Here are some highlights from the latest installment in the Emergence of the Contemplative Shaman series at Not Two. Click the link below to see the full article:
- By the end of Chapter One, I was painting a grim picture of life in a hyperindividualistic society. I don’t think it was inaccurate, but I do want to start this chapter by emphasizing that this situation did not come about by some horrible mistake that humanity could have avoided. Everything about our current existential miasma is an entirely logical product of the development of fully subjective, conceptualized consciousness (or cognition, to tap the shoulder of a good term that could use a more specific definition), as predictable as the fact that summer will follow spring and precede autumn.
- On the other hand, this is also not to say that Western individualism is our final answer and definitive truth about the human condition, nor that we are stuck with whatever consequences it has wrought. There is, of course, another perspective of the individual that is not a product of the existential tension behind hyperindividualism, being neither limited to the conceptual ego nor defined by the binding characteristics of collectives. It is at once our simplest and most advanced notion of the self, and as such it has been glimpsed through the glass darkly by the subjective human person, more intuited than known, both as a vestige of our pre-intellectual past and, I speculatively posit, as a precognition of a meta-intellectual future.
- I will borrow a term coined by the beloved Zen Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh, and call the existential state indicative of this perspective “interbeing.” If an individual being sees itself from its own perspective, as the product of its own cognition, in an egoic, Cartesian “I think, therefore I am” manner, interbeing places that “I” back in its full natural context, interconnected with its environment like the natural wealth of the factory in Chapter 1. Interbeing, in other words, puts the human person “back” into the universe, in the same way that, if necessary, it would put the wave back into the ocean and the leaf back into the tree.
- The point is not that we rejected interbeing because is false, nor that we could have chosen to trust our intuition and failed –the point is that interbeing is a more advanced notion of reality than what cognition alone reveals, and it holds a great wealth of Truth, but we have not yet had the mental faculties to understand it in sufficient numbers for it to become the dominant paradigm. We got individualism, and then hyperindividualism, because at present we are best equipped to perceive and understand our worlds –both manmade and organic– through those dualistic lenses. To go further will require building upon what we have become in order to potentiate emergent developments of our collective consciousness that will make intuition a more common form of knowledge, just as cognition was once novel and revolutionary before it was standard equipment for Homo sapiens.
- Though based on a half-truth –an egocentric declaration of independence from the collective to which the ego is inherently dependent, as opposed to the deeper organismic truth of the interbeing of our natural self– the individualism of modern Western civilization has one trait that defines its breakthrough role in the development of human personality: its recognition of the dignity and integrity of the single human being. Individualism raised the moral platform of the species by creating the space for true empathy –for individual beings to meet and recognize both their experiential uniqueness and common existential ground.
- Pragmatically speaking, love can also be seen as a measure of the value afforded by individuals to each other. If each and every part of a collective is fully expendable and without individual value, the parts, having attained sufficient self-awareness, will rightfully wonder, “What is the point of preserving the collective?” Clearly it must be more than to facilitate the survival of pointless parts.
So individualism arises as 1) civilization becomes stable enough and 2) its people become self-reflective and linguistic enough to ask their own questions about mortality and meaning. The answers will still be provided by the collective, but to even ask the questions brings an undeniable depth to the individual human person, as though we were cardboard cutouts of ourselves that became fleshy three-dimensional creatures with brains. It is much easier to feel pathos for a living, 3D person like ourselves than a cardboard cutout or a cog in a machine.
- Generally, the collective has meted out individuality as to suit its needs through its teaching institutions, particularly religion, the branch of knowledge tasked with providing collective answers to our existential questions –the “who am I, how did I get here, why is all this happening?” we perennially ask without finding any definitives. The shorter the leash, so to speak, given by the collective to the individual person to explore and shape his own idiosyncratic understanding of the collective’s official book of answers, the more stable and static the society will be; the longer the leash, the more the collective will harness the individual’s emergent will to empower itself and hence will tend to be more progressive and dynamic.
- Sociologically speaking, the middle road of well-grounded, traditional-minded collectivists might not be the best outcome for society as a whole, for extremism seems to be what pushes us past the tipping points of paradigm shift and social innovation –or, more poetically, in the words of William Blake, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
- Hyperindividualism will seem like a disease to those who, for various reasons, are attached to collectivist-leaning social structures that served us well in the past and helped bring us to where we are. The rising popularity of both Democratic Socialism and “white nationalism” in America –the former with its appeal to collective economic programs and New Deal populism, the latter a nostalgia for a social stratification that held racial privilege in place for the former majority– are both predictable reactions to a society that seems to be racing toward disintegration. But just as you can’t cure a disease by treating the symptoms, ultimately hyperindividualism as manifested in public policy and popular culture will not be eradicated by forcing a more collectivist government upon it nor by covering it with whiteface. The condition causing these symptoms has become too ingrained in our existential blueprint. What we are now –a skyline of towering intellectual constructs and personalities, loosely connected by geography but otherwise not affiliated, starting to buckle and tilt under their own unsupported weight– was built upon the flimsy foundation of ego identity, and that problem of slipshod construction wouldn’t change by tearing it down and building a giant Iroquois longhouse over the same foundations. The collapse would be just as certain, if perhaps less dramatic, as we all know what happens to a house divided against itself.
- I hope we can glean from all this a simple definition of hyperindividualism –an advanced state of egotism that causes the individual to lose sense of connection with the collective that creates him– and let it suffice to be repeated that I am not suggesting a regression to collective identities of any kind. Once we have passed the threshold into hyperindividualistic personhood, collectivism ultimately means an unnatural, unsustainable kind of factionalism. All the monstrous “isms” of recent human history are a result of this effort to violently stuff the toothpaste of individualism back into the tube of collective identity.
The individual human being, on the other hand, is a natural nexus of experience capable of fully, seamlessly integrating with its environment, and that is vital to our ability to adapt to the Next Age paradigm. The work of the contemplative shaman is open a new portal for the isolated individual to journey forward into the only real collective there is –Reality itself– and find his identity in That.
Emergence of the Contemplative Shaman