by Charles Jeanes on Tuesday Apr 18 2023
Doing Good, Becoming Better, Following Leaders
Reading Parts One and Two of Arc #185 published previously, would benefit a reader for an understanding of what follows. In Part One, I described my youthful dreams, the egalitarian aspirations that humans have not managed to realize, and in Part Two, I raised questions of leaders and followers and the absurdity of some Californians’ gospel of ‘ascending’ human consciousness.
This Part Three can stand alone as an essay on religion and spiritual matters.
Belief about Gods: a clue to human consciousness
Have humans always had an instinctive, natural, drive for ascension to better consciousness? This is a fascinating question to put to the historical sources.
It is my conviction that what humans have thought about their gods, and about life and death, are good measures of their consciousness. Westerners, at least those believing in no other world than the material one, are, in my personal evaluation, acting in a less-conscious manner than they might. Demonstrably, we are too afraid of death -- by my judgment. My evidence is anecdotal, not substantiated by measures that would satisfy every reader, I quite understand.
How do we moderns measure up to long-ago humanity in consciousness?
From my biased perspective, those people who never stop asking about meaning and purpose -- of life, death, good, evil, divinity, spirit, and love -- are demonstrating high degrees of consciousness. People were much more likely to do that in the West, before modern consciousness and civilization arrived.
For one ancient people, their god (the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, to use the biblical phrase) structured all relationships with the outside, and was inside each of them. They had a clear notion that "evil" and "sin" were a constant threat. That was their system for comprehension. Different, not worse.
Today we watch eminent “statesmen” tell us Iran (China, North Korea, Russia, Islamism, jihadi terrorists, etc.) is “evil” with all serious intent, seemingly believing that their audience will go along with the judgment. But not everyone does go along. Many declare disgust for politics and disengage from the “overworld” of power and money, to retreat into what seems a saner isolated existence -- if they have that luxury. Yes, it is a luxury to retreat into private life. We are privileged.
I think many of my readers enjoy such a luxury. We can ignore the world.
Judged from the outside: the West as others see us
An Indian guru is quite likely to assert that Westerners are generally “not conscious”. Gandhi famously did not think much of the West, in a quip that Western civilization “would be a good idea.”
A guru or shaman might not say most Indians are spiritually ahead of Canadians, but the assumption that the West is miserable despite its material accomplishments is common in Asia. Addictions (to drugs/sex/money/ things/what-money-buys), family breakdown, social pathology (e.g., homelessness, violent gangs), mental illnesses (e.g., addiction, depression, suicide, neurosis) are the phenomena non-Western people cite to conclude that we are not as happy as we pretend.
Westerners who visit India or Tibet or parts of Africa or Latin America say the same thing. The people there are happier than we are. We are irreligious, secular, materialistic -- and apparently, rather more ill than not.
But why is that so when we’ve got so much good stuff in our lives? Why are modern Westerners not happier? One can easily find evidence that long life and lots of possessions has not worked indisputably in favour of happier human individuals.
Our being, our souls, aren’t fed by matter. Things and experiences cannot fill that "god-shaped hole".
[see here for a discussion of this "hole" in the human: https://tricycle.org/magazine/modernitys-god-shaped-hole/ ]
Scientists: our leaders in modernity
Western Science has lately fastened its steely-eyed gaze on a subject that the East’s meditation traditions have long studied: Defining consciousness. What is mind/ ego/ self/ soul? What is real? "Science will find out" -- is the faith of those who align themselves with the doctrines of scientism.
The quality of being conscious, of possessing consciousness, will emerge from matter, and only in certain organisms with a particular structure of brain: this is one hypothesis. Consciousness is an emergent quality of a physically-evolved organism.
I do not align my personal spiritual orientation only with Western science, with its physics and its neuroscientific, physicalist understanding of our brain-as-mind. Western psychology is not, for me, sufficient. I believe soul to be a "real" quality.
In my readings on the subject of consciousness, I find it heartening to read scientists who admit that the mere matter and energy in our brains and bodies is not an answer to why we have consciousness. Whatever ancient humans experienced as mind, consciousness, and self-hood, we today have largely jettisoned the old religions.
We stumble in the dark awaiting a new sense of certainty; both science and new spiritual paths are willing to provide solutions. New spiritual paths promise to lead us “upward.” Science is wary of saying upward.
I like another hypothesis, not physicalist, that seems more probable to me. Brains can lack mind. Can a mind exist outside of brains? I am agnostic. But I do tend toward perceiving consciousness in the trees and the stars, for example.
