This is a non-autism related post focusing on an integral analysis of the tools we will need in our society to cope with Covid-19
As a society, we have been pampered for the last couple of generations. We have not really known the hardships of war, famine or plague and even death has also been somewhat declawed. It is unlikely that any of us in the west will lose a child or die before our threescore and ten. It does happen but when the young die before their time it is a tragedy rather than, as was the case for most of our history, something we could all expect to witness with some regularity.
This fortunate state of affairs is wonderful news but, it has left certain parts of our culture wilted and atrophied. The luxury of our pampered modern life has meant that certain deep aspects of our society and collective consciousness have been ignored, forgotten or ridiculed. It is perhaps only now with the spectre of plague mounting its horse ready to wreak havoc that we are feeling this loss. Until now these older, deeper, cultural artifacts have been unneeded one thing that may come out of all of this is that we reclaim them.
An integral analysis
The philosopher Ken Wilbur tells us that human societies go through stages of evolution. Each stage transcends and incorporates the previous. Each stage has its own way of knowing. The later stages are not necessarily better than the previous, but they are bigger and offer a broader utility for the society. It is, however, a grave error to think they replace the previous modes of being. Instead, they should incorporate and transcend them. Nothing should be forgotten or discarded.
It is these earlier stages and the societal tools that they bring that we have lost touch with. The “magical” stage of development gives us our sense of unity with the tribe. It gives us a collectivist mindset and our base ethics where we are part of something bigger than ourselves. The next stage of societal development (mythic) gives us our religions and the defining, unique, characteristics of our culture. It gives our national characters and traits, the shared bonds of Britishness, for example. The next stage, the rational or modern stage, gives us our science our technology and the ability to look beyond the tribe/nation and understand the objective facts about the world. It is the stage that first allows the prospect of a global civilisation with a mutual understanding through rational thought. Finally, the post-modern stage then allows a society to look at different perspectives and see the partial truths and flaws in all works of man. As such, it allows us to encompass multiple perspectives and offers an opportunity for a truly transcultural and global society.
But our modern society, due to its luxury, has allowed rationalism and postmodernism to become utterly dominant. These two later stages have suppressed entirely the earlier magical and mythic stages. We have not encompassed and transcended we have suppressed and forgotten. This has not been a huge issue up until now because up until now we have not really faced a big crisis. Now we do, now it’s time to remember our older tools.
Firstly, though, it needs to be stated that I am definitely not talking about regressing to previous ways of being. That is not possible or desirable. The old tribal ways of being led to many many disasters of war and conflict. Regressing to a tribal / mythic way of being, even if possible, is certainly not going to help with the current situation. Instead we must reclaim and integrate some of the forgotten tools that these earlier ways of being gave us.
What are these tools we have lost?
When we talk about the British character what do we mean? We all kind of know what it means to be British but most of us, certainly in liberal circles, tend to be somewhat sceptical of whether Britishness is even a thing. Our multi-cultural, post-modern society is scornful and deeply suspicious of a strong sense of national identity. The history of nationalism in the 20th century gives us very good reason to be deeply suspicious, but are we throwing the baby out with the bath water?
This is not unique to the British of course, the character of any nation will be unique and deeply embedded in the culture, the zeitgeist and the collective unconscious of that country. Each will be different, but each will serve as a set of norms and values that will have great utility especially in the dark times. This is why they evolved after all. In the pre-rational society, it is the cultural norms and sense of identity that dictate behaviour.
We have let our cultural identity wither away. It is seen as laughable to strongly identify as British. Now, however, I would posit that we need to reclaim this. Not in a flag waving patriotic kind of way but in a more quiet, calm and less fanatic way. Our humour, for example, is something we can bond together with as a nation. Our stiff upper lip, our tendency not to want to cause a fuss, our politeness. These traits need not be “rule Britannia” and a call back to the lost days of empire, they can instead be a deeply rooted tool of our collective unconscious that can be deployed in a time of crisis to help us all.
There are however some traits of British identity that may not be helpful. Our rugged individualism, second only to that of America, gives our society many benefits but this particular trait may present problems in times of a largescale crisis. Much of the mental stress that results from things like Covid-19 stems from worrying about ourselves. We have evolved to be very individualistic and hence somewhat selfish. This is all ok if we live in a pampered society with few risks but once this is threatened the strongly individualistic societies may suffer more mental distress than others. This is why a mere regression to the mythic stage is not desirable, we must instead be able to select the appropriate tools from this era and apply them to the current situation. Regression means the dirty bath water comes back with the baby. Integration means we just keep the baby.
The “magic” epoch of societal evolution harkens back to our hunter gatherer and early agricultural societies. This mode of being was tribal and predates individualism. It is from this era that we might find a remedy for the problems cause by individualism in a crisis. This is particularly useful for British and American cultures which are the most individualistic.
Going back to a deep tribal mode of being means the individual will put themselves in service of the collective. The rampant individualism and indeed narcissism of modern society means this mode of being is very suppressed. But living for the service of others in the tribe is an important mental health tool for the induvial, especially in times of stress. When the tribal/magical stage of development evolved in our society life was brutal, short, savage and incredibly stressful. During these past times we all faced death every day. The way individuals coped with this mental stress was to live in service of the tribe, individualism would not have worked in this world it would have been just to mentally taxing.
