Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Civilisation

Getting on for ten years ago my friend Barry recommended I read The Master and his Emissary by Iain McGilchrist. Another left-brain right-brain tract I presumed and thought it would hold little worth beyond the usual character insights – perhaps there would be some of Jung’s personality types thrown in. How wrong I was. This book addresses, with its specific thesis, the problem addressed by any recent critical theorist of note – namely the distortion caused by systematic or mechanistic modes of thinking. Most of these theorists eventually have to break free of the mechanistic mode and end up writing something like poetry – Deleuze, Derrida, de Bord, Adorno even Foucault to an extent. That McGilchrist doesn’t do this is perhaps why his book is so lasting and resonant. It’s tough going but if you stick with it the evidence marches forward like the massed ranks of one of the civilisations he reveals to be self-destructing. The reason for this self-destruction is that systemised or left brain thinking is what allows the power of the system to be maintained and expanded. Eventually though the systemic or data accruing function forgets that it was collecting the data on behalf of something else namely the over-arching whole and the systemic or broken up and dissected version of events becomes the normal or consensus idea of how things really are. To boil this down further in order to categorise, which is a vital function of mechanistic thinking one must employ a subject/object split. This in itself is fine as a method of analysis but to actually believe that things (people included) exist in an isolated separation is absurd. This, however, is the state that we and other hyper successful civilisations before us, find ourselves in. For me the exquisite part of McGilchrist’s thesis is his making clear that in allowing the mechanistic mode to saturate our sense of ourselves we have lost the voice/language/vocabulary/means of solving the problem facing us, which is namely that we have totally lost the voice that would once help us to connect and therefore allow ourselves to put the system to one side that we may develop the empathy required to live as evolved and intelligent beings.