Last summer I reviewed two very different books on the future, as you will see below. Anne Baring makes a major statement about the rise of the feminine and its role in a new culture that transcends the history of patriarchy and replaces what Dieter Duhm calls the matrix of violence with the sacred matrix of trust (The Sacred Matrix). This entails a revolution of gender, nature, the body and sexuality. Patriarchal thought patterns have devalued and indeed subjugated these aspects of life in an interconnected way. The feminine principle is closely associated with nature, the body and sexuality. Over the last twelve months I have become increasingly convinced that only a fundamental revolution of attitudes in these areas will adequately address the depth and scope of our challenges.
One significant initiative in this respect is Rising Women, Rising World with Scilla Elworthy, Jean Houston and Rama Mani . This is a growing circle of experienced women specialists with knowledge and expertise in the full spectrum of human development where each woman is committed to bringing into being a world that works for all. All are united in their concern for human and planetary life and their belief that this moment is an “opportunity for an alternate future to emerge, a future that has transformed competition, exploitation, and division, into cooperation, innovation and wholeness.” Scilla’s book Pioneering the Possible – Awakened Leadership for a World that Works has just been published and sets out a new and creative agenda. Anne Baring is part of this group.
Al Gore’s book offers a very different vision – an outer, scientific, technological and ecological analysis and prognosis. In one sense, the two books complement each other but the inner is missing from the Gore book, as is any understanding of the feminine and shortcomings of patriarchal culture. Each recognises the power of the Internet to shape a new form of democracy and decision-making: decentralised pressure from below, especially with respect to the power of multinational corporations. They also recognise that nothing less than a change of consciousness and thinking is adequate to the challenges we face since, by definition, these are the outcome of our current patterns of thought translated into action.
A Quest for the Soul
The Dream Of The Cosmos , Anne Baring (SMN)
Twenty years in the making and distilling a lifetime of experience and reading, Anne Baring’s magnum opus is one of the most important books of the decade – brilliant, profound, passionate, magisterial in its scope. Elsewhere in these pages is my review of Al Gore’s book on the future, to which this study provides a wonderful complement in terms of depth and history, articulating a feminine and spiritual outlook on the crisis of our time in its many dimensions - spiritual, psychological, ecological, social, political and economic. Needless to say, these are all interlinked at the level of worldview and reflect much deeper patterns than most people are aware of. Anne draws on her own extensive background as a historian of culture and healer of the psyche to convey an extraordinary synthesis of essential ideas. These are accompanied by her husband Robin Baring’s beautiful images.
A diagram on page 488 outlines the scheme of the book, beginning with the lunar phase of original participation and identity with the Great Mother. This is followed by the advent of solar mythology bringing separation of mind and soul as well as of mind and nature. The Cosmos, God and the world are objectified. She called the third phase ‘stellar’, bringing the sacred marriage and conscious participation in an ensouled cosmos. The book is then structured into six parts: the beginning of Anne’s quest, the lunar era of the original participation, the dissociated psyche and the pathology of separation and loss, recovering the connection to the soul, a new vision of reality, and transformation leading to final participation (a phrase from Owen Barfield). There are two interludes about the significance of the Sleeping Beauty as a fairy tale for our time, and the Way of the Tao as a feminine symbol.
Anne writes lyrically about her early life, especially visits to her grandmother’s house in the south of France and her discovery of Moorish Spain, Italy and India. The reader comes to understand the trajectory of the journey her life has taken and her passion to rediscover the ancient image of the soul as an all-embracing cosmic web of life in which we live, move and have our being. At the age of 11, she had a life changing experience in which another order of reality broke into the physical and set her off on her quest, on which her mother had already embarked. What she calls her awakening dream was the most awesome of her life, a vision of the goddess as Anima Mundi with an immense revolving wheel at the centre of her abdomen. Anne notices that she also has such a wheel, but that it is not centred. The figure indicates that her task is to centre that wheel. It is a wonderful image and so representative of personal and cultural imbalance. The dream represents an important step in her quest leading to the philosophy and psychology of Carl Jung, who was undoubtedly one of the most significant thinkers of the 20th century, but too profound and threatening to be included in university psychology courses.
