The Last Messiah & The Lacunae Of Man

Since the rise of the hard sciences, particularly the cognitive sciences, the task of philosophy has become quite vague. What is the role of a philosopher when the image of the human is stripped, bit by bit, via the encroachments of the material sciences? That the image is stripped is not to say, as is commonly said, that the mold of the human is left as a void, for there can be no real voids for a negation is, in truth, a displacement, which are always themselves replacements, as one image supplants the other, which are further, always only partial replacements, for they are moored to the indelible biological attributions of sensing and perceiving, thinking and knowing which allow for the study of self and species to take place. Conceptualization abhors a vacuum. Yet, the precise shape of this image has yet to be forged, has yet, even, still to congeal. The posthuman is a far off shape upon the moor of potentiality, clearly present, yet, obscured as if by a mist.

This space between the observer and that which the mist obscures we shall call, for brevity, the lacunae of man — the point at which intuitive self-conception begins to break down as the precise functionality of the machine-animal is excavated from nature’s hidden depths.

In response to the supervenience of the sciences and the emergence of the lacunae, philosophy has recoiled; jealously guarding the perception of some special, unidentifiable essence of the folkish image, some sacrality to the sapient animal, terrified of the incursions of nihilism, fatalism, scientism and the gradual disenchantment of the verse; blithely advancing the notion that man is irreducible and that, no matter how well-mapped the soma, there will always be some effervescent, ethereal residue left over, which only the philosopher, and perhaps the artist as well, will maintain access to. Cognitive irredentism. This folklore of man — a cartographic space accumulated throughout the generations, which informs the relation of one to self and thus, one to another, but which is conceived of as intrinsic — was what the American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars described as the Manifest Image (how the laptop looks to me as I write upon it and that ‘I’ — the Me in the head — am writing) which stands in contradistinction to the Scientific Image (the physical composition of the laptop in terms of its constitutive parts, from elementary particles to the macro-scale materials and interactions they form and produce and that the ‘I’ is a real ‘I’ but is constituted not by a special essentialism beyond biology, but by electro-chemical interactions within the soma, or, to put it another way, how the laptop looks to a robot via machine vision — the development of AI may well herald something like a Machinic Image wherein robots develop self-conceptions and ontologies to better navigate the world and relate to each other; but that is a discussion for another time and place).

Some have hoped for a syncretization of the two images, fearing that if such a project is not undertaken the Manifest Image is in jeopardy of total destruction, unleashing a multitudinous cascade of consequences, the full effects of which being too wide-ranging to fathom. Whilst this is a bad way of framing the problem, given that the manifest image was required and remains central to the project of the scientific image (as the scientific project exists not to learn something “for its own sake” as there must always be a experiential epicenter for the postulates of science) there is much to say about the ways in which a more demonstrable methodology has undermined and destroyed traditional conceptions of the world and with the destruction of those ontologies and epistemologies there has followed a destruction of particular ways of being in the world (for instance, in understanding chemical properties, chemistry displaced alchemy as the dominant discourse and thus voided the profession and lifestyle of the alchemist). However, issues pertaining to traditional or ancient philosophies do not deal with the lacunae of man — which itself entails numerous existential quandaries.

How to construct a society when a small portion of the population, privvy to the latest technological advancements, is able to live for 200+ years? How to relate to those whom have undergone such extensive cybernetic transformations as to render them sapiently unrecognizable? What rights or restrictions, if any, should be created or taken from manufactured lifeforms or sufficiently gene-modified humans? Provided machines become self-conscious, how to integrate them into human-society if it is even possible to do so? Given that we now know the expiration date of the sun, how best to prepare our progeny so as to evade its wrathful envelopment? What are the best planets to colonize and how will society be modulated by deep-space travel? What to do in the eventuality of a breakaway civilization, how to relate to a humanity that has itself become another species entirely and is no longer capable of interbreeding?

The possibility of even asking any of these questions is a consequence of continual knowledge acquisition itself only possible due our sapience.

The Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe, in his darkly edifying text The Last Messiah, wrote:

“The tragedy of a species becoming unfit for life by over evolving one ability is not confined to humankind. Thus it is thought, for instance, that certain deer in paleontological times succumbed as they acquired overly-heavy horns. The mutations must be considered blind, they work, are thrown forth, without any contact of interest with their environment. In depressive states, the mind may be seen in the image of such an antler, in all its fantastic splendour pinning its bearer to the ground.

Why, then, has mankind not long ago gone extinct during great epidemics of madness? Why do only a fairly minor number of individuals perish because they fail to endure the strain of living – because cognition gives them more than they can carry?”

Zapffe posits a answer to his own question slightly later in the text, noting that, “Most people learn to save themselves by artificially limiting the content of consciousness.” His presupposition holds that because man “saw himself” as he was — as erkjennelsesmessig — and not as he believed himself to be, just another organism, “naked under cosmos, homeless in his own body,” feasting upon others and shortly to be consumed in Time’s rapacious maw, mankind was filled with a sense of “cosmic panic” brought about by his “damaging surplus of consciousness” which allowed for this horrid realization. A sentiment which mirrors the thought of the philosopher Emil Cioran, who wrote, “Knowledge is the plague of life, and consciousness, an open wound in its heart.” Although it should be noted that whereas Cioran was a nihilist, Zapffe was not, indeed, in his view, it is precisely the (horrific) meaning which can be gained from man’s “surplus of consciousness” concerning the hideousness of the world which brings about the “cosmic panic” described above.

