…”Now there are times, when a whole generation is caught in this way, between two ages, two modes of life with the consequences that it loses all power to understand itself and has no standard, no security, no simple acquiescence”… The above quote is from the book, Steppenwolf, by Herman Hess. The quote describes a whole society involved in self conflict because of a premature overlapping of an older generation by its succeeding generation before the older generation was ready to retire. The consequence of such a condition left a whole society in a battle of wills, unable to evolve existing principles into acceptable standards of conduct for its future survival. Although I cannot think of a historical example of an ancient or contemporary society of this kind of generational overlap, the consequences related to it: the lose of power of a society to understand itself, the dissolution of standards of conduct, and the chronic unrest, correspond noticeably well with the kind of symptoms exhibited in our present society.
Our current unrest is so profound and so deep that it cuts across all aspects of our society, (economic, educational, political, spiritual). Everyone seems to be cut away from existing cultural principles of structure and conduct, searching desperately for some kind of reliable standard of thought and conduct that would ease and stabilize our unrest and give us our bearings, so that we could chart a true and accurate course into the future. Our once “blind-faith” approach to our religions, and our reliance on the “rock solid, copper sheath” framework of our government have been riddled by skepticism and cynicism. Where once our society had clear vision and purpose drawn from high virtue and noble values, it now sees no farther then sensual and psychological gratifications. Where once our society built its hopes and future on high principles of justice, equality, and tolerance, it now places its hopes and future on appearance, personality, and scientific powers. The once high principled fabric of our society has been ripped by the attributes of our lower self: greed, privilege, indolence, indulgence, selfish ambition.
No where in our relatively brief history has there been a period of transition of the comprehensive magnitude as we are now experiencing. The Civil War was a devastating event, and almost laid ruin to our fledgling society, yet it didn’t reach the spiritual and intellectual comprehensiveness as is true of today’s transition period. The Industrial Revolution, although comprehensive in the field of sociology and economic material affects, didn’t expose our basic principles of thought and conduct to the threat of dissolution. The Decade of the 60’s, with its protests and rebellion, was not as comprehensive a transition period as is being experienced now. Although a direct assault was launched against established governmental and moral principles, its main focus was on specific, perceived injustices. When those injustices were satisfactorily dissolved, so too was the greater part of the 60’s social conscience.
In order to find a historical precedence for such a comprehensive period of transition, we would have to step out of U.S. History and into Ancient European History. The closest parallel to our current period of transition is that of the Roman Empire; that period just after its zenith, and at the beginning of its descending arc. That period, like our, was marked by unusual forms of ideas and activities involving the dissolution of principles of thought and conduct, and perceptual novelties both of a spiritual and intellectual character. See if you can detect any similarity in the thought and conduct of the Senate of the Roman Empire during its declining period with the thought and conduct of our U.S. Congress and other governing bodies of our society: …”divided hopes, indigent at the institutions of the state which it ruled, and yet incapable of even systematic assailing them, vacillating in all its conduct except where its own material advantage prompted decision, a picture of faithlessness toward its own as well as the opposite party, of the inward inconsistency of the most pitfall impotence, of the meanest selfishness, and an unsurpassed ideal of misrule”…
The match between the declining Roman Empire and our current society is obviously not perfect, but the similarities are striking. If this match were studied in detail, no doubt many remarkable insights could be drawn about the condition and possible future of our society, but we will leave that study to a motivated scholar. Here we are interested in drawing a wider, more universal comparison. Our society is comparatively much younger then the Roman Empire of the period under consideration. The Roman Empire had already progressed to its zenith and was in decline. Our society is still progressing. To a true student of Universal Nature the fact that our society is in a growth phase of development would be very significant. To him a society is effected by the same cyclical and periodic “Laws of Nature” imposed on all manifest things, from the cosmic to the local. All things revolve according to Nature’s Grooves: first, from birth to growth, leveling a some middle point, then decay and finally death. Nothing is exempt from these Laws.
By a comparison between a periodic phase of the Roman Empire with our current society, we have discovered a fundamental principle at work within Universal Nature. With this knowledge we can begin to unlock the meaning behind our period of transition. (It should be obvious that what is being done here is developing a paradigm for purposes of drawing an analogy. Statistical accuracy is not necessary, approximations will do.)
Our country, as an independent society, is relatively young, some 233 years old. If we mark the average life expectancy of new civilizations at 1000 years, for no other reason then it seems empirically reasonable, then our society, at this point in time, has spend approximately a little less then one fifth of its average life. This places our society within the growth phase of Nature’s Grooves.
