AN EGALITARIAN VIEW OF
by John Spritzler
July 6, 2020
The URL of this article for sharing it is https://www.pdrboston.org/egalitarian-view-of-reality
[Also related: "The 'Illusion' of Free Will?"]
[Also related: "The Capitalist Big Lie about Human Nature"]
[Also see "Down With Wrongheaded Progressivism"]
In an egalitarian society people would not destroy the environment--the earth, our only home planet!--that we live in and absolutely depend upon for life. In our present non-egalitarian (class inequality) society, the people with the real power are indeed destroying our environment. When it is more profitable for a corporation to act recklessly in a way that pollutes the environment, it does so. This is why British Petroleum drilled through 18,000 feet of sea floor under 5,000 feet of seawater in the Gulf of Mexico and ignored basic safety requirements, resulting in the worst environmental catastrophe in history. This--not sensible use of resources to provide for human needs while avoiding harm to the environment that will negatively affect future generations--is why corporations destroy our vital rain forests and create radioactive "sacrifice zones."
Note that it is one thing--a very good thing!--to make our environment one in which humans--many billions of humans--can flourish, which means doing things to the environment to make it conducive to this end (which it is not conducive to otherwise, as indicated by the extreme difficulty that humans have had for most of our existence merely to survive with the challenges of drought and flood and infertile land and predators and lack of clean water and so forth making life a constant struggle against a hostile environment.)
For example, consider the American Indians' GOOD relation to the earth, which involved CHANGING it:
“Between these fields was the forest, which Indians were subjecting to parallel changes. Sometime in the first millennium A.D., the Indians who had burned undergrowth to facilitate grazing began systematically replanting large belts of woodland, transforming them into orchards for fruit and mast (the general name for hickory nuts, beechnuts, acorns, butternuts, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, and chestnuts).”
— 1491 by Charles C. Mann
But it is an entirely different thing to destroy and pollute the environment merely to make the very rich even richer at the expense of most people being unable to flourish.
Far from the earth's environment being a Garden of Eden that humans should change as little as possible, the environment has always been a dangerous and challenging one that humans have always had to change for the better in order to thrive. For example, the Caral Civilization, 3,500BC–1,700BC in what is now Peru, created many large cities and built large pyramids by changing the environment on a large scale. "[T]hese mysterious ancient people appear to have quite literally channelled and changed the course of the very mountain rivers around them and made canals fed by spring water, that all together created the fertile land they farmed, the effects of this monumental feat of irrigation continue to be plain to see, to this very day." They changed, but did not destroy, the environment.
In contrast, the destruction of our environment--by which I mean the destruction of its aesthetic or economic value for everyone except possibly a tiny minority or the rich and powerful--that sometimes happens today would not happen if the people with the real power in society viewed the environment as profoundly special--sacred or enchanted or a living part of humanity, to cite some phrases that have been used in this regard. But when the environment--the physical reality in which we live--is perceived by the rich and powerful very differently, as just dead stuff that is "not us" and that is there for them to use as they wish, then destroying or polluting it is not troublesome in their view.
Corporations are far more able to pollute or destroy our environment when the general public fails to sharply condemn their fundamentally wrong (as I will discuss below) view of physical reality. This is why it is important to think about what is a sensible view of physical reality.
For sure, most people do condemn the pollution or destruction of our environment. My point, however, is that when it comes not only to personally condemning this harm to our environment but building a mass movement capable of actually stopping that harm--of preventing the corporate elites from being able to inflict it--we need to be able to confidently and explicitly reject the elite's view of physical reality that says harming the environment is "no big deal." This is similar to any anti-establishment goal. For example, in order for the anti-Vietnam-war movement to grow as strong as it did, it was not enough that many people don't like war; it was necessary for the movement to explicitly and confidently expose the lies and downright evil aims of the war.
For most of us, most of the time, our view of, in other words our understanding of, physical reality is something we don't consciously think about. We have very definite ideas about it, of course, but those ideas are mainly in the form of assumptions that we typically don't consciously think about.
One widely held assumption today is that physical (as opposed to mental) reality is made up exclusively from subatomic particles and energy, both of which are non-sentient (i.e., lacking any subjectivity: experiencing, feeling, desiring, purposefulness, etc.) Everything in the physical world, in this view, is made up of non-sentient things and is therefore non-sentient.
One Can Be a Nobel Laureate Physicist and Still See There's Something Very Wrong with the Modern Scientific World View
The problem with this "the world is made up of only non-sentient things" view of physical reality is that it makes the existence of our undeniable consciousness a total mystery. Erwin Schrödinger, awarded the Nobel Prize in physics as one of the key developers of quantum mechanics (which, together with Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, makes extraordinarily accurate predictions of physical events) wrote about this conundrum in his collection of essays, "What Is Life?" with "Mind and Matter," in which he talks about how science studied the physical world by excluding consciousness (mind) from the picture:
"The material world has only been constructed at the price of taking the self, that is, mind, out of it, removing it; mind is not part of it; obviously, therefore, it can neither act on it nor be acted on by any of its parts." [Mind and Matter pg. 119]
Schrödinger says that this exclusion of the self (mind) from our view of the material world has "disastrous logical consequences" and writes:
"We shall point them out one by one: for the moment let me just mention the two most blatant antinomies [two conflicting ideas--JS] due to our awareness of the fact that a moderately satisfying picture of the world has only been reached at the high price of taking ourselves out of the picture, stepping back into the role of a non-concerned observer.
