Insane and Inhumane
Certain terms in applied metahistory call for clarification,
so that they do not appear to be formulaic notions, rigidly and
arbitrarily imposed. When these terms are explained, the primary
assumptions of metahistory come to light. It might be objected
that such "primary assumptions" are just more beliefs
(of one sort or another), so metahistory, which purports to present
a critique of beliefs, merely presents another set of beliefs.
Ask a metahistorian what she or he believes
and the answer will be: "As little as possible!" In
metahistory we assume that the less you believe, the more clear
you will be about what you believe. But
it takes the intentional act of dissent — indeed, even
a strong dose of ruthlessness — to hone belief to a keen,
There are some ideas that resemble belief in metahistory, but
they are few. More properly defined as open hypotheses, these
ideas are propositions to be tested. Metahistorical belief is
not intended to be taken blindly, as a dogma or imposed doctrine,
but to be valued for the insight it produces. A Wounded Species
In applied metahistory, we must be acutely aware of the belief-like
propositions we adopt to proceed effectively with inquiry, dissent
and empowerment. The essay Tree and
Well indicates the idea behind metahistory in a simple story-line:
the shaman is wounded. Lets take a moment to expand this
story and interpret how it applies to the daunting task of assessing
The shaman, be it a man or woman, is the member of the human
tribe who represents the earliest form of religious discipline
(or spiritual practice, if you prefer). Identified by signs
in childhood, he or she undergoes a process of initiation,
training required to assume a sacred calling. Once the shaman
has matured, his or her mission in life encompasses nine kinds
- to preserve in poetic-visionary language, using ritual and
dance, the living memory of the experience of the tribe
- to heal (and, if necessary, harm and kill) by the use of
medicinal plants and or supernatural methods
- to venture into the Beyond (Otherworld) and discover secrets
hidden from the ordinary world, which nonetheless are necessary
for living in the optimal way in the ordinary world
- to enter the Underworld and commune with the dead (accomplished
by "magical flight" or working the Double)
- to divine how the weather works and, when possible, to alter
it for the good of the tribe
- to teach and transmit the shamanic lore to younger generations
- to translate the designs written in the ever-changing script
of the cosmos, the code of sun, moon, planets and stars
- to converse with other species (animals, reptiles, insects
and plants) who may be helpers or adversaries of the tribe
- to handle magical plants and stones for the purpose of altering
It is essential to realize that shamans of yore did not merely
hold beliefs about these matters, but actually experienced them.
They actively explored what we must relegate to pure speculation.
Lucid dreaming was one shamanic practice used to access the Otherworld.
Anyone who has had a lucid dream knows that the experience really
occurs you wake up in the dream, knowing that you are dreaming and
so it is not merely something one believes might happen. With lucid
dreaming, out-of-body travel, and near-death experience (three
shaman-like activities attested by millions of people), you do
not have to believe these experiences can happen for them to happen.
Today the world is circumscribed and ruled largely by belief, but
we, the human species, came into this blindered condition from
a realm of open- ended experience beyond belief.
Mircea Eliade observed that "in primitive humanity, as with
all humanity, the desire to enter into contact with the Sacred
is counteracted by the fear of being obliged to renounce the simple
human condition and become a more or less pliant instrument for
some manifestation of the Sacred (gods, spirits, ancestors, etc)(S,
28)." Since departing from "the simple human condition" also
entails shedding the self-concerned ego (at least temporarily),
there is a strong deterrent factor in shamanic initiation. This
explains the literal meaning of sorcery,
a term often applied to shamans work: "leaving, departing" (French sortir);
hence, taking a path away from the human condition.
It is perhaps
one of the greatest paradoxes of our species existence that
people who cannot or will not depart from the simple human condition
draw both guidance and inspiration from those individuals who can.
As a conscious medium who keeps the human world in rapport with
other species, and even with other dimensions, the shaman is the
exception that secures the norm.
Anthropological and ethnological reports on shamanic initiation
in many different racial, cultural and geographic settings reveal
patterns of striking consistency. By far the best summary of
this research is Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy by
Mircea Eliade, a comparative mythologist and historian of religions,
widely recognized as the leading authority in shamanism in the
As long as the shamanic model of spirituality operated in particular
tribal and cultural settings, human communities were linked to
the Sacred. All shamanic rites and exploits unfolded in intimate
relation to Sacred Nature: the natural world, experienced as
a theater of beauty and awe, the setting for sublime adventures.
