Just who do you think you are?
“When your only tool is a hammer, you see nails everywhere.”
attributed variously to: Mark Twain; Abraham Maslow; an anonymous rabbi.
The twentieth century’s mark on the mind
Historians of recent history have a rough consensus that the century that closed in 1999 witnessed the tremendous power of totalitarian ideologies – fascism/Nazism and Marxist-Leninist communism. This era also meant loss of power for Christianity over the minds of people living in advanced rich nations.
The two mass-political ideologies shared one faith–in scientific progress and human perfectibility. Their consequences in Russia, Germany, and China among others, was atrocious social engineering to invent “The New Man.” Deliberate death of humans happened on a scale never matched in history.
Another global war was waged with terrible weapons, the worst one used to end it. Religion was replaced by faith in human ability. But faith in Progress through knowledge of the material withered at the end of the 20th century.
From the middle of the 20th century until now, the post-modern mind grew. It has been marked by absence of any one ruling idea. The 1960s are regarded as a watershed decade for a new mind in the West, the start of “culture wars.” Human consciousness underwent the multiplication of ideas of selfhood and cultural forms, splintering the conformity of the 1950’s. And at the end of the century, cyber/electronic/virtual worlds signal a sort of Overmind is coming.
A snapshot of our minds now, in 200 words
Try to say what is the state of human consciousness now in a few words and one is going to look ridiculous. But I will endure the ridicule.
Geography and economy determine a lot about what the public mind might be across the globe. In rich nations, where capitalism and materialist science have raised up a middle class of well-educated, healthy citizens, democratically-governed, religion is weakened. Into the vacuum left by communal and institutional faiths has flowed a veritable tsunami of mystic individualism.
In Asia’s new giant economies, India and China, new middle classes are rushing to enjoy materialism and the joys of mass culture via the internet. Religion is not a small matter for Indians, and communist ideology is not negligible in China, but the middle classes there are acculturating to Western affluent habits. Affluence breeds a new kind of ego and consciousness.
Africa and Latin America are still “developing” and poverty is dire in so many places that the consciousness of masses denied a middle-class life is stunted. Brazil and South Africa are supposed to be on the brink of stronger economic performance, but the people truly are not catching up with the West.
Mystic materialist individualism
I write from my perspective as a Nelson bourgeois, of considerable university education and with a circle of friends similar to myself.
As I see it, the interior lives of Nelsonites are nurtured by an ethos of spiritual growth. “Life is for constant evolution into improved versions of ourselves” – this is, to me, the Nelson consensus among “conscious people” here. It includes a notion of dying consciously, and of growth that is generated from within the self. There is no obstacle to individuals inventing themselves with whatever information and materials they can. Choose from a global market of identity.
You are your own most original creation. You are unique. You have a purpose, as does every human soul. You were put here, incarnate, to make your life have meaning. You might return in other lives. Karmic law is believed by many. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Much of the Nelsonite view of selfhood and individuality is scavenged from the array of philosophical and religious teachings of the East as well as the West, from Native tradition, from ancient paganism and esoteric lore, from Oprah Winfrey and the manifold selections of self-instruction current in America.
What does that mean?
My term for this mind is “mystic materialist individualism.” First, it is mystic, because people use immaterial explanations of what is real and true regarding their self, and do not feel a need to “prove” their intuitions – they “just know.”
Next, it is materialist, because we invent our Self with materials, i.e.,our possessions, our style, our tastes and our public persona. (None of this is possible in a culture lacking immense distributed bourgeois wealth and liberty of choice, and virtual reality where we create global presence for our own online celebrity. If you have no cyber-character, your Self is less real, ironically).
Lastly, it is individualist because it’s centered in a very particular experience of Ego: my self is inside, it’s not physical nor tangible, but subjective, ethereal and mysterious. My self is free to make choices in constructing the exterior version of me that others see. Again, only possible with our vast affluence.