"The first of these antinomies is the astonishment at finding our world picture 'colourless, cold, mute'. Colour and sound, hot and cold are our immediate sensations; small wonder that they are lacking in a world model from which we have removed our own mental person." [Mind and Matter pg. 119]
The second antinomy, he says, is this:
"The impasse [resulting from the assumption that mind is not part of the physical world--J.S.] is an impasse. Are we thus not the doer of our deeds? [As would be the case if mind, being not part of the physical world, could not act on it in any way.--JS] Yet we feel responsible for them, we are punished or praised for them, as the case may be. It is a horrible antinomy. I maintain that it cannot be solved on the level of present-day science which is still entirely engulfed in the 'exclusion principle'--without knowing it--hence the antinomy. To realize this is valuable, but it does not solve the problem. You cannot remove the 'exclusion principle' by an act of parliament as it were. Scientific attitude would have to be rebuilt, science must be made anew. Care is needed." [Mind and Matter pg. 122]
Schrödinger takes issue with the philosopher, Kant, who argued that we cannot ever know anything about actual physical reality--the "thing-in-itself"--because our only knowledge of it is obtained by our senses, and we only therefore can know how our senses are affected by it; this creates, according to Kant, an absolute barrier between us and it. Schrödinger says, on the contrary, that if we can, in principle, never know anything about the "thing-in-itself" because of Kant's postulated barrier between us (subject) and the "thing-in-itself" (object) then the ghostly "thing-in-itself" doesn't exist; all that exists is the reality (object) that we (subject) are also part of. Schrödinger puts it this way:
"The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived. Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down as a result of recent experience in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist." [Mind and Matter pg. 127]
The horrible consequence, Schrödinger writes, of the exclusion of self (mind) from our view (he calls it the "display") of physical reality is this:
"Most painful is the absolute silence of all our scientific investigations towards our questions concerning the meaning and scope of the whole display. The more attentively we watch it, the more aimless and foolish it appears to be. The show that is going on obviously acquires a meaning only with regard to the mind that contemplates it. But what science tells us about this relationship is patently absurd: as if mind had only been produced by that very display [i.e., as if mind is only made up of sub-atomic particles and energy--J.S.] that it is now watching and would pass away with it when the sun finally cools down and the earth has been turned into a desert of ice and snow." [Mind and Matter pg. 138]
What does this Nobel laureate in physics--the hardest of the hard sciences--think physics tells us about whether our mind will pass away? He says this:
"So with all due acknowledgment to the fact that physical theory is at all times relative, in that it depends on certain basic assumptions, we may, or so I believe, assert that physical theory in its present stage strongly suggests the indestructibility of Mind by Time." [Mind and Matter pg. 152]
I strongly suggest reading these fascinating essays if the above excerpts intrigue you as much as these essays did me.
The fact that a person as steeped in and as knowledgeable of physics as Erwin Schrödinger rejects the modern, so-called "scientific," and very pervasive notion that self--mind, consciousness, subjectivity--is not part of physical reality, and that he believes that "physical theory in its present stage strongly suggests the indestructibility of Mind by Time," should at the very least indicate to you, dear reader, that it may make perfect, even "scientific," sense to reconsider some widely-held assumptions about physical reality. Let's see what some other thinkers have to say on this matter.
Even Sir Isaac Newton, Who Established It, Knew There Was Something Wrong with the Modern Scientific World View
Sir Isaac Newton is justly credited with being the person who firmly established the modern scientific view of nature--physical reality--as a reality that obeys universal mathematical laws. Newton's magnificent works, Principia (1687), about why things from planets to apples moved the way they did, and Opticks (1704) about the nature of light, were the culmination of a scientific revolution of the 17th century. This revolution replaced the older view of nature as consisting entirely of living things having subjective aims (even ascribing subjective aims to things that we today think of as inanimate/non-sentient objects like rocks) with the view (that philosophers call the "mechanistic" view) that nature consists only of inanimate objects that, like the proverbial billiard balls, behave purely passively in accordance with the laws of nature.
The old view of nature is one of immanence, the idea that what is supremely valuable and important--be it referred to as Life or God or the gods or the sacred or that which is holy--exists in, is operating in, is inherent in everything in the real world: that everything is living in this sense. This is the view of what is sometimes referred to as occultism or magic. It is the view of alchemists, witches, Rosicrucians, practitioners of magic, shaman's of traditional societies, etc. Until fairly recently most people believed that Sir Isaac Newton brilliantly discovered that the old view of nature is simply wrong, that his hard-headed and logical thinking based on empirical observations of the real world showed that the old view of nature was naive superstition or wishful thinking. But then something unexpected happened.