The shaman thus embodies the capacity of the human species to
orient its way of living by the intelligence that participates
in the full spectrum of Life with a capital L, Cosmic Life.
For an introduction to what it means to
live in participation with Cosmic Life, see Robert Lawlor, Voices
of the First Day, suggested for reading under Sacred
Nature in Themes. Ch. 14, "Dream, Earth and Identity" presents
an especially good synopsis of the worldview and psychology typical
of indigenous shamanic cultures. Laylor notes that the main characteristic
of this mode of awareness is "beholding, not possessing."
The wounding of the shaman, an event recounted in world mythology,
signifies a fateful break from this plenary connection. It indicates
that our inborn intelligence was somehow disabled, so that direct
participation in the grounding intelligence of Sacred Nature
became scrambled, if not entirely disrupted. We lost our sense
of how to survive with ease in our habitat. At the same time,
we appear to have lost the sense of who we truly are as a species.
The wounding of the shaman bespeaks our own fate, our alienation
from the divine matrix that produced us.
And the rest, needless to say, is our cherished history of moral
progress, material acquisition and technical achievement.
While we can say that hominization of
the planet has been completed, we must now begin to speak of
planetarization of human consciousness. This stage takes us beyond
history, at least insofar as history is now defined. For it we
do not go beyond history, there will be no future of which to
cited in "OV Earth" from The
To look beyond history is to look into our own depths for our
original mode of participation, living in direct intercourse
with Sacred Nature, but not to go back to it. Rather, it is to
anticipate re-entering Cosmic Life in a new and exploratory way.
For this immense feat of reorientation a story helps, and if
the story is focused in a graphic mythological image, all the
better. The image adopted in metahistory is the most ancient,
most deeply revered and most enduring of all mythological figures:
the Goddess who is Sacred Nature, Gaia, She who indwells the
It could be said, then, that metahistory relies on a certain
belief about Gaia, an act of confidence in that mysterious presence
we encounter in the biosphere of the planet. This belief is,
however, optional and open-ended. It is suggested, not required.
You may reject it entirely and discard metahistory at the same
time, if you are so inclined, or one could continue to investigate
metahistory without adopting our Gaian orientation.
In order to assess beliefs, metahistory needs some standard by
which it can measure the value of the beliefs considered and
develop judgments concerning their viability. So what is the
core theory of metahistory? It is best summarized by the double
name of the Goddess: Gaia-Sophia. The Greek word Sophia means "wisdom,
divine intelligence." Linked with Gaia this word presents
an open definition of what makes us human: the wisdom (Sophia)
innate to our species, endowed in us by the divine intelligence
that plays through nature, our habitat (Gaia). This elementary
statement of belief (if one chooses to call it so) is adopted
in metahistory so that there is a standard against which belief
can be assessed.
The Gaia-Sophia Principle assumes
that the natural processes which produced the human species also
endowed it with the capacity to know itself and understand its
place in the cosmos. (Objections to this assumption by those
who deny we have such an endowment will be treated in due course
in various articles in the site.) The Gaian endowment in homo
sapiens is comparable to the instinctive programs of all other
species, from bee to bear to blue whale, but with a crucial difference:
our evolutional mind-set carries capacities to play, discover
and learn on a scale that exceeds other species. This is a fateful
gift because it includes a wide margin of error, allowing us
a deviance from what is innately right for us. We are endowed
with the capacity to err, so that we can correct ourselves, and
thus uniquely learn and innovate in ways not seen in species
more closely bound to their instincts.
But if our errors go undetected
and uncorrected, and accumulate in culture and civilization,
we can deviate completely from the true potential of our endowment.
Everything that is sane and humane in human experience arises
from the species innate wisdom and accords with it. Everything
that is insane and inhumane denies it, ignores it, works against
it (or tries to).
Metahistory assumes that humans are no different from other animals
in their being endowed with a species-specific intelligence potential.
But in homo sapiens instinct is teleological, or goal-oriented.
(In the Mystery Schools of Pagan religion, those who preserved
exceptional awareness of the human endowment and transmitted
it to others were called telestes, "those who know
the goal.") The innate faculty for knowing what suits our
species combines with our goal-seeking capacities, so that we
have a high adaptive potential, but maladaptation occurs when
errors in our conception of ourselves and nature are not corrected.