The Self in a time of doomy human prospects
As an historian, I am well aware that widespread intimations that the planet and humanity are headed for termination have occurred before in history.
Still, this moment in time is unique, because there is now as never before one global community, with singular economy, ecology and politics. So if we feel our prospects are dismal, these feelings are felt in all corners of Earth. Among my peers, as I defined them in the previous section, sadness at the human prospect is rife. I struggle not to be a negativity sinkhole with my friends. Citing evidence that we are all f#*%ed is nobody’s idea of helpfulness.
Again though, I must admit that one’s geographic locus and material security make a significant difference to how one arrives at a conclusion of doom. India, China and developing-world populations may not feel the intensity of sadness for the human prospect that well-informed affluent people feel. The leaderships of those peoples want only to “push forward our development” to approximate levels of Western middle classes; they do not accept that they must cease exploitation of natural resources — and neither do the leaders of the West’s capitalist economies. They all demand growth even if it kills us.
As the horizon of doom and degradation draws closer in subjective perception, the Self is more challenged than ever to assert some meaning and purpose for human life.
Horrors of hoarding, mountains of matter, drowning in owning
An observation I made years ago as a delivery person and taxi driver, has now become a fact no one can miss in the middle class. We drown in our stuff. We have to store it, and storage units have sprung up on the land. We own so much that at our deaths, our family has an onerous task to dispose of our homes and what is in them, all the photos, keepsakes, decor, clothes, toys, books, bric-a-brac, and oddments that middle-class individualists accumulate.
We see on TV the horror of old folks trapped by their possessions in their sad homes, and the mess of stuff calls attention from the authorities and media, to the deep shame of the “mentally-ill hoarder.” Look in basements, outbuildings, garages, and attics across the land, and see the evidence. We own stuff and cannot use it – but cannot justify trashing it. Nelson’s corner Free-boxes turn to trash. Our survivors will give our stuff away when sales find no buyers after we die. It turns out our stuff, which meant so much to our identity, means zero to others. Matter matters to us in our life, then we die and it means nothing.
Rudolf Steiner, Lorna Byrne and other oracular individuals agree that a dark force has incarnated on earth now, whether one calls it antichrist, beast, evil spirit, or negative messiah. This person will pull to himself multitudes of human beings as his devoted believers, and will wreak destructive conflicts.
Mark Booth, in The Secret History of the World, says this being comes to promote the enslavement of humanity to Matter. He will makes us believe in his power to explain all things — then his mysterious science will be revealed as having only materialist meaning. There is not one mystic, spiritual, or esoteric ingredient in his task; we’ll despair, feeling our Life means nothing but mere existing. Booth believes in a struggle of good and evil over humanity’s Destiny.
Are we sheeple? The I Magi Nation
I’d say the Materialist Messiah is not a likely leader for us. We affluent egoist Westerners have been profoundly inculcated with rebellious individualism; therefore we reject leaders.
Each of us is a nation of one: “I-Magi-Nation” is the consciousness of the postmodern crowd of individualists. Magical I is a nation of one. “Don’t follow leaders, obey the parking meters” – as Dylan told us a half-century ago.
Perhaps the developing world has hundreds of millions “ready to follow.” But what is happening in the Arab world gives no evidence that poor nations are likelier to unite around one ideology/one leader/one Cause, than rich ones.
View from Victoria
I wrote this column in our province’s very wealthy capital city, amidst the splendour of its grand institutional buildings a-swarm with international tourists. That ambience has affected me. The tourists seem blithe to world issues, enjoying their good health, the sun, the sights, the food, the fun. The scenes of street people and lives wasting from mental illness, addiction and dire impoverishment, do not mix well with global-touring visitors. All of that in my face was the background to my writing
And to me, Nelson is a microcosm of Victoria. Nicer because smaller, but Nelson’s socio-economic and consciousness landscapes are similar.
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer. The previous edition of The Arc of the Cognizant can be found here.