myth of eternal “progress” belongs to the fourth category while the magical practices that are a universal of human societies (even in the West before the Church stamped them out) are in the second row. Gebser provides detailed descriptions of each of these in his book but we need only the high level view for now.
The fifth row is the one we are most concerned with because this is the new consciousness that Gebser believes is trying to become manifest in the modern world. Note that the integration of masculine and feminine is part of this new consciousness, although Gebser is mostly concerned with its social manifestation as the integration of patriarchy and matriarchy. Gebser sees Jungian psychology, in particular the archetypes (including the Unconscious) as paradigmatic of the new consciousness. This is highly fitting. Jungian individuation is about integrating disparate parts into wholes. This is also what systems thinking was primarily concerned with: how to deal with the interaction of parts and wholes. Thus, the name that Gebser gives to this new consciousness is also fitting: the Integral.
There is a crucial point to bear in mind when trying to understand the different types of consciousness. This was one of the main lessons of the original systems thinkers like Weinberg and it is one of the primary errors that we see time and again in modern society. It is the error of the Instrumental Consciousness which is still the dominant in our society (Gebser calls it “Mental” in the above chart but he uses Instrumental in the book and I prefer that. Science and Technology are the paradigmatic activities of Instrumental Consciousness).
Within the Instrumental Consciousness, everything is a logical, either/or relationship. That’s why we are obsessed with the binary logic of modern computers and machines. Within Instrumental Consciousness, if one thing is “correct”, everything else must be “incorrect”. Herein lies the logic of the myth of progress. The future is good. Therefore, the past must be bad. My political party is right. Therefore your political party must be wrong. This applies at the meta level too. Instrumental Consciousness (science) is right. Therefore, religion, magic, myth and art must be capital ‘W’ – Wrong.
Integrative Consciousness says otherwise. In Integrative Consciousness nothing is inherently right and wrong. Rather, the truths of each type of consciousness are valid within their own context. It’s no longer enough to know “the truth”. You have to know the context in which that truth can be valid. If this starts to sound like postmodernism, Gebser was well aware of the dangers that lie with this idea. Rather than explain this theoretically, let’s tie it down with a concrete, everyday example.
You decide to take a short cut down a dark alley one night and a 6-foot-something man made out of 100kg of muscle and wielding a large knife steps out of the shadows with the clear intent to do you harm. You can try turning the other cheek, you can try casting a magic spell, you can try telling him a story or appealing to his moral sensibility. Ultimately, if none of these work, you are going to have to acknowledge that in this specific context, this time and place, Might is Right. When you do so, you will realise that the best course of action is to turn and run. What you will have done is analysed the context and found the corresponding “truth”. (Fortunately for most people, their instincts will do this “thinking” for them and kick them into Fight or Flight mode. But Fight or Flight mode is just Might is Right mode. They even rhyme!).
This “truth” (Might is Right) does not invalidate other truths even though they might logically contradict each other. Logic is just one view of the world; specifically, the Instrumental Consciousness. We live in a world where Might is Right and Turn-the-other-cheek are both true. Acknowledging that fact is extremely difficult for those who are stuck in Instrumental Consciousness. They demand either/or answers. They want the “experts” tell them the one true answer and, even when that answer continually fails to yield a result (or yields negative results), they will march on like robots unable to change tack. That’s one of the main drawbacks of the Instrumental Consciousness. It has a bad habit of turning people into mindless robots. It quite literally did so in the factories of the Industrial Revolution and in modern bureaucracies.
Note that this way of looking at it also explains the curious fact I raised in the last post which is the way thinkers like Guenon and Marx promoted both a fatalistic and a purposive approach to the world. Thus, the Marxists will say that the Proletarian Revolution is the inevitable result of historical forces (a mythic/cyclic view of the world) and also that the point of philosophy is to change the world (an instrumental/science approach). Without realising it, they are invoking two different kinds of consciousness that are logically contradictory. Within the Integral approach, contradictions are not a problem and, in fact, one should be very careful not to make contradictions go away by prematurely ruling out possibilities. This is something Jung talked about a lot. He argued that we should sit in the contradiction and trust that the answer will come “from the unconscious”.
The Integral Consciousness is not a way to “fix” the problems with Instrumental Consciousness nor is it a regression to pre-rational ways of thinking. It is something new; an integration of multiple modes of understanding even when those modes seem to contradict each other. There is no fixed process to follow and no reliable timeframe for a result. In fact, if you’re doing Integral Consciousness well, a perfectly valid result is to abandon the idea. Let me give a concrete example of this which is of world historical significance.
The physicist, Richard Feynman, worked on the Manhattan Project. After the war, he went into a deep depression thinking that humans would destroy themselves with the bomb that he was partly responsible for creating.
