Personal & Social Evolution

by Gregory Ellison


As we consciously evolve into the Aquarian Age with its promise of peace, love and spiritual values replacing the ego-centered and materialistic state of awareness we’ve lived with for thousands of years, it’s worthwhile to articulate a vision of what, exactly, this brave “new age” world might look like, from both a personal and a global perspective.

The Age of Aquarius

Astrological lore tells us that we are now entering the Age of Aquarius, a 2,000+ year long phase in the evolution of humanity that will mark the passage of humankind into a radically new stage of existence, in which our consciousness will shift from identifying primarily with our individual egos and personalities, to identifying with a larger spiritual whole. The notion that we are in the midst of such a “holistic” shift of consciousness is not limited to astrology: scientific discoveries and technological progress throughout the 20th century point to the same conclusion, as well as the rapidly changing social and political structures of our world. For a good introduction to the events and ideas that have foreshadowed the coming Aquarian Age, please see Dane Rudhyar’s Astrology and Conscious Evolution in the September 2002 issue of metamorphosis.

But what exactly is the Aquarian Age? For many, it conjures up images of peace and love, perhaps a vision of long-haired flower children frolicking in lush meadows, or white-robed yogis meditating in a candlelit Ashram. In the words of the popular song from the musical Hair:

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius! Aquarius!

A beautiful vision, but one that — despite an obvious quickening of interest in all things spiritual — scarcely matches the trends and events we see unfolding around us today!

Of course the glib “all is light and love” version of the new age doesn’t match the actual astrological character of the sign of Aquarius. For all its world-changing idealism, Uranus-ruled Aquarius is not about passive gentleness and warm fuzzy feelings … it’s about science and technology, revolution and power! Like all signs, Aquarius has both positive and negative aspects, and the process of fully embracing the positive aspects generally involves confronting and overcoming the negative aspects.

The Aquarius personality is certainly idealistic and socially minded — but it may also be overzealous, self-righteous, and given to sweeping visions of social reform that the Aquarian is only too ready to impose on everyone else. This is not out of malice, but because the Aquarian is genuinely convinced that his or her social planning is self-evidently “right,” and has little tolerance for interference from sloppy thinkers who fail to appreciate the sublime rationality of the Aquarian’s vision! Seen in this light, the current “ideological” conflicts raging around the world are indeed very Aquarian in nature!

In fact, the whole of the 20th century can be seen as a ramping up to the Aquarian Age with its overall theme of global unity … but expressed from the lower aspects of the Aquarian archetype. This is especially true on the world stage of politics and social organization, as we saw two major political movements emerge that aimed at establishing a single “world government” — Communism and Nazism! Although in retrospect we may see these movements as cynical attempts at world domination rather than global cooperation and unity, when we look at their roots we can see that they were initiated by sincere idealists who — misguided though they may have been — earnestly believed that they were laying the groundwork for a better world. (It is easier to see this in the case of Communism, because of the idealistic philosophy of Karl Marx, but a little research into the origins of the Third Reich shows that its main ideas were propounded by spiritual thinkers and widely supported by intellectual idealists until “hijacked” by the brutal authoritarianism of Hitler.)

So, too, the current “globalism” being promoted by the major western powers — although publicly associated with free trade, capitalism and democracy — is deeply suspect to many who see it as an emerging new form of tyranny — corporate tyranny — rather than the benign force of global prosperity and cooperation it is touted to be. Such global institutions as the World Bank, the European Community, the World Trade Organization, and so on, can certainly be considered manifestations of the Aquarian drive toward “world cooperation” and internationalization; but, like Communism and Nazism (or Fascism), can also be seen to promote a version of “unity” that is expressed by the imposition of one “elite” group’s values over all others.

It is not a lack of Aquarian transformation and revolution that we see in the world today, but rather it is the lower expression of Aquarian ideals — a drive toward global unity that is informed by ego, self-righteousness and self-interest, rather than by spirit and love.

