Tuesday, September 11, 2007
TRANSFORMING HUMAN SYSTEMS:
THE VALUES OF ORIGINARY CUSTOM, INTEGRAL CONSCIOUSNESS, AND A NEW EPISTEMOLOGICAL FRAMING OF LANGUAGE
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My doctoral research focused on the intersection of law and consciousness. In my work I aspired toward articulating a kind of attractor basin (1) for orienting human consciousness toward the remaking of a world that is genuinely conducive to global democracy, economic justice, and civil society – in contradistinction to a world that suffers, at present, from the deleterious effects of empire-driven policies and those actions of corporate capitalism that have caused such misery for citizens worldwide (Johnson, 2007; Johnson 2004; Johnson, 2000; Perkins, 2007; Perkins, 2004). As the undertaking of a project such as this requires the labor of many and varied fields of expertise, it is perhaps the ultimate multi-disciplinary effort. Using a relational/participatory frame (2) of consciousness, networks of problem-solving actors from diverse backgrounds can help to transform human systems by ameliorating and ultimately supplanting harsh, socioeconomic, political, and environmental inequities.
In my dissertation I explored the origins and charted the development of law and legal culture within the Western legal tradition (WLT) by examining the continuing evolution of jurisprudence in the context of Jean Gebser’s (1985) structures of consciousness analysis. Via my own critical intuition, and by examining certain texts (Berman, 2000; Zerzan, 1998; Clastres, 1989; Diamond, 1987), I postulated that understanding law’s genesis out of custom required an excursus into pre-history in search of law’s epistemological legitimacy. I concluded that at some point in pre-history there had occurred a crack in a formerly all-pervasive originary custom nurtured by the pre-mental (archaic, magic, mythic) consciousness of primal peoples. That is, under certain conditions, in certain instances the originary custom of nomadic, non-hierarchical social structures diverged over time into what I refer to as acculturated custom. This led me to my contention that only acculturated custom is that custom conventionally cited as a source of law.
From here I detected the earliest notions of law, what I refer to as mytho-concepts, that arose out of this acculturated custom, eventually mutating symbiotically with mental consciousness into what humanity has come to know as LAW. Indeed, law is uniquely a creature of mental consciousness and alphabetic literacy. In turn, jurisprudence (or the philosophy of law) is continually reworked within the WLT by what historian Donald R. Kelley (1990) posits as the contending, conceptual forces of nomos and physis, employed in an oppositional dialectic that repeatedly plays itself out within the over-arching logos of each succeeding age.
In my doctoral work I sought to demonstrate that the WLT has functioned as a container, mirroring back from within it a mental consciousness directing an evolution of law growing increasingly hypertrophied, as consciousness intensified toward what Gebser (1985) calls its "deficient" form: the mental-rational. I thus surmised that this deficient-mental consciousness is capable of only regurgitating thought and ideas of a debilitating consensual reality via a self-reflexive culture trance. Hence, I referred to status quo law and jurisprudence as deficient-mental legal culture. I posited, however, that humanity is shifting into a more relational/participatory consciousness that Gebser (1985) refers to as integral consciousness (3). A growing subculture of “cultural creatives” (Ray & Anderson, 2000) can be seen as exhibiting signs of this new consciousness shift.
The overriding quest of my dissertation was to inquire into whether law, conceptualized via mental consciousness for over two millennia, can adapt, continue to develop and thrive amid a newly intensifying structure of integral consciousness. In responding, I considered new law practice models (e.g., restorative justice, collaborative law, holistic law, etc) and legal theorists (Barton, 1998; Souza Santos, 1995; Gabel, 1984) whose work is generally oriented toward Gebser’s vision of a new, aperspectival jurisprudence. Thus, I introduce what I term integral jurisprudence as a new attractor basin within the WLT. It is via integral values, and a worldview and reality premised upon integral consciousness, that individuals might not only self-transcend deficient-mental legal culture but generally transform all deficient-mental human systems.
