PARTICIPATION IN THE EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS
In forging a new story for ourselves and a new vision of human possibilities I think it is important to explore the development of human consciousness. Participation is not simply a matter of interpersonal skill or political constitution—although these are important—it is also about the foundations of human understanding. That it is human consciousness that we must understand is emphasized by Mumford, who argues
Every transformation of [the human species]... has rested on a new metaphysical and ideological base; or rather, upon deeper stirrings and intuitions whose rationalised expression takes the form of a new picture of the cosmos and the nature of [humanity] (1957, p. 179).
Of course, any account of the story of human development will be just that, an account, a story; but while we cannot give a "true" account, we can attempt to be true to our sources and, at the same time "fashion a myth", as Mumford puts it, which will be of service to our time. The story I tell in these chapters is necessarily my story, grounded in my intuitions, influenced by my reading of the writers in whom I have delighted and on whose ideas I have drawn, and woven in with the texture of my life experience. I have fashioned a myth which I hope provides a vision of a participatory consciousness which helps collaborative researchers map their way through the territory. But as you read it, please remember that the myth is not the whole truth (certainly not a positivist truth) and that the map is not the territory.
The old (modern) story of progress is one of separate human consciousness battling against the forces of irrationality and of nature, emerging out of the mire of superstition toward one rational scientific truth. This story was amplified by the enormous success of scientific models in explaining the world and technological solutions to immediate material problems. The newer story (which is of course also an ancient story) points out that our rational consciousness rests on an essential foundation of tacit knowledge (Polanyi, 1958; Berman, 1981): underneath our experience of separateness is a profound and mysterious participation. We are in endless open communication with all that is around us, so we can say of the cosmos, "I am not it, yet it is all of me" (Crook, 1992, p. 46; see also Ash, 1992).
Modern biologists and systems theorists use the principle of autopoiesis—a word coined from the Greek words auto (self) and poiesis (poetry or making) and so literally meaning the self-generating poetry of living systems (Segal, 1986, p. 127; Maturana and Varela, 1987) to describe the self-organizing property of all living beings. Autopoiesis tells us that all creatures continually participate in the creation of their worlds; the interesting question for the present is the different ways in which we humans do so.
If we look at the evidence, mainly from anthropology and the study of myth and the history of consciousness, a fairly consistent story can be told which suggests that human consciousness has evolved (and is evolving) through three broad phases. In the first phase human consciousness is undifferentiated from the natural world and people live in deep unconscious communion with their surroundings. In the second phase human beings progressively differentiate themselves from their environment, developing a separate sense of self and of community; in an extreme of this phase (which characterises much of Western consciousness at the present time) participation is denied and people live in an alienated consciousness. In the third phase the sense of participation is regained but in a new way so that human beings participate intentionally and awarely in the creation of their world. This last phase is on the whole more potential than realized.
Owen Barfield's account of this development in his book Saving the Appearances (1957) provides a useful frame. He referred to these three phases as original participation, the loss or alienation of participation in the modern age, and final participation. It is particularly important to note that the worlds of original participation, loss of participation, and final participation are literally different: different worlds are created because the forms of interaction between human consciousness and the primal givenness of the cosmos are different. In particular the world of final participation is not the same as the world of original participation—it is more conscious, more choiceful, more self-reflexive (Kremer, 1992a p. 173).
In some ways I am uncomfortable with Barfield's terminology. His description of the second phase as loss of participation and as alienated consciousness (he describes it (1957, p. 43) as a form of thinking that "seeks to destroy... participation" ) implies a denigration of individualized consciousness and the creative differentiation that it brings. Barfield's terms also offer the danger that both original and final participation will be idealized and seen as bringing about some unreal harmonious world. And as Kremer points out (1992a, p. 176), it implies that there is one conclusive outcome to the development of consciousness: how do we know that "final" participation will be final? I shall borrow Kremer's terms and refer to the three phases as original participation, unconscious participation, and future participation, since these are fairly neutral. The reader should be warned that these terms are not entirely satisfactory either, in particular since the term unconscious participation is called upon to encompass both the alienation of modern consciousness that I have described, and also the creativity of differentiation.