An animal with brain-matter and intelligence and knowledge does not have to have consciousness or sentience. A machine of great artificial intelligence can lack sentience. "Consciousness is not a necessity" -- how I would phrase it -- and consciousness is not integral nor essential to the physical properties of neurons.
Scientists: losing respect
Scientists, and expert opinions from scholars in any field, are not held in the high regard they once were. The Covid pandemic has surely revealed this social fact. We’re not fond of experts, authorities, scholarship, research, or knowledge from them – one can be forgiven for drawing that conclusion in the light of pandemic events. We will, however, turn to other “authorities.”
“Still, demand for exorcism in the United States and around the world has never been higher. About fifteen years ago, there were roughly fifteen American priests approved to perform exorcisms. Today, there are more than one hundred.
Why the increase? Priests blame Satan and his works, of course—but also a deteriorating American culture whose God-shaped hole is getting filled with yoga, transcendental meditation, New Age pantheism, Wicca, Santa Muerte, gender theory, Reiki, and other heathen practices. Our society is hungering for spirituality but satisfying this hunger in all the wrong places. Seekers are falling prey to evil spirits.
‘No matter how innocent you believe your intentions to be, when you pick up the healing crystal or the Ouija board, you are broadcasting a desire for a relationship with devils. You may not believe in them, but they believe in you. That’s what a possession is,’ the exorcist I spoke with said.”
-- Kent Russell, “Sorceror’s Apprentice.” Harper’s magazine, June, 2022
Believers in new-age philosophy or ancient theology and magic differ not at all in this; both are seeking resolution, for the conundrums of being human, in a supernatural realm with entities of superhuman power.
Theologians: their leaders in antiquity
Religious people are not like you and me, are they? We are more or less secular humanists, we modern Western citizens of democracies. Science serves us well. But if that is how we are now, it is not how humans always were. Human consciousness is not a fixed quantity. It is subject to cultural evolution.
It seems to me a fair statement to describe the writing in the Judeo-Christian bible as a recording of how human minds in past cultures “evolved” in understanding of the infinite and the divine, of the reality of the material world, and of life, death, mystery. Scripture can be studied as a source for observing the emergence of different kinds of consciousness in cultures: in other words, this holy book is a key text in the evolution of human mind.
The Bible is a book about relationships, one relationship above all – the extremely strange one between an entity called God and a collective humanity called Israel. Israelites were taught by their literate political and religious elite to believe in a divinity who was theirs alone, contracted to them by Covenants with obligations and expectations for both parties. Common people kept sliding into easier ritual practices learned from other cultures: baals, asherahs, magic, sorcery -- all such folk custom among the Israelites drove their leaders to fury. Even kings and priests might deviate and do evil, and the prophets promised dire consequences for errors.
What was spiritual truth and practical wisdom for people 3,000 years before us, is revealed in words in the Old Testament, and in Egyptian and Sumerian religious ideas too. Words of course are notoriously a problem in any estimation of the interior life of minds.
I do not know what my closest friend or child “is really like” inside their heads, so how can I presume to get inside the minds of people so long ago? I cannot really know. But what is written is what ancient people could tell us and the best artifact we have to guide our inquiry.
“Personal” had a different meaning in the past. My person, in the year 1,000 BCE, was not my ego. Ego was not developed then as now. No word for it existed in the most ancient biblical texts.
It was a great innovation for a writer of the 700s to say that god was not the wind nor the thunder, but a “small, still voice” inside the prophet Elijah. Much later, Jeremiah would use a word for “heart” for the inside, for the conscience, of an Israelite, saying God would write his torah on the hearts of his people. They would have consciences.
Egyptian ideas of a ka and a ba make a distinction between the experience-self [personality] and the animal-being [life-force]. Hebrew words for living being [nephesh hhayyah] and for breath-of-life [ruach] indicate a concept of what makes animals and humans alive. Meaning for soul or spirit is perilous in a Hebrew context, and Greek translators used psyche for nephesh; that word-use did not make it easy for English translators.
There are those who deny that the original revelation of God to man - that man has a soul - is an Israelite concept; they blame soul/flesh dualism on Hellenic influence seeping into the original purity of the Semitic mind. It is true that the most-ancient Hebrew texts seem to lack the dualism. Soul might not truly be YHWH’s creation, not be “inside” the human but indivisibly part of us.