Quite simply, at present the future of the WLT hangs in the balance: whether Western legal culture can self-transcend the deficient phase of mental consciousness will depend on how successful is the symbiotic embrace of integral values that nurture this new consciousness shift. One place to look for a more holistic, relational/participatory frame is the originary custom in the life-ways of present-day nomadic, non-hierarchical primal peoples. What I am suggesting is that such primal peoples have not allowed prior structures of consciousness – the archaic, magic, and the mythic – to become atrophied while being dominated or overwhelmed by a mental/rational consciousness.
Structures of consciousness theory, as applied to nomadic, non-hierarchical primal peoples, might indicate two possibilities, the evidence for which exists solely by deduction from my own theoretical intuition: 1) they simply have not yet reached that hyper-developed stage of consciousness whose acceleration intensifies with the predominance of the deficient form of mythic consciousness, or 2) the deficient form of each structure manifests in a flatter crescendo over a more extended period of time, so that the mutation precipitating the subsequent structure is smoother and the primal person is perhaps better adjusted to his or her consciousness. I am inclined toward the latter theory.
The adaptation to subsequent structures might not be comprehended as those in civilized society experienced their own consciousness – as a progressively developing evolution through stages or structures. Instead, for such primal peoples the intensification of consciousness toward and through mutations may be more of a seamless and imperceptible transitional flow. The deficient form of each structure, rather than colonizing the beneficial aspects of a prior, efficient structure of consciousness by means of a steep, traumatizing process, may instead ameliorate its deficiencies in such a way that each structure of consciousness preserves its integrity and therefore its innate ontological value.
In moderns, the evolution of mental consciousness might be seen as a more forced, steeper, yet shortened and more traumatic process, convulsing into a mental structure that is not as susceptible to accommodating the full benefits of prior structures, which in turn might not be capable of being harmonized (because not fully processed). The full benefits of prior structures are instead repressed into the realm of the unconscious, a kind of universal catch-all referent symbolizing those parts of us that remain as hidden and mysterious psychological disconnects from our wholeness-of-being. I refer to this disconnect from wholeness of being as dissociation.
Crucial to my definition of dissociation as a phenomenon of consciousness is an understanding of the prevalence of a mental/rational ontological orthodoxy that results in a culturally-twisted epistemological stasis – viz., a more generalized dissociative malaise experienced as consensual reality and culture trance. David Edwards (1995) does a masterful job of explaining the dynamics. As he seeks to demonstrate, the basic “reality” framework for modern social goals is determined by powerful state and corporate elites. More to the point, no “conspiracy theory” is needed for society, including its media, to think and act more-or-less in lockstep with the status quo:
"Thus once it has been accepted that industrial society should be dedicated to economic growth through corporate profit generated by mass consumption, these framing conditions can be expected to produce a version of social reality progressively reflecting their requirements in an almost automatic way." (Edwards, 1995, p.35, emphasis added).
I maintain that it is through a self-transcendence, negotiated via a relational/participatory consciousness, that humanity individually and collectively moves away from dissociation toward a more associated and ultimately integrated state of being.
Mental/rational thinkers generally suffer a disconnect from a benign mental consciousness and a treasure trove to be found in the harmonization of prior structures (each latent, however attenuated) that can make consciousness more fully associated. Instead, in a so-called dissociated state, we over-rely on the current, predominating, deficient-mental consciousness structure, the mental/rational, wherein the tendency is for abstractions to replace the concrete world around us. Ralph Metzner (Roszak, et al., 1995a) describes dissociation as a process wherein “we progressively disconnect perception of the external world in order to attend to interior images, memories, and impressions.” (Roszak, et al., 1995a, p.63).