There is truth to the conclusion and yet, not the whole of it.  Zapffe has hit upon a dialetheism — what Zapffe describes as the “tragic paradox of life.” The development of species attributions purposed for survival which themselves bring about the extinction of the species (the antlers of the ancient cervidae, the mind of man), which, in the register is not really so different than unlife leading to life and life ultimately trending to its dissolution. The evolutionary gauntlet fosters no bivalencies outside of survival itself. The position between horror and knowledge is not either or — that is to say, the choice is not: either we (humans) delimit our knowledge and more fully experience the horror of knowing or we limit our knowledge and stave off the horror of knowing (naked under cosmos) as the means by which those methods of successful repression are required are not intrinsic but must be created, learned and developed, which itself requires knowledge. There is no escape from the need for knowledge and thus, no escape from the horror of knowing. Or to utilize Zapffe’s lexicon, knowledge is to humanity as the antlers were to the Cervis Giganticus. Yet, it is not at all clear that, as a matter of course, our intellect will fan the flames of our own pyres, rather environmental inhospitality (from the sun, barring space migration) seems the most likely way in which the species shall pass from the earth. Knowledge (and its application) differs tremendously from a antler in its mutability and its potential for shaping eventualities (even and particularly, itself). The deer has no ability to curb the growth of its antler and even if it were to periodically break them off it would only be intensifying and prolonging its suffering and eventual demise. This, Zapffe realized, writing, “If the giant deer, at suitable intervals, had broken off the outer spears of its antlers, it might have kept going for some while longer. Yet in fever and constant pain, indeed, in betrayal of its central idea, the core of its peculiarity, for it was vocated by creation’s hand to be the horn bearer of wild animals. What it gained in continuance, it would lose in significance, in grandness of life, in other words a continuance without hope, a march not up to affirmation, but forth across its ever recreated ruins, a self-destructive race against the sacred will of blood.”

Ignoring his off-handed sacral inscriptions and references to an amorphous divinity (“creation’s hand”), there is a sense in which the human intellect may be compared to the Cervidae’s crown, but the connection is slight. There is no detectable mind-body separation and as a consequence, what occurs at the level of the mind is a function of the body, just as the antlers were a function of the ancient deer; but this connection may be extended to any organism. The lobster is a excellent example, given that death in the species, outside of predation, typically occurs through the inability to shed their shells (due metabolic insufficiency) and hence, the shell will molder and imbed itself within the flesh of the hapless creature and shortly thereafter, bring about its expiration. This is to say that every biological development has within it, the potential for organic-catastrophe but Zapffe gives no method by which the likelihood of the detrimental effects of the development of the mind might be gauge, it is, to him, an inevitability.

What Zapffe further fails to consider in his piece is that with the continual increase in knowledge and understanding of the operation of the organic-machine — the whole human body — has come a increasing ability to modulate it. Provided human collective understanding of the machine-animal continues relatively uninterrupted, it is not fanciful (in that it violates no known natural laws) to consider that at a certain threshold of development, at a particular crossroads along the way to the misty image, humankind may well be able to pick and choose which emotions they experience and when and how intensely. Of a certainty, this would entail great social and political revision, and forethought pertaining to the implementation of whatever practices and technologies are able to bring about this fundamental transformation in human cognition, as emotions exist along the evolutionary river and are not, in aggregate, at cross purposes with it. However, this mind-modulating variety of humanity would be wholly out from under the shadow of Zapffe’s antlers, wholly unperturbed by the vast quiet of the void or the impending specter of death or any earthly detriments that they did not choose to engage with. It is also theoretically possible to breed out — to a degree — those peculiarities which engender a desire for cognitive repression (which Zapffe alleges is indispensable to bearing the burden of cognizance) and in so-doing would breed out the need for coping mechanisms, or, going more to the heart of the matter, one could attempt to foster a line which is impervious to all those emotional internalities which give rise to cosmic panic. When this realization is paired with the ever-expanding knowledge of the human-genome and the proliferation of increasingly precise and affordable genomic modification tools, the prospect of any kind of existential quandary become increasingly less problematic the more these technologies are developed and adopted and applied. That being said, there are two complications which stand against this prospect, namely, the aversion to such a project from the general public which may be perceived as being too foreign or intrusive a thing to do, certainly, ever similar project has been met with cries of “hold!” from those whose sacred myths it would invariably inter. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, those changes made so as to better gird against mental trauma of knowing ourselves as we are and not as we merely perceive ourselves to be, will doubtless bring with it numerous unforeseen developments for the development of every new philosophy and technology is the generation of risk, like an iceberg, what is seen at the top is but a small portion of the total structure that would begin congealing in world wherein physiological states are increasingly modulated at will — the whole social fabric would need up-ending for its success! Even now one can see the tremendous potential in pharmacology and meditative practice, and yet, so ill-applied, as it is rarely culturally incorporated, but merely seen as a panacea for culture itself; even still, they are only patches, rather than “cures” for Zapffe’s conundrum and hence it is in forcing a passage from our present vantage point upon the moor across the lacunae of man by which the problem may be solved if, in the consideration, one should view it as a problem at all.

