Beyond Individualism

The Psychology of Transformation

by Dane Rudhyar


4. From Biology to Culture

Because of the intensive specialization characterizing our present-day type of knowledge, psychology on the one hand, and anthropology and archaeology on the other, are considered very different fields of study. Nevertheless, it has become quite clear to some psychologists that the character and development of an individual person cannot be fully understood unless they are referred to his social and even geographical environment, and that one should speak of the individual-in-his-environment rather than consider the individual as a 'thing-in-itself'. Thus a field of study is developing, psychosociology, in which the complex interaction between the individual and the collective is a basic factor.

Societies are born, mature, and disintegrate much as individual persons do, and the enormous wealth of material collected and integrated by philosopher-historians like Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee give a seemingly solid foundation to the belief —nevertheless unacceptable to most historians clinging to a purely empirical method—that societies, or what I call culture-wholes, can indeed be considered as organized systems of interrelated and interdependent activities closely associated with particular geographical regions and developing certain characteristic features giving them the character of organisms—if the term 'organism' is used in the broad sense I give to it.

If a society (or culture-whole) can be considered a 'collective personality'—and modern nations certainly display features similar to those characterizing individual persons—the obvious next step is to consider them as units operating, both simultaneously and successively, within a larger whole—mankind. And as mankind functions within a circumscribed environment, the biosphere of the Earth, we have to think of human societies as components of a planetary system of interrelated activities. Sociology, history (as one usually understands this term), and anthropology should therefore be considered parts of an integral study dealing with the global evolution of humanity in relation to the development of the planet Earth.

The difficulty this approach meets is that the data available for such a study are most insufficient and controversial. They are made controversial for two reasons. Modern science accepts only physical evidence as the source of valid data and dismisses archaic traditions and 'myths' as imaginative fairy-tales produced by a child-like mentality projecting its needs, its fears or hopes, and its fantasies upon non-physical realms to which our now mature and rational minds should no longer attribute the character of 'reality'. On the other hand, the factual discoveries of anthropologists and archaeologists are in most instances so fragmentary and leave so many basic questions unanswered that they are susceptible to many interpretations and indeed are often re-evaluated. Geological data are also still quite uncertain, as differences of opinion prevail concerning the character of the forces at work on our planet in very ancient times and the speed at which geological changes—such as the shifting, appearance and disappearance of continents—have occurred.

In spite of all this uncertainty, it seems very important for us, especially today in a period of potentially crucial all-human and perhaps telluric transformation, to develop a broad, holistic, and truly planetary approach to the evolution of mankind. This implies looking at the main widely-disseminated concepts with an open mind.

a. Mythic and Materialistic Approaches

What we might call the traditional-mythological picture of the origin and development of civilization has been scorned by Western intellectuals, but it has recently taken the form which appeals to many people, even among the most educated classes. In its occult aspect, this picture was formulated a century ago H. P. Blavatskv in the second volume (Anthropogenesis) of The Secret Doctrine, and a number of other writers (especially Rudolf Steiner) have developed some aspects of it. It is based on a cosmic view of the entire process of existence, from the very beginning of the universe and of life on this Earth. It implies the activity of spiritual-cosmic forces and entities at the source of the development of mankind—an activity which has never ceased and which in archaic times manifested as the rule of a higher type of human beings (Divine Kings and Teachers of agriculture and the arts) who aided the evolution of the undeveloped masses of humanity.

Today the possibility that in the distant past higher beings from other planets or solar systems were instrumental in bringing to an animal-like humanity the rudiments of civilization has been highly publicized by books and motion pictures. Very ancient, unexplained constructions and various records all over the world have at times been convincingly interpreted as the vestiges of presumably advanced cultures developed by a few powerful extraterrestrial entities in more or less human form to whom a divine character and origin was attributed by the masses. Besides, the shape of the floor of the Atlantic Ocean and of the continents on either side of it no doubt suggests the possibility of the existence of a vast super-continent including much of the Americas, Africa and parts of Europe and having gradually broken into two parts. This division could then be related to the 'myth' of Atlantis, and to the struggle between two ways of life—so called 'white' and 'black' magicians—fighting for supremacy. There may have been a catastrophe near Crete in the Mediterranean during the second millennium B. C., but if so, this cataclysmic volcanic explosion was a much later event. Distant memories often become blended in archaic traditions, because for the archaic mind the meaning of events and the nature of the shock they produce in the collective psyche of the people are far more important than the events themselves objectively considered.