A descendant of Newton who had inherited his collected writings including draft manuscripts and correspondence, and who had never shown them to others, decided to sell them in 1936. As a result, these writings of Newton were read by 20th century academics for the first time. And guess what? It turns out that Newton was absolutely, even passionately, a believer in alchemy--the idea that all of nature, including minerals, is alive. Newton lived at a time, however, when occult views (including alchemy) were associated with egalitarian revolutionary movements in England (about which please read The World Turned Upside Down by Christopher Hill), movements that seriously challenged the power of the ruling class in Newton's youth and that the ruling class had only recently violently suppressed during Newton's adulthood. Newton thus feared being associated with anything even hinting at occult beliefs; it was dangerous, especially for a man such as himself who was high up in English society, even at one time the Warden of the Royal Mint. Newton therefore hid his occultist beliefs.
But Newton was an occultist!
A National Endowment for the Humanities article titled, "Newton, The Last Magician," reports on the auction of the Newton manuscripts. Here's the key excerpt:
Economist John Maynard Keynes, a Newton admirer, was one of those three dozen, though he’d heard about the auction too late to buy much. Disturbed by the “impiety” of the transactions, he began acquiring more of the papers piecemeal. In many cases, he had to play the slick antiquarian, swapping Newton papers with collectors, trying to out-connive them. Keynes later remembered, with a touch of Bloomsbury snobbery, “I managed gradually to reassemble about half of them. . . . The greater part of the rest were snatched out of my reach by a syndicate which hoped to sell them at a high price, probably in America.”
Keynes sought papers on any topic at first, but eventually concentrated on one niche—Newton’s alchemy. Few people knew the father of modern science had dabbled in alchemy; but the more Keynes collected and the more he “brood[ed] over these queer collections,” the clearer it became that alchemy wasn’t a niche to Newton at all. It was, in many ways, Newton’s life work—more vital to him than physics or mathematics ever was. This Newton “was not the first of the age of reason,” Keynes concluded. “He was the last of the magicians.”
David Kubrin, a historian of science who personally had access to the newly released writings of Newton, writes in his wonderful 2020 book, Marxism and Witchcraft, about Newton's occultism and its significance in depth. Here is one excerpt from what Kubrin writes about this:
"In drafts (most from the 1690s) for the Opticks and its Queries, Newton circled around the heretical notion that the laws of motion of living bodies seem to apply to all bodies, "may be of universal extent..." The instance of will (or thought) moving, say, an arm, demonstrates, he argued, that other laws of motion, besides those delineated in his Principia, must exist. That he repeatedly chose not to publish such material would suggest a measure of caution before using these drafts as evidence, while the numerous iterations of these and related notions, not all of them crossed out, would suggest his virtual obsession with the idea, as he wrote, that "we cannot say that all Nature is not alive." " [pg. 255]
[I]n Newton's famous debate...with Leibniz over their radically different visions of the physical (and spiritual) cosmos, Newton in 1716 [when he was 73 years old--J.S.] faulted the German philosopher for adhering to "the Hypothesis of the materialists, viz., that all the phenomena in nature are caused by mere matter [added in between lines, "and motion"] & man himself a mere machine."
Alas, however much of that magical core and that nearly immaterial essence of matter [ideas of Newton that he shared only with his inner core of disciples but feared to express publicly, as Kubrin shows earlier--J.S.] did get passed along to the inner circle of the disciples, those doctrines did not long survive Newton's death. Newton's own sense of what he could and should not publish was endorsed by Dr. Thomas Pellet, from the Royal Society, who [shortly--J.S.] after Newton's death examined his unpublished manuscripts and wrote on many of them, "Not fit to be printed."
Thus, within a generation at most, the Newton that the world learns [of] became fixed as Newton the mechanist, bringer of Law to the unruly cosmos, showing us how predictable the hard, inert bodies that make up the matter of the universe are. The Newton who reduced it all to an elaborate machine, like a gigantic clock.
The Newton no one was allowed to remember, for a complex set of social, religious, economic, and political reasons, was Newton who believed his Principia dealt with the superficial, less significant and less interesting, aspect of the natural world, the Newton not so taken with the doctrine of inertia that he projected it (as nearly all adherents of the mechanical philosophy did) as the ontological state of the cosmos, with the world in itself (as with Boyle) essentially dead. [I found Kubrin's wording of this last clause hard to interpret at first. He's saying that Newton didn't think his doctrine of inertia was terribly important, but the materialists did.--J.S.] The hidden Newton is the natural philosopher who focused his attentions on finding what agent could act in matter (not on it, as in the mechanical philosophy) so as to give it the range of activity Newton found fecund matter everywhere experiencing, particularly living matter--but to Newton perhaps all of it was alive. Though Newton would never print such a notion about a living world, it appeared in the drafts for the Opticks, for example. [pg. 290-91]
Capitalism with its Mechanistic View Versus the Oppressed People with their Occult/Magical View
Capitalism is the domination of the many have-nots by the few haves coupled with an intensified exploitation of the earth and of people. Capitalism is epitomized by, for example, the Spanish colonizers of South and Central America using Native Americans as slave labor in silver mines in the 16th and 17th century. This exploitation of the earth and its people is based on the mechanistic view of nature that devalues both. This is why capitalists understandably treat advocates of the occult view as their enemy. Kubrin demonstrates this in great detail in his book. Here are some excerpts developing this point, the first excerpt stating the thesis in general terms followed by some excerpts giving examples (just a few of the many others in the book) of its concrete operation in history.
