A DISCUSSION OF OUR HUMAN EXPERIENCE
AS AN OUTCOME OF HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS
INVOLVING A HIERARCHY OF EMERGENT PROPERTIES
II. Emergent Properties
1. Self awareness: consciousness
2. Jung’s “collective unconscious”
3. Society as “collective consciousness”
III. The building blocks of collective consciousness
IV. Implications of all of the above
1. A functioning society
4. Souls and spirits as universal components of religious sensibility
V. Durkheim and solidarism
VI. Attempts to drive the solidarist process
VII. Postscript on emergent properties
This discussion covers a number of related topics to do with emergent properties. I don't understand it either but I think that somewhere in these materials lie several nuggets of "truth," meaning there is some explanatory power with respect to our common human reality.
I received comments from a social scientist in Paris who happens to live next door to where Durkheim lived and worked. Her take on the article below was that it was mixing things from Jung into the discussion that are simply not useful to sociologists working in the Durkheim mold.
What she said was this (slightly abridged/edited):
I felt something was off-kilter when I read in the discussion of the first quote of Durkheim below your reference to "archetypes". Reading back up I see that you define these as elements within an "unconscious storehouse of symbolic knowledge". If that is all they are, then OK, that goes well with my perception of Durkheim - or, rather, and importantly, the current of thought of which he is the father.
But, in the Jung quotes there is nothing to help us think about where the archetypes (store of symbolic knowledge) come from. I think (am perhaps wrong) that the Jungian idea is that these archetypes have some kind of independent existence, something we can tap into by virtue of being human.
Sociologists following Durkheim don't need/use such an hypothesis. They are interested in what (you quote) Durkheim called "collective representations"; today the pointed thinking is about "social representations". These are still symbolic knowledge and still can be unconscious.
But, while it is possible to talk in some manner about their existing independently of the individuals holding them, social representations don't spring up out of something that is not human. Our major human characteristic, our sociability, is the very pronounced ability to soak these up from each other and to contribute to reinforcing them in our discourse and behavior.
This view does not exclude the existence somewhere of what my friends and my
yoga teachers might call "spirit", or rather "Spirit".
So by bringing up Jung and his archetypes, I was not bringing in up a link with explanatory power, as I originally thought. Instead I was confusing the issue with psychological speculations that are not used in modern sociology.
I will not remove the Jung material, but will put an extra caveat on it below.
The reference to "spirit" or "Spirit" in Claire's email also reminded me of a discussion of the soul by Durkheim in which he hinted at its divinity in some central Australian tribal traditions.
I will add this idea to my discussion of the soul below.
This corrective input is very much appreciated.
II. Emergent Properties
1. Self awareness: consciousness
For years I have struggled with the idea the sentience, self-awareness, is an emergent property dependent on the complexity of an organism's brain and nervous system.
In other words, sentience increases with brain/nervous system complexity, with humans being the most self aware animal that we are aware of [pun intended]. I like the story of the bear tucking itself behind a bush to keep part of itself from showing, as a hunter approaches. That shows an awareness of self.
Being self-aware to the astonishing degree that we are allows us to be inquisitive and introspective and try to understand and control our world. It is what makes us human.
2. Jung’s “collective unconscious”
WARNING: Jung's ideas on the collective unconscious and the archetypes are not ideas either used or useful in sociology today. My reaching into this speculative material was my own attempt at linking things that Durkheim himself could not have linked because the archetypes and collective unconscious ideas by Carl Jung were not extant during his working life. His followers, however, have been aware of these concepts, but have not found them useful in their work on understanding societies.
Jung says there is a “collective unconscious.” Wikipedia has an article explaining that this
. . . is a part of the unconscious mind, shared by a society, a people, or all humanity, that is the product of ancestral experience and contains such concepts as science, religion, and morality. . . . The collective unconscious is also known as "a reservoir of the experiences of our species."