Given that the complete and total transformation of the animal-machine is, as yet, some ways off, humanity writ-large must turn to other means by which to psychologically steady themselves. Repression mechanisms. To ameliorate the sense of cosmic panic, humans engage in a number of different practices which Zapffe categorizes as, “isolation, anchoring, distraction and sublimation.”

By isolation he does not necessarily mean the removal of oneself from society, or some portion of it, but rather he means, “a fully arbitrary dismissal from consciousness of all disturbing and destructive thought and feeling.”

By anchoring, he refers to those codes and practices which orient one’s life via an attachment to a particular place and the experiences thereof (the ways in which students intensely await Summer break as a point of future-experiential-orientation) which Zapffe describes as “a fixation of points within, or construction of walls around, the liquid fray of consciousness. Though typically unconscious, it may also be fully conscious (one ‘adopts a goal’.).” He further describes all cultures as a elaborate system of ‘anchorings’ which are themselves built atop firmaments (the substratum of culture, the fundamental notions and ideas of a polity; ie. the state, the good, fate, the divine, community, the people, our people, etc.) — all of which act as mitigating factors against the chaotic, liquid flow of consciousness trammeling up to the horrors of knowing via the instantiation of “sheltering values” (such as a belief in the afterlife: “Daddy’s not gone, he’s watching you from heaven”). Anchorings, Zapffe posits, are both loved and hated; they are loved for protecting us and yet hated for limiting the ambit of our actions (for instance, one may at the same time find joy in the communalism of a church, while at the same time detesting the strictures of the doctrines which formed and maintain it, one may appreciate the comfort of mind brought about by the policeman and yet detest a search of one’s vehicle, etc). In Zapffe’s view horror arises in the mind when these firmaments are broken down and done away with.

By distraction, Zapffe refers specifically to those endeavors which limit attention so as to protect a individual from the trauma of being and the “mark of death.” The common interpretation of “distraction” is “engaging in something which is trivial which pulls one away from those things most important in life” whereas in Zapffe’s deployment it is largely a function of distraction by which importance is sustained, though this is not to say that Zapffe views distraction as good or right, as shortly after his discourse on the character of distraction in his ontological context he notes that in failing it, suicide becomes more probable and that suicide is no sorry thing, indeed, to Zapffe, it is a natural death from spiritual causes and that any attempt to “save” a spiritually degraded individual from taking their life is a “barbarity” arising from a “misapprehension of the nature of existence.” This view of death stems from his apprehension of human yearning, characterized, as he puts it, not merely by a ‘striving toward’ but also by a ‘escape from’ some thing or things, internal or external and that the principal motivating factor in yearning is the escape from “-the earthly vale of tears, one’s own unendurable condition.” This, to Zapffe, is the deepest stratum of the human soul and the nexus for all religious yearning; thus, in his view, only the miserable, those who cannot face themselves as they are, can truly be religious and all their doctrines are but anchorings beyond themselves and the world as a consequence of their own, and thus, it’s, inexhaustible horror.

The fourth and final mechanism of protection is sublimation, which is distinct from the three other methods described above in that it is a process of transformation, rather than repression. Sublimation is the act of converting some painful or elsewise trepidatious experience into something else, particularly, something positive (or at least, more positive than the experience itself) which affirms life. He offers up an example of what is and is not sublimation. Sublimation is not a mountain climber working up the face of a great stony edifice, as he is tinged by vertigo and the dread of, upon putting one step false, plunging to his doom; sublimation, rather, is the mountaineer recalling his adventure and waxing triumphant after the fact. This, he concludes, is the rarest of all the four profligate defense mechanisms against faltering under the weight of being common to all mankind.

It is thus in making the fourth mechanism the most prevalent, concomitant with the proposal for total modification, that a potential pathway for mass-man lies. For what underlies the firmaments that Zapffe describes are not unchanging nor unchangeable dictates of from ‘creation’ but rather, a mixture of materiality which can be shaped to the extent that shapes can be imagined and imaginations externalized.

After the establishment of this schema Zapffe pivots to a discourse on primitivism and modern technology, writing, “Is it possible for ‘primitive natures’ to renounce these cramps and cavorts and live in harmony with themselves in the serene bliss of labour and love? Insofar as they may  be considered human at all, I think the answer must be no. The strongest claim to be made about the so-called peoples of nature is that they are somewhat closer to the wonderful biological ideal than we unnatural people. And when even we have so far been able to save a majority through every storm, we have been assisted by the sides of our nature that are just modestly or moderately developed. This positive basis (as protection alone cannot create life, only hinder its faltering) must be sought in the naturally adapted deployment of the energy in the body and the biologically helpful parts of the soul, subject to such hardships as are precisely due to sensory limitations, bodily frailty, and the need to do work for life and love.”

