Three Circles of History

All history is propaganda and serves a purpose for the one writing it. I don’t deny that there is some objectivity to it, that the people and events described therein did in fact exist or happen, but that the narration can be quite selective. We humans aren’t omniscient, and so can only focus on a small amount of information in a certain sequence, giving historians some license to “play” with how they present a certain sequence of events.

Is history intrinsically political? Economic? Technological? Biological? Spiritual? Accidental? It can be any on these, or none. It all depends on the most useful and relevant way you think it will be to “slice the pie” of history. It’s only natural for the human mind to want to make sense of the world, even if that world is chaotic. We need orientation, and developing a sense of history is part of that.

Some while ago I wrote about the Three Circles of Existence, a cosmology based on Iolo Morganwg’s work with a naturalistic spin. This gives me a sense of historical “direction” and how humans and the universe we exist in developed. The three circles in question are Annwn, Abred and Gwynvid, with Ceugant forming a transcendent “non-circle”. For anyone familiar with Teilhard de Chardin, Annwn, Abred and Gwynvid roughly correspond to geosphere, biosphere and noosphere (though I wouldn’t go as far as saying Ceugant and Omega Point are equivalent, though there is room for interpretation).

In Annwn history is meaningless. There is no direction, meaning or reason in this physical universe. It just is, and all change within it is just an expression of its existence. Stars are born and die, chemicals react, galaxies crash into one another, balls of rock and gas go round in circles. Entropy rules, and eventually it will have all “burnt out”, or we’ll all end up in a Great Crunch with all we see around us destroyed and replaced with a different physical order. But within this directionless chaos, things happens, things that do have direction and, for want of a better word, “purpose”.

In Abred there is life. Within the apparent meaningless of this universe, life appeared – self-organising matter that (for a time) defies entropy. The basic impulse of life is survival of the individual organism, which itself is directed towards the survival of the species (the continuation of genes). Billions of species have developed complex, interconnected, interdependent relationships, forming a planet-wide family/organism/ecosystem – known as Gaia by some. An extremely diverse biosphere has found many intricate ways to achieve the closely twinned goals of individual survival and the continuation of the species. Life has become so intertwined that organisms must also fulfil the imperative that the biosphere as a whole must survive. A community or family has developed a complex contract of ecological solidarity, which means all lifeforms must be of benefit to the biosphere or risk their place within it. Human intelligence and culture grew out of our basic (biological) need to survive, and earlier manifestations of them were in harmony with the biosphere’s survival imperative, or limited enough to not cause problems on a global scale. But human culture has recently broken its “contract” with the biosphere and put our existence as a civilisation and even as a species into doubt. It’s imperative that we get our cultural values back “on track” with Abred.

The history of Gwynvid is the part of human history that isn’t strictly physical or biological; it encompasses culture and social relations, and the development of civilisation. All the values, symbols, concepts and customs that structure and guide society are part of the emerging Gwynvid. As Abred emerges out of Annwn, so Gwynvid emerges out of Abred, remaining a part of it, yet having its own set of properties that differentiates it. For civilisation to continue and develop, it cannot limit itself to an “aimless” physical existence or “blind” biological impulses, but must reflect “higher” values. It’s direction must become that of consciousness and the complexity and depth thereof, just as the biosphere has increased in complexity. Our technological, political and economic development must not rely solely on biological impulses, but more noble, refined and differentiated values stemming from a more reflective, self-aware consciousness. It’s also important that Gwynvid realises that it still remains part of Annwn-Abred, that though it is qualitatively distinct from them, it still forms a continuity with them, otherwise it courts ecological disaster.

The history of Ceugant is non-dual and is not really historical at all. It is all-embracing, all-inclusive. It is not contained within history but contains history. It is “ahistorical” in a timeless sense, but not in the directionless sense of Annwn, which is still subject to time. It offers an ahistorical backdrop to history, as well as a transcendent state of mind. It is present as a metaphysical reality and also in the core of consciousness. We might express the relationship of Annwn, Abred, Gwynvid and Ceugant like so: mysticism embedded within humanism embedded within biocentrism embedded within nihilism embedded within mysticism.

Time is a tricky thing, but the human mind has a habit of “making sense” of things, even if there is no intrinsic sense to be made, and so arises our concept of “history”, which as we have seen is not always a single thing but several things layered together, interrelated, but with their own distinct properties.

Here’s a link to a “creation story” I wrote some while ago, based on the idea of the Annwn-Abred-Gwynvid cosmos, as well as a triad which expresses the same idea in this blogpost but in simpler terms.

