Mid-20th Century American Peasant Communities

Industrial capitalism is radically new. Late stage capitalism came rather late. That is true for the United States. Until about a century ago, most Americans still lived in rural communities, worked manual labor on small family farms, survived on subsistence in growing most of their own food, and bought what little else they needed through store tabs and barter. Many Americans were still living this way within living memory. A few such communities persist in places across the United States.

Segmented Worlds and Self
by Yi-Fu Tuan
pp. 17-21

Most peasants are villagers, members of cohesive communities. What is the nature of this cohesion and how is it maintained? A large and varied literature on peasants exists—historical studies of villages in medieval Europe and ethnographic surveys of peasant economy and livelihood in the poorer parts of the world at the turn of the century. Though differing from each other in significant details, peasant worlds nonetheless share certain broad traits that distinguish them from urban and modern societies. First, peasants establish intimate bonds with the land: that one must labor hard to survive is an accepted truth that is transformed into a propitiary and pious sentiment toward Mother Earth. Deities of the soil and ancestral spirits become fused. Peasants see themselves as belonging to the land, “children of the earth,” a link between past and future, ancestors and progeny. Biological realities and metaphors, so common in the peasant’s world, tend to suppress the idea of the self as a unique end or as a person capable of breaking loose from the repetitive and cyclical processes of nature to initiate something radically new. Although peasants may own the land they work on, they work more often in teams than individually. Many agricultural activities require cooperation; for example, when the fields need to be irrigated and drained, or when a heavy and expensive piece of equipment (such as the mill, winepress, or oven belonging to the landlord) is to be used. Scope for individual initative is limited except in small garden plots next to the house, and even there customary practices prevail. Individualism and individual success are suspect in peasant communities. Prosperity is so rare that it immediately suggest witchcraft.

In the peasant’s world the fundamental socioeconomic unit is the extended family, members of which—all except the youngest children—are engaged in some type of productive work. They may not, however, see much of each other during the day. Dinnertime may provide the only opportunity for family togetherness, when the webs of affection and lines of authority become evident to all. More distant relatives are drawn into the family net on special occasions, such as weddings and funerals. Besides kinsfolk, villagers can count on the assistance of neighbors when minor needs arise, whether for extra hands during harvest, for tools, or even for money. In southeast China, a neighborhood is clearly defined as five residences to each side of one’s own. Belonging to a neighborhood gives one a sense of security that kinsfolk alone cannot provide. Villagers are able to maintain good neighborly relations with each other because they have the time to socialized. In Europe the men may go to a tavern, where after a few  beers they feel relaxed enough to sing together— that most comradely of human activities. In China the men, and sometimes the women as well, may go to a teahouse in a market town, where they can exchange gossip among themselves and with visitors from other villages. More informally, neighbors meet to chat and relax in the village square in the cool of the evening. Peasants desire contentment rather than success, and contentment means essentially the absence of want. When a man achieves a certain level of comfort he is satisfied. He feels no compulsion to use his resource and energy for higher economic rewards. He has the time and sense of leisure to hobnob with his fellows and bathe in their undemanding good will. Besides these casual associations, peasants come together for planned festivals that might involve the entire village. the New Year and the period after harvest are such occasions in many parts of the world. the number of festivals and the days on which they occur vary from place to place, but without exception festivals come to pass when people are relatively free, that is, during the lax phases of the calendar year.

Festivals, of course, strengthen the idea of group self. Tehse are the times when the people as a whole express their joy in the success of a harvest, or the growing strength of the sun. Simultaneously, they reaffirm their piety toward the protective deities of the earth and sky, their sense of onennss with nature. Group cohesiveness s a product of need, a fact that is manifest n the traditional world of villagers at different scales, ranging from that of family and kinsfolk, through those of neighbors and work team, to the entire community as it celebrates the end of a period of toil or the passing of a crisis of natue, or as it is girded in self-defense against natural calamity or human predators. Necessity is not a condition that human beings can contemplate for long without transforming it into an ideal. Thus, the cooperation necessary to survival becomes a good in itself, a desirable way of life. Units of mutual help achieve strong identities that can persist long after the urgencies that called them into existence have passed. In such groups, forged initially out of need but sustained thereafter by a sense of collective superiority, wayward and questioning individuals have no place.

A common image of America is that it is a land of individualists. Even in the colonial period, when towns were small and isolated, intimately knit communal groups like those of Europe did not exist. The people who lived in them, particularly in the Middle Colonies, shared too few common traditions and habits. Moreover, they were continually moving in and out. In New England, where settlers made periodic attempts to establish communities artificially by means of consciously constructed models, the results were mixed in relation to satisfaction and permanence. In the countryside, the Jeffersonian ideal of the yeoman farmer seems to have held sway. Nevertheless, not only individualists but families and clusters of families migrated to the frontier, and in the course of time some of them became deeply rooted agglutinate communities, in which such characteristic American ideals as upward social mobility, individual intiative, and success were alien.

Traditional farming communities, relics from the past, persist in rural America at mid-twentieth century. Consider the sixty-odd families whose roots in the hollows of Tennessee, a few miles south of Nashville, go back to 1756. Over a course of two hundred years, inter-marriage has produced the closest bonds. Natural warmth between kinsfolk and neighbors is reinforced by a deep suspicion of outsiders. The community is strongly egalitarian. Work roles differ by age and sex, but social stratification as it exists in most parts of the country is unknown. “In work terms,” writes John Mogey, “no one is clearly leader: collective responsibility for work assignment is the rule to an extent that to speak of individual or family farming enterprises would be to violate the facts.” In her study of this community, Elmora Matthews notes how warm feelings between farmers can emerge from a combination of blood ties, laboring at common tasks, and informal socializing. One woman described the relation between her four brothers, who have adjoining farms: “They work all day long together, eat their meals together, and then always sit around and visit with each other before they go home. ” Ambition and even efficiency, when it is obtrusive, are bad. On the other hand, “no one ever condemns a husband who evades his work. If anything, a man who sits around home a lot blesses a family group.” One of the most respectable activities for man is to loaf and loiter with other men. The greatest satisfaction lies in the warm exchange of feeling among relatives and close friends at home, church, or store.

People in this Tennessee community almost never organize formally for special ends. There are no communal projects. The community is not a provisional state that might be altered and improved upon, or used for some larger, ulterior purpose. It is the supreme value and sole reality: whatever threatens to disrupt it is bad. Critical self-awareness seems minimal. Thus, although this Tennessee people fervently believe in freedom, anyone who exercises it to develop his talent and becomes a success is harshly judged. Thorough conformists in thinking and behavior, they nevertheless resent the government for its tendency to impose rules and regulations, and they regard communism as unimaginably horrible.

Close-knit communities of this kind can be found in the more isolated countrysides of Western Europe and North America even in the middle of the twentieth century.

Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir
by Joe Bageant
pp. 15-20

When Virginia Iris Gano and Harry Preston Bageant crested that ridge in their buggy and began their life together, they stood an excellent chance of making it. For starters, in that world the maths of life was easier, even if the work was harder. If you could show the bank or the seller of the land that you were healthy and sober, and knew how to farm, you pretty much had the loan (at least when it came to the non-arid eastern American uplands; the American West was a different matter). At 5 percent simple interest, Pap bought a 108-acre farm — house, barn, and all — for $400. (It was a cash-poor county, and still is. As recently as 1950 you could buy a 200-acre farm there for about $1,000.) On those terms, a subsistence farmer could pay off the farm in twenty years, even one with such poor soils as in these Southern uplands. But a subsistence farmer did not farm to sell crops, though he did that, too, when possible. Instead, he balanced an entire life with land and human productivity, family needs, money needs, along with his own and his family’s skills in a labor economy, not a wealth economy. The idea was to require as little cash as possible, because there wasn’t any to be had.

Nor was much needed. The farm was not a business. It was a farm. Pap and millions of farmers like him were never in the “agribusiness”. They never participated in the modern “economy of scale” which comes down to exhausting as many resources as possible to make as much money as possible in the shortest time possible. If you’d talked to him about “producing commodities under contract to strict specifications”, he wouldn’t have recognized that as farming. “Goddamned jibber-jabber” is what he would have called it. And if a realtor had pressed him about the “speculative value” of his farmland as “agronomic leverage”, I suspect the old 12-gauge shotgun might have come down off the rack. Land value was based upon what it could produce, plain and simple. These farms were not large, credit-based “operations” requiring annual loans for machinery, chemicals, and seed.

Sure, farmers along Shanghai Road and the Unger Store community bought things at the junction store on credit, to be paid for in the autumn. Not much, though. The store’s present owners, descendants of the store’s founders, say that an annual bill at the store would run to about ten dollars. One of them, Richard Merica, told me, “People bought things like salt and pepper. Only what they couldn’t make for themselves, like shotgun shells or files.” Once I commented to an old Unger Store native still living there that, “I suspect there wasn’t more than $1,000 in the Unger Store community in the pre-war days.”

“You’re guessing way too high,” he said. “Try maybe $400 or $500. But most of it stayed here, and went round and round.”

So if Pap and the other subsistence farmers there spent eight bucks a year at the local crossroads store, it was eight bucks in a reciprocal exchange that made both their subsistence farming and the Unger Store possible as a business and as a community.

Moneyless as it was, Maw and Pap’s lives were far more stable than one might think today. In fact, the lives of most small farmers outside the nasty cotton sharecropping system of deep-southern America were stable. Dramatic as the roller-coaster economics of the cities and the ups and downs caused by crop commodity speculators in Chicago were, American farm life remained straightforward for the majority. Most were not big Midwestern broad-acre farmers who could be destroyed by a two-cent change in the price of wheat. Wheat in Maw and Pap’s time hovered at around fifty to fifty-five cents a bushel; corn, at forty-five; and oats at about fifty-six. Multiply the acreage by average bushels per acre for your piece of land, and you had a start at figuring out a realistic basis for your family’s future. It was realistic enough that, after making allowances for bad years, plus an assessment of the man seeking the loan, the banks lent Pap the price of a farm. That assessment was not shallow.

Pap was expected to bring to the equation several dozen already-honed skills, such as the repair, sharpening, and use of tools (if you think that is simple, try laying down wheat with a scythe sometime); the ability to husband several types of animal stock; and experience and instinct about soils and terrain, likely weather, and broadcasting seed by hand. Eastern mountain subsistence farms needed little or no planting equipment because plots were too small and steep. What harvesting equipment such as reapers and threshers might be needed was usually owned by one man who made part of his living reaping and threshing for the rest of the community. Other skills included planting in cultivated ridges, managing a woodlot, and estimating hours of available sunlight for both plant growth and working. The subsistence farm wife’s life required as much experience and skill on a different front of family provision.

That said, Pap wasn’t a particularly good farmer. He wasn’t a bad farmer, either. He was just an average farmer among millions of average farmers. The year my grandparents married, about 35 million Americans were successfully engaged in farming, mostly at a subsistence level. It’s doubtful that they were all especially gifted, or dedicated or resourceful. Nevertheless, their kind of human-scale family farming proved successful for twelve generations because it was something more — a collective consciousness rooted in the land that pervaded four-fifths of North American history.

They farmed with the aid of some 14 million draft horses and God only knows how many mules. Pap wasn’t much for mules; all the farming he had to do could easily be done with one horse. Without going into a treatise on horse farming, let me say that, around 1955 at the age of ten, I saw the last of Pap’s work horses in use, a coal-black draft animal named “Nig” (short for nigger, of course). By then, Nig, who was Nig number three, if I remember correctly, was over twenty years old, and put out to pasture — a loose use of the term, given that he spent his time in the shade of the backyard grape arbor waiting to be hand-fed treats. But Nig still pulled a single tree-plow in a four-acre truck garden down in the bottom land — mostly melons, tomatoes, and sweet corn — while I sometimes rode atop barefoot holding onto the wooden hames at the collar. Pap walked behind, guiding the plow. “Gee Nig! Haw Nig! Step right … Turn and baaack. Cluck-cluck.” The rabbit dogs, Nellie and Buck, trotted alongside in the spring sun.

Though Pap owned a tractor by then — a beaten-up old Farmall with huge, cleated steel wheels, a man-killer prone to flipping over backward and grinding the driver bloodily under the cleats — he could still do all his cultivation walking behind Nig in the spring. In summer he’d scratch out the weeds with a horseless garden plow, or “push plow”, and pick off bugs by hand, dropping them into a Maxwell House coffee can half-filled with kerosene. Pap hand-harvested most things, even large cornfields, using a corn cutter fashioned from an old Confederate sword. But it is that old horse and that old man with the long leather lines thrown up over his shoulders, the plow in his iron grip, and cutting such straight lines in the red clay and shale, that I remember most fondly. He made it look easy. Fifty years in the furrows will do that.

pp. 41-53

THE CULTURAL VALUES MAY REMAIN, HANGING over everything political and many things that are not, but there are few if any remaining practitioners of the traditional family or community culture by which Pap and Maw lived — the one with the woman in the home, and the man in the fields, although Maw certainly worked in the fields when push came to shove. This is not to advocate such as the natural order of things. I am neither Amish nor Taliban. But knee-jerk, middle-class, mostly urban feminists might do well to question how it all started and what the result has been — maybe by getting out and seeing how few of their sisters gutting chickens on the Tyson’s production line or telemarketing credit cards on the electronic plantation relish those dehumanizing jobs that they can never quit.

It would do them well to wonder why postwar economists and social planners, from their perches high in the executive and management class, deemed it best for the nation that more mothers become permanent fixtures of America’s work force. This transformation doubled the available labor supply, increased consumer spending, and kept wages lower than they would have otherwise been. National production and increased household income supposedly raised everyone’s quality of life to stratospheric heights, if Formica countertops and “happy motoring” can be called that. I’m sure it did so for the managing and owning classes, and urban people with good union jobs. In fact, it was the pre-war trade unions at full strength, particularly the United Auto Workers, that created the true American middle class, in terms of increased affluence for working people and affordable higher education for their children.

