COLUMN: Part Two -- Human consciousness, under construction?

Charles Jeanes
By Charles Jeanes
March 22nd, 2023

Part Two


Summary introduction from part one:

I began with an opinion and a lament: my dream of a better human world as I recall my optimism in 1970 was proven false in the succeeding decades.

Are humans getting better, worse, or not changing much, as you read the historical record? (Of course, I have no idea what you read to learn history. That’s rather important, but nothing I can address. You have your preferred narratives.)

So in the column, the thesis I try to develop is to lay out two alternatives for an understanding of how the human world becomes better or worse.

The alternatives I selected: One, materialist scientific explanations offering brain structure, nature, nurture, culture and technology as the determinants of human consciousness; Two, a religio-spiritual explanation of our incapacities, a failure in our souls.

In this Part Two I attach a large Appendix, with some reading for the thrust of my hypotheses, but one can skip it at first reading.


A New Age: things getting better?

In the culture I observe around us, that Charles Eisenstein believes to be improving, I specifically see the influence of Californian culture-makers manifesting. Living in BC, in Nelson particularly, I feel immersed in the tides generated, the harvest of ideas sprouted, not too far south of here: California, seedbed of speculative philosophies.

From California came the new-age human-potential philosophers of the 1960’s. Peace, Love, Higher Consciousness. Joni Mitchell gave a voice to their idealism.

       “I came upon a child of God, he was walking along the road. And I asked him, where are you going? This he told me: … I’m going to camp out on the land — and try and set my soul free. We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”   JoniMitchell, Woodstock

Note the final line of the lyric, which would have us believe that humans are wonderful by nature, once living in an Edenic state, and we can go back to it.

A particular, peculiar perspective: the ‘progressive’ character of our time

Are the “New Age” and the people teaching that the new age is at hand, “cutting-edge progress” — or merely “weird/ bizarre/ goofy/ woo-woo”?

[ see https://www.resilience.org/stories/2022-04-04/what-could-possibly-go-right-episode-73-stephen-dinan/ ]

By all means, attend some speakers’ conferences, or do some reading, or go online watching and listening, and then form your own judgment of Californians’ manifest talent for producing new ideas. (Remember “Peace will rule the planets, and Love will steer the Sun” ? -“Age of Aquarius,” from Hair )

The human world is getting better because human consciousness is evolving to something better. This is a faith tenet of New Age thought.

Readers need not take my word for this: there is an immense literature now available about a purported threshold in human historical development when we make a forward leap. This is as easy to substantiate as a quick dip into online search engines. (The key words signalling the topic under discussion are: Shift, turning, soul, transformation, awakening, enchantment, evolution, consciousness, dawning, integration.)

The “Transformation Phenomenon” — in the realms of intellectual, religious, ethical, and commercial ideas — is not exclusively Californian in its origins; however, subtract California’s contribution to the phenomenon, and the content of the Movement is in fact substantially smaller.

California continues today, as it has been for a century, an incubator of unusual cultural currents. Silicon Valley, Disneyland, Hollywood, and Charles Manson are a few words that come quickly to my mind when I free-associate about California. From the Hollywood dream-factory comes a stream of progressivist films. In economics, “conscious capitalism” is a current meme.

[I am unfortunately not a global-citizen, not quite a cosmopolitan writer, not a planet-wide networker: I feel I’m unable to know whether there are other incubators, in Asia, Africa, or Latin America, putting out as many new-age ideas as the west coast of the USA; I appended an essay on this tangential issue to Part Three. With my limited perspective from southern BC, I perceive California as ground-zero of the phenomena teaching “upward human progress” that I discuss. It got its start in the 1960’s human-potential movement.    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Human_Potential_Movement  ]

A riposte to New-Age visionaries

I cited Joni Mitchell for her poetic expression of a better kind of human world, when humanity returns to the Garden of Eden (lyrics to her song Woodstock). Now I turn to the poetry of Neil Young, a friend of Joni, to express skepticism of California-hippie ideas of progress.

By 1980, the Revolution of Love, and the ascendancy of Woodstock Nation, was not believed by anyone observing reality. A nice vision of one ‘60’s band was that in the event of an atomic war, the hippies would escape to a land where they could live better (Wooden Ships, by CSNY).

Neil Young riposted to this fantasy in his 1980’s song, Hippie Dream.

Take my advice
Don’t listen to me

It ain’t paradise
But it used to be
There was a time
When the river was wide
And the water came running down
To the rising tide
But the wooden ships
Were just a hippie dream
Just a hippie dream.
‘Cause the tie-dye sails
Are the screamin’ sheets
And the dusty trail
Leads to blood in the streets
And the wooden ships
Are a hippie dream
Capsized in excess
If you know what I mean.

