Crises of Transition - 2
A culture is a collective way of dealing with matter and life, and of not being overwhelmed by the forces let loose within the planet's biosphere. These forces, however, are active within the biological nature of the members of the culture and they have a tremendous inertia. Even though the direction of the cyclic tide of being has been reversed, the principle of Multiplicity is still the dominant factor in human situations for a long time after the symbolic Noon hour. The set instinctual patterns of the biological level and their psychic overtones — compulsive emotional urges — resist the gradual and effective development of personhood as a means to neutralize the ancient karma. Cultures attempt to limit and focus the power of these biological factors so as to use their energy. A culture may also lead the energy into paths which, denying the natural aim of life-functions, are believed to open the way to a culture-transcending and more-than-human level of experience.
The principle of Multiplicity, though waning, is still extremely powerful until the symbolic mid-Afternoon of the cycle. After the development of human societies begins, it operates mainly in an internalized manner at the new level of the collective psychism which the culture is attempting to build as a strongly integrative force whose purpose is to repolarize the compulsive power of life-instincts. The old biological drives toward differentiation and self-multiplication are given new forms in terms of the development of the ego. While biological instinct is meant to insure survival in optimum conditions of existence in the biosphere, the ego takes form as a composite structure of thinking-feeling and behavior to provide security and the best conditions of existence possible in the family and social environment in which the human being is born and develops as a person.
The newborn and growing child is at first helpless and totally vulnerable in his or her family environment. Gradually, the situations he or she repeatedly has to meet drive him or her as a person-in-the-making to develop a type of mind increasingly able to discover ways of satisfying the desire of a subjective factor which has taken a human character. It has a human character because of the new possibilities inherent in the homo sapiens type of body-operation — particularly the development of a large brain and a sensitive nervous system. Such a type of operation makes possible the detachment of the subjective factor from the experienced situation. This externalized "subject" — I myself, with a particular name — functions as an ego; and the struggle for survival and the will to power that produced the basic law of the biosphere, eat or be eaten, are reformulated at the level of family, society, and culture in egocentric terms. Emotions are aroused and poignant suffering is experienced which is called "personal." These are the results of conflicts between egos, and between an ego and the imperatives that a culture develops and enforces, crudely or subtly, directly (by taboos or a police force) or indirectly (by a sense of guilt and the power of images impressed upon the young child by parents, siblings and teachers). Religious doctrines add their confusion to the situation the child has to face. Their essential aim is to impress upon the child's mind images of a transcendent character — God or gods and the Soul — giving to these integrative patterns the numinous power necessary to insure the stability and unquestionable value of the culture.
These religious images nevertheless appear questionable when a culture begins to disintegrate and the particular aspect of personhood which the culture was meant to develop either has not been fully operative, or has been so perverted (in spite of perhaps spectacular results for a relatively brief period of time) that a new kind of culture becomes imperative. The new culture will be based on a different aspect of the Supreme Person, an aspect which not only will be revealed by a new Avatar and/or a group of avataric personages, but also will be the objective result of social changes caused by the development of new collective powers and new resources.
This evolutionary process leading from culture to culture is not difficult to understand, especially if one accepts the broad picture of the birth and evolution of cultures (or civilizations) outlined after World War I by the English historian Arnold Toynbee. The problem with which one has to deal when speaking of the birth or formation of a culture is to establish the time at which the beginning of the process occurs, and the nature of ifs preliminary phases. These phases refer to what follows the appearance of an Avatar or avataric group — the mutant seed of a new evolutionary development. The aim of this development is the emergence and eventual stabilization of a basic type of persons, which gives concrete actuality to one of the archetypal aspects of the Supreme Person.
The development of culture and personhood, however, occurs within the biosphere. For a very long time it does not supersede the operation of life-forces. Nevertheless, the essential purpose of the new type of situation should no longer be referred to the trend toward Multiplicity effective before the symbolic Noon. A human being is a person. But when does he or she become a person, and cease to be only a living organism? This question is of the greatest importance as soon as one accepts the idea that being human does not merely mean being alive, but being a person. To be a person implies being a living organism, but it requires the possibility of operating in situations that are more than biological — human situations occurring within the field of activity of a culture.
Plants and animals are living organisms; yet in our present societies and according to the laws of our culture, their livingness is constantly destroyed to satisfy the needs or even the whims of human beings. Whenever such conditions prevail, life of itself should not be considered valuable. What is valuable is human life; and even the life of some human beings may be judged expendable under specific circumstances. These may refer to a war waged not to preserve the life of a people, but their culture, their way of life and religious institutions. Recently the issue of preserving "the life" of an unborn being whose parents were members of our human species has acquired a highly emotional intensity; but the problem is inaccurately stated. What is involved is allowing or not allowing the possibility of an embryonic life to become a person. After five months of intrauterine development a fetus is certainly alive, but can it be called a person?
People speak glibly of the "right to life"; but what they mean is the right for a person to maintain the operation of the life-function serving as a biological foundation for his or her personhood. There can be no fundamental "right" — that is, the granting of a special status according to the laws of a society and the principles of its culture — to what is only alive. Only a person has "rights"; and this person has them because he, she, or (in the case of a collective organization) it is considered a person participating in some manner in the larger system which a culture constitutes.
The issue, however, is so little understood, and what is involved in it is so inaccurately and emotionally stated, that a closer analysis of the factors in the situation seems necessary. An objective approach to the problems it poses should enable us better to realize what concerns the transition between personhood and further evolutionary states open to human beings by virtue of their humanhood.
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1986 by Leyla Rudhyar Hill
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