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Home > Transmodern Futures
Microvita and the Body Politic
by Marcus Bussey, Jul 18, 2006
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Call it unthinkable thought.
Face it: no face.
Follow it: no end.
[1]

The image of the machine has had a profound impact on our culture and the way it both creates and describes itself. It is hard to overestimate the power that this single image has had on the history of the 20th century. It has been the ruling god of modernism.

The enduring image of the Titanic casts a long shadow yet the economic machine that created it still worships progress and believes in its ultimate triumph. As if to prove this point the Titanic has become a parable of human, not mechanistic, folly which generates fat incomes for those able to tell the story anew. The machine is unstoppable. Peace educator Frank Hutchinson calls this the imagery of technocentrism[2]. It inhabits both our fears and our hopes and has become the object of some of the most powerful imagery in popular culture for both what is desirable and what is most to be feared. This ambivalence is at the heart of the image's power and longevity.

One way in which this metaphor has invaded our lives and consciousnesses is in how we construct time. Time supplies the human energy that runs the machine. Time is at the basis of our economy[3]. We buy and sell it in order to live. People with time either have lots or little money. For the majority of people in the middle, time is precious indeed, and there never seems to be enough of it! In our mechanistic world view time is linear, and because it has been commodified it must be accounted for. Wasting time is a sin.

Another example of how the mechanistic world view has affected us is in the way we experience and describe social relationships and organisations. In capitalist culture the individual is the primary source of wealth creation and must be sold to in order to maintain a healthy flow of capital. But it is bureaucratic, administrative, economic and technological structures that control, shape and define relationship. These structures are very linear in conception and operation. Individuals become anonymous within them serving merely as functionaries or products within an impersonal system that maintains and propogates the values promoted by the machine metaphor: reliability, efficiency, determination, domination and expansion.

This description is simple and unabashedly reactionary. It carries with it the power of 'truth' but by oversimplifying the case it is open to strong critique. My point in opening this article in this way is to emphasise the fact that human beings live their lives according to metaphors and images that are culturally received. The Machine is perhaps the most powerful of these. And furthermore, that these images carry huge power in the values and desires they promote.

A new discourse

Having stated this I would argue that for change to occur we have to step outside the dominant metaphoric space and invite into our lives an alternative metaphor. One with the strength and depth to successfully challenge and replace the Machine. The feminist theologian Josiphine Griffiths points to the power of poetry and myth in revivifying the religious discourse of a patriarchal Christianity that is deeply implicated in the supression of minorities and the maintenance of the dominant mechanistic paradigm[4]. Similarly political psychologist Ashis Nandy welcomes shamanic vision, as being so deeply wedded to the Other, into a new discourse subversive of the global political culture that the Machine represents[5].

Poetry, myth and shamanic vision stand outside the dominant narrative of scientific rationality. They existed before it and will out live it. As the mytho-poetic visionary Roberto Calasso states: "What is new is the most ancient thing we have."[6] The shaman represents a figure beyond the periphery, consciousness resistant to the dominat politics of knowledge, a being whose categories "don't", as Nandy points out, "make sense centre stage."[7]

We could go further and look to poetic, mythic and shamanic vision to re-enchant our civilization. Poetry and myth can touch on mystery by creating a net of inferences that somehow evokes the spirit of the thing in a distinctively non-linear yet whole way. The shamanic spirit giving voice to the poetic and mythic can lead the way, throwing up new categories as it goes.

Poetry and myth have subtle yet undeniable force and the images they generate are highly charged with what has come to be called, within Proutistic discourse, microvita. And microvita, though not poetry and myth inhabit the same regions of consciousness, residing outside linear space and time, yet being at the core of culture.  Culture, be it human culture or psuedo-culture, is the expression of these microvita at work within the collective and individual lives of us all. Microvita, a concept developed by Indian philosopher P.R.Sarkar, are essentially the building blocks of the universe. Much smaller then atoms, they are the bridge between consciousness and matter. Hence this ancient dualism ceases to distort our perception of reality. The material world, the psychic world of thought and the spiritual world are all part of one whole, merely being different places in a continuum from crude to subtle.

