📙 The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth
Author: Douglas Harding
Full Title: The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth
This book is, I believe, the first attempt to reverse a movement of thought which has been going on since the beginning of philosophy.
The same method which has emptied the world now proceeds to empty ourselves. The masters of the method soon announce that we were just as mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed ‘souls’, or ‘selves’ or ‘minds’ to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. Animism, apparently, begins at home.
We, who have personified all other things, turn out to be ourselves mere personifications. Man is indeed akin to the gods: that is, he is no less phantasmal than they. Just as the Dryad is a ‘ghost’, an abbreviated symbol for all the facts we know about the tree foolishly mistaken for a mysterious entity over and above the facts, so the man’s ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’ is an abbreviated symbol for certain verifiable facts about his behaviour: a symbol mistaken for a thing.
And just as we have been broken of our bad habit of personifying trees, so we must now be broken of our bad habit of personifying men: a reform already effected in the political field.
It is as though a man, deceived by the linguistic similarity between ‘myself’ and ‘my spectacles’, should start looking round for his ‘self’ to put in his pocket before he left his bedroom in the morning: he might want it during the course of the day. If we lament the discovery that our friends have no ‘selves’ in the old sense, we shall be behaving like a man who shed bitter tears at being unable to find his ‘self’ anywhere on the dressing-table or even underneath it.
While we were reducing the world to almost nothing we deceived ourselves with the fancy that all its lost qualities were being kept safe (if in a somewhat humbled condition) as ‘things in our own mind’. Apparently we had no mind of the sort required. The Subject is as empty as the Object.
This philosophy, like every other, has its pleasures. And it will, I fancy, prove very congenial to government. The old ‘liberty-talk’ was very much mixed up with the idea that, as inside the ruler, so inside the subject, there was a whole world, to him the centre of all worlds, capacious of endless suffering and delight. But now, of course, he has no ‘inside’, except the sort you can find by cutting him open.
In emptying out the dryads and the gods (which, admittedly, ‘would not do’ just as they stood) we appear to have thrown out the whole universe, ourselves included. We must go back and begin over again: this time with a better chance of success, for of course we can now use all particular truths and all improvements of method which our argument may have thrown up as by-products in its otherwise ruinous course.
It would be affectation to pretend that I know whether Mr. Harding’s attempt, in its present form, will work. Very possibly not. One hardly expects the first, or the twenty-first, rocket to the Moon to make a good landing. But it is a beginning. If it should turn out to have been even the remote ancestor of some system which will give us again a credible universe inhabited by credible agents and observers, this will still have been a very important book indeed.
It has also given me that bracing and satisfying experience which, in certain books of theory, seems to be partially independent of our final agreement or disagreement.
One has breathed a new air, become free of a new country. It may be a country you cannot live in, but you now know why the natives love it. You will henceforward see all systems a little differently because you have been inside that one.
My regions’ boundaries are the tide-marks left by my out-flowing and ebbing sympathy. In fact there is nothing here at the centre but a receptacle for others—an infinitely elastic receptacle for infinitely elastic objects—and this centre is half the time swelling to include in its own nonentity the surrounding regions with their full population of observers, and half the time shrinking to extrude them again, like myriads of rabbits out of a master-magician’s top hat.
Freed now from all competition and confusion with eyes and nerves and brain, my objects are at liberty to come to themselves—not copies or ideas or impressions of themselves—here at the centre. The sun is a sun and sunny, not over there in itself, but here in me and in its other regional observers. And so with the plain man I say that roses are as red and as fragrant as they seem, and the real sun is yellow and pleasantly warm and not particularly large, and marmalade and toast have a flavour that is all their own and no illusion.
I see in order to do, and do in order to see. I am anything but a mere registrar of objects. The central decision or switch-over issues in regional action, in a diverging complex of events which spreads by way of efferent nerves and muscles to my body as a whole, to my impact on my Family and town and country, and my country’s impact on the community of nations, and so on to the remoter regions. Thus the connection made here at the centre is at once the final outcome of a world-wide converging stimulus, and the initiator of a world-wide diverging response; and the two chambers of this immense hour-glass are inseparable.
