Sunday, August 16, 2009


I. The Five Hundred Years' War

At the beginning of this year [2006], the drama of what some wags have called the “Khartoon” caper began to unfold. A Danish newspaper, frustrated by the level of censorship engendered by fear of local Islamic extremists, published twelve cartoons caricaturing Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. In the ensuing reactions from around the globe, we can observe the distinction of the three prevalent world memes, or levels of consciousness, as they come more forcefully into relief.

In various locations in the Muslim world, the perception of insult and blasphemy in the caricatures' publication has resulted in incidents of violence and even death. In much of the advanced sector, especially (and astonishingly, given its postmodern sensibilities) in Europe, there has been a vigorous defense of the separation of the civic and religious realms and the right of the one to criticize and even dismiss the other. In other parts of the advanced sector, most mystifyingly in the United States, there has emerged a self-conscious restraint that privileges cultural sensitivity over freedom of the press. (This grotesque self-censorship continues into the summer of 2009 as Yale University Press has decided to strike the cartoons from its forthcoming publication of The Cartoons That Shook the World.)

The distinctions become even more instructive when we consider the “Khartoon” state of affairs in light of the brouhaha over the proposal to lease certain U. S. port facilities to a corporation owned by the government of Dubai also in February, the July shooting war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the continued carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan, and most recently, Pope Benedict XIV’s speech in Regensburg, Germany, on September 12.

Once one understands how the various elements of Kosmic evolution are manifesting in these diverse situations, one finds that it all makes perfect sense. This is because Ken Wilber’s integral AQAL model is not simply an elegant theory, it is a blueprint for understanding Kosmic evolution as it is presenting itself right here and right now. With this understanding comes the possibility of making an intentional and powerful contribution to the arc of unfoldment, especially for those of us willing to bolster what Wilber calls the Prime Directive—i.e., the entire spectrum of consciousness itself.

The Spectrum of Consciousness
As Wilber and many others have written, consciousness has been evolving since the moment of the Big Bang—if not before. It evolves in discernible stages, which he also calls “waves,” “levels,” and “memes.” Each new wave grows out of the preceding, earlier, less complex level, and is a discontinuity from its junior memes. In this way the spectrum of consciousness mimics the “great chain of being,” the hypothesis, dating back at least to the third century CE Egyptian mystic Plotinus, that the structure of the universe begins with inorganic matter, followed by the body, then the mind, the soul and beyond. Each higher link in the chain includes the lower links; you can’t have life without inorganic matter, minds without bodies, and so on.

At each point of emergence, the new wave of consciousness transcends, while at the same time including and integrating, the earlier wave(s). In the Great Chain example, we notice that molecules are an entire order of magnitude different and more complex than atoms. While atoms are fundamental to molecules, molecules are not merely the sum total of their atomic content. Water is not simply an oxygen atom with a couple of hydrogen thrown in. What makes molecules a completely new entity from the atoms they comprise is their new form and structure. The new entity both transcends the old, and includes and integrates them into an entirely new existent.

Consciousness evolves in the same manner. As life began to emerge on Earth around 3.5 billion years ago, the structures of consciousness were consistent with each level of complexity that followed. With the appearance of mammals around 225 million years ago, brain structures evolved to support the advanced consciousness necessary for mammals to survive the environment in which they had evolved. After another 200 million years then elapsed, sometime around 2-3 million years ago hominids, the immediate ancestors to the species Homo sapiens, began to differentiate themselves from their mammalian predecessors.

The fossil and archeological records make clear that the appearance of the hominids yet again introduced something novel into the world. It was a shift from the level of consciousness whose most advanced expression to date had been mammalian. Throughout the eons of the evolution of living beings, the simply structures of consciousness produced primitive awareness. As life evolved more complex and motile forms, this awareness expanded to interact with the environment to facilitate survival. Yet, from single-celled life forms all the way to the highly complex mammals, awareness remained simple and direct.

The innovation of human consciousness, primitive though it also was, introduced an entirely new feature: the key Kosmic singularity of self-consciousness—awareness of being aware.

And, just as cells transcend and include atoms, so too does self-reflexive human consciousness transcend and include mammalian, affective consciousness. This is evidenced in the objective realms by the presence of the limbic system in the human brain, a relic of the evolution of the mammalian mental structure.

Premodern Self-Consciousness

Historic relics such as the Altamira and Lascaux cave paintings, dating from as early as 25,000 BCE, give us evidence of the emergence of self-consciousness in the Upper Paleolithic era. This was during what Wilber calls the “low mythic/membership” wave that emerged from the preceding magic-typhonic level of consciousness starting approximately 50,000 BCE. The hunter-gatherer mode of human reproduction that characterized Homo sapiens up to this point then began to give way to something unique and unprecedented.

