In the 1970s Julian Jaynes, a distinguished Princeton psychologist, wrote an influential book with a cumbersome title: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes defines the bicameral mind as a two-part mind, or brain, that functions as a single unit — as distinct from a brain with two hemispheres operating separately but joined by a bridge. Attributing the conscious mind to the left hemisphere and the unconscious to the right, he suggests that in a bicameral mind there is no division between conscious and unconscious. He argues that in the early days of settled civilizations, around the third millennium BCE, the human brain was still bicameral. This is why in the records from that era Sumerian and Babylonian documents and even Homer's telling of the Trojan War — we find kings and prophets hearing "the voices of the gods" in the form of auditory hallucinations. The gods thus intervened into human history, commenting on and dictating policy on whether to go to war, build fortifications, store up food, and so on. Something resembling modern consciousness was enabled, Jaynes says, only when this early, bicameral stage of the human mind "broke down" into two tenuously linked but separate spheres of mentality.

(The Fundamentalist Mind, Stephen Larsen)


Rationality and Modernity

At the beginning of the twentieth century Simmel foresaw that the "deepest problem of modern life" would lie in the "attempts of the individual to maintain independence . . . of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life." Not everyone accepts Simmers priorities in these concerns, but there is wide agreement on the form and direction of contemporary change.

Industrial civilization is now in the throes of a historically unprecedented, meteoric realignment of social, economic, and cognitive patterning Max Weber called "rationalization" and more generally is referred to as "modernity." Institutions and relationships are being permeated by an urge toward logical planning, structured management, measurement and calculation on all fronts.

Some argue this Enlightenment-spawned project goes well enough. Rational economic organization combines capitalism, machine process, and cybernetic control to produce goods and services in unprecedented abundance. Technology, rationalization's concrete manifestation, provides the leverage to pry away the Earth's crust, capture the power of the sun, and fling men to the moon. It brings within grasp the abilities to suppress polio, reattach retinas with tiny blades of laser light, and restructure the genetic foundations of living organisms. Reason in law continues to enfranchise and even opportunities, increase tolerance for diversity, and broaden the range of peoples included in self-determination. These are the benefits claimed for rationality. Others point to the deficiencies.

In the French tradition the rate of change in opportunity structures outstrips the normative order, leaving persons "separated from the social substance" as Hegel put it, anomic in Durkheim's terms, confused, destabilized, disoriented, cut off from the collective conscience. The rationalized world increasingly becomes an artificial product of mechanical manipulation, estranged and separated from conquered nature. Modern science replaces primitive superstition, but with new ways of knowing comes a vast new unknown. The pantheon of ancient gods, the mysterious animation of ever present spirits and sprites have vanished. The once-sacred stream is channeled and dammed, the sacred grove measured for board-feet of timber. Astronomers and astronauts reach out into the expanding universe and discover humanity's insignificance and solitude. Instead of the surety of God's grace there remains only the ability to reject null hypotheses, to reduce the probability of error. Knowledge of material things is gained, but encompassing, spiritual understanding of life is lost. The residuum is the sparse legacy of Democritus: atoms, empty space, and "mere opinion."

Rationality begins to set its own agenda. Expanding scientific inquiry, commercial applications, and the burgeoning affairs of state demand ever larger and more specialized organizations, further dispassionate management and refined calculation. Late-stage capitalism and monolithic governments reduce persons to objects and objects to commodities, occasioning what Hegel called a "separation from self," an estrangement Marx labeled the alienation of labor. Workplace loyalty and tradition are replaced by meritocracy and cost-benefit analysis; craft and skill are subjugated to the depersonalized routines of automated mass assembly. Personal worth is increasingly gauged by the control, display, and consumption of material goods and visible services rather than one's role in producing them.

How are these intrusions met? Not well, according to many accounts. Faced with the growing power and complexity of modern institutions, the diminishing individual no longer hopes to comprehend or control even a fraction of the forces that surround her or him. Bloated, sclerotic social structures, amoral inconstancy, powerlessness, purposelessness— these too are the legacies claimed for rationalization. In response, the human condition declines in two directions: toward frenetic hyper-conformity, the "one-dimensional," "other-directed," "organizational," or "protean" marionettes of modem bureaucratic life; or toward disintegrating deviance—suicide, crime, mental illness, political apathy or extremism, and other destructive behaviors and beliefs.

Dancing at Armageddon, Richard G. Mitchell

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