But the science-inspired observer is not content to keep a surprised and respectful distance: he goes into matters. And he finds this smooth exterior to be a tissue-thin screen for a fabulous menagerie of live things, fed at short intervals through a hole near the top of their cage—beings which, though blind and brainless, have a wonderful way of helping one another, and of responding with exquisite accuracy and speed to their keeper-trainer’s unspoken commands. And almost as curious is the fact that my observer can read to me a whole medical library, or lead me round endless museums of bottled viscera and laboratories full of amputated but still living organs, without persuading me to take seriously for a moment this wild life just under my waistcoat. In theory I accept it; in practice I find it incredible.
The truth is that to be anything but homogeneous from head to toe and from front to back, like a stone statue, is neither flattering nor nice; and so I hide from myself this walking chamber of horrors which I am, this intimate realm which is more outlandish than the scenery of the moon or the deepest ocean bed. We are the skeletons in our own cupboards, busy hushing ourselves up in a vast game of make-believe—the game of pretending to be only human, the skin game.
We do not care to lose human status; therefore we keep to that region where, as men, we are skin-deep and emptied of all infrahuman contents. In so far as I live at the human level I really am eviscerated. All my organs are absorbed into the central void, which becomes accommodation for my human visitors. That is to say, whole men and organs are incompatible, for levels may not be mixed.
My one human existence is precariously poised upon my multitudinous infra-human existence, and is destined to collapse into it—like the puppet whose limbs alarmingly detach themselves one by one, and dance off the stage.
It is no recipe for a quiet life to be this congruent society of part-men—luxurious viscera, strenuous muscles and skeleton, impressionable nervous system—and each striving for the mastery. Yet even at their most unruly such specialists do not rank as true individuals, but as fragments.
When I declare that I am writing about my cells, I mean that these creatures, by means of an unspeakably vast communal effort, are attempting this essay in autobiography: in these words they are now recording the activity by which they make that record. I may be described as an organization which a great animal population has formed to promote certain common ends and arrive at self-knowledge. But again, I do not believe in my cells. I am a king who is so wrapped up in foreign policy that he is permanently forgetful of the existence of his subjects, without whom there is neither foreign policy, nor State, nor monarch. If I hear of them and of my kingship, it is almost by accident; and the news is unlikely to rouse me from my trance of self-unconsciousness. Here is a miraculous city-on-legs rushing about the face of the earth in search of some diversion, and for ever overlooking itself.
I am, then, a pyramid whose cement is sociality—a multi-storeyed structure floating upon a sea of nothingness, but growing more and more substantial and ornate towards the apex. And the whole is maintained by continual building operations which make good, from the base upwards, the wear and tear that are always destroying the structure from the apex downwards.
The universe is not so teeming, neither am I so multitudinous, as common sense assumes. Our world is simple once we trust the data; its Centres of experience are not lost in a crowd. At each level there is one of me, for the individual is all-important and cannot take cover in plurality. There is no safety in numbers.
I am hierarchically organized, and the real work of every organization I have known is done by the official who deals with one immediate superior and a few immediate subordinates, instead of with all impartially.
Artifice, then, is nature becoming deliberate. This process, appearing first in the region of my outer manufactured organs, works inwards to my home and clothes and flesh, and outwards to my vital and cosmic environment, till none of my regions lacks its proper degree of lucidity and intention.
In any case, the more I call nature blind, ruthless, wasteful, and set about curing these defects, the more I disprove my point—unless, indeed, I am supernatural, an invading parachutist who has no business to land in the cosmos at all.
I look out upon an alien nature, on what is essentially not myself. At the same time this nature is mine, the body without which I could not live for an instant.
When I accuse him firstly of mistaking a name—Mankind or Society or the Nation—for a thing, and secondly of holding sinister and outmoded theories about the State as an organism, and thirdly of undermining individual responsibility and promoting dictatorships, and fourthly of degrading the essentially psychical nexus of society to a mere physical reticulum, and much more in the same vein; he retorts that he is neither a metaphysician nor a politician, but only an observer who does not intend to be talked out of seeing what is plain for all to see. It may be dangerous or wicked or even indecent to look at me from this place, but look he will.
