DECONSTRUCTING THE WORLD
DECONSTRUCTING THE SELF
The Human Mind
The Human Being
After appearing in Indonesia around 200,000 years ago, the first Homo sapiens spread from Africa to China with their maritime culture, but instead of staying seaside (or going fully aquatic), they pushed inland (back where they came from). Those early humans have disappeared under the waves (their closest living relatives are the Bushmen of the Kalahari). Our ancestors competed with erectus and the neanderloids as they spread across the eastern hemisphere, and won (becoming the only hominid species left on the planet).
We won because we are able to adapt to any environment mentally by creating a culture specific to that particular region. Mental survival is accomplished via pattern recognition, and a culture grants its adherents another layer of complexity, which gives humans an enormous survival advantage. That advantage was the difference. The neanderloids were genetically evolving to their environments, but they were quickly replaced when competing directly with our ancestors. Cultural sentience has allowed humans to adapt to every environment (from tropical jungles, to barren deserts, to mountain tops, to the Arctic ice sheets) by creating the optimum culture for their surroundings.
Cultures evolved from the umwelt (or the subconscious of the upper mind), which deals with the mezzo-level facets of being (or the economics, sociality, politics and knowledge of the region). All of which become the greater memes of a culture (along with the macro-level religion which was needed to replace the collective unconscious). The five greater memes are each made of lesser memes (both major and minor). All of the memes of the culture are harbored in the superegos of its adherents (the tribal collective). We are all part of a collective mind, as our virtual reality and individual perspective are based on our culture.
Cultures are complex adaptive systems. They are not immutable. They evolve. They change with changing circumstances in order to survive. Cultural changes come from internal and external influences (such as technology, religion, philosophy, trade, war and even weather patterns). Change is happening within the cultures, as well as between them. These changes have created many successful memes and many more extinctions as the cultural environment has been evolving throughout human history.
The Age of Innocence
Most of human history has been spent in this era of primitive cultures. Semi-isolated human tribes in various environments around the world formed the myriad of human cultures which can be expected of requisite variety. When a living system succeeds in a variation which is novel, numerous styles are experimented with. The plethora of primitive cultures exemplifies requisite variety in our species. Although it is difficult to generalize about so many differing cultures, there are some recurring themes.
Sociality dominated primitive cultures. Politics and economics were egalitarian in nature and based on familial and social organization. Life was determined by the environment, everything from quite burdensome to quite pleasant. Their world was limited by the boundaries of their tribe and this limited scope was reflected in their living narrative.
Most of the tribal names of primitive cultures are translated best as ‘the people’ or ‘the humans,’ which does not separate them from their human neighbors like the nation-state mentality of today, but does separate them from other species. It shows how they view their place within nature, as they are not detached from nature, but see themselves as a part of it, which is also reflected in their elaborate myths.
Myths are non-rational and non-logical living narratives, where the first two people can meet other people and no one seems to notice any inconsistencies. Each myth puts that particular tribe in the best lands, at the center of the world, and important to the story of creation. Each of the tribal members becomes one of the characters in an ever-unfolding drama of tragedies and triumphs. The tribal morality, goals, family organization, social organization, knowledge and scope are found in these dramatic orations. But most importantly, the myths legitimate the culture by occupying the collective unconscious, making its memes as natural as breathing and eating.
Knowledge was dominated by technology, which was still in the Stone Age. Gnosis was the only other form of knowledge. Since they were dependent on their environment for survival, they were attuned to the workings of nature. When a shaman speaks of nature spirits and life-force, they are speaking from experience. Magick is the way to enlist them via external gnosis, while internal gnosis is exemplified by the vision quest.
The vision quest is used by the individual to get in touch with their spiritual and unconscious realms. The individual starts with a question which will focus their attention through an ordeal which can be brought about by endurance, starvation or hallucinogens. The peyote ceremony of North America and the whirling dervishes of Arabia are contemporary examples of the vision quest.
Gnosis would have problems later because the knowledge is passed on through myths. When later generations would throw out the myths as illogical and unscientific, they also threw out the knowledge gained by that system of thought. Gnosis is illogical and unscientific, but so is the world we live in. The evidence does not always fit the logical, scientific world modernity has constructed. Primitive cultures understand this fuzziness, because they live in an irrational, mythical world, which they have constructed out of their experiences living so close to nature.