The other main approach to man's evolution may be called Darwinian and materialistic because it takes for granted that no factors other than man's adaptation to his material environment and the effect of the struggle for life operate in the process leading from primitive ape-like men in a condition of so-called 'barbarism' to what we still like to extol as 'civilization'. The nineteenth century idea of straightforward linear progress has lost much of its credibility since our two World Wars and the widespread use of physical and/or mental torture by governments; yet very few academic thinkers, historians, and archaeologists are ready to give up their a priori belief that in the archaic ages only primitive human beings existed on this Earth. Nevertheless, even if we were to assume that there is no remaining physical evidence of far distant civilizations or of dynasties of 'divine' Kings of superhuman or extraterrestrial origin, it is quite easy to see how all records of such beings could have been obliterated, covered by sands and jungles or submerged. If a planet-wide catastrophe would sink most of the now-populated land and leave only some sections of undeveloped regions inhabited by heavily traumatized communities, most of what is left of our modern civilization some hundreds of thousands of years hence could well have been forgotten, or vaguely remembered as the mythical existence of extraordinary beings.

However, the point I wish to make here is not that there actually were such aristocracies of superior beings (of whatever origin), but that the possibility of their existence should not be dismissed a priori, especially as this existence would solve many riddles. Any valid scientific theory should account for all the facts and leave no mystery; and psychological mysteries are as much to be taken into account as physical ones. Moreover, the existence of superior beings on the planet in no way eliminates the slow process of evolution affecting the masses of mankind. It does not invalidate the natural and normal development of human functions from the compulsive, biological, and tribal state to that of the ideal 'Holy City' that would mark the ultimate transphysical condition of human development on this Earth. In any case, the biopsychical activities of human beings remain the foundation upon which the development of 'higher' functions rests; and the process of individualization is still basic as the necessary means to achieve full and objective consciousness; and this process requires the existence of culture-wholes as matrices for the rise of individuals.

If there once were superior quasi-divine beings on Earth as Teachers and Rulers of some (but most likely not all) tribes of men, these superior beings are not to be considered 'individuals' in our sense of the term. We should think of them as 'seed beings' from some other planet or evolutionary scheme. The Bible refers to them in Genesis (Chapter 6) as the Ben Elohim, the Sons of the Creative Gods (Elohim is a plural noun) who "married the daughters of men." The result of the process—whatever it entailed—apparently did not have good results, and a world cataclysm ensued. A new humanity may have developed out of a remnant, but even if this remnant (or 'seed group') was composed of the most perfect human beings the old civilization had produced, these men may not have been the only humans left on the globe. If such a cataclysm did occur, some countries were probably not affected greatly. In these lands, scattered tribes may have been operating at a very primitive and strictly biological level of evolution—many such tribes still existed on our present globe during our Industrial and Technological Revolutions!—and it would have been to these tribes that the 'seed men' taught agriculture and the use of all the functions of the second order.

The difficulty which the modern mind has in accepting such a historical 'model' of mankind's development lies in the prejudice our Western intellectuals have against accepting the possibility of simultaneous existence on our planet of human beings of basically different origins and levels of development. Yet there would be no such difficulty if we could think of mankind as a complex whole—a field of functional activities operating at several levels and within a still larger planetary organism, the Earth. This whole, mankind, develops gradually according to definite patterns. This development—of which what we call 'history' is only a very small part—follows an identifiable rhythm and has a number of successive phases. Each culture-whole is related to one of these phases, and therefore occupies a definite position within the entire evolutionary process. It has a specific function to perform; and the performance may be either adequate or inadequate. It may end in some kind of catastrophe, necessitating a radical readjustment; but it is conceivable that, as an important phase of the evolutionary process ends, the concluding period is to some degree always catastrophic (or let us say, catabolic), destructive operations having become necessary to offset cultural and institutional inertia. This may not be so when the change from one phase of the evolutionary process to the next is not so radical as to completely upset the balance of power of the forces operating in the socio-cultural field. Yet every phase constitutes a small cyclic development having a more or less clear-cut beginning and end, and at every end, some kind of transfer of power and consciousness can be seen involving some type of relatively violent and/or destructive activity.

