Saturday, December 14, 2019

Final Participation vs the Social Order

According to a materialistic understanding of the evolution of consciousness, development towards what Owen Barfield calls "final participation" is imagined as being brought about by outer arrangements such as culture, religious and spiritual practices, government policy, education, scientific research, etc. Those who see the evolution of consciousness in this way feel it is of utmost importance to maintain these outer structures. For without these structures it is felt that consciousness will not develop at all.

The overriding assumption behind this view is that it is down to these external activities and institutions to bring about the desired development of consciousness.

This is not to deny that these outer structures are important. They are. Just as we need a physical body in order to be an individual in this world, so too we need civil society with its many structures and institutions in order to provide the "body" for the development of individual freedom and responsibility.

However, placing the primary driving force for the evolution of consciousness on such outer arrangements necessarily leads to a fatal contradiction where final participation is concerned. 

This is because, according to the definition of the term itself, final participation cannot be the result of outer influences, it must be freely and authentically taken up by the individual him/herself. If an individual's participation in society is that of obedience, or coercion, then it isn't free, and in the strictest sense, cannot really be called "participation" at all.

This has consequences for society. Society always wants to make the individual fit into a predefined box. The Church makes moral commands that individuals are supposed to obediently follow. In secular societies the State is the authority, setting moral and ethical standards through its proliferation of bureaucratic legislation into every corner of human conduct. In both cases, the assumption is that individuals must be directed and coerced by outer rules and codes in order to act ethically and responsibly; that is, without these outer authorities, it is assumed that society would collapse and human beings would degenerate into savages.
From the other side, science sets out to define the nature of the individual in terms of biological and psychological theories. This leads to a "Scientism" where science is made the only criterion by which we can know who and what we are - and therefor how to act. 

Both scientism and bureaucratic authoritarianism make a similar and fatal error.

Science, when it professes to define once and for all what human beings are, forgets that it has as its picture of human nature, only the end result of a long process - which, with its source in the spirit, has not yet reached its full expression yet. Science, by ignoring this spiritual aspect of the human being, makes the added error of regarding only the biological and material processes as holding the key to the ultimate understanding of human nature.This leads to an authoritarianism in the form of "scientism", where the truth about the human individual is decided without the individual's own participation.

Similarly, bureaucratic authoritarianism, when it undermines individual responsibility and initiative, forgets that it first has to obtain its moral and ethical commands from human individuals. It assumes that the end product - moral and ethical commands - are a given, a first cause, not realising that the origin of these commands is the human spirit. Therefore, a society that represses individual freedom will lose its ability to provide moral and ethical responses to situations, and by implication, will end up becoming more and more immoral and unethical.

Both Scientism and  bureaucratic authoritarianism stand in conflict to the life-blood of moral and ethical progress when they forget that they are not the source but only the end result of ethical and moral striving....

...the source of all ethical and moral striving being the individual itself.

To Conclude...

The shift to final participation was always going to be messy and chaotic, akin to the transition from adolescence to adulthood. This shift places an enormous responsibility, both upon the individual to take up the challenge of self realisation and transformation - and upon society to recognise what is working its way to the surface.

This means that attention should indeed be payed towards outer social structures such as culture and education - but not for the reasons that the materialist pays attention to them.

For as was pointed out in a previous post, the spirit is its own cause, and final participation will realise itself. What is in question however, is how painful the process will be - and that depends on the degree to which society at large is aware of the shift in consciousness that is taking place.

This post was revised on 30 December 2019
This post takes its lead from Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom - as well as drawing on Owen Barfield's insights into the Evolution of Consciousness.


  1. "We should not desire to see without eyes, but neither should we assert that it is the eye alone that sees."

    --J. G. Fichte

  2. Yes, this correctly opens-up wide panoramas. Part of the task is to develop our ability to meet ourselves; for this courage and truth is required. - Owen

  3. I've been thinking about this, too. In the end, I can't see how FP is compatible with any 'social structure' other than those that rise spontaneously and organically through love - i.e. marriage, the family and rare close friendships.

    This was the structure of hunter-gatherer type societies, so it would not of itself be new - but 'this time' freely adopted as a conscious choice.

    Of course, it would mean the collapse of civilization including a reduction of the population to a small fraction of the current level (that is, assuming this earth continues - in its present form); but that outcome may be inevitable anyway, for many materialistic reasons.


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