There is much talk about the immanence of, and need for, a paradigm shift.[8] There is no shortage of insightful and clever critiques of current civilisational practices and there are budding movements all around the globe screaming out that we do not need to follow the logic of the machine; that there is another way to live. Femminism has identified deep structural issues of gender, post modernists have pointed to the misplaced human compulsion to surrender autonomy to centers of meaning that masquerade as Truth, Marxists have identified structures of class and economics that inhibit the expression of human potential, Proutists point to the silence of the spirit and the prime role of the individual in the reclamation of self and future, while futurists are pointing out that the impoverishment of social and cultural imagination are depriving future generations of a healthy balanced world. The list could go on.

Civilisation at the crossroads

The point is that we are at the civilisational cross roads and that there are enough indicators (ecological, cultural, economic and psychological) for us to recognise that the proverbial writing is on the wall. As human beings we are faced with the choice of getting involved in the struggle to shape a desired future for all or in bunkering down and worrying solely about one's own backyard. As a teacher of children I have felt pressure on me to engage in the future in an active way that sees beyond curriculm and organisational constraints. One aspect of my engaging in this process has been in seeking to understand how microvita, a creditably marginal phenomenom, works within my culture and my classroom.

If consciousness has a subtle physical manifestation (microvita) and if there are positive and negative forms of this microvita and if ideas (a form of consciousness) are also microvita, then learning is about the transference of microvita; and cultures can be seen as the sum total of the microvita in operation within the field of human experience.

The 'collective plexii' of the body politic

Sarkar as he developed this idea used as his frame of refence the Indic episteme of Tantra[9]. For him he saw social structures as 'collective plexii'[10] (in Tantric terms, chakras) that could be influenced by positive and negative microvita just like the physical plexii or chakras within humans. Society here is a body of organic inter-relationships as opposed to a machine. Equating society to the human body has an ancient lineage[11]. As a powerful metaphor, the body politic frees us to think about change from an organic perspective rather than a managerial one.

To Sarkar the collective plexii within the body politic are any grouping of two or more people[12]: the family, school, work place, office, corporation, locality, state, nation, religion, etc..  As with the plexii or chakras of the human body so also with the collective body. Here we find some chakras are more significant in providing the forward momentum needed to generate positive change. Education, schools and classrooms are well placed to be influential disseminators of expansive positive microvita. Yet since their inseption schools have always reflected the dominant values of their societies as opposed to challenging them or taking them in different directions. In short they have promoted the microvita of the established values system.

Microvita and Ethos

From our modern Western perspective the whole idea of microvita may seem far fetched, but stop and think a minute. We all accept that societies, groups of people in an office or institution, a school or any other social grouping have distinctive ethos: a mores that is peculiar to them. One office may be happy and cohesive while another is tense and oppressive. The minds, hearts and even bodies of these people bear the insignia of their particular ethos in many ways that can, for all intents and purposes, be called tribal.

This concept of ethos or mores is as close as western discourse has come to describing consciousness as microvita. Microvita are more than this but still it is microvita that are being described when we talk about ethos. The post-modern political scientist Michael Shapiro describes the novelist Michel Tournier's version of the Robinson Crusoe story, in which Crusoe recreates the psychic conditions of eighteenth century England on his island paradise. Crusoe's vision is unabashedly bourgeois in which he dominates and administers his land. It takes considerable subversion on the part of the shamanically deviant Man Friday, "a confusion by which Robinson himself was infected"[13], to bring about a shift in Crusoe's consciousness so that he can see that "his administered island is but one among other possible islands."[14]

The key insight in this allegory is that Crusoe is infected by an alternate vision. In Sarkar's description of microvita it works like this. We are infected with it. An idea can suddenly take hold of us with a force and compulsion that we cannot deny. Thus we see the sweeping changes that occurred with the onset of the industrial revolution or in the 1960's call for freedom and peace. Tragically we also see mass genocidal uprisings like those that occurred under the Nazis or more recently in Africa, South America, South East Asia and the Balkans. Collective microvita are very strongly tribal and can take disturbing, ugly and violent turns.

Implications of Microvita Theory for Social Analysis and Change

Microvita theory has many implications for social practice.