Young wrote his own anthem in 1972 about a wonderful escape by humans from Mother Nature’s ruin– not in wooden ships but in silver spaceships.

Well, I dreamed I saw the silver spaceships lying
In the yellow haze of the sun
There were children crying and colors flying
All around the chosen ones
All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun
Flyin’ mother nature’s silver seed
To a new home in the sun

Neil Young flourished artistically among the dreamers of the hippie Revolution; he is not a lot older than I, and his perspective on a failed ideal is in harmony with my own. (‘Look at Mother Nature on the run, in the 21st century’.)

Make Peace with Reality

But ultimately Young decided that making his own authentic music in the system of American capitalism was all the freedom he could really believe in, and peaceful Revolution wasn’t credible (‘the tie-dyed sails lead to blood in the streets’). He continued to use his music, fame, and platforms, for the causes he believes in; Young is not a sell-out, but not a political revolutionary either.

Just because it’s over for you
Don’t mean it’s over for me
It’s a victory for the heart
Every time the music starts
So please don’t kill the machine
Don’t kill the machine.

Young has tried to walk the fine line between cynic and idealist in his politics. The machinery of capitalism has blessed him with a good life and he asks us earnestly not to kill that machine. Music is for him revolutionary – for the soul.

Ursula K. Le Guin, referenced earlier, says that capitalism can be changed – just as the old divine-right-of-kings was overcome, by human effort. I rather think capitalism is far more than a theory of kingship, not likely to be transformed easily, but I respect that she holds up Art as a path to fundamentally change capitalism. If capitalism can stay itself and be “conscious” too… Awesome!

I, along my life-path, moved far-left in Marxist politics before adopting the idea that Revolution dreamed by socialism wasn’t ever possible – class violence does not [and cannot] deliver a better world; new injustice appears. My historical studies brought me to this view.

George Orwell, a socialist, saw the Revolution in Russia and the attempted one in Barcelona, and wrote very penetrating novels about them. Animal Farm  and 1984 are his depiction of what happens in revolutionary Russia.

Charles Eisenstein is one of finest essayists writing about the inexorable failure of human revolution-by-violence to create the world we say we want. A ‘more beautiful world’ isn’t won by war, he knows.

Either you are or you aren’t

If I say with a straight face, “I am conscious and aware — but there are masses of people asleep and/or submerged in ego, materialism, fear, ignorance, and hatred” – why should anyone be willing to listen to me?

I listen to cultural conversations, and I notice people do say this. With a straight face they write about it, lecture on it, take fees for teaching it: they belong to a demographic of evolving minds. Other folks simply do not.

Teachers of the New Age issue a call: Conscious people, step forward. The rest of you, stay in your herd, follow your shepherds.

Yes, if you are conscious, reader, you can prove that. I am conscious, I know it — and you might be if you prove it. Just satisfy my standard of proof.

I use these words to provoke my readers. The message is offensive; it is patronizing and arrogant and stinks with a superior attitude. Who does Jeanes think he is? I could not agree more.

Trouble is, everywhere I turn to find people thinking about the evolution of “more-conscious humans”, of “advancement in spiritual growth”, of seekers “questing for a higher awareness” – there I find the superior attitudes. Conscious and consciousness now are marketing buzzwords. “Conscious capitalism” has made its debut: as a meme for selling.

See for example:

https://www.reneeoddy.com/blog/what-is-conscious-business   (4 pillars of conscious capitalism)

And    https://www.consciouscapitalism.org/

Evaluating higher consciousness

Today’s ascended-consciousness observers call certain people unconscious or asleep, a.k.a. the sheeple.

An illustrative quote from Mountain Culture magazine:

“I once watched a documentary about Shambhala… It seemed a giant sinkhole of human terribleness… you can be high as a kite… and experience awakenings and epiphanies you’ll never remember… Festivals used to be fun celebrations of individuality but now everyone has a tribal tattoo they don’t understand… they’ve become progressively stupid…  [If this] is emblematic of a higher level of consciousness, we’re all in trouble.”

Wow. An old-testament prophet would hardly be more angry at watching Israelites fall into heathen-cult ecstasies than this modern observer is, describing the behavior of “new-age festival-goers”.