Religion is a word we need, but ancients did not. “Whose gods do you worship?” was a meaningful query, not “What religion/ faith/ creed do you have?” A god was a very personal thing: not-me, yet always here. It filled the god-shaped-hole.
Religion, by social consensus now, is a very personal private phenomenon. Religion is not a guide to our consciousness now. Theologians are not our leaders now, either. So, who guides our understanding now, our grasp of what our minds are?
Psychology: the secular science of modern minds
We moderns now say “psychology” casually, referring to our mental states. “Psyche” for the Greeks was no easy concept; it needed a grand myth-metaphor to explain what mind is. “Logos” is another, meaning word, reason, logic, order, creativity. “In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God.” – Gospel of John. C 1 v. 1.
Hebrew concepts pre-date the Greek words we use to translate them. Psyche seems a mystery; a muddle, even. Our psyche is now studied by the science of psychology. One may accept it is science, or doubt that it is the equal of physics, but for certain it is a way of exploring mind by ignoring soul.
Our thinking about our consciousness is muddled when we turn to the text of our religious history, the Judeo-Christian scripture we call The Bible.
Why is mind and/or soul so poorly articulated in that text? Because the Bible was not motivated by the sort of inquiring rationalism personified by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle: philosophical/scientific giants of our Western intellectual tradition.
The biblical writers were not trying to explain mind or reality or methods for thinking. They told stories; stories aren’t philosophy.
The scientific path is not Semitic but Hellenic, and we Westerners are heirs of both. Westerners, so afraid of death -- believing in no other world than the material one, wanting to prolong their lives with medical sciences, measuring the meaning of their lives by making “bucket lists” (i.e. of experiences/things-they-must-have before dying) -- are acting less conscious than people of the past.
That is an opinion, I know. I am judging other people’s consciousness, in direct contradiction of what I have said earlier than such judging is not helpful to me.
Questions about Good
In the past, in pre-modern pre-scientific culture, individuals never ceased to ask about the meaning and purpose of: life; death; good; evil; divinity; soul; love. We moderns aren’t paying attention to these questions in many ways, and for me this amounts to an unawareness of life -- in my opinion.
Facebook posters try to supply answers to some of these mysteries. What is love? There is an app with many quotes for that. What is soul? Google it…
Modernity has altered us beyond recognition to our former ways of being. Human being is not one consistent essence. I recommend the exploration of Western modern mind by Charles Taylor in his long text, Sources of the Self: the Making of the Modern Identity, for an explanation of just how much we are different from former humans. Very crucial to understanding how we differ from earlier people is this: before modernity, philosophy gave high value to the goodness of life lived by certain castes like philosophers, clergy, and nobles.
But modern ideas of the good life now include the dignity of ordinary lives and the justice of treating all human beings as having inherent dignity, according respect to humans not for their social role but merely as beings like oneself.
We moderns do not believe in religiously-inspired elites now, nor in aristocratic leadership by nobles born-to-rule; these changes are profound alterations in human culture. Taylor is a lucid guide through the West’s history of philosophical norms from the Greeks and Israelites to the present era.
As the aristocratic and theistic norms fade, modern humans have invented new ways to reply to the questions, ‘what is good to be’ and ‘what is right to do.’ Our notion of Self has undergone profound transformation, Taylor demonstrates in his studies.
At the end of Part Two, I said people dream differently depending on their culture, time, place. The Semitic people who once believed the Genesis tale of the origin of humans as a creation of the God YHWH possessed minds of vast incompatibility with the minds of modern people in the affluent secular West.
I quote my question from that column: “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.” As I conclude this third part of the Arc, I will examine the Genesis story for what it can tell me about human understanding 3,000 years ago as the authors of the text confronted the mystery of God and tried explaining it.
God, the lonely and unfair Judge
Genesis does not say explicitly why God wanted to make the first man but most definitely his creation of the human was to make a “likeness” to himself. To be like God was the blueprint of Adam, in God’s words. And to have power over naming the beasts was the mission God gave Adam. Soon after that, God saw that the man needed company and created Eve.
So, I conclude that a very early human in the western edge of Asia – or a few different minds working on the same texts over some unspecified period – had the notion that God wanted a peer as company. God was alone and there were no beasts in his new creation who were worthy to be called “like God” until he made Adam. Then he saw Adam feeling lonely too and gave him a peer partner.