The Age of Wonder
The most important technological advance in human history was the domestication of grasses (or agriculture). Grass is condensed bio-energy, and it can sustain large populations of animals, but it is difficult to digest. Cattle need four stomachs to digest the tough grasses, so humans learned how to harness the seeds, and there was enough food to support a large urban population. The valleys of the Nile, Tigres and Euphrates, Indus and Yellow Rivers were the birth places of the first historical civilizations (starting around 3500 BCE), but others have sprung up all over the world.
The first cultural paradigm shift was due to the population explosion brought about by agriculture, as the primitive cultures in these areas gave way to primitive civilizations (the first cities). Different civic systems were developed by different civilizations to accommodate their new circumstances, but each civilization evolved along the lines already in place during that particular culture’s infancy. Civilization separated humans from nature and sent us on a new path.
Knowledge changed due to the time some humans had for contemplation instead of food production, such as tool improvement and engineering. Along with agriculture, the technologies of metallurgy and architecture dominated the knowledge of this era (starting the Bronze Age and creating the Seven Wonders of the World).
Sociality, which dominated primitive cultures, gave way as the other greater memes gained strength. Some interesting changes did occur within sociality. The most important was the advent of writing, which co-evolved with economics as a way to keep track of wealth and transactions. Like anything new, writing became as varied as the cultures which developed it. Writing also sparked the formation of laws, or a written code of conduct which all are expected to obey under the threat of punishment. Although they somewhat follow the moral code of the pervading culture, laws are a separate morality enforced by warlords in order to override the various moralities of different cultures, govern commerce and dictate a culture more to the liking of those in power.
Economics was new to civilization. In primitive cultures, the food was distributed more or less equally among those in the tribe. Now there was surplus food of gargantuan proportions which had to be dealt with. The agents of economics (the merchants) would be competing for the crumbs, while warlords and priests would be competing for control of the economy over the next 5000 years. Ancient Egypt and the Aztecs are examples of the religious domination of economics (as well as the whole culture), while Mesopotamia and China are examples of political domination.
Politics was mostly dominated by the man with the best army. The tribal rivalries which would sometimes cause bloodshed evolved into the institution of war in primitive civilizations. War evolved into a vicious and hierarchical system of cultural extinctions. From petty wars to empire building, the warlords left no time for peace. They would use their wealth to gain more land, to gain more wealth, to gain more land, etc. War became glorious as this major meme seeped into sociality and religion.
Religion saw the priestcraft became institutionalized in this age, as an evolution of the shaman. The priests made themselves indispensable by controlling the rituals, ceremonies and even the living narratives which give the civilization its meaning. They had enough power from this to compete with the warlords for control of the economy and the culture. In most cases, the priests and warlords conspired to share the bounty of civilization.
Gnosis was yoked together with religion by the priests to maintain their position. Magick was turned into rituals and ceremonies which confounded the believers and did nothing for them, and the spirits became anthropomorphic gods which needed to be bribed with prayers and sacrifices. Internal gnosis was assumed by the priests alone as they became the intermediaries between the people and the gods, but they were really just charlatans. The actual gnosis was soon lost in all of the human self-aggrandizement and from the growing separation from nature.
Even with these disadvantages, internal gnosis reached its peak near the end of this period (from 1200 to 500 BCE) in India, where the yogis (monks) took their quest to the ultimate level. Through great mental effort, the Upanishadic monks attained the highest level of consciousness, a level where they claim that all-is-one. They also created a path for others to follow, raja yoga.
Raja yoga is an empirical gnosis. First, the initiates must learn to control their behavior and their habits; then they must learn to control their breathing and stillness so they will not interfere with further progress. Next, they must learn to control their thoughts and their concentration. In the final stage (samadhi), the at-one-ment is described as infinite awareness, infinite being and infinite joy. This gnosis is buried within the myths which fostered it, but it is still quite valuable if one is to fully understand human knowledge.
Around 1500 BCE, another form of internal gnosis was experienced by a priest of the Aryan invaders of South Asia. Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) experienced a spontaneous gnosis. What the yogis experience through years of meditation, some seem to experience during a vision quest. Spontaneous gnosis has been experienced by many humans throughout history. Usually, the experience confirms what the individual already believes to be real (like Julian of Norwich), but sometimes, like in the case of Zoroaster, the experience synthesizes a dilemma into something new.