What Maw and Pap and millions of others got out of it, primarily, were a few durable goods, a washing machine, a television, and an indoor toilet where the pantry, with its cured meats, 100-pound sacks of brown sugar, flour, and cases of eggs had been. Non-durable commodities were vastly appreciated, too. One was toilet paper, which ended generations of deep-seated application of the pages of the Sears Roebuck mail-order catalog to the anus (the unspoken limit seemed to be one page to a person at a sitting). The other was canned milk, which had been around a long time, but had been unaffordable. Milk cows are a wonderful thing, but not so good when two wars and town work have drained off your family labor-supply of milkers. […]

The urging of women into the workplace, first propagandized by a war-making state, was much romanticized in the iconic poster image of Rosie the Riveter, with her blue-denim sleeves rolled up and a scarf tied over her hair. You see the image on the refrigerator magnets of fuzzy-minded feminists-lite everywhere. This liberal identity-statement is sold by the millions at Wal-Mart, and given away as a promotional premium by National Public Radio and television.

Being allowed to manufacture the planes that bombed so many terrified European families is now rewritten as a feminist milestone by women who were not born at the time. But I’ve never once heard working-class women of that period rave about how wonderful it was to work long days welding bomb-bay doors onto B-29s.

The machinery of state saw things differently, and so the new reality of women building war machinery was dubbed a social advance for American womankind, both married and single. In Russia, it was ballyhooed as Soviet socialist-worker equality. And one might even believe that equality was the prime motive, when viewed sixty years later by, for instance, a university-educated specimen of the gender writing her doctoral dissertation. But for the children and grandchildren of Rosie the Riveter, those women not writing a dissertation or thesis, there is less enthusiasm. Especially among working mothers. The Pew Research Center reports that only 13 percent of working mothers think that working benefits their children. But nearly 100 percent feel they have no choice. Half of working mothers think their employment is pointless for society. Forty-two percent of Americans, half of them women, say that working mothers have been bad for society on the whole. Nearly all working mothers say they feel guilty as they rush off to work.

Corporations couldn’t have been happier with the situation. Family labor was siphoned off into the industrial labor pool, creating a surplus of workers, which in turn created a cheaper work force. There were still the teeming second-generation immigrant populations available for labor, but there were misgivings about them — those second-generation Russian Jews, Italians, Irish, Polish, and Hungarians, and their like. From the very beginning, they were prone to commie notions such as trade unions and eight-hour workdays. They had a nasty history of tenacity, too.

On the other hand, out there in the country was an endless supply of placid mules, who said, “Yes, Ma’m” and “No, Ma’m”, and accepted whatever you paid them. Best of all, except for churches and the most intimate community groups, these family- and clan-oriented hillbillies were not joiners, especially at some outsiders’ urging. Thus, given the nature of union organizing — urging and convincing folks to join up — local anti-union businessmen and large companies alike had little to fear when it came to pulling in workers from the farms.

Ever since the Depression, some of the placid country mules had been drifting toward the nearest cities anyway. By the 1950s, the flow was again rapidly increasing. Generation after generation couldn’t keep piling up on subsistence farms, lest America come to be one vast Mennonite community, which it wasn’t about to become, attractive as that idea might seem now. Even given America’s historical agrarian resistance to “wage slavery” (and farmers were still calling it that when I was a kid), the promise of a regular paycheck seemed the only choice. We now needed far more money to survive, because we could no longer independently provide for ourselves.

Two back-to-back wars had effectively drained off available manpower to the point where our family farm offered only a fraction of its former sustenance. Even if we tried to raise our own food and make our own clothing out of the patterned multi-colored feed sacks as we had always done, it took more money than ever. […]

By the mid and late 1950s, the escalating monetized economy had rural folks on the ropes. No matter how frugal one was, there was no fighting it. In a county where cash had been scarce from the beginning — though not to disastrous effect — we children would overhear much talk about how this or that aunt or uncle “needs money real bad”. […]

WHEN IT COMES TO MONEY, I AM TOLD THAT BEFORE the war some Unger Store subsistence farmers got by on less than one hundred dollars a year. I cannot imagine that my grandfather ever brought in more than one thousand dollars in any year. Even before the postwar era’s forced commodification of every aspect of American life, at least some money was needed. So some in my family, like many of their neighbors, picked apples seasonally or worked as “hired-on help” for a few weeks in late summer at the many small family-owned apple- and tomato-canning sheds that dotted Morgan County. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, between farming and sporadic work at the local flour, corn, and feed-grinding outfits, and especially the small canning operations, a family could make it. Pap could grow a few acres of tomatoes for the canneries, and Maw or their kids could work a couple of weeks in them for cash.

This was local and human-scale industry and farming, with the tomatoes being grown on local plots ranging from five to ten acres. Canners depended on nearby farm families for crops and labor, and the farm families depended upon them in turn for cash or its equivalent. […]

Farm-transport vehicles were much scarcer then, especially anything bigger than a quarter-ton pickup truck. So the sight of Jackson Luttrell’s one-ton Chevy truck with its high wooden sideboards was exciting in itself. In those days, farmers did not buy new $45,000 trucks to impress other farmers, or run to the nearest farm supply in one of them to pick up a couple of connector bolts. Every farmer had a farm wagon, whether pulled by horse or tractor, but almost nobody owned a truck. Common sense and thrift prevented them from spending big money on something that would only be used during one month each year at harvest time. Beyond that, farmers would not even think of growing those small acreages of tomatoes that the canneries depended upon if they had to buy a truck to transport them there — any profit made on the tomatoes would be lost on the truck. So, for folks such as Jackson Luttrell, who had one, ownership made more economic sense. He profited through its maximized use in getting everyone else’s crops to the mill or processing plant. One truck served the farm community, at minimum expenditure to the entire group. They didn’t even have to pay Jackson Luttrell any cash for the hauling.

That was because Cotton Unger, who owned the canning operation, was expected to get the tomatoes to his factory himself. As a businessman and entrepreneur, it was Unger’s job to deal with the problems that came with his enterprise. Unger’s job was to run a business; a farmer’s job was to farm. These were two separate things in the days before the rigged game of agri-business put all the cost on the farmers through loading them with debt, and all the profits went to business corporations. Nor did Unger’s duties as a capitalist end with getting the hauling done at his own expense. It was also his job to turn the local crops such as wheat, corn, and tomatoes into money, through milling or canning them for sale to bulk contractors elsewhere.

Cotton owned more than just the family store, which he’d inherited from his father, Peery Unger, and for which the community was named sometime after the Civil War. The store at the junction had gasoline pumps, a grinding mill, and a feed and seed farm-supply adjunct. It was also the official post office for that end of the county; and, just to be safe, Cotton Unger also farmed. The Unger family’s store was a modest, localized example of a vertically integrated, agriculturally based business, mostly out of necessity.

Cotton never saw much cash, and never got rich by any means. Not on the ten-cent and fifteen-cent purchases that farmers made there for over one hundred years. Yet he could pay Jackson Luttrell for the tomato hauling — in credit at the store. That enabled Jackson to buy seed, feed, hardware, fertilizer, tools, and gasoline, and farm until harvest time with very little cash, leaving him with enough to invest in a truck. Unger could run his tomato cannery and transform local produce into cash, because he could barter credit for farm products and services. This was a community economic ecology that blended labor, money, and goods to sustain a modest but satisfactory life for all.

At the same time, like most American businessmen then and today, Cotton Unger was a Republican. He was a man of the Grand Old Party: the party of a liberator named Abraham, who freed millions of black men from the bondage of slavery; and the party of two presidents named George, the second of whom subsequently ushered Americans of all colors back into slavery through national indebtedness. Being of a Republican stripe made Cotton Unger a rare bird in the strongly Democratic Morgan County.

Today he would be even rarer, because he was a Republican with the common wisdom to understand something that no Republican has ever grasped since: he realized that any wealth he might acquire in life was due not only to his own efforts, but also to the efforts of all other men combined — men who built the roads that hauled his merchandise; men who laid rail track, grew crops, drilled wells, and undertook all the other earthly labors that make society possible. Whether they were Democrats or not, he needed the other citizens around him as friends, neighbors, and builders of the community. To that end, he provided transportation to the polls at election time for farmers without cars — and they were many, Pap and Maw among them — full knowing that nearly every last one of them was going to vote against his candidate. In his ancestors’ time they had voted for Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, James Polk, James Buchanan, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman — all Democrats.

The old-timers say that Cotton always looked kinda weary around election time. And well he must have been. On election day, Cotton chauffeured around Democratic voters, people who would vote against his interests, vote in favor of higher business taxes or to increase teachers’ pay to the point where the school-marm could almost make a living. But Cotton also understood that his personal interests resided more with his community and neighbors than with his political affiliation. Republican politicians in faraway Charleston took the back seat to his face-to-face daily life with his neighbors. Cotton, like his father Peery, and his grandfather, C.J. Unger, before him, knew that when you depend directly on neighbors for your daily bread, you’d damned-well better have their respect and goodwill. And you’d best maintain it over generations, too, if you plan to pass the family store down to your sons and your sons’ sons. We may never see that level of operative community democracy again.

pp. 61-69

Not that money was unimportant. Money has been important since the first Sumerian decided it was easier to carry a pocket full of barley shekels than hump a four-foot urn of barley down to the marketplace on his back. And it was certainly important 5,000 years later to the West Virginia hill country’s subsistence farmers. But in the big picture, money was secondary to co-operation and the willingness to work hard. A considered ecology of family labor, frugality, and their interrelationship with community was the economy. And the economy was synonymous with their way of life, even though that would have been a pretentious term to Pap and his contemporaries. He always said, “You just do the next thing that needs doing. You keep doing that, and everything gets done that needs to be done.” When I’d ask him what to do next, he’d say, “Just look to see what needs doing, dammit!”

Understanding what needed doing was the glue of subsistence farming’s family-work ecology, which was also ecological in the environmental sense. Knowledge was passed along about which fields best grew what produce, the best practices to maintain fertility, and what the farm could sustainably produce year in and year out. It was a family act.

Those farm families strung out along Shanghai Road could never have imagined our existential problems or the environmental damage we now face. But, after having suffered such things as erosion from their own damaging early-American practices, they came to understand that nature and man do not stand separately. The mindfulness involved in human-scale farming demands such. To paraphrase Wendell Berry, we should understand our environmental problem as a kind of damage that has also been done to humans. In all likelihood, there is no solution for environmental destruction that does not first require a healing of the damage done to the human community. And most of that damage to the human world has been done through work, our jobs, and the world of money. Acknowledging such things about our destructive system requires honesty about what is all around us, and an intellectual conscience. And asking ourselves, “Who are we as a people?”

Meanwhile, as settlers migrated down the Great Valley of Virginia, as they called the Shenandoah Valley toward the fertile southlands, the poorer among them kept seeping westward into the uncleared Blue Ridge, where land was cheapest and work was hardest. When they settled on Fairfax’s land, they may have become human assets to his holdings. But they were not slaves and they were not employees. The overwhelming portion of the fruits of their labor were directly their own. They could not be fired. They could not incur oppressive financial debt. And if their farms were isolated specks in the blue Appalachian fog with their split-pine log floors, they were nevertheless specks located in a great, shared commons called nature.

In contrast to Fairfax and the planter society’s money-based economy of wealth, these settlers lived by a family-based economy of labor. Not that they had a choice. Any kind of coinage or currency was rare throughout the colonies. Their economy depended on the bartering of labor and sometimes goods between themselves. Dr Warren Hofstra, an eminent historian of the area, tells me this system was so complex that they kept sharply detailed ledger books of goods and services bartered, even of small favors done for one another. In essence, this was an economy whose currency was the human calorie. Be it a basket of apples or a week’s labor hauling stone for a house, everything produced (which was everything in their subsistence world, there being no money), was accomplished by an expenditure of human energy. Calories burned could only be replaced by an expenditure of calories to plant, grow, and preserve future calories for sustained sustenance. This was a chain of caloric expenditures or barter going all the way back to the forging of the iron hoe or plow that made subsistence possible at all. Keenly aware that both time and their own human energy were finite, they measured, balanced, and assigned value to nearly every effort, large or small. Wasting these resources could spell hunger or failure to subsist.

This attitude lives on today among the descendants of the settlers. When outsiders move into this area, they often comment on what they perceive as the miserliness of the natives. Or the fact that they will not let you do them even a small favor, lest they be obligated in return.

A lady new to the area, a physician who hails from Delaware, told me: “I went shopping with Anna at the mall last week. We went in my car. She tried to give me three dollars for ‘gas money’. I told her that was very kind, but we’d only driven two miles at best and that it wasn’t necessary. She kept pushing the money at me, saying ‘Here, take this,’ getting more and more insistent each time. I kept declining until I noticed that she was becoming honestly and truly angry with me. It was so damned strange, I’ve never seen anything like it. So I took the three dollars.”

I explained that many natives are like that, and told her about the early settlers’ rigid barter-and-favor economy, and how these attitudes have unconsciously come down through our cultural history, remaining as deeply instilled social practices and conventions. It can work the other way around, too. Some people will unexpectedly do something very nice for you, or give you something — maybe an antique or whatever.

“Don’t let the Southern charm fool you, though,” I said. “In the back of their mind they have marked it down as a favor or a social debt owed. And they’ll expect you to recognize when to pay it back. Maybe volunteer to feed their dog or water their lawn when they are away. At the same time, you should feel somewhat honored. It’s a down payment on developing further friendship. If they hadn’t judged you to be a worthy, reliable, and reciprocating person, dependable in a friendship, they wouldn’t even bother to know you at all. In fact, that’s why so many outsiders perceive some natives as snotty and cold.”