"Societies (or movements) whose outlooks on the world were rooted in immanence generally have different comprehension of material reality than do the estrangement-rooted [i.e., those with the mechanistic view in which the self/mind/life/spirit is excluded or estranged from physical reality--J.S.]. In opposition to traditions that divorce matter from spirit, matter from good, matter from energy, and matter from God (or the gods and goddesses), the consciousness of immanence puts value and life into matter itself. Far from being a dull, lifeless, lump into which, always from the outside, spirit is injected so as to give life, purpose, will, or an inherent worthiness, to the immanentists matter by virtue simply of its existence, already has intrinsic value. The world around us, the trees, brooks, foothills, all of it, including the myriad creatures with whom we share the skies and seas and the newly discovered bacteria that live 24 miles beneath the surface of the earth--all participate in this divinity. Translated into social terms, immanence means that anyone, regardless of station, income, gender, race, age, education, species, has worth and intrinsic power.
It is not difficult to understand why such notions, particularly at times of political and social upheaval, when many of the political, economic, and cultural traditions are suddenly called into question, can have an essential democratic ethos to them. The significance of this should be noted: that a theory of matter--what material substance is and how its properties are determined--has historically tended to embody an inherent political ideology.
I shall argue that as the immanent form of magic [Kubrin defines "magic" as the art of changing consciousness, perhaps of many people simultaneously, not just one person, to perceive the world "as a jackal, a hummingbird, a cricket, a river, or a rock overhang," and thereby "help transform the outer, or material world" by what people do as a result of their changed consciousness--J.S.] became identified with radical assaults on the emerging hierarchy and property relations of modernity (although this tension and those battles somewhat predate the coming of modernity), the propertied classes increasingly realized an overriding imperative to repress magic altogether--or at least to control knowledge of its history so that only its patriarchal [Kubrin elsewhere uses "patriarchal" to refer to anti-democratic hierarchical uses of magic--J.S.] forms could be known, and so that certain questions could never again be raised. Such fears and precautions had arisen among the ruling classes in earlier epochs, but always there were contradictory tendencies and in the absence of "objective" science, the weapons with which to carry out their ideological assault against the redoubts of magic had been relatively impotent.
The wave of persecutions against witches that occurred in Europe and England in the 15th and 16th and 17th centuries was only the most bloody and most visible part of that assault. Far from the witchcraft persecutions, overlapping historically with the rise of science, posing an historical conundrum [a conundrum because one might expect that persecution and fear of witches would be something that would have happened in earlier Medieval times but not in the more recent era of the rise of science, and yet the opposite is the case--J.S.] then, the two phenomena should be understood as complementary aspects of the process by which the cornerstones of modern consciousness were cemented in place...[pg. 120-21]
The consciousness of immanence historically has been the basis for numerous forms of left-wing magic, a magic which we rarely learn about. Yet a striking number of instances of such magic can be found. [pg. 117]
Kubrin gives seventeen historical examples of the conflict between egalitarian social forces based on and inspired by an immanent/magical view of reality, and hierarchical capitalist forces based on the mechanistic view of reality. Here are some of them (minus Kubrin's footnoted sources).
When the Romans conquered the Celts in the first century B.C.E., it was the druids or priests who urged resistance to the invaders, organizing rebellions and prophesying victory in their protracted struggle.
The example of the druids is emblematic of a more general pattern whereby traditional spirituality is responsible for fighting off colonial powers, as the numerous examples that follow illustrate. This is widely seen in Native American history and is the reason for the U.S. government's frame-up of Leonard Peltier. Earlier shamanic resistance was embodied in Rolling Thunder, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, and Leonard Crow Dog, among many others.
In Peru, the rubber companies exploiting the forests singled out shamans in the workers' camps and sent them away as prisoners, perhaps mindful of their role two centuries earlier in encouraging slaves to run away.
In the 1560s, as a result of the huge costs of Spain's colonial warfare, authorities ratcheted up the level of required labor, and hence the torture of any natives that resisted. The natives organized the Taki Onqoy movement, a millennarian attempt to form a pan-Andean collaboration of the different local gods and goddesses to defeat colonialism. The movement spread widely across Peru and into what is now Bolivia, causing the Spanish to panic and declare all-out war against the shrines of the local gods (buacas).
Idols were destroyed, temples burned and those who celebrated native rites and practiced sacrifices were punished by death; festivals such as banquets, songs and dances, as well as artistic intellectual activities (painting, sculpture, observation of stars, hieroglyphic writing)--suspected of being inspired by the devil--were forbidden and those who took part in them mercilessly hunted down.
The same pattern is perhaps seen in an aborted plan for a slave insurrection in 1741 in New York that principally involved the Papa, Igbo, the Malagasay, and the Akan, African slaves who worked along the waterfront and which involved a central role by an "obeah man," an Akan shaman.
