by Mike Meyer
We are on the edge of the new planetary spiritual culture. This is a frightening change for many reasons but the largest reason is that it is, perhaps, the largest paradigm shift in our immediate future. Just as many people are doing I have managed to avoid thinking about this directly while safely playing around the edges. The full extent of this is difficult to comprehend hence the aversion to facing it. It’s hard to say anything other than this now looms over us hidden by the range of immediate disasters with climate change the largest and problems of political reaction a close second.
Many people have been struggling with this growing spiritual transformation but, usually, in its traditional modern form of trying to figure out what’s wrong with people who cling tenaciously to ancient and outlandish religious systems. This is not a new topic with no answer but is now of less and less relevance.
In America, specifically, we face wildly distorted national subcultures after two centuries of politicization of an original historical anomaly. The original New England colonists in the early 1600s were exiles from the brutal disruption of the Protestant reformation. Two hundred years later in 1776 this was still a political hot button ingrained in significant segments of the American population. In the end it required near constitutional sovereignty to those religions elements in exchange for revolutionary support.
The founders of the American Experiment, as we all know, were very closely aligned to the European Enlightenment mostly dedicated to removal of religion from public life. The political reality in America was dealt with by institutionalizing religious ‘freedom’. This was done as freedom from religion while being presented as protection for religion to minimize political reaction.
That didn’t work out as planned. As the Western European world modernized the old formal political links to religion, so hated by the philosophes of the Enlightenment, ironically did more to allow religion to fade. In America after several decades of the expected conversion of religion to cultural artifact status the combination of slavery and emerging populist politicization of bigotry spawned the first American religious rebirth. This set the stage for religion as a political football evolving into religion as a weaponized group for racism and reactionary policies.
This much of the history in America is necessary to understand the impending disaster that is smoldering in the early 21st century collapse of the old nation state and European order. The huge resources of North America, stolen from the indigenous populations, was the catalyst for the new world materialist and scientific explosion. This allowed American dominance with a stunningly backward social awareness.
The result is the massive weighting of America, even in rapid decline, on the current transformation to a urgently required planetary culture. That requirement is, of course, the escalating climate change that may stop human development completely if not drive us into full cultural failure.
It is already clear that the political collapse in America will correct this as dominance is moving to Asia with China as the lead culture. The failure of America is quickly fostering reactionary copycats in nations with authoritarian tendencies. This is often based on fascist forms of emotional racism and hatred justified by the remnants of the old religions.
But this is not the topic here. These are background conditions complicating the emergence of a new spiritual culture that is necessary to correct and counter the incompleteness of the first stage of scientific world culture. We all know or, at least, sense the critical spiritual shortcomings that have allowed, if not fostered, the repeated resurgence of irrational bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia inspired by fear, willful ignorance, and active hatred.
For those who have followed my other writings on cultural, technical, political, and spiritual change, this topic now extends into more fundamental processes. This is the nature of geometric change. It appears incremental but the whole triggers the birth of a new universe. That is why it becomes so disruptive and shocking.
The problem is the limitations of our scientifically based materialist vision of our planet and all human societies. We have reached the limits of viability of that way of understanding the world. The pieces that we are missing allow room for old, inadequate failed systems to hang on with manipulated promises of answering what have been unanswerable questions. The great scientific compromise was to declare those questions that humans feel the need to ask but couldn’t be scientifically answered as someone else’s problem.
That left the already intellectually bankrupt classical religions holding the bag. Unfortunately those questions are more important to our species than was then understood. The result was the slow collapse of both the old religions and the ethical foundations of modern Western culture with popular culture trying to fill the vacuum.
These questions are all centered on holistic visions and justifications for what we are about in our lives. A basic and major difficulty is that this is an issue only periodically important for most people that, at any time, affects only a minority of the population in post industrial and transitional states.
Even so, this absence of universal holistic and shared metaphors, complicates successful integration of increasingly growing diverse populations in planetary, urban societies. The American problem illustrates this with the urban versus rural dichotomy as the non-urban population tends toward the most challenged portions of the population who’s failure to find working spiritual tools has been politicized. These people see themselves as exiled from the center and denied validity. This leaves them completely open to emotional, authoritarian manipulation.
It is very important to remember that we are dealing now with the foundations of our world as it has been perceived for the last three hundred years. Depending our where your culture is at the moment the greatest emphasis has been on the political, nation state failures with the regressive appearance of antique authoritarianism perceived as the most frightening problem. That is actually superficial to this level of paradigmatic change.
The absence of even a way to articulate the need for a spiritual method of explanation and unification is assumed to be normal. It is generally unquestioned that there is no valid spiritual linkage to our physical universe and no valid system for justifying our reality. That reality is materialistic and, to most people, based in Newtonian physics exclusively. Impersonal forces reacting to each other creates our physical reality. End of story.
The failure of the classical age religions built on primitive sky god mythologies (Abrahamic or Hindu) originating in Indo-European neolithic cultures is so complete that the surviving versions of those are recognized as embarrassments. Their only value beyond mundane social ritual is seen as justifications for racism, bigotry, and xenophobia. Where they survive outside of authoritarian states is as increasingly generic community centers. But even these tend to work as race or ethnic based organizations supporting the status quo and the rejection of planetary unity.