God also made a Law for the humans to break if they chose to, which they did, and as punishment he then sent them out of Eden to a much-harder existence than he gave them in paradise. Hard work for men, painful childbirth for women, was God’s idea of justice for the eating of forbidden fruit. [Why the serpent was the source of human law-breaking is not at all clear, but there are variant tales about the Temptation of Eve, and about Lilith, in books that were never allowed by the Israelites’ official religious rulers to be inside the Jewish Bible – check out the uncanonical Book of Enoch as a prime example.]
God proceeds to be outrageously unfair to Cain and shows unexplained preference for a burnt offering of a dead animal from Abel. We know the rest of that story. God is completely unselfconscious that his prejudice in favour of Abel’s offering is arbitrary and might seem unjust to Cain.
So, again extrapolating from these stories, I see a human mind grappling with unfairness in the world and finding God is simply made that way. And when God sees that humans do evil and is ready to wipe the earth clean with a Flood, we know no other reason than that he says to himself that he repents that he ever made humans and all other living things. Only Noah prevents the total obliteration of Creation because mysteriously God shows favour to Noah.
These are the kinds of tales that modern humans simply will not accept in a being of ultimate power over us, who is supposedly only Good. We moderns have left all that belief behind, beginning with the Western Enlightenment and proceeding through Nietzsche pronouncing God dead, to this moment.
Humans want connection. Loneliness can make us act badly.
Though I see plainly that an Israelite of 3,000 years ago is not like me in countless ways, I still see value in the views of such people. They understood a simple human truth, that loneliness feels terrible. And this also: experiencing injustice at the hand of God might enrage a human to commit murder.
Death is one other great mystery that humans wrote about in our Judeo-Christian scriptures, the foundation of Western religion. And about Death the Bible has no answers either - until the dogma derived from Jesus’ teachings on eternal Life, Salvation, and eternal Damnation became fixed in Christianity. And again, those are concepts moderns will not allow to steer our lives any longer after many centuries when they did rule us.
So I leave readers with this wonderful quote about a double human mystery – the mystery of knowing another person, and the mystery of where the dead go.
“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, forever and forever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life's end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?” - Charles Dickens
We know no other person as well as we might want. And Death is no more mysterious than that interior of the one we love. Loneliness is a little death – and feeling no one loves us is the ultimate loneliness.
One could do worse than approximate this explanation for human evil: each human soul demands connection. Without it, we are capable of unconscionably evil acts.
End Part Three
Again, reader, take a pause here before reading the appended essay. I am attempting in this piece to follow a tangent about the West and the conceits of those here who hypothesize that in the West consciousness is progressing. I wrote a great deal about this notion of Progress in Part Two.
This mini-essay is tangential to my main thesis and can be left unconsidered.
The Californian Mind and the synthesis of world civilizations
It's coming through a hole in the air
From those nights in Tiananmen Square
It's coming from the feel
That this ain't exactly real
Or it's real, but it ain't exactly there
From the war against disorder
From the sirens night and day
From the fires of the homeless
…It's coming from the sorrow in the street
The holy places where the races meet
From the homicidal bitchin'
That goes down in every kitchen
To determine who will serve and who will eat
From the wells of disappointment
Where the women kneel to pray
For the grace of God in the desert here
And the desert far away
,,,It's coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It's here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it's here they got the spiritual thirst
It's here the family's broken
And it's here the lonely say
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way
-- Leonard Cohen, from Democracy is coming
I have been speaking a great deal about the West in the previous two parts of Arc #185 and how we of the West perceive human consciousness and the potential for an improvement in the lot of humanity by an upward leap of consciousness.
The West: a statement about Human progress
The USA is the centre of the West now. Here is what a great president of the US said about human mind and the making of better institutions to suit the evolution of mind.
“Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it, and labored with it. It deserved well of its country.”
“I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects.”
“Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” [emphasis added by me – CHJ]
I quote Thomas Jefferson in order to endorse his view: human mind changes over time. He calls it progress, but I will settle for the neutral word “change.” Our social, and politico-economic, and cultural, forms must of necessity change as we do. Jefferson offers a very strong model of Western Enlightenment thinking about what human progress could and would be, and his consciousness was impressed, as it were, upon the American public mind by his amazing prominence among the “Founding Fathers” and their Revolution.
It is of striking note that Jefferson rejected anything in Christianity that was contrary to Reason, and he offered his own version of the New Testament in which he removed all miracles, magic, and irrational impossible acts by Christianity’s key biblical figures.
