Tag Archives: Kahlil Gibran

The Tragedy of the West: Our Obsession with Quantification

The recent rise of protectionism and nationalism in the Western World has presented progressive thought leaders with one of the greatest challenges in almost a century. We continue to struggle to make sense out of the current reversal in our journey towards human progress. And, sadly (or arrogantly), we continue to shape our views and our emotional well being  through the same lenses and by the same metrics that never saw this coming. What has been left out of the debate, and in my opinion, is the main  contributing factor to our continued anguish, is that we’ve forgotten how fragile our western construct of thought has been. Or, how vulnerable it is to a Black Swan event that can shake our faith in the very foundation of what we believe.
In the value systems framework, the current Western center of gravity for cultural values is associated directly with 4th and 5th levels of psycho-social development. This modern expression began after the Spanish Inquisition. The values of this era continue to shape Western culture today and are about the macro-memetics of the 4th level value system.  They’re about building the right institutions and excluding the wrong ones and other random un-quantifiable cultural expressions that fall into the dark side of this black-or-white dichotomy.  It is that dark side that in our subconscious that could no longer be repressed that is now coming to the surface.
With the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment came the macro-memetics of the 5th level system. This stage of psycho-social development  seeks to uncover the secrets of the universe through quantification, research and mathematical analysis. It excludes what is not rationally quantifiable and measurable, and everything that fell outside the processing capacities of the grey matter between our ears. This also became repressed in our subconscious giving us further confidence that the dark side of conscious actions mattered not.  This too is now coming to the surface.
Together these two levels of development gave us the wonders of Western Civilization. They gave us Measurement: Time, Space and Mathematics. They gave us the visual arts, music, and painting. They gave us business and bureaucracy, science, modern medicine  and technologies that have  become indispensable to our modern, efficient and  hectic lives.   But all this came at a cost. We seem to have forgotten what it is to be human outside the quantifiable world.
Jung-fate
The perfect description of this world comes from one of my favorite writers in the piece below. Ironically it’s called the “Perfect World”. Kahlil Gibran supposedly wrote this after he was invited to recite some of his poetry at Harvard University, the most refined institution  that upholds the virtues of the 4th and 5th level systems.  After his recital he was humiliated and ridiculed for using a style called “free verse”, something that fell outside the quantifiable measure of Harvard at the time.
As you read this and consider the evolution of poetry over the last 100 years,  do what I did. Look within you to see if it’s not those same measures that have arrested our evolution and closed us off in our own safe world. A world that makes darkness out of the immeasurable, the un-quantifiable and the non-scientific. Maybe you’d add the spiritual and the metaphysical to all that defies measurement.
Gibran-Western Measure

“The Perfect World”

God of lost souls, thou who are lost amongst the gods, hear me:
Gentle Destiny that watchest over us, mad, wandering spirits, hear me: I dwell in the midst of a perfect race, I the most imperfect.
I, a human chaos, a nebula of confused elements, I move amongst finished worlds—peoples of complete laws and pure order, whose thoughts are assorted, whose dreams are arranged, and whose visions are enrolled and registered.
Their virtues, O God, are measured, their sins are weighed, and even the countless things that pass in the dim twilight of neither sin nor virtue are recorded and catalogued.
Here days and night are divided into seasons of conduct and governed by rules of blameless accuracy.

To eat, to drink, to sleep, to cover one’s nudity, and then to be weary in due time.

To work, to play, to sing, to dance, and then to lie still when the clock strikes the hour.

To think thus, to feel thus much, and then to cease thinking and feeling when a certain star rises above yonder horizon.

To rob a neighbour with a smile, to bestow gifts with a graceful wave of the hand, to praise prudently, to blame cautiously, to destroy a sound with a word, to burn a body with a breath, and then to wash the hands when the day’s work is done.

To love according to an established order, to entertain one’s best self in a preconceived manner, to worship the gods becomingly, to intrigue the devils artfully—and then to forget all as though memory were dead.

To fancy with a motive, to contemplate with consideration, to be happy sweetly, to suffer nobly—and then to empty the cup so that tomorrow may fill it again.

All these things, O God, are conceived with forethought, born with determination, nursed with exactness, governed by rules, directed by reason, and then slain and buried after a prescribed method. And even their silent graves that lie within the human soul are marked and numbered.

It is a perfect world, a world of consummate excellence, a world of supreme wonders, the ripest fruit in God’s garden, the master-thought of the universe.

But why should I be here, O God, I a green seed of unfulfilled passion, a mad tempest that seeketh neither east nor west, a bewildered fragment from a burnt planet?

Why am I here, O God of lost souls, thou who art lost amongst the gods?

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