Dissociation, then, appears to degrade our connection to the natural world through a kind of overwhelming solipsism that demands that the wholeness of our consciousness remains aloof and almost absent from communion with the external environment. We become self-referential in our worldview. Put into vivid context, Paul Shepard (Roszak, et al., 1995b) expresses this dissociation in the following way:
"All Westerners are heir, not only to the self-justifications of recent technophilic Promethean impulses, but to the legacy of the whole. We may now be the possessors of the flimsiest identity structure, the products of a prolonged tinkering with ontogenesis – by Paleolithic standards, childish adults. Because of this arrested development, modern society continues to work, for it requires dependence. But the private cost is massive therapy, escapism, intoxicants, narcotics, fits of destruction and rage, enormous grief, subordination to hierarchies that exhibit this callous ineptitude at every level, and perhaps worst of all, a readiness to strike back at a natural world that we dimly perceive as having failed us. From this erosion of human nurturing comes the failure of the passages of the life cycle and the exhaustion of our ecological accords." (Roszak, Gomes & Kanner, 1995b: 35)
I submit, then, that originary custom – as a life-way that presents a different ontological trajectory of our human consciousness – may indeed structurally unfold more slowly and more holistically. By so doing, an embedded familiarization with originary custom may help avoid entrapment in deficient forms of consciousness, or within a predominating structure that is bereft of a holonically integrated nature, whatever those structural limits of consciousness might be. Thus, I propose participatory field research among a primal society that is open to the idea of allowing me to heuristically journey with them and report upon the experience of what I call its originary custom.
Enter the cultural mutant, who deeply senses his or her own dissociation. The cultural mutant somehow missed out on being or becoming a part of the new American dream: the techno-modernist vision, the Western triumphalist society, a person capable of easily identifying with the vapid, deficient-mental consciousness of the age. Instead, the intuition of the cultural mutant apprehends the stirring of planetary values informing a new kind of consciousness.
While his or her society is reveling in its self-referential, solipsistic definition of success, the cultural mutant bemoans the decline of the authentic and agitates against the inequities and imbalances inherent in consensual reality and American culture trance; while this society smugly congratulates itself on its legacy of democratic ideals and its being the champion of liberty and freedom around the world, the cultural mutant is aghast at such hypocrisy, seeing instead a USA that, in spite of its lofty rhetoric, has exploited peoples, their resources, and the environment – either directly or through client entities – wherever it could.
The cultural mutant sees corporate capitalism, that – in the name of neo-liberal “free market” capitalism – has quietly and cunningly traded democratic values and the ideals of liberty for a rank materialism based on the almighty petro-dollar (a dollar now tied to the price of oil), whose supremacy is enforced via the entrenched militarism of over 750 US bases overseas.
Being “out of the loop,” the cultural mutant is none-the-less determined to inform fellow planetary citizens about the benefits of learning to be adept at applying an empowering skill. Mostly such a skill questions the presumptions invisibly inhering in deficient-mental thinking from a holistic, relational/participatory frame of consciousness.
The cultural mutant's critical inquiry into our shared social, economic and political system begins with the assumption that, in general, we are culturally and linguistically limited to, and/or by, the Cartesian spatio-temporal perspective in the mainstream of our thinking. The traditional way of learning – viz., getting to know the problem, devising a solution, and then implementing that solution – is representative of this “old-think.” (4) However, if we wish to transform ourselves while being immersed in that which we wish to know, then we must proceed by other means. Procedurally, the approach is to enter into a process that breaks down the identification with the Cartesian spatio-temporal worldview in order to land us in a new worldview that is relational-holistic in nature. Knowing how to see the dialectical relationship of reality is to situate oneself in an epistemology that holds that relationship between both the relational-holistic epistemology and the Cartesian spatio-temporal epistemology.
The details of how this process of breaking down identifications and opening to a transcending worldview cannot be written down in a few lines. But it can be approached by directly addressing mind, language, and culture, and it can also be addressed by focusing on experiential learning that involves arational, instinctual, and emotional ways of knowing.
Wittgenstein saw philosophy as something like therapy, a transformational exercise. I think Gregory Bateson, R.D. Laing, Derrida and others were also taking philosophy in directions of breaking down the frames of thinking that we ordinarily use in order to open up the mind to greater complexities of reality.