I do not agree that it actually contains science, religion and morality as developed concepts. I think it is much fuzzier than that. My interpretation is that sentient, conscious individuals all have an unconscious aspect to their being. That unconscious aspect is loaded with common pre-lingual symbolic “knowledge,” archetypes that can be accessed as symbols but then must be interpreted using language if they are going to be made part of the conscious mind.
With some effort a conscious being can be taught to, or trauma can send them into, that unconscious storehouse of symbolic knowledge.
Jung calls that process of getting archetypes to the surface 'revelation' and suggests it comes to one in symbols that are then interpreted to address the situation leading to the crisis. Jung suggests that this happened to the Apostle Paul who, in the midst of hunting down his fellow Jews for holding and teaching improper beliefs, was called to account by a light and a voice, or a voice and a light, depending on version. He then went to find out what it all meant, changed his ways, and proceeded to invent a new version of Christianity that spread around the world.
Did Jung believe that our subconscious is not strictly located within us but could be in communication with the subconsciousness of other sentient beings? How else does one achieve a “collective unconscious" that is shared on a societal, personal, and universal manner? If this is how Jung saw it working then what we have here is yet another emergent property.
The collective unconscious can be drawn from in times of need, usually dire need, just like the personal unconscious.
The last sentence in that Wikipedia citation above was "The collective unconscious is also known as "a reservoir of the experiences of our species." To me this seems quite relatable to Durkheim's notion of society as a "collective consciousness."
3. Society as “collective consciousness”
In a 1915 book by Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (The Free Press, New York, 1965 paperback edition of the original 1915 work), pages 492-493 wax eloquent about societies as “beings” that can transcend themselves. Societies are a vehicle for their own self-transformation because:
. . . the collective consciousness is the highest form of the psychic life, since it is the consciousness of the consciousnesses. Being placed outside of and above individual and local contingencies, it sees things only in their permanent and essential aspects, which it crystallizes into communicable ideas. At the same time that it sees from above, it sees farther; at every moment in time, it embraces all known reality; that it why it alone can furnish the mind with the moulds which are applicable to the totality of things and which make it possible to think of them. It does not create these moulds artificially; it finds them within itself; it does nothing but become conscious of them.
[Note: we will continue to use the British variant: ‘moulds,’ instead of the U.S. variant, ‘molds,’ simply because that is what Durkheim’s book uses. Moulds/molds is a nice way of describing the symbolic type of information that comes into the conscious from the subconscious to help us cope with and classify and interpret new needs and new information.]
To me what this suggests is, in so many words, that societies develop a collective consciousness that, perhaps at times reaches into its store of archetypes in the collective unconscious, and acts to bring them into the collective consciousness to help society cope with emerging needs.
To bring Jung back into this discussion, perhaps this is why when there was a world-wide movement to bring femininity into Godhood in Catholicism, a worldwide religion, Jung thought it was the archetypes of the collective unconscious asserting itself across a wide spectrum of people.
That suggests that there can be developments in collective consciousness that cross societal boundaries as we think of them, and Durkheim waxes even more eloquent on that topic on page 493:
. . . a social life of a new form is developing. It is this international life which has already resulted in universalizing religious beliefs. As it extends, the collective horizon enlarger; the society ceases to appear as the only whole, to become a part of a much vaster one, with indetermined frontiers, which is susceptible of advancing indefinitely. Consequently things can no longer be contained in the social moulds according to which they were primitively classified; they must be organized according to principles which are their own, so logical organization differentiates itself from the social organization and becomes autonomous. Really and truly human thought is not a primitive fact; it is the product of history; it is the ideal limit towards which we are constantly approaching, but which in all probability we shall never succeed in reaching.
So as we progress, in this very optimistic view from before the two World Wars that set civilization back, temporarily, the moulds set in more primitive times (religious, economic, scientific) will be broken and restructured. That is progress, that is good, but that is not always a popular prospect for those who find comfort in current moulds of religious thought, economic institutions and their rules, scientific understanding, etc.