In 1791 insurrection was not aborted and the successful Haitian slave rebellion that defeated army after army sent after it is somewhat well-known, but few are aware that this only successful slave uprising began at a Vodoun ceremony on August 14, 1791, near Marne Runge, when a priestess was possessed by a spirit and spoke in the voices of Ogoun, calling for war. By morning of the next day, plantations had been torched and the uprising was on the march. For over a decade the rebellion flourished, defeating French, Spanish, and English forces sent against them and their "outrageous" demand for an end to slavery, and it was able to establish a black republic that, to this day is still treated as a pariah by the international community, continually occupied and forced to have a sham election due to the need to demonstrate the folly of their "cheeky" resistance.
By far the deepest affinity between rebellion against hierarchy and authority and a magical worldview is found among the Taoists in ancient China. The adherents of one dominant school of Taoism lived in the mountains and forests, removed from the unnatural feudal order, where they meditated on the order of nature. The other school came out of the ancient magic and shamanic tradition, practiced alchemy, and enjoyed deep roots among the common people. Taoism has been repeatedly associated in China with movements of liberation, or political revolution. Taoists placed the element of water, the most protean of substances, at the center of their philosophy of nature, a comprehension consonant with their belief in "leadership from within," as well as congruent with their pronounced feminist political leanings, as they extolled water both for its overwhelming strength and for its utterly yielding nature. The rigidity of feudal society was the opposite of yielding. Opposing such a society sent the Taoists to the mountains and to an ideology that looked to the collectivism of villages before a formal priesthood, a warrior caste, and lords emerged. For over a thousand years all the revolts against the established order in China were associated with the Taoists. [pg. 118-21]
Capitalism with its Mechanistic View Versus the Environment
Capitalism is about an intensification of exploitation of the earth. Kubrin focuses his attention on mining in particular, and how its destructiveness of the environment required the mechanistic view of physical reality to gain sufficient legitimacy to be carried out.
Under the dual pressures of increased trade and intensification of warfare in early modern Europe, mines went deeper in their feverish search for gold and silver to pay for the former, and lead, brass, and iron to make possible the latter--and in England, coal, since what little wood was still left there went to building ships for her expanding fleets. The mines' deeper shafts, and the expansion to more marginal deposits, necessitated greater investments in machinery to drain those shafts of seeped-in-water or to vent bad (poisonous or explosive) air from them. Such investments ... required far greater profits; that push inevitably meant less-safe working conditions and many more crushed, broken, poisoned, or diseased miners' bodies--in places like Scotland, including the bodies of substantial numbers of young children and women. Streams and rivers became poisoned near the mines. Woods were cut down to build the shafts. Fish and animals disappeared.
The scientific revolution came to dominate European and English intellectual life during this period, reaching a peak of sorts in the 17th century in the investigations and writings of Johannes Kepler, Galileo, William Harvey, René Descartes, and especially with the theories and experimental researches of Isaac Newton, whose accomplishments both summed up and extended to unimaginable realms the challenge of explaining the workings of nature.
The consequences of the 17th-century conceptual transformation of nature were quite dramatic. At the beginning of the century it was believed just about everywhere that the Earth was a living creature, literally a kind of Mother to all life on the planet. By about 1700, quite the opposite was the central tenet in the emerging scientific culture, participation in which was the touchstone of educated people. This included many who had no formal schooling but had heard or seen in Sunday sermons or in pamphlets this new physical theology espousing how the Protestant (or Catholic) God required lifeless matter for the substrate of the cosmos.
A core principle of the scientific revolution, vouched for by Galileo, formally enunciated by Descartes, and made the foundation of Newton's momentous Principia Mathematica Naturalis Philosophiae (1687), was the concept of inertia, which taught that matter left by itself does not change its state of motion. All change in a body's motion must come from outside of the body, and since any change was thought to be rooted in motion, change itself always had an external origin, according to Newtonian inertia. In essence, material bodies are passive by nature, suffering, but never initiating, transformation. In other words, they are mere objects. They are dead.
In a world already understood as essentially dead, nature is left defenseless, for scars in the countryside that result from mining, deforestation, wetlands draining, etc., ultimately are insignificant. To be sure, local consequences, including serious human costs, can result, but any transcendent value associated with a particular meadow, forest, mountain, or stream, in a world of dead matter, would go unrecognized. Once it is seen as essentially dead, land becomes incapable of mounting sacred claims. [pg.129-31]
The Mechanistic View is Destroying Us
Morris Berman's 1981 book, The Reenchantment of the World, is about the harm to our contemporary lives that is caused by the mechanistic view of the world, and about ideas he and others have for how to shape society by a new view that incorporates the best aspects of the old immanentist (occult) view.
