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.

Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent

Integral Leadership ReviewIntegral Leadership Review (ILR) has published the paper I presented to the recent Integral Theory Conference 2015, “Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent” in their August-November 2015 issue.

Also in this issue is Tim Winton’s reflections on the conference that is worth reading: “A Note on the Field: Thoughts on Integral Leadership Post ITC 2015.”

Jeremy Johnson also did a great job as the official conference blogger. Some of you might be able to identify me in the first photo on this page (Jeremy and Tim were two of my five suite-mates, which also included Chris Dierkes, Gaby McDonald, and Trevor Malkinson).


ILR headingILR Patterns for Navigating Intro


This paper considers current concerns about resource depletion (“energy descent”) and the unsustainability of current economic structures, which may indicate we are entering a new era signaled by the end of growth. Using the systems thinking tool of PatternDynamics™, developed by Tim Winton, this paper seeks to integrate multiple natural patterns in order to effectively impact these pressing challenges. Some of the Patterns considered include Energy, Transformity, Power, Pulse, Growth, and the polarities of Expansion/Contraction and Order/Chaos.

We tend to have horrible visions associated with downturns and “collapse.” Can we even entertain the possibility that we might be entering a period of decline in energy and standard of living?  Can we re-examine our assumptions about “growth” and “development”? Jean Gebser’s emphasis that every mutation of structure is preceded by a crisis is considered and Howard T. Odum’s ideas about energy as the basis of man and nature informs the discussion. Edgar Morin’s dialogic Method of active inquiry in regards to the interplay of polarities assists in our understanding and response to the complex challenges we face.

Read the paper here.

About ILR, from their website:

Integral Leadership Review – the world’s premier publication of integrated approaches to leading and leadership.

Integral Leadership Review is a bridging publication that links authors and readers across cultures around the world. It serves leaders, professionals and academics engaged in the practice, development and theory of leadership. It bridges multiple perspectives by drawing on integral, transdisciplinary, complexity and developmental frameworks. These bridges are intended to assist all who read the Integral Leadership Review to develop and implement comprehensive shifts in strategies by providing lessons from experience, insights, and tools all can use in addressing the challenges facing the world.