Awakening from Our Cartesian Sleep: Intimate and Satisfactory Relations

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William James, the grandfather of American psychology, was also one of the grandfathers of what he called “panpsychist pluralism.” In his 1909 Hibbert Lectures, he suggested,

“Not to demand intimate relations with the universe, and not to wish them satisfactory, should be accounted signs of something wrong.” (James, 1909/2016, p. 33)

As humans awaken from modernity’s utopian dream (what I call our “Cartesian sleep”), we realize that something is terribly wrong. I call this a Cartesian sleep because philosopher Rene Descartes’ (1596-1650) formulation of cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) increased an already present emphasis on the human thinking mind as the seat of Earthly consciousness. This emphasis on human consciousness as the only seat of sentience magnified an already increasing imagined separation between humans and the more-than-human world. From Descartes’ time forward, an ontological chasm opened between man and nature, and culture and nature; this is often called by some philosophers a bifurcation, because it split the world of humans off from the rest of the cosmos. Eventually humans perceived of nature (and all nonhumans) as a static backdrop to a dominant human culture. Humans in this supposedly separate and exceptional culture fell into a sort of slumber, not perceiving of the dazzling animate universe around us, full of interactive, intersubjective selves. Descartes was in fact so convinced that humans were the only center of consciousness, sentience and agency in an insentient world, that he invented the practice of vivisection: invasive experiments on living animals. He attributed nonhuman screams and struggles to mechanical reactions. Anyone who thinks we have transcended this kind of Cartesian thinking need only observe what goes on in laboratories, factory farms and fur farms to understand that this attitude continues to pervade our human societal systems.

Cartesian solipsism and the myth of separation tore some humans away from their intrinsic empathic connection with the more-than-human world.  Insensitive to the plight of this animate planet with its many subjective selves on many scales, humans failed to recognize the early warnings systems of nonhuman kin that there was something deeply wrong. Failure to demand intimate and satisfactory relations with the more-than-human world has led to what many now call the Anthropocene, an age characterized by the cumulative impact of human behaviors that have permanently altered Earth’s dynamic and complex systems of regeneration.

The Anthropocene’s many alarm bells blare and awaken humans rather abruptly from Cartesian sleep. The Anthropocene compels us to respond, as highly volatile and less predictable systems demand our attention. Human behaviors have sped an irreversible cascade of systemic disruptions in the biospheric disequilibrium that has created and regenerates our world and all that we are, and all that we have known up until now. Nature is not, as it turns out, a static backdrop for human culture, but rather a complex creative process in which all beings and systems of beings participate. The way in which we participate impacts other beings and systems by way of recursivity; the “to and fro” between systems. The alteration of regenerative recursivity has disrupted cascades of subsystems (human and nonhuman) on many scales.

The Anthropocene interrupts our delusions of the primacy of progress, unbridled extraction and unlimited growth, as the many cascades of systemic dysfunction engender pervasive nihilism and no sense of futurity among many human populations. Mass extinction events increase, desertification looms, acidification of oceans speeds the death of coral reefs, glacial melt threatens to unleash dormant microbes, plastic pollution pervades even ecosystems remote from human populations. Massive migrations uproot both human and nonhuman societies; those populations of humans and nonhumans without refuge increase. Both humans and nonhumans—all planetary societies at many scales—share this sense of uncertainty. Especially palpable is the sense of urgency for those who are the most vulnerable to these changes. From migrating humans to migrating birds, Earthlings continue to lose their dwellings to ecological and political upheavals; these upheavals are intrinsically intertwined.

Why this catastrophic cascade of troubles? I would suggest, though the answer is undeniably complex, that perhaps a subtler underlying answer on the level of consciousness might be found in that Jamesian articulation of a cautionary tale: humanity’s failure to demand that their individual and collective systems sustain intimate and satisfactory relations with the universe at many scales. A truly pluralist planetary society (one that works for diverse humans and nonhumans) cannot emerge from worldviews of domination, mastery, opposition and separation. Rather, humans need a new understanding of the world as full of other sentient beings with their own needs, desires and agency. Supporting those more-than-human needs, desires and expressions of agency, it turns out, recursively benefits humans. This is the dawning realization of awakening from a Cartesian sleep into the reality of entanglement; life's regeneration inevitably depends upon diverse interspecies collaborations. 

How might we develop intimate and satisfactory relations? Developing intimacy with the universe could mean becoming available to experiences of the more-than-human world. This could be as simple as planting and caring for a tree, or connecting with a nonhuman friend deeply with care, or even becoming curious about the thoughts and feelings of diverse beings. Developing satisfactory relations could mean becoming committed to engaging in compassionate interspecies kinships and unexpected caring creative alliances with diverse humans and nonhumans at a tenuous time that compels us to recognize how inescapably entangled we are in this mess, and how profoundly we need each other.