Here is Berman's discussion of the mechanistic view in his introduction:
The view of nature which predominated in the West down to the eve of the Scientific Revolution was that of an enchanted world. Rocks, trees, rivers, and clouds were all seen as wondrous, alive, and human beings felt at home in this environment. The cosmos, in short, was a place of belonging. A member of this cosmos was not an alienated observer of it but a direct participant in its drama. His personal destiny was bound up with its destiny, and this relationship gave meaning to his life. This type of consciousness--what I shall refer to in this book as "participating consciousness"--involves merger, or identification, with one's surroundings, and bespeaks a psychic wholeness that has long since passed from the scene. Alchemy, as it turns out, was the last great coherent expression of participating consciousness in the West.
The story of the modern epoch, at least on the level of mind, is one of progressive disenchantment. From the sixteenth century on, mind has been progressively expunged from the phenomenal world. At least in theory, the reference points for all scientific explanation are matter and motion--what historians of science refer to as the "mechanical philosophy." Developments that have thrown this world view into question--quantum mechanics, for example, or certain types of contemporary ecological research--have not made any significant dent in the dominant mode of thinking. That mode can best be described as disenchantment, nonparticipation, for it insists on a rigid distinction between observer and observed. Scientific consciousness is alienated consciousness: there is no ecstatic merger with nature, but rather total separation from it. Subject and object are always seen in opposition to each other. I am not my experiences, and thus not really a part of the world around me. The logical end point of this world view is a feeling of total reification: everything is an object, alien, not-me; and I am ultimately an object too, an alienated "thing" in a world of other, equally meaningless things. This world is not of my own making; the cosmos cares nothing for me, and I do not really feel a sense of belonging to it. What I feel, in fact, is a sickness in the soul.
Translated into everyday life, what does this disenchantment mean? It means that the modern landscape has become a scenario of "mass administration and blatant violence," a state of affairs now clearly perceived by the man in the street. The alienation and futility that characterized the perceptions of a handful of intellectuals at the beginning of the century have come to characterize the consciousness of the common man at its end. Jobs are stupefying, relationships vapid and transient, the arena of politics absurd. In the vacuum created by the collapse of traditional values, we have hysterical evangelical revivals, mass conversions to the Church of the Reverend Moon, and a general retreat into the oblivion provided by drugs, television, and tranquilizers. We also have a desperate search for therapy, by now a national obsession, as millions of Americans try to reconstruct their lives amidst a pervasive feeling of anomie and cultural disintegration. An age in which depression is a norm is a grim one indeed.
The statistics that reflect this condition in America alone are so grim as to defy comprehension. There is now a significant suicide rate among the seven-to-ten age group, and teenage suicides tripled between 1966 and 1976 to roughly thirty per day. More than half the patients in American mental hospitals are under twenty-one. In 1977, a survey of nine- to eleven-year-olds on the West Coast found that nearly half the children were regular users of alcohol, and that huge numbers in this age group regularly came to school drunk. Dr. Darold Treffert, of Wisconsin's Mental Health Institute, observed that millions of children and young adults are now plagued by "a gnawing emptiness or meaninglessness expressed not as a fear of what may happen to them, but rather as a fear that nothing will happen to them." Official figures from government reports released during 1971-2 recorded that the United States has 4 million schizophrenics, 4 million seriously disturbed children, 9 million alcoholics, and 10 million people suffering from severely disabling depression. In the early 1970s, it was reported that 25 million adults were using Valium; by 1980, Food and Drug Administration figures indicated that Americans were downing benzodiazepines (the class of tranquilizers which includes Valium) at a rate of 5 billion pills a year. Hundreds of thousands of the nation's children, according to The Myth of the Hyperactive Child by Peter Schrag and Diane Divoky (1975), are being drugged in the schools, and one-fourth of the American female population in the thirty-to-sixty age group uses psychoactive prescription drugs on a regular basis. Articles in popular magazines such as Cosmopolitan urge sufferers from depression to drop in to the local mental hospital for drugs or shock treatments, so that they can return to their jobs as quickly as possible. "The drug and the mental hospital," writes one political scientist, "have become the indispensable lubricating oil and reservicing factory needed to prevent the complete breakdown of the human engine."...
I am not trying to argue that science is the cause of our predicament...What I am arguing is that the scientific world view is integral to modernity, mass society, and the situation described above. It is our consciousness, in the Western industrial nations--uniquely so--and it is intimately bound up with the emergence of our way of life from the Renaissance to the present. Science, and our way of life, have been mutually reinforcing, and it is for this reason that the scientific world view has come under serious scrutiny at the same time that the industrial nations are beginning to show signs of severe strain, if not actual disintegration. [Pg. 2-8]
Egalitarians Need a Better View of Physical Reality than the Corporate-Promoted One
I urge you to read the books mentioned here, and give some thought to reconsidering what view of physical reality seems sensible and appropriate for egalitarians. Surely we can do better than to accept the corporate-promoted view of nature that legitimizes so much that is morally wrong today. Both Kubrin and Berman present ideas about this that are well-worth reading, considering and discussing with as many people as possible. I think having and promoting this discussion is a key part of what it means to build the egalitarian revolutionary movement.
What about Marx's Dialectical Materialism?
Karl Marx's philosophy, dialectical materialism, is--just like the modern scientific world view that Erwin Schrödinger criticized and that Sir Issac Newton privately rejected--based on the assumption that reality consists exclusively of matter (or its energy equivalent), and--just like the modern scientific world view--it is a view on the basis of which nobody can explain the undeniable existence of consciousness. Watch this video of the philosopher, David Chalmers, discussing this 'hard problem of consciousness.'
Because Marxist theory has no place in it for consciousness, i.e., for subjective values (concerning what is morally right or wrong, for example), Marxists virtually never talk about values; what they talk about instead (incessantly!) is interests, which are based on material facts such as whether a person owns the means of production or works for a wage from a capitalist who owns the means of production. Thus when Marxists talk about class conflict, they refer exclusively to a conflict of interests (i.e., workers want higher wages and capitalists want lower wages) and they virtually never talk about a conflict of values (i.e., most working class people want society to be based on no-rich-and-no-poor economic and political equality and mutual aid and fairness, whereas most wealthy capitalists want it to be based on inequality and domination of the many by the few.)
Marxists dismiss any talk of values as wrongheaded naive 'idealism.' To the extent that Marxists tolerate any discussion of values, they assert that working class people and capitalists share the same value of self-interest, and this (false!) assumption is the basis of Karl Marx's theory spelled out in his Das Kapital. Read here how this Marxist view of people is why Marxism in practice is always profoundly anti-democratic.
FURTHER READING SUGGESTIONS
1. "NOT TO EXPLAIN THE WORLD, BUT TO SING IT: PANPSYCHISM AND THE ACADEMY" by Eduard C. Heyning
This is a relatively short and easy-to-read article, with references to many other authors worth reading also.
2. Process and Reality by Alfred North Whitehead
This is a challenging (very challenging!) book to read, but well worth it. The author was a mathematician and philosopher, was Bertrand Russell's teacher and co-wrote with him Part 1 of Principia Mathematica. Whitehead describes a metaphysics, meaning a coherent way of understanding ALL experience; he acknowledges that his metaphysics is simply his best effort and others may come up with something better in the future. In his metaphysics all of reality, including even subatomic particles, are "occasions of experience."
3. Man On His Nature, by Sir Charles Sherrington, is cited by Erwin Schrödinger in his What Is Life? because Sherrington--a renowned physiologist--wrote that he was not able to see any way that our subjective mind (as distinct from our material brain) controlled our body. On pages 88-89 Sherrington writes something else as well that is remarkable:
"Does the cell, freely moving in the pond or in our body, seek its food? Is there some modicum of mind in it? That is a question natural to ask. It is not decisively answerable. It has seemed to some patient observers that the free single cell, for instance paramaecium, can be trained to some extent. That is, that it can learn. In short such behaviour is modifiable, and carries the inference that the modification is due to individual experience. If by experience here we mean mental experience, we may, I think, while not doubting the description of the observations, doubt this inference from them. Not that there would seem any inherent unlikelihood in mind attaching in some degree to an individual consisting of one single cell. What was it Hobbes said? 'I know there have been certain philosophers, and they learned men, who have held that all bodies are endowed with sense; nor do I see, if the nature of sense be set alongside reaction solely, how they can be refuted.' [Source: Elementorum Philosophiae, IV, 25.] The improbability is, however, that mind of such degree should be recognizable by us as mind."
4. Galileo's Mistake: A New Look at the Epic Confrontation between Galileo and the Church, by Wade Rowland. A major theme of this fascinating book (which will change your understanding of what the trial of Galileo by the Catholic Church's Inquisition was really all about) is this: faith precedes knowledge (a.k.a. believing is seeing), contrary to the widely held notion (a.k.a. the scientific method, a.k.a seeing is believing) that knowledge does not come from faith but rather it is based only on empirical facts from which theories to explain them are generated and in turn tested. Consider the assumptions that underlie scientific research, all of which assumptions are taken entirely by faith and all of which are necessary prerequisites for doing science:
There is an objective reality; one is not the only human being and the world is not all just one's dream;
There are laws of nature;
It is possible to discover at least approximations of the laws of nature;
The laws of nature are the same everywhere;
The laws of nature are the same for all time. [Note: the whole idea of replicating scientific experiments to verify them depends of faith in the above assumptions];
The laws of nature are mathematical. [Note: virtually all of science since Galileo depends on faith in this assumption];
Mathematical models (laws) of nature that not "work" well (in the sense of making confirmed predictions with the fewest assumptions) also, therefore, show how the world really is. The fact that the Copernican model of the solar system (stationary sun and moving earth) worked better (only marginally so, by the way) than the earlier Ptolemaic model (moving sun and stationary earth) was why Galileo believed that the earth really did move, despite the fact that--as Galileo fully knew--there was no actual evidence (at the time) to show that the earth moved. (Note the problem here: Newton showed mathematically that if one assumed that the entire mass of a sphere (say a planet) were all located at a single point at the sphere's center, then a) the predicted behavior of two or more separated spheres according to his law of gravitation would be exactly the same as if one assumed the mass of each were spread out inside the whole sphere; and b) the mathematical model (i.e., calculations) for making predictions of the behavior of the spheres would be enormously simplified. But would this be a good reason to believe that the entire mass of the earth were REALLY all located at a single point at it center? Of course not!
