The Evolution of Consciousness
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Since listening to Michael Neill's podcast, I've been thinking a lot about that space before thought which he identifies (and yes, fully conscious of the irony of thinking about the space before thought!!).
So, says Neill rather tantalizingly, it's that space before thought in which human consciousness evolves.
I've long been mindful of that legal phenomenon of the "rolling evolution": that sometimes social consensus precedes the evolution of law, and sometimes social consensus follows law. For example, social consensus that women should be permitted to vote or go to medical school probably preceded the evolution of law. And now both are unremarkable. But social consensus that discrimination against same-sex marriage was wrong probably followed the evolution of law. When laws permitting same sex marriage happened in Ontario more than 16 years ago, they were controversial. Now, unremarkable in most (but not all) sectors of society. I expect we'll see the same rolling evolution with respect to medical assistance in dying.
Returning to that place before thought: that's where my individual identity as a particular human didn't matter a whole lot. When I was a baby, of course, ME -- as a particular human -- had not yet begun to develop.
And yet, so many of the 70,000 to 100,000 random thoughts that crowd my head daily tend to be all about my particular individual identity!
I (ME ME ME!!!) should not have been treated in that way in the past!! I was an adorable little girl with dimples and blonde hair and blue eyes and a charming personality, a love of nature, a sense of humour, musical and artistic ability, a keen intelligence! I didn't deserve it. I deserved so much more, so much better!!!
And also I (ME ME ME again!! Oh yes, so persistently about ME!! because as David Foster Wallace said, this is "our" water!!) should not have to be fearful about the terrible things that might happen to ME ME ME in the future. I don't deserve 'em!! I am special!! I have been a good sister, a good wife, a good mother, a very hard working college teacher and then a lawyer and . . . yeah!! All of that means I should be entirely exempt from the vicissitudes of human existence!!
Silly isn't it?? It's not my particular identity then or now that matters: it's our shared humanity. If anything.
And if universal consciousness evolves, as Michael Neill says, when we spend more time, collectively, in that place before thought: then it seems to me that our Westernized consciousness is more highly individualistic than the common consciousness of less-Westernized communities. Some of which are so much more ancient than our own, and have had so much more time to evolve common consciousness.
But we here in the West have not admired cultures of collective obedience. Where individual "rights" are "suppressed" in favour of the common good. As Western citizens, we have assumed that pursuit of an individual's own best interests will result in the collective best outcomes. We have not particularly valued any suppression of an individual's personal best interests in favour of acting in the best interests of others. American "life, liberty and the pursuit of my own consumerist happiness" used to be somewhat differentiated from Canadian "peace, order and good government". But that Canadian "difference", if it even exists, has been blurred and diluted by the merging of cultures across our common border -- now temporarily closed except for essential trade, to contain COVID-19.
Western nations with Western consciousness find it hard to encourage individual citizens to voluntarily and obediently self-isolate, even if asymptomatic, in order to reduce the likelihood or the possibility of transmission of COVID-19 to others.
Should we decide arbitrarily when to end even mild efforts as social distancing, opt for let-it-rip "herd immunity" even at the cost of thousands of deaths?
Does a robust economy matter more than widespread deaths?
Can there even be a robust economy if there is widespread death, reducing buying power because reducing the numbers of consumers?
And if there could be a robust economy at the cost of such deaths: are such calculations ethical? Or merely expedient?
Is altruism even possible? Adam Smith was agnostic on that topic, but thought that in closely-knit communities (the pre-industrial capitalist village and city in his time, the global community in our internet era) lots of good things happened because people wished to be perceived as acting well.
Yeah. We do. We may resist addiction to the approval of others. But lots of good things happen as a result of even our Western desire to be perceived as good people.
That may be the best we can do . . the best, of course, always the enemy of the good (enough). .
And perhaps our collective Western consciousness, from that place before thought, will evolve. In new and unprecedented directions. With new and unanticipated consequences.