Persons who feel strongly about their specific beliefs may fight against the pronouncements of science that appear to them to undermine those beliefs. This is not just about those who believe in a literal Genesis creation account. I believe there is an example of the New Age also fighting against new developments in physics, for example, because the understanding in theoretical physics in the 1970's seemed to be supportive of New Age (and Buddhist) beliefs about cosmologic reality. But as progress continues, in particle physics especially, that support is becoming more and more tenuous in my opinion. So there is disparagement of this progress.
III. The primary building blocks of collective consciousness
Durkheim’s fundamental thesis, before he gets into collective consciousness ideas, is that language is an emergent property of a society. Societies are groupings of self-aware individuals that take on a life of their own, and in several senses both subordinate and enrich the lives of the individuals that compose it.
Durkheim also suggests that what first emerges from the use of language is shared beliefs about the experienced and unseen but conceptualized worlds, religion. Religion is therefore an emergent property of language in a society. Although individual experience may contribute to the overall content of the religion, the religion thus developed is always greater than any given individual or subset of individuals.
Science, like religion, is also an emergent property of language. It comes after religion because it has been seen to emerge, essentially, from religion. Religion, then science, are the two ways societies have found to make sense of our existence and our world. So now we seem to have a hierarchy of emergent properties: sentience, society, language, religion, then science. Science would be last because in every society known, it grows from religion at its beginnings although it quickly seems to grow antagonistic to its roots as it becomes fully emerged.
On page 492 Durkheim explains the general organization needed to construct a society, with its classifications, and its assignments with boundaries. He does not invoke economics in this discussion, but in our current societies that is a classification with definite boundaries. One may move around in these classifications, but while in a classification there are boundaries (physical and now also intellectual property ownership, money, etc.). In other words, the reason there is much attention on property and monetary crimes is that they break boundaries that allow society to function.
Durkheim does address economics on his page 466, in a way I at first reading fundamentally disagreed with. He says:
In summing up, then, it may be said that nearly all the great social institutions have been born in religion.
This sentence has a footnote that says;
Only one form of social activity has not yet been expressly attached to religion: that is economic activity.
Durkheim then goes on to mention the obvious connections between religion and economic activity and economic status, and says these simply have not been studied yet in the context of totemic religions which is where his studies have focused. So, I withdrew my objection on a more careful reading. Even in our day there are movements who at their start sought to imitate the early Christian communitarian ideal. There are still people seeking to become more religious through taking a vow of poverty.
Reading the Old Testament prophets and their concern for economic as well as every other type of justice in society is also a good indication that religion has led to attributes of economic systems, especially in their senses of basic fairness insisted on in most modern societies. The idea that charging interest is against religious teaching is still with us in Muslim societies, just as it once was in Christian societies where Jews were used to manage money because they did not have to deal with this religious prohibition.
But do totemic religions in stone-age societies have an economic component? I haven’t a clue, unless Durkheim gives me a clue, and he doesn’t.
If we look at society-shaped/society-shaping ideologies as forms of religion, then the economic dogmas stemming from those ideologies have been important enough to lead to both hot and cold wars with their rivals, rivals often associated with religion. At their roots, these contests in the last century were largely over different models for societal and economic structure, models with a lot of moral and other baggage tied to them, making them like religious propositions.
Thus these wars and the cold war were seen on both sides as contests of right versus wrong. From a Christian perspective they were contests between the good –believers– and the bad -non-believers, such as the Fascists and Communists in the last century for examples. To the Communists, on the other hand, westerners were decadent, morally, and structured society so that a ruling elite subordinated and used, and abused, the lower classes, assuring that the poor would always be poor.
How Christianity, which started out communitarian, ended up as the sword of capitalism is a long story with many twists and subplots that I haven’t the energy to delve into. At a smaller scale the same thing happened to communitarian Mormonism which is now, in the minds of many of its adherents, the great defender of a particularly robust form of capitalism. At one point early in the last century one or two its leaders suggested Social Security would be a bad idea for the U.S. because it did not lead to self-reliance and personal accountability. Yet Social Security partakes of the communitarian spirit: we all chip in at a societal level for the welfare of ourselves and all others.