I believe that a process that holds on the one side to mind, language, and culture, and on the other side to enhancing the capacities for experiential knowing, offers a very powerful way toward change and transforming oneself.
I have observed that in the fashion of Cartesian spatio-temporal thinking, people look to change either by knowing more, or by abandoning knowing in a reactive fashion and resorting only to experience as a way to transform themselves. Thus you get an either/or split, either mind or experience. It seems hard for people to engage both/and, i.e., both mind and experience.
It is worth saying that any learning approach that asks people to let go of existing identifications and go into the unknown is asking a lot, as it asks people to tolerate confusion for a period while their psyches reorganize themselves. Fear and frustration certainly arise. On the other hand, I maintain that nature is pushing us all in that direction anyway. I believe that meeting the issue on a territory of one’s own choosing is preferable to having it pushed on you, particularly when you may be least prepared.
Learners of this new epistemological framing will likely feel moments of what transformative learning theorist Jack Mezirow (1975) calls a “disorienting dilemma,” or what Plato refers to in The Meno as “perplexity.” Such states signify that minds are in a process of change. This can be compared to a Zen master constantly telling an adept that he or she has not yet penetrated the koan; by so doing the master is attempting to destabilize the adept’s fixed way of thinking. The adept is expected to experience a kind of temporary psychosis, relax into the bigger mental container of not knowing what he or she previously held so dear, and then have a laugh. The difference between the before and after situations is that before the adept is identified with his or her knowledge. Afterwards, he or she is no longer identified with the knowledge, hence the feeling of freedom and relaxation.
The paradox is that the knowledge is even more available for the learner to use as he or she wishes; and yet the student is no longer a “prisoner” of the knowledge. We can look to systems thinking, to modern physics, to modern philosophy, to a hundred and one modern developmental processes that have nothing much to do with thought and a lot to do with experiential knowing – to shamanic wisdom, to esoteric teachings, to things that I may know through my own experiential knowing that I cannot relate to any formal teaching or learning situation with which I have been involved other than my own living, and so on.
So the real question is whether the effort to change the mind is about having a holistic way of thinking that projects out into the world, or is it to be thinking from within a holistic reality as a participant of that reality. The former is the kind of enlightenment practiced at my former institute (California Institute of Integral Studies) and, for example, by Ken Wilber-like thinkers. The latter is the kind of mentation that an indigenous person from an Amazonian tribe might experience after being familiarized with modernity. In a way, thinking holistically is like swimming in a sea of consciousness, observing patterns of relationship, and accumulating a wisdom of experiential knowing about how to function in this sea of consciousness.
The values and perspectives gained from such a consciousness provide a trenchant method for exposing an old-think-based-on-exploitation by a corpocracy (5)(or corporatocracy) whose sole aim has been to amass wealth and power, and that lulls ill-informed citizenry into complacency via rampant consumerism, out-of-control commodity fetishism, and social-control broadcasts by corporate media.
In fact, the message of the cultural mutant is that humanity needs to provide an opening for an alternative to the fascist powers of corporatism, militarism, and corrupt government; that opening requires a new epistemology of language – a non-Cartesian language that speaks from an inclusive both/and consciousness unbounded by the either/or dualism of mental/rational, Cartesian thinking.
By revisiting originary custom, then, humanity may re-discover values that it had discarded when it diverged onto the path of acculturation – e.g., egalitarianism and that earth-centered perspective expressed in today’s parlance as ecopsychology – values that are much-needed in the world today. Recovering something of what we have lost may lead us to what we can become(6). What we can become is a symbiotic function of how we frame our laguage and act from a relational/participatory frame of consciousness. What all of this means in terms of transformative institution-building is, first, envisioning and founding improved emancipatory and regulatory human systems, e.g., by giving impetus to a burgeoning field known as global governance(Glogov.org, n.d.), which may help regulate interdependent relations via a complex of formal and informal institutions, mechanisms, relationships, and processes between and among states, markets, citizens and organizations, both inter- and non-governmental. It is in this way that collective interests on the global plane are articulated, rights and obligations are established, and differences are mediated. The literature indicates that a niche for global governance is especially crucial to develop as the international system reshapes itself in the 21st century; and secondly, institutional transformation can be structurally nurtured by reconfiguring the idea of national sovereignty in accordance with what has been called “evolutionary idealism” (Litfin, 2001) or via a model of “disaggregated sovereignty” (Slaughter, 2004).