Firstly it shifts the focus of analysis from the ideographic to the nomothetic. Ideographic work focuses on the singular case (description) where as the nomothetic takes in the broad sweep (explanation). This occurs because microvita are everywhere, in action all the time: they are the general backdrop of consciousness. If microvita theory is accepted into the domain of the social sciences, like Man Friday was by Robinson Crusoe, they will never be the same. They will be infected.

Microvita theory also has major implications for the grand theories of social, planetary and evolutionary change. Peace researcher Johan Galtung and political scientist Sohail Inayatullah include Sarkar as one of the macrohistorians in their listing of great cyclical thinkers[15]. It is not surprising therefore that one of Sarkar's other insights, namely microvita, should have relevance to his vision of social change. As microvita both affects and reflects collective consciousness, what Sarkar called varna, then it becomes a central player in the unfolding of the human drama. Yet of equal importance, microvita has an evolutionary force that acts not only on the consciousnesses of beings but also on the physical structure of organisms.

The fact that microvita theory has this evolutionary dimension means that not only history but also pre-history and paleontology are due to be significantly affected as the theory offers a new reading of the rise and fall of species on the planet.

In proactive terms microvita also offers tools for understanding and engaging in social change. From the macrohistorical perspective that Galtung and Inayatullah describe, the patterns of human organisation, the shifts in structures and the dominance of values can all be described from the perspective of microvita theory - the organisational features of dominant strains of consciousness being played out in the social world. New ideas, structures and technologies emerge, usually as the result of specific actions of key individuals with powerful minds, to dominate specific societies at specific times.

Change then becomes a dynamic interplay between the two strands of the individual and the collective, the synchronic and the diachronic, as they are equals in the social world. Over time it is the collective consciousness that holds the upper hand in this dialectic maintaining the balance and momentum of the collective, but the collective is composed of units and each unit does have a voice.  The body politic can be infected just by the deviation of a single cell. History is replete with examples of single powerful minds shifting humanity onto different trajectories. Thus the individual does have a key role in the emergence of new ways of knowing and being.

In this way microvita theory brings into social discourse a new and empowered individual. The individual capable of attracting and disseminating positive microvita. The change of consciousness required has its roots in the individual. The physicist and mystic David Bohm puts it this way: A change of meaning is necessary to change this world politically, economically and socially. But that change must begin with the individual; it must change for him...if meaning is a key part of reality, then, once society, the individual and relationships are seen to mean something different a fundamental change has taken place."[16]

The New Individual

Much of new paradigm thought is concerned with the recovery of the individual. Yet this new empowered individual has so far made little impact on the structures that are responsible for the maintenance and expansion of the globalizing Western culture. Microvita theory would point out that this is because most versions of the so called 'New Age Man' are equally aggressive and imperialistic. The microvita of domination and aggressive individualism are a silent but powerful narrative within this movement. It is as if the powerlessness felt by individuals within the modernist paradigm has resulted in people seeking out other ways to aggrandise the self through psychic and spiritual pursuits.

The importance of the new paradigm movement has been in the validation and creation of the space for a new discourse. But the reality is that after nearly thirty years little change has occurred in the social structures that have been disputed.

Microvita theory shifts the emphasis from the individual developing autonomous Self (upper case is intentional) to the individual developing collective self. The collective individual is self aware and able to observe and interact with the collective consciousness of any social structure in such a way that their independence and power is maintained yet their sensitivity and connection to the collective process is not lost.  Such an individual has within their power the ability to act upon the dominant microvita of an institution in order to bring about constructive change.

Organisations redefined

Collective consciousness is seen as the defining and characteristic feature of an organisation comprised of individuals. A dominant microvita is found to prevail which influences the hearts, minds and bodies of all it touches. That microvita is described in western discourse as ethos or mores, but within the Indic discourse that gave it form it is more than this as it is given a basis that is physical, though virtually supra-sensory.[17]

Microvita have physical characteristics - they live, multiply and die. The political economist Michael Pusey[18] describes how the welfare state has been eclipsed in Australia by economic rationalism. He details clearly how one form of consciousness was overpowered by another. One way or reading meaning into reality 'died' and another took its place and is now happily 'growing'.