In original participation human beings are embedded in their world, consciousness is undifferentiated, there is no separation between subject and object, and little reflectiveness. Barfield (1957) describes this as a world of representations, collective experiences of the world, which are encountered directly: they have not yet been converted by "thinking about" into external "things" with a separate existence in an "outside world".
Sukie Colgrave (1979) tells the story of original participation through the eyes of Daoist thought. She tells of the Great Nothingness, the undifferentiated Mystery which is the source of everything:
Before the Heaven and Earth existed
There was something nebulous:
Standing alone, changing not.
Eternally revolving without fail.
Worthy to be the Mother of all things.
I do not know its name
And address it as Tao (p. 8)
The evolution of all things—the physical world and human consciousness—takes place through a process of increasing differentiation from an amorphous, chaotic, and unknowable origin, from the original Great Mystery. Until the beginnings of individual consciousness there is no separation between the world and the human psyche, and thus a deep experience of peace and instinctive harmony—the mythical Golden Age. Whether such a period actually existed is arguable. However, Colgrave points to an ancient period when this radically different human consciousness was expressed in early myth and literature, and personified in the image of the Great Mother who appears in a great variety of forms throughout the ancient world.
She is the universal principle who gives birth to all things, protects them in life and calls them to Her in death. She is the vessel which contains and generates the cosmos, the Dao, or unifying principle, which guards, guides and permeates the infant consciousness of humanity. The distinctions of our "either-or" consciousness are not relevant to the Great Mother, for in her these polarities are still undifferentiated (p. 30-31).
Baring and Cashford's more recent scholarship suggests that early human consciousness was inspired and focused by "the myth of the goddess", so that the universe was perceived as an organic, alive, sacred whole in which humanity participates. "Everything is woven together in one cosmic web, where all orders of manifest and unmanifest life are related, because all share in the sanctity of the original source" (Baring and Cashford, 1991, p. xi). These early mythological images can tell us a great deal about original consciousness and the way it is participative:
Matriarchal consciousness is a diffuse, undifferentiated and all-embracing vision of the world which knows from within rather that from without, subjectively rather than objectively. It experiences the essential unity of the cosmos, and knows humanity as integral rather than separate from the whole. To this consciousness life and death are part of one continuous process controlled by Mother Earth (Colgrave, p. 35-36).
Another account of human development is provided by Murray Bookchin (1991). As an eco-anarchist, he is fiercely critical of much current thinking: "few people know how to build ideas anymore" (p. xvii). He is particularly impatient with the "mystical ecologies that are becoming popular today" (p. xvii) and would probably be alarmed to find his ideas used alongside those of Colgrave. However, from his very different perspective Bookchin takes a remarkably similar line. In his portrayal of "organic societies" he argues that they were based on a feeling of unity both between the individual and the community and between the community and its environment. As part of the balance of nature, a truly ecological community develops in a way which is peculiar to its ecosystem "with an active sense of participation in the overall environment and the cycles of nature".
The direct involvement of humanity with nature is thus not an abstraction... Nature begins as life. From the very outset of human consciousness, it enters directly into consociation with humanity—not merely harmonization or even balance. Nature as life eats at every repast, succours every new birth, grows with every child, aids every hand that throws a spear or plucks a plant, warms itself at the hearth in the dancing shadows, and sits amid the councils of the community just as the rustle of leaves and grasses is part of the air itself... But nature is not merely a habitat; it is a participant that advises the community with its omens, secures it with its camouflage, leaves its telltale messages in the broken twigs and footprints, whispers warnings in the wind's voice, nourishes it with the largesse of plants and animals, and in its countless functions and counsels is absorbed into the community's nexus of rights and duties (p. 47)
Bookchin writes of a deep and essentially unconscious sense of community in organic societies, an "equality of non-equals". He suggests that our modern words— participation, reciprocity, exchange, mutual aid—are so imbued with our perspective of the separate autonomous ego that they do not begin to capture the deep complementarity that existed between individuals, age groups and sexes.
He sees these societies as matricentric, centred around women's activities of gathering and horticulture. As Colgrave, he sees the world contained by the figure and symbolism of the Great Goddess as an expression of "the unqualified nature of mother-love itself" (p. 60). It is this unconditional love, without expectation of any reward which "makes humanness its own end rather than the tool of hierarchy and classes"(p. 61).
