Zak’s mention of McLuhan was particularly revelatory. It made me think of the loss/gain character of any new medium. New media extend us, but they also cut us off—like the car replacing the foot. Social media extends communication, but it also replaces the important, sensemaking embodiment of voice and presence.
…And so, when we open our mouths, we Tweet. We Facebook Status (as verb). We project a virtual world to side with. To text, to tweet, is to have a prosthetic voice. What other options are there? Zak analogizes this to smoking even when we know it’s bad for us. In this case, to speak, to reach out and in turn be received, we must inhale the toxic fumes of memetic polarization. And this is by design.
But I think Zak offers some helpful ways to “seeing through” the media and orienting it toward “down to Earth” sensemaking ground, which may require use to get offline to rediscover. Voice, connection, communication, love.
I share Daniel’s frustration with meta-narrative discussions and framing—which, looking back, I think I partly expressed in our Emerge conversation over a year ago now (concerning meta thinking and metamodernism in general, which I’ve since come to appreciate in a more complex way):
Daniel might also appreciate the essay I contributed to @TheSideViewCo on this subject of going meta as participatory and phenomenological; not needing to climb higher heights of abstraction but rather to work at becoming more present to the felt-sense of what is happening to us and our involvement in the changes this world is undergoing. I would add today that the felt-sense of this planetary crisis (which the social media issue is but one, if not predominant concern), this structure of feeling, can itself become deeply instructive and re-orienting. The crisis is teaching us what has the potential to emerge. But as Zak and Daniel express so well in their podcast episode, it requires a turning toward uncertainty and liminality; Le Guin’s “nusuth” 1 in The Left Hand of Darkness.
Certainties don’t seem to be yielding themselves— but that would merely be information, as Daniel mentions at the beginning of the episode. When we move beyond knowing or unknowing I think we can begin the process of mutual learning2 with the crisis, and so our certainties become replaced by transparencies, which invite us not to know but to participate.
Recently I was asked by a reader and colleague to comment on a letter written by Dr. Don Beck, “Looking Beyond the Midterm Elections In Quest for Humanity’s Master Code.”
It was written in 2018, and now, halfway through 2020, it holds a certain prescience worth commenting on and responding to at some length.
Dr. Beck refers to the critical importance of the younger generations to take hold of the structures of a society—superseding previously given left/right distinctions—and moving the United States towards some superordinate goal.
“The definition of a super-ordinate goal is one that both sides to a conflict desire to achieve but cannot do so on their own and must enroll the help of the other. It is working together to avert disastrous outcomes that neither side desires.
… The solution to our predicament does not lie in whom we elect in the upcoming midterms. It has more to do with a political system that needs to be informed by a new superordinate goal that speaks to the future.”
Don Beck, “Looking Beyond the Midterm Elections In Quest for Humanity’s Master Code”
Perhaps Latour’s “Gaia regime” (which I referred to in my livestream below) is just such a goal. But first, something that Dr. Beck refers to implicitly I believe needs to be highlighted explicitly: today’s polarization doesn’t end with the traditional Left/Right, there is also an unprecedented generational bifurcation.
The recent US presidential primary reflects this stark divide (see here or here for recent discussions). It’s a fairly cogent argument to make that the superordinate goal of the next generation is already present. From economic populism (and more importantly, economic progressivism) to universal healthcare, to the Black Lives Matter movement, to MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) and The Green New Deal. For an increasing number of citizens, growing up through the post-9/11 era, now two Great Recessions, and the COVID-19 pandemic—still barreling towards a climate disaster—many of these ideas are not perceived as radical. They’re the new center.
There are a lot of new ideas on the table and a growing majority of disenfranchised people—young and old.
Problem is, institutional pathways for this emergent populism have been resisted from nearly every angle but the neoliberal—the capacity of our legislative process has ossified and frozen, unable to adapt or respond quickly enough to a cascade of broken systems. Dr. Cornel West has spoken to this “reckoning” eloquently in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests and riots:
“I say this in all honesty and deep sadness… I think we are witnessing America as a failed social experiment… this perfect storm of all of these multiple failures, at these different levels of the American empire… it looks as if the system cannot reform itself,” Dr. West states.
Similarly Maggie Astor, in the above-linked NYT article, speaks to millennial frustration: “just when millennial and Gen Z voters have the most power to choose their leaders, many feel no one is speaking to them.” Voter disenfranchisement, in other words, and rampant voter suppression.