“Amazing,” she said. “I’d never guess their behavior had such deep cultural roots.”

“Neither would they,” I replied.

As the hill-country population grew, their isolation lessened. Farmers grew more connected in a community network of seasonal mutual efforts, such as threshing, hunting, hog slaughtering, haymaking, clannish marriages, and birth, burial, and worship. These conventions were still being observed into the 1950s as I was growing up there.

Family and community life in that early, non-wealth-based economy is impossible for us to comprehend. No man can fully grasp a life he has not lived, or for that matter completely grasp the one he is living. But we Blue Ridge folk most surely live subject to the continuing effects of that dead culture which is never really dead.

For example, the old agrarian culture of reserve, frugality, and thought-out productivity translate as political conservatism today, even though few of its practitioners could identify a baling hook if their lives depended on it. At its core stood — and still stand, for the most part — “family values”, which meant (duh!) valuing family. Valuing family above all else, except perhaps God’s word. Grasping the true meaning of this is to understand much of the conservative American character, both its good and its bad qualities. I dare say it also holds some solutions to the dissolution of human community, the destabilizing of world resources, and the loss of the great commons, human and natural, all sacrificed to the monstrous fetish of commodities, their acquisition and their production through an insane scale of work and round-the-clock commerce and busyness.

56 thoughts on “Mid-20th Century American Peasant Communities

  1. My opinion: we are all of the Earth, and most of us have forgotten this because we live in cities and urbs. Now retired, my wife and I have a small communal plot 7 km from Central Stockholm. There is nothing so satisfying as turning and improving the soil, arranging it to accommodate new and old plantings, and to watch the plantings grow. Alongside these are the flowers and flowering bushes already in place, needing only to be trimmed back occasionally to allow room for others. Critters often visit when we are not there, sampling our produce: deer, rabbit-these attracting the occasional fox. Bugs, birds, bees, hornets, snails, slugs, fungi, moss, glorious lives. Oh, and the trees…

    • I’ve never been a farmer, although I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by farms — within a few blocks of this house, there are farm fields in three directions. My great grandparents were farmers, one great grandfather living in New Jersey and delivering his farm goods for sale in New York City. My mothers’ grandparents did some gardening along with fishing while others in that clan did plenty of hunting.

      The farming instinct seemed to have died out with my parents’ generation. My parents left behind families in their upward class mobility. All that my mother does is plant flowers, and sometimes I help her. I like to keep a small collection of native plants growing in the back yard. It is nice living near to so many farms and access to a farmer’s market stocked with locally-produced food, much of it organic and pasture-raised.

      From my reading of American diet and agriculture, it sounds like most Americans never were much for gardening, until modern pesticides. Historical documents talk about gardens being devoured by wild animals and worries about them being contaminated with diseases. Even today, more people get sick from E. coli from plants than from meat or eggs. Instead, Americans have tended to farm major crops like wheat, corn, and cotton. That was true all the way back to the colonial era.

      Until quite recently, most Americans lived close to wilderness areas or other areas that allowed access to wild foods. That is one of the things Bageant talked about with tomato farming. Wild animals love tomatoes. So, farmers just have to sit with their gun at the tomato field and, instead of eating the tomatoes, they could eat all the animals that come to eat the tomatoes. Brilliant! Of course, you might cut up some tomatoes to have with your wild meat. Tomatoes were among my grandparents’ favorite garden food. Maybe it’s an Upper South thing, as my maternal family like Bageants’ family comes from that region.

      I’m not sure how it was in early European farming.

  2. In fact, the lives of most small farmers outside the nasty cotton sharecropping system of deep-southern America were stable.

    In fact, the lives — though difficult in a way most of us likely couldn’t even imagine — of most small farmers inside…deep-southern America were stable also. (The sharecropping system was the exclusive domain of wealthy plantation owners.)

    Oh, the stories I could tell! Don’t worry, though. I’ll spare you. Suffice to say, “flyover country” was (and largely still is) quite a bit more diverse than history remembers.

    If the “carpetbaggers” get their way, though (as I imagine they will), and it all does come crashing down, modern day “rednecks” may get exactly what they’ve been wishing for, as will we all: as hard a life as can be imagined.

    Perhaps we’ll come to our senses before then. You never know. In the meantime: a little nostalgia never hurt anyone.

    • Traditional farming was a hard life. There is no doubt about that. There is a reason so many like Bageant left those communities, in his case joining the military and then heading off to college. The world of the past is far different than gets portrayed in reactionary nostalgia. It was hard, but it also doesn’t match the standard revisionist history.

      Some Americans like to imagine that all of their ancestors were hardscrabble individualists. In another book, maybe about myths about family life, the author described how little privacy people had back then, even from neighbors who would simply walk into each other’s houses. Individual rights were not respected.

      The reality of those communities was far from conforming to anarcho-libertarian fantasies of a free-wheeling capitalism. I find it fascinating how long moneyless economies lasted, even in a country like the US. It took a long time for capitalism as we know it to fully take hold.

      • how little privacy people had back then, even from neighbors who would simply walk into each other’s houses

        Welcomely, the reason being their neighbors were considered something like extended family if, in fact, they weren’t extended family.

        pp. 41-53, The cultural values may remain, hanging over everything political and many things that are not

        You may have heard some people express the (naive) sentiment that technological surveillance is fine and dandy; that no one would be worried about it unless they have something to hide? People who express such sentiments are themselves generally far from naive, whereas the sentiment is.

        This likely stems from a uniquely “Southern” characteristic, especially of rural communities: “Never met a stranger.” “Born and bred” Southerners are naturally outgoing, gregarious and do not believe respect and trust are to be earned, but freely given on the basis of the fact that you are a fellow human being. Respect and trust can only be betrayed in their minds. Of course, their respect and trust have been betrayed so often and regularly in our Social Darwinian system, that particular characteristic of Southern culture is fast going extinct to be replaced with a nearly insurmountable and deep-seated suspicion of any and all “outsiders.” It certainly doesn’t help that a mere overabundance of trust is invariably attacked and portrayed as ignorance or stupidity both in academia and the mainstream media.

        The explanation of that example of the lady blown away by the behavior of Anna, however, seems a little off to me. It’s nothing to do with a “barter economy” and everything to do with the idea that “it is better to give than to receive.” Native southerners are exceptionally generous and charitable, but actually may have an existential meltdown if they’re forced into a position of requiring charitable services themselves. Anna wasn’t expecting something in return for her three dollars or expecting a “debt” to be called in merely for being driven to the mall. Anna was acting out of that value and the sense of balance inherent in that value. Why that doesn’t translate for many into the idea that a healthy society takes care of each and every one of its members’ wants and needs (i.e. the healthcare wars) is actually quite beyond me, unless perhaps too many of us are voicing and acting upon mere desires rather than wants for that particular, shared value to shine through.

        PS Some have a problem with my pointing to “popular” examples of such subconscious factors in action as can be found in all manner of artistic media (contemporary poetry, prose, film, video games, etc.), but I find the exclusionary mentality of some within the so-called “integral” community, especially, problematic to say the least. It smacks of a “secret knowledge” available only to “the elect.” So, let me know if you have a problem with such “artifacts” of consciousness. I’ve personally found them helpful in discerning societal patterns. Others, perhaps, not so much.

        • As you might know, I spent part of my life in the Deep South. From 8th grade several years after high school, including some college. My family was specifically living in South Carolina and I spent several summers in North Carolina. Even after that, I visited regularly over the years as my parents remained there until about a decade ago. I’ve also visited, on my mother’s side, my ancestral homeland of Kentucky. My family came from all over the South, both Upper and Deep, including a paternal ancestor who had a plantation a short jaunt from our house in South Carolina, but that line of ancestry having begun in Virginia moved all across the deep South. My grandmother was born in Texas and spent her early life in Oklahoma and Mississippi (near William Faulkner). In almost every Southern state, some part of my family lived at some point over the past 400 years.

          Still, it’s the Midwestern culture that has shaped me. But I do have some sense of the South and a respect for it. My mother’s Kentuckiana family once was tight-knit and I get the sense that in the past they acted like a clan, often living as neighbors and moving together to new locations. From an old recording, I know my mother had a Southern-like Hoosier accent into her early marriage before finally adopting a Midwestern-style Standard American non-accent accent. Even the culture of southern Indiana is very much Southern, including a gun culture. There is as high rate of gun ownership in Iowa, for example, but without the gun culture and without the high rates of gun violence. Iowans, opposite of South Carolina and Kentuckiana, don’t drive around with gun racks because in moderate Midwestern culture one doesn’t show off one’s guns, in the way one keeps religion private. It’s a clear contrast.

          The clannishness is definitely more of a Southern thing. For some reason, this isn’t seen as much among Midwesterners who are more often of northern European stock. I’ve noted the difference in previous posts. For Southerners, my sense is there is less trust of outsiders as compared to the Midwest, even within one’s own community, although my experience is primarily with the urban South. The defining feature of trust is family ties and church membership. In the Midwest, the larger community is the basis of the social fabric and even complete strangers are included once they move into a town. But even after 20 years in the same SC neighborhood, there were certain social circles among neighbors where my family was never fully accepted. My family hadn’t been born there and even decades of living in the same neighborhood couldn’t undo that. Also, the Civil War era grudge against Yankees is still alive and well among many Southerners. I never heard the term ‘Yankee’ until I was called one when my family moved to SC, not that I ever experienced any overt antagonism.

          I get what you’re saying. “Southerners are naturally outgoing, gregarious and do not believe respect and trust are to be earned, but freely given on the basis of the fact that you are a fellow human being.” There is that. Yet there is that difference. When we moved to South Carolina, many of the neighbors were friendly in a general sense, but it didn’t take long to realize that this wasn’t the same as Midwestern friendliness. I must admit, though, that I received far different treatment than did my parents, probably because I was still fairly young and so adopted into the neighborhood social group. The neighbors accepted me in the way they never did with my parents who only were able to connect with people through work and the church they belonged to. In fact, my dad had a closer sense of belonging in his South Carolina church than he does now here in the church he belongs to in Iowa. Church means something different in the South, even though church attendance rates are about the same across the two regions.

          Part of it is a class divide of the sort and to the extent that doesn’t exist in the Midwest. My family comes from working class and, even as we had become upper middle class, to a Southern worldview we still acted like working class. One neighbor was a genuine Southern Belle who descended from aristocracy and another family was trying to gain respectability by moving up in the world. The neighbor kids went to private schools, as did all wealthier white kids, whereas my brother and I went to public schools. We also worked at fast food jobs in high school, which only blacks and poor whites did in South Carolina. Also, unlike the neighbors, we did our own yard work instead of hiring poor blacks. Everything we did was normal by Midwestern standards but low class by South Carolinian standards, at least for the upper classes. Even wealthy people in Iowa tend to do their own yard work, partly because poverty-driven cheap labor doesn’t exist here to the same extent, but it’s also simply the social norm. It would’ve been different if we had lived in a working class neighborhood in SC, as I had working class friends and saw how different were their neighborhoods, but that is the thing — such class differences between neighborhoods would be less pronounced in Iowa.

          I’m talking generalities here, of course. Not all people and places are the same across either of these regions. I can tell you class divide is very clearly seen in the suburb of Chicago where I spent my early childhood, but the factory town in Ohio where I was born (and have returned to over the years) is more typically Midwestern where different classes live close together. My father was a factory manager and yet, in that Ohio town, we lived in the same neighborhood as the workers at that factory. In this kind of Midwestern culture, the extremes of conspicuous consumption is avoided and so there are fewer outward signs of socioeconomic status. Even in places in the South where wealth and poverty are closer together, it tends to be at a higher level of inequality. Kentucky has a bit of Midwestern feel to it, but many aspects of it are definitely Southern. I always recall those back roads where a giant mansion would be next to a shack, as would have been common in the past because the poor laborers would’ve lived near a plantation-style house where they worked, often tobacco farming back in the 1800s. A similar thing was seen in Columbia, SC where on one side of a road was a housing project and on the other side one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, with an invisible line between them. I’ve never seen any such thing like that in Iowa, Indiana, or Ohio, and especially not in the far Upper Midwest of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

          In the South, there is immense solidarity within particular groups. So, other people in your same race, class, church, and family will treat you with greater openness and inclusiveness. But socializing across social divides is less common in the South than in the Midwest. Even though I went to school and socialized with black kids, there was an unwritten rule in South Carolina that the two races lived separately and went to church separately (I rarely saw any of my black friends outside of school). In general, I’d say lower class Southerners are far more friendly than the upper class. My best friend in high school was working class, a fairly typical ‘redneck’. His family was super nice and welcoming. I even went to some of their family reunions. It was a totally different experience from the upper middle class neighborhood. I can give you an example about the latter. In the Midwest, there is a common practice of inviting people over for coffee or whatever, and such an invitation is literal. But when neighbors in my parents’ wealthier neighborhood invited them over for coffee, they kept making excuses for not actually meeting and my mom finally realized that the invitation was merely a formal pleasantry, a courteousness and not a genuine friendliness. Southern charm, when translated through class status, did not always have the same informal friendliness of Midwestern communities.

          Emotion is expressed differently according to regions. I came across this in some research that was quite telling. In one study, subject would be repeatedly antagonized by a stranger. Northerners immediately expressed their irritation in mild ways (e.g., politely asking them to stop), but after multiple times started ignoring the person. Southerners, on the other hand, initially ignored or pretended to ignore the annoyances until they often would suddenly explode in anger. The study had to be ended because the researchers feared violence might result. So, the Northerner might not always act as overtly friendly as the Southerner, but neither will the Northerner likely bottle up their irritation until they blow up. This is even more true with the moderate culture of the Midwest, Extreme emotions are less tolerated. Think of the famous painting “American Gothic”, the artist being Grant Wood who lived near here. That stoic lack of emotion, albeit a caricature, does capture some essence of large swaths of the Midwest. Unsurprisingly, a lack of expressiveness is a common complaint about northern Europeans, a lack of expressiveness to the point of what some might consider emotional repression. Friendliness is much more subtle in the Midwest, often demonstrated more through general behavior and ways of relating that a Southerner might not notice or recognize.