IV. Implications of all of the above
1. A functioning society
What makes a society work, according to Durkheim (p. 492), is
. . . the co-operation of many persons with the same end in view . . . [this cooperation is possible] . . . only when they are in agreement as to the relation which exists between this end and the means of attaining it, that is to say, when the same causal relation is admitted by all the co-operators in the enterprise.
This common motivation can be brought about by a number of factors depending on the nature of the society in question. We have several examples of autocratic societies where there was a blitz of propaganda to motivate the populace to conform and do what is for the common good. The threat of coercion in some painful or otherwise very unpleasant way is also effective, of course. I have no doubt that the reason that the Mormons have created such a comfortable and cooperative society (called a 'cocoon' by some, and not disparagingly) is because of a common faith shared widely among them, a faith that teaches people to take care of each other. The faith promises eternal rewards for living a lifestyle approved by Deity. The faith also promises lesser eternal rewards to those who fail to live up to what they could have lived up to, which is mildly coercive.
Durkheim, as indicated in materials already cited, was very optimistic about the changes coming to societies as they become more aware of and interdependent in a global manner. No doubt if we could fast-forward time we would see that he is right. But for persons with normal life spans and for whom time moves forward at a rate of one second per second, the landscape is highly variable, with some countries becoming largely a-religious and others experiencing fundamentalist opposition to the secularization that comes with the inevitable internationalization of society, leading to violence in some instances, and to accommodation in others.
Eventually, as Durkheim notes, religion has to change to remain meaningful to and supportive of the societies it is a part of. Hence the opposition between the more fundamentalist-leaning religionists and science as they perceive it. Science is replacing religion in terms of explaining reality, what we are and where we are.
Religion still owns why we are, of course, and always will. But religion has typically also specified the how and why of the earth and us on it, and religionists are loath to let go of any of that territory since if one part is let go of, the rest is then brought into question more easily since the founding documents are then acknowledged to be only partially correct.
Durkheim spends time on showing how the need to explain the world and our place on it first led to language, then religion, and then as society made it possible for there to be a building up of observations and experiences, as knowledge base, to science. One can argue about the first scientists having been the great philosophers, but let’s just agree that Aristotle probably set back speculative and experimental science for centuries. This was not his fault, in my opinion. His dogmatic expressions of scientific fact based on his own thought- experiments were adopted and defended against challenges because they were relatable to and adopted as ‘truths’ supportive of religious dogmas. Suggesting that the earth was not the center of the universe was therefore a direct challenge to religion rather than science.
Today we see a similar mingling of science and religion by the invention of “creation science.” It is a pick and choose treatment of science to allow the Genesis account to stand, in essence. It does no harm to people who simply do not want to have their religious ideas challenged, but it does great harm at both a personal and societal level if bright minds are thus discouraged from following science as a career.
I am not such a bright mind, but I work hard. I chose science as a career, but at first did not want to mess with the geological and life sciences that challenged my rather unsophisticated religious beliefs. It was later that I realized that leaders of my own (adopted, Mormon) religion had spoken out in favor of the very things I was avoiding: evolution and the very long age of the earth, about 4 billion years old.
At the same time I came to see that by seeking to make chemistry and geochemistry my career, I had stepped right into the very thing I had tried to sidestep. Isotopes can be analyzed very effectively to determine ages of rock formations and materials embedded in them. I did read accounts by my co-religionists that attempted to support a more conservative point of view, apparently disagreeing with scientists who had become leaders in the church and who had said otherwise. Their recent books were attempts to align their co-religionists with the creation-science crowd.
As time goes on, this religious fundamentalism will all fall by the wayside, but it will undoubtedly cause much unneeded suffering in the meantime. It will cause anguish in younger believers seeking to learn science, but also suffering in terms of societal strife, maybe even violence if unstable persons become involved in the fight between God and Satan, the father of lies (lies=much of science). That is why I am heartened to see when a state or locality fights off attempts to emplace “creation-science” as a competing science, and I cringed when our last President, G.W. Bush, suggested it ought to be taught to give kids exposure to the whole range of scientific debate.