The invention of agriculture in the period immediately following the end of the last Ice Age around 13,000 BCE was accompanied by a shift into the higher, more complex realm of consciousness needed to manage the challenges of this more multifaceted socioeconomic system.

As these early settlements grew in size and complexity, so too did the interior structures of human mental space. By the time large social structures like the Egyptian and Babylonian empires emerged in the second millennia BCE, the highest prepersonal wave had emerged. Wilber identifies this as the mythic/membership, rule/role level, where the identity of the self was in the clan or tribe. People lived in a psychic space of mythology, their mental lives dominated by a projected realm of gods and demons ruling life by a rigid set of unalterable rules. Survival depended on each person playing his/her assigned role in life.

Understanding—or, more precisely, remembering—this level of consciousness is a real challenge for modern and postmodern people. We who live in these realms now take absolutely for granted that each individual human is the center of self-identity. We are inheritors of a tradition whose emergence was emblemized by the Renaissance scholar Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man and whose political security was established by the American Revolution.

Our premodern ancestors would have been perplexed, as are today’s premodern cultures, by the concept that individuals have the inherent right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In tribal structures whose very survival requires constant vigilance against all comers—the archetypal “Other”—only the tribe itself has this right. Its individual members cannot expect to live, much less pursue happiness, if the tribe is destroyed.

The premodern religious traditions reinforce and support the tribe’s social and psychological requirements by bringing divine sanction to the political economic hierarchy necessary to the tribe’s ability to endure. Premodern monotheistic religions concentrate all absolute authority onto the one god who demands total obedience and whose eye is on everyone to ensure compliance. Getting through life successfully demands that each person fulfill responsibly the role that the tribe has assigned him or her. Deviance not only affronts one’s community, it challenges God Himself; against this implacable divine power there is no appeal.

This, then, was the consciousness of most of humanity as it approached the fifteenth century CE. With a few exceptions in places like Australia and hit-and-miss swatches of territory in Africa and the Americas where hunter-gatherer modes still prevailed, humans were manifesting mythic/membership awareness, the highest premodern meme, which Wilber labels “Amber” in his spectrum model.[1]

The Emergence of the Modern

But something new was stirring in Europe; people were beginning to see and experience life somewhat differently from the rest of the human race. It is not the purpose of this essay to examine how this new perspective emerged. Suffice it to note that it did, and that by the time of the Italian Renaissance the new meme was noticeable and its contours distinguishable from the prevailing mode.

Unlike its predecessors, this new wave of consciousness has not been around all that long. The mythic/membership wave arose with the invention of agriculture and complex language, and so has had some 13,000 years of use to solidify its structure as, to use Wilber’s notion, a Kosmic habit.

So this new meme, the “Orange” egoic/rational, which gave rise to the modern world, is still relatively young. But unlike its immediate predecessor, it finds itself being transcended by a new wave before it has had the same amount of time to “settle in” as a meme with a high probabilistically-predictable structure. This is creating an unprecedented tension in Kosmic evolution, because Orange has not yet completed its struggle to supersede Amber, and it has already given rise to a totally new wave. Since the 1960s, the “Green” vision/logic wave has been giving rise to the postmodern world of the Information Age.

Thus three memes predominate in large numbers of people across the globe. This trimemetic tension will drive history for the foreseeable future.

The Lower Right manifestation of the Orange meme was the nation state. Up until the establishment of the Tudor dynasty in England in 1485, most people across the globe lived in feudal kingdoms or empires. Whether we are discussing the Mughals, the Ming dynasty in China, the Timurid descendants of Tamerlane in central Asia, the Ottomans and Safavids in the Middle East, the Songhai empire in western Africa, or the Inca and Aztec empires in the Americas, the fifteenth century was the apotheosis of the Amber feudal imperialism. The wars that had been fought up to that time were tribal in nature, and tended to focus on the control of land and trade routes.

But in England and Holland, a new raison d’etre for governance was arising. Empires were organized around the prerogatives of the aristocracies: royalty, landowners, and priests. The masses of people were serfs or slaves. Only the (usually male) aristocrats had political and economic power; everyone else was just human capital to be yoked to that structure. But as trade developed and urban centers began to grow here and there, people outside of the traditional ruling classes started discovering independent means of creating and accumulating wealth. Henry VII in England consolidated his acquisition of the throne with his victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field by allying with the growing mercantile class against the landed nobility. Governance was beginning its slow evolution from empire to republic.

The Five Hundred Years’ War

Thus commenced the long-drawn out struggle by modernity to emerge out of long-enduring premodernity, a battle that still rages today. Remembering that we are limiting our examination of this mainly to the Lower Right, we note that in the beginning of this struggle, the existing feudal empires and allied groupings sought to suppress the emerging Protestant republics, who championed—albeit in religious terms and in starts and fits—the novel idea of individual liberty. Through the ensuing centuries down to the present day, different social formations and groupings embodied and championed the two memes. We will trace the contours of this trajectory to show that now while it is the Wahhabis and other premodern forces scattered across the Islamic world that are leading the charge against modernity, the real political opposition remains the autocracies of Russia and China.

