Tag Archives: John Michael Greer

Greer’s “Progress Religion”

FURTHER EDIT: I somehow find this a little funny, but Greer’s post today is mostly addressed to the comments of doubters, and several remarks are directed toward ideas I put forward, one very specifically to me:

One interesting wrinkle on this last point comes from a commenter who insists, quoting a scholar of religious studies from India, that the concept “religion” is purely a modern Western notion and can’t be used outside that context.

… which forces me to set the record straight even though I wanted to move on!

The guy I quoted, Balagangadhara, whom I wrote a little about here, of course does not say that at all; I probably didn’t get across his thesis very well. Balagangadhara thinks Western Abrahamic religion is in a fundamentally different category from other sorts of religion, as I said, because of its strongly ideocratic and orthodoxy-creating character, which separates it even from other types of orthodoxy in several respects — so much so that calling them something other than religion might be more accurate in his opinion. What Greer says today:

The phenomena assigned to the category “religion” in English still exist in those languages and cultures—you’ll find, for example, that good clear translations of words such as “deity,” “worship,” “temple,” “prayer,” “offering,” “scripture,” and the like can be found in a great many languages that have no word for “religion” as such.

… doesn’t invalidate Balangangadhara in the least, because his point is that so many pre-reformation travellers (whom he quotes in detail) took careful note of all those foreign elements of “deity”, “worship” and so forth, but still said the cultures “did not have religion” — not that they didn’t have “our” religion, not that they had “false” religion, but that they had no religion. That is, they didn’t believe the morphology was universal. This is what makes Balagangadhara’s point so much more interesting than a mere quibble about available vocabularies, a point I made last week… but if interested to see where Balagangadhara takes that evidence just check out his actual book. It is very interesting stuff — is “scripture” the same idea the world over? is all religion creedal? etc. — but I wasn’t planning to talk a lot more about it!

I also wasn’t intending to derail Greer’s, well, “progress” — I genuinely thought he might be interested in some of those ideas! They don’t invalidate what he’s saying, they just nuance it differently — basically the post-Abrahamic nature of Greer’s “progress religion” sets it off against other forms of religion as fundamentally different, and that would include his own Druidry as far as I can see. Yes I did and do foresee problems with the series, based not uncomedically on a morphological approach vis-a-vis previous Greer series, but I’m not going to endlessly blather about them either, at least until everything upcoming is done. So as far as I personally am concerned this current post of his wasn’t necessary.

Goethe’s morphology, like several other things Greer mentioned and will mention, plays a role in my series too, albeit the two series have rather different approaches, which means they may clash or dovetail. But neither of those eventualities would be such a frightful thing, would it? :)

Oh — and as I said, I’m not going to spend any more time on this. Positively, this is my last word on it. Comments here are closed.

EDIT: It looks like no-one else is really bothered about this. :) Some people are happy to just go along with Greer, others have already given up on the whole “progress religion” thing as a straw man… but the idea between those two positions, of doing a lot more discussion of the points below, doesn’t seem to have any traction by contrast with my usual posts. So I will let it lie.

In fairness to Greer, he has said I’ve misunderstood him. In fairness to me — he hasn’t said how, and I quoted him verbatim at least on some things.

But anyway, we’ll move swiftly on…

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So before I go any further, a little situation has been building that I want to explore. John Michael Greer (one of the two excellent writers who unequivocally showed me the necessity of a historical approach to SBNR, William Irwin Thompson being the other), has just begun his own biiiiiig series on religion and peak oil. The latest post is a fair sample if you haven’t been following so far.

Like some other readers I’m having a little trouble with this series, and wondered if anyone else would like to discuss it. I will post to Greer’s comments page — link here as soon as it’s been put up — but there isn’t room there for everything I want to say.

The basic idea of the series is that everyone who has made any use of the “progress” concept since the Enlightenment can be seen as part of a “religion of progress”, which is “the most widely accepted civil religion of the modern industrial world”, and turns out to be intolerantly post-Abrahamic. Its major belief, Greer says, is that “humanity is moving inevitably onward and upward toward some glorious destiny”. To him this religion encompasses for instance “researchers who have risked their lives, and not infrequently lost them, to further the progress of science and technology” and “moral crusaders who have done the same thing in the name of political or economic progress”, amongst a big crop of other examples.