There is a lot of debate in almost all areas of science, showing science to be functioning largely as intended. Experiments are done, in a healthy scientific enterprise, to both challenge and support hypotheses. But pseudo-science is not part of science and hence not a part of the scientific debate.
If Durkheim is correct, and I have no basis from which to challenge him, he presents a complete theory of how our day to day experience is the outcome of a hierarchical set of emergent properties. Durkheim bases his work on a detailed study of “primitive” religions, and makes a fully convincing case for believing that religion is a property that naturally emerged as primitive humans organized into primitive societies.
The study implies that there is no room for smugness here, advanced societies may spawn religions of a more sophisticated type, but its origins and purposes and modus operandi are in every way comparable with the “primitive” religions. And it is not just the moulds of primitive religions that are changed as societies coalesce and evolve.
Religions, over time, take on a life of their own and evolve into more complex structures that may with time cease to help maintain a society. It can become a burden on a society, a drag that keeps it from progressing.
Societies can and do evolve away from the concretized form of religion that they may have spawned long ago. Societies will craft new religions, or at least restructure the old religion, if it fails to remain relevant. In some instances these new developments may no longer be called religion, but they are still all encompassing moulds of thought and behavior that most of a society agrees to. This is not always either constructive or progressive, of course, since some of the most barbarian and autocratic regimes in the world have been supported by a populace that believed its propaganda, believed its secular theology, in other words.
If we admit the possibility that all of the world’s major religions are developments, adapted to new societal situations over time, stemming from primitive religions formulated during more primitive times, the relationship of the New Testament to its predecessor, a collection of tribal religious beliefs, the Old Testament, becomes more understandable. The movement to venerate the Bible as the one and only and final word of God is a fight against the unstoppable forward movement of societies' carrying with them changes in their religions.
Does this mean that the Mormons were or are an example of a religion that was developed to meet a new situation in a new world? After all they insist(ed) on new revelation and spawned new scripture. That seems to be the theme of the treatment of the Mormons in The American Religion by Harold Bloom (Simon & Shuster 1993).
However true that was at the start of that religion, with its plethora of new scripture and revelation, it has now walked away from that role and become just another conservative Christian religious movement, seeking along with its arch-rivals in the Christian world to help put the brakes on societies transforming themselves. At almost every turn these conservative religions fight social change. One wonders if they, as smaller conscious societies or entities, realize that when the larger societies change, their religions either change or they are abandoned for other ways of understanding the world and our place in it.
Bloom predicted that the Mormon and home-grown Southern Baptists would come to dominate American religion. Maybe so, but both have undergone conservative, if nor fundamentalist, transformations that have removed some of that new-world, semi-Gnostic appeal that Bloom admires.
So what is the possibility of one of the world’s religions being the product of a real God having come down and mingled with real people in a given society, or an angel having come down for the same purpose, and either God or angel imparting to that society the one true religion? Zero? The Durkheim study does not answer that question explicitly, but implies this 0 answer.
I was quite fascinated by the discussion of religions without divinities (gods or Gods) on Durkheim’s pages 44-50. Buddhism and Jainism are his two main examples of large modern religions. He says there are Buddhist variants that have deified the Buddha to an extent, but they are in the minority and even in these cases no one is praying to the Buddha to intervene in their life. Buddha is venerated, not worshiped. The veneration consists in flowers laid at his statues for example, or a gentle belly pat, but all they are doing is expressing gratitude for his having shown them the way out of the cycle of rebirth and into enlightenment and Nirvana.
Reading this gave me some insight into my Cathar studies (many links on this site address the Cathars and their beliefs, starting with this one). I did not understand why their contemporary Catholic enemies claimed Cathars had un-deified Christ. The Cathars claimed, after all, to be the only true Christians! But the Catholics had a point. Like Buddhists venerating and following Buddha, but not worshiping him, Cathars venerated Christ and carefully sought to follow his example for the same reason: both showed the way out of physical life and back to the life of the spirit without having to return again. Hence the Cathar 'consolamentum’ rite which guaranteed that if you died before sinning again, you would not have to return to this veil of tears.
