What was missing from Norman O. Brown—his tribal Freudian antipathy toward the Jungians combined with his failure to more fully explore myth—was, as in Love’s Body, the enlargement of Trinity into Mandala, the modification of Joachim of Fiore’s historical and spiritual three ages into four (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to Mother, Father, Son, and Daughter), and the pushing of human consciousness beyond its self-absorbed Abrahamic cul-de-sac and on into a far fuller mythological representation. Well, maybe human consciousness can’t be pushed—it tends to be a stubborn critter, at least short of trauma or catastrophe—but it can be offered the free services of a mythological tow truck.
With Lewis Mumford, another of my mentors, and his Myth of the Machine and Pentagon of Power in particular, a comprehensive picture of evolved human consciousness was so compactly constructed that it called for a follow-up volume. And what would that have consisted of? Something that dealt explicitly with civilization as an evolutionary anomaly, an anomaly based on the enforced organizational spread of a kind of coercive order (Mumford’s “traumatic institutions” as the ongoing historical force within Toynbee’s two congenital diseases of Class and War), a class- and gender-based authoritarian system new to human experience, at least new in its organizational spread and multimillennial longevity. Except for a unique (but limited) exploration in “Utopia, the City, and the Machine,” a 1965 essay tucked into Interpretations and Forecasts, Mumford never gave us the culminating vision that all his prior study and depth understanding enabled him to achieve and articulate. Like Brown, Mumford never took the next logical step. He was conflicted by the chasm between civilization (the good thing) and “civilization” (the cruel and rapacious thing), and he never resolved the conflict.
Perhaps these intellectual giants got as far as they were able. (But now one thinks—as puzzling as this may initially seem—of those who study weather and climate and have the technological means by which to perceive all major weather patterns simultaneously on a global scale. Individual human consciousness is now capable of imagining, in an empirical way, real time weather developments around the very planet on which that perceiving individual contains and exercises the mystery of evolutionary consciousness. The whole—or some daunting imagining of the whole—happens right inside one’s very own awed consciousness. To experience this Round Earth consciousness is now a real thing. It’s even possible to attain this global consciousness at public universities. It’s there for the taking, for the trying on for size and learning to wear. And it’s guaranteed to last for a lifetime or your old consciousness back, with regrets.)
Well, that’s too potent a thought to confine, unfinished and even snubbed, in a concluding parenthesis dropped like a medieval portcullis.
To truly live the global one must perceive and feel the global. The global has to be (because it is) a real thing, a felt thing, and not just a mentally expansive and somewhat moralizing abstraction. To actually feel the global, to live in the sustained realization of its always-moving, forever-spinning reality, does a few interesting things to a person’s head. And heart. Or soul.
But here’s what seems a rather difficult problem. With the arrival of this universally available consciousness there’s a threshold paradox, if that’s what to call it. It involves a whole range of things, both evolutionary and cultural, with what’s now a nearly total overlay of accrued civilizational coercion and enforced order. Civilizational consciousness has contained and suppressed evolutionary consciousness on a global scale of progressive dementia. Our consciousness as individual human beings swims in a large pool of consciousness that functions in real collective time and is to a very significant degree a product of civilizational coercion. Our rather comfortable standard of consumption is empirical proof of our adaptation to the (for us) benefits of coercion. Our consciousness has accrued civilizational conditioning that feels normal, a conditioning we are reluctant to abandon. Yet we also live in a far deeper evolutionary time, the time of inherited biological being, even as evolutionary time has had (and will continue to have) spectacular episodes of critical transformation, such as the really big one we’ve already entered.
In some important respects, the tough faceoff between Red and Blue (to use conventional color coding) is a tectonic misalignment in consciousness that’s achieved explosive political rigidity. Blue, for all its aggravating First World attachments and prissy pretentions, is oriented irreversibly toward the global. Red apparently believes—or is trying hard to believe—that white nationalism is God’s gift to, well, white nationalists, and to all those who are subservient enough to concur. But the ethics of democracy—without which the term is only tribal euphemism—is akin to the meteorologist who’s got the world’s weather rotating in his head. Once it’s in there, it’s in there for good. Democracy is that sort of embrace of the human whole, a willing and deliberate embrace. It carries one out of the local, beyond provincial consciousness. Democracy is demographically global. It can’t help but be ethically wholistic, even if it’s a struggle to figure out how to make it function fluidly and well. Everybody gets a seat at the table, and there is no upper-level table set aside for Whites Only.
Well, yes, the global feels out of and beyond the local and the provincial. But before I heard about Zen the mountains were just mountains. When I got into Zen the mountains were glorious beyond description. Now that I’m used to Zen the mountains are only mountains. I’m stealing a Zen head-scratcher to point out, in part, that the consciousness that’s now possible to one and all has a developmental history of seriously disciplined attainment. Getting out of the provincial rut was (and still can be) hard work. But I’m not saying that Buddhists (or medieval Christian mystics) invented global consciousness. The global’s been around ever since there’s been a global, long before Buddhists got to chanting or cloistered mystics banged their heads against their beads. Now all you need to do is pay close and sustained attention.
The global seems like a longtime thing. (It’s so old it seems an eternity to me. And eternity has such awesome curvature that it’s at least one complete orbit around everything and everybody. We all get to have our inexplicable flash of consciousness within that immensity. So there’s another paradox about consciousness and eternity. Well, first a northwoods syllogism: Eternity is the totality of time; we live in time; therefore we live in eternity. That is, one can’t help but feel that consciousness of the global touches as well into eternity. Yet we are temporal beings who realize, with reluctance, we’ve a less-than-eternal lifespan. We touch powerfully into an immensity in which we are the tiniest of transient sparks. But what an amazing ride!) Entering fully and voluntarily into the global is how we can (and hopefully will) massage the tectonic misalignments in our culturally wounded and civilizationally misshapen collective consciousness. That wounded misshapenness has given rise to our evolutionary End Times crisis, compounded, exasperated, and prolonged by the Red/Blue political tectonic standoff. Going radical Green—libertarian ecological democratic socialism—is how we can enter the promised land of global consciousness firmly rooted in ecological place.
The thing is, apocalypse doesn’t mean End Times disaster. The literal meaning of apokalypsis is the discovery and disclosure of the misshapen dynamics that culminate in End Times calamity. Getting to global is therefore a step in the direction of apocalyptic revelation. We would do well to get ready for a steady avalanche of apocalyptic revelations.