We can briefly sketch the history of this Five Hundred Years’ War as it appears in the Lower Right; we will take up the examination from the other quadrants in future essays. That is to say, this article looks at this memetic clash as it appears from an objective study of systems of human interrelation.

But I want to emphasize that, according to the AQAL method, our understanding will be incomplete until we also look at it from the interior, subjective dimension as well—and then integrate what we observed in each quadrant into a coherent and unitary picture. Without this we will not appreciate how the migration of the sense of the self from the tribe to the individual marked a discontinuity in Kosmic evolution. The wave of consciousness that gave rise to invention of agriculture, language, and tribal social structures after 11,000 BCE set the stage for its own transcendence—just as the manifestations in the Right Hand quadrants of the Orange, rational/egoic wave made possible its own transcendence by the Green, vision/logic meme.

Without this tetradimensional view of evolution, we will not be able to appreciate the world we find ourselves in today, nor will we be able to create an effective integral politics that champions the Prime Directive and calls all of us into a higher expression of our potentials as the Kosmos becoming conscious of itself.

And so, on the outside dimension of this unfolding, this is the story of the clash of the premodern with the modern:

The foundation of imperial, feudal Europe was the Christian church with its twin branches. The western or Roman branch, controlled by the popes in Rome, extended from the kingdom of Spain (occupied by the Moors from the beginning of the eighth century until 1492) across the continent to Hungary and Poland. The eastern or Orthodox branch had been fragmented after the Ottomans’ capture of the Byzantine capital Constantinople in 1453. At that time its patrimony reached across the Balkans of southeastern Europe into Russia and the Caucasus.

Both branches of Christianity were more than spiritual entities. Since the Roman emperor Theodosius I had made Christianity the state religion in 380 CE, and even after the Great Schism split it in half in 1054, the church played a significant role in the political structures of Europe and the Mediterranean basin. It developed and defended theological and philosophical principles that reflected the premodern sense of the world. Its political authority derived from the universal belief that it alone possessed the divine mandate to interpret the scriptures and determine what was permissible in the lives of everyone—from the lowliest slave to the monarch him- or herself.

This absolute authority began to weaken in the West in the twelfth century with the conflict between the papacy and the Holy Roman emperors. It was further undermined by the insights and discoveries of the Italian Renaissance, with its emphasis on the dignity of the individual man. In the East, the Orthodox Church had its hands full with the assault of Islam on the Balkans.

Europe’s emergence from the Dark Ages was characterized by the development of cottage industries and crafts that fueled an expansion of trade, especially with Asia. In the martial arts, Europeans evolved much faster than the people in rival civilizations. This allowed them to seize the initiative in exploration and colonization at the end of the fifteenth century. This in turn enabled Spain in particular to funnel a huge infusion of gold and other precious metals from its American conquests into the homeland, fueling the accumulation of wealth that gave added impetus to local economic expansion.

Thus, when Martin Luther and Henry VIII issued their challenges against the Pope in the beginning of the sixteenth century, things were ripe for the irruption of the new rational meme and the political economic structures that would reflect and encourage it.

This emergence led to discernible changes first in northern Europe, in particular in England, Holland, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and Germany. Between 1519, when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, and 1648, when the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War, Europe was ravaged by intermemetic religious warfare. The proto-republican nation states of Tudor England and Holland, moved by the emergent Orange rational/egoic wave, fought various combinations of imperial and church forces, championing the established Amber mythic/membership wave, to establish their political and economic independence. In France, Italy, and Bohemia Protestants also struggled to secure freedom of worship with varying degrees of success.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, an unofficial truce ended the overtly religious conflict. It left the Protestant nation states and principalities on the northern and northwestern rim of Europe, while the old Catholic and imperial powers maintained control in the central and southern parts of the continent. Although armed struggle between powers representing the two memes would still break out on the continent from time to time, the new wave of consciousness found more fertile soil to grow on in the British colonies of North America.

The American Transcendence
In the wake of the Peace of Westphalia, with premodern feudal states still predominating much of the world, the modern wave of consciousness nonetheless gained a permanent foothold in human awareness. As Wilber has pointed out, a signal achievement of Orange rational/egoic consciousness was the separation in human thought and belief between what we would now call the religious and scientific realms. And this was made possible by the gathering belief among increasing numbers of people that humans had individual, and not simply tribal, autonomy and dignity.