I don’t — yet — really see the application of this analogy. I’d love a bit more discussion and demonstration about its huge mass of grey areas, but Greer himself seems disinclined. (The shrift given in his comments page to those who question the idea’s explanatory power is short to say the least.) I don’t think progress really “is a religion”, of course, but more importantly I will take a lot of convincing that it can usefully be seen as one — nor do I think it’s necessarily the only or best hinge idea to pick, in persuading people to prepare for difficulties ahead.

But a lot of my problem at the moment is that Greer, who so often inveighs against dualistic, black-white thinking, seems to be indulging in it liberally himself. I wondered if anyone else had found this. He is scripting the content, not just the style or direction of people’s beliefs — and, not for the first time in his blog’s life I think, over-simplifying too liberally.

I’m actually thinking about the little Carl Sagan quote that was posted in his comments this week as an example, of all things — not because I care much for Carl Sagan, but because I don’t, and am pretty neutral. The quote, about awe before the universe, was smeared instantly by Greer as a disingenuous attempt to manipulate Sagan’s readers into the evils of scientism, pretending to reverence its author didn’t feel. The idea that it could have had any sincerity (however mistaken) didn’t seem to cross his mind at all. Sagan was Pope of progressism, which apparently condemns him to hypocrisy.

My problem is that Greer is laying out his theses mostly in order to help people transition away from any addiction to hampering progress myths, in the difficult upcoming age. Thus he’s claiming to pinpoint what is motivating them — and yet, as accurate as Greer is on fact and historical position, I’ve often felt him to be wrong about psychology, even though he puts forward his ideas in the same tone as facts about peak oil! The Sagan thing is just a miniature example of this.

In last week’s comments, Greer promulgated some ideas about scientism as a whole, which explain his evaluation of Sagan: “Nature is what science is supposed to conquer; nature is the Devil of scientism, the old enemy who will eventually be bound in chains and made to drag the glorious chariot of humanity wherever ‘we’ (however defined) want it to go.” Of course, since this has been declared the case, the scientistic Sagan’s awe before nature must be “appeal to a mass market” and nothing more. Sagan’s psychology has to conform to Greer’s categories. Does it?

In my reply to Greer’s comment last week I put forward some remarks of William Irwin Thompson’s which illustrate that scientism as a whole is just not that simple, because there is more than one type of human personality and culture present in it, and showed there are two sides to the story. Greer ignored this. I should mention that Thompson is expecting a dark age every bit as much as Greer is, and has also guffawed a great deal about what he sees as the “ideology of progress that places our industrial culture at the pinnacle of human civilization”, quite rightly so (although even there — notice that isn’t quite Greer’s definition of “progress”). But he seems to tolerate psychological ambiguity better than Greer does. And that may be very, very important when we are claiming to be able to help people change their minds for the better.

Sagan was a true believer in the techno-progress he promulgated, but his sense of wonder at Nature, from what little I know, seems perfectly genuine too. Contradictory? From Greer’s angle it seems so — but humans are. Certainly other people whom Sagan saw (or used) as “prophets” of scientism may well have been in awe of Nature itself, as the Thompson quote makes clear. I found on another site today a reply to Greer which showed a different side to Sagan, but Greer’s response on his own page was to see it as a defence of “Saint Carl” — implying anyone who wants to rebalance distortion about Sagan must be idolising Sagan! That’s what I mean by not being able to tolerate ambiguity. It’s very, very us-them.

Sagan’s ignorant campaign against mysticism and spirituality is hardly likely to endear him to me! He comes off like a purblind fool in my eyes, on that subject, when I chance to stumble across him. But the picture of scientism as “nothing but” this (anti-Druidry!) caricature is in fact precisely the kind of ideological rolling-over that Sagan himself, that scientism itself, resorts to in its worse pseudoskeptical moments — Druidry “nothing but” insane old-fashioned nonsense, etc.. We’ve all seen enough of that (“cold pricklies”). And it is precisely the kind of thing we need to avoid in getting people out of their fixed ideas about the future, in my opinion. (Which leads me to wonder whether Greer hasn’t perhaps been contemplating the enemy too long and begun to imitate it, another process he’s warned others about!)

