Consciousness and the New World Order

In the previous post on Chaos, Havoc, and the American Abyss, we began a discussion about the work of Peter Pogany, and how it relates to the situation we now find ourselves in with the pending Trump administration here in the U.S.

A recent post in The Guardian by George Monbiot starkly outlines the seriousness of some of the crises we’re currently facing: The 13 Impossible Crises that Humanity Now Faces (hat tip to The Chrysalis). “One of the peculiarities of this complex, multiheaded crisis,” Monbiot writes,  “is that there appears to be no “other side” on to which we might emerge.”

Recall that in our previous post we discussed how deep infrastructure issues such as resource depletion and climate change impose eventual limits to growth, which then disrupt economies built upon heavy environmental resource extraction and financed by debt. And remember Pogany’s statement that “a stagnating economy is civil discontent waiting to happen – especially at a time when government spending must be curbed.” And also that the coming chaos might eventually, as a chaotic transition, lead to a much healthier organization of society.

What will it take? “It will take nothing less than a mutation in consciousness, as outlined by the Swiss thinker, Jean Gebser (1905-1973).”

And what does that mean?  To unpack this, let’s survey chapter 5 of his book, Havoc, Thy Name is 21st Century!

A concise dictionary definition of ‘consciousness’ is “the fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world.” Consciousness, according to Pogany, is made up of active and passive components, that together contain the information necessary to deal with the issues that the “physical-social-cultural-economic-environment presents for the individual.”

“Consciousness,” Pogany says, “is best visualized as a continuous spectrum that stretches from intensely active components, engaged when dealing with a crisis in the family, at the workplace, or in the environs otherwise dilineated; to the body’s biological processes, which remain passive unless attention is explicitly drawn to them (e.g., in the doctor’s office).”

A point that Pogany is eager to emphasize is that “individual consciousness is inseparable from its socieeconomic substratum.”  This means that we come to common understandings about the “rules of the game” – cultural ideas about ways of living that we tend to take as given, real, and true. “What people living under a stable global system consider ‘true assertions’ about history, society, and the economy presupposes a scaffolding of the conceptual universe  that the mind tends to conflate with the laws and regularities of the natural world.”

“We are complex products of a world order.” Philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Husserl have all spent a lot of time making this clear, not to mention “the psycholinguists, the existentialists, the structuralists and the postmoderns.” And yet mainstream economics does not recognize this fact.

The stable global system, or world order, that we currently live in takes as a given that growth dependent economics is the only possible way forward. Everything is built around this arrangement, and the shared expectation is that we must find ways to keep it going. Margaret Thatcher’s TINA principle is invoked – “There Is No Alternative!” Never mind the fact that numerous heterodox economists have proposed alternatives, and never mind the fact that there are system feedback signals everywhere telling us that the growth dependent economy is exacerbating so many of  the world’s most intractable problems. The feedback signals are not yet strong enough to overcome the current global system’s self-defense mechanisms. In his 2006 book Rethinking the World, Pogany called these signals “A siren that shrieks too late, then causes a brawl at the fire station” (p. 187).

In my 2015 paper, Patterns for Navigating the World in Energy Descent (available here and here), I wrote:

“[Our growth oriented economic arrangement] is one more “myth of the given” that should not be taken for granted. Edgar Morin referred to “development” as:

The master word…upon which all the popular ideologies of the second half of this [20th] century converged…development is a reductionistic conception which holds that economic growth is the necessary and sufficient condition for all social, psychological, and moral developments. This techno-economic conception ignores the human problems of identity, community, solidarity, and culture… In any case, we must reject the underdeveloped concept of development that made techno-industrial growth the panacea of all anthroposocial development and renounce the mythological idea of an irresistible progress extending to infinity (Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for the New Millenium, Morin, 1999, pp. 59-63).

Addressing this “myth of the given,” Pogany pokes fun at his own profession:

Historically, geocapital [matter ready to be used to feed cultural evolution] has registered a net increase; additions and expansions more than offset exhaustions and reductions. This long-lasting successful experience led to the culturally ingrained confidence in the possibility of its eternal continuation. Economic growth theory keeps “deriving” the same conclusion over and over again: Optimally maintained economic expansion can continue forever. Translated from evolutionary scales to our own, this is analogous to “Since I wake up every morning I must be immortal” (Rethinking the World, 2006, p. 118).”

The problem is, this “economic growth theory” has become something our entire society is built upon and is dependent upon, and has become ingrained into our collective structure of consciousness.  Pogany believed that the challenge to develop a sustainable world system is so great that it will require a major transformation of individual consciousness structures; and yet, the average individual would be incapable of becoming so transformed as long as current socioeconomic conditions prevail. So, the current system is holding up our personal transformation, and our lack of personal transformation is holding up the transformation of the system. “Ay, there’s the rub.”