This sense was facilitated by the 1448 invention of moveable type and the printing press, which for the first time made the Bible available to the masses of people. This new accessibility, along with translations into the vernacular starting with Luther’s German version first published in 1522, gave people the means by which to begin seeing themselves as individual children of God, granted thereby the right to make choices for themselves unburdened by the demands of their group or prevailing authority.

One of the unanticipated results of this new capability was the unleashing of a continuous revolution within European Christendom, particularly among Protestants. The spiritual restlessness that impelled Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others to revolt against the ecclesiastical hierarchy seemed to find little peace in the initial phase of the rebellion. It instead stimulated a drive towards deeper and more profound understandings of what God demanded and permitted to His people here on Earth. For over a millennium after the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Church had experienced a slow evolution of thought that rarely challenged its authority over its adherents. Thinkers like Augustine of Hippo or Thomas Aquinas brought new insights regarding God and man that were absorbed into the prevailing orthodoxy rather than sparking revolutions.

But once powerful rebellions broke out against the established order, people found themselves increasingly free to think for themselves about the great questions. Thus in the centuries after Luther set the Reformation in motion, numerous sects and beliefs evolved out of one another, each convinced of its own inerrancy and of the mistakenness of everyone else.

Since this truculence had political consequences, large numbers of people found themselves exiled from their home communities. Fortunately for them, the recently-discovered Americas offered safe harbor, a destination that made relative freedom available to nonconformists of every variety to practice their iconoclastic religious beliefs.

The religious situation in England was paradigmatic. Henry VIII actually had no serous quarrel with Roman theology; he simply wanted the Pope’s sanction for his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. At first his Church of England was essentially an independent version of the Catholic Church, but within a few decades true believers sought to purify the new denomination of its Roman excesses. The Puritans themselves were subject to dissenting opinions, and among these dissenters were the separatist Pilgrims who found themselves exiled to Holland before eventually making their way to the New World.

So while Europe was ablaze with the memetic war, dissenters of all stripes were peeling away and emigrating to the West. There they established communities of believers that, taken as an aggregate, deepened the cultural commitment to personal liberty not simply by virtue of their religious beliefs but also because they found themselves economically self-reliant.

Within two centuries’ time, the spiritual and political separation from the older memes of Amber Europe was formalized in the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence memorialized the beliefs of the Orange rational/egoic wave of consciousness:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
So powerful were these affirmations that within 13 years revolution shook the French monarchy and its aristocratic control of the land and trade in alliance with Church control of thought and morals. The guillotine blade that severed Louis XVI’s head from his body in 1791 served as a powerful symbol of the burgeoning hegemony of the new order—even as the war against it continues even today.

The Orange Revolution in Europe

Since the transformation was first internal, within the human heart and mind (i.e., in the Left Hand quadrants), the new mental spaciousness and creativity produced by this widespread arising of Orange individual egoic consciousness sparked an enormous revolution in both the intellectual and the material worlds. Inspired by its founding fathers in the Italian Renaissance, the new meme’s philosophers, inventors, and scientists all brought forth a massive and unprecedented body of new ideas and discoveries.

The eighteenth century in the West saw the rise of what we now call the Age of Enlightenment. The philosophers and scientists of the time pushed the boundaries of the rejection of ecclesiastical domination and control of thought. They came to see reason as an advance over superstition and dogmatism. Giants of the age included Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Baruch Spinoza, and David Hume. Each made a significant contribution to the advancement of rational thought in his own field of concentration.

The scientific revolution, spearheaded by Newton’s discoveries of natural laws, inspired the experimentation with labor-saving machinery that led directly to the Industrial Revolution. With Thomas Watt’s 1769 patent of his steam engine, the English economy found the way to generate an exponential increase in productivity, creating an unprecedented surplus in the national economy. This new resource initiated economic cycles that dramatically expanded the investment and generation of ever-increasing orders of new wealth.

In political thought John Locke spearheaded an inquiry into the place of the individual in the emerging republican polity, exploring concepts such as consent of the governed that would be the cornerstone of the American system of government.

The British colonies, with their increasingly independent political economy and sense of uniqueness, were poised to benefit most directly from the Age of Enlightenment. Although they would, until after the American Civil War, have primarily an agriculturally-based economy, growing numbers of American colonists found access to a leading-edge education in the schools and universities established by the various Protestant denominations to promote the new rational understanding of man’s relationship to God. The ideas of Locke and other rationalists increasingly resonated with the experience of many of the leaders of British America.

After the French and Indian War—the American theatre of the Seven Years’ War in Europe—the move for independence gathered steam. And once the United States was established based upon the “self-evident” ideas of individual liberty and consent of the governed, the Orange meme established a political economic base for the first time in Kosmic history.

[1] For further exploration of the Amber stage in human history, look at Geoffrey Blainey, A Short History of the World; Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin; Ken Wilber, Up from Eden; and Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness.

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