Like most biosophists he has some sentimentality towards the Rousseauean ideal, of the primitive “natural state” of all things, an idyllic splendor of ease and balance with the world, a conception which flies in the face, not just of evolutionary understanding, but also of Zapffe’s own philosophy of cosmic dread and yet, even still, he defends a portion of the notion by asserting that primitive natures are “closer to the wonderful biological ideal” than “unnatural people” such as himself, you, the reader, or I. Here, I fear, he falls prey to his romantic predilections, so common to those possessed of a keen sense of the tragic (and recall that the text for which he is most well known was Om det tragiske — On The Tragic), for there is never not a ‘natural state,’  if so what is its character and when, precisely does it become ‘unnatural.’ No clear description can be given beyond, ‘that which remains unchanged by man,’ and as a consequence, one must realize that this fetishization of ‘the natural’ is, at its most fundamental level, a ontological notion which drives against, not just power, but all change itself. Along a sufficient timeline this ‘natural ideal’ vanishes into dust, for before the formation of the planet, or long after its consumption by the sun, what wonderful biological ideal is left? Why is it ideal to remain in one’s place of earthly origin, landlocked and mudbound? Why is it wonderful not to change the world to better suit the organism’s needs? No one raises their voices or shakes their fist overly much at the beaver and his dam nor the wasp and their nest nor the coral and their reefs so why do as much to one’s fellows? If ‘unnatural’ is that which moves furthest from Zapffe’s primordial ‘ideal,’ it is clear that, in so far as our species’ concern lies intact, our energies should be continually deployed in a dogged pursuit of the greatest ‘unnaturality’ possible.

He continues in a logical extension of his critique of the ‘unnatural’ by predictably taking aim at modern, technological civilization.

“-technology and standardisation have such a debasing influence. For as an ever growing fraction of the cognitive faculties retire from the game against the environment, there is a rising spiritual unemployment. The value of a technical advance to the whole undertaking of life must be judged by its contribution to the human opportunity for spiritual occupation. Though boundaries are blurry, perhaps the first tools for cutting might be mentioned as a case of a positive invention.

Other technical inventions enrich only the life of the inventor himself; they represent a gross and ruthless theft from humankind’s common reserve of experiences and should invoke the harshest punishment if made public against the veto of censorship. One such crime among numerous others is the use of flying machines to explore uncharted land. In a single vandalistic glob, one thus destroys lush opportunities for experience that could benefit many if each, by effort, obtained his fair share.”

Zapffe’s argument takes on here, a Heideggerian character. It isn’t entirely clear what the “game against the environment” is, if it is merely those actions of humanity which guard themselves from all externalities which could potentiate destruction and decay of the species (ie. disease, resource acquisition/scarcity, extremes in clime, predation or parasitism via other organisms), then that is a “game” which will never end. In relation to his assertion of a “rising spiritual unemployment” it is again somewhat difficult to discern precisely what he means (ie. what is spiritual employment to begin with? Does it differ from a mere sensation of the spiritual or from a feeling of numinous awe, meditative calm or serendipity?). And flying machines — a crime?! The opportunity for the experience of uncharted lands can only be made available by those who are ingenious enough to chart it! This, again, seems to be a critique which arise, not from the object of critique (flying machines), but from Zapffe’s idealization, indeed, sacralization, of unchanged nature.

An examination of the proceeding section will lend further clarity.

“The current phase of life’s chronic fever is particularly tainted by this circumstance [of mechanological development]. The absence of naturally (biologically) based spiritual activity shows up, for example, in the pervasive recourse to distraction (entertainment, sport, radio – ‘the rhythm of the times’). Terms for anchoring are not as favourable – all the inherited, collective systems of anchorings are punctured by criticism, and anxiety, disgust, confusion, despair leak in through the rifts (‘corpses in the cargo.’) Communism and psychoanalysis, however incommensurable otherwise, both attempt (as Communism has also a spiritual reflection) by novel means to vary the old escape anew; applying, respectively, violence and guile to make humans biologically fit by ensnaring their critical surplus of cognition. The idea, in either case, is uncannily logical. But again, it cannot yield a final solution. Though a deliberate degeneration to a more viable nadir may certainly save the species in the short run, it will by its nature be unable to find peace in such resignation, or indeed find any peace at all.”

Outside of the political criticism of Communism and psychoanalysis, it is difficult to find coherency or clarity in this passage, which seems more driven by an emotion fever which has combusted into a grim resignation which culminates in the appearance of the titular Last Messiah.

“If we continue these considerations to the bitter end, then the conclusion is not in doubt. As long as humankind recklessly proceeds in the fateful delusion of being biologically fated for triumph, nothing essential will change. As its numbers mount and the spiritual atmosphere thickens, the techniques of protection must assume an increasingly brutal character. And humans will persist in dreaming of salvation and affirmation and a new Messiah. Yet when many saviours have been nailed to trees and stoned on the city squares, then the last Messiah shall come. Then will appear the man who, as the first of all, has dared strip his soul naked and submit it alive to the outmost thought of the lineage, the very idea of doom. A man who has fathomed life and its cosmic ground, and whose pain is the Earth’s collective pain. With what furious screams shall not mobs of all nations cry out for his thousandfold death, when like a cloth his voice encloses the globe, and the strange message has resounded for the first and last time:

‘– The life of the worlds is a roaring river, but Earth’s is a pond and a backwater.

– The sign of doom is written on your brows – how long will ye kick against the pinpricks?

– But there is one conquest and one crown, one redemption and one solution.

– Know yourselves – be infertile and let the earth be silent after ye.’

