Author Michael Grosso looks at the turbulence of the 20th century and how it has brought about the end of old ideas, myths and institutions.
“We are too late for the gods, and too early for Being.”
Interregnum rapsters, apocalyptic pied-pipers, and eerie signs of the times are on the rise, and it shouldn’t surprise us. Soon it will be 2000, a number rich with calendric magic.1 Already, end-of-the-world watch dogs and newsletters, entrepreneurs and fin de siecle party planners are out in force. Not only is a century coming to an end, but a millennium: not only two thousand years of the Christian era, but six thousand years of recorded history. An unprecedented setup: six billion people, (in principle, anyway) wired together in mounting expectation, waiting for the encroaching sabbath of the human adventure.
There is a feeling in the air that tremendous change is about to take place, a grand finale. In September, 1994, a white, female bison was born in Jamesville, Wisconsinaccording to Native Americans, a sign the New Age is about to dawn. Jubilant believers converged on the ranch where the calf was born. In a television interview, one man likened its birth to the birth of the infant Jesus.
In June of the same year, thousands frantically mourned the death of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, believed by his 200,000 followers to be the Messiah. Despite his apoplectic demise, devotees insisted that the Brooklyn-based Lubavitcher patriarch was going to rise from the dead and lead them from “exile” to messianic bounty.
Meanwhile, in Kiev, Yuri Krivonogov, a Ukrainian engineer turned hypnotist announced that the world was going to end on November 24, 1994. The prophet’s wife, Maria, after a near-death experience announced that she was the reincarnation of Christ and the Virgin Mary; subsequently, the twosome tried to take over the famous Sophia Cathedral. Thousands have been swept away by all this, and a special Government’s Committee has been formed to stop hunger strikes, mass suicide, and other chiliastic kookiness.
Mass murder and suicide, orchestrated by a homeopathic physician with a messiah-complex, Luc Jouret, was the scene in Switzerland and Quebec in October, 1994. Juret was a New Age charmer who promised a coming purgative Reign of Fire, thus hearkening back to Saint Peter, who once wrote (II Peter, 3:10) that the world and its “works” was about to get “burned up” in a serious way. With Jouret, however, the source of the apocalyptic fireworks shifts from God to Gaia.
Native Americans, New York Jews, European New Age Christiansthese, of course, are just a sprinkling. Are they all crazy? Well, if they are, they have lots of company, for under one guise or another masses of people have been driven by similar expectations for thousands of years. Christianity, a creed that claims more souls than any other on our bedeviled planet, is the quintessential apocalyptic religion. Its core belief is that history is going to go up in flames, earth somehow mutate into heaven, and humanity (at any rate, an elect portion thereof) change into a species of the angelic type.
When, moreover, you consider the secular wrinkles of these ancient obsessions among Renaissance maguses and Enlightenment philosophers and, more sinister, among 20th century Russian revolutionaries and the Nazi SS, it’s clear that we’re dealing not with a freaky sideshow but with one of our archetypal passions.
One could say this passion is psychotic in the sense that it is alienated from “reality.” The apocalyptic imagination that I believe so deeply pervades our historical mentality is psychotic in a singular way; this reality-scofflng psychosis seems, in fact, built into the ground plan of all our hopes and desires as a species, and is, not so much a matter of accidental- alienation but of conscious revolt against the human condition.
It feeds, this madness of the rebellious imagination, on deep smoldering fires of discontentfires that no water of mere reality can dampen. It feeds on the same fire that heats the imagination of poets, prophets, artists, scientists, lovers, utopians, idealists, inventors, visionaries, explorers, revolutionaries, iconoclasts, clowns, daredevilsanybody, in short, who belongs to that great tribe of inspired fools who say NO! To Things As They Are.