Twenty years ago, Anne published The Myth of the Goddess with Jules Cashford in which they explored the implications of our cultural separation from nature and the goddess. This present book builds on their findings and her subsequent exploration of the Divine Feminine. A recurrent and central theme is the oneness of life and energy, but the rational mind can only see separation and thinks itself superior to the unconscious and the instinctual. In a chapter on the tree of life, Anne explores the significance of the Shekinah as a symbol of divine immanence that is also named womb, palace, enclosure, fountain, apple orchard and mystical Garden of Eden. Further imagery emerges in Gnosticism and the Holy Spirit as Presence. The image of the Great Mother implies a sense of participation in a Sacred Cosmic Order, which Anne explores extensively across a number of cultures, explaining the deep symbolism of the phases of the moon in terms of death and rebirth. She identifies a number of key themes of lunar mythology that are transmitted to later cultures in terms of the feminine qualities relationships and connection, including the shamanic vision of kinship with all creation. She shows how this sense was lost in Greek culture between Parmenides and Plato, also referring to the seminal work of the end of Iain McGilchrist, which will be familiar to many readers.
The next part explains the advent of the solar era leading to a separation from nature and the battle between good and evil, the archetype of which is very much still with us. The solar myth refers to a cosmic battle between light and darkness that was to have a profound political impact in the idea of the holy war and the formation of a warrior class associated with a quest for power and omnipotence; also with the development of utopian ideologies and their negative projection of evil on the other. The Great Mother gives way to the Great Father: good is identified with spirit, light, order and the rational mind, while the feminine aspect of life is frequently identified with evil in terms of nature, darkness, chaos and the body (p. 122). This polarisation continues into our own time and is reflected in the Christian myth of the Fall and its associated doctrine of original sin, to which Anne devotes a separate chapter. The literal interpretation of this myth ‘bequeathed to generations of Christians a legacy of sexual guilt, misogyny and fear of God’s anger’, the indications of which are examined in great detail through the writings of church fathers, especially St Augustine of Hippo. The obsession with sexuality, sin and guilt is still with us. Other scholars have interpreted the story of Adam and Eve as the birth of self-awareness and the consequent loss of an unconscious participatory state, while the Celtic priest Pelagius provided a much more humane theology. In her work as a therapist, Anne came to understand the harm inflicted by a deep sense of self-rejection.
The next chapter examines the history of misogyny and the effects of the oppression of women throughout history. Even in our own day, women are still being raped, trafficked and brutalised by domestic abuse, especially in war zones. Anne expresses her deep outrage on behalf of women to this history of oppression, which makes especially sobering reading for men. Within the Christian tradition, the three figures of Eve, the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene carry different archetypes, and many readers will be familiar with recent reinterpretations of the role of Mary Magdalene. Eve stands for the contamination of original sin leading men to regard themselves as superior and women as defective. Anne examines episodes such as the witch trials and the continuing oppression of women in Muslim societies, concluding that the millennia-long oppression of women is unfinished, with men still trying to exert patriarchal control.
Current Western culture is based on a one-eyed rational consciousness already criticised by Blake in the 18th century. Modern science embraces a secular materialist philosophy with no vertical axis, but this view is being undermined in some quarters by a new science of consciousness and an understanding of how the brain has evolved. A different worldview is emerging, which is explored later in the book: there has been a resurgence of the feminine and a corresponding awakening of the soul with its emphasis on care, connection and feeling values. We are developing a sense of relationship with the Earth, as reflected in environmentalism, holistic science and the Gaia hypothesis demonstrating the interconnectedness of life. The role of women is being gradually affirmed, and the feminine challenges us to develop compassion for life on Earth, to meet the deepest needs of the human heart and to relinquish damaging beliefs and patterns of behaviour. Carl Jung played a pioneering role in this process of rediscovering the soul with his profound exploration of alchemy. He was not afraid to plumb the depths of his own psyche and uncover collective patterns of which we must become more aware. He pointed out the dangers of one-sidedness seeking power and supremacy over others and projecting evil outwards - his work on the shadow could not be more important and it is essential that this should be widely understood in our culture, especially by politicians. As it is, only those familiar with Jung’s work are aware of its profound implications. Instinct and the shadow, represented by the Dragon, cannot be conquered, ‘because it is the creative power of life itself.’ One of our grave dangers, as also pointed out by Joseph Chilton Pearce, is the predominance of survival instincts activated by the reptilian brain and the consequent division between predator and prey. This is projected on a large scale with our development of ever-more sophisticated forms of weaponry and destruction, rendered all the more lethal by pressures to conform to and obey authority.