          Yet, as I said, there are many differences within regions. You are talking about the rural South, which I do have some experience of. In some ways, my mother’s family is more like rural Southerners. There is immense inequality in Southern cities, but it is far less in rural areas where most of the wealthy moved away long ago. Maybe the inequality in the rural South is more similar to that of the Midwest, even if the poverty is far worse in the rural South. Still, something about the two regions is different. The family of my high school best friend was friendly, as I said, and indeed they weren’t many generations from rural life. But the point is that they were treating me more like family, whereas in the Midwest family is not the standard model for understanding relationships. I also spent some time among rural North Carolinians, including someone I dated and her family. They were nice people in general, but I was definitely an outsider to them. Her father was nice enough to me, once he made clear that I would not be marrying his daughter, which was fine by me as I wasn’t planning on it. Unlike my best friend’s family, my girlfriend’s family had not adopted me into the clan, although they eventually might have if I stuck around long enough. And I met many friendly people in Kentucky, although that might’ve been aided because we were doing genealogical research and paying respect to one’s ancestors is taken seriously in the South.

          So, it’s not that people can’t be friendly in a variety of ways in any part of the country. We are speaking in broad generalities here. Nonetheless, there is a vast difference between the Southern honor culture and the Northern culture of trust. That isn’t to say that Southerners lack trust and Northerners lack honor, but rather how they define them. More Southerners would likely see social trust in terms of social respect (extended family, church, etc is very important in honor cultures), whereas more Northerners would likely see social respect in terms of social trust (broader community, not family or church, is the defining feature of cultures of trust). So, it would be a matter of emphasis, so it seems to me. It goes along with Midwesterners, especially in rural areas, having high rates of church attendance and gun ownership while not having overt religiosity and gun culture — it’s not what they emphasize and it’s not how they identify. [As a contrast, Japan seems to balance culture of trust and culture of family in a way not seen in Western countries. The two kinds of cultures aren’t inherently opposed and any given society will show elements of both to varying degrees, but the Western tendency seems to be to prioritize one or the other.]

          As a last point, let me respond about Bageant’s view of Southern barter culture, a view I find convincing. You write that, “It’s nothing to do with a “barter economy” and everything to do with the idea that “it is better to give than to receive.” Native southerners are exceptionally generous and charitable, but actually may have an existential meltdown if they’re forced into a position of requiring charitable services themselves. Anna wasn’t expecting something in return for her three dollars or expecting a “debt” to be called in merely for being driven to the mall.” I’m not sure that there is an absolute division between what you say and what Bageant wrote. There is shame in being “forced” into charitable services for Southerners, not so much for Northerners, not even rural Midwesterners. Charity is seen as an integral and necessary part of Midwestern communities, something that ties individuals together rather than an indicator of status (honor or shame). But my grandfather who came from Kentuckiana stock definitely felt shame about this in a more Southern fashion. And he very much kept an accounting of what he owed others and what others owed him, while he could also be one of the most generous people in the world. Much of the Midwest had larger scale farming right from the beginning when it was settled and so there never was as much of a barter economy, in the way that Bageant described in West Virginia. The Midwest has long been very capitalistic.

          By the way, Bageant was born and raised in that rural Southern community and was living there as an adult when he wrote about it. The Anna he speaks of is someone he might have known his entire life. He was speaking from very personal experience, even if it differs from your own. It’s highly likely that Bageant’s rural West Virginia is not exactly the same as rural areas elsewhere in the South. So far north, West Virginia would have a slightly different flavor. I know that the cultures of South Carolina and North Carolina is not entirely alike, despite their being neighboring states. I have a fondness for the Upper South that I never had while living in South Carolina. Even the landscape of the Upper Midwest is closer to the lush green of the Midwest. When I’m in the Upper South, I sometimes can easily imagine I’m in the Midwest (mainly the black barns — for tobacco drying — of the Upper South give it away, as barns in the Midwest are red or white), but there is no mistaking it when I’m in the Deep South. This is true in terms of racial divides as well. The Deep South still has large rural populations of blacks. That is not the same as the Upper South where rural blacks mostly left willingly or were driven out, ending up in big cities mostly in the North. I’m sure that divergent history has had an impact on culture in the Deep vs Upper South. So, yeah, many differences exist.

          Both the Upper South and Lower Midwest bleed into each other. Kentuckiana, in particular, is a meeting point of the two regions. The same is true of Ohio as Appalachia extends up that far. I was born a county away from Appalachia and yet that small factory town in Ohio also has almost a New England feel about it. Ohio is a meeting of not only North and South but also East Coast and Midwest. If you really want to sense the differences, you’d have to look at the Deep South and the Upper Midwest, compare Mississippi to Minnesota, both rural farm states but worlds apart.

          • I’m talking generalities here, of course.

            More like degrees. But I’m tired of hearing about everything that supposedly divides us. Both academia and the mainstream media (not to mention most of the rest of us) evidently can talk about nothing else, which tells me the “managerial classes” have succeeded in their mission to Divide and Conquer. The common ground is nonetheless still there among the people of this country.

            The root of the problem can be found in the materialist myth that says there’s no meaning to life. It reduces everything to an economic function, including human beings and the natural world. Everything that does provide meaning is stripped out, rejected, or ridiculed. We’re left with cynicism masquerading as scepticism, and rationalism masking nihilism….

            We can’t solve the many crises we face if we come at them from the wrong place – i.e. ego….

            Most importantly of all: don’t take anything of this personally and remember that not everything is shit! There are lots of wonderful things going on all the time and people are supportive and generous and kind despite everything, despite the system – because that’s the way humanity is. Imagine how great it would be if we could live the way we know we can. — Mystic Warrior Practice – Mind War

          • I understand being tired of that. But I don’t see differences as being inevitably about divides. And I don’t know it is necessarily about the managerial classes or whatever. It’s mainly, as I see it, about high inequality that creates a sense of conflict. It’s unnatural. Even the rich are stressed out and feeling reactionary.

            Beyond all of that, I simply find differences as fascinating. The kind of community Bageant described, for the most part, never existed in states like Iowa. I don’t know how much it is an overall Southern thing or mostly Upper South, but it definitely seems like a particular strain of Southern culture. There are more traces of feudalism in the South, whereas a state like Iowa was fully capitalistic from the start.

            It’s neither good nor bad, just interesting. I really don’t know what to make of it. But I love looking at those kinds of traces from the past and seeing how they so often extend into living memory. The changes of modernity are so recent. Even the gun culture seems like a remnant of premodern society, as it was during the 1800s that Western countries like England began outlawing the carrying of weapons. In the US, Southern gun culture had much to do with slave patrols and slavery was a re-envisioning of feudalism

            As far as the Midwest goes, it is the place that feels like home to me. Still, I can be critical of many aspects of it. I have some posts here about this. Consider the hidden kind of racism in the Midwest, from sundown towns to racial disparities in drug arrests.

            Also, the Midwest, as part of the Quaker culture of colonial Pennsylvania, promotes assimilation and I find the loss of cultural diversity sad. In emphasizing the broader community over family and religion, this creates a certain kind of conformity that is common in cultures of trust. In place of the extended family that shapes so much of Southern culture, Quakers also gave us the nuclear family and a certain kind of modern individualism (they were the first to have houses with separate rooms for each family member).

            Yet the Midwest wouldn’t be what it is without all of this. It’s a defining feature. It is what is. Emphasizing we are all the same is part of what bothers me. I don’t think we are all the same. Culture is profoundly powerful. That is why I spend so much time studying regional cultures, anthropology, linguistic relativity, philology, Jaynesian studies, etc. This diversity demonstrates and proves the immense potential and possibility within human nature, that we aren’t all inevitably set a particular way. Yet we are all human with the same basic genetics.

          • But I don’t see differences as being inevitably about divides.

            Neither do I. In fact, I often enjoy our celebrations of them — international/intercultural festivals, Highland Games, pow-wows and the like.

            And I don’t know it is necessarily about the managerial classes or whatever.

            Think “wego.” That’s how I translate that popular term.

            Emphasizing we are all the same is part of what bothers me. I don’t think we are all the same.

            Neither do I and, obviously, neither does Jessica. As Monbiot noted in his “Out of the Wreckage” talk, however, even the science is confirming again and again that we’re just not like the prevailing myth defines us. Big difference there.

            Anyway. Lovely to speak with you again. Carry on.

          • I’ve been heavily informed by Buddhism, such as the Buddhist notion of bundled self/mind. And I think I’ve previously come across the term ‘wego’. There are many great insights to be gained from that tradition.

            But in many ways, I feel more resonance with a shamanic view of worlds within worlds, of a world alive with beings and voices. I throw in some Presocratics influence as well. This is something I’ve been contemplating lately on solitary and meditative early morning walks.

          • I feel more resonance with a shamanic view of worlds within worlds

            Some people have very rigid ideas about what “worlds” means. Consider how some of us talk: “First World.” “Third World.” “Worlds within worlds.” (Of course, that’s not even close to what “worlds” means in Shamanism.)

            Funny story, but I was once “let down gently” with the excuse, “We’re from different worlds, you and I.”

            I honestly almost burst out laughing. How sturm and drang, etc. Thankfully, I didn’t burst out laughing, though. I simply reminded this person, “Last I checked, we were living on the same planet.”

            Hopefully, his prejudices didn’t get the better of him the next time he presumed who someone was.

          • When I speak of ‘worlds’, I’m not using it in the way most people would.

            Sure, culture is involved. Isolated hunter-gatherers, archaic bicameral societies, etc do live in different worlds in so many sense of that word.

            Even culture, in a superficial sense, can’t quite caputure the significance of how alien and mutually incomprehensible societies can be. And there is so much beyond culture.

            Worlds within worlds, to the shamanic view, is a world animistically alive with voices and beings. Saying we are all human and those other creatures are not human is misleading or limiting.

            We are shaped by the interrelationships we are enmeshed in. This includes other species and the totality of the place we inhabit. I find myself resistant to the universalizing impulse, even in its well intentioned forms.

            Agricultural societies have decimated the cultural and ecological diversity. It’s hard for us to imagine the worlds that once existed.

            I’ve long sensed how our obsession with individuality goes hand in hand with authoritarianism and groupthink, conformity and uniformity. All that is different, if not outright destroyed, is isolated or made impotent.

            My tendency toward seeing differences can go to extremes at times. I sometimes sense that individual people represent different worlds, that an ‘individual’ is nothing more than a nexus of forces, a portal into another world.

            I’m not sure if you’ve ever had that experience. It goes with my INFP personality type, of peering into the soul of another. I intuit the immensity that exists within them. But that’s not quite right. It’s not merely what is within them but what extends beyond them, what possesses them.

            It’s somewhat of a Jungian view. That is on my mind at the moment because of reading Peter Kingsley’s Catafalque.

          • Yes. I know you’re not using “worlds within worlds” the way ‘first worlders’ and ‘third worlders’ and, therefore, other ‘worlds (can only exist) within (my) worlders’ do.

            I find myself resistant to the universalizing impulse, even in its well intentioned forms.

            It’s that problematic prefix, “uni-,” in my case. I find the cosmological impulse far more appealing even than the ecological one myself, but people have different ideas about what those prefixes mean as well. The paradox of “the One in the Many and the Many in the One” is not, however, a strictly mathematical concept. (Not much room for Sophia in that case.) I try to bear that in mind.

            “We are a way for the universe to know itself.” ~ Carl Sagan

            “We are in the universe and the universe is in us.” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

            How different that sounds when “Cosmos” is used in place of “universe.” Words are so often inadequate to express precisely what we mean, though. I try to bear that in mind as well.

            “The ‘kingdom of Heaven’ is within and among you.” ~ Jesus

            Not all that much difference between the “views” of Carl, Neil and Jesus, really.

          • There is a commonality to the views of Carl, Neil, and Jesus. They are all post-Axial. In the Bronze Age or even as late as Homeric times (and still seen among many traditional hunter-gatherers), there is no mention of a totalizing and all-encompassing kosmos. But such a concept began emerging with the Presocratics and was more fully embraced by the following generations. The monotheistic religions and Western civlization then pushed this to its fullest extreme. The ego mind and unitive world has entirely replaced the bundled mind and animistic world. James Hillman descrubes this in A Terrible Love of War:

            “The fact is clear: Western wars are backed by the Christian God, and we cannot dodge his draft because we are all Christians, regardless of the faith you profess, the church you attend, or whether you declare yourself utterly atheistic. You may be Jew or Muslim, pay tribute to your god in Santeria fashion, join with other Wiccas, but wherever you are in the Western world you are psychologically Christian, indelibly marked with the sign of the cross in your mind and in the corpuscles of your habits. Christianism is all about us, in the words we speak, the curses we utter, the repressions we fortify, the numbing we seek, and the residues of religious murders in our history. The murdered Jews, the murdered Catholics, the murdered Protestants, the murdered Mormons, heretics, deviationists, freethinkers… Once you feel your own personal soul to be distinct from the world out there, and that consciousness and conscience are lodged in that soul (and not in the world out there) and that even the impersonal selfish gene is individualized in your person, you are, psychologically, Christian.