Bookchin argues that these original organic societies are the fundamental basis for human life, but he does not eulogise them—seeing them as fragile and parochial. In particular, he argues that since their complementarity is unconscious they are completely unguarded against hierarchy and class rule. He contrasts their unconscious complementarity with the ideals of universal justice and freedom, which emerged much later and allow us the ability to extend our sense of humanity beyond immediate kin to encompass all other peoples.
So original participation is primarily to be found in societies based on hunter-gathering and horticulture. In such societies economic activities, myth, ceremony, and storytelling knit together in an integrated whole; individuals have permeable and fluid personality structures, open to the collective conscious, the world of landscape, plants and animals, and to trance experience. Such peoples will experience themselves as embedded in and part of their local ecology. Body, emotions, mind and spirit will all be integrated aspects of the whole human person, integral aspects of their way of sensing and experiencing (Kremer, 1992b).
It is difficult for those of us in industrial societies at the end of the twentieth century, wondering what it means, if anything, to be entering a "postmodern" age, to imagine such a way of being. It is easy either to idealize or to reject, to imagine "how wonderful", or to believe with Hobbes that life in those times was really nasty, brutish, and short. It is worth contemplating that many peoples continued in such a way of being, living in stable societies and balance with their ecosystems until quite recent encounters with modern culture. It is also worth contemplating that in such societies economic activities—hunting, gathering, and horticulture—took up far less time that do agriculture or industry, leaving large periods of life free for the elaboration of life through play and ceremony (see for example Reader, 1988, p. 144; Norberg-Hodge, 1991, p. 35).
Original participation is also not so far away from us all for it remains at the ground of our being. John Heron (1992) argues that human experience originates in "a resonance with being...." Human persons "indwell the world, participate in its qualities", and experience other presences in our world not primarily by definitions but "by attunement, resonance and empathy in direct acquaintance and encounter" (p. 92). While we may relegate this experience of deep participation to relative unawareness, it remains with us, to touch us, if we will allow it, at those odd moments of a direct encounter with the presence of otherness. Such moments are truly wyrd (Bates, 1983) in that they provide an experience of deep connectedness. It is for this reason that the deep ecologists recommend wilderness experiences as part of the cure for our alienation from the living presence of the world.
For a variety of reasons, original participation cannot be sustained as the pattern of organization of consciousness. In Colgrave's story, everything—the physical world and human consciousness—arises through the process of increasing differentiation from an amorphous, chaotic, and unknowable origin, from the original Great Mystery. In Daoist philosophy it is through the interaction of yin and yang, the primary polarity, that all things evolve. Yang can be described as the masculine, active force which separates and individuates; yin as the feminine principle of relatedness which receives, nourishes and embraces.
The evolution of consciousness can be seen within the myths of the Great Mother who, encompassing both yin and yang in undifferentiated fashion, was experienced as all-embracing, all-nourishing, all-protecting. While personified as female, she contained within the seeds of an undeveloped masculine principle; she was thus androgynous, bisexual, virgin in the sense of being complete to herself. The emergence of human consciousness is associated with the differentiation of the masculine—the yang attributes of separating, penetrating, cutting, analysis.
The birth and development of the masculine principle in consciousness revolutionises humanity's experience of itself and of the world. Instead of participating instinctively in the rhythms of nature, being contained and regulated by her laws, a consciousness emerges, which assumes that people, not nature, should be primarily responsible for structuring human life. It seeks to differentiate itself from the old pre-conscious identity with the cosmos and replace the previous acceptance of control by unknown natural forces and law with the ambition to take and order nature through understanding her. Such consciousness searches for independence, autonomy and freedom. It pursues these aims through the development of a number of characteristics and skills which, in different ways, all express the central differentiating impulse of the masculine, or Yang, principle. (p. 71)
In the evolution of myth the masculine principle, which carries this task of separation, emerges first as son of the Great Mother who later "rejects her protection and finally usurps her authority" (p. 44). With this emergence of human consciousness more negative images arise of the Great Mother as all-devouring and threatening the emergence of human consciousness.