I admit, another reason I have a problem with all this is my recent research for the series I talked about last post, which revealed in the previous three hundred years an incredibly multiform resource to draw on spiritually for the next three hundred. I began research primed by my interest in Greer’s writing to notice progress ideology wherever I found it, knowing it would need careful questioning in light of the reality ahead. But things weren’t quite that simple when I actually looked in detail. Perhaps this was because I was researching spiritual people — but then, Greer avoids discussion of spirituality on his blog.

“Progress” sometimes was very important to the people I researched, and I made a point of featuring it — I’ll start out my series with a guy who was one of the most progressy of all. But to examine his ideas, and many others, I had to look in practical detail at particular subtleties of thought about the future. When I did that, a single overall ideology of progress was not present. Yes, I’ve seen a couple of people who are close to caricature “progress religionists” in spiritual form (hello, Ken Wilber!), but they are definitely a minority.

Deciding that “progress” is the problem, above all other problems, is perhaps a natural piece of rhetoric for someone with Greer’s inherent conservative slant, but it is a concept he has barely defined, and certainly he hasn’t given anyone’s definition apart from his own (except maybe he’ll give Nietzsche’s!) How do we know it holds with the kind of breadth he’s claiming? Is he possibly thinking the problem into a box which it doesn’t altogether fit? At the moment I think he might be. Above all, I think the post-Abrahamic period has been characterised by enormous multiplicity and ambiguity, and deciding what to take forward that best prepares us is a process requires careful understanding of multiplicity, at least as much or more than simplifying into a single intolerant “religion”.

Any thoughts?


Re-Hanging My Hat

In all of these peak experiences it becomes impossible to differentiate sharply between the self and the non-self… Observe first of all that this is an empirical statement and not a philosophical or theological one. Anyone can repeat these findings.

– Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971)

Quite unexpectedly, this post marks the beginning of the end of this phase of this blog. I will probably do one more next week, and then take a break, I don’t know exactly how long. During that break there will still be more on the Reading Lists and the Webster Rebuttal though.

I guess what I’m experiencing here is kind of a Breakout. :) I’ve written and rewritten the following post but don’t know that I’ve managed to convey what’s exciting me… Still, I think it will bear a lot of fruit down the road and I just want to experiment with it for a while without writing stuff down.

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Glenn: taught humanity not just spirituality

Since religion in any organised and orthodox Western sense is not necessary for spiritual experience and enlightenment, and in my case I’m sure would prevent it, I’ve always been looking for secular theories that will do the philosophical heavy lifting. Until now I didn’t appreciate how Glenn’s training in Humanistic psych helped him deal with Kundalini, in a sense prepared him for it attitudinally (along with martial arts of course). Humanistic psych is not exactly “spiritual”, just open to experience. For Glenn it actually did a lot of what a “having a faith” would do for someone, but wasn’t a faith, was empirical.

Glenn was able to be both highly connected to spiritual traditions and in a considerable degree of irony towards them, using powers of psychological reinterpretation to smoke out the crowd-herding dogmas, rhetorics, superstitions, and plain old mistakes.

I always thought in general that with enough transpersonal psych I’d get the answers I wanted. But after I went through all the Wilbers and the Ferrers, even though I learned something from Grof alright, my reaction was… ok, what else have you got?

I didn’t see that Glenn had actually got his stuff from the Humanistic and evidential, a lot more than from the Transpersonal, which is mostly non-evidential. What he did after he’d experienced Kundalini was a) replicate it on others; and b) develop psychological instruments based on chakra models. That is exactly what Maslow would have done. Wilber never did this. Translating the ancient transpersonal into our lives in a new form is about careful, cautious, wise prescription based on doing the legwork.

Because Maslow did that legwork he often had to backtrack. When he was more decisive he often was wrong and had to eat humble pie later, because the evidence went another way. That’s life! Humanistic psych, which in 1962 he liked to call “holistic-dynamic” psych, was always about understanding the human experiential world. After that, you could quantify.