If Durkheim has it right, all religions are rooted in emergent properties of the societies in which they developed, changed by the societies through which they have passed, and attenuated as competing systems of thought have taken away some of their explanatory function.
4. Souls and spirits as universal components of religious sensibility
We have already noted that God, Gods, and gods are not necessary in order to have a religion, but the soul and the spirit are absolute necessities even if, as Durkheim observed about the totemic religions he studied, they are not explicitly named as such. They are defined by their attributes.
On page 283 Durkheim suggest that in totemic religions from central Australia there is usually one, sometimes two, totemic ancestors who have the attributes normally ascribed to deity. They are in turn described as splitting pieces off themselves to seed human bodies with souls. Durkheim asks: "Is this not merely a symbolic way of saying that they are part of the totemic divinity?"
So the idea among moderns that God is in us, that we are sparks of the fire that is God, is nothing either new or particularly advanced.
In those "primitive" religions the core notion is that within us resides a self that is independent of the body. That notion can be called a soul.
I thought it could also be called a spirit, but Durkheim says these are two different ideas in the totemic religions he studied. We will explore this further.
On pages 273-274 Durkheim makes a rather surprising (to me) statement:
Just as there is no known society without a religion, so there exist none, howsoever crudely organized they may be, where we do not find a whole system of collective representations concerning the soul, its origin and its destiny. So far as we are able to judge from the data of ethnology, the idea of the soul seems to have been contemporaneous with humanity itself, and it seems to have had all of its essential characteristics so well formulated at the very outset that the work of the more advanced religions and philosophy has been practically confined to refining it, while adding practically nothing that is really fundamental. In fact, all the Australian societies admit that every human body shelters an interior being, the principle of the life which animates it: this is the soul. It sometimes happens, it is true, that women form an exception to this general rule: there are tribes where they are believed to have no souls.
[I included that last part of the quote to remind us that men tend to be the formulators of religion, and these Australians were about where some Medieval Catholics were in their estimation of what women are in the overall scheme of things. But this is not about that, I have addressed the evils of patriarchy elsewhere, so let’s move on to defining the spirit.]
On page 275 Durkheim finishes his discussion of often contradictory notions concerning the characteristics of this inner being, the soul, and wraps up the discussion with a generally applicable notion, suggesting that the soul is generally considered to be:
. . . made of some infinitely rare and subtle matter, like something ethereal, and comparable to a shadow or breath.
I just found that interesting, since it matches pretty well what the first prophet of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, taught on the matter. He said there was no such thing as immaterial matter, that spirit was made of a more refined matter, in his revelations as published in the Doctrine & Covenants (D&C):
D&C 131: 7 . . . There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; . . .
But now I have moved from soul to spirit. I thought the soul and spirit were interchangeable words where an individual was concerned. Durkheim suggest that this is a modern notion, and that in primitive religions this is not so. Maybe that is because we no longer assign spirits to things such as the sky, clouds, plants and trees, animals, rocks, water fountains and other water bodies. We have largely de-spiritualized nature, in other words.
Mormonism equates soul and spirit, as evident in this citation from the Book of Mormon:
Alma 40: 11 . . . Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection— Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. .
Durkheim says that is not the way it is in the aboriginal totemic religions he studied. On page 309:
A soul is not a spirit. In fact it is shut up in a determined organism; though it may leave it at certain moments, it is ordinarily a prisoner there. It definitely escapes only at death . . . . A spirit, on the contrary, though often tied by the closest bonds to some particular object, such as a spring, a rock, a tree, a star, etc., and though residing there by preference, may go away at will and lead an independent existence in free space. So it has a more extended circle of action. It can act upon the individuals who approach it or whom it approaches. The soul, on the contrary, has almost no influence except over the body it animates; it is very exceptional that it succeeds in influencing outside objects during the course of its terrestrial life.
