Thank you, Don, for starting this conversation here. It’s perhaps the most crucial conversation we need to be having, and it’s fraught with challenges from the beginning: Nearly no one is looking in ‘the right place’ for the source of our collective problems, and the few that are have enormous difficulty communicating about what they’re learning.
Poking around the internet last night I was excited to learn that you and your co-author shared some core insights from the work of Julian Jaynes and Iain McGilchrist. I know only one other person who has found essential breadcrumbs in these works, and he recently wrote:
“There is no machine that will solve any problem we presently face. Every problem we face is invented by our catastrophically primitive relationship with representational cognition, language, knowledge, and technology. Making more technology will, in every case, explicitly invent new domains of repercussion (most of them purposefully invisible to us). ‘Free energy’ would wipe out humanity and life in Earth in an unimaginably short time.” – Darin Stephenson. More here, and here:
Perhaps the greatest challenge in this moment is how to alert fellow humans to the true nature of the problem. We have to use the traps (language, representational cognition, knowledge and technology) to point to the traps themselves, and it gets endlessly frustrating as we, even those of us with some awareness, get caught in the limitations of the trap(s) again and again. Especially in written text. Witness your exchange with Pluto yesterday: Pluto was looking to engage with and enlarge on your post; but the pitfalls of language, especially when stripped of the myriad nonverbal interpersonal cues that can help us in person, had you both signing off on the conversation in (apparent) frustration.
Your exchange with Pluto also highlights another key to the challenge: The aspect of our consciousness that — both within ourselves and between us. It inserts itself divisively, fomenting confusion and distrust. It doesn’t trust relationship, or life, or the unknown, and actively works against our best interests, again, both within ourselves and between us. We are all prey to this cognitive ‘predator,’ and it hides itself in plain sight: in the common ways we think and speak.
The Powers That Be, to vastly oversimplify, are those who are most in alignment with this predator both within themselves and between each other. Not consciously–consciously they think they are heroes or at least ‘smarter than the rest of us’–but those of us who can see clearly that the emperor has no clothes can see them for the sociopathic monsters they’ve become. What we haven’t been able to see, identify, sort out and respond to yet, is how the game (at least in the short term) works for them and against Life. Here’s the rub: Most of our blindness arises from our under-conscious awareness that somehow we are colluding with them.
Yep. That’s right. Just outside the range of our awareness, we know we are complicit — but the Aspect of our Consciousness That Will Not Be Deposed keeps hiding our complicity from ourselves, projecting it ever outward in cycles of blame and outrage that keep us unaware, and therefore helpless and vulnerable. Yes, I contradict myself: One of the central paradoxes of this mess is that we are ALL both victim and perpetrator. As Solzhenitsyn wrote: “The line between good and evil goes through every human heart…” Our failure to recognize our complicity has us participating actively in, and even celebrating, our own demise.
If we are to survive, if we are to make the great cultural leap required to turn the tide of current events–and IT IS YET POSSIBLE TO DO THIS!–then we must begin looking at EVERYTHING with fresh eyes. Ways of seeing and ways of knowing, that we culture together, as living beings in a living world. Of course we need language, representational cognition, knowledge and technology—and we desperately need to learn how to discover their pitfalls and dangers: how to master them so we are not enslaved by them.
For anyone who’s made it this far in this essay and wants to explore more, I urge you to look into Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind and Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. I take large exceptions with Jaynes’ premise and his conclusions (I’ve never argued more with an author in the margins of a book) but his findings, and the arc he draws of the early development of human consciousness are compelling and illustrative. McGilchrist’s work combines “the most comprehensive, and lucid, review to date of findings from research on differences in consciousness, motives and emotions in the two cerebral hemispheres” with a period-by-period review of the history of Western civilization, in which he demonstrates through discussions of art, religion, politics and philosophy, the growing power of the part of our consciousness that refuses to be deposed. (apologies for repeating this phrase, but I grew immediately fond of it after I first wrote it : )
To these books I would add Peter Kingsley’s work, beginning with A Story Waiting to Pierce You. Kingsley focuses on the very roots of Western civ. In 88 dense and densely-footnoted pages, he dives deep and brings back assorted astonishing treasures (about Pythagoras, and Ghengis Khan, and the Dalai Lama, and…) that, when played with and turned over in one’s imagination, can feel like throwing cages of ages of received wisdom off one’s mind. Thrillingly liberating.
A final recommendation, but not at all the least, would be Paul Levy’s work. He approaches all of this from a cultural and intra-/interpersonal perspective. Throughout history and across cultures, there has been an awareness of (and methods developed for managing) this potentially lethal aspect of human consciousness. The Cree people called it Wetiko, and by that name it has begun to enter more into popular consciousness. There have been many other names: For the Gnostics: Archons; Kabbalists: Kelipots; Algonquian: Wendigo; Hawaiians: e’epa; Carl Jung: Complexes, and on and on. The Sufi’s had a practice for dispelling the effects of this shadow: Ta’wil. Tragically, other than Carl (and few but his closest had an idea of what he was even pointing to) this feature of consciousness has done a demonically great job of hiding itself in Western thought and (anti-)culture.
I know this is all very dense and may seem literally incredible, but on a personal note: As I’ve explored all of the above and more over the last seven+ years, this wondrous and terrifying place we inhabit has started to FINALLY make sense intellectually, emotionally, scientifically (in the most general sense of that word) and spiritually (also in the most general sense of that word). It is a most excellent theoretical framework, because it provides inclusive contexts for what we see and experience, while allowing for the generation of endless hypotheses for us to explore together. No dogma. Really, the end to all forms of dogma. And the beginning of intelligent play.
If we humans can manage this, if we make the great cultural leap we need to make, then perhaps for the first time since we ‘discovered’ language and the representational cognition it gives rise to, we can discover what it really means to be humans: learning how to be human together, and how to care for this beautiful planet.