I begin to understand how Glenn was able to integrate all his experiences without losing his scientific focus, and also how he could integrate so much hard science without losing his soul and going left-brained. He kept the Humanistic focus and never let the results run him. In turn I begin to get why so much conversation on the science of the transpersonal bores me rigid, why conversation with “skeptics” is such a farce — indeed, why I leapt at the opportunity to reply to Webster! He at least has a focus on the experience of human existence. Without that appreciation for the human, the world is ‘cut in half’ by scientific investigation, for no good reason. And we know that same cutting-in-half happens in religions too.

By sensitive observation, testing both qualitative and quantitative, on lots of people, you make something democratic. Religious top-down declarations of truth are undermined. It’s a different world at that point.

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Readers of John Michael Greer got a nice idea from him a few weeks back:

What you contemplate, you imitate

I remember Greer was talking about fellow peak oil writer James Howard Kunstler, for example, who has written so long and scathingly about certain aspects of American life, that he occasionally sounds and thinks just like what he’s lampooning. Compare that with the process by which a medieval monk’s long contemplation of Christ causes changes of a more positive kind.

I introduced the idea of entrainment, of which these are examples. I was groping there, still am, for the actual nub, trying to describe how “it” crosses over from human mind to “the universe”. What I didn’t manage to get across was that entrainment means something is happening, something more than what ”you” are consciously doing.

I said then: “Psychologically, let’s call entrainment the process whereby interaction with ‘something’ brings a personality into being.” That is what happened to Kunstler. There is a blurring of object with subject in a process of transformation. It just happens. Kunstler did the contemplating, but the imitating happened “by itself”. At the end of the day, whose behaviour do we have there? :) What caused the contemplation and what caused the imitation?

The fact that it occurs “by itself” is the key. I’ve always noticed “something acting through me”, I’m not trying to say this is something amazing, but something, even before I started out to work with all this. That to me is another great key which I need to take time off writing, and maybe most reading, in order to play with. St Romain describes “ground itself looking through my eyes”, and that is exactly it.

This connects to a lot of what Anandamayi Ma would say — she is worth the study — but at the same time via Humanistic psych it relates to ordinary human life, being constantly let go of, as we do when we peak. It may have seemed hyperbolic to say Benson-style Breakout was “the central human psychological mechanism” but I think there is something very important there. (I might refer to the Kunstler thing as a ‘plateau Breakout’.) What acts when we ‘let go’ is the real thing.

I believe one could look at the entire universe as the product of spontaneous entrainments. Think of the descriptions of the creation processes. Yin entrained to Yang and spontaneous results thereof. The universe as a big Breakout, one big continuous transformation.

The universe is a form of mentation. Spiritual training has you constantly learning to direct attention and increase its power, so that you can entrain and crucially de-entrain as opposed to being run by the entrainments you just find yourself with.

Qi is the medium through which entrainments happen, is itself the medium of transformation, even of the physical. That all fits with the science — the Lu/Yan experiments I talked about before showed qi as precisely that.

And I suspect that each human life itself in a sense is one really big Breakout waiting to happen. I think I’ll just leave that statement hanging there. :)

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Maslow — taught Glenn humanity

Maslow is just old enough to be yesterday’s man, not old enough to be “classic”, and totally “left behind” by fMRI in the last decade. I love that, because he was right. His empirical focus on positive aspects of human functioning is now derided as unscientific because it focused on values, but a) it was actually perfectly scientific, b) it came up with stuff you can actually use, and c) given that what you contemplate, you imitate, it was a bloody good idea.

When you say the world is mechanical, you don’t merely lose ‘meaning’, you lose all values, and hence, all chance of being scientific. Meditators know that neutrality doesn’t mean valuelessness. For human beings values are non-optional, and we can make rigorous scientific statements about them. Much normal science avoids this and is robbing us of our humanity. Maslow proved that human values can really be studied — the fact that so few picked up that gage is a choice, and it’s fear-driven, it’s deficiency-driven. People don’t want the responsibility. Many scientists want to be machines, and to know how to push human buttons.

What Maslow starts offering me is what he gave Glenn all along — a humanised way to tackle big questions and experiences, and relate them to ordinary humanity.