Our next step is to relate the periodic and developmental phases of a human being to that of the present chronological position of our society. This step may be viewed by some readers as a giant leap into full blown fantasy, but I believe there is sound reason behind the idea. The obvious reason is that all societies are created out of the minds of human beings. That there should not exist a direct causative relationship between the thoughts and conduct of the human beings that make up a society and the society itself, is absurd. Add to the above reason that human beings are, in composition, microcosmic representations of the macrocosm, and the reasons begin to crystallize. Thus , knowledge of the processes and phases that function within human beings can be applied, by direct analogy, to the processes and phases of a larger scale, namely our society.
Now, if take the current age of our society, 233 years old, (counting from 1776), and relate it to the average life expectancy and developmental phases of a human being of this period of human evolution, we can draw an analogy that locates the present phase of development of our society. The average life expectancy currently in our society is approximately 78 years. One fifth of 78 is 15.6 years. By analogy then, one fifth of our society’s life span is equivalent to 15.6 years of a human being’s life span. Thus our society is at the developmental phase analogous to a 15 year old human being.
At 15 years old, a human being is beginning to find and unfold his personal-life identity, and to integrate that unfoldment with his imagination and will. On psychological level the apt word to describe this awakening faculty is passion. A fifteen year old can begin to bring passion into his life, not only of the sexual kind, but also passion expressing the full range of his life. Desire invokes a passion which in turn becomes its vehicle of force that fires the imagination and will toward the gratification or achievement of the desire. The exercise of this acquired, impassioned, mental faculty brings the fifteen year old human a feeling of adult power. However, the power that is felt is mixed with an element of danger, which is a blind spot to the teenager because he lacks the experience necessary to foresee the effects of the use of his passions. Not only does this position of ignorance leaves him vulnerable to unseen consequences, but also vulnerable to the manipulation of a stronger more experienced will. The temperament of a fifteen year old is usually one of mental and physical restlessness, moodiness, negativism, and a susceptibility to low influences. In situations where he ought to take a strong moral positions he vacillates and can succumb easily to low influences. His moral stamina is very low.
Our nation is at a present stage of development equivalent to a fifteen year old human being. Where the unfolding of desire coupled with the force of passion has recntly been installed into our nation’s consciousness. As a nation, we feel this power and begin to express it through all aspects of our national life, and because we haven’t enough experience to integrated this power with regard to control, it escapes our higher reason. Consequently, as with any initial developmental phase, there will be many failures, followed by feelings of frustration, anger, and impotency. It is like a young child at the walking stage. He stands, wabbles, and falls hundreds of times before gaining enough strength and stability necessary to walk. Because we are involved with the development of a faculty of mind that must be integrated with other mental and physical faculties, the difficulity of mastery is compounded many times. This difficulty of mastery can be sighted as the cause of our general feelings of unrest, and as the motivation behind the widespread feelings of caution and conservatism, and anger and violence.
Simply, our nation is making the mistakes of the human adolescent; letting the force of our passion and emotion have full reign over our conscience, our higher reason, while oblivious to the consequences. Because of the low moral stamina associated with this phase of human development, our desires are bent toward our lower natures. This reign of our lower natures has overwhelmed our higher reason to the point that we resemble those persons which Plato describe that have no experience with wisdom and virtue: …”they look ever downward and feed…they kick and butt with iron horns and hooves and kill one another, because of their insatiate desire…”
We have let our lower passions loose, and given them reign over the fabric of our nation’s consciousness; a mistake of an adolescent. Our national, moral conscious has consequently been voluntarily distracted by all manner of vice, amusements, entertainments, and personal, material ambitions, and gratifications. Yet as serious and dangerous as is the present state of our national consciousness, hope and courage can be raised from the idea that this condition is temporary, (remembering that the word, “temporary” when related to a growing society can mean 50 to 100 years or more). Every parent who has successfully guided his child through adolescence can testify to the difficulty and enormous effort involved, and to the tremendous reward in seeing the blossoming of a good young adult.
This then is the nature of our period of transition where we are in the process of evolving existing national principles into new standers of thought and conduct which correspond to the unfolding of our expanding consciousness. On a more practical level, we can correctly say, that we are in the process of changing national habits. Pain, suffering, and disorder are the natural symptoms of this transformation, and are motivations for progress through the unlocking of our national consciousness.
It is through suffering and yearning for the light that we sharpen our virtues and advance, and when the light comes then also come the great peace and wisdom, and our hearts are finally at rest.