Dr. Beck wrote to this effect in his letter, “the voices of our politically ambitious youth are muffled. The minute they declare their desire to change the system, they’re thrown into the dark rigid confines of the two political parties.”
What can the New Left, let alone an integral left do in the face of this totalizing resistance to enact much needed revolutionary— evolutionary—transformation?
A New Middle
As Latour suggests in Down to Earth, our civilization’s core “telos”—the globalization project—animated by the engine of late capitalism, and on which the traditional Global/Local or Left/Right oscillation has been traditionally situated, is over.
Stated another way: modernity’s one-sided fixation on the ultimate perspectival ideal, the “Globe”, where neoliberal growth may continue on unabated in endlessly sublimated new markets, is incompatible with the planet Earth, the “Terrestrial.” As an abstraction, a u-topia (non-place), the Globe has never been real. A mere hungry ghost, but one that threatens to devour the world.
That’s the bad news. The perspectival world is closing down. The good news? The aperspectival turn is here, and there’s still plenty an integral left, or really any integralist (which, I argue, is still self-evidently aligned with the New Left’s transformational praxis) can be doing. Rather than assuming our location as mediators between the Left and the Right polarities on this exhausted trajectory of globalization, we find ourselves as midwives and mediators in a more profound context. We are on a new fulcrum, between the culture that has long outlived itself (neoliberal capitalism/globalization) and a nascent planetary culture that still needs to be born (a post-capitalist and commons-centric society/planetization).
Globalization must be superseded by planetization, as I understand the term.
The middle is still necessary, and so is mediation, but it has a different locus. A different fulcrum. It is a sidereal turn, a surrender from abstraction to embodiment. A move that takes us “Down to Earth,” towards the relational dynamics of the whole, is the very definition of Gebser’s aperspectival world. This world isn’t really new—it has always been here, an originary state:
With the onset of the pandemic, observers have noted a host of spontaneous resurgences of commoning – from neighbourhood networks volunteering to do shopping for the elderly to tailors shifting production to face masks and giving them away to the community for free. As Bollier observes, these behaviours are more than momentaneous bouts of altruisms. They rather represent the care for community, which is a spontaneous driver in human behaviour.
The “meta-crisis” keeps showing us that we need to help each other transition to an ecocentric and regenerative culture with mutual aid as a principle at its core—and help humans societies transition from collapse to emergence. And what are our alternatives? This is the reality we grip with now. Paraphrasing Gebser, either we outlive this crisis our it outlives us.
We are only now recognizing that the stakes are existential, and the “superordinate” goal, not only of the youth in the United States but truly for our species, is being awakened to. (See this interesting clip of Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, referencing Dr. Beck’s Spiral Dynamics)
In this context, Capitalist Realism yields to a kind of Gaian Realism—one that the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of. This is our new ground.
The “Integral” Superordinate Goal
For the new generations it is clear we already have a superordinate goal, despite there being plenty of obstacles and resistance to it—the call for a transformed polis and regenerative cultures more integral to the complex dynamics of the biosphere.
This is just the first of the pedagogical catastrophes that will force the necessary transformations to a new stable system that lives within the confines of nature and realizes its interdependence with all other life forms. It will need to escape the historical cycle of pulsation between extractive regimes leading to ecological crisis, and the regenerative responses that human societies have always brought. Instead, we will need to move to a steady-state economic and social regime that can last many centuries and millennia.
An integral culture is the realization of an integral consciousness, in that it has overcome its own one-sided fixation of perspectivalism. That takes both inner and outer work—that is our Great Work, so to speak. The work that speaks in the voice of the future. This voice speaks of a turn from abstract, industrial growth models of production and capital to a commons-centric, polymorphic economy in mutual transformation with the rest of the living planet. A “poetics of the Anthropocene.” A sympoiesis (Haraway), the “making with” of nature and culture. Such distinctions are overcome in this voice from tomorrow. This voice is your own.
For the integralist, this is our superordinate goal.
We’re moving a sidereal way, a Gebserian mutation—leap!—into a new orientation.
Next Thursday, June 18th, I have the honor of presenting a paper at the Media Ecology Association’s annual conference. This year the theme is “Communication Choices and Challenges,” and my paper is entitled: “Media Ecology as Remediation: Marshall McLuhan and Jean Gebser in Dialogue”.