This malignant aggression is also marketed as entertainment in terms of sadism and violence, to which we expose our young people – what Anne appropriately calls vicarious visual terrorism, which many defend in terms of freedom of expression. She rightly maintains that the real issue is the creation and protection of a civilised society. The shadow is equally present in terms of religious atrocities and politically endemic militarism to which science has also become beholden. She writes a truly searing chapter on war as the rape of the soul with its archaic roots in the reptilian and mammalian brains. We do not often reflect on the implications of nuclear and chemical (and now electromagnetic) weapons, which are simply an outrage against the sanctity of life and a fundamental betrayal of our humanity. Militarism and the arms trade continue to drive the world economy, at huge opportunity cost to other humanitarian and environmental budgets. The challenge here is that ‘no pattern of behaviour is more resistant to change then the survival instincts that are triggered by fear.’ Moreover, the mass of humanity continues to follow outdated social customs and religious beliefs, so new leaders will have to be highly advanced in their thinking and genuinely grounded in the oneness of life.
The next part articulates a new vision of reality as indicated by emerging sciences and new understandings of consciousness as the ground of being. Anne brings together the findings of physics and biology with parallel metaphors in spiritual traditions - holographic thinking with the net of Indra. Sacred places such as Chartres with its rose windows reflect a multi-layered understanding of reality. Reconnecting with the soul also entails overcoming the split between mind and body and respecting the role of instinct and the perceptions of the heart. Fundamental to this new vision is a new image of God, to which Anne devotes a whole chapter. Contemporary spiritual awakening arises from a direct connection with a transcendent dimension involving the transformation or illumination of consciousness rather than redemption through faith. The influence of the East has given us a different image of spirit along with an understanding of karma and reincarnation. In addition, Nature is now being understood in terms of theophany as in Celtic Christianity, opening up the possibility of healing the split between spirit and Nature.
The final part explains stellar consciousness, taking the reader through the transmutational process of alchemy, rediscovered in the 20th century by Jung. Anne elaborates on the principal themes and processes that are also reflected in many myths. This represents a return journey to the unseen dimension that attunes our awareness to a hidden order of reality. She then the marshals the evidence for the survival of the soul beyond death, deriving from this material an understanding of our three bodies and the kinds of world that we will enter after having made our own transition. Reflecting the profound insights of this research, the last chapter explains how Light and Love are the pulse of the cosmos, as all mystics such as Ruysbroeck and Eckhart have maintained. Anne also explains how her book has been written with love: love of life, love of beauty, love of family and friends, love of humanity. She finishes with a vision of humanity aligning to the evolutionary intention of the cosmos and ‘no longer driven by the quest for power, conquest and control and the appropriation of the Earth’s resources for the benefit of the few.’ In doing so, she believes, ‘our minds will serve the deepest longings of our heart, the deepest wisdom of our soul.’ This is a profound message of hope and renewal calling forth the feminine principle of care, compassion and connection, principles that we can all choose to embody and articulate to serve as midwives of a new culture. The book is an absolute tour de force and the crowning achievement of a life well lived in the service of the soul.
Earth Inc. vs. the Global Mind
The Future, Al Gore
I remember reviewing Al Gore’s earlier book Earth in the Balance nearly 20 years ago. This is much more than an update over the intervening period since it is more comprehensive in its scope and extremely well researched with over 140 pages of notes and references. It is hard to disagree with Sir Tim Berners-Lee when he says that ‘if you are concerned about the massive changes the world is just heading into, then you should read this book. If you aren't, then you must read it!’ The book is Gore’s answer to the question: what are the drivers of global change? He identifies six principal drivers, which form the structure of his analysis: the emergence of a deeply interconnected global economy creating new and different relationships between capital, labour, markets and government; the emergence of a planet wide electronic communications grid connecting the thoughts and feelings of billions of people; the emergence of a completely new balance of political, economic and military power; the emergence of rapid and unsustainable growth in population, cities, resource consumption and pollution flows; the emergence of a revolutionary new set of biological, biochemical, genetic and materials science technologies; and finally the emergence of a radically new relationship between the aggregate power and impact of human civilisation and the Earth’s ecological systems, especially the atmosphere. Readers will notice the use of the word emergence in each case, reflecting the development of complexity theory and nonlinear dynamics creating new forms of self-organisation.
