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Struggling Toward Consciousness

Published: Wed 10 Jul 2024 11:29 AM
Sometimes you read a sentence that stops you in your tracks. Great writing takes the reader beyond words, and generates a moment of beauty and insight.
I came across such a sentence while reading H.G. Wells “The Outline of History.” Wells was of course best known for his science fiction works, a pioneer in the genre with such books as “The Time Machine” and “War of the Worlds.”
But his magnum opus, in my view, is the two-volume “Outline of History.” In it we gain a window into Wells’ capacious mind and concern for the patterns, pathologies and potentialities of humankind since before the beginning of civilization.
The sentence that stopped me is this:
“There appears life struggling towards consciousness, gathering power, accumulating will, through millions of years and through countless billions of individual lives, until it reaches the tragic confusions and perplexities of the world today, so full of fear and yet so full of promise and opportunity.”
The “Outline of History” was written after World War I, in 1918-19, and revised in 1930. Though the phrase “accumulating will” gives me pause, the sweep of the sentence ripples through my thinking, and still feels pertinent and even prescient in 2024.
The question of culture, and cultural change, has been one of the themes of this column. A bromide that talking heads on cable TV have been echoing of late is “culture eats policy for lunch.” That’s a simplistic version of saying there are levels below the political dimension, which I’ve been exploring for many years. It means that underlying conditions always trump politics and policies.
H.G. Wells “Outline of History” attempts to go even further than culture however, and discern the basic shape and trajectory of human history taken as a whole.
As intractable as they are, cultures come and go, and human history marches on. But where is it marching from, and towards what is it marching? And if life is “struggling toward consciousness,” why are so many humans intentionally regressing into the consciousness of their dogs, evidenced by how much the sacred dog mythology dominates American advertising in recent years?
Just as the age of nations, much less empires, is over, so too the age of distinct cultures belongs to history. Like it or not, it’s a global culture now. Yet because of a failure of perception and imagination, people cling to the remnants of bygone cultures, along with useless traditions, irrelevant religions and divisive identifications.
Is there a remnant of conservative thinkers who haven’t bought into the big lie and aren’t indulging in conspiracy theories and bottomless grievance? And don’t progressives, adhering to the past while talking about the future, cling to their identifications in the name of “diversity?”
If the nation-state, and culture in the anthropological sense of the word are history, what will take their place? As much as authoritarian nations like China and Russia are loath to admit it, American culture has been and continues to be a globalizing culture even as America itself is in precipitous decline.
Traditional cultures have become fragmentary holdovers from the past, hamstringing the human being and humanity just when the emergence of AI is compelling an unprecedented awakening of intelligence. Can a new kind of culture and civilization, only seen in glimmers before in human history, emerge?
Such a culture would not be based on tradition, or memory, or even knowledge, but on awareness, insight and right relationship between human beings and nature and between human beings. I don’t know if and when such a global culture will emerge, but I’m certain it has to emerge if humanity is to survive.
So what will spur the creation of a new order of global civilization? Obviously, it will not just spring forth organically from the present trends in art, civil society and academia, much less the political level.
Given the collapse of the climate and decimation of the species with which we share the earth, humankind obviously needs a new relationship with nature. And though it has become de rigueur to put faith in science, technology and AI, science and the artificial thought of computers cannot awaken intelligence.
Intelligence is not a function of thought and knowledge at all, human or artificial. Its wellspring is the direct perception of beauty, which flows from undirected attention and effortless stillness.
A widespread awakening of intelligence in the human being is urgently needed to navigate the reefs and shoals of the present age and create a new kind of culture and civilization for the future of humanity. If not now, is there a future?
Martin LeFevre
lefevremartin77@gmail

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