Sunday, November 14, 2010

Homeostasis, evolution, and paganism

What follows is a non-poetic restatement of the ideas in my poem “XIII” of “Pesez ov an Unrevelen Narrattiv”, which is a poem-series in my longer poem Mith ov the Aternen Jew.

While exploring the psychological roots of anti-Semitism, it has occurred to me that the contents of consciousness can be generated by interior workings of the body itself. Indeed, much of what we call myth (such as the various myths of the Jew, or the idea of Messiah, or ideas and stories about God or The Gods) may be seen as a narrativization of biological forces. This is not so strange as it might, at first, sound. The idea is derived by understanding that homeostasis and evolution are two conflicting forces in nature, and it is further substantiated by the circularity of consciousness. Let me explain.

Homeostasis is, to quote that intellectual cornerstone, Wikipedia,

...the property of a system, either open or closed, that regulates its internal environment and tends to maintain a stable, constant condition. Typically used to refer to a living organism, the concept came from that of milieu interieur that was created by Claude Bernard and published in 1865. Multiple dynamic equilibrium adjustment and regulation mechanisms make homeostasis possible.

Thus, all living creatures rely on homeostasis, the body-mind’s attempt to survive by maintaining balance and stability in an environment that is inherently, and ultimately, destabilizing and destructive.

One of those forces that is pitted against homeostasis is evolution. Evolutionary changes reconfigure both interior and exterior biological “landscapes”, causing organisms to constantly rebalance and reconfigure their systems to optimize survival. Exterior evolutionary and environmental changes threaten an organism’s ability to survive by changing the conditions of the niche in which the organism lives. Interior evolutionary changes, that is evolutionary changes in an organism itself, directly confront the homeostatic systems that manage an organism. The organism’s own systems now must compete for control of resources and management functions. From a homeostatic “point of view”, evolutionary changes are invasive and threatening systems.

I would suggest that these interior stresses, while largely subconscious, yet get converted to narratives, as the mind seeks explanations for its stresses. This narrativization of biological stressors is not surprising. One of the conundrums (or ironies) of human consciousness is that we are bound by the circularity of our senses. We use our senses to observe what our senses are. We are not able to step out of ourselves, to step out of our bodies, and perceive what our senses really are, or what our senses are truly perceiving. The notion that our senses are merely windows on reality, while alluring, is unfortunately just a simplistic attempt to step out of our inherent circularity. Acknowledging this circularity, we are forced to the notion that our minds, as our senses, are interpreters and mythmakers, not raw observers. Our identities are myths, as are our ideologies. Thus, our biology will serve our mythmaking, as part of our general experience.

By the way, I use the term “myth” here both in its lesser sense as “illusion”, and in its more elevated sense as a foundational layer of consciousness. Our myths are full of illusion, and yet they can also be our best attempts to understand the circular reality into which we are bound. Thus, for me, “science” is also myth.

We humans are a species in the midst of evolutionary stresses, both interior and exterior. Our particular interior competitions and stresses generated by evolution amplify the exterior stresses of survival, causing a persistent tendency to build a narrative of ethnic invasion. Thus we have biological as well as social stresses tending to create myths of the “other”. This would help account for the persistence of anti-Semitism and its many underlying narratives, including its most modern incarnation, anti-Zionism – hatred of the idea of a Jewish nation.

One final detail, critical to my semi-narrative poem Mith ov the Aternen Jew. While evolution is generally believed to proceed randomly, evolutionary forces are well known to pursue gradients, that is, to fill niches in nature. In my poem I claim that there are gradients in nature that are working to eliminate paganistic thinking. In this case I define “pagan” not in the traditional religious way - the worship of idols and “false” gods - but in psychological terms. Paganistic thinking claims that law and ethics are relative and human productions, and that therefore, there is no one correct system of law or ethics.

I would argue that history suggests the opposite. It appears that humans are moving towards a singular and unified definition of law and ethics. Tribal borders and ethnicities are rapidly breaking down (the foundational cause of Islamic terrorism, by the way). In this process, languages, too are rapidly disappearing.

It seems the biblical prophets understood this particular gradient working on human consciousness, unabashedly claiming that one law and one moral standard would dominate the world. There now seems to be much evidence to that effect, even as we struggle to know, and to shape, what that law and ethics is. What were once prophetic statements that appeared to be arrogantly ethnocentric and wildly implausible, now seem to be the first harbingers of the obvious and the necessary.

Thus I say, there ARE gradients directing evolution, and it seems some of them became a source of ideological belief, long before there was evidence to substantiate them.

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