The origins of these religions as tools for political control, war, and conquest against others who are, by definition, not chosen and maybe not even human, has made repeated historical efforts at turning these systems into inclusive communities nearly impossible. Their structural exclusivity makes them easy grounds to sow hate and bigotry and almost impossible to provide unity to anything but the opposite of a diverse and dynamic social unit.
In opposition to these remnants we have the very modern adaption of philosophical elements of Buddhism (see my Buddhism as a 21st century spiritual philosophy) with a growing range of reconstructed animistic beliefs. These have grown up as popular reactions to both the failure of the old religions and the absence of any individualized spiritual tools to answer the very large gaps in explanation of our mechanized, materialistic, and near infinite universe.
While many of these social stop gaps are too shallow and have been to greatly reduced to popularized memes to have much authority they illustrate what is missing and what is desired by 21st century humans, particularly those born in the post industrial age. This needs to be a spiritual philosophy that is fully individualized yet unified in linking us to face exponential growth in knowledge and human diversity.
This cannot be a system tied to even a universe of general relativity let alone a simple Newtonian one. It must work effectively for all identities and increasingly hybrid, post biological entities in a virtual and quantum mechanical universe. The biggest problem is that we know way too much but also way too little to use any of our existing tools. They simply disappear in an effort to stretch them to the universe’s limits at the edge of the Cosmic Background Radiation.
So where do we find the tools that we need?
A spiritual metaphor able to encompass the universe and our planet’s place in that universe is very hard to make from scratch. At the level of knowledge, as noted above, we just don’t have it. These things need to rest on at least five or six thousand years of human knowledge if not more. That is impossible to fake.
The failure of the old religions is multifaceted but rests heavily on the wrongness of their mythic image of the universe. There is too much ignorance to stomach yet we need these things to tie us together and to be real. Interestingly we keep working at the pop culture level to build models of Norse mythology and African magical culture to fill the gaping holes in our human spiritual universe. To even do that requires a large dose of science and technology to ensure wide acceptance and to avoid making people angry at having their personal identity and ethnicity mocked.
We are very willing and logical in accepting the extension of technology into magic but it must be based on actual human culture. After all we live with the geometric expansion of magic on a daily basis. Our primary entertainment has become in the last thirty years a continuous exploration of impending magic at a level so far beyond ancient mythology that it leaves us breathless. And that is just where we want to be because it will be real. This is a key to our quest.
Quests are the things that heroes do. In the old religious universe gods were heroes and that was good enough. But those are not real. We know that. But even if they could be manufactured again it wouldn’t matter because they are not us. This is a different world. That is what paradigm change is all about.
Our world is in our increasingly diverse individuality. We are first person shooters. The fascination of virtual reality has come to teach us how arbitrary our universe really is. And we can and must do what must be done. We know our universe is personal and exists as a potential that collapses into reality at our touch. But how can we do that and what does it mean?
We need to build an active and explanatory mythology around ourselves. The great alienation of the first stage scientific culture is the meaninglessness of only recognizing physical actions and reactions. It is the incredible smallness of our simple physical selves on a tiny planet in a small solar system in one arm of a mediocre galaxy that, despite our best efforts at imagination, we now know we probably will never leave. At least not physically. But virtually? Now there is a whole other thing.
While we may die in the wastelands of our planet’s ruined biosphere, we could avoid that by becoming heroes and uniting in our quest for planetary success. Small squabbling creatures without a vision of a hero’s universe may have magical technology but still no hope. And the old myths and ancient hopes don’t make it in what we already know to be a very different universe than we have ever imagined in the past.
The answer is to make our new, diverse, individual mythologies real, dynamic, and based on our best knowledge of everything around us. That requires faith in ourselves, the only place that faith is valuable, and the unity of our diverse mythologies to grow into what we can be.
Perhaps this is happening already. We are creatures of ten thousand years of accelerating change. We don’t wait for someone to tell us what to do we start figuring it out while the folks with no vision prove to themselves that it is hopeless and can’t be done.
Maybe this what is happening with the new intensity of interest in an old form of knowledge from our earliest history. There are many people exploring and thinking about archetypal astrology. There are many other people starting to say that this is all bullshit and can’t be anything useful. My own commitment to science and technology makes it hard for me to look at this differently also.
But there are two points that need to be considered. Astrology is tied to thousands of years of human history and to, what is now called, deep psychology. In other words it is a tool for the creation of vast and unified metaphors of meaning. And it has a very real history.
In the rise of the first stage scientific cultures the physical reality had to be taken apart to the smallest components. To do that required the rejection of the old large metaphors and images of the universe. That has been done.
Ironically that whole process led to a new universe that exists only tentatively at any second and in which we play as large a part as we can imagine. Quantum entanglement ruined Einstein’s vision of his universe. He never got over it. At that level things may be so instantaneously connected that they react simultaneously to events across a galaxy.
Maybe we can begin to react, too. Maybe we always have been. It’s only been one hundred years that we have lived with Schrödinger’s dog. We know too much to ignore this but too little, yet, to make it comfortably a part of us. The answer may be building our individually linked universes that surrounds and changes with us all. Is it real or is it astrology? Maybe it is both.