The body politic is composed of a wide array of organisations, each with an inherent set of values that govern their functioning. And these in turn are, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on how close they are to the heart of the Whole, in tune with the dominant value system reflected in the general functioning of the system.

In Sarkar's analysis each organisation is a collective plexii which generates values and maintains coherence within society. They are the sum of the bodies, minds and souls that create and maintain them in conjunction with the microvita that give coherence to the plexii. As 'living' collective entities each plexii is vulnerable to attack by a new form of microvita - either positive or negative - just as the welfare state has been dismembered by the economic rationalism dominant in Australia over the past twenty years.

A significant shift

What is significant here is that social structures are for the first time described in terms of the consciousness they reflect as opposed to the features they display. Sure, schools are bureaucracies; they are usually hierarchically structured and authoritarian; and they are essentially conservative and they have hidden as well as explicit curriculae. We can search for answers within the fields of political science, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, sociology, economics, and history but so far we have not sought for answers within a paradigm that has such a marginal and mysterious empirical base as spirituality.

Inayatullah's description of causal layered analysis offers some insight into why this is the case. With this method we can go beyond conventional framings of issues. Each layer is an authentic strand within our experience of reality. Inayatullah argues that "the way in which one frames a problem changes the policy solution and the actors responsible for creating transformation."[19]

Four layers are identified :

Layer 1: "Litany", superficial and disconnected. Deals with quantitative trends and problems. The domain of the mass media and party politics.

Layer 2: "Social", offers some in depth analysis at a social, historical, economic and cultural level. This is the domain of most academic work and of those working in policy institutes.

Layer 3: "Structural", looks at the deeper issues of structure, discourse and world view. Here we understand that discourse and the language of discourse are complicit in framing issues - ie they constitute the issues under examination.

Layer 4: "Myth and Metaphor", here we find the deep stories that define and frame our emotional responses to issues, the unconscious dimension.

By bringing microvita and collective plexii into an analysis of social structure and change we can greatly expand the nature of our discourse, moving from the second and third layers of analysis to the fourth level, the domain of poetry and myth, and beyond into the domain of the spirit, where the water is murky and less easily penetrated with the vision of empirical analysis. Yet the validity is no less inherent to the method of understanding. What is significant for those interested in striving for real change is that change is only really born at this level of 'reality'.

This is why Proutistic descriptions of change always couple it with the deep, often unconscious, aspirations of those seeking change[20]. Without this intimate relationship between change and those changing, the experience is simply change from the top, putting the same wine into different bottles, and it will fail as it will only be the form that is altered not the spirit.

Consciousness

Consciousness is rooted in and beyond the fourth layer. Paradoxically it pervades all we do and yet is the most illusive force to identify and describe. The reason for this is that we seek to do so with first, second and third layer tools. The most interesting challenges to the present crisis are coming from those seeking to generate change from the fourth layer. The English poet Robert Graves earlier this century wrote a book called The White Goddess [21] in which he describes, amongst other things, the struggle between two peoples and their mythologies. He said they themselves felt they were locked in a battle between the elements of their world and the poetry of the time had many a struggle between the trees. This was their way of describing the deep tension and distress such a paradigm war creates.

Today we are engaged in such a struggle. It is a struggle between metaphors for the power to shape the future. There are many protagonists, heroes and villains. And the roles are cast so that truth and honour are apportioned according to where you stand. For example, Matthew Fox is, to the Catholic church, a heretic priest and excommunicate who got too close to the fire of new age theology, but to many he is an enlightened and brave helmsman to a happy and wholer tomorrow. Similarly science has thinkers like Rachel Carson, David Bohm and Rupert Sheldrake who challenge the deep structures and dominant values and power structures of their discipline. Sarkar, as a mystic and philosopher, has challenged both the paradigms of east and west by speaking out and offering ancient Tantric solutions and insights in the form of Prout and Neo-Humanism to many pressing social, ecological and cultural issues.

Creating a Spiritual Discourse

The spiritual frame which has shaped his episteme makes for a deeper perception of the 'real'. Microvita as an abstract but potent force is one such example of this deeper episteme at work. When we read social institutions such as bureaucracies and schools, political parties, cultures and neighbourhoods as 'collective plexii' and start to ponder on the effects of microvita on them then we can also begin to reframe our solutions so that we embrace action rooted in consciousness.