When we consider the development of a culture-whole—as Arnold Toynbee described such a process, for instance—we find that this development ends with the transfer of power from a disintegrating society to a more primitive, yet intensely dynamic, race or group of tribes; but the old society has also produced some kind of 'spiritual harvest' which becomes incorporated in a universal religion that in time will mold the consciousness and affect the behavior of the conquerors as well as the disintegrated remains of the old society. The individual human beings who are, as it were, the carriers of this spiritual harvest are the 'seed men' of the vanishing culture-whole. In relation to the morally and culturally deteriorated masses of people still representing the dying past but surviving through the chaotic centuries or decades marking the transition from one culture-whole to the next, and even more, perhaps, in relation to the rough and uncultivated 'barbarians' who will form the dominant substance of the new society, these seed men represent a superior type of mind. Thus at such a time of transition, we find different levels of mental activity embodied in human persons of different type and origin coexisting and cooperating.

This is historically evident during the period of breakdown of the Roman Empire and while the Medieval European culture-whole was emerging out of the ruins and the chaos of the 'Dark Ages'. A similar process, but at a far deeper and more cosmic level, has been mythologically described in the Sacred Scriptures and the traditional poetry of nearly all peoples of the world in terms of the existence upon the Earth of 'divine' beings who revealed to a very primitive humanity the foundations of culture—that is, they aroused in men the ability to act, become related, and think in terms of functions of the second order. The existence of such beings should present no problem to minds able to think in terms of principles of cyclic and cosmic evolution, provided—I repeat—they understand that these beings are not to be considered as 'individuals' in our present sense of the term. Whatever their origin was, they must have represented fields of activity operating at a level similar to what I have called the fourth order of functions. They must have been 'cosmic' minds.

What this means should be clear if we accept at least the possibility that human evolution operates according to a 'dialectical' rhythm—thesis, antithesis and synthesis—to which I have already referred. The most important point to consider in terms of such a sequence is that the synthesis of a cycle is at least partially synchronous with and intervenes in the development of the thesis of the next cycle. For the human beings who operated during the thesis phase of the evolutionary cycle of mankind, the 'seed men' who belonged to the synthesis phase of another related (not necessarily immediately preceding) planetary evolution appear 'divine', but this simply means that they belong to a higher order of being. This higher order is just as 'existential' as that at which human beings operate; it refers to a kind of existence which not only is more encompassing in time and space, but superior in the quality, complexity, and speed of its activities and its responses to cosmic relationship.(1)

This 'superiority' of what religions have called a divine state of power, consciousness, and love-compassion is relative. It has a hierarchical, not an absolute, character; and the term 'hierarchical' here does not refer to a series of graded steps like the rungs of a ladder. If it is used with reference to the system of command in the Army stretching from private to commander-inchief, it should only be in the sense that the mind of a commander-in-chief is supposedly aware of, comprehends, and sustains the entire scheme of Army operations, while a private can operate only in his very small and to him usually meaningless field of activity and responsibility. A cosmic hierarchy refers to a series of wholes, each of which actually contains all the component lesser forms of existence, while at the same time, it is only a part of a still larger whole.

It is often said that a whole is more than the sum total of its parts; and one thinks of this plus factor as being produced by the interactions and interrelatedness of the parts of the whole. But one usually fails to understand that this plus factor is also the result of the whole itself being a part of a greater whole whose quality of existence, power, and consciousness pervades the lesser whole, whether or not the latter realizes this to be a fact. When it realizes this fact, it becomes increasingly possible for the greater whole to focus its attention and energy upon the lesser whole constituting one of its component parts. As this occurs, the lesser whole begins to intuitively feel that it has a function to perform within the vaster field of activity that contains it.

This is what I have elsewhere called the principle of holarchy. It refers to the 'vertical' relationship between greater and lesser wholes; it is vertical in the sense that the two related wholes operate at different levels of activity. On the other hand, a 'horizontal' relationship exists between wholes which, being at the same level, interact at that level and generate a certain kind of power by such an interaction. The important fact is that the power generated by a horizontal relationship between individual entities operating at the same level of function assumes a special character the moment these entities consciously welcome the fact of their being parts of a greater whole to which they collectively accept a vertical relationship. Then the horizontal relationship acquires a thoroughly functional character and therefore a new meaning. It gains a sacred character the moment the products of the relationship are consciously consecrated to the greater whole.