We can perhaps regain this tool in the following way. If instead of worrying about ourselves concentrate on how we can help and serve others in the community, we will find that our own angst vanishes. I can speak from personal experience on this. Generally speaking, I have not felt that stressed by the coronavirus pandemic. The reason for this, is I think, because I have been focused on others. My business employs 25 people we are facing a tough 6 month of trading, peoples jobs are on the line, this should stress me out, and it has a bit, but because I have focused on saving jobs and protecting my business as well as my family I have actually felt energised and alive during the last month, more so than before.
I have spoken about this to other business leaders and they have had the same experience. Yes, it’s stressful but it also gives us a purpose beyond and bigger than ourselves. This is incredibly good for our mental health. This is a mental health tool that is reclaimed from our societies tribal/magical stage of development. We can all reclaim this tool if we chose and our society will be all the strong if more of us do so. Individualism is good, it spurs innovation and commerce and creativity but serving the collective helps our society and keeps one sane in times of madness.
Lost Rational traits
Whilst the rational epoch has been very dominant since the 19th century some aspects of our rationalism have also been forgotten in recent years. Postmodernism has gone wrong. Rather than transcending and encompassing the earlier rational stage it has instead ridiculed, rejected and ignored. So, we get the somewhat baffling statements about “having had quite enough of experts” or living in a “post-truth” era. The scientists and experts have long been scoffed at and we have all seemed to be content to live with our own personalised set of facts about the world. Objectivity is denied and all is opinion, this is an ugly twisting of what postmodernism should be.
The suppressing and ignoring of our rational traditions have led to a general distrust of science, of modern medicine or experts of all kinds. Today, it seems, we all have our own “realities” backed up with our own set of “facts” that we can learn from others like us on the internet. This has been ok, all the while we live in a cocooned luxurious and safe bubble of modernity. Now that the facts really do matter it is perhaps time to reclaim some of our rational traditions also?
It’s is perhaps time to acknowledge the vital role experts play in our technologically sophisticated society. We need to understand statistics and data. More importantly, we need to exercise our critical thinking muscles and do so honestly. The lure of the post-modern, post-fact world is that we can all believe whatever the hell we like, whatever makes us feel good. This is very dangerous in difficult times because, as the saying goes, reality does not care about your feelings. If you are farting around coming up with post hoc justifications for your pre-determined ideas about the world then you will run into the brick wall of reality at some point. In times of crisis, this will not only hurt, it could be fatal. Rationalism helps you avoid running into such walls.
Broken Post-modern traits
So, what about the gifts of postmodernism? The promise of postmodernism is that it would allow for an understanding of the partial truths from different perspectives. It would also allow us to spot the biases and cultural prejudices present in all aspects of human thought. Rather than one absolutely “correct” way of doing things, there would, in fact, be multiple ways of doing things, each with its own benefits and flaws. A well-functioning post-modernism would thus be able to synthesise far better more accurate truths by drawing upon all these different perspectives.
Sadly, postmodernism has gone very wrong. Instead of looking at different perspectives and gleaning nuggets of partial truth it instead seems to focus on the bits that are wrong. Rather than synthesising a greater truth it has got stuck on the idea that everything is wrong, everything is a matter of perspective and so truth does not really exist. Objective facts are, thus, an illusion. The rational thinkers are viewed with suspicion and the notion of objective truths about the world rejected. This is how we have ended up in our post-modern, post-fact world. It should not be this way.
Now more than ever we need to reclaim the promised pluralism of post-modernism. In this incredibly complex world, and in this particular complex problem (covid19), we need a post-modern perspective that can weave together different opinions and different perspectives into something that resembles a solution. Instead we have pathological postmodernism where everything is just picked apart and dismissed if it does not happen to fit with one’s own pre-determined opinion. A good, well-functioning postmodernism needs the critical faculties of the previous (rational) era to be working well. It can then move beyond rationalism and start to weave together a greater truth. Without the rational gifts, however, post modernism merely becomes emotion. “Feels before facts”, as the popular meme goes. We just end up using postmodern critiques to justify whatever position we feel is correct. This is obviously facile, shallow and ineffective. It is a particularly useless state of affairs in the crisis we now face.
An integral perspective is required. We must fully integrate the previous eras so that we might have access to all the tools they give us. The collectivist mindset, living for the tribe, from the magical era will help steel ourselves mentally. The reclamation of our national identities and social norms will help protect our communities and build community spirit. Fully using our rational minds will help us with the necessary decision making and help stave off panic and fear. Finally, if we can get postmodernism working properly, we will be able to weave together partial truths from other perspectives and cultures that will undoubtably help create a global solution to this global issue.
What we can’t do, however, is regress to any of those earlier stages. Regression to crass nationalism or tribalism would obviously be a terrible move. A regression to any previous stage not only immediately denies the gifts of later stages of societal development it, also, seems to inevitably repress the gifts of previous stages. We just lose too much when we regress. Therefore, we must try to transcend and integrate; this is why an integral approach is required.