Think of the huge numbers of STEs and peak experiences which “just happen” — from ⅓ to ½ of the population in America has had an STE and numbers for general peak experiences must be even higher. We know that many of these events add meaning to life. We also know they don’t correlate to religious belief. When Maslow studied them he found fourteen consistent attributes which he called ‘B-values’ (“Being values”). Since these attributes appear spontaneously one could also call them “S-terms”, the attributes of spontaneity itself, as we experience it.

Here is one Maslow list of them:

WHOLENESS (unity; integration; tendency to one-ness; interconnectedness; simplicity; organization; structure; dichotomy-transcendence; order);

PERFECTION (necessity; just-right-ness; just-so-ness; inevitability; suitability; justice; completeness; “oughtness”);

COMPLETION (ending; finality; justice; “it’s finished”; fulfillment; finis and telos; destiny; fate);

JUSTICE (fairness; orderliness; lawfulness; “oughtness”);

ALIVENESS (process; non-deadness; spontaneity; self-regulation; full-functioning);

RICHNESS (differentiation, complexity; intricacy);

SIMPLICITY (honesty; nakedness; essentiality; abstract, essential, skeletal structure);

BEAUTY (rightness; form; aliveness; simplicity; richness; wholeness; perfection; completion; uniqueness; honesty);

GOODNESS (rightness; desirability; oughtness; justice; benevolence; honesty);

UNIQUENESS (idiosyncrasy; individuality; non-comparability; novelty);

EFFORTLESSNESS (ease; lack of strain, striving or difficulty; grace; perfect, beautiful functioning);

PLAYFULNESS (fun; joy; amusement; gaiety; humor; exuberance; effortlessness);

TRUTH (honesty; reality; nakedness; simplicity; richness; oughtness; beauty; pure, clean and unadulterated; completeness; essentiality).

SELF-SUFFICIENCY (autonomy; independence; not-needing-other-than-itself-in-order-to-be-itself; self-determining; environment-transcendence; separateness; living by its own laws).

This is from ordinary people’s self-reporting of peaks. It’s a basic, instant-grasp view of “how the Tao in action feels” for human beings. We know that neutrality and letting-go allows “it” to act. Therefore we know human “neutrality” is not morally neutral but full of values. Peak experiences can easily be remembered and focused on to hold true to one’s personal Way. This is an entrainment which will then break out in new peaks. Contemplate: imitate. Anyone who has looked over books in the Reading List will get the idea. I will give a couple of interesting things next week, but actually it’s all there.

Maslow provided a time-saving, tested, sure foundation for personal experiment on oneself that anyone non-religious, anyone determined to use their own symbols and translate the traditions their way, can use. Glenn went ahead and fulfilled this vision and democratised an even bigger chunk of higher reality.

I will try never again to underestimate Maslow. He was far righter on than I’d understood. Just look at this:

The person now becomes more a pure psyche and less a thing-of-the-world living under the laws if the world… B-cognition of the other is most possible when there is simultaneously a letting-be of the self and of the other…

Toward a Psychology of Being (1962)

I know there were times when he was wrong — but it doesn’t usually matter because one only needs to take the good stuff. Even then, I often find him eminently correctable. After all, he didn’t build a big “perfect” structure and then cry like a baby every time the truth took a bite out of it — he was always prepared to be wrong. One of the things he was wrong about, I mentioned before, was “needs”. He didn’t realise needs lose their blocking nature, not from being “fulfilled” necessarily (which may only entrain them further, as the Greeks knew) — but by conscious limitation and transmutation.

Yet Glenn was ahead of me:

Abraham Maslow, a great American theoretical psychologist, felt that one’s metaneeds (spiritual needs) could only be met when one’s basic needs for survival and security were met… He ignored the scriptures, tales of the aesthetes and ascetics who sometimes achieved enlightenment (self-actualization) through eliminating and shaping desire to higher needs.

Shadow Strategies (1996, p. 260)

And I believe Maslow did understand that, on some level:

There are certain theoretical advantages in stressing now the aspect of non-striving or non-needing and taking it as the centering-point (or center of organization) of the something we are studying.

Toward a Psychology of Being (1962)

Once awake to the possibility, you can move your energy in the down-the-pyramid direction (BTW the pyramid isn’t Maslow, it’s a later interpretation by Goble), and you don’t really need to alter the theory. He was thereabouts if not there; his finger missed some contours, but he was touching the truth that more reality = less need.