On page 310 it gets more complicated, however:
But if the soul does not have the distinctive characteristics of the spirit, it acquires them, at least in part, at death. In fact, when it has been discarnated, so long as it does not descend into a body again, it has the same liberty of movement as a spirit. Of course, after the rites of mourning have been accomplished, it is thought to go to the land of souls, but before this it remains about the tomb for a rather long time. Also, after it has definitely departed, it is believed to prowl about the brush near the camp. It is generally represented as a rather beneficent being, especially for the surviving members of the family; . . . .
Then it gets even more complicated: these ghosts (disembodied souls with the characteristics of spirits) are also at times cruel and threatening and yet are limited in range and action compared to true spirits. This is why in some societies women and girls can’t go out alone at night, their soulless state makes them particularly vulnerable to mean free-ranging souls. But we are leaving that subject alone.
The Australian and American aborigines Durkheim studied did not believe in some god who created souls at the time of conception (page 304). Instead (p. 311) they believed that a new baby would re-embody an ancestor’s soul, and that this soul would duplicate itself at conception so that it could become part of the new child and at the same time watch over it. Thus (see page 305), souls are always dividing, and there is a collective soul from which individual souls are split, and each new individual is a mating of an older soul with a new body, creating a new person that reflects the traits of his (or her?) ancestor(s) and adds unique attributes as well.
It then gets even more complicated, of course and it takes many pages to cover all the ins and outs of these belief systems which do not look forward to, obviously, individual survival in the next life, or individual survival as a soul moves from life to life, splitting itself and being changed each time.
On page 311 Durkheim suggests that the ancient Greeks and Romans had a concept of a “genius” as a protective spirit. He suggests that this concept is quite similar to what these totemic religions felt about the ancestral soul-split hovering as a spirit around them at all times, giving them aid through special insights that allowed them to find food, and protective warnings to keep them from danger. It made one thankful to the ancestors, and much of their totemic religious rite was concerned with thanking the ancestors.
V. Durkheim and solidarism
This reading has taken me a long time. Durkheim’s book was a difficult read for me, even though it was fascinating. I actually skipped parts of the detailed discussions and interpretations and thus may have missed some really interesting material. I had notes on about a hundred pages, most of which I never used in this thematic review, this topical discussion to which Durkheim lent himself nicely.
Who was Durkheim? WikiPedia says this about him:
Émile Durkheim . . . ; April 15, 1858 – November 15, 1917) was a French sociologist whose contributions were instrumental in the formation of sociology and anthropology. His work and editorship of the first journal of sociology, L'Année Sociologique, helped establish sociology within academia as an accepted social science. During his lifetime, Durkheim gave many lectures, and published numerous sociological studies on subjects such as education, crime, religion, suicide, and many other aspects of society. He is considered as one of the founding fathers of sociology and an early proponent of solidarism.
OK, so what is solidarism? It is what we cited Durkheim as saying early on, it was his optimistic view of societal progression as societies become more interdependent and change each other, broadening and solidifying the sense of community over larger and larger groupings of societies.
It is a very hopeful view. I share it but don’t believe a single lifetime will give much evidence of it. If you had lived between 1918 and 1944 you would have probably said it was total bunk.
But there is indeed some evidence for it in the post-WW 2 part of my life (which is most of it). The formation of the European Union, in part to assure no more intra-European wars, no doubt is causing Durkheim's soul to smile broadly all over the world of ancestral souls, pestering all the other souls collected there with repeated “I told you so”'s.
The visionaries that led movements that culminated in the European Union, such as Konrad Adenauer and Joseph Bech, were both already alive during Durkheim’s career, so we cannot accuse Durkheim's disembodied soul of climbing into one of their new bodies just to assure the fulfillment of his solidarist vision. But if souls can become like spirits, ghost-like, and haunt where they will, and give good advice and inspiration, then maybe the case can be made that it is not impossible that there is a soul-connection between these pioneers and Durkheim.
At the very least they caught his solidarist spirit.