 

Sacred Futurism: An Antidote to Archeo-Futurism’s Poisonous Paradigm

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The global battle to control humanity’s evolutionary path is happening now. Ironically, it has taken the rise of religious extremists and far-right totalitarian factions to trigger progressives and the political Left in the U.S. to unify. Neoliberalism’s failure to solve economic problems and successfully integrate people left a gap through which far-right groups rose again to power. These groups share a belief that the path to power lies in technocracy and each faction vies for technocratic dominance.

Recently, one of those worldviews has risen to immense global power through a unifying, though terrifying vision: archaeo-futurism. In 1968, La Nouvelle Droite (“New Right”) energized their vision through GRECE (Groupement de Recherche et d’Etudes pour la Civilization Europeanne). Guillaume Faye, a leading figure in this right-wing movement, and one of its most radical proponents, wrote a book called Archaeofuturism: European Visions of the Post-Catastrophic Age. In it, he  outlined his futurist vision based on a few tenets: anti-egalitarianism, anti-humanism, and  anti-liberalism—an apocalyptic vision of eventual Eurosiberian rule and the return to nation-states. Archaeofuturist ideas have resurfaced to greater and lesser degrees in the form of the European Right and the extremist Alternative or “Alt-Right.”

During the 2016 U.S. elections, the Christian Right united with archaeo-futurist types (the Al- Right) to enact their shared vision: victory in what they consider an inevitable apocalyptic war—a “holy war” against Islam and morally bankrupt liberalism. 
Archaeo-futurists see a socio-cultural war and post-catastrophic resurgence of archaic societal systems in their science-fiction fantasy utopia, the Euro-Siberian alliance. Although considered radical even by the standards of the Alt-Right, Faye’s ideas provide an ideological context for some recent policy decisions made by France, Britain, and the United States—for example, French nationalist Marine Le Pen’s political stance, the Brexit crisis, and the U.S. government’s recent return to traditionalism, protectionism, and anti-liberalism point to an axis-of-evil ideologies threatening to thrust us into a dark age and, perhaps, even annihilation.

Here, I include the main theses of Faye’s ideological position, paraphrased from his book. My parenthetical notes clarify what this means for humanity. 

1. Nietzschean will to power, Roman order, and Hellenic wisdom. (Ruthless hierarchical ordering and survival of the fittest policies, patriarchy, and Plato’s Republic-style societal tiers.)

2. Archaeofuturism combines technological progress with a return to traditional answers. (Technological rule and non-egalitarian society. In other words, dystopia, Margaret Atwood style.)

3. Unification with other Far-Right movements toward the post-catastrophic Euro-Siberian nation state. (Unite and destroy U.S.-style liberalism, integration, and social justice in order to seize control during the coming apocalypse. Why do you think Russia and our current government are buddying up?)

4. Convergence of catastrophes: environmental, economic, and military catastrophes provide the moment for revolution. (Ditto above.)

5. European Dominance. Faye believes that what he calls the “neocolonial martyr myth should come to an end.” (Faye, p.4) To his mind, poor countries are not victims of colonialism, but share equal responsibility. (Victim blaming becomes the guiding principle of world policy. No more whining liberals and bleeding hearts. Instead, Faye aims to kill off social justice, equity, and any attempt at humane global ethics.)

6. Anti-American style liberalism. The liberal United States could be an enemy, though he likes their “soft imperialism” as he calls it. (Unless the U.S. allies with the Euro-Siberian alliance, they will not be saved during the apocalypse)

7. Eugenics with Impunity.  Faye believes that genetic engineering should be used for genetic determinism, and that anti-egalitarianism could free us to do that ethically at will. (Those pesky humanistic ethical quandaries need not impede the archaeo-futurist vision)

8. Closed borders and protectionism. Apparently, Faye views immigration as colonization of Europe by Afro-Asiatic peoples. He argues that this results from liberal, integrationist hegemony. His revolution aims to close borders and separate ethnic groups entirely. (Integration means death to the archaeo-futurist dream. Separatism means survival of their superior race—and, yes, they do believe this.)

Faye’s thesis represents a truly horrific, dystopian answer to our current problems, one that many of the Far-Right groups coming into power globally agree on: European white nationalism and enforced traditionalism. Their myopic, regressive, and dangerous response to our current catastrophes will continue a trauma cycle from which humanity will not recover. 

In response to what they see as Modernity’s failures, archaeo-futurists propose anti-humanism. In response to the failures of neoliberalism and globalization, they propose anti-egalitarianism, separatism, nationalism, and protectionism. 
In response to Modernity’s mechanistic, materialist worldview and positivism, they propose what they call “vitalist constructivism.” They combine the idea of Nietzschean will to power (very popular with Nazis) and technocratic rule by the dominant culture as a means to an end: essentially, technocracy with no humanistic inquiry or ethics. 

