Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Original Participation - the spiritual life of hunter gatherer Man (and ourselves as young chidlren)

Over the past couple of years I have fully engaged with the writings of Owen Barfield, and incorporated some of his key ideas and perspectives into my thinking; one of these is dividing human consciousness into three phases: Original Participation, the Consciousness Soul and Final Participation.

This sequence is primarily concerned with human society, or civilisation through hunter gatherer, agrarian and industrial phases and pointing at the destined future - but also corresponds to the development of Man from birth to mature adulthood.

Thus the consciousness of Original Participation can be seen both in the 'childhood of Man' (the earliest, simplest and most spontaneous society: the hunter gatherer life), and also in each Man's childhood. 

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I became extremely engaged with understanding the hunter gatherer mind some twenty years ago - by immersion in all sorts of books on the subject; both by leading twentieth century academics (mostly anthropologists) who lived among such people (or among those who had recently been hunter gatherers) and also by looking at some examples of 'first contact' literature from previous centuries when a variety of people - e.g. explorers, missionaries - described their encounters with hunter gatherers.

My interest was then focused on spontaneous animism; or the way in which hunter gatherers - and young children - interpreted the world 'anthopomorphically', or socially; in terms of being a collection of person-like agents. So large animals (such as the bear) or environmental objects both living (such as a tree) and 'non-living' (such as a mountain) would be understood as persons, each with a character, motivations, desires and intentions.

Thus, for the hunter gatherer the whole world was social; a web of relationships. And if we can remember and introspect about our own early childhoods, we can perceive that it was the same situation for each of us; we used to see the world as social, as full of living and conscious entities.

(This may also re-emerge in altered states of cosnciousness - such as the 'paranoid' delusions of self-reference in psychotic illnesses, or in some types of brain pathology, or some types of drug intoxication. The social perspective seems to be something of a default.)

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The perspective of Barfield brings a further aspect to this subject; which is to notice that for the hunter gatherer the Self was much less developed and distinct than it is for us (living at an advanced stage of the Consciousness Soul); the individual hunter-gatherer is not, therefore, very aware of himself as an individual - does not perceive a line of demarcation separating himself and 'the world' (when 'the world' includes both the society of other people, and the society of significant entities in the environment - bear, tree, mountain etc.).

The hunter gatherer participates in the world because he perceives no separation between himself and the world; and much the same applies to young children even nowadays. But as civilisation developed, grew, became specialised... each Man separated from the world, and perceived life as himself one one side of a line, and everything else on the other side - losing the sense of participating in the world, and feeling more-and-more like a detached observer.

Indeed, matters have reached such a point, that we even feel detached from our own thoughts - that is, the thought in our minds are not regarded as the same thing as our-selves.

The disadvantages of the modern condition are obvious enough - alienation from life, and despair. But the advantages were also perceived by Barfield, drawing from the early work of his master Rudolf Steiner. The key word is freedom. By separating our perceived self from the world, the self becomes free.

The hunter gatherer is hardly free, because he hardly feels himself separate from the flow of the human and other environment in which he lives; and much the same applies to the young child. Modern Man in the Consciousness Soul phase is, by contrast, in a position in which he may becomes free, may be able to stand apart from the influences on his life; and consciously, deliberately, in full self-awareness exercise his divine creativity as a source of original thought, and potentially other actions as well as thought (although Steiner clearly described that it was in Thinking that Man primarily was free). 

The equivalent phase to the Consciousness Soul for the developing Man is adolescence; when a man becomes conscious of himself (self-conscious) apart from other people - and this becomes 'a problem'.

As for growing-up into Final Participation; Barfield (and Steiner) would say that this seldom happens in the way that it should - it happens to few people (and only partly and intermittently) and has not yet happened to any human society. Final Participation would be a state of consciousness which retains the autonomy and freedom of The Self (which emerged during the consciousness soul) but returns to a felt-participation-in The World; but a participation of a new type.

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The way I envisage Final Participation is that we participate in The World through loving relationships; in the sense that only an autonomous self, distinct from other selves, can love. And this means that in order to participate we must (again) recognise the world as wholly alive and conscious - just as was the case when we were young children, or as did hunter gatherers.

So, we have much to learn from hunter gatherers, and from young children - but not so as we can go back to that form of consciousness, but so that we personally - and also our modern societies - can go forward to Final Participation in which we would have 'the best of both worlds': both and simultaneously the felt-and-lived engagement with the world typical of hunter gatherers and children, and also the freedom and distinct individuality of the Consciousness Soul.

Final Participation, I would therefore regard as the destiny of each Man, and of Mankind as a whole - if we choose to accept it.

11 comments:

  1. I have been mulling this topic over for some time. I believe Final Participation is indeed the end point - but not as Barfield understood it. Barfield's main influence was Steiner who was a descendant of the Transcendental Idealists. Kierkegaard recognised the Transcendental Idealists were mistaken from their intellectual foundations, and demonstrated this in his work. It is because of this foundation in Transcendental Idealism why I believe the Anthroposophical project ultimately failed.

    Kierkegaard formulated what came to be known as existentialism as the correct metaphysic for man (not explicitly) as a response to the Transcendental Idealists of his day. I think existentialism is essentially correct, but am unsure where to go from here, especially with regard to a synthesis of it with Christian/Mormon theology and what I understand of Final Participation. It is unprecedented.

    I am sure it was not coincidence Kierkegaard and Joseph Smith were contemporaries; and the implications of existentialism work very well with Mormon theology.

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  2. Interresting descriptions.

    One could also divide the stages, that man is going through, both as a species, and through life, as four?

    1. Dependence of others, and therefore a strive to be in tune with them and a need to obey, or conform, to them, and feelings of being - one - with them. (Childhood)

    2. A strive for separation from the dependancy, and a will to not be obedient and in harmony to the surroundings, so as to gain independence and selfconciousness (youth).