VI. Attempts to drive the solidarist process
Economically and in terms of education, science, engineering, technology, etc., the developed and developing worlds are becoming quite homogeneous. Graduate students in specific disciplines are comparably capable no matter what country their degree is from, by and large.
A holdout, with respect to this homogenization process, is religion. Religion is the societal emergent property from which science, and hence technology and education, sprang some time ago. Yet religion fights against internationalization and the homogenization that comes with it.
Recently I have read several books which overtly attempt to create a religion that will cover the whole world, a religion that fits the international society that most of the world is a part of. These books tend to start with a critique of the world's major religions as having become ossified and not changing with the times, meaning the increase in knowledge and the heightened ethical standards prevailing in many countries today.
Carl Jung said he could create a religion that would be adapted to the way people really are and feel and it would be wildly successful. But he did not do it.
More recently I read about Anna Kingsford, and re-read a book by Sylvia Browne, both of whom were and are developing a new world religion. Another person doing this is Matthew Fox, whose book One River, Many Wells, Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths (Tarcher/Putnam 2000) is explicitly doing what Durkheim said would happen when individual societies become mingled in a new internationalized world.
In fact, I went to Fox's book to see if there is anything in it from the Australian totemic societies which Durkheim studied and upon which he largely based his book.
Fox does bring their wisdom up in several places. On pages 59-60 he retells some of their stories about the origin of the sun and heat, and the discovery of fire. On pages 182-183 he writes down two poems from contemporary Aboriginal poets, one of by Kevin Gilbert, I will copy here because it tells of the oneness of humanity and nature:
I am the tree
the lean hard hungry land
the crow and eagle
sun moon and sea
I am the sacred clay
which forms the base
the grasses vines and man
I am all things created
I am you and
you are nothing
but through me the tree
and nothing comes to me
except through that one living gateway
to be free
and you are nothing yet
for all creation
earth and God and man
until they fuse
and become a total sum of something
together fuse to consciousness of all
and every sacred part aware
alive in true affinity.
This poet is cited on page 224 telling what his spiritual experience is around a sacred campfire with no unbelievers present:
At night as I sit by my camp-fire
the Great Serpent Spirit a'star
I sing songs of love to the Presence within
as it plays with the sparks on my fire.
The point is that in Matthew Fox's attempt to create a modern religion, "Religion 1999," he includes contributions from every major religious tradition, including Australian Aboriginal spirituality, which is at it should be. Durkheim would approve.
VII. Postscript on emergent properties
I received an email from a reader I have known and exchanged ideas with for some time. This person through I was mixing together emergent properties
. . . that could emerge from what is, shall we say, the raw nature of the human creatures that we are. . . .
But some of the developments I listed were :
. . . a man-created property but not a property innate to the "god-ness" within us.
I believe this is a restatement of the problem that we started out with as mentioned by Claire Mays. Durkheim saw language, religion and science as emerging from societies as they needed to cope with new knowledge and all types of challenges. He had no need to delve into the depths of psychoanalytic theory to explain how and why these phenomena arose naturally. It is enough to know that humans naturally organize into societies, and societies either develop and succeed, or they fail.
Jung was faced with a different problem at the personal level and imagined the existence of his "archetypes" when faced with personal phenomena such as inspiration and revelation bringing up new knowledge to meet a new and urgent need. He even thought of a God archetype to explain the universality of religion. Durkheim also declared that there was never a society without a religion. (Religion as broadly defined as a common belief system, of course).
So by bringing Jung into the picture together with Durkheim, and by trying to relate their two visions into one category of emergent properties I was mixing up two things I ought not to have mixed up.
Jung studies and addressed individuals; Durkheim studied and addressed societies.
One thing that brings the two together again was what Jung said about our modern attitude toward primitive religions and their believers. This is in Volume 11 , paragraph 56, of Jung's Collected Works, where he says in effect that our modern arrogance toward more primitive believers is a direct outcome of our ignorance of the fact that their history is in us, housed in the lower stories of our rational consciousness, and without that history our minds would "be suspended in midair."
Durkheim would be in total agreement.
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