            “Once your first response to a dream, a bit of news, an idea divides immediately into the moral “good” or “bad,” psychologically you are Christian. Once you feel sin in connection with your flesh and its impulses, again you are Christian. When a hunch comes true, a slipup is taken as an omen, and you trust in dreams, only to shake off these inklings as “superstition,” you are Christian because that religion bans nondoctrinal forms of communication with the invisibles, excepting Jesus. When you turn from books and learning and instead to your inner feelings to find simple answers to complexities, you are Christian, for the Kingdom of God and the voice of His true Word, lies within. If your psychology uses names like ambivalence, weak ego, splitting, breakdown, ill-defined borders for conditions of the soul, fearing them as negative disorders, you are Christian, for these terms harbor insistence upon a unified, empowered, central authority. Once you consider the apparently aimless facts of history to be going somewhere, evolving somehow, and that hope is a virtue and not a delusion, you are Christian. You are Christian too when holding the notion that resurrection of light rather than irremediable tragedy or just bad luck lie in the tunnel of human misfortune. And you are especially an American Christian when idealizing a clean slate of childlike innocence as close to godliness. We cannot escape two thousand years of history, because we are each history incarnated, each one of us thrown up on the Western shores of here and now by violent waves of long ago.

            “We may not admit the grip of Christianity on our psyche, but what else is collective unconsciousness but the ingrained emotional patterns and unthought thoughts that fill us with the prejudices we prefer to conceive as choices? We are Christian through and through. St. Thomas sits in our distinctions, St. Francis governs our acts of goodness, and thousands of Protestant missionaries from every sect you can name join together to give us the innate assurance that we are superior to all others and can help them see the light.”

          • Yet, as Hillman points out, I’ve been born a Christian into a Christian world. It is what I’ve inherited through and through. I do not deny that. As I’ve often mentioned, I grew up at the exteme end of Christian idealism. And I don’t have bad feelings about this on a personal level. My childhood religion actually was a happy experience. But that is all the more reason I’m wary of it, as my sense of relaity has changed (expanded?) and become divergent. Still, I maintain much bias toward and sympathy for the view you ascribe to. It has seeped into my every pore. I honestly don’t know what to make of it. I just have a sense that it is but one of many possible worlds. The kosmos is merely a worldview, not actually the whole world, so it seems to me.

          • I wasn’t speaking of any specific view, other than the broad sense of cosmos you spoke of. I was simply referring to your view not being my view, in my tending toward the anti-kosmic, shamanistic, animistic, polytheistic, etc. It’s a basic distinction that can’t really be argued based on facts and logic. There is no way of proving one view right and the other wrong. They are just two different views. I don’t know what else to say about it.

            This distinction also differentiates between Gebser and Jung. Both were great thinkers with worthy insights. But ultimately they were working with opposing ideological frameworks (ideology in the Althusserian sense of worldview). It goes along somewhat with the contrast between the hedgehog and the fox, the engineer and the bricoleur. To see the world as a singular kosmos or a singular path of development is what I was referring to as the universalizing impulse. It’s looking for the commonalities.

            I must admit that I feel pushed and pulled between the two attitudes. I’ve only come to my present views after a lifetime of struggle. And I still carry much of my former views. They really aren’t entirely former. Rather, my views have built on top of them, in a not always systematic fashion. Maybe my disagreeing with the kosmic interpretation is a personal quirk or even failure. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I used to be strongly attracted to that worldview, as it was how I was raised. I can’t say that my present position is necessarily better. It’s just what I’ve come to.

          • I often feel like I’m somehow antagonizing you. I make statements that seem simple and straightforward to me, what I think of as being entirely inoffensive or even an attempt to seek a middle ground or else express humility. But your responses sometimes indicate that isn’t how they’ve been received.

            When I spoke of your view, I thought you had already made that clear in your own words in discussing cosmos. Was I wrong? I must admit your question confuses me. It makes me feel like I’m supposed to be on the defense, as if I’ve made an unfair accusation against you. I apologize if came across as critical or dismissive.

          • About my last comment, I wrote it because I honestly don’t want to irritate you. But I’ve found that I do have a talent for rubbing some people the wrong way. That would be unfortunate since I enjoy our discussions.

            I didn’t mean anything by speaking of a view that you ascribe to. I was simply referring back to the view that you spoke about. I was seeking to engage you, as this is something that has been on my mind for a long long time.

            At different points of my life, I’ve ascribed to both views. And even now, I feel a bit split about the issue. So, in some ways, I’m arguing with myself.

            It’s just, since you were speaking on behalf of one of the views, my natural response was to speak on behalf of the other. As such, my stated view may have come across stronger than intended.

            It wasn’t intended as a polarized debate. There is plenty of nuance in both views, but it does go back to an old split in thought, these two tendencies.

          • No problem. In fact, it seems to me my comments must have “irritated” you in some way, but the fact is there is a lot of material here to digest, both yours and quoted authors.

            I wasn’t sure which view you had in mind, but as it happens I don’t ascribe to any of them. We were conversing about “impulses” and “cosmoses” and it somehow morphed into “views” and the Kosmos philosophy and ideological frameworks, etc. Not unwelcomely, I might add. That’s a lot of territory you’re covering there in a very short time and, of course, far from the topic of your post. My bad for straying from it. (I do have a tendency to wander.)

            I may have something to say — especially about Hillman’s…take — once fully digested, but one thing that popped out at me was your description of Gebser’s insights as ideological. They’ve never once struck me as ideological. Gebser’s work strikes me as studies, contemplation of or meditation upon “artifacts” of human “consciousness structures” — astute observations, in my mind as opposed to anything ideological. I get the impression, although I could be completely off-base, that was the basis of his description of his friend, Carl Jung’s, insights as “psychistic,” which I take to mean something in the vein of over-mentation — over-thinking– as opposed to altogether inspired, if that makes sense.

            Probably doesn’t. Words are so often inadequate.

          • My view is a bit odd. I realize this. I’m not saying kosmos is wrong, as I’m not saying any particular worldview is right. That is the point. Maybe more than anything, I’m a Fortean. The world is strange, stranger than can be imagined or placed in any human concept. I also understand that other views seem absolutely real to other people and I have nothing to challenge their sense of reality nor do I necessarily want to challenge it. As for kosmos specifically, I’m rather fond of itas an idea, but I’m not sure what to make of it in terms of experience. The world I do expereince doesn’t so easily fit into such beautiful dreams. But maybe I’m just a bit crazy and so my own visions of the world a bit deranged. I won’t claim to be representative of humanity, much less of all of reality. The positive to my worldview is that it’s quite humbling.

          • By the way, there is a reason I quoted from Bageant. He is quite relevant to the point I was making here.

            He was the first person I came across who pointed out that largely cashless communities persisted in the US and were functioning in a healthy way within living memory. It demonstrates that even within the seeming dominance of capitalism other systems can exist. That keeps open a space for radical imagination.

            I also simply enjoy him as a writer. He can be highly amusing. And I consider him one of the best writers on Southern culture. He doesn’t romanticize it. He equally shows the good and bad. Even as a left-winger, he points out some of the positives to the conservatism he grew up with. I appreciate his balanced approach.

          • Here is another thought. The managerial class loves conflict as distraction and spectacle but only if it is conflict that can be managed and orchestrated.

            That means it must remain superficial differences within a general sameness. Genuine human difference and diversity they cannot tolerate and allow.

            That is why indigenous cultures had to be either wiped out entirely, forced into assimilation to lose their uniqueness, or somehow managed into impotence and dysfunction as in imporverished and isolated reservations.

  3. I’ll leave my comment here, instead of with the growing thread. It’s getting too long. It wasn’t so much irritation, at least on my part. It was just your question came across as odd to my mind. Communication online requires context and, taken in isolation as it was written, I had no idea what was the context of your question. There was no further clarification of what you were asking about. So, maybe I misread it, which would be unsurprising, a common outcome online.

    You say you don’t ‘ascribe’ to any of the views, but from my perspective it sure sounded like you were more on one side than the other, whatever that means in terms of what you ‘ascribe’ to. I’m thinking of when you said that, “I find the cosmological impulse far more appealing even than the ecological one myself”. To my mind, a view is a rather general thing, not necessarily different than an impulse, and ideology in the Althuserian sense simply means a worldview. I guess we don’t even use the most basic words in the same way, apparently not even the word ‘ascribe’, and so miscommunication was inevitable.

    You go on to say that, “one thing that popped out at me was your description of Gebser’s insights as ideological. They’ve never once struck me as ideological.” Well, see above definition of ‘ideology’. Everything, to my ascribed view, is an ideological worldview. We never escape worldviews, we never avoid ascribing to some view(s) or another, even when we hold them lightly as impulses, so I’d argue. In saying this, I’m offering a view influenced by Robert Anton Wilson’s view of reality tunnels. That is my strong impulse-view toward the anti-universalistic.

    Gebser had a clear unified worldview. And he did take a more universalistic approach, as with his seeing consciousness structures as an inherent unfolding and becoming, a truth for all of humanity more in line with the perennial tradition. Jung, on the other hand, offered absolutely no overarching model of this variety. His individuation was to a large degree the challenging of such explanatory models, a loosening of the mind’s hold. Jung didn’t see any single truth for all people, no single path. His view was that of multiplicity, of entering the disorienting depths.

    I’ll end with this last bit: “I get the impression, although I could be completely off-base, that was the basis of his description of his friend, Carl Jung’s, insights as “psychistic,” which I take to mean something in the vein of over-mentation — over-thinking– as opposed to altogether inspired, if that makes sense.” His whole motivation was to seek something other was to go beyond over-thinking. If you’re interested, read Peter Kingsley’s two-volume text Catafalque. Gebser and Jung would’ve agreed on some things, but diverged greatly on others, specifically Gebser more toward the universalistic and Jung away from it, so it seems to me.

    Then again, it’s possible we are trying to say basically the same thing but filtered through entirely different backgrounds of ideas, words, and influences. I’ve been reading Jung for decades, whereas I only seriously looked into Gebser this past year. If all the details are removed, were Gebser and Jung making points that were all that different? I don’t know. Maybe it was a personality difference, as Gebser was very much a systematizer and Jung was not. Jung wrote many things, but it never became a single coherent theory in the way that Gebser came to. As Kingsley points out, Jung was always using other things to talk around what he was really meaning. Gebser’s meanings seem more straightforward to me, not to imply they aren’t immensely challenging.

    I’m not sure what it is. Something seems fundamentally different about their thinking styles and maybe about their very sense of identity and reality. If you don’t like the word ‘views’ or the ‘ascribing’ to them, there is some underlying impulses that pull in different, if not necessarily opposing, directions.

    • Anyway, I apologize for the misunderstanding. It did turn out to be frustrating, even if only mildly so. The most basic words apparently had very different meanings to the two of us.

      I had a similar experience with someone who kept arguing they had sympathy with psychopaths and that the psycopaths win if we lose our sense of sympathy. Well, I can have empathy, including understanding and compassion, toward psychopaths.

      But I differentiate empathy from sympathy. I’m not going to send sympathy cards to the psycopathic ruling elite. This other person, though, it seems did not make such a differentiation. So, what seemed like a disagreement was simply a matter of word choice and idiosyncratic definitions.

      I think this is the problem living in such a large society. The number of English speakers in the world is probably in the billions. They live in entirely different cultures with very different ways of speaking. In that we aren’t living in small cozy tribes, we can’t assume that we are talking the same language even when technically we are talking the same language.

      To go back to the earlier topic, even by regions within a single country, meanings can be vastly different at times. Consider how differently friendliness is perceived in the Deep South and the Upper Midwest. Or consider the study that showed silence would mean a Northerner is not irritated but might mean a Southerner is extremely irritated. Miscommunications sometimes can be annoying while at other times tragic.

    • [Jung’s] whole motivation was to seek something other was to go beyond over-thinking.

      Over-thinking was the wrong way to put it on my part. Mentalistic would have been a better word to describe the impression I get of how they differed. Perhaps Gebser felt Jung didn’t share his sense of embodiment.

      To prior comments: I can see where you might have thought that I was speaking “on behalf” of something. The term, Cosmos, just happens to come laden with all of the ideological baggage of which you speak in modernity. It means something very different to me. I’d have a hard time explaining it, however. So, I’ll just leave it at that.

      I feel more resonance with a shamanic view of worlds within worlds, of a world alive with beings and voices.

      I guess I’ll never understand why “Cosmos” can’t carry much the same connotation. Perhaps it immediately invokes the physical sciences (not to mention that “split” you mentioned, and I’ll get to that in a moment) in most people’s minds? I take it that’s also why “ecological” has become the new buzzword in spiritual circles and some biologists insist that theirs is now King Science. Most religions and philosophies come complete with complex cosmologies as well, however.

      There is plenty of nuance in both views, but it does go back to an old split in thought, these two tendencies.

      I’d say it goes back to an old split between “modes of perception” that persists to this very day as evidenced in the anti-theist vs. theist and science vs. religion debates, not to mention concerns about the Arts. It seems to me, though, there is something yet deeper that doesn’t get much ink. Gebser termed it “aperspectival awareness.”* Hindus refer to it as “the third eye.” And this, I think, is why Buddhists suggest we find “the space between our thoughts.” (Visualization helps.)

      *(I don’t recall Gebser ever using the term, “aperspectival consciousness” as some in the integral community do, though he may have and my memory is just faulty. He used the phrases “aperspectival awareness” and “integral consciousness,” suggesting that awareness is already integral.)

      There is a commonality to the views of Carl, Neil, and Jesus.

      Perhaps “views” was the wrong word for me to use, also, quotation marks or no.

      • By his own accounting, Jung was an intuitive. This relates to a point that Kingsley makes. Jung was some combination of a mystic and shaman, not so much a theoretician. He had the tendency to look beyond the superficial, whether personas or systems. This meant he got bored with anything or anyone that didn’t express some deeper meaning and greater significance.