The Challenge of the Aquarian Age

The challenge, of course, is to learn from the struggles of the lower aspects of Aquarian transformation, in order to bring to ourselves and the world the positive blessings of the higher spiritual gifts of Aquarius. Aquarius is specifically about the management of power created by organized thought. The modern advances of science and technology, with the unprecedented power they have given to humanity, for good or ill, are the direct result of the scientific method: an organized method of thinking, experimenting, and drawing conclusions. Before the scientific revolution, people were just as intelligent and creative, had just as many raw materials to work with, and had the same evidence of the physical world around them. The difference that sparked the rapid development of mechanical power, automobiles, airplanes, universal electrification and artificial lighting, genetic engineering, atomic bombs and spaceships, all of which have transformed the world within the blink of an eye in terms of human history, was no more or less than an organized method of thinking and planning.

That is the Aquarian energy in its barest form: the creation and management of power through the application of organized thinking. The difference between “higher” and “lower” expressions of this energy is embodied in the question, “To what ends is this power applied?” The lesson humanity will learn in the Aquarian Age is that power that is not applied for the good of humankind as a whole is inherently destructive.

Whoever seeks to hold power for power’s sake, or for the self-centered use of power, finds himself thereby on the road to destruction. Power can bring wholesome fruits only to those who hold it in trust for the Whole and, with it, serve the Whole. Monopoly on power in whatever form can only lead to self-destruction.

— Dane Rudhyar, Gifts of the Spirit

The destiny of the Age of Aquarius is that we will learn this lesson — if we survive as a species at all. The free will is in how long it will take us, and how much destruction we endure before we “get it.”

Personal and Social Transformation

The “transcendence” of the Aquarian Age is just this shift of focus from the part to the whole — from the separative orientation of primary identification with the personal ego to the holistic orientation of participation in and service to humanity as a whole. By its very nature, this involves both personal and social transformation. On a personal level it is easier to understand the nature of the change, because there have been individuals throughout history who have successfully transcended the level of ego-identification to reach higher levels of spiritual awareness. These individuals have been the great spiritual teachers, and their messages, though couched in many different words, have invariably focused on the development of such qualities as compassion, forgiveness, service and love, along with the direct awareness that we are something larger than our bodies and egos, that we are aspects of a spirit that includes all others. Many of us have attained some degree of this transcendent awareness ourselves, at least some of the time.

The social level of this transcendence is harder to envision, however, because we have no models. We can intuit that such a social transcendence will have to entail a shift of focus away from “nationalistic” identification, in parallel with the personal shift away from “ego-centered” identification. But this understanding only goes so far, in that it only considers the scope and structure of social organization, and not the spirit that animates it. We can say that some form of world government must eventually supersede individual nations competing with each other in their own national self-interests. But if we leave it at that, it is the same as developing atomic energy without questioning the ends to which that energy will be applied. A social structure capable of managing the interactions of human beings around the globe — a world government — is, like the scientific method, a form of power applied through the application of organized thinking and planning. As such, it is an inherently “Aquarian” manifestation. But, like the fruits of science and technology, that organized power can be applied for good or for ill. An atomic bomb is not “better” than a stick of dynamite merely because it controls and directs far more power; nor is a world government “better” than individual nations simply because it structures and organizes all of humanity.

Global institutions can only express the “higher” aspects of Aquarian energy when they are structured in a way that serves all of humanity, and that is the part that is difficult for us to envision. In our experience, societies have always been structured in such a way as to give some people power and control over others. That is the only model of society we have. Therefore, when we think about how a new-age world government might be structured, we must think in terms of who will be in control. Will it be “the people”? That is the answer given in Communism and Democracy. Will it be “those best fit to lead”? That is the answer given in Nazism and Monarchy. Will it be “the experts”? That is the answer given in modern corporatism and emerging pan-national entities like the European Union.

The problem is that power corrupts, and as long as there is power to be wielded, that power will eventually fall into the hands of the corrupt, no matter how benevolent and idealistic the original planners and organizers may be. What is needed is an entirely new form of social organization in which there is little power “wielded” by anyone … a form of organization that is focused on facilitating cooperation rather than on enforcing behavior.

Obviously the personal and social transformations are interdependent. No social structure can facilitate cooperation if the individuals in the society do not value cooperation above personal aggrandizement. But even given a world in which the majority of individuals have attained such a level, a social structure built around prescribing and controlling behavior will not mirror that transcendence.