Lothlorien-Nemeton Seedgroup (lothlorienemeton.blogspot.com)

An Existential Triad | Druid in Training (wordpress.com)

A Civilised Education

I always think that the most basic issue that would resolve many, if not all, human issues, would be that of education. I’d be as bold to say that all problems in society arise out of educational problems. I’m not just talking about formal “classroom” education, but all circumstances throughout our lives that affect the development of our lives, especially personal relationships. Also not just an education based on what we think but how we think. We have plenty of good thoughts in the world, but what lacks is good thinking that puts them to use. Politics, economics, environmental… whatever issues you care to name, it comes down to, or can be resolved by, the cultivation of all human minds.

That’s a rather lengthy preamble for this thought that came to me: we will know when we have reached a truly civilised world when we no longer have to resort to neurosis, psychosis, trauma or repression to educate future generations.

As I see it, that’s what it comes down to. The human mind has been “taught” to adapt to a sick society, and so we reap the results, in our individual and collective lives. It works; economies are still productive and politics maintains some control, for example, but at a great price to us personally and environmentally.

The Nature of Consciousness

It could get quite complicated, but I’m keeping this one short.

What is consciousness?

On a practical level I think of consciousness as an emergent property of the brain: the physical, chemical, biological and neurological conditions are right for “mind” to emerge, at least in the form we recognise as “mind”.

Perhaps more philosophically, I am attracted to the idea that it is a fundamental part of the physical universe, like energy and matter. I certainly don’t think there is a split between mind and matter; they are two sides of the same coin.

Spiritually I feel that all individual expressions of consciousness are “ripples on the surface” of a single consciousness, giving rise to all phenomena.

But when I grow tired of speculating I remind myself that consciousness is what is Here and Now, and just get on with life as it is without distracting myself too much with these concepts.

A Society of Fantasies

There are so many things that we take for granted that are really the products of the human mind, and their “reality” is sustained only by our belief in them. Apply a reductionist look at them and they simply disappear, as if they had never existed, and yet they are so prevalent that we can’t simply ignore them. They are subjective (or intersubjective), yet have taken on extremely objective qualities.

There are laws that only exist within our minds, but we conform our behaviour to them so as not to suffer certain consequences (which usually aren’t fantasies!). There are gender roles that seem “universal” since almost all cultures prescribe some sort of gender specific behaviour, though this varies from culture to culture, throwing doubt on which one is “right”. There is national identity, meant to group a large amount of people together, yet when we search for commonalities (language? geography? history? ancestry? values?), this shared identity tends to break down – as with any collective identity. Then there is money itself, a most marvellous and practical fantasy, that is only a symbol of our collective belief in its worth. It is a matter of trust: when we possess it, we must trust in society’s collective belief in it so we can exchange it for something more useful, like food or clothes. If society ceased to believe in the apparent “value” of money, the richest people on the planet would suddenly become some of the poorest.

Anyone who disparages “mere fantasies” would do well to think about these examples, and many others. The structure, direction and general nature of society is fundamentally based on the conceptual “fantasies” we share in common. And that’s it, with one simple blog, I have blasted the foundations of civilisation to smithereens. Oblivion. But I haven’t; it persists. So our shared fantasies do have practical value, they are indispensable, even if we can’t “objectively” prove them.

The terrifying thing is that our social fantasies probably don’t have any objective reality. The wonderous thing about them is that they are essential to how societies functions, and on top of that they show that we can “create our own reality” to some extent. Knowing this doesn’t undermine our fantasies, but empowers us to jettison those pernicious or useless fantasies, keep the ones that have value for us and even create new ones!

The task of civilisation isn’t to destroy our fantasies with so-called “enlightenment”, but to bring them to fruition, to take them from mere abstract ideas and make them concrete experiences that we can share with other people. The struggle on the level of individual is similar, we strive to express ourselves from deep within, to make objective our subjectivity.

There is still an important place for poets, artists and storytellers in civilisation. Without them civilisation would have no hope of existing.

Anger

All feelings of anger are legitimate (all feelings, in fact), but anger may be misplaced, focussing in the wrong direction. When we are angry, the organism is reacting against something, and with good reason, but how we explain that to ourselves may be completely off the mark, and how we may express that anger may be more damaging than liberating.