My abstract is shared below:
In this essay, I draw from the work of Swiss phenomenologist of consciousness Jean Gebser, and his magnum opus of cultural phenomenology, The Ever-Present Origin (1949) to reflect on some of the more enigmatic insights that Marshall McLuhan provided us with on the characteristics of electronic culture. Although there is little historical evidence that Gebser and McLuhan corresponded directly with one another, Gebser’s publication of Ever-Present Origin anticipates McLuhan’s emphasis on considering the media as environment. It also highlights potential comparisons between McLuhan’s electronic culture and Gebser’s integral-aperspectivity (see Ever-Present Origin, by Jean Gebser, xxix). Like McLuhan, Gebser posited a series of cultural transformations across human history. Gebser’s structures of consciousness, William Irwin Thompson writes, are “isomorphic to McLuhan’s,” and that, “like McLuhan, Gebser holds out a visionary possibility for a transformation of consciousness” (see Coming into Being by William Irwin Thompson, 14). In addressing the question of “Communication Choices and Challenges,” our era of hyper-mediated communication technologies presents us with the Herculean task of overcoming the fragmented culture wars, the so-called “post-truth” world, and ecological devastation. I will explore how our media ecologies might work to engender a form of remedial electronic culture that McLuhan suggests is “the means of living simultaneously in all cultural modes while quite conscious” (see The Gutenberg Galaxy, by Marshall McLuhan, 75), or as Gebser describes as: “a consciousness of man’s distant past and his approaching future as a living present” (Ever-Present Origin by Jean Gebser, 6).
If you’d like an early look at the paper, I’m publishing it to Patreon next week as we kick off the Teilhard book club (incidentally, McLuhan was deeply influenced by Teilhard’s cosmological vision). Become a patron here, and thank you.
In this episode, I was joined by Gordon White, host of Rune Soup podcast, a show about magic, culture and the paranormal. Gordon is the author of The Chaos Protocols, Star.Ships, and Pieces of Eight: Chaos Magic Essays and Enchantment.
Note: This episode was recorded before the new year, in December 2019. A “pre-COVID-19 tape” if you will. If you listen until the end, however, you’ll notice some oddly prescient comments about health and wellbeing in 2020.
I begin my discussion with Gordon exploring the historical rise of communities of magical practice during a time of planetary crisis, and naturally, we roll into a discussion on imagination and storytelling.
What are the kinds of stories – the planetary myths – we need to be tuning into right now, in the epoch of the Anthropocene/Chthulucene?
Gordon talks about how to be “a pacifist in a living universe,” and living artistically through a “non-tyrannical way of being in the world.” Authors like Ursula K. Le Guin and her Taoist-anarchic heroes (Georg Orr as depicted in The Lathe of Heaven,or Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea), or J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, can teach us something about living this way.
Gordon was an absolute delight to speak to – and there’s much more in the conversation. Thanks for tuning in.
Mutations truly go on! As we wade further into the murky complexities of the meta-crisis, I bring you an update from COVID-19 quarantine. This is a recording from 4/2/20. Part riff, part Q&A discussion with viewers as we explore how to navigate the “meta-crisis,” including helpful ways of looking the current world state and navigating to (latent), more beautiful futures. Themes of liminality, metaxis (“betweenness”), and integral ontology come into the picture right now, as we collectively attempt to find our way to a new mode of sensemaking and culture building that is more akin to Teilhard de Chardin’s planetization, or Jean Gebser’s integral aperspectivity. Do tune in. This one definitely felt like climbing on a pulpit.
PS: There’s now a backlog of interviews, some recorded before the COVID-19 epidemic–from another era! But they are coming. Thanks, listener, for your gracious patience.
Mark has a PhD in ancient philosophy, with two other degrees in physics and theology. What brought us together was a mutual interest in the evolution of consciousness; Mark, by way of the Oxford InklingOwen Barfield, and myself by way of the Swiss cultural philosopher and poet Jean Gebser. Mark read my book and I read his. We agreed that we simply needed to have a chat.
To my knowledge, Gebser and Barfield never actually talked with one another in life, even though their ideas find many significant convergences; the theme of participation, for instance, plays a prominent role in both of their works.
Mark’s A Secret History of Christianity is also a history of religion, which is to say the history of consciousness. His documentation of pivotal transformations in the evolution of religion were highly illustrative.