You can explain so much just with those 14 simple S-terms. Epicurus, who introduced me to need-reduction strategies that really work, fits very well from his angle. One could be literal and state that S-terms like “simplicity” and “effortlessness” are the particular focus of the Epicurean, whilst reducing both need and striving are the important methods. (Stress reduction was as big a deal for Epicurus as for Herbert Benson.) The nature of ataraxia, untroubledness, is fundamentally related to the neutral observation that enables transformation.

But one can go further and say that Epicurus’s ‘pleasure’ (hêdonê) is also related to peak experience in general. The Epicureans would have been having spontaneous peaks like anyone else, and their reduction of needs would have helped. The ‘pleasure’ of Epicurus moves toward the true self, of being as much ‘like a god’ as a human can be. It is more than mere ordinary pleasure, as he said so many times.

Maslow’s focus on actualisation of the individual was 100% correct. Ego death can’t be “done for you” and it goes one person at a time. Modern transpersonal “theory” like that of Ferrer (one is not allowed to call it psychology) has unceremoniously junked everything we once knew we knew about the psychology of egolessness, and all the places it touched Eastern tradition. Glenn ignored Ferrer completely.

I accused Maslow before of not recognising the relationship between peak experiences and death, but I wasn’t being totally fair there either. He writes:

Perhaps I should add here the paradoxical result — for some — that death may lose its dread aspect. Ecstasy is somehow close to death-experience, at least in the simple, empirical sense that death is often mentioned during reports of peaks… I have occasionally been told, “I felt that I could willingly die” or, “No one can ever again tell me death is bad”, etc.

Religions, Values and Peak-Experiences (1964, p.76)

So he knew about this. Just as with the pyramid, the data suggested a conclusion he acknowledged but didn’t place into the theory proper — an association of peak with death of the social self.

What happened with Glenn was that he back-engineered the qigong and chakra stuff in just this way, and tested it. This goes far beyond Maslow in terms of experience and effect, this is real goddess stuff — but Maslow is so open-ended it can be understood just the same exact way.

Believe it or not there is next to no widely-tested psychology on chakras apart from Glenn’s. People are writing books on ‘chakra psychology’ who haven’t even read his work, getting everything anecdotally. (I don’t denigrate a lifetime’s experienced wisdom in healing, for instance, but I do deny that it constitutes scientific knowledge in itself.) Psychology means testing, and you need a framework for testing. And it better be a Humanistic framework or else you’ll cut off the soul again.

From Glenn we know that different people habitually favour different chakras, and what that’s likely to do to stress levels, career, personality, and other measurable stuff, on a variety of accepted scales. That is actually unique so far as I’m aware. Bardon gives a lengthy process for determining one’s elemental balance — in my case Glenn’s test gave the same result as that process, but in 2 minutes flat. But of course Glenn also provides the crucial inner stuff, the connection to experience, so you can transform awareness, in a way you can customise to you.

All the physical experiments, all the quantifying, has to be secondary compared to that. That’s just information. What Glenn did has humanistic, customisable universality because thousands of people contributed to it, just as there were many subjects of Maslow’s B-values research. It captures something about living, something anyone’s unique life experience can add to.

(I’m not just dogmatically saying that “we need to test”. I’m saying I’ve just noticed that those who tested came up with results I could use, and those who didn’t, didn’t. I even believe that the limits on what is testable and in that sense knowable may be precisely the limits needed to maintain the personal freedom that religion can expunge.)

In this paragraph I should sum up what I’m saying… the world to me now looks as if it makes sense from a certain angle, a loose and usable kind of sense that redeems scientific endeavours since there is a way to integrate those with real feeling and value, and which shows that even the heights of “spirituality” are based on human conditions and proclivities that anyone can relate to. I don’t know why that has surprised me so much, but I do know that one reason I went for Glenn’s stuff is that he didn’t talk like a normal spirichal teacha, and now I begin to understand why, and what that has to do with the “it that acts”.

Incidentally, I also begin to understand why some people who ripped off Glenn’s methods ended up writing such crappy books.

I ‘ll take a little time off the blog to see what happens as a result, but will just do a quick post next week especially targeted at methods… cya then.


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