Citizens can rally governments for improved emancipatory and regulatory human systems, and a new form of sovereignty that moves beyond the outmoded concept of nationalism, with its cover of “national security” and its often-myopic “national interests.” Consequently, heretofore-marginalized cultural mutants learn to become citizens of the planet who can begin to have confidence in themselves; they do so as they gain a better familiarization with a new relational/participatory consciousness that they feel or intuit but have difficulty internalizing or clearly apprehending; they do so by drawing on and practicing wider epistemologies and integral values of the heart: the moral and spiritual dimensions of love, hope, compassion, imagination, intuition, aesthetic sensibility, and a deeply developed sense of empathy for each other, for all living things, and for all life-sustaining qualities of our environment – i.e., the wholeness of being.
From my perspective, a new, reinvigorated consciousness is the ideal fountainhead out of which truly citizen-centered global public policy, institutions, and institution-building can be born, nurtured, and maintained. From the stance of a worldview that embraces a more relational/participatory consciousness the avaricious consumerist/materialist, Cartesian frame-of-reference, e.g., the status quo values and agenda of a growing, global corpocracy would no longer be viable. (Hartmann, 2006; Hartmann, 2002; Drutman & Cray, 2004; Nader, 2004; Raskin, 2003; Edwards, 1995) The Cartesian frame might eventually be understood as simply a small, oft times deviant part of a much bigger frame that delights in wholeness, justness, fairness and a humanitas that is deeply rooted in the wisdom of nature and a worldview less identified to itself, more nuanced. That is, a holistic, integral worldview includes-yet-circumscribes the non-holistic, Cartesian frame as only a part within a more capacious frame of consciousness with a much higher order of complexity.
How to develop and articulate all of the above into an attractor basin for human consciousness that can be better apprehended and more easily accessed – and thus actually practiced and learned – is the goal of my research and life’s work.
(1) A converging ensemble of “information” fields of states of being/becoming, akin to David Bohm’s “quantum potential” (Bohm, 1952) or to Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphogenetic field” (Sheldrake, 2005).
(2) A frame wherein the consciousness knows itself to be inside and part of the total complex reality, related to all other parts, and knowing that all other parts are similarly inside and part of the complexity, and are related to other parts. Out of such a consciousness a person thinks and languages from this relational/participatory perspective (Berman, 2000; Abram, 1996, Clastres, 1989; Gebser, 1985; Bateson, 1972).
(3) Integral consciousness is described as aperspectival (vertex => crown of head) inward-relating in a space-free, time-free “inhalation,” characterized by presentiating in a diaphanous “rendering whole” in integral functioning of concretion-verition, emphasizing an acausal, integrated arationality of verition transparency, using openness and spirituality to apprehend an amaterial, apsychic reality of ego-freedom in a world-perceived mutivalence [pluralism] within a social system that is an integrum of feminine/masculine energies, infused by a praeligio of presentiating-concretizing-integrating. (Gebser, 1985, paraphrased from synoptic table appended thereto; the neologisms are Gebser’s.)
(4)“Old think” is used here as shorthand notation that expresses my own and others’ frustration with the status quo; its implication is only that holistic thinking is a better “wheelbarrow” for our thoughts. In fact, the holistic worldview accommodates the non-holistic, so-called Cartesian “old think” as a part of the whole of consciousness.
(5) De facto rule by mega-corporations in conjunction with international banking, corporate-owned media, and the enabling collusion of a militarist government and/or a network of such governments, comparable to the so -called military-industrial complex (Perkins, 2004, 2007; Johnson, 2000, 2004, 2007; Nader, 2004).
(6) (Megre, 2005)
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