A resounding No! To Things As They Arethat is the main message of the Millennium Myth. Millennium Myth is my name-tag for the chronic dreams, visions, and obsessions of total transformation that lie scattered across the landscape of human history. There are, I should point out, certain key texts, figures, and historical times in which the energies of this Myth have burst into consciousness with special elan.2
The essence of the Myth may be described in the following way. First of all, perennial oppression and injustice seem to have engraved upon the human psyche an inalienable craving to set things right, wipe the slate clean, and, in general, strike back against the Evil Empire (whose ID, of course, is forever changing with the times). This primal combative spirit shows itself in many ways: for example, in the Jewish prophets who raved so wonderfully against the oppressiveness of power wherever they encountered it; in Hegel who made freedom the goal of the struggles of history; in Jefferson who gave the world the Declaration of Independence.
The millennial mind has vented its undying discontent with reality at a yet more fundamental level. It has said No! to nature as it isto the violence, sickness, and death doled out by our sublimely indifferent stepmother. So the ancient rebels cried out with a fierce willfulness that there will be “a new heaven and new earth.” The cry for a new nature, voiced in Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation, has taken several forms.
First of all, it would tame nature, as Isaiah would when he pictured a day when lion and lamb, child and adder would come together in a new orphic communalism. Nature, moreover, would bring forth abundantly, in a re-greening of Eden. Finally, the crowning compulsion of the Millennium Myth is the dream of abolishing death. And “death shall be no more,” declares the Book of Revelation, an idea that has recently re-emerged under the guise of techno-immortalism.
The inspired madness of the Millennium Myth is not content merely to uproot the deep social wrongs of the world, nor to overturn the order of a hostile nature, nor even to wipe out death; it wants something infinitely more positive and satisfying. It wants to rearrange society, ignite a renaissance of human relationships. It wants compassion, joy, erotic fulfillment for all. The Myth pictures a jubilee of sweet desire at the end of time, a bacchanal of the heart, a polymorphous round dance of love’s body. From Jesus who said there would be no marriage in the heavenly kingdom down through the medieval Brethren of the Free Spirit to the American disciples of John Humphrey Noyes, exponents of the Myth have stood up for the end of repression.
A Century of Endings
Behind these millennial imaginings lay a long history of the human heart, an imperishable animus against reality, nature, civilizationagainst business as usual. But is there any special, any immediate significance of all this for us today? Is the shape of human reality at last about to bend and morph under the mounting pressure of history? Have we reached the cusp of humanity’s historic discontent with the Way Things Are? From the looks of things, maybe yes. I say this because the twentieth century has been a century of shocking changesof spectacular endings. At the same time, it has been a century of glimpses of new realities. Consider a few examples.
Death of God, End of Religion
Now, it’s true, as Carl Jung once said, that not all people alive in present times are truly “modern” (in terms of their consciousness). Few have absorbed (say) Freud, Jung, Darwin, post-Darwinism, relativity cosmology, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, and so on; most haven’t begun to assimilate all this information, or made it a part of their lived world. In fact, many think in terms that are still pre-Copernican; some fundamentalists remain essentially pre-rational; still others I will not name carry on in ways that are near Neanderthalic.
Nevertheless, from Copernicus to Stephen Hawking science has delivered one blow after another to our naive conceptions of deity. Our century has actually witnessed the rise of a “death of God” theology. Godunderstood as the highest valuewas pronounced dead in the last century by Nietzsche. The fact is that religious belief now stands in blatant conflict with modern science, which completely shatters confidence in traditional dogma.
Religious belief, as our ancestors embraced it, has become untenable for many reasons. Physics, evolutionary theory, comparative religion, archaeology, scientific Bible criticism, and parapsychology all challenge us to revise our inherited spiritual outlooks.3 “Religion” has become an open concept. Understood as traditional dogma, it is dead, though it may take another millennium to sink in at the collective level.
Not a raving prophet but a sober academic, Wilfred Cantwell Smith wrote The Meaning and End of Religion (1962). In it we read: “The advent of self-consciousness in human religious history is a drastic emergence.” The consequences of this for the future no one can possibly foresee, says Smith, except that it will “inaugurate a radically new age.” It will be an age in which traditional religion as creed, rite, and dogma will dissolve and leave humanity with the job of working out the basis for a new spiritual outlook. All this consciousness, which will intensify in the next millennium, will either drive us all bonkers or inspire us to new heights of sociability.
The End of Philosophy
If God and religion have devolved into a patchwork of phenomenology and interesting psychisms, the twentieth century has seen another high moment of human consciousness retire to the compost heap. There is much talk nowadays of the end of philosophy. Philosophy, once the queen of the sciences, has been through a blast of humiliating seachanges in the twentieth century.
You can trace this story back through Kant and Hume, and further to William of Occam, who hatched from his brain the modern dragon of reductionism. With Hume, the icy meme of skepticism escapes into the historical environment; flowers of the metaphysical imagination wilt at its breath. The goddess Philosophia, once the inspiration of Socrates, Boethius, and Bruno as they waited on death row, is demoted to a trivial pursuit.
With Nietzsche, philosophy’s secret ambitions are laid bare; it is the will to power that the philosophical game secretly cultivates; we construct our metaphysics, our moral systems, our pantheons of value, not for disinterested love of truth, but as techniques for subduing obnoxious reality. To make matters worse, according to Nietzsche, life-hating Christian neurotics have monkeyed with our heads, imposing their sickly world views on us, screwing up our pagan genius for enjoying life.
Marx wrote a book called The Poverty of Philosophy, and his nasty point was that our philosophical opinions were a clever facade for our middle-class economic and political greedthe unconscious tools of our drive for “hegemony.” Contemporary deconstructionists” say that philosophical texts are just devices for mystification, and have as much to do with eternal verity as TV commercials.
Gone is the proud metaphysician, the visionary thinker who dared, like Plato or Plotinus, Leibniz or Spinoza, to comprehend the whole universe of truth. The age of the great speculators is overthe great systems are reduced to emotive burps. The Anglo Saxon analytic tradition, so ably embodied in Sir Alfred Ayer, declared war on the unverifiable claims of metaphysics. Analytic philosophy, lusting for clarity at all costs, reduced the love of wisdom to a technique for curing verbal muddles. Philosophy suffers the death of a thousand Wittgensteinian cuts, and the only wisdom that remains is the wisdom of shutting up.
Nowadays, the leading assassin of Philosophia is Richard Rorty, whose book Mind and the Mirror of Nature argues for the end of philosophy, the endto use the lingoof “foundationalism.” At bottom, our thoughts are arbitrary; the points of view we cherish, without foundation. In a sea of contingency we swim, our ideas transparent fictions, the sole authority being pragmatic. Philosophy thus takes its place among the rest of the world’s burnt-out dreams.
The End of Art
So let us mourn the end of religion and philosophy. Now we must mourn the end of art. The end of art in the twentieth century is a very interesting story. Again, we’re talking about a definite tendency that repeats itself in different forms. It begins early in the century, around the time of the First World War, a protest against the stupidity of war and bourgeois civilization. Richard Huelsenbeck, one of the founders of Dada, wrote in 1920: “None of us had much appreciation for the kind of courage it takes to get shot for the idea of a nation which is at best a cartel of pelt merchants and profiteers in leather, at worst a cultural association of psychopaths who, like the Germans, marched off with a volume of Goethe in their knapsacks, to skewer Frenchmen and Russians on their bayonets.”
Dada represented a complete repudiation of esthetics. The beautiful was denounced as a trap, a symptom of reactionary stupefaction. Violating logic and the conventions of good taste were the artistic equivalent of prophetic denunciation. In a similar vein, Futurism was a raid on tradition, a Chaos revival with Marinetti’s “brutism” anticipating John Cage’s art-murdering equation of noise and music. Art rejects the longevity of Egyptian sculpture and the serenity of Renaissance aerial perspective. It wants to tear down the old and create new realities. Surrealism, in particular, was an act of terrorism against the Freudian ego, an attempt to disgorge an apocalyptic incarnation of the unconsciousa revolt of dream against reality.
Two radical Russians are decisive in this revolt: for Kandinsky and Malevich, art becomes a weapon to destroy the object. They invent non-objective art. Their approaches differ, however. Kandinsky wants to create an abstract music of disembodied visual qualia, a world unto itself, a doorway out of this world. Malevich, more of a nihilist, wants to eliminate color and dominate everything through geometrya rabid cross of John Locke and Joseph Stalin.
New York is where the end of art really shows itself. In Jackson Pollock, the painting comes off the easel, blends into the environment, evaporates into a gesture, turning into a dance of pure visual energy. Ad Reinhardt paints black paintings, making perception the art, not the thing perceived. (There is a purple underglow, a requiem tonality to his last works.)
The career of Marcel Duchamp beautifully embodies the end of art. Cyberpunk before his time, Duchamp adds a mustache to Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Art becomes an insurrection against habit, against the sacrosanct icons of the cultural imagination. The coup de gras comes with the ready-madethe urinal Duchamp titles “Fountain.” Art by fiat. Hero of Dada, Duchamp renounces the esthetic and cultivates the will to be amused. He quits painting, and takes up playing chess with nude women. Step by step, art comes to end of its tether, its traditional nature dismembered, until it reaches the 1990s where it now dithers and limps with Po-Mo arthritis.
The End of Nature
In this century of endings, it is not only our inner worlds that are being ravaged, our gods, norms, ideas of art and beauty; the external world is also roiling in transformation. In the 20th century, we have begun to witness the end of nature. Nature is coming to an end in more than one way.
The environment is going to pieces. Species of living creatures are becoming extinct with alarming rapidity. E. O. Wilson wrote in 1989 that species were becoming extinct at a rate that is “10,000 times greater than the naturally occurring background extinction rate that existed prior to the appearance of human beings” (Scientific American, September, 1989, p.112). Ceaseless exploitation of the environment has turned nature into a gigantic factory; no longer our revered “mother,” nature has become a storehouse of raw materials to serve in the execution of human needs, real and imaginary.
The end of nature is evident in another way. A particular species of living creature has acquired an understanding of the genetic mechanisms of living process. With this understanding, it is now possible for this species to begin the work of rewriting and redefining its own genetic identity. Nature has come to an end in the sense that with technology, a new genesis has become possible. “Look, I am making the whole of creation new” (Rev. 21:5) becomes the logo of the biotech firms.
The relationship between nature and humanity is changing drastically. An uncanny reversal between producer and produced is underway. Humans beings, byproducts of evolution, become the agents of evolution. The creature takes over the creator’s job. Bioengineering, nuclear power, nanotechnology, upset the traditional relationship between humanity and nature. Nature, in fact, is losing its naturalness, being obliged to serve the whims of a species driven by forces it doesn’t comprehend.
At the frontiers of our technical prowess, the old prophetic yearnings of the race reenter our lives with a vengeance, busy trying to realize themselves a condition I call technocalypse. Technocalypse is the novel historical situation where humans, through an approaching singularity of technique, are gaining the means to embody their wildest apocalyptic fantasie sin a new nature. Images of the apocalyptic imagination the rapture, the kingdom of heaven, the superhuman elect, satanic mind-control, nature transmogrified seem poised to wormhole their way into history.
The End of “Man”
The twentieth century has witnessed the end of man. The linguistic entity “man” certainly seems defunct. A new morpho-linguistic field has emerged of late, one in which expressions like “man” are discreetly avoided and replaced with expressions like “people” and “humanity.” The assumption that the world is ruled by an entity called “man”in particular by “Western” manhas foundered.
The end of man is evident in the movement signaled by the return of the goddess and the rise of her chaotic energies. Goddess energy has started a revolution in epistemology, ratifying a riot of intuitive forms of consciousness; archetypal rational Man is forced to face the re-constellation of the feminine in the zodiac of human thought. The mythical beast MAN is dismembered in a Dionysian revel of deconstruction.
The end of Man is foreshadowed by science. The science-induced “death of God” forces the onus of quasi-divinity on humankind. We graduate from being Babylonian god-sucking slaves and ziggurat boot-blacks to being Atlas-shrugging, self-defining, no archetype-bound Ubermenschen. Science raises the possibility of changing the idea of the human. Whatever candidates you consider brain machines, smart foods, psychedelics, AI amplification the second human genesis is now more than a fantasy of science fiction. And finally, as Drexler says, if it can be done, it will be done.
Stalking the Next Millennium
In my end is my beginning. All these twentieth century endings help us meditate on what may be coming in the times ahead.
A thousand years ago people had no idea of how radically their fundamental ideas of reality were going to be overturned. I see no reason to doubt that we are in the same boat. In fact, given the new velocity of historical change, we can expect the overturnings to be proportionately more radical.
Needless to say, all one can do here is speculate. In my view, the Millennium Myth offers a basis for such speculation. The clues that may mirror our future may be found in the recurrent images of the Myth, the ones that keep coming back, with variations on a theme. Indications from the Millennium Myth suggest three megatrends, three key lines for possible futures. Not my style to play the apocalyptic dating game, I submit no speculations as to time. What I do say is that these megatrends contain forces likely to play themselves out one way or another in the times to come.
Among the most sweeping, recurrent images is the one of the coming “new heaven and earth.” The whole of creation is “groaning” for rebirth, said Paul of Tarsus, that wild convert who set much of the world to imagining that a time was coming when an entire society of illuminati was going to be raptured up into heaven. Note that the Ninth Insight of the popular Celestine Prophecy is about becoming “invisible,” which is another way of talking about Saint Paul’s Christian Rapture.
The Millennium Myth groans with discontent over the hurt, strife and injustice of existence. It harmonizes with the first noble truth of Buddhism that all existence is dukkha or dissatisfaction. Meanwhile, the early Greek philosopher Empedocles claimed that history was moving from an age of Strife to one of Friendship and the Hebrew prophets saw cosmic liberation in images of nature pacified. All in all, the Millennium Myth promises a trend toward total rebirth and regeneration.
Compatible ideas are found on the current scene. Environmentalism cultivates the seeds of Edenic revivalism. Animal liberation, as argued for by philosophers like Peter Singer, point to a latter-day revision of Isaiahism. With Hegel’s eschatology of cultural freedom, we note the rise of gay, black, and women’s liberation; proclamations of the end of hierarchy, patriarchy, hegemony, humanism, classism, anthropocentrism, geoparochialism. All forces propelling history toward a new reformation, a new redistribution of world power.
Is the Myth’s job to draw us eternally on in endless spirals of struggle and aspiration, or does the universe have a plan for us to really enjoy this fabulous dream? Who knows? What I think I do know is that the dialectic of discontent with Things As They Are is not likely to quit. Like it or not, we’re caught up in that dialectic, and so we might as well go along for the ride, even if it seems to be getting bumpier and wilder as time hastens on.
The Abolition of Death is the second megatrend. The Millennium Myth from Gilgamesh to Timothy Leary revolts against death; it wants us to live eternally and abundantly. On this Spinoza was clear: every living creature is driven to conserve its being. To which Nietzsche added and to expand and maximize its being. Just how far is this drive toward life-expansion and life-extension supposed to go?
If, in the new evolutionary cosmology, the “laws” of nature aren’t written in stone, but are habits that may be broken in the spasms of speciation, then maybe death can be transcended. The old myths saw death as a fluke, an accident born from a lapse of attention, a message misconstrued. The Bible tells us that death is “the wages of sin,” thus denying its necessity.
From the beginning till now the idea that death can be overcome has been present. Zoroaster the Iranian prophet promised bodily resurrection, while nowadays Deepak Chopra is talking about the “physiology of immortality” and urging us to cultivate the “body of bliss.” More recently, physicist Frank Tipler has made a case for the “physics of immortality.”
This resolutely anti-entropic megatrend reveals itself through many channels. Occultism cultivates the tradition of a new bodya body of light and desire. There is Saint Paul’s “pneumatic” or spiritual body and the Hindu, Shiite, and Taoist traditions of the divine light body. On the other hand, the millennial drive toward what is called the “new flesh” in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome constantly pops up in secular culture. This is the point about archetypes, or collective obsessions, which are prepared to stoop to conquer us in secular garb.
The apocalyptic yearning for liberation appears in George Bernard Shaw’s play, “Back to Methuselah.” Shaw uses evolutionary theory to rationalize his millennial fantasies. Now the “eschaton”the last thing becomes the goal of creative evolution. For Shaw the goal of life was to evolve into impassive Aristotelian gods entirely devoted to “thinking about thinking.”
More contemporary is this. The fascination with virtual reality and the idea of acquiring a cyberbody in cyberspace seem to me like a technological concretizing of the new body obsession. Admittedly, the one time I stuck my head in some VR head gear, I found it a clumsy bore. And yet the idea of cyberspace fascinates me. The reason, I believe, has to do with cyberspace being a way to extend beyond my body, free myself up from my local self. A chance to take a flying leap into an electronic Mundus Imaginalis.
The End of The Tyranny of Biology: Or, All You Need Is Love
All the deaths and endings of the twentieth century what do they point to? What does history really want? What could history be pointing to with its ruthless discarding of so many sacred cows, its proclamations of the end of God, Nature, Man, Injustice, Art, and Philosophy? Is there a final secret that history has up its sleeve, a last veil to be lifted?
Again, I describe another megatrend indicated by the millennial data. This one is toward the end of the tyranny of biology especially in the area of love and sex.
We’ve already seen how nanotech and biotech challenge the tyranny of biology. Human beings have become players in a second genesis; the possibility is before us of engineering death out of existence. Along with this, I believe that another transformation, pictured by the old prophets, will continue to voice itself with growing urgency.
I mean the human effort to reorganize social life, to reinvent the family, and liberate love and sex. Love and sex in the next millennium? The data of the Millennium Myth indicate a persistent drive toward new forms of intimate society.
The inadvertent founder of Christianity is powerful source of this discontent with ordinary human relationships. Jesus said that in the heavenly stage of human evolution there would be no marriage and that we would live “like angels” in other words, free from the restraints of our ordinary bodies. Life-extension, a new body, the abolition of death all these seem to be the preconditions for entering a new form of hyper-erotic society.
For the past two thousand years, underground movements in revolt against ordinary family existence have flourished in Western history. The revolutionary cults of the Middle Ages, the illuminati and various brotherhoods of free spirits all tried to radically rearrange their sexual relationships; they all wanted to abolish repression and enter the heaven of Eros on the spot. Skipping over the Middle Ages, look at a few 19th century American examples of this megatrend. (Upstate New York was the scene of the counterculture in those days, by the way.)
One form the dream took was celibacy, as practiced by Ann Lee, the lady who started the millenarian Shaker cult and whose followers thought was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit and the New Christ. The Shakers centered their social life around ecstatic dances during which they communed with spirits. They sublimated their sexual energy into spiritual ecstasy, and the trance dance was their model of family life.
Millenarians want to reform fallen sexuality. Joseph Smith, the prophet of Mormonism, tried (and to some extent succeeded) in creating a society of biblical patriarchs in the Wild West. Smith, who started his career as a treasure-hunter, invented the ideas of celestial and plural marriage. Polygyny was the Morman attempt to take relationships out of profane time and make them part of a project of human deification. Mormonism is an American original, but it’s a movement in which old-fashioned patriarchism collided with the millennial love of liberation.
The Shakers, as you might guess, have for the most part died out. On the other hand, the celibate life may be more popular today than we suspect, especially if the latest sex polls are correct. (More Americans today are just abstaining from sex.) Anyway, there are obvious incentives to the celibate life today, such as the fear of AIDS and other sexually contagious diseases. For the millenarian Shakers, however, the attraction to celibacy meant much more; it was a lifestyle built around the ideal of achieving ecstasy and angelhood.
One more example from mid-19th century America. The remarkable John Humphrey Noyes founded the Oneidan or Perfectionist Community, a financially successful group that practiced Male Continence and Complex Marriage for over a quarter century. The Community allowed multiple sexual partners in a style best described as tantric. Noyes’ revolutionary idea was to separate the “propagative” from the “amative” function of sex. According to Noyes, the New Age actually began with the resurrection of Christ; consequently, he felt there was no longer any need to propagate. History is essentially finished. The tyranny of biology is finished. The new spirit of charismatic love allows us to enjoy sex for its own sake: transpersonally, amatively, nonpropagatively. The things that went on in 19th century New York!