Each chapter begins with a complex flow diagram illustrating the main factors and issues at stake. This enables readers to understand the argument in both a graphic and a linear fashion, allowing them to review the contents at a glance. Needless to say, the interaction between these flows is as complex as the analysis, which simply reflects the corresponding complexity of our modern world. Earth Inc. is the name Gore gives to globally interconnected capitalism, which he feels has undermined the democratic process, especially in the United States. Politicians now represent these interests rather than those of their constituents, since they are beholden to them for their campaign funds. In turn, this is driven by the fact that senior voters watch TV for on average seven hours a day and political campaigning therefore gravitates towards TV adverts, which are incredibly expensive. One of the major trends identified by Gore is outsourcing and robosourcing, which dramatically reduces the ratio of capital to labour inputs. Thus a decline in employment can be associated with an increase in productivity, as has happened in the US over the last 10 years. These trends are set to accelerate and may well result in insufficient aggregate demand to drive the global economy through consumption. This is exacerbated by rising inequalities of wealth, as those at the very top end do not spend as much as the middle-class counterparts. We have also seen a financialisation of the economy and the development of high-speed automated electronic trading as well as new financial products like derivatives that are traded in volumes far greater than the notional value of the world GDP. In an attempt to contain the acceleration of this process, a law was proposed to delay resolution of these transactions by one second, but this was resolutely refused by the industry. Another trend is self-sourcing, where we make our travel bookings and purchases through the Internet. As we know, this has already had a huge effect on industries such as newspapers, travel agencies, bookstores, music and photography.
The Global Mind was prefigured by thinkers such as HG Wells and Teilhard de Chardin. The Internet and smartphones are tending to replace memory, acting as an extension of the brain. It is astonishing to learn that 500 million people play games on the Internet for at least one hour a day. A much more serious issue is the tracking of our every movement on the Internet, principally driven by commercial considerations of targeted advertising. As we have seen, this also gives governments access to a huge amount of data so that we have less and less privacy. The positive side of these developments is that they can enable political revolutions at least to get off the ground, but on the negative side, as Gore points out, it means that all the apparatus of a police state is in place in the US. Cyber security is clearly a real issue, but it can also be misused as a way of increasing levels of surveillance not only on hackers and terrorists, but also on members of the general public.
One of Gore’s principal concerns is the emasculation of democracy manifesting as a deficit of governance. He gives an interesting historical overview of the emergence of democracies in various phases, but his real anxiety is the seemingly unstoppable power of corporations. Even 100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt was trying to put in place measures to prevent special business interests gaining an undue influence. He broke up a number of conglomerates and passionately argued for the maintenance of Lincoln’s progressive ideals of the Republican Party. He pointed out that the Constitution does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation, but since that time the reforms have been rolled back and massive deregulation has occurred. Through the immense influence of Lewis Powell, the US Supreme Court has been packed with conservatives using such phrases as corporate persons and removing barriers to corporations providing political funds. Corporations make decisions on narrow financial self-interest, while individuals are capable of reflecting other factors as well. More recently, there has been a rapidly revolving door between lobbies and Washington; more than 50% of retiring senators and 40% of retiring House members become lobbyists. This is systematic corruption, not to put too fine a point on it. Freedom of individuals and freedom of corporations should be sharply distinguished, but they tend to be elided.
At the halfway point of his argument, Gore comes to his central assertion that we face a critical choice: we can either allow ourselves to be swept along by these powerful currents of technology and economics represented by Earth Inc. or we can rally to build the capacity for collective decision-making on a global scale that enables us to shape the future to reflect our common aspirations, rather than those of the elite.