To judge another person’s level of consciousness is an intrinsically unhelpful act, not making you more conscious and not adding to the world’s supply of compassion, in my opinion. Have you ascended from the levels of past mind and consciousness? I’d say that’s entirely up to you in your individual opinion to decide for yourself. You compare your old self to your changed one and see if there is a difference in quality. Is your newer mind ‘improved’

Read Stephen Pinker. Ken Wilber. Don Beck. Barbara Marx Hubbard. Steve Dinan. Jeremy Rifkin. Gregg Braden. Spiral Dynamics. The Shift Network. See the Appendix for links to their websites. They believe in the Dawning. Onward, upward! Humans will not go down, earth will thrive, consciousness will ascend.

Consciousness: a constant, or an elusive je-ne-sais-quoi?

Comparison of consciousness, in past and present, whether our minds grow better or worse, bears heavily on answers to questions about “good”.

I am still preoccupied with the definitions of improving humanity that I have raised in previous columns. I have argued that the question of good must be answered in the context of consciousness and conscience. (Conscience by the way is the same word in French for two words we employ in English

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conscious )

I have written that the question of good and its opposite must be part of any understanding of growth in consciousness. We act in ‘evil’ ways but we have no consciousness of that because evil lost the meaning once understood within religious narratives. The Bible, the Quran, the Talmud: these scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths are replete with codes for avoiding evils. Evil is defined therein. Do we accept their codes in our modern valuation of good? Not often.

So, what did we put in place of God? Charles Taylor would not say “the Self” but he would say we have become arbiters of our own valuation of what is good. His entire tome, referenced above, wrestles with the modern sense of identity that encompasses our judgement of the good.

A system of formation of mind that trivializes conscience – except for the ego-individual’s personal “values and choices” — renders impossible any consensus code of morals and ethics. We do have some consensus, but lack it in spheres where our religion once laid down its definitions for us. Are we less-well-formed in questions of good and bad than religious people in the past? Not so, Taylor has argued persuasively.

‘Good’ in the system of Modern Self is not just a matter of opinion; that would have been unthinkable to all ancient minds, not only the Israelite authors of the Bible. We are not without our own modern ethical and moral standards. But we certainly think less about divine mandates working upon us than those previous generations – hundreds of them – before our times. Humans thought about good and evil in primordial times because to do evil would bring dire consequences. Believing that, those humans were very unlike you and me.

The modern world created in the West since about the sixteenth century is now global in its reach. Religious concepts of good and evil still contest with secularism in much of the world, but science and technology bestow power, and elites in all cultures around the world yearn toward the material power Western ways will deliver. Will-to-power is a yearning like what past humans experienced. The restraints upon that will are not at all like what they knew. We think we can make our world ourselves; past humans had little belief in that. We believe we know reality through scientific method. That is new.

   In previous columns, I have alluded to our culture’s assumption that we moderns are superior to all foregoing civilizations on the basis of our manifestly-superior material science and technology. A Canadian of ordinary means and education is extremely-likely to hold this view of the past; the past is belowus on the ladder of progress. However, there are not a few contrary voices challenging this opinion. The Past is not inferior. It’s different. That’s an historian’s view .


What forms modern mind is system — the organizing qualities of society, economy, culture, politics, we live in. System is what you see when iron filings fall on white paper under which is a magnet. It gives order to what we call “the world.” System shapes every act we perform with the exterior, with other people, with things. System is not an exterior Truth, but we call it reality.

Our modern reality is materialist, “capitalist” and non-religious — alien in a vast multitude of ways from the consciousness of ancient humans. We are moderns, but for most of our species’ existence, we were quite different. People of the past also thought about what is good and what is better. I want to ask about their understanding of a better world in their time when the future they forecast is this present we are living in.

I’ve declared my disappointment that my youthful dreams of improving the world did not manifest into reality. Other people of the past have been disappointed when they witnessed their unexpected future come to pass.

We now live in 2023, in all its wonder and terror; I have many keeping me company in my disappointment over the failure of the Aquarian promise.

And there are some, maybe many, who think there is no cause for disappointment in the reality they observe. They dream differently


End Part Two


Weary reader, come back to the appendix later…

Appendix to Part Two

quotations for the Nature of the Human and the potential for improving it


“What is man? He is by no means a finished or harmonious being. No, he is still a highly awkward creature. Man, as an animal, has not evolved by plan but spontaneously, and has accumulated many contradictions. The question of how to educate and regulate, of how to improve and complete the physical and spiritual construction of man, is a colossal problem which can only be conceived on the basis of Socialism. We can construct a railway across the Sahara, we can build the Eiffel Tower and talk directly with New York, but we surely cannot improve man. No, we can! To produce a new, “improved” version of man- that is the future task of Communism. And for that we first have to find out everything about man, his anatomy, his physiology, and that part of his physiology which is called his psychology. Man must look at himself and see himself as a raw material, or at best as a semi-manufactured product, and say: “At last, my dear homo sapiens, I will work on you.”                                                                       – Leon Trotsky, 1918