.... the Goddess became almost exclusively associated with "Nature" as the chaotic force to be mastered, and the God took the role of conquering or ordering nature from his counterpole of "spirit".... (Baring and Cashford, 1991, p. xii)
Thus humanity and nature became polarized.
Wilber (1981) tells a similar story about the emergence of what he terms the mental-ego. While in early myths the individual usually comes to a tragic end—killed, castrated, sacrificed to the Great Mother, who always triumphs—in the later "hero" myths the individual breaks free, transforms and transcends the Great Mother: the hero representing the new egoic structure of consciousness. Wilber makes the important point that while the ego, as a necessary course in the differentiation of consciousness, needed to break free from its embeddedness in the Great Mother, "in its zeal to assert its independence, it not only transcended the Great Mother, which was desirable; it repressed the Great Mother, which was disastrous" (p. 187; italics in original):
No longer harmony with the Heavens, but a "conquering of space"; no longer respect for Nature, but a technological assault on Nature. The ego structure, in order to rise arrogantly above creation, had to suppress and repress the Great Mother, mythologically, psychologically, and sociologically. And it repressed the Great Mother in all her forms. It is one thing to gain freedom from the fluctuations of nature, emotions, instincts, and environment—it is quite another to alienate them. In short, the Western ego did not just gain its freedom from the Great Mother, it severed its deep interconnectedness with her (p. 187; italics in original).
So for Colgrave, Wilber and Baring and Cashford (who base their accounts on the scholarship of others including Campbell, Gebser and Neumann as well as on their own research) the necessary differentiation of consciousness becomes the domination of one form of consciousness over another, and the consciousness of the Western world shifts from original participation to a denial of participation.
Berman (1981) has written an account of the history of this shift since the seventeenth century. He shows how the denial of participation is also the denial of the body, of myth, and of the feminine. He points out that even though we repress the connection, the explicit, conscious knowledge of the Western world must always rest on a pre-conscious, tacit knowing; similarly participation is never abolished: we human beings remain an integral part of this planet and of this cosmos however much at times we chose to deny it.
With the denial of participation human consciousness is left uncontained by a greater whole. People living in a culture characterized by original participation may have lived in fear of the power and unpredictability of their physical and spiritual environment, but they belonged. Once participation is denied, humanity is left drifting, unconnected to the greater whole, open to existential terror at the meaningless and contingency of being. The part cannot contain the whole, conscious purpose can only encompass a limited arc of the ecological circuits of the natural world (Bateson, 1972). The mind develops endless anxiety-driven intellectual systems to fill the void, and the experience of original participation is driven yet further away.
Bookchin's account of the shift from the participative consciousness of organic societies provides a different emphasis, for it is in the emergence of social hierarchy that the old order is destroyed. In those societies that became more complex and differentiated, specialization of tasks was organised on the basis of gender and age: women's work was in the home and men's outside; the young were active producers and the old the source of wisdom and tradition. While it is possible for such specialization to remain fully complementary, it also contains the seeds of domination as separate interest groups develop (particularly the elders and the men) and gain power: differentiation becomes separation as interests are seen as in conflict. The civic sphere outside the home grows and develops a meaning in its own right. More powerful and specialized technologies are developed. Hierarchies emerge and with them "epistemologies of rule" based on notions of command and obedience and subject-object relationships and a "transcendental" notion of order over nature and society.
Bookchin makes no bones about his view that this is all bound up with the emergence of patriarchy and the development of a male-oriented society; and that the development of hierarchy in society goes hand in hand with the oppression of nature:
... woman haunts this male "civilization" with a power that is more than archaic or atavistic. Every male-oriented society must persistently exorcise her ancient powers, which abide in her ability to reproduce the species, to rear it, to provide it with a loving refuge from the "unfriendly world", indeed, to accomplish those material achievements—food cultivation, pottery, and weaving, to cite the most assured of women's technical inventions—that rendered that world possible, albeit on terms quite different from those formulated by the male.
The subjugation of her nature... forms the archetypal act of domination that ultimately gives rise to man's imagery of a subjugated nature (p. 121).