The next chapter, Outgrowth, documents the effects of rising consumption and population. There will be 3 billion more people in the middle-class by 2030, all of whom have Western aspirations resulting in greater growth per capita consumption than population growth, which will put further pressure on our natural resource base. The number of cars and lorries is expected to double in the next 30 years. Gore provides a comprehensive catalogue of trends and figures not only in terms of agriculture, soil and water, but also the growth of cities, the challenge of hunger and obesity, the implications of population increase in Africa, the effects of longevity, changes in family structure, movement of refugees, land grabs in Africa and much more. He also describes the origins of mass marketing and the shift of the US from a needs to a desires culture, which has driven the phenomenal rise in consumption. We need an extra 15,000,000 ha of agricultural land a year to provide increased food production, but at the same time we are destroying 10,000,000 ha per year.
Gore now moves on to what he calls the reinvention of life and death with convergent revolutions in genetics, epigenetics, genomics, regenerative medicine, neuroscience, nanotechnology, materials science, cybernetics, supercomputers and bioinformatics, all of which are extending our technical capacity without necessarily providing us with the wisdom to make wise choices. Moreover, the reductionist thinking prevalent in science becomes dangerous when applied to unpredictable complex systems. For instance, we are now coming up against increasing antibiotic resistance and escalating risk of the outbreak of pandemics due to livestock practices designed to cut costs. It is easy in the light of all this technology to forget the importance of a healthy lifestyle, which does not in fact depend on it; this makes it more likely that we will enjoy a longer ‘healthspan’ in relation to our lifespan. As with many other discussions of technology, the emphasis is on enhancing intellectual and computational capacity rather than considering the development of the heart and sensitivity.
This brings us to what Gore calls the Edge in the next chapter. Human civilisation is colliding with the natural world, spewing out 90 million extra tonnes of global warming pollution every 24 hours, 25% of which will remain in the atmosphere for 10,000 years. Increased incidence of natural disasters and food shortages is bound to lead to political and economic instability. Ironically, the drought of 2012 reduced the water flow so much that the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi began to clear up. Gore advocates pursuing both mitigation and adaptation policies in the light of current environmental challenges and climate instability. He outlines the efforts of what he calls the counter reform movement in creating uncertainty about the scope and impact of environmental challenges, listing some of their arguments that he regards as bogus. He also discusses the impact of fracking, topical both in the US and the UK. Each well requires 5,000,000 gallons of water, which subsequently has to be disposed of as toxic waste. Even if we are no longer so immediately concerned about peak oil, we cannot afford to continue pumping CO2 into the atmosphere at the current rate by increasing our use of fossil fuels. The path forward is bound to include various forms of tax, subsidy, renewable energy mandates and perhaps cap and trade schemes. The US has still not woken up to the urgency of this situation as the economic crisis is still at the forefront, but it is interesting to note that there were eight climate related disasters in 2011 costing more than $1 billion.
In his conclusion, Gore asks whether ‘the requisite force of truth necessary to bring about a shift in consciousness powerful enough to change the current course of civilisation will emerge in time.’ The outcome of the struggle to shape our future will be in his view the determined by a contest between the Global Mind and Earth Inc. He feels that democracy and capitalism have both been hacked and argues that the best chance of success is the re-establishment of the global leadership capacity of the United States. The current leadership is beholden to the influence of corporations and the financial elite so a revolution in democracy will be an essential prerequisite. Many other detailed questions are posed, but the complexity and speed of these changes is almost overwhelming and may make us feel that there is little we can do. Our best chance is self-organisation through the Internet, which is already happening with campaign groups, but needs to go much further so as to bring people of good will together to promote the common good on the basis of deep human values. I would take issue with a few of Gore’s assertions, but would concur with the overall content and structure of his case. He does not specifically mention the need to reform the financial system and he seems unaware of some of the content of the Thrive Movement, for instance attempts at geoengineering to contain climate change and suppression of new energy technologies and natural medicine approaches. His grasp of a very wide range of issues is truly impressive, and the book is essential reading for those wishing to think deeply about where we are and where we might go. It does propose solutions in many areas, but the politics of implementation nevertheless remain very challenging.
 Archive Publishing, 2013, 548 + lx pp., no price given, h/b – ISBN 978-1-906289-23-2
WH Allen, 2013, 558 pp., £25, h/b – ISBN 978-0-75354-048-0