The initial justification for developing the bomb was to beat the Germans to it. That was a completely valid reason at the time. But then the context changed. The Germans surrendered before the bomb was finished. Feynman recounts how nobody on the team stopped to ask the question: why are we still working on the bomb when the Germans have surrendered? Everybody continued to show up to work like nothing had changed.
This is paradigm example of Instrumental Consciousness. It sets a goal and works until the goal is achieved irrespective of what happens along the way. In reality, all goals are formulated in a context and the context is just as important as the goal. When the context changes, you should consider changing the goal or even abandoning it. When the Germans surrender, you don’t need the bomb anymore. That’s what Integral Consciousness would understand. But Instrumental Consciousness just marches on. Integral Consciousness is about paying attention to the context, not just the goal. It requires a different way of thinking, one that seems wishy-washy and vague to the Instrumental mind.
Gebser’s schema also allows us to make sense of recent history. The patriarchal embrace of Instrumental Consciousness destroyed itself on the battle fields of the world wars. But it has lived on in the post war era through the mindless materialism and egocentrism of the baby boomer era. All of our institutions are still running on the Instrumental consciousness of which the bureaucracy is the ultimate organisational model. The incredible stupidity we see on a day to day basis now is the logical outcome of that fact. The world is changing too fast for bureaucracies to deal with. This was the logical result of globalisation. The context has changed but we are still stuck in the old paradigm. Only Integral Consciousness can deal with a globalised world.
What we are seeing with the corona debacle is the complete failure of Instrumental Consciousness and the institutions that run on it. This was predictable if you know your systems thinking (I wrote about this in my book The Plague Story) but the people who run our institutions are using the old Instrumental Consciousness. Hence the absurd, Kafkaesque nightmare is still ongoing because these people are stuck in a trap of their own making and they’re bringing us along for the ride. For future “pandemics”, the exact same thing will happen again unless we embrace Integrative Consciousness.
I could go on and on here but these are all topics for future posts.
What about the theme of this series of posts which is the integration of what I have called the eternal feminine? This fits within Gebser’s overall model. He notes the end of the patriarchal period but rather than regress to the previous matriarchy, the new period should be an integration of patriarchy and matriarchy that would be as big of a change for men as for women because, contrary to what modern feminism says, the patriarchal period was just as damaging for men as for women (the battlefields of the world wars are all the proof needed on that front). Jung’s archetypal theory, in particular the anima/animus integration, is an excellent way to understand this process.
Thus, Gebser would agree with both of my hypotheses about what is going on at the moment. Yes, the feminine is re-emerging after a long period of patriarchy and this will affect social and interpersonal relations. But the Jungian theory is also central to the Integral Consciousness. Coming to terms with the Unconscious is going to be one of the tasks ahead of us. This leads to a certain chicken and egg problem. Are we seeing the archetypes now because the Integral Consciousness is emerging and allowing us to see for the first time? Or are the archetypes driving the emergence of the new consciousness? Ironically, this is exactly the kind of logic problem that systems thinkers dealt with. The answer is: it’s the wrong question. One of the things we will need to get comfortable with is not being able to explain everything as just cause and effect but to see that every cause is a more or less arbitrarily defined starting point on a larger “circuit”. The point of Integral Consciousness is to be aware of the circuit.
This way of looking at things backs up my hunch from the last post and my analysis in the Age of the Orphan series. The reason we have no elders in the modern world is because there can be no elders to bring in a new consciousness. That doesn’t mean that we throw away the wisdom of the past. On the contrary, what is needed is a Nietzschean re-evaluation of values which involves breaking out of the single-mindedness of the Instrumental Consciousness and incorporating the older forms of consciousness into the new Integrative Consciousness. This is also why the artists will be so important and Gebser spends significant pages in his book analysing all forms of art. Creativity, he says, is “the most direct, although rarest, process of integration.”
Recall the passage from the Book of Revelations cited in the first post in this series:
“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered…. and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.”
I now have a new reading of this based on Gebser’s book.
The child being born is Integral Consciousness. It is that which needs to be integrated into our psychic and spiritual being. The dragon is the old Instrumental Consciousness (science, technology, capitalism, patriarchy).
That dragon has been hard at work in the post war years. It devoured modern linguistics. It devoured systems thinking. It devoured the nascent environmentalist movement of the 70s. Through neoliberalism, it devoured the economy. During corona, it has devoured the medical, scientific and political institutions of the West. At this point, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s ready to devour society itself.
So, I’d say it’s time to revisit Gebser’s ideas as a guide for the way foster the emergence of the new consciousness. But that will be a subject for a future series of posts.
All posts in this series:
Patrick White’s “Voss”
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 1
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 2
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 3
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 4
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Final