Zoroaster was having problems with the gods he was serving. They were the gods of war and destruction worshipped by the Aryans who were conquering the entire eastern hemisphere with their chariots. Zoroaster saw no good in these gods, so he left his people to wander in the desert with his dilemma. While crossing a river (and probably on psychedelic mushrooms), he had a vision of the one true God, Ahura Mazda. This was the start of Zoroastrianism, the first evangelical (non-culturally specific), monotheistic religion.
workers, who were beginning to rebel. Socialism evolved as a way for the workers to take control of industry and gain the benefits of their own labor. There were many rebellions and revolutions. The Russian Empire became the Soviet Union in 1917 as the Communists actually overthrew their government and set up a nation-state based solely on economics. For the most part, the workers settled for labor unions and slowly menial labor was exported to the colonies.
The merchants helped create the imperialist system, so when they gained control of western culture, the wealthiest merchants (or capitalists) placed themselves at the top of the imperialist pyramid, the citizens of the nation-states of Europe came next, and then the others were left to fight each other for position. Those nation-states which fail fall to the bottom. The weak nations support the lavish lifestyles of those higher up.
Along with Western Europe, the English-inhabited America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also a part of the upper tiers. Japan was foresighted enough to see the benefits of exploitation instead of being exploited and joined the Europeans. America would eventually find itself on top of the Europeans after World War II, while the Communists of the Soviet Union tried to set up an opposing pyramid with Russia on top (which would later fail).
In knowledge, modern science has given us so much data about our world that it will take us centuries to ponder the implications of the discoveries (such as outer space, evolution, relativity and quantum physics, universal expansion and acceleration, genetics, Gaia and complexity). Modern technology has given us some of the greatest advancements in history (from toilets to refrigerators, telephones to televisions, automobiles to airplanes, and from computers to the orbital satellites which connect all these devises).
Technology also aids our scientific investigations and explorations. It makes our lives easier by doing our work for us. The human ability to use and fashion tools has come a long way in a short time. The combination of science and technology coupled with rampant capitalism and the nation-state competition (which allowed modernity to conquer the world) has not only given the West the best standard of living in human history, but it has also impoverished the rest of the world, as well as decimated our environment.
Although science dominated knowledge in the modern society, spontaneous gnosis was not silent. Joseph Smith founded the Mormon religion in early America. He synthesized Christianity with the prevailing belief that the Native Americans were the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel and the idea that America was setting up a new covenant with God. Baha’u’llah founded the Baha’i faith in Iran. He synthesized his Shi’a Islam with Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Modern Humanism (as well as including science). For the most part, gnosis was reduced to mere superstition during this age.
All human cultures have had their insulated, semi-isolated evolution interrupted, as modernity has brought the species together after so many years of separation. The intentions of the founders of the Enlightenment were that an enlightened, modern society would replace the repressive, ignorant, traditional cultures and all would have prosperous lives. Instead, modernity was as coercive and ravenous as it was liberating.
The Modern Europeans have accomplished many wonderful advances in science and technology, as well as political and religious freedom, but in their conquest of the globe, they committed at least five unforgivable crimes which taint all of their achievements: (1) the hoarding of their knowledge, so as to make all the rest of humanity pay for those wonderful advances, rather than sharing them; (2) the economic enslavement of their colonies which resulted from this greed to support their elevated position on a skewed economic pyramid; (3) the physical enslavement of the Africans, when the Native Americans would not do; (4) the continuing genocide against the Native Americans; and most importantly (5) the continuing environmental destruction on a scale close to an asteroid strike in extinctions, pollution and habitat destruction.
The Age of Chaos
The world changed from a modern society to a postmodern society on August 6, 1945. The atomic bomb Little Boy went off over Hiroshima Japan at 10:34 am local time, and tens of thousands of people evaporated instantly. The Atomic Age had begun. World War II was soon over, and the world was not the same. The major meme of war could now lead to a nuclear holocaust (and it almost did in 1962). We are now able to cause our own extinction (and it would take less than an hour). Like other eras, the shift into the postmodern was not instantaneous; it continues to be a gradual process.
Postmodern means ‘after the modern.’ There is no name for this era because there is no culture to give it a name. Modernity is over (but it continues to be our global culture because there is no alternative). None of the traditional cultures can become the culture for our global society because of tribal rivalries, and because they are just as obsolete as modernity. In other words, we are cultureless (which is our postmodern predicament).
Next Chapter: Our Postmodern Predicament