It is only as this is deeply understood and, if possible, experienced that what today is increasingly glorified as 'group activity' and 'group consciousness' really makes sense. A ritual in which a number of human beings participate is, if adequately performed by dedicated persons, a means of generating a functional type of power that polarizes an intervention of the greater whole to which the ritual is consecrated: a vertical relationship is induced—a 'descent' of power from the greater whole to the participants in the ritual. The assumed efficacy of such a process, when it operates adequately, is the basis of all rituals and all theurgical operations.

The modern intellectual mind unfortunately refuses to accept the possibility of such a process. It realizes that when large groups of emotionally aroused people participate in socio-cultural events or activities, impressive results—some of which it calls mass hysteria—can be generated; but these results are attributed to a chain-reaction effect at the horizontal level of interpersonal relationships. Minds conditioned by the empiricism of our science cannot see that in such a collective situation the power of the culture-whole also acts through, and in a sense 'possesses', the emotionally aroused participants or spectators whose consciousness is collectively rooted in that culture. This culture-whole is a 'superior' reality—not a figure of speech or an abstract category. It exists at a psychic level. Today we do not have to speak of it as a tribal 'god'; we do not give a 'sacred' character to a political mass-meeting on which the fate of a nation may depend, to a baseball game with thousands of emotionally swayed spectators, or to a vast national mobilization of human energy in time of total war or economic panic. Nevertheless, in such mass situations the culture-whole acts as a collective entity and this action of the 'greater whole'—the nation and its culture—tends to operate through a few persons who, at least in some instances, can be called 'seed men' or at the biological level, 'mutants'.

This discussion may have seemed to take us away from the contrast I established between the 'mythological' and the 'Darwinian' approaches to the problem of building a consistent and significant 'model' of what took place during the first stages of human evolution. Yet since it is so difficult for the modern mind to accept the mythological picture in the personalized and emotional way it has been traditionally formulated, it was necessary for me to try to at least briefly formulate in holistic and holarchic terms the ideas that, I believe, the religious myths meant to convey. The essential point, I repeat, is that when mankind was developing at the strictly biological level (functions of the first order) the powers inherent in the human species, superior beings who represented the spiritual harvest (functions of the fourth order) of another planetary cycle presumably not only 'overshadowed' this earliest phase of human evolution, but actually intervened—directly or indirectly—in that evolution. And this simply refers to the general concept that the end of a cycle acts upon, overshadows or directly intervenes in the early development of a new cycle.

More specifically, because of the essential character of the functions of the fourth order—total inclusiveness and compassion—beings in whom these functions have reached their full development must become involved in the evolution of beings who are in the process of actualizing their innate potentialities at the purely biological first level of function. If the consciousness of the latter is aware of the activity of the former, this awareness takes the form of what we usually call 'devotion'. At least in some instances the higher beings may well have taken a physical form or become so intimately involved in the consciousness of a certain lineage of particularly sensitive human beings that they acted as Kings or Teachers. This involvement is not only possible, but natural to beings in whom the functions of the fourth order have reached their full development because, as we saw, the keynote of such an activity is 'interpenetration.'

1. Whatever is called 'divine' a non-existential character. Any 'god' is an existential reality. Even if we speak of the 'One and only God', we refer to the unity aspect of existence. 'He' is the one Source of the universe—or at least of our universe; but a source is an existential reality, a point of origin, or as Islam states, "the First Point" symbolized by the first letter of the alphabet. Beyond this First Point, center of the cosmic Mandala of existence, we have to postulate metaphysical Principles or some symbolical Ocean of Infinite Potentiality from which all existences emerge and to which they withdraw (the alpha and omega of the cosmic cycle). But to speak of such postulated, but forever unknowable and ineffable Mystery as 'God' seems a semantic fallacy. This Mystery is neither being nor non-being. The Hindus referred to It as TAT; the Chinese as TAO. Even the Christian mystic, Meister Eckart, spoke of the Godhead, differentiating it from the 'personal' (because existential) God.   Return

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