The Anthropocentric Effect

“Overwhelming evidence found by an international team of scientists have shown that humans have altered the Earth to the point that the Earth has entered a new geological time period, a press release by the Australian National University (ANU) said on Friday… The exact starting date of the Anthropocene remains uncertain, although it is likely to be around the middle of the 20th century, at the start of the nuclear age and a time of accelerating population growth and rapid industrialisation.”  (Read here.)

The story of the momentous shift in human consciousness taking place today continues to unfold in every facet of modern life. Whether we trace its roots to such ideas as the divine gift of earthly dominion or the psychology of in-fear-irority which drove the violent physical conflicts of our ancestors to master each other and the environment, the most consistent core, cause, and calamity of human history can be summed up in one word: vanity.

There’s no doubt it was a powerful and effective compensation for an animal whose only real natural defense was the capacity to think creatively, to organize that thought and to act collectively. Without claw, fang, or physical prowess the only compensation Nature provided to balance a natural world with the new subjective experiment can also be summed up in one word: conscience.

Moral reflection is as fundamental to the spiritual imperative as the vanity which twisted our history into its present state — the fate of every collective ideal since Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s fate. This is the same theme as Jung’s dream of the turd which shattered the church: a symbol of the rejected function; what ego sees as waste and disgusting. (See also my post on the black dot.)

This wasted symbolic function, which is designed to recycle old forms into new life, is now excreted in such concrete and consuming mass that it collects on our shorelines by the tons, poisons our air and water — even circles our planet like a swarm of biblical locusts. Reflection is painful; it’s the psychological equivalent of the brute physical conditions of a natural world. Our present fate hangs on our ability to confront this strange, new psychological realm. It’s the opposite of the one we fancy we’ve achieved:

So, he is an evil animal, turning reason into the admiring mirror, instead of admiring reason. His nations take on the whole appearance of logic — with courts and laws and constitutions and high principles: then the collective ego — the instinct vanity makes blind — takes their helm and the most elevated and noble nations make a daily business of such things as the lowest huddle of savages  would shun or kill a man for.

So wrote Philip Wylie in 1947. Many may sense the contradictions, though more often than not they appear everywhere but in ourselves. Yet, we are the parts that make up the whole:

So, with Everyman’s ego… First, the layer of familial vanities — the false pride of his homes and parents. Next, the vanities of his school, his clubs, and lodges. Always, the vanities of his church and nation. He incorporates them. He calls them his faiths, his convictions, loyalties, friendships, codes, beliefs, and the noble appurtenances of his soul. They are logical to him and just. He is the court and the interpreter. They are his shining armor. (What  a way to meet subjective life, in armor!) They are his weapons, too — the weapons of his righteousness…”

Thus life appeared in the mid-twentieth century. Its essence is still there, but each small pride is today becoming smaller and more diverse. The provincial fealties uniting a country half the population of today are breaking down, not just under the influence of technology in an increasingly interconnected global community but under an increasing subjectivity which signals a new stage of consciousness. Wylie saw it coming:

The conscience is there and will always be. The reason is there. But they are not allied, in the man or his state or his church. Instead, because of temporal regard, of vanity, there always seems to be… a special condition, which appears to give leave… (backed by a myriad of private motives) to compromise some measure with principle…. Yet, one exists for the other — or the older for the newer — conscience for reason. To use the latter in any form limited by the ego is to set in motion, through conscience, and through instinct, the opposite danger.”

That the new emphasis on objectivity and science is a compensation for an unconscious increase in subjectivity is not considered by either the sciences or the religions. Those in whom we entrust our futures, the politicians, are the nearest examples of the “greed and opportunism” (Wylie’s words) with which this new subjective ego-stage replaces the collective values of the past:

A world made to seem great by a few centuries of objective reasoning approaches, for want of equal subjective honesty, a state of uninhabitability — not just from wars, from bombs, from deliberate plagues, or from the disastrous sequelae of wars — but from its own psychological conditions… It is the individual of whom the mass is composed, and if he is of poor character, the group will have that quality… The individual represents the whole. To be changed, he must change himself.”

This uncertain subjective realm is a symbolic one; yet we make, with everything in our power, concrete realities of it. To confront it requires introspection and a re-evaluation of everything we’ve been taught. My book (see also, Amazon) is just one small example of the way an individual begins to examine what we are.

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