Anger is an urge for freedom and/or justice that has been frustrated. It is essentially liberatory, but this purpose may be warped and twisted, and instead of liberating us, it may in fact turn into a source of suffering and oppression. It’s easy to reject anger as a “negative” and “unreasonable” emotion, but this is unhelpful in the long run and unreasonable in itself. Anger is one of the “keys” on our scale of emotions; it in only inharmonious when it is played wrong or repeated too much.

Culture plays a big role in how we perceive and express our emotions, and I suspect that being English makes my relationship with anger, or any show of passion, complicated. “Stiff upper lip” may be a cliché, but I think there is some truth to it. Anger isn’t “well seen”; it is a loss of control and the power of reason. Exposure to other cultures and how they deal with their emotions can be eye-opening and instructive, even broadening emotional horizons.

There’s a lot of creative energy that comes with anger, which needs some skilful channelling. “Controlling anger” shouldn’t be understood as repressing it, but being able to use it harmoniously and with good timing. In this sense I am still an “apprentice”, though I have grown more comfortable with anger over the years. I think I may acquaint myself with some “fierce deities”, see what I can learn from them.

The Individual and History

It seems that, for most of its existence, humanity has been a passive plaything for the whims of history. Freedom then becomes a process where the subjective self extricates itself from the “tyranny” of history and carves its own path. We can’t be completely isolated from our material and social circumstances. We are forever influenced by them, whether they happened in the past or are happening now. And yet, we might say that the meaning of life is to distinguish ourselves from the circumstances around us, becoming creative subjects instead of passive objects.

And yet the relative freedom of the individual can lie in the power of collaboration and mass movements. Groups of people put aside their individual differences to work on their shared values or qualities. This is necessary because the forces opposing or oppressing them cannot be faced in isolation. In this way rights and emancipation and participation in society have been won over.

Mass movements can only address the socio-economic conditions/categories of my personality. They generalise my existence according to the socio-economic “groups” or “roles” I belong to, thus changing or reinforcing the context of my existence, but they don’t get to the bottom of who I am. They can only alleviate certain conditions, giving me the possibility of self-investigation and self-development.

On one hand, if you join a mass movement, your individual path may become blurred with those of others if you’re not careful, and you may find yourself conforming to a role. At the same time, if you don’t collaborate and show solidarity with others like you, forces and circumstances beyond your individual control may overwhelm you and make “carving your own path” difficult, even impossible.

I have the feeling that a lot of politics has nothing to do with me, that it is something imposed on me from “out there” and if I react against it, I am just distracting myself from what should be my most private and personal life, which should be the right of all people. But if I don’t react, I may find these unwanted politics hampering my ability to live a life that is truly mine.

As with many things, a balance has to be struck. I suppose this is part of what they call “individuation”, a continuous process where impersonal history and personal life inform and modify each other.

Morality vs. Ethics

Morality and ethics are pretty much the same thing, talking about ‘right and wrong’, but it may be useful to distinguish them. A quick look at the Internet finds various and even contradictory definitions of them, but I’m going to give it a go:


Morality is a condition of living within groups/families/communities/societies. Ethics are the practical application of empathy.
A moral person follows the rules; an ethical person does what is right.
Morality is rules-based, ethics are feelings-based.
Morality is objectively demonstrable, ethics are “intersubjectively” verified.
Morality is static principles, ethics are a process of communion with other beings.

Morality can be quite egotistical; ethics are altruistic.
Morality arises from the need to maintain some sort of social and ecological harmony; ethics arise from the connection one being has with other beings.
A moral person knows how to behave in the society they exist within – they ‘navigate’ the rules. An ethical person knows the care and attention they must apply to other beings like them.
Morality is specific to groups, ethics can be understood by any empathic being.
Ethics are essentially moral deep down, but morality is not always ethical, i.e. it doesn’t always have empathy at its heart and may actually provide a form of social control or exploitation if it does not stem from ethics.

Fossil Fuel Triad

Three false expectations that fossil fuels have brought to civilization: the abundance, cheapness and constancy of energy.

For most of history the amount of energy humans recieved from nature was the amount stored in the land, and the habitats on and around it. It was limited and fairly steady. Then we discover fossil fuels and our relationship with energy changed – it suddely seemed limitless, and we treat it that way.

The balloon of perpetual economic growth is “inflated” by something finite. When production of fossil fuels peaks the balloon will deflate, but we aren’t preparing for that moment, and certainly not thinking about what the world will become without economic growth.

It may be that, once again, human economy will return to land-based proportions. Sustainable proportions. Could we stand that?