As Within, So Without
As Within, So Without. The Present Peril and Promise of Human Evolution
I am in a world that is in me.
- Paul Valéry
The world is in crisis. We are in crisis. Change the system? Change yourself first? What could be the relationships between the two? Perhaps we can step back and take a larger, developmental or evolutionary view of this question.
Individual development principles would seem to mirror social and historical development principles which mirror individual development principles which also mirror cosmic development principles. Individuals may internally repeat, contain and express socio-cosmic principles just like ontogeny repeats phylogeny in biological foetal development. Microcosm and macrocosm seem ‘isomorph’: as within, so without.
This developmental process always seems to have a double-sided aspect: one to greater differentiation and individuation on the one hand, and one to greater wholeness and integration on the other. These processes of course do not mean greater degrees of ‘perfection’ or ‘betterment’ in any narrowly moralising sense, (the Pollyanna fallacy), but rather greater degrees of ‘wholeness’, i.e. a greater differentiated encompassing, containing or inclusion of more diverse, disparate and contradictory elements, a greater level of depth or interiority. (Which, nevertheless, is not to say there has not been moral progress in many areas of human evolution as well).
Thus, as societies complexify and differentiate, they produce more individuated or psychologically differentiated individuals, albeit often as narcissistic-egoic ones. As societies economically integrate on a planetary scale (‘globalisation’), this is mirrored internally inside society’s members. Or, vice versa, the external development ‘mirrors’ or ‘goes with’ the internal.
Bar periodic collapse, stalling or regression, overall there would seem to be no alternative to increasing differentiation and individuation, increasing complexity, increasing depth and interiority. It would seem to be the prime driving force of all individual, socio-historical, cosmic growth. Just as societies must seek to integrate increasing differentiation and diversity (or else dissolve into total fragmentation and ‘anomie’), individuals are now increasingly called upon to find their unique paths to individuation as the internal work of integration of diverse, disparate and conflicting elements in their psyches.
Simultaneously, such a movement towards a greater containing of diverse and contradictory elements is not without its dangers. The coin of course has two sides. As Ken Wilber has pointed out, the greater the movement to individuation/integration/health, the greater also the possible danger of pathological isolation, dissociation and fragmentation.
The line between the two can be very fine indeed. This applies both on social and individual levels: both societies and individuals can break down into the pathologies of fragmentation, alienation and the pseudo-integrations of infantile regression or outright psychotic delusion. Individuals may become psychotic, societies turn to mass delusions of ecological denial, xenophobic nationalism, regressive fundamentalism and war. This is one way to read several ominous trends within our current global systems.
We thus tread a fine historical line between the increasing potentials for both greater dissociation and alienation on the one hand, greater individuation, liberation and integration on the other.
It is carefully hidden secret that, given worldwide wealth and socio-economic integration, the social utopia of human autonomy and the ‘good society’ has never been so objectively possible as today. The ‘communism’ or ‘anarchism’ of a democratic global decision-making, a free global commons and a guaranteed minimum income for all divorced from the necessity of wage labour are now objectively possible, for example. As a collective humanity, as increasingly globalised individuals and world citizens, we could, if we but knew it, build a good and fulfilling life for all within the ecological constraints of the planetary biosphere, albeit at very much lower rates of per capita resource consumption than now pertain among the global wealthy.
The nearer the possible realization of such an old human dream, however, the greater both the absence of any emphatic, organized wish to fulfil it and thus also the greater the possibility of socio-ecological catastrophe, social fragmentation and collapse. We thus indeed live in the best and the worst of times.
The external forces blocking the realisation of such a social utopia are again isomorphic to the ones that block our internal change processes. We all contain a seemingly cosmic and evolutionary principle of ‘conservatism’, i.e. a fixation and neurotic hanging-on to previous old solutions, paradigms and coping mechanisms and strenuously resisting change. Our leaders are our own neurotic and narcissistic structures writ large. They represent the resistance of the ‘secure’ past to the emerging present. They represent the need for ‘power-over’ that neurotically derives from unconscious narcissistic legacies of experienced powerlessness, dis-confirmation or fear of dissolution. That is, ultimately, why we continue to believe in and follow them. Their ultimate power derives exclusively from our own collusion and consent. They externally represent our own weaker, ego-centered and fearful selves that resist opening up to our inherent wholeness, collective interdependence and deep change.
Even as they and their old (industrial-capitalist, imperialist, ecocidal, power-over) paradigms obviously threaten our very own security and survival and that of our children and grandchildren, we continue to hold on to the delusion that these leaders, or their phoney ‘new brand’ re-packagings, somehow represent the basic security that we think we ourselves lack internally and that we crave.
In that sense at least, we continue to view political and corporate leaders in the way infants and small children view their security-giving parents. We are psychologically stuck in infantile states, not daring to give way to the risks and changes that the all-encompassing processes of growth, maturation, individuation and differentiation would seem to ask of us.
The first step in finding a new level of individuation in personal development is to dis-identify from the previous people or ideas we identified with. Adolescents need to dis-identify from their parents in order to move on into their own lives. Socially, whole societies would need to now pass through this high-growth, ‘adolescent’ stage of history (capitalism) and dis-identify from their parental leaders in order to become more ‘adult’ citizens of truer, more participatory democracies. Our current ‘democracies’ peopled with infantile majorities are thus not democracies in any real sense but heteronomous systems run by elected and unelected (corporate and bureaucratic) oligarchies.
This dis-identifying of course would then be only the first step to both negating the bad and preserving (i.e. integrating) the worthy elements of the old oligarcho-democratic and industrial-capitalist system (e.g. human rights and the rule of law, technologies etc.) that are now needed to build the ecologically sustainable good society.
Given our many global crises, the question then becomes: can we dis-identify quickly enough from our adolescent phase to establish a real, participatory democracy of mature, autonomous citizens and thus both prevent ecocide and realise some of humanity’s deepest dreams of a good society in which there are ‘bread and roses for all’?