It is worth considering the word’s etymology. A quick search yields humbling results: mappa, meaning napkin, cloth, or sheet. Mappa combined with mundi in the late Middle Ages to connote the familiar (modern) meaning, i.e., a map of the world.
From dinner scribbles to maps of the world.
Associated words like cartography give us another word, charte, or a sheet of paper intended for navigators, and the Latin chartula/cartula, “little paper.” There’s a diminutive, crumpled-in-the-back-pocket, food stained and salt sprayed sensual richness to this word’s history that intuitively feels of some import to us.
Even -graphy has a craftiness to it. Before it was commonly used to mean “writing or recording,” it meant “to draw, represent by lines” on clay tablets, “to scrape, scratch,” and finally, from its root *gergh-, or “to carve.” The word may have come to mean something more abstract, but I am delighted by its navigational, tool-oriented, and craft-focused etymological origins, which emphasize what maps still do in the mental structure, albeit on a much more grandiose scale: a blade that cuts the clay, presses the cloth, makes space, and shapes the world.
In this making of the world there is not only the shaping of the image (mythic) but the activity of making, magh (magic) itself. There is also the possibility for artistry here: carving as a process not only for revealing or making, poiesis, but making-with, a sympoietic relationship with the world. Deer leaving their marks in the mud, shaping a path through the forest.
It would seem to imply that aperspectival map-making involves a transparency of these structures, which are always at work in the process of spatializing, but a transparency of time and space is also required for this intensified participation with things in their aliveness and relations: sympoiesis as the creative and spiritual process of making-with, worlding-with our more-than-human kin. The mental structure is welcome here, but it no longer resembles an industrious state of hyper-inflation. It is delightfully brilliant in its diminutive size–a tool in the hand, a hoof in the mud–that cooperates with planetary kin in the becoming of the living world.
This piece is an interesting permaculture/regenerative take on the 1969 Eames “Design Diagram.” I was initially struck by how it resembles the Calabi-Yau manifold I often use to illustrate the relational wholeness of Jean Gebser’s consciousness structures (archaic through integral).
Many of us in the Mutations community are, in some way, working with design. We’re artists, working in education or designing educational containers, writing (fiction, non-fiction or otherwise), and facilitating our own communities. So perhaps this exercise will be useful.
The Eames diagram writes,
“1. if this area represents the interest and concern of the design office
2. and this the area of genuine interest to the client
3. and this the concerns of society as a whole
4. then it is in this area of overlapping interest and concern that the designer can work with conviction and enthusiasm.
NOTE: these areas are not static – they grow and develop – as each one influences the others.
NOTE: putting more than one client in the model builds the relationship – in a positive and constructive way – “
The author of the blog takes the Eames diagram and reworks it, ever so subtly, into questions of biomimicry and regenerative design. There’s nothing too substantive in the piece, admittedly, but it’s a good start.
For instance, what if we playfully applied the Eames design process as a framework for what we do here with the Mutations learning community?
Would be, if anything — and since we are not an aperspectival design school (this, however, sounds absolutely exciting!) — a mutual learning container for the realization of the primary themes of integral-aperspectivity (a. working with time, b. the supersession of Cartesian dualisms, and c. crystallizations of transparency and wholeness) according to our unique individual gifts, capacities, collective presencing and creativity.
We recognize that the underlying “integral world” we are already participating in is manifoldly expressed in and through art, poetry, science, architecture, and transdisciplinary forms of scholarship, as well as gardening, music, creativity, and individual/community flourishing (in other words, a pluralistic kulturphilosophie as a methodology and senseful practices as a relational way of being and becoming in the world).
As a “platform” within a media ecology, this mutual learning container’s role is very often pedagogical, aesthetic, and relational with other similar communities, offering an “audience” outside our container with the catalyzing fruits of our creative process. But this leads us importantly to,
Communities we design for and their contextual interests/challenges. In other words, what are the unique pathologies of this mutational, interim period? What are the conditions and how might we
ameliorate the abstractive, atomizing conditions of the mental-rational crisis and address regenerative, remedial solutions through
modes of ‘senseful awaring,’ to intensify and empower these communities of mutual interest?