It would appear that the emergence of patriarchal hierarchy is to some extent dependent on the ecology of the region in which the original community is located. Bookchin argues that hierarchy emerged first among nomadic desert people as opposed to settled horticulturists—and par excellence among the Hebrews. Turner (1980) sees Western civilization's pervasive antagonism toward the natural world as having its roots in the desert cultures of the Near East, which were forced to wrest a living from a reluctant land. Crook (1980; personal communication) has traced the influence of ecology on social organization, and argues that while settled societies based on horticulture may be organized in a complementary and matrifocal fashion, nomadic cultures are more likely to be less settled and more land-hungry, to develop separate arenas for men and for women and thus more likely to develop hierarchical and dominating social organizations. These "dominator" cultures (Eisler, 1990) subsequently invade the more settled and peaceful horticultural peoples. The development of agriculture on a larger scale, the consequent emergence of a surplus of food production and the growth of cities amplified this process.
To summarize, unconscious participation, and with it an alienated consciousness, appears first in nomadic tribes and seems to have reached a peak in Western industrial societies. Such societies will experience themselves as separate from a hostile and chaotic natural world, and strive for control over it. Mythological process will be unconscious and devalued, and intellectual processes over-valued, science eventually taking over as the new (unconscious) myth. Individuals will have relatively rigid and boundaried personality structures; the experience of trance states will be rare and marginalized (although the whole society in some way remains in unconscious trance). The relationship with wilderness becomes increasingly oppositional. Mind is prized as the most important human faculty; the body either pampered or tolerated; emotions repressed; and spirit devalued or denied (Kremer, 1992b).
Barfield interestingly terms this state of affairs an "idolatry", because what is in essence a representation of the world—the phenomena that arise in the original participation between human consciousness and the primordial stuff of the cosmos—is reified, experienced "as objects in their own right, existing independently of human consciousness" (p. 142). This confusion of the image with the real is the essence of idolatry. As he says,
Idolatry is an ugly and emphatic word and it was deliberately chosen to emphasize certain ugly features, and still more ugly possibilities, inherent in the present situation (p. 142).
However, he also acknowledges some of the advantages of experiencing objects as separate from human consciousness to which I shall return later.
Feminist re-visioning of human development
From a feminist perspective, this story of human development in the West is a story of a masculine path. It is clear that the evolution of the Western mind has been a masculine project (Tarnas, 1993) and has been founded on the repression of the feminine—not only the repression of the undifferentiated consciousness of original participation, but also of the feminine wisdom principle, personified in the figure of Sophia who, as Long shows (1992) originally stood alongside and ultimately contained the masculine deity. Feminist writers argue that women in industrial societies carry the muted voice of participative consciousness within patriarchal culture and are aware of the violence done to human and planetary relationships by loss of participation, hierarchy, and alienation. Modern feminist scholarship points to potential differences between women and men in styles of thinking and valuing (Marshall, 1993). Thus Gilligan (1982) writes of the importance of relationship and Miller (1976) to affiliation as central to women's identity. Belenky and her colleagues (Belenky et al, 1986; Goldberger et al, 1987) have explored women's ways of knowing and emphasize the importance of dialogue, reciprocity and co-operation. Eco-feminists have asserted the parallels between the oppression of women and the destruction of the planet (Plant, 1989). While this work is important for women in developing their authentic identity in western society, it is also crucial for humanity as a whole in showing that alienation from participation is not necessarily at the foundation of human consciousness.
So was the route through an extreme form of loss of participation necessary for the development of human consciousness? Did the human ego have to haul itself out of the unconscious thrall of the Great Mother, have to go on to repress the Great Mother as Wilber describes, to exorcise her ancient powers as Bookchin has it? If we look at the story of Western patriarchal industrial cultures the answer appears to be "Yes", but with the benefit of this feminist scholarship an alternative perspective emerges: in some societies human consciousness may have evolved without going through this over-masculinized stage of unconscious participation.
Riane Eilser's (1990) thesis, in her study of the development of European culture, is that society can be organized in two contrasting fashions, which she terms the dominator model and the partnership model. Societies organized on the dominator model tend to be hierarchical, warlike, and in particular to value masculine principles over the feminine; partnership societies tend to be peaceful, agricultural, and, while they may specialize tasks along gender lines, do not raise one above the other. Eisler proposes, on the basis of careful examination and re-visioning of the archaeological evidence, that
the original direction in the mainstream of our cultural evolution was toward partnership, but that, following a period of chaos and almost total cultural disruption, there occurred a fundamental social shift (1990, p. xvii).
