Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Up from Eden

i've just finished reading Ken Wilber's Up from Eden, given to me by my dad. Despite being essentially an academic book about psychological anthropology, its still pretty accessible to the average reader.
Wilber is attempting to give a very general and wide-sweeping account of the psychological development of mankind, from the earliest society to the present day. Its not just a historical account though, throughout he is promoting his idea of the Atman Project, the spiritual eternity or God-consciousness to which we all aspire. He proposes that while humankind continually attempts to attain a unity with this grater eternity/consciousness it also paradoxically seeks it in all the wrong places, and so continually fails to reach it. Early human sacrifices, war and patriarchy are all used as examples of how humans have tried to stave off death and attain immortality, instead promoting their own sense of self, and so failing to achieve that which they most seek.
Wilber compares the evolution of humanity to the personal psychological evolution of an individual,  which seems to contradict his rejection of the individual in his attempt to promote a higher spiritual unity with eternity. His talk of eternity and atman and transpersonal human development leans a little too much towards hippie Buddhist-inpired spirituality for my liking but he takes an interesting stance on the nature of humanity, rather than people being intrinsically good or evil, he understands them to be something else entirely. He rejects the liberal political view of humanistic psychology and philosophy that proposes that we are all born free and good but that the objective social and political world perpetuates oppression and inequality and that all we need too to become free is to alter the objective world, to abolish political and economic structures and the repressive family. However, the conservative worldview in which we are unfree because of something intrinsically evil in our very nature is also rejected. Wilber adds a third viewpoint to the familiar two, that of the mystics, who suggest we are unfree because we believe in a true self (be it good or evil) at all. Rather than a need to repress or unrepress the self, they suggest we undermine such a duality in the first place, and attempt to transcend it. This appears to me to be exactly what Wilber's Atman Project is proposing, but he goes on to attempt a merging of the three views, in order to cross the boundaries of the idea of a separate self altogether.
While I do have my own problems with present day societies cult of the individual and the emphasis on each persons individual worth and right, I would also be sceptical of this attempt to let go of the self entirely and transcend to some kind of unified consciousness with God or Atmans or whatever it is Wilber is getting at. I understand that he is not talking about a return to previous social structures in which large groups of people existed solely for the benefit of their rulers, kings or leaders, but rather a more spiritual/religious unified consciousness. Where we do not identify with each other, but the great blue yonder. The biggest problem is he never really explains what that yonder is, and why we should want to achieve it. While he continually suggests that this striving is precisely what all our bloody history has been about, he never makes it a concrete possibility, or outlines what it is or why we want it. While a few select individual, most of them Buddhist eastern prophets and wise men, have already achieved this higher level, for the rest of us mere mortals we must continue to struggle on in the society we have made for ourselves, always seeking out eternity in bloody oppressive rites inflicted on each other.

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