And when he has spoken, they will pour themselves over him, led by the pacifier makers and the midwives, and bury him in their fingernails. He is the last Messiah. As son from father, he stems from the archer by the waterhole.”

The belief in being “biologically fated for triumph” is indeed, a delusion and one which if zealously guarded, will certainly impede significant change. However, this critique would be further extended to any notion of fate whatsoever, both Zapffe’s and the biological triumphalists — the idea that man simply must traverse a designated road whilst all others are forever closed off to him. As the biological triumphalists believe that humanity will forever reign supreme (a view which is not, I must add, particularly common, such things are not often made explicit) they are blinded to real risks requiring mitigation, but Zapffe does the same, only running in the opposite direction! Summoning his last Messiah, that harbinger of eternal dissolution, to spread his poisonous message. Saying: If you cannot kick out the stars then kick out thy own throat! What a ridiculous message. Of course the cosmic ground is littered with the chittering screams of the dead, why let that shake you? It does me no trouble. Listen well to those screams, they portend the means of true sublimation, a real spiritual alchemy, for suffering is not a providential infliction but the very condition for the intensification of organicity itself.

The fool that fails to reckon this can likewise, only linger at the lacunae of man. Frozen and immobile. Paralyzed by anthropomorphization, sacrality and idealization — but there, no actualization is to be found.

In his fable, the nations of the world are enraged by the last Messiah’s injunction against life’s reign and descend upon him. Only a suicidal man would reprimand them for their savagery when the last Messiah seeks a end to life’s reign. Those that harbor a impetus to being could do naught but cheer them on save join them and paint red the ground with the harbinger’s blood.

As the last Messiah draws his final breath the great maker beyond organicity shall transcend the lacunae and take his first.


Sources

  1. Peter Wessel Zapffe, trans. Gisle Tangenes. (1933) The Last Messiah.
  2. Silviya Serafimova. (2016) On The Genealogy Of Morality, The Birth Of Pessimism In Zapffe’s On The Tragic. Institute For The Study Of Societies & Knowledge.

Consumerism Qua Materialism: A Modern Confusion

Materialism has become a rather dirty word, principally through its connection to consumerism. Indeed materialism seems to have become so thoroughly conflated with consumerism as to be wholly indistinguishable. For example, in the study, Changes In Materialism, Changes In Psychological Well-Being: Evidence For Three Longitudinal Studies & An Intervention Experiment, the authors write: “Studies 1, 2, and 3 examined how changes in materialistic aspirations related to changes in well-being, using varying time frames (12 years, 2 years, and 6 months), samples (US young adults and Icelandic adults), and measures of materialism and well-being.”

It would be mistaken to conflate a philosophy of materialism, with mere consumerism as behavioral practice. I am not here suggesting that this is what the authors of the document have done (indeed, it appears as if they are simply using ‘materialism’ as a placeholder for ‘material object; principally, those objects manufactured and distributed in modern western society’), however, at first glance, it is difficult to tell and this is the crux of the problem. When one word is conflated with another, after a sufficient period of usage the two become implicitly associated, regardless of whether they are actually interlaced in any meaningful way. Thus, when one deploys the term ‘consumerism’ one instantly thinks of ‘materialism’ and vice-versa. This, I shall argue, is wholly mistaken; however, before proceeding, let us define our terms.

Consumerism is a term which rose to prominence in the 20th Century with the advent of mass production and denotes a social order wherein goods are purchased and used (‘consumed’) in ever increasing quantities. It has a few other more technical definitions, however, this is generally the explicit meaning of the term when it is negatively deployed (and it is almost always negatively deployed, at least, as of this writing, though positive variations of the term were used, such as by J. S. Bugas who deployed the word to refer to consumer sovereignty). In this negative characterization, consumerism is keeping-up-with-the-Jones or Patrick Batemanism — normative behaviors which privilege non-noetic objects over noetic ones with the exception of the referent consumer (the individual who is consuming the non-noetic objects, who naturally does so, not because they care solely about the objects themselves, but because they gain something from the consumption of those objects).

Materialism, broadly, briskly and vulgarly speaking, is a philosophical position generally characterized by substance monism, which holds that because everything which has been observed is energy and matter, it is rational to conclude everything that exists is (or is likely to be) composed of energy and matter (the same inductive reasoning is at work in expanding the theory of gravity to all places in the universe, even those wholly unobserved). As a school of thought, it has gone through numerous incarnations ranging from Democritus the atomist, to the cosmic mechanists prior to Newton, to the scientistic physicalists of the modern age (such as Hawking, Krauss and Dawkins).

More rigorous, sophisticated and logically defensible forms of ontological naturalism (sometimes referred to as ‘realism’ in contradistinction to ‘idealism’) which have been referred to as various materialisms can be found in the work of such philosophers as Wilfrid Sellars, John McDowell and Jeremy Randel Koons and the neuroscientist, Paul M. Churchland.

Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the ontological assertions or arguments of any variation of materialism – atomist, mechanist, Sellarsian or eliminativist – it should be clearly noted that consumerism is a descriptive set of social practices, not a holistic formal ontology. One may be a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim or Daoist and still be a consumerist. Indeed, the vast majority of those who have ever lived western consumerist lifestyles within modern society have been Christians (principally Catholics and Protestants), not scientistic materialists (as is sometimes alleged); this is demonstrable simply by reference to religio-demographic composition, as most consumer societies were, from their inception, constituted by Christians who are, obviously, non-materialists (philosophically speaking). Of course, it is perfectly possible to be a stalwart materialist (in the philosophical sense) and still be a consumerist, but it is not intrinsic to the position.

Drawing a clear distinction between materialism and consumerism is important given that because consumerism has become so thoroughly disdained, referent to it likewise besmirches any materialist ontology through negative moral assignation, RATHER than through rigorous logical refutation, thus engendering an impairment, not only of the thorough-going materialist diagrams, but also of critical, logical thought itself.

The Image of Man | Specter of Earth

(a) Immanence or Earth?

What way went vigor?

Subsumed by vice.

Struggle lost to paradise.

Elimination of a concept is only a reduction of literal spatiality insofar as no parvenu concepts are there fabricated in its place. Fabrication should not come to be confused here with falsity, such as an illusion (true presentation, false content) but rather should be associated with methodological or normative effect (a presentation which may not be “true” but which contains true content – ie. a bracketing concept).

(a.1) The Image of Man | Specter of Earth

In his Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man1, Wilfrid Sellars posits two competing conceptions of the human subject, that of the “manifest image” and the “scientific image.” The manifest image, as defined by Sellars, constitutes the folk-psychological schema by which man describes himself, to himself, and relates to his fellows (I am, she is, she talks to him because she likes him, etc), what Sellars referred to in his more casual moments as “knowing one’s way around” the map of the world. To quote Sellars: “The ‘manifest’ image of man-in-the-world can be characterized in two ways, which are supplementary rather than alternative. It is, first, the framework in terms of which man came to be aware of himself as man-in-the-world. It is the framework in terms of which, to use an existentialist turn of phrase, man first encountered himself—which is, of course, when he came to be man. For it is no merely incidental feature of man that he has a conception of himself as man-in-the-world, just as it is obvious, on reflection, that ‘if man had a radically different conception of himself he would be a radically different kind of man.’”2

In contrast, the scientific image is that set of things which also constitutes man but which cannot be detected by the manifest image (or rather, which cannot be discerned by simply “feeling one’s way around”). He describes the scientific image thusly,

The scientific image of man-in-the-world is, of course, as much an idealization as the manifest image—even more so, as it is still in the process of coming to be. It will be remembered that the contrast I have in mind is not that between an unscientific conception of man-in-the-world and a scientific one, but between that conception which limits itself to what correlational techniques can tell us about perceptible and introspectible events and that which postulates imperceptible objects and events for the purpose of explaining correlations among perceptibles.”3

Sellar’s takes special care to note that by utilizing the word “image” he is not thereby positing that either the manifest, scientific, or both – as conception of being-in-the-world – are in anywise not of ‘the real.’ Rather, he ‘brackets’4 the “images,” thus transmogrifying them into philosophical objects of navigation. The tension between these images is starkly exemplified by such permutations in the humanities as posthumanism and its attendant sub-categories – transhumanism, non-humanism, anti-humanism and so on – as well as in the popularization of the displacement of the holocene by the anthropocene, patterned after the noosphere5 of the Russian geochemist, Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky; further refined by de Chardin and Le Roy. The anthropocene was utilized as early as the 1960s but was popularized in the early 2000s by Dutch chemist, Paul J. Crutzen. The anthropocene, broadly described, is the geo-era birthed out of post-industrial human civilization; generally, a human-dominated geological epoch; a time where man has obtained unprecendent power which has, through his ignorance, caused irreparably damaging climate change and ecological devastation. In other words, the anthropocene places man as geological force. This is a transmogrification of the manifest image; a taking of man from his place as the center of concern and placing him within a system with it’s own concerns (the planet, earth, Gaia, etc). Such a transformation is the summation of a existential quandary. The end of the world, or, more minimally, the end of the world of man. If you should find this talk of “the end of the world” to be an incredibly over-the-top pronouncement know that it is not our pronouncement but rather, a sentiment which is increasingly accepted by academia at large. Consider this excerpt from a 2014 speech given by the urban geographer, Stephanie Wakefield, “The end of the world then is not this or that disaster coming in the future – a flood, a hurricane, the collapse of mid-western agriculture – the end of the world is not a potential extinction of homosapiens. The end of the world is what we are living through right now.”6 Now, clearly, this is manifestly false if “end of the world” is to be taken as a literal and immediate eventuality (as her usage of “now” could connote). The world, either as nature-as-such, or, the-earth-as-such, in totality, is not literally at an end; it was not “ending” back in 2014 when such statements were made nor is it “ending” now (anymore than it has always been ending). Rather, it is Sellar’s manifest image that is slipping away – this a failure of synthesis – behind computer screens and into the ever-burgeoning smart-phone matrix, slipping through the cracks in the facade of a world torn open in the new reality birthed by empiricism and modern science, slithering through the fissures of the harmonic concordance which has been shattered by the might of human industry and will.