    3. Independence and individual conciousness, selfawareness and selfreliance in thoughts and deeds, being responsible for ones own athoughts as well as ones own actions, and baring their consequencies.

    4. Dependence of others, and therefore a strive to be in tune with them and a need to obey them, or conform to them, and feelings of being - one - with them. (Old age).

    JB

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  3. @simon - Interesting points; but I think the resolution is that Steiner's greatest influence on Barfield came from his first three philosophical books - the one on Goethe's world view, his PhD thesis and then The Philosophy of Freedom.

    I have spent a long time reading these in detail, and they are significantly (metaphysically) different from the preceding Transcendental Idealism - so Kierkegaard's (or Schopenhaur's) critique of Hegel et al does not necessarily or directly apply.

    My understanding of why Anthroposophy failed as a social movement is that it could not (contra to Steiner's hope) in fact be detached from Christianity without degenerating into mere generic secular Leftism (which is what has happened - modern Anthroposophists are fatally compromised by political correctness and the rest of it).

    But the viable parts of Steiner live on in Barfield, from whom we moderns can pick-up the thread (again, by amplifying the Christian elements which Barfield only sketched-in lightly).

    I would regard existentialism - while valuable for some people in some situations - as more of a 'mood', or a response to modernity, than a philosophy or a theology - because it lacks a metaphysical basis.

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  4. @JB - OK, but that is at the level of observation and psychology - and there can be not 'ought' about such matters, because the bottom line is merely utilitarian (human gratification); but with Barfield we are in the realms of divine destiny.

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  5. Dr Charlton, I disagree on all points! Yet remain confident that if we both continue seeking, we will converge. I felt it important to mention my particular findings; one day they may prove useful.

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  6. Thank you.

    Bruce said:..."and there can be no "ought" about such matters"...

    Perhaps that means as - sacrifice - ? Or - a call - , (or obligation?), to respond to the - calling of mankinds divine destiny - ?..

    But in the third stage, (3), of independence, or maturity, because of the relatively independence that is reached, there is the only - stage - , where a real choice (of sacfrice, or of an answer, or not answer, to the - call - of divine destiny), could really be made, since that choice would require - independece - , or maturity?..

    JB

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  7. Dr. Charlton, I am sorry. I am not english, and partly perhaps therefore influenced in bad manners when it comes to communicating correctly.

    Please excuse my incorrect personal titulation by your forename.

    JB

    Ps. I a m very glad to have found your very interesting blogsite.

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  8. @JB - Don't worry - if I don't like a comment, I don't print it!

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  9. Academic honorifics are an odd thing nowadays... in North America, I distinctly observe that university professors prefer to be addressed on a first name basis, and become distinctly uncomfortable or even offended if someone addresses them as Prof. or Dr. (rather like how, more generally, addressing someone 'Sir' works as a form of estrangement.) This could be interpreted positively as wanting to treat students as colleagues, or negatively as not wanting to be reminded that, at the end of the day, professors are in a position of authority over their students....

    No idea if things are the same in academic departments overseas.

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  10. I was raised by a man whose father was a hunter gatherer. My grandfather taught my brother and I traditional skills as well as a different way of looking at the world.

    My grandfather had a way of seeing everything that was happening in a stretch of the world. He saw the interconnectedness of everything. He taught us as best he could. I think my grandfather was pleased with my brother's spontaneous nature and musical affinity but disappointed that my brother had no interest in our horses, hunting, tracking etc. I was never as spontaneous as my brother but I loved hunting, fishing, horses etc.

    I lost the last of my grandfather's things he made us in a fire. However, I have tried to teach my grandson the same stories, skills, etc. My grandkids and kids don't see the world the same way. I thought for a while my oldest boy and girl would get it but I was just not able to fight the world. We had no tv for years but we sent the kids to public school, even though we didn't have any until the kids were nearly grown videogames eat up more of their lives.

    None of my cousins ever saw the world the way my grandfather did. I live on an isolated farm with one of my kids and my grandkids. I want the life I had for my grandkids but the world is not the same. I can't compete with the outside world as well as my grandparents did. The world has had a spiritual change. The magic is covered by something.

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  11. Thus, for the hunter gatherer the whole world was social; a web of relationships. And if we can remember and introspect about our own early childhoods, we can perceive that it was the same situation for each of us; we used to see the world as social, as full of living and conscious entities.

    (This may also re-emerge in altered states of cosnciousness - such as the 'paranoid' delusions of self-reference in psychotic illnesses, or in some types of brain pathology, or some types of drug intoxication. The social perspective seems to be something of a default.)
    - Bruce Charlton

    Shamanic types of states whether brought about with the aid of entheogenic plants or only by ritual seem to be as you describe.

    It is an interesting thing to consider whether this type of connection with nature would help man feel more connected and more considerate of the natural world of which he is a part. The sense of hyper-individuality and the focus of Western society on that also seems to come with the burden of alienation. Reconciling ourselves with the natural world is long overdue as far as I am concerned. We are a blight today, and that cannot continue without natural processes finding their own ways to establish new equilibriums.


    The perspective of Barfield brings a further aspect to this subject; which is to notice that for the hunter gatherer the Self was much less developed and distinct than it is for us (living at an advanced stage of the Consciousness Soul); the individual hunter-gatherer is not, therefore, very aware of himself as an individual - does not perceive a line of demarcation separating himself and 'the world' (when 'the world' includes both the society of other people, and the society of significant entities in the environment - bear, tree, mountain etc.). - Bruce Charlton

    As mentioned, the hyper-individualism that is inculcated into most of us in the West has problems. We are not separate from nature and to functionally act as if this is so is getting us all in a peck of trouble.

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