March 05, 2006

Love is the most powerful antidote

A review by David Lorimer of the book, The Ways and Power of Love (Templeton Press, 2002), by Pitirim Sorokin Robert (torbellino) wrote in sbulgakov,@ 2006-03-04 20:25:00
This is without doubt one of the greatest books written in the 20th century, and one that will be admired more in a hundred years....Sorokin's next chapter is devoted to an analysis of its five dimensions, namely intensity, extensivity, duration, purity and adequacy to its subjective purpose. These are qualitative and indeed energetic characteristics that are inter-related in various ways and are expressed in the arts where beauty can inspire to goodness. Here Beethoven is quoted: 'Music is the sole incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge, which comprehends mankind. It gives prophetic vision and... heavenly wisdom'. Sorokin then considers ways in which love energy - which he regards as an essential commodity for any society - can be accumulated and distributed.
  1. It is instructive to reflect on the kinds of energy being generated by our current social systems and to relate their effects to Sorokin's plan for individuals, social institutions and culture. In this sense, our sensate culture prizes power and wealth, largely based on Darwinian notions of struggle and competition. Correspondingly, he observes, sensate minds 'emphatically disbelieve the power of love, sacrifice, friendship, co-operation, the call of duty, unselfish search for truth, goodness and beauty. They appear to us as something epiphenomenal and illusory.' Or even 'idealistic bosh' as he graphically puts it! This view is shown to be demonstrably false by the inspiring stories that follow these assertions and which clearly show the creative power of love.
  2. The second part discusses the structure of creative personality, and will be of special interest to Network readers. It is based on a fourfold model of the human being, namely the unconscious, the bioconscious, the socioconscious and the supraconscious (not, incidentally, a word recognised by the MS Word spell-checker!). This last is the most significant for Sorokin's thesis, and he recognises that it 'goes against the dominant materialistic and mechanistic metaphysics'. However, a thorough consideration reveals that supraconscious intuition is the source of humanity's greatest achievements in all fields of creative activity, which he then proceeds to analyse in detail - mathematics, science, technology, the fine arts, philosophy, social sciences, religion, ethics and even ESP. The question then becomes: how to maximise the role of the supraconscious and integrate it into our lives and ethics.
  3. The third part - ways of altruistic growth - begins with the evidence for equating the supraconscious with supreme love, which is the testimony of mystics through the ages. Moreover, spiritual techniques are not designed to enhance the development of the conscious mind, but rather its alignment with the supraconscious. The rest of this part is devoted to explaining his theory of three kinds of altruists: the first are the 'fortunate' altruists who develop their talent from an early age; the second are 'late-converted or catastrophic' altruists whose life is turned upside-down before they reorient; then there is an intermediary type. In each case a new integration and self-identification is required, which can be a long and difficult process. In the past, this has involved an over-dualistic mortification of the flesh, but in any event there has to be a degree of reorientation of biological drives.
  4. The fourth part turns to techniques of altruistic transformations of both people and groups. There are many dimensions to this, but they all involve a new reintegration of the ego, values and therefore conduct, as mentioned above. There are also many contexts, from self-isolation to community living and altruistic living in the ordinary world. There is no single procedure that works for all, but the process has both inner and outer aspects in terms of self-identification with altruistic values and a rearrangement of one's group affiliations to reflect this. Sorokin then considers no fewer than 26 techniques, illustrating these from history and contemporary life. Thus, Gandhi and Schweitzer (whose Bach I am listening to as I write) are mentioned often along with heroes and heroines from the past. A separate chapter is devoted to Patanjali's and other yogas, including that of Sri Aurobindo, then to monastic techniques and 'psychoanalysis'.
  5. The final part integrates the foregoing analysis into a grand vision, asking how we can collectively move beyond tribal egoism to universal altruism. Sorokin does not underestimate the challenge, but argues that it is vital to move in the direction of a culture of love if we are to remain viable as a species. If unselfish love is confined within a group, as Reinhold Niebuhr warned in his Moral Man and Immoral Society, then other groups remain outsiders. The terrible irony is that universal altruists have been regarded as 'subversive enemies' by tribal altruists: witness Jesus, Socrates and Gandhi. So the solution is evidently 'extension of everybody's altruistic conduct far beyond the membership of his own groups, eventually over the whole of mankind' (italics in original).

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