The shift was toward the dominator model, triggered by the invasion of fierce, warlike patriarchal tribes from the Asian and European north and the desert south.
Partnership societies were highly evolved. It would appear from the archaeological evidence that human society emerged from Barfield's original participation much earlier than he proposed. Neolithic civilization was highly sophisticated in Europe, and was the time when "the first great breakthroughs in our material and social technology were made" (Eisler, 1990, p. 12); "early Europeans developed a complex social organization involving craft specialization" (Eisler, 1990, p. 13; see also Swimme and Berry, 1992 chapter 9). It is difficult to believe that these complex societies were based on a pure form of original participation: there must have been a high degree of purpose, planning, and reflexiveness. Yet the social organization was articulated in terms of equality and partnership.
Thus the picture from archaeology and from myth is different from that presented by Colgrave and Wilber:
the world of myth was not polarized into female and male as it was among the Indo-Europeans and many other nomadic and pastoral peoples of the steppes. Both principles were manifest side by side. The male divinity in the shape of the young man or male animal appears to affirm and strengthen the forces of the creative and active female. Neither is subordinate to the other: by complementing one another, their power is doubled (Gimbutas, 1982; as quoted in Eisler, p. 27)
The example of Crete is central to Eisler's book, for here was a civilization noted as remarkable by male and female archaeologists and historians, immensely sophisticated, economically successful, and highly egalitarian. Eisler characterises it as a place with
joyful and mythically meaningful ritual and artistic play.... [with] equal partnership between women and men... Cretan art appears to reflect a society in which power is not equated with dominance, destruction, and oppression (p. 32-36).
Eisler's story is one told for a purpose, to re-vision our view of power, domination and partnership, and to revalue the feminine. Her point is not to idealize ancient Crete but to offer an appreciation of a society based on very different assumptions from those of the modern West: she offers a new picture of the development of European civilization and offers the partnership model of cultural development. In the Western hemisphere indigenous feminist studies offer a similar picture. Paula Gunn Allen describes Native American tribal cultures as
posited on the notion of participation… all life is a circle and everything has its place within it. Life is really a kind of dynamic sphere in which everything is interconnected, alive, and intelligent (1986, p. 26-27)
In her book The Sacred Hoop (1992) Allen points out how often Western studies of tribal cultures offer distorted understanding because they force these cultures into a patriarchal frame. She describes tribal cultures as "more often gynocratic than not, they are never patriarchal" (p. 2). She points to the complexity and sophistication of these cultures, in which
a multitude of personality and character types can function positively within the social order because the systems are focused on social responsibility rather than on privilege and on the realities of the human constitution rather than on denial based social fictions to which human beings are compelled to conform by powerful individuals within society (1992, p. 3).
One particularly interesting aspect of this for my current argument is that in some traditional tribal cultures there was a much wider latitude in sexual style: passive, nurturing men and assertive women have their place, as do female and male homosexuals and transvestites: it would appear that gender identity was traditionally far less polarised and antagonistic than in the West. This observation conforms with Watts (1963) contention that western epistemology tends to place opposites in an antagonistic dualism while the Eastern cultures he studied place them in a creative interactional dance.
Allen's essay on the tradition of Native American sacred literature in particular describes a highly developed, self-reflective yet still participative culture
The tribes seek—through song, ceremony, legend, sacred stories (myths), and tales—to embody, articulate, and share reality, to bring the isolated, private self into harmony and balance with this reality, to verbalize the sense of the majesty and reverent mystery of all things, and to actualize, in language, those truths that give to humanity its greatest significance and dignity (1992, p. 55).
This is not a description of original participation in the sense of being unconscious and unreflective.
Allen espouses a dialectical form of consciousness in which the boundaries are fluid and the person can move in and out of deep participation: in the world of everyday life the person is a distinct being in a world of separate (though interconnected) objects, while non-ordinary reality is far more relative, with the potential of merging with other beings or with the whole of existence. A full adult in traditional tribal society is able to experience in both ways (1986, p. 29).