The implications of microvita theory for social renewal are great. Our world is constantly changing, not at the level of institutional change where all is poltical legerdemain, but at the level of consciousness where positive microvita are coalescing to oppose the negative which are escalating the forces that promote dominance and division, exploitation and the amassing of power and wealth. Yet even this tense and confused state is, within spiritual discouse, simply the increase of a fever as the body politic strives to purge itself of an imbalance.

To pursue this 'sick man' analogy a little further. The application of a cold compress to bring the fever down is going to come from the inspiration provided by positive microvita. Here the collective individual has the key role in finding within the depths of their soul inspiration to subvert the current trend.

Searching for Inspiration

People within institutions need to be inspired with the desire to change and empowered with the skills to effect change from within. Such a mix of inspiration and skill will emerge over time as more and more people, the collective individuals, question and resist the forces at work within institutions. It is likely that history - societal and evolutionary forces - will also help this process along with a few sharp blows to stir up our ire and tear away our lethargy and inertia.

The educator Martha Rogers describes processes of learning that reveal the inspiration to work for change within individuals. She calls these the patterns of mind, heart and soul. It is within the latter, she maintains, that real change resides. "(I)n the work I have done, the Soul has played the key role in helping people manage the intellectual and emotional aspects of learning and, most importantly, it is the crucial link to action."[22]

Spiritual Activism

Sarkar saw this link nearly forty years ago when he formed Prout as a socio-spiritual philosophy to promote a change in consciousness founded on collective social, ecological and economic practice emerging from a spiritual discourse. Inayatullah's Layer 4 informing the layers above. It is intimate social theory as it relies on the individual to respond to their relationship with both their own Soul while integrating this process into their relationship with collective social structures. In short they need to become spiritual activists, responding to the mystery that is at the heart of life by embracing it. As the eminent Tibetan Buddhist Sogyal Rinpoche states: "The danger we are all in together makes it essential now that we no longer think of spiritual development as a luxury, but as a necessity for survival."[23]

To return to my own concerns as a teacher we are left with a formula for change that reads something like this: If to teach is to transfer microvita, and to build a classroom culture with the students is to engage with microvita at an holistic level in order to attract positive microvita, which in turn brings inspiration for life and learning, and repels the negative, which instills fear and narrowness in our minds, then as teachers the first prerequisite is to build into our own lives practices which attract positive microvita. The second step is to attract yet more positive microvita through the inspiration of the minds of students and then thirdly carry this inspiration into the school and parent community so that it is supported in the larger living culture experienced by the children. In short we are to become a spiritual activists!

One way to do this is to challenge the modernist concept of time.  As teachers we are prisoners of the temporal constraint that a managerial curriculum places on classrooms.  To make an opening for positive microvita in the classroom we need to embrace a more spacious curriculum that allows for creative and spiritual explorations of our selves and our world.

To do this effectively we need to develop within ourselves the sensitivities that sustain spiritual and creative pursuits in order to model and demonstrate them in the class. We also need the strength and inspiration to sustain the change and necessary chaos that will come with the initial attempt to shift the underpinnings of the class to more spacious endeavours. Furthermore we also need the determination and courage to stand up to the pressures and doubts of the broader school and parent culture that is so powerful in demanding adherence to the status quo.

Living the mystery

From our current perspective microvita may be mysterious but they are not undetectable. The more subtle the mind the deeper the vision and the more sensitive it is to microvita. The best rule of thumb regarding microvita is that when you sense expansion, and hope; a thirst to know and share in the wonder of the universe; greater awareness and sensitivity to ones' environment; the capacity to transcend the prejudices of race, gender and creed, class and caste; the desire to 'go forth' and help and the absence of fear in doing so; then you are under the influence of positive microvita. Negative microvita is that which instills narrowness and fear, hatred and division in the mind.

Education is one of the most influential collective plexii in the body politic. If teachers can transform their small area of existence by knowingly introducing positive microvita into their lives and classes then they are helping in the overall shift towards a more equitable and safer future. And from a theoretic point of view it is important to realise that such an effort is not grounded in some superstitious folly (remember it was folly that sank the Titanic) but is one reading of the deep mythic level of being that works with shadows, and echoes, chaos and mystery, being as Sarkar calls it "the reflection of conception within the range of perception".