“I have come to understand why man is the most fortunate of creatures and consequently worthy of all admiration and what precisely is that rank which is his lot in the universal chain of Being — a rank to be envied not only by brutes but even by the stars and by minds beyond this world. It is a matter past faith and a wondrous one. Why should it not be? For it is on this very account that man is rightly called and judged a great miracle and a wonderful creature indeed .. . . [God] therefore took man as a creature of indeterminate nature and, assigning him a place in the middle of the world, addressed him thus: “Neither a fixed abode nor a form that is thine alone nor any function peculiar to thyself have we given thee, Adam, to the end that according to thy longing and according to thy judgment thou mayest have and possess what abode, what form, and what functions thou thyself shalt desire. The nature of all other beings is limited and constrained within the bounds of laws prescribed by Us. Thou, constrained by no limits, in accordance with thine own free will, in whose hand We have placed thee, shalt ordain for thyself the limits of thy nature. We have set thee at the world’s center that thou mayest from thence more easily observe whatever is in the world. We have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have the power to degenerate into the lower forms of life, which are brutish. Thou shalt have the power, out of thy soul’s judgment, to be reborn into the higher forms, which are divine.”                         

 — Pico della Mirandola   http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/pico.html


 ‘What a piece of worke is a man! How Noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In forme and mouing

how expresse and admirable! In Action, how like an Angel in apprehension, how like a God!

The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

                                                                         — Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2 (1610)


From Joseph Chilton Pearce:

“All of our perennial philosophies, spiritual paths, religions, dreams and hopes, have spun out of an intuitive knowing that these higher intelligences exist, that life is more than just an economic knee-jerk reflex, that we are not just glorified Skinner-box pigeons or naked apes. On the one hand we have divinized our potential, projecting who we are designed to be onto an abstracted cloud nine rather than fulfilling our evolutionary potential, and falling victim to the politics of that projection. On the other hand, and far more destructively, we have denied our evolutionary nature, grounding ourselves in the more primitive, physically bound modes of our brain/mind, and subjecting ourselves to the magician-priests who can best manipulate that physical realm. 

— Evolution’s End, pp. xv-xvi

“Split between these lower and higher neural systems, with evolution pressing to break through into its new modality, our situation can get precarious. Our personal awareness, with its ego-intellect, makes up an estimated 5 percent of the total intelligent energy of our brain/mind. (The rest provides the environment and maintains the conditions of, this personal 5 percent.) Yet with this paltry percentage we try to manipulate universal forces of unknown magnitude and then wonder why everything goes wrong. Over and again we hear the clarion call that we must ‘take evolution in our hands’ and do that which bumbling nature, in its fifteen billion years of incredible creation, has obviously not had the intelligence to do.

While the ego-intellect loves such arrogant, bootstrap nonsense, operations of this sort plunge us from one personal, social, and ecological catastrophe to another, and we are apparently incapable of catching on to our error. As architect Henry Bergman once said, “Each and every problem we face today is the direct and inevitable result of yesterday’s brilliant solutions.” 

— Evolution’s End pp.xvi-xvii

From Genesis, 1st Book of the Old Testament, an explanation of human being

Chapter 1 (26) And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, (27) So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (28) And God blessed them, and God said unto them, …replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.(29) And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.  (30) And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. (31) And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (end Chapter I)

 Chapter VI (7) And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [or soul].  (8) And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.  . . .  (21) And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;  (22) And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.  (23) And Adam said, This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

(Chapter  II)  (5)  And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  (6) And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.  (7)  And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them …

{I omit The Flood story. YHWH kills all living creatures but those on Noah’s Ark}

 Chapter XI   “…  (5) And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.  (6) And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.  (7) Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. (8) So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth…  ”

“nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.”

I highlighted this line from Genesis because it is startling in a scripture written so long ago. What humans imagined we might do, and then made real with our sciences and technologies, is a capsule statement of our species-history.

We invent. Are all our inventions “good for us”? Well, no. I give J. C. Pearce the final word on this subject. Joseph Pearce says that human invention of material technology is the very crux of male intellect, the creation of any and all things that human ingenuity discovers to be possible — but never asking if is appropriate or wholesome. Male intellect is “head brain” or “the 4th brain”. The female intelligence, he says, asks what is appropriate and wholesome, not only ‘is it possible?’ Female intelligence is “heart brain” or “5th brain”. His iconoclastic opinions are not, I admit, widely endorsed.




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