Faye draws inspiration from Nietzsche’s “philosophical hammer”— to smash what he considers hollow philosophical ideas. Faye would take a hammer to humanism and all that grew out of it: egalitarianism, liberalism, and integrationist ideas, which he believes caused our current crises. 

Already, we see signs this “Nietzschean hammer” at work in the new U.S. administration. White supremacist and Trump advisor Steven Bannon even admits to being a “Leninist” and desires complete destruction of the previous administration. Alarmingly, his ultimate plan aligns with the extreme Right archaeo-futurist vision.

ike the archaeo-futurist, the far right, Alt-Right, and nationalists are tech-savvy (see Peter Thiel and Richard Mercer, both quite capable of manipulating voters through algorithms). They believe the technological revolution should serve to create their nationalist future. 

Nationalists, like archaeo-futurists, make a glaring error when they assume that humanism constitutes the critical flaw in Modernity. Actually, it might have been Modernity’s saving grace, without which we could not evolve into a planetary society. 

The second glaring error hinges on the belief that creation happens through order and vertical hierarchies, and that collapse presents an opportunity for a welcome regression. However, any systems thinker can tell you that systems complexify or they decay. The archaeo-futurist vision represents a decaying worldview that smells of death. 

The third error advocates technocracy without humane and egalitarian societal ethics—a respect for diverse cultures and biodiversity needed for any kind of viable future global scenario. We have already seen what can happen when humanity divorces ethical inquiry from science: Nazi experiments, vivisection, DDT, Agent Orange, nuclear proliferation, etc.

Sacred Futurism, the antidote to archaeo-futurism, offers a way to a better future for all humans and nonhumans, based on a sacred worldview:

1. From the Dominator Paradigm to the Partnership Paradigm
Archaeo-futurist ideologies arose out of the dominator paradigm. In The Chalice and the Blade, systems scientist and activist Riane Eisler proposed that some archaic societies who worshipped goddesses, the archetype of a life-giving force, embraced egalitarianism and peace. Eventually, patriarchal God-worshipping warlike cultures dominated and took control. 

Today, societies tend toward domination rather than partnership-oriented worldviews. Ideologies born of the dominator paradigm support the idea that some humans should dominate other humans. In a dominator paradigm, sexes are not equal. Eisler attributes this to the shift from matriarchal, goddess-worshipping societies to patriarchal, God-worshipping societies. 
In a dominator paradigm, power-over becomes a natural way of keeping order in a hierarchical social structure. In this view, war, violence, and oppression facilitate the ordered structure of society. Clearly, the new U.S. government accepts that war, violence, and oppression should be used, if necessary, to establish their idea of order. The archaeo-futurist vision extends the dominator paradigm. 

Sacred Futurism advocates a partnership paradigm, a worldview that predates ancient Greek philosophy and politics. Being a classicist, I have long been fascinated by pre-Hellenistic societies, such as the Minoans—most likely a peaceful, egalitarian society that worshipped goddesses as well as gods. 

Unlike archaeo-futurism, sacred futurism sees partnership societies as evidence that humans have the capacity to co-exist in egalitarian relationships. However, archaeo-futurists want to return to ethnically separate and hierarchically ordered societies. 
Sacred Futurism proposes that societies evolve through complexity, that the current chaos does not call us back to the past; instead, it asks us to embrace the complexity of the future through integration—by incorporating the power-with mentality in relationships (Eisler, 2002). 

2. From Opposition to Symbiosis
Archaeo-futurists believe that Modernity caused all our societal problems. As noted above, they erroneously attribute this wrong turn to humanism. They see liberalism, integration, and societal ethics based on egalitarian philosophies as the cause of convergent catastrophes. They believe the world stands precariously on the precipice of an inevitable apocalypse, after which archaic order will be re-established, and the world will be peacefully divided and stabilized in hierarchical social order.

By contrast, Sacred Futurism views Modernity as an evolutionary step toward a more global society. Although sacred futurism rejects Cartesian dualism, blind reductionism, colonialism, and positivism, it sees the expansion of humanist ideas such as liberalism, integration, and egalitarianism as beneficial steps toward real integration. 

acred futurists see neoliberalism and globalism as problematic because they create injustice, systemic poverty, and oppression. 

Sacred futurism embraces the concepts of French philosopher Edgar Morin, that in order to become a planetary society we must understand the universe as a complex of systems within systems, dynamic and intrinsically interdependent (Morin, 2008). Diversity expresses our fundamental unity, and we must see our relationships as key to our future. Partnership is key. 