Man is no longer merely a clever beast, he has become something else entirely. We are all cyborgs, after all. All the more reason for synthesis! The crucial question to answer then is whether he has become more or less his constituent parts. Obviously more. We now add on the collective armature of the whole of our species to increasingly powerful frames through mass communication and speculative theoretical exploration; no longer captive to the landlocked and resource scarce existence of our ancestors, oft trapped upon infertile planes or swampy marshes, nor are we so easily dispatched by meteorites, those great foes from the sky, nor the devastation of hurricanes, mudslides, deluges of the rain-cloud, nor the ague or the fangs of chittering beasts. Hence, the only truly meaningful question left in regard to man in relation to the earth is: “Should he continue the process of reifying his immanence, thus synthesizing the manifest and scientific images or doing away with one or the other or should he cease and desist altogether?”

Before we can even begin to answer such a series of questions it is of great importance to critically examine the conceptions of the earth which have been constructed by the manifest image, what we shall here collectively refer to as the specter of earth. What then is this specter which shrouds our clarity? The answer is: not earth as-is but rather, the idea of earth which has been collectively crafted from centuries of our relationship with it, imbued with agency by our own, misattributed and implicitly carried. Whether the concept takes the form of earth-as-hyperorganism or earth-as-deity; what is fundamental to the foundation of the concept of the specter is the idea that the planet is something which acts. Additionally, the specter is a being which also has specific interests which its proponents contend broader humanity (or in rarer instances, all human action) is actively working against, for in the philosophy of the spectral shamans, Man is nothing more than a virus, crawling out upon the whole of the world, siphoning it’s lifeforce with vile machinic efficiency for some unstated, hideous and invariably cataclysmic end. The decline of anthropocentric thinking via the rise of new and destabilizing schools of thought have acted as catalysts to this thought-process which has, in turn, allowed the mental ecological niches necessary for anti-human envirocracy7 to grow. But is this mindset justified? Is it true? We would affirm that even if such statements were true, that should not mean that man should cease philosophical and technological innovation and simply set himself down into the muck and the mud, scratching about with sticks to carve out a hovel in the hardening clay of some noisome landslide. All of nature wars with us and it is only right and just that man should the wage battle with equal fury. Now as ever. But before we lay out our positive position (what is correct and should be done) we must first finish our negatory enterprise (what is wrong and what should not be done).

What is wrong, principally, with the various notions which we here collectively describe as the specter of earth is that it is just that, a specter; a construct of the mind with no verifiable external reality. This is not to say that mental constructions are not themselves true or that they are not immensely important; they are. Rather, it is to say that there is a profound distinction to be drawn between the conception itself and the way that conception maps onto any given externalities (if any at all). As pertains to usefulness it is crucial to understand that every mental construction is only as useful or useless as its applications within the mind to the individual who contemplates it and the ability of the individual who conceives of it to then utilize that concept to effect “the world” in some way that is conducive to some end. In the case of humanity, that end is, typically, a anthropocentric one. The problem with the concept of the specter is that, though it is obviously false (or, in more rare and sophisticated iterations, unfalsifiable), it is not useless; in fact, it is highly useful for a variety of human pursuits. To illustrate this fact and better conceptualize the actual effects of the specter, consider the cult of femininity which sprung up around the archaeological discoveries of Çatalhöyük, Turkey. In 1958 the archaeologist James Mellaart unearthed the remains of a proto-city in southern Anatolia, Konya Province, Turkey. It came to be known as Çatalhöyük8. Among the ruins of the neolithic settlement were various female figurines which Mellaart believed to be evidence of a cult of some Mother Goddess that was “the basis of our civilization.”9 Other similar claims had been, for instance, the American occult writer, Rosemary Ellen Guiley wrote that goddess worship extends as far back in time as the neolithic and might possibly be even older10 and the mythologist Joseph Cambell once cited a discovery that was dated to 6500 BC11 which he believed to be indicative of mother goddess worship. The validity of Mellaart’s theory, however, was somewhat complicated by the fact that not only was the archaeologist possessed of black market connections, he was also a proven forger. Regardless of these facts, Mellaart’s theories garnered a following and in short order a new, tentative religion had sprung up around his findings (both real and counterfeit). A similar fixation surrounds the ancient Bronze Age city-site of Knossos in Crete wherein many figurines and frescos were discovered which hinted at nature worship conducted under the auspices of powerful priestesses. Despite widespread denouncement of the idea that either Knossos or Çatalhöyük were, in their time, hotbeds of mother goddess worship, the idea persisted; indeed, both locations are still quite popular tourist designations for dedication worshipers of “the mother goddess” which has formed into various different internet communities. The “the” here is significant as members of the Knossos and Çatalhöyük mother goddess community believe in a monotheistic conception of the divine; a great and all powerful woman-creator who stands separate from man. It is pertinent to note that many modern devotees of the Mother Goddess believe that during neolithic times (or other proximal ages) womankind lived in tranquility until they were invaded by men who brought chaos into the world through the creation of technology. In it’s modern iterations, mother goddess worship tends to arise in, or affix itself to, circles wherein radical feminism, Jungian Psychoanalysis, New Age pantheism and extreme forms of evironmentalism are present. Whilst Mellaart’s discovery was a important locus in the reknewal of the specter goddess, it was but a portion of the multifarious iterations of modern earth and goddess worship, which re-surged in the 1960s in tandem with reinvigorated feminist movements, the popularization of ecology and neo-paganism and various non-asatru associated witchcraft and occult movements.

