Saturday, March 12, 2005

Mind at the End of Its Tether

The end of everything we call life is close at hand and cannot be evaded. Ours is a closed universe, yet we need something beyond it... Man must go steeply up or down and the odds seem to be all in favour of his going down and out. If he goes up, then so great is the adaptation demanded of him that he must cease to be a man. Ordinary man is at the end of his tether. Only a small, highly adaptable minority of the species can possibly survive... Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature's inexorable imperative.

- H.G. Wells: Mind at the End of Its Tether

One of the purposes of this blog is to combine both what is personal and what is common level. I usually speak from my own daily experience, more or less limited, but still hope there would be something touching the universal nerve too; and it wouldn't be too much personal (and exhibitionist?) navel-gazing and washing the dirty laundry of my own. My apologies to the reader if I'm not successful there, and my sincerest joy if there's something someone else manages to relate to.

This is something I won't get tired of repeating, but I really think our culture is on the brink of collapse. This collapse might mean the end and destruction of all civilisation as we know it; in other words, the apocalypse; or it might mean the new beginning for us. Of course, I'd like it to be the latter, but we should really take into account both these possibilities, lest we start to congratulate ourselves for possessing a skill of accurately foreseeing the future.

There is an increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor, only accelerated by the prevailing right-wing and neo-conservative political thinking, which results in such things as giving more benefits to the rich by reducing their taxes, and on the other hand, taking those benefits off from those not-that-well-to-do. Will the downtrodden masses in the long run stay content in their apathy, brainwashed by TV and entertainment, and nourished by junk food; or are we facing the threat of another major malcontent uprising before too long?

This negative development is further implemented by the rise of citizen surveillance and control, even downright tyranny, with the increasing police state-like features in the wake of post-9/11. The ever-continuing economic growth is the credo #1 of our time: the resulting rat race leading only to the workers' increasing mental ill-being and the rapid deplection of ecological resources. Our culture is schizophrenic, seemingly intent on tearing itself apart.

H.G. Wells' last book, Mind At The End of Its Tether (1945), expressed the science fiction writer's pessimism about mankind's future prospects, after having witnessed two world wars and the dropping of atom bomb on Hiroshima; in Wells' view:

Homo Sapiens in his present form is played out. The stars in their courses have turned against him and he has to give place to some other animal better adopted to face the fate that closes in more swiftly upon mankind. ... The cinema sheet [i.e. screen] stares us in the face... Our loves, our hates, our wars and battles are no more than phantasmagoria dancing on that fabric, themselves as unsubstantiated as a dream. ... There is no way through the impasse. It will be the Dark Ages over again, a planetary instead of a European Dark Ages.

Since 1945, other remarkable thinkers have repeated Wells' ideas, and even outgrown his pessimism. H.G. Wells represented the tradition which had started in the age of Enlightenment, believing that science and demolition of superstition (including traditional religion) would wipe away all mankind's problems, and finally lead us to a secular "Kingdom of Heaven on Earth". However, something went badly wrong with this dream. Science and so called rational thinking proved to be not that omnipotent. Something was seriously missing from this equation.

Unlike the traditional leftist critics who mostly concentrate on the materialist facts, personally I'd like to emphasize a "spiritualist" point of view that I think our culture is seriously lacking. And by "spiritualism" I don't mean the dogmatic, fundamentalist religion shared both by the so called "born-again", prayers-back-to-schools neo-conservatives of the Bible Belt USA, or, let's-blow-them-and-ourselves-to-smithereens-on-our-way-to-Paradise Islamist bigots.

Since I think both Jesus and Karl Marx have seen their best days by now (great theory, bad realization), we seriously have to consider what this "New Spiritualism" would mean for us in the situation we find ourselves in. By this I don't mean any New Age type of gibberish that reduces any potentially meaningful ideas into the property of charlatans and marketplace trinkets. By this I'd rather mean a totally new type of "syncretism" (of the Brazilian style which effortlessly assimilates Christianity with both African and Native American natural religions) which would take into account what is common and shared (and not divisive) in all existing spiritual beliefs found from all over the world, and give them a working practical and "exoteric" (as opposite to "esoteric") outlook.

Let me explain a bit my own personal position: it is hard for me to accept as such "the historical materialism" which is preached (and I don't use this word accidentally) by the traditional forms of socialism, since I would find a world devoid of anything but its material level only cold, dead, and meaningless. Again, I subscribe to Jung's idea of man being basically a religious creature (and if that bodes ill for you, you can replace the world "religious" here with "spiritual"). As an obvious form of substitution, in the atheist Soviet Union religious icons were replaced by the all-present images of Marx, Lenin and Stalin. Sigmund Freud thought all human activity was sublimation for sex; with Jung, replace sex with religion.

On the other hand, I'm too much of a Doubting Thomas, or a sort of a skeptic, to accept the dogmas of an organized religion as we know it. I do my best to respect the beliefs of these people (and there are good folks among them, not just narrow-minded bigots), but there's too much of an incongruency between my intelligence, and the acceptance of and following the blind faith just like a child. If someone asks me, I describe myself as an agnostic, but this description is far from satisfactory for me. Robert Anton Wilson calls himself a "transcendental agnostic", and I quite like the sound of it.

Furthermore, what I also disagree with major organized religions, is their discorporeal tendency to see flesh as something sinful and bad. Is it so hard to accept the fact that we are both angel-like creatures of soul, and, come to this world from "between urine and feces"? Not to mention the very biological way every one of us has received their corporeal origins with...?

Well, I'm getting a bit far from where I started. I'm merely trying to define my own position here, and outline some possible ideas on how to help in our current socio-economic-spiritual crisis. I don't provide any answers here, only tons of questions. These ideas are admittedly more or less vague, and I don't claim to be any great or original thinker (far from it, I'm afraid), but these are only my furtive efforts to shape into words some thoughts that have been lingering in me quite a long time now.

Take away the pragmatic level, and you're merely left as another utopian daydreamer. Neglect the spiritual level and you remain trapped in cold materialism (consumerism in its capitalistic reincarnation). Too much emotionalism, and you pave way for another anti-intellectual tyranny. Too much intellect, and you throw the soul away in dishwater. Truly, the road is not easy.