Promethean Enlightenment: The Rise I

Perhaps indeed, we can consider the last thousand years of history to be nothing more than man returning to his cave, only to realize the fire has gone out, and its safety gone with it.

Promethean Enlightenment: The Fall
The Course of Empire: Desolation, Thomas Cole

But we can rekindle the flame.

If The Fall embodied hopelessness, this shall be it’s antithesis. Hope for man’s future, this is where I now turn my attention. What good would it do to lament the death of man while he still continues to cling furtively to life beyond the gaze of gods.

Even if it is closer to the truth, what need have we ever really had of truth? For centuries man has held it as a supreme ideal while hypocritically building all his successes without it. First a thing must be believed real before it can be made so. Truth is brought into being by the collective faith of a community in the manifestation of will.

I – Mind, Body, Soul

Human existence can be neatly and succinctly broken down into three equal components constantly struggling for attention and affection. I will not claim to be the first to state this, as this idea has, in one form or another, appeared under many guises in the works of many philosophers throughout the centuries. The terms I shall use for these are mind, body, and soul. While I spent the previous article breaking down the spirit of man, it seems only correct that to build it up again we must first know the fundamental components to use.

It comes as no surprise that the perfected individual should be one who keeps these three components of being in balance. But, what does that mean? At a simplistic level, devoting equal amounts of time to the betterment of each of the three would be a start. Say you have 6 hours of free time a week. Spending two of these each of improving your mind, expanding your soul, and training your body would be a fundamental step in the right direction.

Napoleon crossing the alps, Jacques-Louis David

I bring this up as I intend to discuss each of these as a separate battlefield. Each a challenge that must be set and overcome if the individual as a whole is to prosper. In the previous part, I discussed the sundering of humanity, upon receiving Prometheus’s gift, into two separate types. I labelled these torch bearers and camp followers, although in more simplistic terms we may see these as the opposing forces of civilization, comfort, and community verses the heroic, adventurous and bestial. Solzhenitsyn famously described good and evil as forces at war within the heart of man, but these are artificial concepts applied over more primal values after the foundations of society had already been set. In the dark night of mans dawn, no such concepts of good or evil would have yet pervaded our collective consciousness. Yet even then, the distinction between the heroic and the civilized, taking on a physical manifestation in the motivations and actions of individuals, would have been obvious. Seemingly opposed in every manner, it was only the coming together of these two types that brought forth a triumph of human spirit. We see this manifest in Hellenic Greece, Early Rome, and again in brief flashes amidst The Renaissance and The Golden Age of Islam.

II – Success of the Ancients

Before attempting to bring about a new renaissance, it seems necessary to find the factors that brought about such greatness in these cultures and allowed for that precarious balance of heroic and cultured that we are seeking. It is most certainly obvious, that when the ideal conditions do arise, they are so unstable that even the slightest change can cause the entire system to collapse into an unstoppable process of social decay (even if, as in the case of the Roman, this process takes hundreds of years to manifest its poisoned fruit).

The first thread of unity could be simply described as freedom. Although, by this I mean that in each of these societies the individual was given room to take shape beyond the structured limitations of the culture in a precise and focused manner – a coronal ejection of the soul. From the viewpoint of a modern western society this may not seem the case, but it would be a folly to degrade the manifestation of freedom that was apparent in these classical societies simply because it does not take on the same form as we understand the word today. True, the limitations of culture would have been more oppressive in Greece, Rome, The City States of Italy, and The Islamic Caliphates. Paradoxically it may very well be the imposition of limitations that allowed for a greater form of freedom to manifest in the individual spirits that chose to pursue it. Unlimited freedoms as we almost have them today cause the spirit to thrash around, directionless and without purpose. Guided freedom however, a controlled release of chaos,this is what allowed for the heroes of Greek and Roman myth, or the great artists and philosophers of The Renaissance. Think of this as the difference between a laser and a light bulb. One projects it’s energy mindlessly in all directions. The other is focused and controlled, and therefore far more powerful.

Oath of the Horatii, Jacques-Louis David

The next fundamentally important factor at play in these civilizations was a shared belief in a collective destiny. Just as the focusing of individual freedoms aligned the soul of the individual to a fixed purpose, so too does the collective destiny of a peoples align the social group to a united purpose. This may not seem all that important when discussing the development of the superior individual, however, when we look at societies formed of multiple warring factions (e.g. a modern western democratic society) we see that any purposeful movement towards the goals of one of these factions is brought low by the combined resistance of the others. This is especially the case when trying to implement the sort of changes that would alter the future direction of that nation or influence the beliefs of the subsequent generations. Thus, these civilizations built on a bedrock of civil strife – a.k.a multi-cultural – find themselves stuck in a never ending cycle with each faction taking the reigns of power for short stints, only to be toppled once they have pushed too far towards their goals. This cycle does not only harm attempts at correcting deficiencies of culture however. Imagine a modern democracy attempting to build something on the scale of The Notre-Dame Cathedral or the Pyramids of Giza! The former took over 180 years to complete, the latter 20 (although most of the manpower of Egypt was mustered to its construction). This is the kind of achievement that can only come about when a peoples, and their government are united in shared purpose and direction.

Finally, a belief in a higher self is a certain requirement. By this, I do not mean a deity, although often gods can be manifestations of these higher self’s. The Stoics called this concept The Sage. The sage was a model, a perfected version of who you wanted to become that held all the traits, skills and values that you wished to possess in the future. By setting your sights on a perfected form, you grow closer to this ideal over time. Of course, you can never reach it. But that is not the point. The Sage is a guide, meant to correct your path when you stray too far from the correct course. I have a theory that early gods formed from this very idea. This is could be why many of the gods of old pagan religions took on such a human appearance. They were mean as representations of the diluted form of their worshipers. A god of farmers, therefore became a heroic representation of everything a farmer was. A warrior god, embodied the simplified essence of the virtues of a warrior and so on. Of course as civilization and culture developed, so too did it’s gods, and this theory fails to hold when looking at the Greek pantheon – with their human, all too human flaws.

So we have an ideal target – The sage or soul. A individual allowed to manifest their own destiny through direct action, but focused by the limitations of their society – the body. And a collective (and leadership) that supports the development of the individual towards that shared ideal – the mind. A harmony by three parts. An external world that mirrors the internal. A precarious balance. We have seen how a perfected society can create the fire bearers of the future. But what if no such societies are left to be found? What if all we have to work with are the ashes? In such a situation a new kind of free spirit is needed. A revitalizing force that bring’s balance through disorder. A warrior poet that, as Christ, must be sacrificed for the good of all…

Wanderer above the sea of fog, Caspar David Friedrich

Continued in Promethean Enlightenment: The Rise Part 2…

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