Global Transcendence

While no one, to my knowledge, has devised a comprehensive model of how such a transcendent world government or social structure might function, there are some intriguing clues in the emerging holistic sciences. Kevin Kelly, the executive editor of Wired magazine, has written a fascinating book, Out of Control, in which he argues that a massive decentralization of control in emergent holistic systems is not only an effective form of organization, but may be the only workable form of organization for extremely complex systems.

The book is pretty technical and heavy reading, but Kelly opens it with a simple example that intuitively conveys the essence of what he is talking about. He recounts a presentation given at a recent computer convention, where 5,000 attendees were given “paddles,” each with a green side and a red side. A video camera feeding into a computer scanned the audience to determine the colors being held up, and a giant TV screen was set up for a game of electronic ping-pong. Split into two opposing teams, the audience was told that displaying the red side of their paddles would move the ping-pong paddle up, while showing the green side would move the paddle down. The net speed and motion of each side’s paddles was determined by the combination of all 2,500 paddles on that side. If half of the team showed red and the other half green, the “team” paddle would stand still. The more red showing, the faster it would move upward, and the more green showing, the faster it would move downward. As Kelly describes the experience:

The audience roars in delight. Without a moment’s hesitation, 5,000 people are playing a reasonably good game of Pong. Each move of the paddle is the average of several thousand players’ intentions. The sensation is unnerving. One is definitely aware of another intelligence online: it’s this hollering mob.

The group mind plays Pong so well that Carpenter decides to up the ante. Without warning the ball bounces faster. The participants squeal in unison. In a second or two, the mob has adjusted to the quicker pace and is playing better than before. Carpenter speeds up the game further; the mob learns instantly.

“Let’s try something else,” Carpenter suggests. He launches an airplane flight simulator on the screen. His instructions are terse: “You guys on the left are controlling roll; you on the right, pitch. If you point the plane at anything interesting, I’ll fire a rocket at it.” The plane is airborne. The pilot is … 5,000 novices. For once the auditorium is completely silent. Everyone studies the navigation instruments as the scene outside the windshield sinks in. The plane is headed for a landing in a pink valley among pink hills. The runway looks very tiny.

There is something both delicious and ludicrous about the notion of having the passengers of a plane collectively fly it. The brute democratic sense of it all is very appealing. As a passenger you get to vote for everything; not only where the group is headed, but when to trim the flaps.

As the 5,000 conference participants begin to take down their plane for landing, the hush in the hall is ended by abrupt shouts and urgent commands. The auditorium becomes a gigantic cockpit in crisis. The plane is pitching to the left in a sickening way. It is obvious that it will miss the landing strip and arrive wing first. Yet the mob somehow aborts the landing and pulls the plane up sensibly. They turn the plane around to try again.

How did they turn around? Nobody decided whether to turn left or right, or even to turn at all. Nobody was in charge. But as if of one mind, the plane banks and turns wide. It tries landing again. Again it approaches cockeyed. The mob decides in unison, without lateral communication, like a flock of birds taking off, to pull up once more. On the way up the plane rolls a bit. And then rolls a bit more. At some magical moment, the same strong thought simultaneously infects 5,000 minds: “I wonder if we can do a 360?”

Without speaking a word, the collective keeps tilting the plane. There’s no undoing it. As the horizon spins dizzily, 5,000 amateur pilots roll a jet on their first solo flight. It was actually quite graceful. They give themselves a standing ovation.

— from Out of Control, by Kevin Kelly

What this example suggests — and the lengthy text of the book supports — is the notion that large-scale and highly effective cooperation can emerge from the individual actions of large numbers of individuals without the presence of any higher level control or coordination whatsoever. In effect, that a genuine “group mind” can spontaneously arise from the autonomous actions of individuals, if given the right tools to facilitate such “out of control” cooperation!

To my mind, investigating and thinking along such lines of voluntary self-organizing behavior is the way in which the path to social transcendence will be found, while sweeping Utopian visions of world government built on old methods of top-down centralized social structure will at best delay the process … and at worst invite an Aquarian Age that looks more like a global concentration camp than the vision of human peace, love and harmony that we so dearly hope for in the new age dawning.

It’s worth thinking about.