Reality is not such that mathematical models that work well don't actually tell us how the world really is, not even close.
5. "Life and mind in the universe" by George Wald in the journal Quantum Chemistry at
George Wald was an American scientist who studied pigments in the retina. He won a share of the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Haldan Keffer Hartline and Ragnar Granit. In this article Wald writes:
In my life as a scientist I have come upon two major problems which, though rooted in science, though they would occur in this form only to a scientist, project beyond science, and are I think ultimately insoluble as science. That is hardly to be wondered at, since one involves consciousness, the other cosmology.
The consciousness problem was hardly avoidable by one who has spent most of his life studying mechanisms of vision. We have learned a lot, we hope to learn much more; but none of it touches or even points, however tentatively, in the direction of what it means to see. Our observations in human eyes and nervous systems and in those of frogs are basically much alike. I know that I see; but does a frog see? It reacts to light; so do cameras, garage doors, any number of photoelectric devices. But does it see? Is it aware that it is reacting? There is nothing I can do as a scientist to answer that question—no way that I can identify either the presence or absence of consciousness. I believe that to be a permanent condition that involves all sensation and perception.
Consciousness seems to me to be wholly impervious to science. It does not lie as an indigestible element within science, but just the opposite: Science is the highly digestible element within consciousness, which includes science as a limited but beautifully definable territory within the much wider reality of whose existence we are conscious.
The second problem involves the special properties of our Universe. Life seems increasingly to be part of the order of nature. We have good reason to believe that we find ourselves in a Universe permeated with life, in which life arises inevitably—given enough time—wherever the conditions exist that make it possible. Yet were any one of a number of the physical properties of our Universe otherwise—some of them basic, others seeming trivial, almost accidental—that life, which seems now to be so prevalent, would become impossible, here or anywhere. It takes no great imagination to conceive of other possible universes, each stable and workable in itself, yet lifeless.
How is it that, with so many other apparent options, we are in a Universe that possesses just that peculiar nexus of properties that breeds life? It has occurred to me lately—I must confess with some shock at first to my scientific sensibilities—that both questions might be brought into some degree of congruence. This is with the assumption that mind, rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always, as the matrix, the source and condition of physical reality—that the stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff. It is mind that has composed a physical Universe that breeds life, and so eventually evolves creatures that know and create: science-, art-, and technology-making animals. In them the universe begins to know itself. Also such creatures develop societies and cultures—institutions that present all the essential conditions for evolution by natural selection [variation, inheritance (mainly Lamarckian), competition for survival] so introducing an evolution of consciousness parallel with though independent of anatomical and physiological evolution.
“Mind, rather than being a very late development in the evolution of living things, restricted to organisms with the most complex nervous systems–all of which I had believed to be true–that Mind instead has been there always, and that this universe is life-breeding because the pervasive presence of Mind had guided it to be so. That thought, though elating as a game is elating, so offended my scientific possibilities as to embarrass me. It took only a few weeks, however, for me to realize that I was in excellent company. That kind of thought is not only deeply embedded in millennia-old Eastern philosophies, but it has been expressed plainly by a number of great and very recent physicists.
6. Einstein: “And for Einstein, the cosmos showed evidence of ‘an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection’. 356”
— The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World by Iain McGilchrist
7. “Wolfgang Pauli wrote the following to his fellow physicist Niels Bohr: In discussions with biologists I met large difficulties when they apply the concept of ‘natural selection’ in a rather wide field, without being able to estimate the probability of the occurrence in an empirically given time of just those events, which have been important for the biological evolution. Treating the empirical time scale of the evolution theoretically as infinity they have then an easy game, apparently to avoid the concept of purposiveness. While they pretend to stay in this way completely ‘scientific’ and ‘rational’, they become actually very irrational, particularly because they use the word ‘chance’, not any longer combined with estimations of a mathematically defined probability, in its application to very rare single events more or less synonymous with the old word ‘miracle’. 358”
— The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World by Iain McGilchrist
https://a.co/aPTTa1A Note 358 is "Letter of Pauli to Niels Bohr, 15 February 1955; in Meyenn 2001 (105)." [von] Meyenn 2001 (105) reads: "von Meyenn K (ed), Wolfgang Pauli: Wissenschaftlicher Briefwechsel, vol IV, part I (1950-1952), trans H Atmanspacher & H Primas, Springer, 1996"
8. “According to a book-length study of the beliefs and characteristics of Nobel Laureates, 287 overall only 10.5% described themselves as ‘atheist, agnostic, freethinker or otherwise nonreligious at some point in their lives’. What is striking, however, is that while the figure reaches as high as 35% for Laureates in literature, the figures for science are 8.9% in physiology/ medicine, 7.1% in chemistry, and 4.7% in physics. Since Nobel prizes are a twentieth-century invention, that means that, as far as we know, 95.3% of the most acclaimed physicists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries were consistent theists–still more striking when one realises that agnostics and ‘freethinkers’ counted, for the purposes of this exercise, as non-believers.”
— The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World by Iain McGilchrist