McGilchrist – The Master Betrayed
THE USURPER IN FULL ASCENDANCY
In his book, ‘The Master and his Emissary’, Iain McGilchrist makes the case that the worldview of the left hemisphere of the brain (the emissary) has been in ascendancy for many centuries, to the detriment of the more subtle right brain (the master). At page 14 of his book, Iain tells a parable, wrongly attributed to Nietzsche, that gives us the key to his central thesis – a tale of historical usurpation:
“There was once a wise spiritual master, who was the ruler of a small but prosperous domain, and who was known for his selfless devotion to his people. As his people flourished and grew in number, the bounds of this small domain spread; and with it the need to trust implicitly the emissaries he sent to ensure the safety of its ever more distant parts. It was not just that it was impossible for him personally to order all that needed to be dealt with: as he wisely saw, he needed to keep his distance from, and remain ignorant of, such concerns. And so he nurtured and trained carefully his emissaries, in order that they could be trusted. Eventually, however, his cleverest and most ambitious vizier, the one he most trusted to do his work, began to see himself as the master, and used his position to advance his own wealth and influence. He saw his master’s temperance and forbearance as weakness, not wisdom, and on his missions on the master’s behalf, adopted his mantle as his own – the emissary became contemptuous of his master. And so it came about that the master was usurped, the people were duped, the domain became a tyranny; and eventually it collapsed in ruins.”
“Both hemispheres clearly play crucial roles in the experience of each human individual, and I believe both have contributed importantly to our culture. Each needs the other. Nonetheless the relationship between the hemispheres does not appear to be symmetrical, in that the left hemisphere is ultimately dependent on, one might almost say parasitic on, the right, though it seems to have no awareness of this fact. Indeed it is filled with an alarming self-confidence. The ensuing struggle is as uneven as the asymmetrical brain from which it takes its origin. My hope is that awareness of the situation may enable us to change course before it is too late.
The Conclusion, therefore, is devoted to the world we now inhabit. Here I suggest that it is as if the left hemisphere, which creates a sort of selfreflexive virtual world, has blocked off the available exits, the ways out of the hall of mirrors, into a reality which the right hemisphere could enable us to understand. In the past, this tendency was counterbalanced by forces from outside the enclosed system of the self-conscious mind; […] these were principally the embodied nature of our existence, the arts and religion. In our time each of these has been subverted and the routes of escape from the virtual world have been closed off. An increasingly mechanistic, fragmented, decontextualised world, marked by unwarranted optimism mixed with paranoia and a feeling of emptiness, has come about, reflecting, I believe, the unopposed action of a dysfunctional left hemisphere.”
Iain claims that our anthropic world is slowly becoming a mirror image of the left hemisphere’s worldview and that with each step in this direction, its vehemence and intolerance accentuates. In the final chapter, after having described at length the gestalt of each hemisphere, its neurological basis and countless case studies and analogies, he finally tells us what it would look like if the usurper left brain took complete control of our cultural and political spheres and re-created the world in its own image:
WHAT WOULD THE LEFT HEMISPHERE’S WORLD LOOK LIKE?
Family relationships, or skilled roles within society, such as those of priests, teachers and doctors, which transcend what can be quantified or regulated, and in fact depend on a degree of altruism, would become the object of suspicion. The left hemisphere misunderstands the nature of such relationships, as it misunderstands altruism as a version of self-interest, and sees them as a threat to its power. We might even expect there to be attempts to damage the trust on which such relationships rely, and, if possible, to discredit them. In any case, strenuous efforts would be made to bring families and professions under bureaucratic control, a move that would be made possible, presumably, only by furthering fear and mistrust.
In such a society people of all kinds would attach an unusual importance to being in control. Accidents and illnesses, since they are beyond our control, would therefore be particularly threatening and would, where possible, be blamed on others, since they would look like a threat to one’s capacity to control one’s life. The left hemisphere, as will be remembered, is in any case not quick to take responsibility, and sees itself as the passive victim of whatever it is not conscious of having willed. […]
According to the left-hemisphere view, death is the ultimate challenge to its sense of control, and, on the contrary, robs life of meaning. It would therefore have to become a taboo, while, at the same time sex, the power of which the right hemisphere realises is based on the implicit, would become explicit and omnipresent.
There would be a preoccupation, which might even reach to be an obsession, with certainty and security, since the left hemisphere is highly intolerant of uncertainty, and death would become the ultimate unspeakable. […]
There would be a complete failure of common sense, since it is intuitive and relies on both hemispheres working together. Anger and aggressive behaviour would become more evident in our social interactions, since of all emotional states these are the most highly characteristic of the left hemisphere, and would no longer be counterbalanced by the empathic skills of the right hemisphere. One would expect a loss of insight, coupled with an unwillingness to take responsibility, and this would reinforce the left hemisphere’s tendency to a perhaps dangerously unwarranted optimism.
We would expect there to be a resentment of, and a deliberate undercutting of the sense of awe or wonder: Weber’s ‘disenchanted’ world. Religion would seem to be mere fantasy. The right hemisphere is drawn forward by exemplars of the qualities it values, where the left hemisphere is driven forward by a desire for power and control: one would expect, therefore, that there would develop an intolerance of, and a constant undercutting, ironising, or deconstructing of such exemplars, in both life and in art. Pathos, the characteristic mode of the right hemisphere, would become impossible, perhaps shameful. It would become hard to discern value or meaning in life at all; a sense of nausea and boredom before life would be likely to lead to a craving for novelty and stimulation. […]
Cultural history and tradition, and what can be learnt from the past, would be confidently dismissed in preparation for the systematic society of the future, put together by human will. The body would come to be viewed as a machine, and the natural world as a heap of resource to be exploited. […]
This is what the world would look like if the emissary betrayed the Master. It’s hard to resist the conclusion that his goal is within sight.”