Take Pneuma, for example:
“Consider the words “wind” and “spirit.” It turns out that in ancient Greek, as in many other old languages, there is a single word that means both “wind” and “spirit.” It’s pneuma in Greek and it’s a relic from previous times. It’s a linguistic fossil from the undifferentiated consciousness of original participation because back then, the material world mingled with the immaterial; outer with the inner; mortal with the immortal; wind with spirit. One word captured what we now think of as two distinct things. It’s why, today, verses like John 3:8, “the pneuma blows where it wishes,” are almost impossible to translate.”
Passages like this one highlight an important recognition that some of the most fundamental assumptions about how human beings encounter, inhabit, and experience the world can undergo creative transformation. This realization, alone, underscores a view of history where the ground itself shifts from time to time. These insights also dovetail quite a bit with what I generally describe as an “integral etymology” equally present in Gebser’s work.
Barfield, by way of Mark’s compelling writing, provides us not only with a history of our consciousness but some important words about its future. Anyone seriously interested in the meaning crisis (via John Vervaeke), or the evolution of religion (like Ken Wilber’s The Religion of Tomorrow) is strongly encouraged to pick this book up.
I mentioned earlier this year in the episode with Dr Becca Tarnas that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth cosmologyalso has interesting synergy some of Gebser’s ideas, particularly how the consciousness structures unfold (a series of gains and losses as we move further “away” from spiritual origin in time and becoming).
We need a general “The Inklings and the Evolution of Consciousness ft. J. Gebser Remix” episode. Roundtable scholarly nerd-out imminent. Mark, Becca, and I are talking about making it happen. Stay tuned.
Enrollment is open. We begin on Sunday, February 22, 2020.
There are 10 pre-recorded modules, and 9 live, interactive sessions featuring guest lectures.
Our first announced guest lecturer is philosopher Gary Lachman.
Unlike last year, we won’t be going straight through Ever-Present Origin. No more cover-to-cover. Instead, I’ve selected a few choice chapters to deep dive with you.
Each module covers the major themes of Jean Gebser’s magnum opus, emphasizing their import to the “meaning crisis” of our present day.
In tandem with guest lecturers, I will be introducing practice modalities to explore concretizing, and embodying integral consciousness in our daily lives. This is what I get asked for most of all. I’m especially excited to learn from how it comes together for us in the cohort.
I also have the added benefit of my first book, STTW, as a reader’s companion.
How it works: We’ll meet on Zoom bi-weekly through Winter and Spring, log on to a Class Portal page (where all the pre-recorded modules and Zoom recordings are) and a Class Forum page (where all the discussions live).
I send you a reminder email shortly before and after each live session, with the next module assigned.
I will also offer “Office Hours” to the schedule, for those who want an extra Zoom session exploring the reading and practices.
It is both a delight and an honor to drink deeply from the waters of Gebser’s wisdom, and to take time at the outset of this decade considering an integral reality together.
It is the highlight of my year to be able to offer this as an annual event.
Registration Questions: If you’d like to take the course, but need a hardship or student rate, don’t hesitate to reach out (my email is jeremy (at) nuralearning (dot) com).
There’s also Patreon, where you can send me a message after signing up. I find that Patreon’s subscription model offers a good “pay-what-you-can” structure, and don’t want to turn anyone away from the course. Plus, you also get access to the Mutations Discord channel, another way to chat.
Welcome to the Mutations podcast. Why a blog? you ask.
I’m admittedly nostalgic for having a dedicated blog page to write from. These, I think, were a much bigger deal about a decade ago. There’s something to be said for finding eddies in the stream; a complement to the transient flux of social media.
Plus, often enough, so many of the notes I take for podcast episodes don’t make it into the actual audio. They’d go on too long. It’s a good excuse to write; thinking, talking, walking, writingthrough ideas is what I do.
So, yes, a blog.
With this year winding down, and the Mutations anthology coming out in 2020, I’m aiming to ramp up podcast production and get more authors and writers into the mix.
In my book, “Bifo” Berardi’s work, alongside Mark Fisher’s (Capitalist Realism), is brought into conversation with Jean Gebser’s cultural phenomenology (kulturphilosophie)—and integral philosophy in general—to help us understand the crisis of sensemaking and civilization. I know. Tall order. But, this is where my writing and reading takes me.