Here is what he told John Adams about the revised version he had written:
In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to them. We must dismiss the Platonists & Plotinists, the Stagyrites & Gamalielites, the Eclectics the Gnostics & Scholastics, Logos & Demi-urgos, Aeons & Daemons male & female, with a long train of Etc. Etc. Etc. or, shall I say at once, of Nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the Amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an 8vo of 46 pages of pure and unsophisticated doctrines.”
Jefferson was a Deist and in love with Reason. But the problem with the Western Enlightenment of which he was such a potent symbol himself, is that it is a Western phenomenon, not a universal human one.
The West: a great philosopher exalts his own Civilization
A seminal figure in Western philosophy, one of the great minds of what is called “the Western Enlightenment” in eighteenth-century European history, was George Hegel, the Prussian who influenced so many thinkers, such as Karl Marx. His thought lives on today.
[Ken Wilber, an American philosopher, is one who applies Hegelian concepts to great effect; Wilber is one of those thinkers who promotes the idea that humanity is making upward progress in the quality of minds in our civilization. The Appendix to Part Two is where readers can find this.]
Hegel invented the notion of “The Dialectic,” a process in human history he believed patterned all human progress. Humanity has gone through three great stages, he said: Oriental, Greco-Roman, Germanic. Each one had to be evolved by a process of the dialectical working out of opposed forces, the thesis and its antithesis, which forces struggle until a synthesis emerges of qualities from both the forces, but now there is a “higher level” of humanity operating on a higher spiritual plane.
“Spirit” is acting in history; each stage of history is an advance, a progress, of that phenomenon, and it moves humanity toward a goal. Freedom was the goal Hegel saw, and he believed that in the Prussian State the very-highest degree of human liberty had evolved. (Hegel was a German reactionary, set against the French Revolution in political terms; Karl Marx was too young to have known Hegel but was profoundly shaped by the philosophy of Hegel in the 1830s.)
Hegel knew less of world history than we can know now, and his perspective was limited to his time; he died in 1831. He could not know what the history and prehistory of homo sapiens has been since our species emerged from an African cradle. Notoriously, Hegel declared Africa was insignificant to History.
The take-away from Hegel is this: the West is best, highest, most-evolved.
African Genesis: our species on the planetary stage
Humans of our species have been on earth for around a quarter-million years. That is an estimate, but it places us as a younger, more-recent hominid on the evolutionary track from australopithecus through homo erectus -- and perhaps more-recent also than Neanderthal Man. Sapiens came out of Africa late.
Scientists still debate the exact nature of our relationship to the Neanderthals, and geneticists wonder how much of the Neanderthal genome has been preserved inside the DNA of Sapiens. But today we are the only homo species on the planet, and the disappearance of other forms is a fascinating puzzle.
The interesting thing for my purposes is the genetic research showing that European homo sapiens is slightly different from Asia’s sapiens, and that the Asian variant of human has perhaps more of Neanderthal and Denisovan than the European strain. This is still controversial. (It’s important to note: I’m not writing here of a notion of “races” – white, black, red etc. - sub-divided within humanity, a notion not supported by genome evidence.) All humans belong within one sapiens species and our variations are genetically insignificant. Yes, there are variants but Europeans aren’t a unique “race.”
The history of our planet in the record of its human dominant species has one indisputable pattern for the past two centuries: one section of the species in Europe and North America arose to dominate all other humans for a short period, and in that time – the Modern Age – became quite narcissistic.
East is East, West is Best?
“The West is the best. Get here, and we’ll do the rest…” The Doors, The End
The West and the East (occident and orient) – traditionally categorized, before the western hemisphere was encountered by Europeans -- have been separate in some very significant ways since the time of ancient Sumeria and Egypt in the fifth millennium BCE.
An excellent introduction to what makes the West what it is, in a consciousness of difference, is The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas.
Israelites, Akkadians, Hittites, Assyrians, and Babylonians, the humanity of the ancient Near East (western Asia), have left traces of their cultural productions in the West; when the Greeks under Alexander invaded the Persian Empire -- and brought East and West together momentarily in one political unit under Greek hegemony – the idea that there is a qualitative difference in the civilizational qualities (religions, economics, politics above all) has become entrenched in European thinking. That the West is best was held to be self-evident until the 1960s. China under Mao rejected that entirely. Yet Mao was a Marxist, his Marxian mind was inarguably shaped by a Western dogma, though he called Marxism “the Science of Revolution.”
China today is ruled by a totalitarian Communist Party and an autocratic ruler who thinks himself the continuator of Marxist genius... Not exactly what one would expect from a civilization as old and distinguished as China.