MY JOLLY CONCLUSION
In writing this book, Iain did pay a lot of attention to his right brain, while at the same time taking great pains to translate its insights into carefully phrased notions, characteristic of the left brain’s focused attention. As a scientifically minded scholar, one could say he made a tremendous effort to hear the case of this eccentric voice – and having listened to it intently, realised it was telling the truth. While our bien pensant intellectual class is telling tales of unwarranted optimism, the spirit of the depth foresees doom.
You have no doubt recognised this voice in the writings of the Hebrew prophets. Jeremiah comes to mind, with his heartbreaking appeals to the kings of Judah, only causing eye-rolling and exasperation, right until the point where the kingdom fell and was sent into slavery. You have recognised it in the Norse description of the Ragnarok, the Hindu description of the Kali Yuga, the Greek-Roman myth of the ‘Ages of Man’, or in modern attempts to revitalise such ways of knowing; those of Spengler, Guenon, Toynbee or Eliade. While Harari’s best selling books shun such approaches to history as self-fulfilling prophecies, while Pinker’s motivated reasoning keeps singing praises to our contemporary achievements, unparalleled by any competitors in the entire history of mankind, common sense tells us this hubristic attitude was the characteristic of all empires right before they fell; none could read the writing on the wall. No empire lasts forever, and the refusal to accept death as an inescapeable reality of the human condition could accentuate rather than prevent the decline of a civilisation.
I am not despair poasting, nor am I blackpilling for the sake of it. No one knows EXACTLY where our civilisation is at in its Spenglerian cycle. Nor do I believe that Spengler or any other cyclical thinker ‘got it right’. Having seen through the limitations of left brain ways of thinking, one realises the need to transcend certainty and absolute precision of language. The goal here is not to create a mental schema that will predict our fate with a high degree of accuracy. On the contrary; it is simply to revitalise right hemisphere’s ways of knowing. To allow for the Master to infuse our mental efforts with the energy of life and the wisdom of our ancestors. Contrary to common belief, this requires a tremendous active and uninterupted effort. In T. S. Elliott’s words:
‘Our tendency [is] to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles anyone else. If we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously. […] Tradition […] cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature from Homer up to the present has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order’ (T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood).
Once you have received a glimpse beyond the veil of mental categories, into the realm of kairos, encountering god’s grace, that melancholic bliss and peace to existence, you start realising there are countless more ways of being-there, of using your attention, of experimenting reality, than the ones elevated in contemporary society. Anti-theist midwits on internet forums discredit religion by claiming it is holding you back from living life to the fullest; yet it is this nerd type that obstinately refuses to move beyond a very limited number of ways of being in the world; those of the angry, dopamine filled left brain.
KNIGHTS OF THE MASTER
All we are advocating for is a recovery of these subtle, richer ways of being and of knowing. Recovering contemplation, perceptiveness, worship and devotion. Recovering the aesthetic experience. Re-learning to see what is really there rather than lazily demand to consoom novelty all the time. Re-discovering the rich cultural and religious heritage of our civilisation(s). Re-adopting an embodied attitude, a view from Somewhere; a duty to preserve and revitalise this rich heritage, making it accessible and compelling for new generations.
This is the attitude we are being vilified for. Anything that does not conform to the left hemisphere’s worldview is a mortal sin against its will to power. Strong family bonds, skilled roles within society, altruism, lack of [excessive] sanitary precautions, wisdom and common sense – constitute unforgiveable acts of wrongthink, not left unpunished. The usurper has showed this unequivocally with the cancelling of Sir Roger Scruton by the New Statesman. One can hardly find a better champion for the right hemisphere’s worldview than the late sir Roger. And the little bugman from the New Statesman released all his venom and bile against the old gentleman – by posing as a fake friend, by lying and distorting his affirmations; by smearing and libelling him and by bullying the weak, spineless Theresa May into firing him from his unpaid role through which he was making sure England is not flooded with glass and concrete boxes.
The predictable trial-by-media by the Western equivalent of the Soviet NKVD ensued, with all mainstream papers calling out Scruton’s so called racism, white supremacy and homophobia, with the enraged facebook masses mocking one they never heard about (let alone read any of his books), calling him ‘scrotum’ and celebrating his demise. Roger’s rehabilitation in the eyes of the public came a few months later, when publishing the entire New Statesman conversation forced the tabloid to apologise for the hit piece and offer to fire the interviewer, George Eaton. This did not happen, as sir Roger thought it was enough that one man’s reputation was ruined in the affair. Still, the smearing campaign was enough to trigger an aggressive cancer that led to his death a few months later. Those who knew him personally say there is no doubt about the correlation between the disgraceful humiliation and the development of the illness that killed him prematurely.
The usurper has taken its blood ritual and many more will follow. Let this be clear – this is not an online sparring, nor is it just a civil debate on policy and cultural matters. The left hates your guts and would squeeze you like a bug. It matters little that they are weak and pacified; they benefit from the extending arms of technology and will use every means at their disposal to remove you in all senses of the word. And although I believe the friend vs. foe distinction is more important now than it ever was, we must still follow in Roger’s footsteps and try not to retaliate when it isn’t absolutely necessary. Moreover, the task of reviving the world of the Master is infinitely more important than any political struggle. If it cannot be done at a significant scale, we can at least attempt it in our lives and hope that future generations will continue the effort.