Ideally, we could achieve full and harmonious adaptation to our
habitat through symbiotic bonding with the entire realm of Life,
in kinship with all species.
We are human only in relation to, and in
conviviality with, all that is not human. David Abram, The
Spell of the Sensuous.
The record of history shows how we have strayed from optimal adaptation
due to focusing our goal-oriented efforts in exclusively human
terms. This tendency is powerfully enforced by religious belief-systems
that state that humanity, made in the image of God the Creator,
enjoys a "most favored species" status, including dominion
over the natural world: i.e., the right to exploit and consume
natural resources for purely human ends. History is a record of
domination, written by the dominators, and intended to legitimate
what it recounts. Patriarchal narrative, the official script of
the Abrahamic religions, has driven the human species so far into
addiction and insanity that we must ask if survival is possible
as long as this story runs the world.
According to the Gaia-Sophia Principle, and in accordance with
the teachings of many indigenous religions, humanity is co-creative
with nature but not superior to it. The ability to recognize
and access the wisdom innate to our species inheres in each one
of us, and may well play an essential role in what used to be
known as "the call of conscience," but that ability
can be hampered or even destroyed by beliefs that assert human
superiority and alienate us from vital contact with Gaia. Our
wisdom endowment includes, and may even be founded on, the capacity
to recognize and revere the Other.
the wide array of human beliefs to determine which are compatible
with the wisdom of our species and which are not. Needless
to say, without a basic sense of our wisdom endowment, we would
be severely hampered in this venture.
Gaia-Sophia is a mythological
cue that reconnects us to that primal endowment so we can realize
what has happened to it due to our immersion in the all-too-human
complexities of history. Even if we do not quite grasp what our
species-specific wisdom is, and even if we do not or cannot at
first believe we could actually enjoy such a wonderful gift,
the numinous power held in the image of the Goddess Gaia-Sophia
will draw us into Her knowing, the very essence of compassionate
intelligence that beats in our hearts.
There is a kind of faith operating here, certainly, a faith felt
in the evocative language that arises from encountering the Goddess.
Among the Gnostics who taught goal orientation in the Mystery
Schools, this faith was called Pistis Sophia, "confidence
in the innate wisdom." This is not, however, doctrinal faith,
but an intuition of the heart, the deep matrix of conscience,
where wisdom resides and error is seen and corrected.
Now lets consider how this core theory or general
orientation -- grounds and guides the process of metahistorical
inquiry. How We Would Know Lets suppose that some beliefs
held by human beings are insane and inhumane. No one has to agree
that this is so, or to insist that it is not so. All the conflict
over conflicting beliefs "Yes, I believe it is so" versus "No,
I dont believe it is so" -- detracts from the path
of inquiry that must pierce the heart of cognitive duality, like
the arrows of Saraha. The crucial question is, if some
beliefs are insane and humane, how would we know, how
would we be able to detect them?
And the counter-question is: If some beliefs are insane
and inhumane and we are unable to detect them, where will
they take us? Or where have they already taken us?
The answer to this question can be seen each day on the round-the-clock
news, CBS, NBC, ABC, BBC, MTV, CNN
Here is a crucial point: no belief is inhuman, because beliefs
of all kinds whatsoever, are products of the human mind. No belief
is inhuman, but some beliefs can be assessed as inhumane if
they drive human beings to behavior that violates our innate
sense of humanity. In metahistory we assume that the best way
to assess a belief is to look at the behavior it produces.
The record of history seems to indicate that inhumane behaviour
is indeed possible for our species. This is an understatement,
of course. The record of history is manifestly an account of
the progressive and ever-escalating perpetration of inhumane
behavior. In some manner that has never been adequately addressed,
religious scripts are invariably involved in the inhumane behavior
that drenches the chronicle of history in blood.
For instance, according to the conventional belief held by Christians
(but not by Jews or Muslims), the shedding of blood in one instance
was the most wonderful, blessed event that ever occurred on earth.
This was not human blood, however. The belief says that the blood
of a divine being, shed for the love of humanity, has the effect
of washing away our sins. Is this belief benevolent, or merely
neutral, or could it in some manner be injurious, pathological?
In metahistory we ardently wish not to be stumped by this kind
of question. It is urgent to press on to the core of beliefs,
either to confirm them or to transcend them once and for all.