Axial Age Progress in human cultural consciousness
What has been called the “Axial Age” of religious/spiritual genius - (Socrates, Plato, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zarasthrustra, Buddha, Mahavira, Confucius, Lao Tzu, all lived then) - occurred before and just after Alexander the Great lived, but well before Jesus and Mohammed.
The book to read is Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution. It’s brilliant.
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The key advance in the Axial Age was in our development of agape – our capacity for empathy, for understanding that all humans are one family. As I said, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Mahavira, Socrates, Plato, the Israelite prophets - propounded this idea, and all lived within that few centuries now recognized as “axial.” Human moral and ethical consciousness made an advance, in cultural evolution, then.
Does “the East” agree: Consciousness is “Progressing”?
Why I find genetic research into European and Asian homo sapiens interesting is simply this: extrapolating from Hegel, using West and East as thesis and antithesis, I arrive at a question: where is the Asian contribution to the global conversation on the quantum leap of human consciousnes
The West’s contribution, as I noted, is easy to find in English-language sites on the Internet. Critiques of the book by Tarnas I recommended above, fiercely fault him for not paying any attention to the passions of the Eastern Mind.
What is going on in India and China, to name the two great sources of Asian civilization? Would I even know about it if there were people contributing to this cultural phenomenon? Yes, I think I most definitely would know. It is not difficult to find Westerners whose access to information about Asia is much greater than mine, and I would expect Ken Wilber or Charles Eisenstein to inform me of developments there.
What I can find out about China is, I know, somewhat controlled information. I accept that that huge nation and population is under a regime of government fairly labelled “totalitarian.” The Communist Party exerts much energy, to powerful effect, to control the intellectual and cultural life of the Chinese, as well as its indisputable direction of the politics and economics of the nation. If the Party is opposed to “quantum-leap” philosophy, as it was opposed to the Falun Gong religious phenomenon decades ago, or the student democracy movement of 1989, then for certain the Party would attack, suppress, prevail --and such cultural expressions would not be allowed.
I know nothing of such an attempt by the Communist Party to suppress that culture; I conclude there simply is no such “ascending-consciousness” cultural movement. It would be major news if this were happening, as we know the news of abuse by the Party of Tibetan and Xinjiang (Uighur) regional cultures and the peoples who live there.
Absent such a movement in China, one is justified to ask why California seems to dominate conversation. I suspect California simply has the wealth and leisure to support the movement, and so it flourishes, regardless of the merits of its teachings… as Hollywood has in some ways dominated global culture with blockbuster films like Avatar. America was clearly hegemonic in the 1990s in geopolitical reach and unchallengeable military-industrial potential.
India, so much transformed into a quasi-Western nation by two centuries of British imperialism and colonialism, has been more assimilated to the West. English is widely spoken; Bollywood is a force even in the West. A very popular film, Slumdog Millionaire, has introduced the West to how much Indians are striving to copy Western norms and practices in their notion of freedom. At the same time, we in the West have much exposure to Indian yogis and gurus, Indian religion and philosophy and food and music. India is not offering an antithesis to the Western fascination with the ascension in human consciousness-evolution. I expect no dialectical process to merge California with India into a higher stage of consciousness. I wish, indeed, that such a merger would come to pass.
Conclusion: no east-west synthesis = no ascending human consciousness
My conclusion to this tangential inquiry is simple: if the entire global cultural community is not participating in Californians’ faith in humanity-spiritually-ascendant, the faith is feeble and its dogma of no validity. That is how I see it; either all humanity across all cultures shares it, or no ascent can happen.
Charles Taylor will guide you through a complex history of the West’s philosophy of what human being “ought to be”. He says we ponder two major mysteries in the Western tradition: What is good to be? What is right to do?
His book I referenced earlier is his attempt to show how the modern sense of being a Self has evolved in our tradition. He ignores African, Eastern and west-Indigene (natives of earth’s western hemisphere) habits and modes of thought.
As for my conclusion that a synthesis of planetary mind – the noetic mind/ the noosphere, in the phraseology of William Irwin Thompson – must be in process of evolution before we can celebrate an ‘ascension’ of human mind: Taylor does not pose the question because he investigates only the West. And, for Taylor, the notion of “ascent” is foreign. He recognizes differences, not elevations.
[for Thompson, read this: http://en.copian.ca/library/research/ltonword/part4/thompson/thompson.pdf]
Sorry, but no. In the period of recorded human history, the evidence of an ascended consciousness, as opposed to merely different kinds, is non-existent. In my opinion.