Thus while the route to future participation for Western civilization may be through the loss of participation, this may not be so for all humanity. Eisler, Allen, and others (Gimbutas, 1982; Stone, 1978; 1992) point to the past and present existence of cultures in which a reflective human consciousness has differentiated out of original participation in much more fluid ways.
This cautionary comment is needed if we are not to be mislead by Barfield's framework. The danger of evolutionary or developmental maps of consciousness or personality is that they are usually composed from a mainstream Western perspective and see Western rationality as the high point of human consciousness. Some of us in the West are just discovering the limits of the modern world view and are seeking a new participative consciousness, which other cultures may have already developed. In addition, many indigenous peoples have been forced to live within the tension between their traditional cultures, which may have strong elements of original participation, and Western unconscious and alienated participation. As a result, members of such societies may have evolved further toward a future participation than any of us in the West (Kremer, 1992b).
Fals-Borda and Rahman (1991), describing the process of participatory action research with oppressed peoples, specifically celebrate the participative quality of their cultural relationships. They describe them as
rooted in cultural traditions of the common people… which are resplendent with feelings and attitudes of an altruistic, cooperative and communal nature and which are genuinely democratic (1991, p. 5).
My first response to this was that it might be an idealization of oppressed peoples; but if I take seriously the work of Eisler and her colleagues I see that there may be here an important insight.
As Western cultures move toward a future participation a new relationship may develop between the industrial and indigenous peoples of the world, with a revaluing of the gifts of participative consciousness that the latter have to offer. These cultures may then again begin to develop spontaneously as imperialist and genocidal pressures subside. As the representatives of indigenous peoples assert in the Kari-Oca Village Declaration:
We, the Indigenous Peoples, maintain our inherent rights to self-determination. We have always had the right to decide our own forms of government, to use our own laws, to raise and educate our children, to our own cultural identity without interference (Kari-Oca Village Declaration, 1992).
Valid and degenerate forms of participation
However these contrasting forms of consciousness arose in the history of human consciousness—and we can imagine that this took place through several diverse pathways—I find it helpful to see them as exhibiting particularly valid and degenerate forms in contemporary life. By valid forms I mean those which elaborate and develop, multiplying possibilities of human experience, which encourage self-directedness and self-articulation; and which support communication and communion (here I am using as criteria of quality Swimme and Berry's characteristics of the creative cosmos: differentiation, autopoiesis, and communion). In contrast degenerate forms are those which in some sense rigidify, distort and close down possibilities. In making this distinction it is important to watch out for an almost inevitable tendency to stereotype and idealize.
Original participation honours humanity's embeddedness in the wholeness, the seamless web of the world. It allows us to resonate with being, to experience our presence in the world, to encounter directly other presences in the world and presence of the world as a whole. This capacity for resonating with being is the foundation of all experience, it is the source from which emerges the imagery in which we clothe this world of presence—the imagery of the senses and of dream and story, myth and archetype. Here I am following Heron's argument that the human capacity for directly encountering the presence of the world, and the imagery that cascades from this, is prior to language, categories and concepts, and is the bedrock experiential knowing on which all else is built (Heron, 1992).
So a valid form of original participation means that the individual, with soft and permeable character structure, will feel in alignment and community with the "other", including the human, animal, plant, and mineral worlds, and would experience these as infused with sacred presence. Awareness will be immediate rather than reflective, emphasising experience—physically and kinaesthetically—and imagination—in myth, dream, song and story. Individual permeability will be reflected in the culture, with no harsh boundaries dividing cultural groups (gender, class, race, sexual preference etc.).
That this authentic form of deep participation has been highly developed can be seen from accounts indigenous people's experience worldwide—and in particular the accounts of healers and shamanic experience (Black Elk and Lyon, 1990). In the West we may see it in the life work of mystics such as Meister Eckhart (Fox, 1983), and some artists and poets. Barfield turned to the Romantic movement for "a kind of instinctive impulse towards iconoclasm" (p. 137) which might topple the idols of reification; in particular he explored Goethe's scientific work, which he sees as containing "the germ of a systematic investigation of phenomena by way of participation" (p. 137-8; see also Bortof, 1986; Goodwin 1992). However Heron (1992) argues that this kind of direct experience of the presence of the world is available to each one of us, and clearly can be enhanced through the exercises he describes, those offered by Houston (1982), and through disciplines such as meditation and martial arts.