Auto-critique (self-reflection) and meta-thinking (being able to contextualize and understand the impact of our own constructed worldviews) undergirds societal evolution and beneficial planetary partnerships. Rather than take a hammer to ideology, we hook it with a sharp question mark, and ask how to synthesize opposites, rather than attempt to simplify complexity into some absolute truth. 

A planetary society supports integration, protects equality and equity, and continues to ask questions about how we might do better. A planetary society also becomes meta-technological, that places Earth jurisprudence and compassionate ethics before technological advancement. 

Archaeo-futurism and the Far Right welcome an oppositional universe, full of binaries: us and them, black and white, higher and lower . . . and cling to the “great man” theory of creativity in which individual greatness creates powerful ideologies of order. 

By contrast, Sacred Futurism sees a fluid, complex, dynamic universe full of shifting ideas and relationships that thrive within nested hierarchies and benefit from collaborative creativity—in which interdependence and synergy create powerful change and evolution of consciousness.

Archaeo-futurists want to throw away the social innovations of Modernity and Postmodernism, and return to an archaic social structure. They cannot conceive of any way to integrate the lessons of the last few hundred years. They cling to anthropocentrism, ethnocentrism, racism, and sexism. They see integration and inclusion as impediments, rather than growth. Because of this, they cannot begin to understand how to address global challenges except through collapse, destruction, and regression. They see climate change as an opportunity for a necessary cataclysm, and a way to return to nation-states. Similarly, the United States government has all but dismantled the EPA, and has set out to tear apart other regulatory bodies. They do not consider climate change a priority because their priority focuses on post-catastrophic consolidation of power. Loss of biodiversity seems unimportant and irrelevant to their vision. 

3. From Regression or Progress to Regeneration:
Sacred Futurism approaches catastrophe through regenerative principles, embracing the lessons of recent history, and using novel social and technological innovation to regenerate our world. 

We see our current chaotic upheaval as a road to establish a new approach to problems based on what author and educator Daniel Christian Wahl calls “living the questions” (Wahl, 2016).  

Rather than take a hammer to everything, we take a question mark to everything. Rather than basing our answers on ideological abstractions, we base them on lived experience of diverse humans and nonhumans. We use the four main theses elucidated in Wahl’s book: transformative innovation, bio-inspired design, health and resilience,and living systems thinking to transform global societies (Wahl, 2016).  

Rather than regress into separatism and nationalism, we integrate, compassionately and collaboratively create, cultivate empathy, and form planetary societies. Rather than use technological advancement blindly, we consider the ethical implications of innovation. We strive to create compassionate cultures and ethical innovations that sustain and care for the whole system, while attuning to local experience and wisdom.  

We also use the three-horizon model when considering futures studies: Horizon 1, sustaining innovation; Horizon 2, disruptive innovation; and Horizon 3, transformative innovation (Wahl, 2016).

We frame our vision of the future by learning from the past and present. Rather than imposing the past onto the future, we seek to let the past and present inform the future. We don’t go into the chrysalis to become a bigger, tougher, hungrier caterpillar; we go into it to emerge as something with revolutionary new tools: wings

We can see the archeo-futurist’s ideological agenda playing out in European and U.S. politics and culture wars. Militant immigration policies, return to open cultural sexism and racism, and support for sexist and racist policies, gay-bashing speech and anti-gay policies. Technological manipulation through “post-truth,” “alt-facts,” and voter-targeting algorithms used by Alt-Right media outlets. In their opinion, the future belongs to them and they will seize it by whatever means possible.

Sacred Futurism provides an antidote to archaeo-futurism’s poisonous ideology by grounding assumptions in a healing, sacralized worldview. Martin Luther King said: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” and sacred futurism assumes that integration, equality, and compassion indicate the arc of human evolution. 

Sacred Futurism believes that social diversity, biodiversity, and symbiosis signal systemic health necessary for species survival and evolution. Archeo-futurism’s fundamental problem stems from its inability to see and cultivate the sacred in every being, and to shape policies that support planetary life as a whole system.

Their Nietzschean “will to power” philosophy—that human ambition prevails in nature—fails to recognize the undeniable interdependence of all living systems, our fundamental connectedness, and necessary symbiosis. 

Sacred Futurism rejects the oppositional and regressive position of archaeo-futurism. Instead, we hold a powerful vision of the future based on regenerative principles that support evolution toward a planetary culture.

Sources
Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade. Haper One: New York, 1987

— The Power of Partnership: Seven Relationships That Will Change your Life. New World Library: Novato, 2002

Morin, Edgar. On Complexity. Hampton Press: New Jersey, 2008

Wahl, Daniel. Designing Regenerative Cultures. Triarchy Press: Axminster, UK, 2016