        Intuitives aren’t drawn to embodiment, as that relates to a different psychological function. Jung was solely and entirely focused on the soul, the divine, the sacred. To some people, that might seem like someone lost in abstraction. But to Jung, it was the underlying reality behind all things. By training and inclination, his attention was on the individual, although not what most mean by it.

        He warns against individualism, pointing to an individuation that is actually the death of the self. Jungians often talk about the danger of becoming identified with archetypes, but Jung thought the most dangerous archetype was that of humanity, the anthropos. Consciousness is a rather small and fragile achievement. At essence, we have remained fundamentally unchanged over the past millennia. Progress has largely been an illusion or only at surface level.

        I’ll let Kingsley explain it, from Catafalque:

        “The question of what Jung’s work was has been answered in a hundred different ways—and,in the most fundamental sense, never been answered at all.

        “At least it can seem safe to say that, underneath the endless shifting of trends and fashions and interpretations, there is one unquestionably stable point of certainty. This is the fact that he had an unflinching commitment to the individual: was selflessly dedicated to unlocking the secret inside each of us and helping everyone towards the goal of self-fulfillment.

        “After all, first and foremost he was a healer; a medical expert bent on treating people’s problems and curing them of their personal suffering; a therapist of the human psyche, a carer for the individual’s soul.

        “And this line of thinking is just fine, so long as you avoid looking too closely at what he meant by the word “individual”—because then you will suddenly find yourself staring straight into a bottomless hole.

        “As for Jung the sensitive, intuitive healer: the stories told by people who visited him, only met him once or twice, stayed to be treated b him, are almost as extraordinary as fairy tales. With his magical insight he saw straight into their core; recognized them as an individual person in a way they had never felt recognized before.

        “And certainly that’s one side of the coin. But there is the other side, too—which is that Jung couldn’t have been less interested in what we think of as the individual.

        “It was only the impersonal realm beyond every personal undertone or overtone, the objective behind the subjective, that held his attention. those around him were perfectly aware of the fact. His wife, always his strongest supporter and defender, could hardly have been blunter in her observation that he showed o interest in people at all “unless they exhibited archetypes”: unless they allowed something larger than the human, something numinous, to show through.

        “And Jung’s own language was just as plain. The people who came into his life only concerned him if they had something from the world of the sacred to convey to him, tell him, show him. “The moment I’d seen through them, the magic was gone.” It was the daimonic power inside him, he explains, that ruthlessly and impersonally decided who would hold any interest for him—and for how long. He had little conscious power or choice in the matter; was forced by something far greater to keep constantly moving, hurting himself as well as others, destroying friendships, creating bitterness and resentment, leaving acquaintances far behind.

        “To be sure, on a certain level the reality of the individual was always absolutely central for him. His whole view of life, especially as he got older, circled around the question of how individuals can find the inner courage to take a stand against “the spiritual and moral darkness” of governments which have grown far too powerful and seem destined to become even more intrusive in future.

        “But the trouble is that what Jung meant by warning against this moral and spiritual darkness, what he was pointing to in trying to shake people out of becoming just submissive and servile servants of the state, is something much more radical than most sensitive modern individualists might expect.

        “Constantly he kept trying to warn about the living presence everywhere of forces that are working all the time to trick us into staying asleep. Even when writing his most rarefied essays about alchemy he couldn’t resist ending with a loud cry warning about Lucifer, the diabolical seducer, “the father of lies whose voice in our time, supported by press and radio, revels in orgies of propaganda and leads untold millions to ruin”—and is also perfectly capable of brainwashing us into believing we are individuals just because we think we can decide what color to car to buy, which television channel to watch, which spiritual practice to select for the coming week.

        “The fact is that, for Jung, nothing was more destructive of the individual than the collective western cult of the individual. And to be a true individual by becoming aware of the archetypal forces that, from moment to moment, are shaping even our most intimate and seductive thoughts: this is the coldest, loneliest thing for anyone to do.

        “The real trouble here, perhaps the most crucial problem of all in approaching Jung, already begins from the time when he was making his way into and out of the underworld while starting work on the Red book.

        “On a superficial reading anyone could mistake this book of his for a celebration, even a gospel, of the individual: encouraging people to find their own truth and just live it regardless of anything or anyone else. It’s only when one begins to read a little deeper that the underlying message starts making its way out—that the path towards becoming a true individual involves suffering and being tortured to a degree which is unimaginable, being ground down into nothing, having any and every illusion of every being a genuine individual stripped away.

        “And it was out of Jung’s almost ritualistic work in producing the Red book that the most essential aspect of his whole psychology, what he called the process of individuation, dramatically evolved.

        “But as for what he meant by this process of individuation: that’s a fascination story in itself.

        “Just the same as with the workings of alchemy, it’s the most natural process in the world—although nothing could be rarer. It demands a certain consciousness, but our usual consciousness only gets in the way and blocks it; interferes.

        “”Also, it has nothing at all to do with becoming some kind of individualist. as Jung himself tried to explain: “Individuation is not that you become an ego—you would then become an individualist. You know, an individualist is a man who did not succeed in individuating; he is a philosophically distilled egotist. Individuation is becoming that thing which is not the ego, and that is very strange. Therefore nobody underserands what the self is, because the self is just the thing which you are not, which is not the ego … something exceedingly impersonal, exceedingly objective.”

        “And please note that it’s not I who am saying nobody understands this: it’s Jung himself. And he is quite right, because in the process he is describing there is no one left to understand.

        “As for what he says here about the extreme objectivity and impersonality of the state involved, this is exceedingly important. It’s a theme he sometimes weaves into and out of. But nowhere else doe s he mention it with as much power, or elegant simplicity, as during the course of a short talk he specifically dictated for his memoirs when he was already in his eighties—and that ended up being silently excluded form his published biography.

        “He describes the lonely, and solitary, process of individuation as this: as the inner process of dying “before surrendering oneself to the impersonal”. His reference here is to the ancient mystical theme of dying before you die; to the mysterious process of being forced at some stage to withdraw from society, then being taken down into the underworld only to end up stripped of everything before being reborn, which in the history of western culture is associated especially with figures such as Empedocles or Parmenides. And this is why he would explain his particular kind of psychological training, the Jungian style of analysis, as a process of dying.

        “But that’s not all he has to say here.

        “On the contrary: he also presents individuation as a secrete that has to remaing a total mystery because, in approaching it, even the slightest possibility of human comprehension comes to a very abrupt and sudden end. By its very nature, the whole subject is such a secret that it’s something non one will ever be able to grasp or understand. And he explains, in detail, how the mystery of individuation is the mystery of the Grail.

        “This, significantly enough, is the very same text I already mentioned earlier—the same talk where Jung speaks out about how centrally, how crucially, important for him the archetype of the knight happens to be because it’s only by adhering ot the unwritten laws of chivalry that the Grail can ever be won. the secret of individuation is that the one and only way to discover the Grail is by being it. It will forever remain undiscovered, and undiscoverable, except by simply becoming it.

        “And here is where he is able not just to state, as he so often does elsewhere, that the individuation is always only for the very few. This is where, thanks to the ancient imagery and mythology of the Grail legend which he also shows he considers his own, he is able to explain why. The quest demands everything. People can have as many romantic dreams as many collective fantasies, as they want. the reality, though, is that the ordeal is far too hard. Almost no one can endure it. And those who think they are equipped to make sense of it or communicated it to others—they are the most unequipped of all.”

        “This, as it were, is the quintessential myth behind Jung’s psychology: the myth of individuation.

        “But, needless to say, we are left with a very different picture nowadays.

        “Instead of individuation as a sacred mystery intended only for the unflinching eyes of the few, we are confronted with individuation democratized—thrown into the public sphere, open and free for all.

        “And of course this would be just wonderful, if anybody had the remotest idea what’s really involved.

        “The most vocal of Jungians are quick to insist it was Jung himself who claimed that the fully individuated state is everybody’s birthright: that, at least in theory, it ought to be capable of paving the way for a truly evolved humanity through “a Christification of many”.

        What they mysteriously agree to leave out, stay quite silent about, is how he would go straight on to add that there is not a hope in hell of this ever happening with humans the way they are. If most people were to get even the faintest taste of this Christification, the slightest whiff of this truly individuated state, they’d explode with uncontainable hubris and inflation; and then the world would end up worse than it already is.”

      • About cosmos, here is my understanding. I find it hard to separate ‘cosmos’ from its etymological origins and historical usage. It has a very specific background in Greek thought. It meant a unifying and universalistic, singular and orderly world. It didn’t have any connotations of the shamanistic vision of multiple worlds that exist on their own with no greater world that contains them all.

        In the shamanic view, a ‘world’ is a sphere of direct experience of a particular place, people, species, or spirit. For example, each Aboriginal songline is its own separate world presided over by a specific mind-being. To enter that world is to fully become that world, such that Aborigines would experience personality changes when singing that world into existence.

        Each world is a totality unto itself. There is no greater world that contains them all, no cosmos… nor a monotheistic God of all Creation. Just many worlds with many gods. No world containing any other, although the worlds might overlap in various ways. It is emphasizing multiplicity, rather than unity. And not multiplicity as the many in one, just the many.

        Well, I’m not all that familiar with Gebser. And it’s not that Jung never used the word ‘cosmos’. But my sense is that the two have different tendencies, impulses, or personalities… whatever that difference might be.

        There is some interesting historical background. In the 1800s, two famous brothers were Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt, the two representing the split between the hard and soft sciences that later would erupt as the science wars (because of the challenge of postmodernism, social constructionism, etc). Alexander was known for his scientific writings on nature as an orderly world and to this he applied the Greek word kosmos, but in the English translation of his book this became cosmos. Wilhelm was a linguist and possibly the first to propose linguistic relativity in arguing each language was a separate cultural world or worldview.

        So, one brother wrote about the World and the other about worlds. The latter tradition of cultural study and linguistic relativity came to influence philologists and anthropologists. Jung was also influenced by this tradition of thought and this is why some accuse him of sympathies for fascism, as he thought cultures expressed fundamentally different experiences of reality, but not only that for it is built on what we inherit from the collective unconscious.

        That is why Jung saw his role as a Westerner as being distinct. It was his culture that was so troubled, so in need of guidance and vision. He didn’t see it as his place to speak to non-Westerners nor did he think that immersing himself in other cultures could necessarily tell him about Western culture. Indeed, fascists did abuse this way of seeing the world by turning it into ethno-nationalism, but it’s unfair to blame Jung for the sins of fascists.

        The fascists were so powerful because they were speaking to a fundamental truth, no matter how much they distorted it. We are only beginning to appreciate such a truth with linguistic relativity advancing this past century. The research has come to show the power of language as a cultural force in shaping our sense of identity and reality, sometimes even determining out thought process and behavior, the choices we see and don’t see. This is why language via songs could be so powerful for the Aborigines in invoking god-worlds.

        Cosmos as an orderly world, either in the ancient Greek sense or the modern scientific sense, is different than the shamanistic or cultural vision of a multiplicity of worlds. That is what I was trying to explain in my other comments, but obviously was failing to convey.

        Consider the ancient Greeks that were seeking what was universal, specifically during the classical age and Hellenism. It was an impulse to see what was common, often see the gods from separate traditions as the same god, including some Hellenized Jews who spoke of a Zeus-Yahweh. This is quite different from indigenous tribal animism where a specific people, culture, and place are identified as being independent of all else, and to these people that is the center of the world and they are the first people, at least the first people in that particular world.

        The Piraha, for example, do not speculate about a cosmos that contains all people and places, as they don’t speak in abstract generalizations. The world they know is from their direct experience and they make no claims on the worlds of others. It’s simply their world and it’s good for Piraha, as the worlds of others are good for others. It’s partly a difference of their lack of a historical consciousness, since theirs is a living world based on living experience and living memory. They don’t speak of anything outside of this.

        Cosmos was the invention of the Axial Age. The Piraha didn’t experience the Axial Age and, because of the power of linguistic relativity, their culture has maintained its ontological coherence and integrity against most attempts of cultural influence, such as missionaries seeking to convert them. As the cosmos would make no sense to them, a monotheistic God ruling over the cosmos with his historical son Jesus makes even less sense. The Piraha know of no cosmos. Neither probably did pre-Axial humans, especially not in the early Bronze Age and before it.

        The ‘cosmos’ is a specific idea. It isn’t reality itself. But we now live in a cultural worldview where nearly all mainstream views vying for dominance of the modern mind are variations on the theme of a ‘cosmos’. The shamanistic vision long ago lost out in the war of ideas and views or whatever other word you’d prefer to describe it. But the shamanistic vision of multiplicity lingers on in certain alternative voices and among intellectuals largely unknown to the general public.

        You may personally be seeking an amalgamation of the shamanistic and cosmic visions/worldviews. And I think that is perfectly fine. I might even be drawn to such an amalgamation, depending on what it might mean in lived experience and within the social order. But the sad fact is that few others are seeking such an amalgamation or would have a clue of what you are talking about. Indeed, ‘cosmos’ has become tainted with a very particular take.

        • I find it hard to separate ‘cosmos’ from its etymological origins and historical usage. It has a very specific background in Greek thought. It meant a unifying and universalistic, singular and orderly world.

          How do we know it didn’t mean something akin to Bohm’s “implicate order”?

          For the first time in my entire life, I’m beginning to question the efficacy of language.

          • Well, pretty much by definition Bohm’s “implicate order” can’t be spoken or discussed and would be incomprehensible to the human mind. Even the words “implicate order” would not be the implicate order. Words, instead, are part of the explicate order and it can never be otherwise. So, even if the implicate order existed, which we can’t prove, all that one could do is talk nonsense in trying to put it into words.