In degenerate forms of original participation consciousness is buried rather than immersed, flooded by context so that boundaries are lost or destroyed rather than permeable. Mythologies degenerate into superstition, playfulness becomes mere entertainment. Individuals disappear and societies stagnate, caught unawarely in recursive cycles. This is the ever-present danger of original participation: the notion of karma may be apt to describe some aspects of this.
I have already explored in Chapter One the degenerate form of unconscious participation, in which individual experience is isolated and cut-off, fragile and brittle, wounded and distressed; and the structures of society are similarly rigid. I have argued in the present chapter that it was not the differentiation of consciousness that was the problem: that was necessary for the articulation of diverse forms of being; rather it was the repression and denial of participation, and the domination of one form of consciousness over another.
What is important for our time is to articulate a valid form of this differentiated consciousness. The essence of this is expressed by Martin Buber in his essay Distance and Relation (1965). Human life, he writes, is based on a twofold movement, the first of which he calls "the primal setting at a distance" and the second "entering into relation":
That the first movement is the presupposition of the other is plain from the fact that one can enter into relation only with being which has been set at a distance.... (p. 60).
The setting at a distance supposes a boundary to the self, but one through which one can reach to Other, so that knower and known are distinct (but not separate) centres of being. Consciousness can become purposive and rational, and as Bookchin points out can range beyond the immediate situation to encompass the universal human and the wider process of the planet: notions of justice, freedom, and human rights are possible from this consciousness. It is a worldview based on concepts and practice, on the development of the human mind as the primary way of being in the world.
A major pitfall for autonomous differentiated consciousness as it remains unconscious of participation is that it will get caught in one belief system, taking words and concepts to be the things in themselves, mistaking the map for the territory and not realizing the many visions of the world which are possible—the essence of idolatry, as Barfield points out. It may also mistake the process of map-making for the exploration of the territory, so that knowledge becomes bound up in intellectual structures rather than in cycles of experience, imagery, practice and reflection. Once intellect escapes the discipline of deep participative experience it quite literally creates all manner of worlds and can be quite ungrounded and out of touch. A second major pitfall is the tendency to cut through and attempt to control, through straight line purposive thinking, the complex ecological webs that constitute the natural world, and in doing so cut through essential feedback loops that maintain balance and prevent runaway escalation (Bateson, 1972)
There is a world of difference between a consciousness that fragments and rips apart, and a consciousness which separates in order to look back and behold with awe and love (Bakan, ). According to Susan Griffin, Bacon stated that "we must put nature on the rack and wrest her secrets from her"; she catalogues the way in which modern science emerged in historical parallel with the burning of witches in Europe (Griffin, 1984). Separated consciousness, it seems, is an appalling danger unless based on a genuine experience of love, because love returns us to a sense of connectedness with that from which we are separate. Thus the true naturalist literally loves what he or she studies, and from a place of difference beholds and celebrates its beauty and its difference; similarly the true hunter knows intimately and loves that which he hunts. This quality of consciousness recognises the sacredness of the other, and thus opens the space for inquiry from a state of grace (Reason, 1993; Skolimowski, 1992). Martin Buber shows us how distance and relation are intertwined, and that the essence of relation is confirmation, the acknowledgement, recognition, of the other in their own uniqueness—another way of speaking of deep love. As we have seen from Bookchin, it is this quality that constitutes humanity.
That this capacity lies so immeasurably fallow constitutes the real weakness and questionableness of the human race: actual humanity exists only where this capacity unfolds (Buber, 1965, p. 68).
The highest form of this consciousness has brought us remarkable gifts, as we can see from the great achievements of civilization—scientific, artistic, moral and cultural. I have already given one account of the dangers of fragmentation.
The difficulty with both deep and separated consciousness standing alone is that the degenerate form is always close at hand, haunting the valid form and ready to engulf it. Original participation denies differentiation just as unconscious participation denies communion: neither of these forms of consciousness are sufficient unto themselves. As I have hinted already and will explore further in the next chapter, a future reflexive participation must be essentially dialectical, always in movement, formed moment to moment in creative resolutions of the paradox between deep participation and separated consciousness.