Human conditions: Socialism’s dream or the machinery of matter?
“Being determines consciousness, not consciousness, being.”
“Philosophers have until now merely interpreted the world; the point is to change it.” – Charles Henry Marx
“The crisis is not material, physical, or scientific, the crisis is spiritual.”
“No one is transformed by reading a book of ideas. Living the ideas does that.”
–Charles Henry Jeanes
Beginnings are auspicious. This is the first Arc of the new year. I might set a tone for 2013 with this column’s content and style. But there will be no departure from past precedent. Politics, the world, human mind and spirit, will prevail here.
A retrospective is in order now, not for the year past, but for my own personal trajectory. I am, I suppose, trying to explain myself and why I write this, and where my mind has been, is now, and seems to be going.
I claim the label of historian as a description of my work and my cast of mind. I was a mutated-Marxian thinker in my historical perspectives. The school of historical materialism, founded upon his self-designated philosophic path by Karl Marx in the middle nineteenth century, has been my academic and intellectual home.
I learned that Karl himself wrote, near the end of his life, “I am not a Marxist.” So I preferred to use the adjective Marxian, and not the noun Marxist, for myself. I “mutated” my Marxian mind because I vigorously opposed some historic legacies of Marxian revolutionaries like Lenin, Mao, or Castro, men of stellar reputation.
I invented my own noun for this, my deviant Marxism: “Marxiant.” Since then, changes evolved in my thinking about history and politics, over the 25 years I have lived in Nelson. Early in my life here, I hosted a local cable television show I entitled, “New Age or Dark Age?” My deviant path from materialism had begun.
Historical materialist perspectives no longer apply to my basic way to understand human history. The label “materialist” has become, for me, a term of negative judgment. Materialism is the enemy of what I believe will most nourish our human potential to solve the 21st Century’s physical, environmental, and human challenges. Not materialism, not Western scientific methodology, not anti-religious thinking, will help humanity now. I know plenty of people who claim those are the solutions. I assert that those are problems. They have been given a long time to prove their truths. They have failed to live up to their claims.
How does one know that scientific materialism and the total rejection of religion and spiritual teachings are failed paths? Look at the world they have created.
See the converging lethal crises of our times? Humans generated most of these.
If Science were so wonderful, why is the world such a threatening and possibly terminal place for humans? If the overthrow of Religion and its attendant focus on humans’ spiritual natures has been so good for us, why is the world coming apart politically, economically, culturally, socially, and environmentally? These long-lasting traditions of the West, this materialist epistemology, this anti-spiritual habit of mind in the dominant world civilization that originated in Europe and its colonized lands in America, have brought us to a terrible brink.
I think a quote from Charles Eisenstein might encapsulate the feeling a human with a mind conscious of its world is likely to experience in 2013.
“Every culture has a Story of the People to give meaning to the world. Part conscious and part unconscious, it consists of a matrix of agreements, narrative, and symbols that tell us why we are here, where we are heading, what is important, and even what is real. I think we are entering a new phase in the dissolution of our Story of the People, and therefore, with some lag time, of the edifice of civilization built upon it.
“Sure there were problems, but the scientists and experts were working hard to fix them. Soon a new medical advance, a new law, a new educational technique, would propel the onward improvement of life. My childhood perceptions were part of this Story of the People which humanity was destined to create a perfect world through science, reason and technology, to conquer nature, transcend our animal origins, and create a rational society.
“Looking back, I realize that this was a bubble world built atop massive human suffering and environmental degradation, but at the time one could live inside that bubble without much need of self-deception…Since the 1970’s that story has eroded at an accelerating rate. More and more people in the West no longer believe that civilization is fundamentally on the right track. Even those who don’t yet question its basic premises in any explicit way, seem to have grown weary of it….”
He makes the point. We have been telling ourselves a story. It has assured us we had ways to know the truth, and that truth would deliver a fine, good, and happy life for humanity. But we know now it did not.
Humanity has not gotten to the perfected future it once believed was possible with scientific and technological genius, with capitalist economics and democratic politics. Even then there were critics of the established mainstream who opposed the view that things were being well-run; they were Socialists, and yet they agreed with the basic premises of materialist science and the perfectibility of human society. In Eisenstein’s words, “a paradise of mechanized leisure and scientifically-engineered social harmony, with spirituality either abolished entirely or relegated to a materially-inconsequential corner of life mostly on Sundays.”
Socialism was my political party or school for as long as I was trying to describe my politics in writing and in campaigning for elective offices. Socialism, with the genius of Marx and a host of his successors to articulate its meaning, held the answers for human problems of all description when I was 24 and looking ahead from 1975 to the bright future we would build with socialist blueprints.
So why was Marx, and socialist political and economic theory, wrong? For the same reason capitalists were wrong, and scientists and technocrats. They all proceeded to erect their systems on a theory of what makes a human, and built their plans from that flawed foundation. A human is not only physical materials. Our brain and its matter is not our mind. Mind is not bio-electro-chemical, not only material. Spirit – or if you prefer, immaterial essence – also goes into the construction of the human being. Marx was imprisoned in his age, man who believed science was the crown of human achievement, and his philosophy merited the label of “scientific socialism.” Ah Karl, you could not escape the fate of human mind, to be thoroughly a product of its own cultural moment.
And that is where I am at intellectually, politically and personally at this point in the unraveling of our Story of the People and the perilous state of the planet and its dominant species.
What will create the new Story? Eisenstein is not sure, though he himself is trying to be a “weaver” of a new narrative. He concludes his essay. “How can we prepare ourselves? We cannot prepare ourselves. But we are being prepared.”
It seems to me the depth of ignorance to assume that our moment in history is the very highest evolution of consciousness. I see that assumption all around me. I think it terrible arrogance to turn against a tradition of countless human cultures, the esoteric or mystery teachings, and call them all “outmoded and disproven.” I see there are many problems in trying to harmonize all the occult traditions, because they are not all harmonized. But they are not surpassed by our Science.
This is the right time to end this column. More must be said in ensuing pieces about the teachings of ancient, medieval, Asian and First Nations oracles or “pagans,” gurus or shamans or what-have-you. The occult traditions are no longer hidden, the sources to study them have never been more abundant. How humanity ought to apply whatever wisdom is in them – and there are errors in them in plenty, just as there are errors in our materialist sciences – is a question to be answered for the making of a new Story of the People.
No one is changed by reading ideas in books. Living the ideas does that. If I can pique the curiosity, provoke the effort, of just a few readers to pick up sources of esoteric teachings by my columns this year, my work will feel well-rewarded.
If anyone lives differently due to something they read, I entreat them to write me.
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer. The previous edition of the Arc of the Cognizant can be found here.