I present my view of existentialism and why I see it as being a harbinger of the next stage of human evolution. |
Existentialism arose as a consequence of the intensification of the stresses in the subconscious minds of western humanity from the 19th century onwards.
Ordinary life is lived at a fairly low level of intensity. Each person usually faces life within a framework of social support systems – family, partner, friends, employment, religion. Only when tragedy strikes does life become intense for a while. But even then the social support systems often have the effect of reducing that intensity without offering a deep understanding of the meaning of tragedy.
Very few people, on their own, embrace the intensity of life. A person, independently of support, almost never faces the confrontation with reality.
However, in one lifetime or other, there comes a time when they have to do this. The person has to stand alone, face to face with reality, and try to make sense of it. He has to stand alone, shorn of any support systems.
This situation has been familiar to many seekers over the long history of mankind on Earth. But all such meetings have usually occurred within two major perspectives of belief. One perspective is focused on manipulating reality (the how of reality – how does reality function ? ). The other perspective orientates to understanding why reality exists (the why of reality – what is the purpose of reality ? ).
The first perspective
This is shamanism. The seeker relies on a symbolic framework of thought. The shaman is more concerned with using the power inherent in reality than in attempting to understand reality. Shamanism has various mutations, such as magic, and has spawned various offshoots, such as astrology, divination and alchemy (leading to science). Though interesting in its own right, this perspective is not the subject of this article.
The second perspective
This is the religious traditions of east and west. These all attempt to understand the purpose of reality, doing this by rationalising the experience of life into a theoretical / philosophical ideology. This ideology teaches that in this confrontation with reality, the individual has no value. The personality or ego is proclaimed to be a hindrance to the fulfilment of spiritual purpose on Earth. Personal evolution, personal growth, is not a feature of this view. In this way, reality is understood, to a limited extent.
For nearly all the whole period of western history, the religious interpretation has been the only contender for the pursuit of understanding. However, this situation began to change in the 19th century. For the first time, thinkers appeared who faced the ultimate confrontation with reality and offered a different interpretation. From this time onward personal growth was no longer denied.
They scorned the religious dogma of denying value and validity to the ego. They understood that the ego has value in its own right. But what value could be found in reality ? . Rejecting religious ideology, they had to face alone the existence of good and evil, the sorrow and violence in a human life, the injustice that is built into the need to survive in a hostile and meaningless world. They had to find meaning in a world that destroys the attempt to lead a noble life.
These explorers understood that social support systems only cover up and hide these primary issues. The answers that the person needs have to come from within himself, independently of social support, independently of religious ideology. The thinking of these explorers has been grouped together under the name of existentialism.
The primary difference between the perspectives of religion and existentialism is that while religion gives meaning to sorrow, the existentialist attempts to give meaning to life.
This dichotomy arises from a difference of emphasis. The religious interpretation revolves around the level of power (and faith). The existential interpretation revolves around the level of injustice (and love - hate). The religious interpretation has its ideas on justice (as karma), and existentialists have ideas on power, but these are secondary aspects for each of them.
The Birth of Modern Psychology
Why is there this difference between the religious and the existentialist interpretations ? . The major subconscious influences on the spiritual seeker are always guilt and fear. Until the 19th century, the guilt was more powerful and usually hid the fear. Historically, the subconscious mind was too awful to investigate safely, so the guilt had to be denied. Since guilt is an aspect of the ego, so by denying value to his ego the seeker attempted to deny the power of guilt. Thus arose the religious preference for interpreting meaning through the emphasis on sorrow. In such a manner the guilt could be neutralised, or apparently so.
In the 19th century there was a mass upsurge of psychological awareness in the western consciousness. The emotional dynamics of the subconscious mind of each person were intensified. Now fear was no longer buried by guilt : both emotions became equally intense. This mass development of awareness led to the first stirrings of existentialism. Both guilt and fear act strongly on the subconscious mind of the modern thinker. Thus arose the existential preference for interpreting meaning through the emphasis on living a noble life. The subconscious influence of fear generated the analysis of the quality of life.
The religious interpretation arose as a response to guilt.
The existential interpretation arose as a response to fear.
The primary deficiency within the existentialist tradition has been the lack of psychological empiricism. The themes of consciousness that the subconscious mind highlighted were treated philosophically, instead of using a combination of philosophy and psychology.
I am both a philosopher and a psychologist. Hence my perspective on existentialism is different from previous thinkers. I treat the irrationality of the subconscious mind under the psychological concept of confusion, whereas other thinkers treat it under the philosophical concept of absurdity.
How does existentialist ideas relate to the future line of development of humanity (perhaps for the next 2000 years, till the end of the Aquarian age) ?
For the past few thousands of years the focus of evolution was power. First the symbolic use and expression of it in shamanism and magic (during mythological times). Then the religious use of it (within recorded history). This level of evolution developed morality, or the interpretation of reality in terms of moral values. Goodness was believed to be separate from badness. Faith was the final achievement for most of humanity (only a comparative few went further).
Now the emphasis is changing to a focus on justice. All the previously- repressed aspects of identity are coming to be accepted and valued : for example, sexual and gender identities. Equality between roles, sex, race, etc is gradually occurring. These changes had to await the development of psychology theory. Such theory enables the person to accept that, within the subconscious mind, goodness and badness are linked together and are not separate. Hence this level of evolution will develop the interpretation of reality in terms of psychological values. The final achievement for most of humanity will be love.
In the past, the religious person believed that once he had acquired faith, he had finally made it. History has not supported this view, primarily because the religious person did not know how to handle power harmoniously. At present, some people believe that if we all have love, then we will have finally made it. But the 1960s hippie dream of free love turned sour in the 1970s. This was because they did not know how to handle justice and injustice (acting through the dialectical processes of the subconscious mind).
It has taken millennia to learn to handle power, and so it is likely to take just as long to learn to handle love.
What lies beyond the next 2000 years? . Perhaps, in the very distant future, the focus of all humanity will be on freedom. This will be a time of pure spirituality, when the person can act responsibly without needing the safety restraints of morality and psychology.
Equanimity will rule.
Author Bio :
Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath, owner of a map of psychological spirituality suitable for modern times.
Number of comments for this article : 0