Wednesday, 14 July 2010

688 - A Fair Deal

It seems to me a fair deal that a seer should spend half their life mad. A civilization at the birth of itself has no knowledge, certainly no medical terminology. Observation would perhaps have led to the understanding that humanity, like 'pigness' or 'oakness', is its own value, separable from the distortions it suffers through growth in a restricted (or overly rich) environment. Long before DSM IV, the American diagnostic manual for mental disorders, the seer would observe, internally as well as externally, the mechanics of consciousness, and, from their location within the community, offer testimony that others undergoing fluctuations of sanity, with all that entails, were still wholly human (neither devilish nor divine).

The seer, then, performed a vital role within a group of social animals, and if his or her watch really promoted the integrity of the herd, it is not hard to see how such qualities as 'seer-dom' might evolve naturally, in the same way that symmetrical features evolve, and strength, and other aspects of physical health.

Perhaps we are all seers to a greater or lesser extent. And perhaps civilization, if it fails to acknowledge that we are all as mad as we are sane, is blind to the possibility that it is possessed, intrinsically, of the same divide. Divide? If it is located in the ebb and flow of consciousness, as David Lewis-Williams and others suggest, this is perhaps an artificial distinction. As Daniel Everett, in Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes points out, at least one tribe in the Amazonian jungle, the Piraha, sleep a maximum of two hours at a time, and talk through the night. At a recent seminar on sleep that E attended, it was reported that one in ten of us are naturally nocturnal.

Myths arise out of our experiences in altered states of consciousness. The clarity of science allows for certainty that the twin poles of deepest sleep and wakefulness coexist but do not impose on each other. In the same way, perhaps, the experience of a myth fulfils the same function, from the opposing pole. Karen Armstrong and others divide cultural discourse into two streams, one logos, one mythos. Their work teases at the implications this division has for societies, religious and secular, as they grow and split.

The division of action, and its precursor intentions, into good and evil, is another artificial distinction. Perhaps it is relevant solely in our waking domain, and maybe not even there. In any case, if there is no useful distinction we can make (even religious texts that accept the dualism, like Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43, leave the judgement to God), perhaps it is better to abandon talk of morality for talk of mental health, and of mental health for the flow of consciousness?

In such a transition, the role of seer is as relevant as ever, be it one that we all share , or one that some undertake on behalf of others, or a bit of both. Either that, or we all act, waking, alone, and dream in silence. That might be possible, too, though whether, given an evolutionary basis for see-ing, it would achieve anything apart from a massive exercise in repackaging, is debateable, and perhaps, therefore, better left undebated?

No comments: