Consciousness and Culture

           The neuroscientist Merlin Donald proposes a theory of human consciousness in which the single fundamental element that makes the human mind as we know it possible is none other than culture itself. Unlike other animals, we as a species offload a great deal of our higher cognitive knowledge into the various repositories of our shared culture, adopting a great deal of who and what each one of us will become internally from the cultural artifacts that we must take in from outside of ourselves. In this way, cultures serve as essential external repositories for all of the vast intellectual and emotional details that, when merged with the basic inherent capacities of a human brain, allow each and every one of us to become who and what we are. The culture helps to create the consciousness.

           But if our cultures can and do create us in this way, should we not also strive to create new and better cultures by which each of us can evolve and change in powerful new ways, ways that may go far beyond the limits of the societies that birth us? If we require a culture to help define and inculcate our fundamental values, our aspirations, our morality, and our overall self-concept, through its basic cultural artifacts, such as its predominant mythic archetypes, its diet, its customs, its taboos, its architectures, its group activities, and even its choice of language, shouldn’t we who wish to change ourselves, and the worlds that we live in, start with the conscientious adoption of new and improved cultural practices? We can only change what we are now by first changing how we live each day, and that requires the ability to break free from many of the cultural assumptions that have shaped us, as these currently exercise greater power over each one of us than we could ever hope to muster, at least, not without the aid of some radically new assumptions.

          The first assumption is that there is no central story that defines the history of the world, or our place in it as individuals. The society you live in now may have adopted one, like those who believe in the culturally accepted facts of their popular historical records, but these disparate artifacts are not the canonical truth that most of us have been lead to believe them to be. We each contain the very assumptions that are contained in whatever stories we choose to believe are true, as if anything that happens could ever dictate the impossibility of it opposite occurring, or could ensure that such a thing would happen that way again. We can, and, it would seem, to some extent, must, learn from the past, but if it controls or oppresses our present moment, then we might want to be more careful about what we allow it to teach us. Believe in the past at your own peril, but also to your great fortune, because, as I said, there is no central story that must define us; we can choose to believe in whichever definitive story calls to the deeper truth within.

          For some that’s impossible, since they are unaware that they have been completely molded to the cultural forces that informed them, but for others, something is still free, something in them remains unsatisfied and is searching for its lost history, its lost heroes, its lost architecture, its lost cuisine, its lost games and pastimes, even, dare I say it, its lost language. Perhaps they possess something from another time or place that this culture simply couldn’t overwrite, or perhaps, we now live in a culture that prizes individuality so very much that entire worlds are being opened up inside some its brightest individuals simply because they need to create them so as to properly express themselves. Whether it’s a lost culture struggling to be expressed through you, or it’s simply the self destructive drive of a culture that by its very nature demands that you replace it, the only way to get out is to dive deep within and uncover the new world that you have been called upon to build. Only our awakened human consciousness can be trusted to help us shape the new cultures that will create our future; for indeed, the forces of consciousness and the forces of culture are co-creative, and we each get to decide which one of these will win out inside us.

          Let me tell you a story about the Djinn. We used to find each other in the water margins, on the outskirts of towns that banished us for being different, in the hills and the wild places that appealed to us for their vibrant and complex energies, but we were never too far from something resembling man. In large packs, when these were possible, we would sometimes go completely feral, but those who were most alone, who could not find any of their own kind, always managed to maintain the necessary dignity, combined with our natural curiosity about things, that made them able to adopt human culture as well as, if not often better than, any other human. We did these things, from our most feral to our most fair, because we each craved the same thing; to be understand on a level that others, who were unlike us, couldn’t really comprehend.

          For unlike mankind, the Djinn were once made of pure mind and imagination, and we once knew each other on levels that creatures of mere clay simply could never understand. To be like we were when we were pure awareness, we could either connect to each other on the primal level of the animals that we had become, or else tax human languages and arts to their utmost, to pour ourselves out into other minds, minds trapped inside other mortal shells that superficially resembled our own. We burned to be known, and to know the intensity of other burning ones. We all dreamed of Irem, the city of Pillars, the world of limitless possibilities and potentials, but we each always seemed to wake up here. Therein lies the great divide among our kind; those of us who sank into the wild, usually in the company of other Djinn, often vented our shared frustrations with a limitless destructive potential that went far beyond the balance of nature, while those of us who sank into the model of the humanity which engulfed us worked to create as many new possibilities as we could import to this world from our alien dreams, yet, make no mistake, each of us did what we did for the very same reason:

          We were all once swimming in infinity, and there were no hard lines or limits there. We were once as Gods where only other Gods could touch us so as to pass through us and to know us in ways that only a God could know. Therefore as mere men, we became both the worst and the best among you, depending largely on where we fell.

          The lost Djinn culture will be rebuilt from these waking dreams of violence and virtuosity, and, hopefully, held back from its worst excesses by a vision of angels at war above us. Namaste.

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