            But if you feel/intuit/grok those words are a finger pointing to the moon, then no one can argue against you either. And if it comforts you, you could think of yourself as a crazy mystic or mystical fool, as Jung sometimes did. I’m not sure I personally have an opinion about the implicate order. I will admit that, based on the cultural and ideological biases of my religious upbringing and societal inheritance, I do find it an attractive notion.

            I just find myself as wary and cautious toward my own “preferences” as that of others. I’m in a questioning mood lately. Actually, I’ve long been a radical skeptic, sometimes called a zetetic. For reasons I can’t explain, I feel a compulsion to question and doubt and sometimes criticize, but always driven by an insatiable curiosity. I’m never satisfied by any single belief, idea, theory, view, preference, or whatever. This is my own idiosyncracy and no one else has any reason to accept it. But it does explain why the shamanistic view attracts me.

            That probably isn’t helpful in furthering mutual understanding. It’s one of these situations where a particular view makes sense to you or not. There is a daimoinic force within me that I’m helpless to deny and it sends me off into the unknown. As I often repeat, the closest to a strong conclusion I can come to on such matters is that the world is strange, stranger than we can imagine. The shamanistic attitude is simply useful means with no need to claim ultimate truth for all beings, places, and times.

            I find it satisfying on a purely non-rational level.

          • An implicate order is an attractive notion. I agree it cannot be explicated. It can be sensed? I sometimes sense its presence, but without understanding.The school of Pythagoras was pursing this notion, I think.

          • That seems like a fair assessment. I am sympathetic to the kinds of ideas, experiences and visions indicated by the words “implicate order”. I guess I’d go back to useful means. I care not if the “implicate order” represents reality. Rather, is it helpful for opening one up to reality.

          • I agree it cannot be explicated.

            I have to wonder if it possibly would be fully explicated in all its forms and all those forms could truly flourish if only we and our puny little egos got out of its way.

          • But the preference for “music sans lyrics and poetry to prose” would seem to indicate what, in Jaynesian terms, could be described as a nostalgic longing for the bicameral.

            Or it could be just a sincere appreciation for the inspiration and exaltation experienced in the subjective realm in the face of a predominately objectifying and incessantly projecting civilization without the blaring interference of the human ego getting in the way whatsoever. (INFPs are like that. Yes, they are.)

            Thanks for the rambling discussion. It’s nice to be able to just converse with people without anyone insisting, “You must walk-talk-think-act-be like this” (<– Sheesh.)

          • Yes, it is a sincere appreciation. But what kind of sincere appreciation? And motivated by what, in response to what, expressing what? Music is one of the earliest developments in human culture with evidence of the first musical instruments having been constructed long before civilization. That is why the appreciation is sincere. And that is also why music is so often associated with longing, religion, and authoritarianism. It goes back to our most primal impulses, to the heart of what it means to be human, and so it is a powerful force.

            My only additional suggestion is that, prior to egoic consciousness, there was a lack of longing, religion, and authoritarianism (or at least as we experience these with the modern mind). Music to archaic humanity wouldn’t have been occasional entertainment and escape or even uplift and inspiration. Instead, it might have been a part of everyday experience, such as how early northern Europeans would greet each other with poems. Musicality, in a general sense, would have been a constant presence. As there was no separate thing known as ‘religion’ until the Axial Age, maybe there also was no separate thing known as ‘music’.

            That said, what you expressed also resonates with me and I’m not sure we are exactly disagreeing. You wrote about the, “predominately objectifying and incessantly projecting civilization without the blaring interference of the human ego getting in the way whatsoever.” That seems to be a good description of Jaynesian consciousnessness: egoic, introspective, and incessantly narratizing. That could be taken as the same point I was making but stated in different words. What I’m trying to express is what is behind that sense of things, that response to present conditions. How is it that this kind of civilization and ego has come into being?

            That is what would have differentiated bicameral humans and still differentiates some still existing indigenous people. For them, there is no civilization and ego to get in the way and so no longing for something else. When the Piraha dance, they simply do so because they enjoy it. They have no religion or even ritual involved. It’s a natural expression of their humanity and so, without the extremes of self-consciousness, sincere appreciation might seem meaningless to them. Sincerity, as John Beebe argues, is what exists when a society has lost integrity (integrated wholeness). Sincerity, as with longing, is central to Jaynesian consciousness. Here is a comment in response to Scott Preston:


            “To put it in the context of your writings, maybe Beebean integrity has to do with the Gebserian mythological, something that can’t fully be understood by the modern rational mind. Once the mythological falls under the rational gaze, it loses its integrity as a lived mindset, worldview, and social reality. This is why, as Frankfurt concludes, sincerity is bullshit. That is to say, sincerity is a mere shadow of integrity — indicating something lost while obscuring that loss. So, we become obsessed with decay and purity.”

            I’ve previously argued that, “maybe sincerity and insincerity is not a standard framework for the oral cultures of indigenous tribes.” That is what is meant by the conclusion that, sincerity is bullshit. Sincerity contains within it both the longing for and lack of integrity, and hence it gives voice to a sense of anxiety, of things not being quite right, a disconnect. This is the pulse of Jaynesian consciousness. For Beebe’s perspective, here is some quoted material from his book on the topic:

            Integrity in Depth
            by John Beebe
            p. 31

            “Until it is in danger of being compromised, we scarcely recognize integrity as a fact of our nature. A proper starting point for the discovery of integrity, then, is the experience of anxiety. We are contemplating a course of action, have gone so far as to invest in a certain way of proceeding, and find a strange, nagging unease somewhere at the core of our will. Upon the most meticulous self-examination, we conclude that the course we have embarked upon is not founded, after all, on the motive we had supposed. We stop to examine the real motive. However unattractive the ground we uncover through this inquiry, finding the truth brings relief. Only then do we feel secure in figuring out what we must do.

            “Jung called this process facing and integrating the shadow. It has become such an everyday part of decision making in many of our lives that I have chosen to describe it in the first person plural, as “our” common experience.”

            p. 37

            “We tend to take an already functioning integrity for granted, ignoring that it is anxiety for a threatened integrity that fuels the process of psychotherapy in the first place. Not recognizing this central concern of the patient mystifies the basis of healing when it works and makes it less easy to repair when it doesn’t. Particularly, we tend to gloss over the compromises of integrity in the way the therapy itself is approached, seeing them as temporary resistances that will disappear on their own or as character pathology that cannot change, rather than as indications of what is asking to be healed.

            “The philosophies of the East do not make this mistake, which is perhaps why so many people turn to them to educate the spirit that must accompany the soul into psychotherapy. The Confucian school of philosophy, for instance, calls the essential attitude of desire for integrity sincerity, and there are texts in this tradition which emphasize that we can best recognize sincerity by its trait of persistent anxiety.”

            p. 67

            “Our psychological age is just beginning to create an image of moral process that has a similar wholeness. We are still in the process of learning that integrity is achieved by an openness to the impure on the one hand and a participation in the pure on the other and that we cannot afford to leave out either pole. We have told ourselves that earlier periods had far less tolerance for shadow than we do and that we are therefore morally more mature. It may be nearer the mark to say that our forebears had less anxiety than we do in accepting a standard by which what is pure and what is impure might be judged. If anything, our moral process is not as close to consciousness as theirs. Our moral sense seems best to express itself nowadays in symptoms like shame and anxiety, and psychotherapy has been right to realize that we need to befriend these symptoms of integrity with the attention and respect that is their due.”

          • Rambling discussion is my style. That is what my entire blog is dedicated to.

            After all our discussion, I realized that maybe all I was trying to express was what Meister Eckhart called Gelasssenheit and John Keats described as negative capability.

            It’s maybe more of an imaginal approach along the lines of James Hillman and Patrick Harpur, a respect for and sense of wonder toward the vast depths beyond the glaring light of consciousness.

          • In case you’re interested, here is some previous writings on music and language in relation to bicameral and post-bicameral humanity (see links at post for further info):


            “This probably also relates to learning of music, art, and math — one might add that learning music later improves the ability to learn math. These are basically other kinds of languages, especially the former in terms of musical languages (along with whistle and hum languages) that might indicate language having originated in music, not to mention the close relationship music has to dance, movement, and behavior and close relationship of music to group identity. The archaic authorization of command voices in the bicameral mind quite likely came in the form of music and one could imagine the kinds of synchronized collective activities that could have dominated life and work in bicameral societies. There is something powerful about language that we tend to overlook and take for granted. Also, since language is so embedded in culture, monolinguals never see outside of the cultural reality tunnel they exist within. This could bring us to wonder about the role played post-bicameral society by syncretic languages like English.”

          • That probably isn’t helpful in furthering mutual understanding. It’s one of these situations where a particular view makes sense to you or not.

            I don’t think we’ve been conversing about a personal disparity between “views.” The Cosmos and the Earth, the mind and the heart, are correspondent and interdependent and no apologies are necessary for any misunderstandings. (Perhaps it’s true that men and women simply think differently.)

            To clarify, this new emphasis on eco-everything indicates a welcome and long overdue corrective to the “Western worldview” and Earth needs our advocacy more than ever, but my personal impression is that it is fast-becoming over-emphasizing and exclusive, and I’ve never been much for lopsided mandalas.

            [The mandala] originally meant to represent wholeness and a model for the organizational structure of life itself, a cosmic diagram that shows the relation to the infinite and the world that extends beyond and within minds and bodies.

            “Post-postmodernists” downplay or outright attack anything that smacks of “cosmos,” immediately reaching for the “K” definition. In fact, though, those same people also speak of “constellations” of consciousness, values, persons and groups, and if “constellation” isn’t a “cosmic” word, I’m sure don’t know what is. Fortunately for people (especially women) like myself, not all of us consider “cosmos” a wordy-dird and do understand it in the inclusive spiritual sense intended.

            “We respond to a deeply interdependent and responsive universe through shared experiences. This means that despite signs of postmodern fragmentation and the rise of radical individualism, we cannot carve out shared destinies in isolation. We are born not only into a wondrous and mysterious life space but also into communities of interpersonal reliance. These communities of care and crisis lend meaning and congruence to our lives and help to shape our collective stories. These stories and learned practices disclose the pitfalls and potential for human fulfillment, but more importantly, they describe a cosmos that is interwoven with mystery.”

            Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable

            Good speaking with you. I’ll take those reading recommendations under consideration.

          • I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with language. Starting in childhood, I had a learning disability that was specific to language, partly involving word recall but also having caused delayed reading. Later on, I discovered a love of books at the exact same moment, 7th grade, that I realize how much I despised formal education. Ever since then, I’ve read voraciously and yet have continued to feel of two minds about language.

            My studies of Terence McKenna, William S. Burroughs, Daniel Dennet, Susan Blackmore, Edward Sapir, Benjamin Whorf, Julian Jayne, Lewis Hyde, etc has made made me realize how tricksy is language. But it has also made me realize that there is also no escape from language, as we are linguistic creatures in the way we too are social creatures. Even modern non-lyrical music would not exist without the linguistic culture that made it possible. From the perspective of Robert Anton Wilson, we never escape some reality tunnel or another, although the wisest among us learns how to more easily shift between them.

            But the preference for “music sans lyrics and poetry to prose” would seem to indicate what, in Jaynesian terms, could be described as a nostalgic longing for the bicameral. We all, to varying degrees and in various ways, express such longings for it is the recognition that something is missing, the archaic authorization of non-intellectual and likely synaesthetic ‘voice’-hearing — that is to say an entirely other kind of ‘hearing’ that once was fully immersive and compelling. The frustrations of Jaynesian consciousness gets to all of us and so longing is built into the egoic mind. For many people, the only reliable connection to that other mentality, if only as a brief glimpse, is through music (lyrical or instrumental).

            By the way, that reminds me of Pascal Quignard’s book “Hatred of Music”. Quignard spent most of his life dedicated to music, as a musician and an organizer of musical events, but something in him changed later in life and he came to a severe mistrust of music, similar to my mistrust of language. In both cases, it has to do with what Jaynes refers to as authorization in its relationship to authoritarianism (brutal tyrants only appeared in the ending of the bicameral mind). Language and music, one could argue, are the two main forms of social control in post-bicameral civilization. This makes perfect sense from a Jaynesian view, of how the power of poetry and music once had over the archaic mind and of how this was transformed and distorted by Jaynesian consciousness.

            I bring that up merely as a curious tangent. It fascinates me. And I’ve long been meaning to write a post about it. But I honestly don’t know what to make of it. Modern civilization has created such a convoluted mess of the mind, not that I think we should return to early bicameral societies. It just seems like most of us moderns are utterly blind and clueless about what we are up against. Even recognizing this state of affairs doesn’t necessarily help all that much. One simply becomes ever slightly aware of one’s ignorance and delusions, which generally makes one even more filled with anxiety, dread, and paranoia. That is why I try to hold all views lightly and with a playful attitude or else an experimental approach.

            I do find it amusing. This is where my shamanistic tendencies come in. Reality (or rather realities) is not a thing to be known but an immensity of worlds to be explored to no end. We probably should avoid neither language nor music, as that won’t likely save us, although many monks remove both from their personal experience and, interestingly, the Piraha have no tradition of either music or storytelling. It does make one wonder. I once spent about a year or so not reading at all, but in my state of depression at the time it wasn’t a great experiment.

          • Well, I don’t think my own ‘view’ comes from being a male or a ‘post-modernist’. My personality profile, as an INFP, is more on the effeminate side. I’ve never been an overly masculine type — I’m a momma’s boy who was raised in touchy-feely New Agey religion. And I can’t say I’ve read much post-modernism, other than a smattering here and there.

            Partly, what your hearing in my comments here is not so much a response to you as a response to my younger self and the worldview I was raised in. That is why I feel resistant to ‘cosmos’ and ‘kosmos’. It is a slight antagonism that comes from lifelong familiarity. As I said, I’m really debating and interrogating myself here, trying to suss out something that feels important in my experience.