Pogany introduces the reader to the work of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser, and his outline of five “patterns, structures, or mutations” of consciousness. According to Gebser, we’re currently at the tail end (the deficient stage) of the fourth structure, the mental-rational structure, and are facing the chaotic transition that we hope will lead us to the fifth “integral” structure of consciousness.

We will take a closer look at Gebser’s five structures of consciousness in our next post.  And for a preview of some of the other points we’ll eventually get to, check out The Trump Agenda is a Dead End over at The Chrysalis.

In Praise of Peter Paul Pogany, an Integral Economist

I’ve just completed a new page on my website dedicated to promoting the work of Peter Pogany, which you can find here, and I’d like to use this post as a way of alerting everyone to this new page, and to provide a brief summary of what you’ll find there.

Peter Paul Pogany (1936-2014) was born in Budapest, Hungary, and later moved to the U.S. to continue his education and begin his career. He worked as an Economist for the U.S. International Trade Commission (where he contributed to many high-profile U.S. government studies on foreign economic issues), and was an Adjunct Professor at George Washington University.

My impression is that it may have been after his retirement that he felt free to more deeply explore and begin writing, relating his expertise in economics to thermodynamics, history, philosophy, and other big picture ideas.

It is my belief that Pogany’s work is essential for anyone wanting to grasp the implications of integral economics, of which I’ll be writing more about in the future.

In 2006 Pogany’s major work was published: Rethinking the World, “the result of several years of full-time, independent, transdisciplinary research.”Rethinking the World

In Rethinking the World, Pogany delved deep into his understanding of history as a thermodynamic process.

From the  blurb about Pogany’s book:

“The still expanding human biomass and mindlessly pursued economic expansion are straining against the planet’s physical limits. Oil! Energy! Ecology! Growing vulnerabilities in hyperlinked national economies! The transformation of the current global system, “mixed economy/weak multilateralism,” into a radically new one, “two-level economy/strong multilateralism,” looks like the only way to avoid drifting toward extinction…

His 2006 book does not once mention Jean Gebser, but from 2009 to 2013, Pogany wrote a number of insightful articles and essays relating ideas from Gebser’s magnum opus, The Ever-Present Origin, to the predicament the world is now facing, and the ways in which Gebser’s ideas about stages of consciousness, especially the yet to come stage of the integral structure of consciousness (a universal “intensified awareness”), support Pogany’s own program of New Historical Materialism.  Many of these essays were prepared for presentation to the International Gebser Society at their annual conference.

HavocSadly, Peter Pogany passed away on May 25, 2014. His final book, Havoc, Thy Name is Twenty-First Century! Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order was published posthumously in 2015.  This work is a slight alteration and expansion of a paper published in 2013 (see below).

Here is the blurb for this book:

“Just to maintain our standard of living, we need to grow the worldwide economy at an unsustainable rate.

As we seek to hit such lofty targets, we’re bound to deplete our resources and cause environmental crises on a scale that we have never seen before. Revolutions, terrorism, and wars will follow.

Peter Pogany examines the problems we face and argues that human culture is governed by thermodynamic cycles of steady states interrupted by chaotic transitions. Specifically, he postulates that a steady state was interrupted by World War I, with a chaotic transition following World War II, which has led us to the current world order.

His theory predicts that global society is drifting toward a new form of self-organization that will recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion – but only after we go through a new chaotic transition that will start sometime between now and the 2030s.

Havoc, They Name is Twenty-First Century, delivers sobering thoughts on where the world is headed, but it also offers a glimpse of a bright future that we can embrace once we get through the darkness to come.”

With the two books above, and the essays linked below, you’ll obtain a good understanding of Peter Pogany’s ideas, which I believe are unique, timely, insightful, important, broadly considered, and with wide application. Even better if you can read this material alongside Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin, and other works and ideas presented on this website (see here and here).

Below are a list of important essays and longer papers that I would like to highlight. Check the Pogany Page if you’d like to see descriptive summaries for each essay. 

Presentations to the International Gebser Society Conference:

“Fifth Structure” – emergence in economics: Observations through the thermodynamic lens of world history (presented October 2009) [Download pdf]

New scientific evidence confirms Gebser’s concerns about technological overreach (presented October 2010) [Download pdf]

Gebser’s relevance to the global crisis (presented October 2011) [Download pdf]

Reprinted as chapter 6 in “Filling the Credibility Gap” edited by Algis Mickunas and John Murphy

An Aperspectival Opinion on the Future of “Smart Money” (presented October 2012) [Download pdf]

Tributaries to Gebser’s Social Thought (presented October 2013) [Download pdf]

  • Longer Papers at Munich Personal RePEc Archive (MPRA):

What’s Wrong with the World? Rationality! A Critique of Economic Anthropology in the Spirit of Jean Gebser (2010)
[Available here:]

Value and Utility in a Historical Perspective (2012)
[Available here:]

Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order (2013)
[Available here:]

[This is the paper that the book Havoc, Thy Name is Twenty-First Century! is based upon.]