The moment a personal attachment set in, however, sexual relations were discouraged by the Oneidans. Sexual attachment was supposed to yield to the collective ideal of the true Christian family, in which love was to be unselfish, just as economic resources were supposed to be held in common. I wonder what Dan Quayle would think about John Humphrey Noyes’ notion of family values? Truth is, the ideal of Christian family values has had many interpretations in Christian history. Jesus himself was the antithesis of the Quaylean model of a family man.
The drive to reinvent love and the sex, to redefine the family, and to extend human relationships is a millennial megatrend. Perhaps the persistence of this trend is the consequence of a simple fact: human beings, unlike most animals, enjoy an enormous surplus of libido. Our amative potential far outweighs our propagative capacity; we have more sexual energy than we need for merely reproductive purposes. Moreover, the population explosion today makes the need to revise love and sex far more apropos than it was in the 19th century.
However, apart from the population explosion, the AIDS epidemic, and the surplus of amative potential, there seems to be an internal drive toward the transcendence of ordinary love and sex relations. As Augustine said, people are driven toward an unknown love, an indefinable object of desire. The fact of so many unhappy relationships proves the reality of Augustine’s restless love. As for those who repress the restlessness, how many live lives of quiet desperation?
No wonder there are cyclic stirrings of discontent, movements and manifestos and protests against the human family as it is. In the 19th century, spiritualists practiced free love under the banner of what they called the “principle of individual sovereignty.” Inspired by that wild genius Charles Fourier, hundreds of “phalanxes” or communistic groups dedicated to a philosophy of erotic sensualism sprang up all over America. Fourier wanted to overthrow Western civilization, which he thought sadistically separated pleasure from work. The millennial imagination is bullish on overcoming our fragmented, de-eroticized workaday world.
Conscious discontent with civilization as such came to the fore again in the 1960s, where the new heros of higher “family values” were R. D. Laing and Herbert Marcuse. In the 1990s, well, we have our techno-pagans, wiccans, gays and lesbians of Tony Kushner’s Millennium. The data, when viewed over the long haul, demonstrate the will to terminate the tyranny of biology to exalt the amative above the propagative, consciousness beyond the brain, the free play of imagination over repressive rationality.
At first, a flailing about, a will to smash the obstacles; then, an opening up to the outer possibilities of love. Joachim of Fiore, the great medieval eschatologist, thought that in the coming Third Age of Spirit, freedom from patriarchal domination would lead to freedom for friendship. Freedom was not the last word; above freedom, was friendship, which gave meaning to freedom. Zoroaster who inspired the Hebrew prophets saw the end of time in festive images of reunion, of gathering round in circles of old friends, swapping tales of life’s journey.
Swan Song to a Strange Century
The twentieth century not over yet has been a time not only of apocalyptic questionings but of apocalyptic events. The turbulence of our inner world has been matched by shattering changes in the external world: a runaway human population, a century of total war, havoc waged against the planet, the Promethean mastery of the atom, the godlike capacity to redesign the script of biological existence, the power to range across time and space and startling looks into the abysses of the human psyche.
The ideas, myths, and institutions people have lived by for millennia have been thrown into surrealistic disarray. The old concepts of truth and reality have exploded into chaotic uncertainties. Out of this vast death and creative turmoil, an unknown future is going to unfold. Poised on a dizzying threshold, let me summon one last piece of the Millennium Myth its spirit of crazy optimism and say, So long, 20th century, it’s been nice knowing you.
1. Some will insist the magic number is 2001; no matter, the psychology is the same.
2. See my book The Millennium Myth (Quest Books: 1994) for a fuller account.
3. See my “The Parapsychology of god” in Re-Vision. Occam’s Razor was the medieval principle of parsimony: never multiply entities beyond necessity.
Copyright 1995 by Michael Grosso. Posted by permission. Other writings of Michael Grosso can be found at: www.michaelgrosso.net.