The way to the core is always cued by a particular syntax, a
phrasing of words: If it were so, how would we know?
If it were insane or inhumane to believe that the blood
shed by Jesus Christ redeems the world, how would we know?
Facing this question, or a hundred others that might be formulated,
we may realize how metahistorical core theory works. The Gaian
factor produces a gnomen, cognitive rule: failing to apply its
innate wisdom to assess belief, the human species will be dependent
upon belief that might deviate it from that very wisdom. The
rule teaches a hard truth: we, the human species, could be deviated
from our sense of humanity and not know we are. The gnomen
warns that belief, in cases where it is indeed insane and inhumane,
is both the evidence and instrument of this deviation.
In short, there is absolutely no point in looking into belief
at all if we do not have a standard for assessing it. Without
such a standard metahistorical inquiry is pointless and, in any
case, would be impossible to develop as a means of disciplined
inquiry into the human condition. If we assume for a standard,
a given, our Gaian endowment of innate compassionate intelligence,
we are not alone with this proposition. The wisdom that bonds
us to Sacred Nature is revered in indigenous cultures around
the world. In Buddhism, the moral intuition of humanity is recognized
as "the supreme heart insight" (Sanskrit prajna paramita
- hydraya ), a capacity we all possess that needs to be fully
These and other parallels, including the Gnostic Sophia, demonstrate
that the wisdom potential proposed in metahistory has some solid
credentials behind it. This proposition is experimental, not
doctrinal. It will be instructive, even if we do not fully understand
how the heart-mind works, or what happened to partially disable
it (the shamans wound).
We are powerless against the compulsions of belief if we cannot
at least admit that we possess an innate wisdom potential that
allow us to assess belief, and perhaps surpass it. Since there
have always been a vast number of people who cannot admit this
potential, religion and religious systems of belief have been
the dominant motivating forces in human history and morality.
Wilhelm Reich argued that our wisdom potential is one with our
biological potential, our somatic make-up. The same intelligence
that works in digesting your food segregates a part of itself
into a conscious thinking mode that allows you to make intelligent
choices about what you eat. For Reich the unconscious digestion
of food and the conscious act of selecting food were rooted in
the same matrix. These two functions, one involuntary and the
other voluntary, were both expressions of a single, natural endowment.
Like Reich, D. H. Lawrence maintained that the basis for moral
and ethical behavior was somatic, grounded in Gaia. In his essays
Lawrence critiqued religious beliefs about unprovable matters,
and in some of his novels, such as the notorious (for its
time) Lady Chatterlys Lover, he portrayed honest
and healthy sexual life, fully "orgasmic" in Reichian
terms. These "neo-pagan" views were condemned as obscene
and immoral by the society of Lawrences time.
The continuity from animal body to human sexuality to the divine
aura of Sacred Nature was fundamental to Pagan spirituality.
In The Way, his sober and ingenious proposal for "an
ecological world-view," Edward Goldsmith argued that the
ethical and ecological skills of our species are not acquired
from without but "built up by the organizing knowledge in
the mind" (i.e., our wisdom endowment. JLL). Goldsmith makes
an excellent case for the Pagan view that the adaptive genius
we are given to survive in our habitat is also the source of
our ethical learning. Blow the one and we blow the other.
This again confirms the Gaian factor: the way we come to understand
which behavior is correct for human beings is through our bond
to Nature and the Other. If that sacred bond of mutual participation
is disrupted, our sense of humanity can be lost utterly
What would we, the human species, divested of our sense of humanity
look like? How would we behave? What belief-systems would such
a phantom humanity produce and how would it enforce them?
These are questions to be framed and explored by the methods
of applied metahistory. The aim is to inquire into all that appears
to be insane and inhumane in what we believe. Such inquiry leads
to dissent, the rejection of what is not right for us because
it ignores or betrays our Gaian endowment, the wisdom potential
of our species. Dissent in turn supports empowerment, because
seeing the error of our ways restores, releases and re-enables
our most precious potential, our sapience, our capacity to live
This inquiry proposes that it is fair play to ask if a belief
could be insane, but it does not require, and in fact rigorously
avoids, the blind assertion that the belief considered is or
is not so. In the discipline of metahistorical inquiry syntax
is decisive. The method is not to insist that any belief is insane,
or not insane, but to discern how it could be one or the
other, and discover what makes it so.