Creative and meditative processes best capture this dimension as they are non-linear, expansive and generate hope. So I will end by referring to the work of the New Zealand novelist Margaret Mahy who in writing for adolescents spread some positive microvita with these wondrous words:

The first scientists had all been imagination men. Following after them, Tycho discovered a strange thing. It was impossible for explanation to make anything commonplace to him. The more clearly things revealed themselves the more intensely mysterious they became. The very moment when he felt he had things most clearly in his sights was the very moment they silently dissolved back into wonder so he could not dispose of mystery, only move more deeply into it."[24]



[1]Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching: a book about the Way and the power of the Way, a new English version by Ursula Le Guin (Shambhanla, Boston, 1998) 18.

[2]Hutchinson, F., "Young people's hopes and fears for the future" in Hicks, D., and Slaughter, R., eds. World Yearbook of Education 1998: Futures Education (Kogan Page, London, 1998) 138

[3]Kiyosaki, R.T. The Cashflow Quadrant: Rich dad's Guide to Financial Freedom (TechPress, Paradise Valley, Arizona, 1998)

[4]Griffiths, J., The Reclaiming of Wisdom: The Restoration of the Feminine in Christianity (Avon Books, London, 1994) 125.

[5]Nandy, Ashis. "Shamans, Savages and the Wilderness: On the Audibility of Dissent and the Future of Cilisations" in Slaughter, R. ed, The Knowledge base of Futures Studies, Volume 3 (Futures Study centre, Melbourne, 1996) 150.

[6]Calasso, R. The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (Albert A. Knopf, New York, 1993), 169.

[7]Nandy, op cit, 145.

[8]Thopmson,Capra, Fox, Shelldrake, Slaughter and others

[9]Bussey, M. "Tantra as Episteme: a pedagogy of the future", in, Futures, Vol 30, 7, 705ff

[10] Sarkar, P.R. Microvita in a Nutshell 3rd ed. (AM Publications, 1991), p121-122 "as a result of the influence of positive microvita or negative microvita on the collective plexii of the entire social body, the entire social structure undergoes degradation or elevation."

[11]see John B Morrall Political Thought in Medieval Times (London, Hutchinson University Library) 1971 p44

[12]ibid 121

[13]Tournier, Michel. Friday or the Other Island, trans Norman Deny (Harmondsworth:Penguin, 1974) 141.

[14]Shapiro, Michael J. Reading the Postmodern Polity: Political Theory as Textual Practice, (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1992) 53.

[15]Galtung, Johan and Inayatullah, Sohail. Macrohistory and Macrohistorians: Perspectives on Individual, Social, and Civilizational Change. (Praeger: Westport, Connecticut, 1997) 247.

[16]Bohm, D. quoted in Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (Rider, London, 1992), 355.

[17]It is interesting to note here that Sarkar says that microvita is also physical and has been described by medical science as virus. But this is the crudest form of microvita and has essentially physiologic effects.

[18]Pusey,Michael. A Nation Satate Changes its Mind..???

[19]Wildman, P. & Inayatullah, S. "Ways of Knowing, Culture, Communication and the Pedagogies of the Future" Futures, Vol. 28, 1996, p. 735; and for a deeper exploration of this concept, "Causal Layered Analysis: Poststructuralism as Method" working paper Communications Centre, Queensland University of Technology, 1997.

[20]Sarkar, P.R. "Minimum Requirments and Maximum Ammenities", in Proutist Economics, (AM Press, Calcutta, 1992) 58ff.

[21]Graves, R. The White Goddess, (Faber, London, 1978).

[22]Rogers, Martha. "Learning to Care for Future Generations: Understanding the Processes of Learning and its Facilitation", in Tae-Chang Kim and J.A.Dator, Creating a New History for Future Generations (Institute for the Integrated Study of Future Generations, Kyoto, Japan, 1994) 225.

[23] Sogyal Rinpoche, op cit. 363

[24] Mahy, M. The Catalogue of the Universe,(Puffin Books, 1993), 116.



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