The real and two-edged threat, alike to Humanity and to man, lies at the intervening levels, and most of all at the level of the would-be sovereign State—the State which as a unique organ of Humanity is invaluable, but as that organ seeking to usurp the whole is the source of many evils. There is a tendency for mesoforms, or units lacking integral status, to capture for a time a position that is not theirs: as when the man is organ-ridden, or machine-ridden, and the State is party-ridden, and Humanity is State-ridden. When I make one god of my belly and another of my nation, I am sick with the same kind of disease in two regions of my body.
Again, if loyalty to the community, or conscious adherence to a common nucleus or ‘centre of gravity’, is one of the marks of the good citizen at any level; and if moreover there is any tendency for the whole that commands his adherence to increase with the quality of that adherence; then we should naturally look to the solar and galactic levels for such concentric embodiments as we find there.
The idea of the Whole as an absolutely coherent system of fact is implicit in all our thinking. In the same manner, the idea of the Whole as a transcendent moral order is implicit in all our practical life.
The transactions of one level have to go through the clearinghouse of the next. To put the matter another way, it is easier to get into touch with ‘archangels’ than your next-door neighbour, for only they can introduce you; in the last resort the heavens sponsor every meeting under heaven. But we have long forgotten what it is to live, on every star-lit night, under the very eyes of higher authority.
Certainly I can take very little credit for the performance of this unthinkably intricate organization which I am. To an overwhelming extent it is run for me.
Yet in spite of the fact—or rather, because of the fact—that the hierarchy as a whole is authoritarian, a system of subordination, it is at each level equalitarian. One order is controlled only from another. No master cell, but the man, dominates my cells; no world dictator, but Humanity, dominates men.
In other words, man is the universe’s messenger-boy, the cosmic go-between. He is the amphibian of the hierarchy, its flying fish, its diving bird, at home in every element. His anthropomorphism, well used, becomes a world-searching polymorphism; his human nature includes the ability to divest itself of human nature.
As the space of my human body is organic, inspired, busily hierarchical, a living net of prehensions, so also is that of my greater bodies: the more lifeless it seems to the outsider the more alive it is to the insider, the occupant, the hierarchical head. And the whole of it as the Whole may fitly be called spirit.
The several layers of my nervous system, constituting a hierarchy in which the later guides the earlier without superseding it, remind me that I am what I was. In a sense, I am the way fish and reptiles and mammals perform their higher tasks. Is it not the merest prejudice to say that the real reptile is the one outside man, the reptile that has failed; and that the reptile at his self-transcending best, in his waking and self-conscious state in me, is of no account? And certainly without this infrahuman filling I am a hollow abstraction, a roof without walls or foundations.
A new and surpassingly wonderful world is about to show itself—a world that is all the more fresh and thrilling for having been so long hidden. We are ready for the universe’s April, for a revelation which will be to us all that the solar system and the Americas were to other generations. We are about to look upon the visible gods, the innumerable hosts we are still too clever to see, the hierarchies which are still hiding behind the protective colouring of their own obviousness. Indeed the only real difficulty is that they do not sufficiently try our faith. It is because they are so entirely credible that we are incredulous. In violent contrast to so much of our science, they do not ask us to believe a single impossible thing before breakfast: therefore they are a superstition, a fallacy, nonsense—except in the eyes of poets and intellectual outcasts.
Our many personal and social problems are at bottom cosmological. We suffer from a disease in our universe; all the rest is signs and symptoms. And the cure is a vision of the living hierarchy.
Awaiting us is the momentous discovery that science, so far from having destroyed the essentials of the traditional religious view of the universe, has only confirmed them, supplying an immense quantity of empirical detail in place of fantasy.
In the third stage of our civilization’s history even history becomes third-stage—patternless, just one damned thing after another, bunk. But this dream cannot last: meaning is coming back into our time and space. Our angels are already trying their wings for their seasonal migration, for that long outward flight which will make them angelic again.
My inner regions stripped of my outer regions are a nest of Pandora’s boxes. Here is witchcraft and sorcery at its most powerful and most malign.
Man as mere man is far too little and too young to be human: he is this only so far as he joins an ephemeral and puny mammal to an agelong world-enclosing sphere. To be man is to be Humanity-man.
I am maintained by a steady two-way flow of material, which conforms to my regional constitution by diminishing in extent and status as it works inwards, and increasing as it works outwards from this Centre.