      • By the way, there is an interesting connection I came across between the von Humboldt brothers and Jung. It’s not only that Wilhelm was the first to speak of worldviews and this way of thinking was inherited by Jung. The other brother, Alexander, had a more personal impact. He had helped, as I recall, get Jung’s grandfather appointed to a position at a Swiss university and this was known by the family. So, Jung was probably familiar with both brothers, as they would’ve been well known thinkers in northwestern Europe along with much influence elsewhere as well.

        Wilhelm was a philologist, but influential in many other ways. He founded the Humboldt University of Berlin and was the architect of the Prussian system of education that came to be used in the US and Japan. His more interesting influence was on cultural comparison. As a philologist and ethnolinguist, he studied not only other living cultures but also ancient languages. That is what led to shaping the thought of Jung, Sapir, Whorf, and many others, such as later thinkers like Dodds and Jaynes. That is where my main interest picks up.

        Homeric and bicameral man lived in a very different cultural and ideological worldview, an entirely alien experience of reality. They didn’t have a word for cosmos, in the way they didn’t have a sense of the body as a singular whole. Every part of their experience of self and world was perceived as multiplicity. Many thinkers noted this odd way of speaking or rather writing. In the Homeric epics, the whole body is only ever described in death, whereas the living are only shown in parts with actions determined by various body-mind parts (thumos, psyche, nous, etc) and sometimes with gods determining action or not, such as a goddess holding back the sword hand from striking.

        The mind in the archaic world was distributed and not neatly contained. It wasn’t quite the extended self of animistic tribes, but neither was it the tightly embodied individualism of post-axial humanity either. Cosmos was later on overlaid upon that primal experience. Thinking of the world as a single, orderly cosmos didn’t occur to them, in the way that the body too was meshing of forces and voices, gods and spirits. This is even more extreme with many indigenous people where they might not even maintain a single name and identity throughout life and so there is even less coherent wholeness of individuality.

        What if this earlier way of being is more natural to the human species? What if why the modern mind seems so dissociated and splintered is because a superficial egoic consciousness has been forced upon the complexity through an over-simplifying narrative of hyper-individualism? What if both humans and the world could be better understood as a messy and mysterious multitude. Maybe there is no one true God that rules nor one true Cosmos that contains all else. What if the world creatively proliferates as we explore it, always many steps ahead of our comprehension? This could be thought of as a multiverse, but I’m not even sure that captures the bizarre reality of the infinity of possible worlds.

        That is why I like the approach of Robert Anton Wilson and Charles Fort or, when I’m in a really crazy mood, Jacques Vallee and John Keel. It’s all a strange place(s), stranger than we can imagine. It is an immensity of separate worlds unseen that overlap and collide, filled with beings mutually blind to and ignorant of one another. Our entire sense of reality is but a speck of dust in a whirlwind amidst space-time weather patterns that stretch endlessly. Think of this as an amusing thought experiment. Speaking of a ‘cosmos’ might tell us very little besides a comforting myth of an orderly world that, if we only could understand it, we might be able to predict and control, might be able to make it safe. If we even merely glimpsed what is beyond our insular human world, our tiny dark corner of reality, maybe we’d go insane like a character in one of Lovecraft’s stories.

        • You may personally be seeking an amalgamation of the shamanistic and cosmic visions/worldviews.

          Fortunately, I don’t have to, and don’t think of them as different “worldviews,” but more expressions of the “marriage” of the Sacred Masculine and Sacred Feminine, or Hieros Gamos, as it is known in the West.

          Jordan Peterson, imho, is not entirely off-base when he ascribes the Sacred Masculine and Sacred Feminine to more or less ubiquitous notions of Male and Female, respectively, imho. Where he goes astray is in assigning them to Order and Chaos as well as biologically to human beings, which I personally understand results from the equally ubiquitous influence of the totalizing, objectivizing, techno-logical and scientistic civilizational structure, established during the Renaissance, in which we live and for which Gebser — thankfully! — coined a term: “the mental-rational consciousness structure.”

          Nevertheless, that “almagamation” is woven into the “universal history” of ‘Mankind, even in the West. It’s stronger strains in the West of course include the Shamanistic, not to mention the thread of Celtic Christianity, which just so happens to resonate strongly among the very peoples who are the topic of your post.

          In fact, I’ve long wondered why small-c “conservatives” and small-l “liberals” (at least those who don’t attach themselves to the coattails of the big-C and small-L crowds) in the US overwhelmingly share a palpable love and concern for the natural world, but seemingly nothing else. Thanks to our conversation, I think I may have struck upon a possible answer to that question.

          You’ll notice a very strong affinity between the peoples of Ireland, Scotland and Wales and the indigenous population of the US. Most chalk it up to the idea that these peoples share a “tribal” history. I’m not so sure that it isn’t because Celtic Christianity — just one thread in the overall tapestry, of course — never lost it’s grounding with its “roots in the Earth” whereas Western Christianity in general has somewhat fallen prey to a “Paternalistic” influence.

          If you’ve read any of Rosenstock-Huessy’s work, you might imagine why I gather it was that “Paternalistic” influence he was most concerned about and with: the “crux” of space and time as opposed to Gebser’s “law of the Earth.”

          If I could get these three (Jung, Rosenstock and Gebser) into a room together, I would have a field day asking questions of them.

          Oh, wait. I can…in a way.

          I’m honestly not sure why you think Gebser’s meditations are “systemizing,” assimilating, totalizing, or whatever. When I say they never once struck me as “ideological,” I mean just that: they’re prior to ideologizing in a way, which is why I take a good deal of conumbrance at the fact that so many are apparently attempting to turn his meditations into a religion.

          I’m a great admirer of Jung’s work as opposed to Freud’s, by the way. I am also an “INFP” with borderline “INFJ” tendencies, I might add. (And I do mean, borderline.)

          If most people were to get even the faintest taste of this Christification, the slightest whiff of this truly individuated state, they’d explode with uncontainable hubris and inflation; and then the world would end up worse than it already is.”

          Hasn’t that already happened?

          I’d say probably, but not necessarily, the reason being that such configurations as Jesus, Mansur al Hhallaj, Siddhartha Gautama, et alia — ad infinitum, world without end — obviously didn’t. And I’d say the reason was they understood the difference between “i” and “I”.

          “I” am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. ~ John 14:6

          Too bad so many worship Jesus rather than the “I” he was referring to.

          • I maybe get the general sense of where you’re coming from. It seems familiar to other ‘views’ I’ve come across over the decades. And I can’t exactly say I disagree nor that someone like Jung would disagree. I’m not entirely sure what is the source of the misgivings I’ve felt here in this discussion. I’m sorry about that. In the past, my own mind often followed along the lines of thoughts you are pointing to here. I can’t help but still to find it compelling in so many ways. That was much of what Jung was about as well, in his seeking the archetypal patterns. I have no particular good reason to criticize the main thrust in your comment here about Hieros Gamos.

            It’s maybe more of a difference of emphasis. To me, there are genuinely different worldviews, none of which can claim absolute truth and reality. Yet every single one of them makes absolute sense while one is contained within them as a reality tunnel. I feel reluctant to assent to a common experience even of something so basic as the feminine and masculine and their marriage. Yet there are elements of commonalities, no doubt. My doubts make me tread cautiously, taking each step with great care, as one would do when walking in a place that is dark and unfamiliar.

            Some traditional cultures have numerous genders. I don’t know that the Hieros Gamos is universal to humanity, even if it is a common theme to the Western societies that survived the Bronze Age collapse and some other non-Western societies. What is equally, if not more, interesting is that other societies show no evidence whatsoever of this. The patterns do exist across many societies. Yet other patterns entirely different are found in still other societies. I’m not sure there is a single pattern that has ever been found in all societies. Consider Noam Chomsky claiming that recursion was a human universal built into the brain and that has since proven false.

            I’m more in the tribal camp. Certain European cultures and certain Native American cultures share common traits because they have common ancestry. I wouldn’t discount the power of memes to carry over millennia. In the study of languages and stories, sometimes they can trace how the changes happened incrementally as they passed along. Still, some commonalities are extremely impressive and not always so easily explained. Astrological symbolism often has key similarities and it does make one wonder. Why do humans, in staring at the sky, feel inspired in ways that resonate across such vast distances? Or why do people have such common experiences on DMT or in fairy abductions, alien encounters, and shamanic initiations?


            So, as with language and so much else, I find myself of two minds on the matter. But I’m unwilling to fully commit to either camp. I guess that is why I choose the ‘view’ of multiple worldviews. I don’t wish to speak about which view is more right, true, and real. I just see many views and that is all I can say. Where differences exist interests me as much as similarities, although sometimes I lean more in one direction or another. At the moment, I’m feeling reluctant toward ceding too much territory toward those making claims upon a common humanity, even as I’m generally a defender of a common humanity. It’s about balance or something.

            About the argument going on in my head at the moment, my inner William Irwin Thompson is speaking. As a bricoleur, he was strongly supportive of a non-systematic approach. That is why I’m mildly, albeit very mildly, uncertain toward Gebser in his view that what he describes was inherent to humanity from the beginning and simply waiting for its unfolding. I’ve ascribed to that view in the past, but I’ve found myself moving away from it over time. To put some other context to this, I should point out that Thompson sided with Gebser over Wilber:


          • Some traditional cultures have numerous genders.

            It’s not about biological gender. That’s the mistake JP makes. The concept has been handed down to us in The Myth of the Androgyne among other such “esoteric” texts, e.g. the Kama Sutra.

            Like it or no, it’s indelibly imprinted in the human psyche, though references to “Yahweh’s wife,”Asherah, has been stripped from the religious texts of the West. Gee. I wonder why?

          • That is what I meant by other cultures that have multiple genders. It’s not that they have more biological genders than us but that they perceive and categorize gender differently. It’s similar to how some languages have far more pronouns than English and this effects how people experience the world, relationships, and identity.

            But I agree with your point about the ancient myths of Middle Eastern religions. Still, it would be interesting to compare that to other kinds of cultures, such as the tribe where every man who has sex with a woman while she is pregnant is considered the father of the child. What kind of gender myths would that lead to? Would it be a hieros gamos of one goddess and many gods?

          • How is it that this kind of civilization and ego has come into being?

            Among Gebser’s finest and most pertinent meditations, imho. He traced it back to the invention of perspectivism in Renaissance Art and Science. Not a bad thing in and of itself. Humanity must mature in order to come into its own, after all. However, “it’s by putting it up on the throne all by itself that we’ve caused it to do the opposite of what it ought to be doing. We’ve turned it into unreason.” [End of Rationalism]

            Blake, et alia, could relate quite easily to that concept, I’m sure. “Urizen,” indeed.

            If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic Character,
            the Philosophic and Experimental would soon be at the Ratio of all things;
            and stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again.

            How apropos to our present circumstances: “turning donuts in the parking lot.” : )

            I, for one, don’t think of this in terms of good and evil or any other such diametrically opposed terms. I think of it as a detour from which Western Civilization is, perhaps, beginning to recover as evidenced by the plethora of interfaith and interdisciplinary dialogues taking place today. (No one else need to.) Whether or not it does, of course, remains an open question.

            That is why I’m mildly, albeit very mildly, uncertain toward Gebser in his view that what he describes was inherent to humanity from the beginning and simply waiting for its unfolding.

            I don’t recall him ever saying it was “inherent to humanity from the beginning and simply waiting for its unfolding.”

          • As you know, I’m more in the school of thought of Ong, Havelock, Dodds, and Jaynes. The kind of self we have appears to have its origins in the ancient world, long before the Renaissance. But no doubt there was a ‘dark age’ out of which the Renaissance was a secondary blooming of the axial age.

            I do recall reading the views of Gebser where, to my mind, it seems he was speaking about an inherent unfolding. But I’m not going to argue about it. And I won’t claim to have Gebser entirely figured out. Still, I sense a difference that makes a difference, not that I want to try to persuade anyone about this.

            Ignoring Gebser, my point is about radical imagination, more in the sense of James Hillman’s Jungian-inspired imagination, Patrick Harpur’s daimonic imaginal, and John Keel’s Fortean other. The world consists of co-creative forces. Universalizing generalizations about world and humanity need not apply.

          • I know what you mean. I’m not about to argue with people about such things, either. (Or much of anything else, for that matter. Argue-mentation gets us nowhere fast.) Gebser was concerned with (large) civilizational structures such as ours and the different kinds of perception and modalities that undergirded them, which no doubt accounts for the sense of difference that makes a difference and why I think of ours more like a detour than part and parcel of an organic “unfolding.” It was human beings that decided to put Urizen on the throne, after all.

            The world consists of co-creative forces.

            That reminded me of a post Adam Frank made on FB when a hurricane was heading our way: “The Earth channels cosmic forces, people. Mess with it not!” : )

          • I sometimes wonder if the direction of history is almost arbitrary. Tiny shifts in conditions reverberate out, like the butterfly that causes the hurricane.

            There isn’t necessarily any meaning or order to it all. It’s pure complexity and chaos, but not necessarily in a bad way, just simply beyond our ken.

            Our speculations about the world are like throwing a pebble down Mel’s hole in the hope of hearing it hit the bottom to determine it’s depth.

          • I’m sorry that I come across as nitpicky. It has nothing to do with you or with what ‘cosmos’ means to you. I’m in the middle of an experimental phase of my life, a mid-life non-crisis coming out of decades of chronic depression. It’s more involved that I want to get into here, but it has to do with experiments in diet, meditation, language, etc. I’m attempting to shift my sense of identity, my way of being and relating. This includes a change in how I think about the world. So, I’m testing out a different worldview, kicking the tires and seeing how they ride. ‘Cosmos’ is part of an old mindset for me and so I’m trying to set it aside, at least for the moment. In general, I’m trying to hold worldviews lightly and sense their edges.

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