All this done in relationship not merely with “society as a whole” (Eames) but extending that to the planetary and non-human context: the relational whole in which we participate, the more-than-human commons 1, and the mutational context which we find ourselves in — transitioning back “down” to the concrete (bioregional, place-based, magic-mythic structures), re-integration of the earlier structures of consciousness, and learning to become pluralistic planetary cultures. How might we transition from mental-rational collapse (crash) to an integral, regenerative “soft” falling? How can our containers and communities of practice contribute to this soft-falling, and what would that look like as a question of designing these containers? 2
Wherever we find ourselves in this process — our cultural, temporal, historical, generational situatedness — is certainly where we find enthusiasm for our work and vocation!
This is just an initial, creative take on what we are, may be, and will have been doing here together.
It was great to (finally) reconnect with my family and friends after 1.5 years of lockdown. A homecoming! New York has changed, and hasn’t. The same, but different; intermingling melancholy and triumph. Refitted subways. Towering cyberpunk architecture completed during lockdown’s interlude. Masks and sanitizer kiosks and outdoor seating pods, some now permanent fixtures in the archeology of Greenwich streets. Heartened to celebrate the mayoral victory of India Walton. Manhattan’s mayoral race less so, but it’s good to see my city alive, teeming, again.
Yesterday’s patreon call was a rich orbiting discussion on decolonization, animism, and the commons. I recommend Andreas Weber’s work to readers here, as well.
Perhaps it’s the metamodern tension we ought to be leaning into. The unbearable awkwardness in our becoming non-modern (Latour), all while cultivating the vastness of a simple, friendly gesture: the open hand (Han). We are “always coming home” (Le Guin), we are Earthbound, seemingly in spite of ourselves and because of our selves. This tension, its betweenness, its metaxy I hold to be an exquisite one, a kind of medicine, a dynamically creative intelligence—this learning to become placed-based and bioregional in our thinking and non-linear in our time. The news may be dire, but our cultural attitudes are what are being disassembled and recast into a “slower urgency” (Akomolafe). The great aperspectival world is boundless here, and open, and so, if we are less than hubristic and more than clever we may respond in kind…
Now back to the work editing Mutations anthology1 and writing Fragments of an Integral Futurism. See you on the pages.
2021 has kept me busy! I’m sharing a brief note about recent appearances and what’s coming next.
First: high weirdness. Artist, musician, filmmaker, podcast host and longtime integralist Stuart Davis had me on his show, Aliens and Artists for a proper metaphysical conversation on non-human intelligences. I guess I’m coming out of my weird closet. Here’s part one and two.
My colleague and friend, Eric Reynolds, has taken hold of the wild Clubhouse hype coursing through social media and channeled into a weekly gathering of 60+ participants (Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays). As of this week we finally have our own “club”: Integral Leadership. Connect with us on Clubhouse.
Mutations is now on there, too! So stay tuned for the imminent kickoff discussion.
Tomorrow (Tuesday, 3.9) I’m honored to be co-hosting the first #BrooksBooks reading group on TMBSFM (The Michael Brooks Legacy Project). It’s a Patrons-only event where we’ll be reading through books that inspired Michael’s internationalism and political, spiritual, integral “cosmopolitan” thinking. We’re coming up on the one year anniversary of Against the Web, so Luke Savage is joining us to talk about the book as well as his excellent review of it on Jacobin.
It feels auspicious that we’re kicking off the series with this news, or like laying a rose at the grave of a dear friend. Somewhere, I hope Michael is smiling.
Just a few more things in this bricolage. Last week I had the pleasure of jumping on a GTAA panel to riff about A Scanner Darkly (the film), and you can catch that here:
The Gebser class is in full swing now, and Patrons can expect a Mutations book club happening soon to talk about Ursula K Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven (look for it on April 4th). In Richard Doyle’s excellent TEDx Talk on Philip K. Dick’s meta-fiction, he talks about how PKD’s narratives are perfectly scrambled hero’s journeys, matching our own post- or meta- modern times of complex-dynamical slipstream. PKD is on one end of the spectrum of art that might fit into a hypothetical canon of “planetary” literature, and Le Guin would be on the other end. The Lathe of Heaven is inspired by PKD’s writing, but with Le Guin’s touch, its surrealism has another kind of effect. George Orr presents with the “new subject” of the planetary era, a hero who expresses integral being and knowing and doing. And the text itself is a tempest in a teapot version of our planetary crisis. You’ll see what I mean.
There’s more, of course, but that’s all I can say for now. The real action is happening over on my word processor…
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.
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.