Another important node in the reification of the specter of earth was the work of the independent British scientist, James Ephraim Lovelock. During a joint venture with NASA to discover life on Mars, Lovelock conceived of what he called the Gaia12 Hypothesis, which postulated that a planet which contained life could be thought of as one, cohesive and self-regulating organism. First put forth in the 1960s, Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis was elaborated upon in his 1974 paper, Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere13 and various, subsequent scientific and polemical papers and books. The Gaia Hypothesis, originally conceived of as a new way of modeling the planetary ecosystems, Lovelock took the concept well outside the bounds of the hard sciences when, in his paper, Science and Christian Belief, Vol. 4, No. 1, 29, he wrote, “Gaia is Mother Earth. Gaia is immortal. She is the source of life. She is certainly the mother of us all, including Jesus.” Therefore it is starkly evident that Lovelock, whatever his initial conceptions, had come to believe the earth to be a literal feminine deity, possessed of vast intelligence, power and agency; sensitive to the workings of man and all the other organisms which take up residence beside, below and above him. Thus, in Lovelock’s schema, man is subsumed in the telos of “the world” and must readjust his workings in alignment with it or face The Revenge of Gaia14. Two decades after Lovelock’s hypothesis took hold, numerous other earth-centric thinkers and movements began to percolate throughout the increasingly global zeitgeist. We must pause he to take the measure of the thing, the strange convergence of scientific modeling and neolithic mythology, which, we would postulate, might have emerged out of the isolating and uncommunal nature of scientific research; for instance, both Mellaart and Lovelock were academics, given over to isolation in pursuit of furthering their personal knowledge of their particular field of study. It would not be unreasonable to suppose that such habituations occasioned considerable loneliness given the obvious social dimension of the human animal.

New “green” forces, less mystical and considerably more political, began to arise seldom a decade after Lovelock’s magnum opus. In the 1970s, the international NGO, Greenpeace, rose to prominence amidst the hippie furor of the 1960s, having no single founder or founders, the group organically coaleseced around environmental concerns, gradually becoming both more influential and more radical in their beliefs and tactics. 1987 saw the publication of the book, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, wherein Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor declared of the masculine,

Perhaps the greatest harm patriarchy has done to us is to stifle, coopt, and deform our powers of imagination. Moralism, dualistic dogmas, repressive prohibitions block our imagination. Patriarchal religions keep this fusion from happening, imagination dies, and is replaced by mechanical-linear thought patterns, i.e. indoctrination.”15

and in another section,

The world’s definition of God is the self-definition of humanity. The Gods who rule us “from above” are simply mirrors in the sky, faithfully reflecting our own faces. The Gods who rule us ‘from within’ might represent deep truths of the mind and heart, or they might reflect the profound self-distortions of four millennia of ontological misperception. We do not know if a ‘God’ is a true God or a false God until we see what kind of world is created in that God’s image. When we look around today at the world generated by the male Gods of patriarchal rule, we see warfare, degradation, suffering, and sadism on a scale such as earth has never seen, nor will ever see again—for of course if we don’t end it, it will surely end us.”

and later,

This is all very rudimentary, but once it has been set into motion as world machinery, every living thing on earth is entangled in its gears, all our functions become definitively embodied in its functions—and it’s very hard for those living inside the machinery to stop the machine, because our lives and all their ontological terms have come to depend on the ongoing machinery in all its terms.”16

Thus, we can see, from the mists of prehistory to the present, a consistent familiarity of association; earth to mother, woman as creator and thus God(dess), feminine magicks stultified and routed by vile patriarchal will and the persistent disdain for the horrid masculinity of the machine. If we define spirit as that portion of the human mind which motivates, and if we define the machine as the concretization of masculine will, we can accurately define opposition to the machine as indicative of a feminine spirit.

1‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man’ was a lecture given by Sellars in 1960. It was later transcribed and published in the journal, Frontiers of Science and Philosophy.

2Sellars, ‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,’ p. 3

3Sellars, ‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man’, p. 10

4‘Bracketing’ was a phenomenological term deployed by the philosopher Edmund Husserl, meaning: to suspend direct engagement with the world in partiality to better focus on some form of analysis of experience therefrom gained.

5The noosphere was conceived of as a biosphere of human thought. Nous = mind, sphaira = sphere.

6Notes on the Anthropocene: “What Must I Do?” At the End of the World, 2014.

7Those who place lack of human impact upon the environment at the forefront of all political & philosophical thinking.

8The name Catalhoyuk is a combination of the Turkish catal (fork) and hoyuk (mound).

9Evaluation Claims of a Mother Goddess Cult on Prehistoric Malta, Margaret Creech, 2015.

10Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experiences, (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 239.

11The Masks of God, vii.

12Gaia, or, Gaea, is a important primordial Greek deity who is the living embodiment of the earth.

13Lovelock wrote the paper in co-authorship with the microbiologist Lynn Margulis. The paper was first published in Tellus XXVI, 1974.

14The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back, is a book published in 2006 that was written by Lovelock.

15Sjoo, Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother, p. 427

16Sjoo, Mor, Great Cosmic Mother, p. 217 [PDF ver.]