Was the pinnacle of Egyptian collective life dominated by ideas guiding their energies toward the gestation of a divine humanity out of transitory human form? By contrast, is the trajectory of our own civilization distancing us from our natural foundations? In other words, were the Egyptians on to something we have forgotten or lost?
What do we seek when we yearn to govern ourselves?
Long ago, in my greatly wasted youth, I came across a sentence by Sartre: “Freedom is the irreducibility of the cultural order to the natural order.” It made me think of Prometheus wrestling to break free of his chains. The iron chains of natural law had to be overcome, had to be exploited by the mind, spirit, and muscle of mankind. Our culture, a very human creation, made it possible. Nature is the prison, the iron necessity, that humans need to break free from. Political order, a by-product of Western culture, is said to be not only NOT a natural process but opposed to it. The Cartesian duality of mind and matter is firmly in place here, mind and matter are separate, and obey different laws. Spiritual values are thus a product of mind and culture, increasingly seen to be subjective, not to mention arbitrary.
Sheldon Wolin, a political philosopher, noted that it was the mission of political philosophy to construct a more ideal order, progressively matching actuality with the vision. He documents how political theory disentangled itself over time from the idea that the state was a natural phenomenon. How do we construct a just political, or even social order? A thread of natural law persists in thinkers such as John Locke. In our time we take such notions as assumptions.
In this age of fragmented individualism and electronically enhanced subjectivity, have we lost something? Is freedom just freedom of the marketplace, free to choose a movie on Netflix? Many anarchists take a more ancient view. It is a fundamental assumption of anarchism that nature flourishes best if left by itself. The Taoists regard human beings in the same way: society is self-regulating and is just fine if left alone. Interfering, domineering leaders upset the natural harmony. (thanks, Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, pages 13-14)
Peter Marshal, (on those same pages), summarizes the vision, the pre-political vision: Anarchists wish to combine the ancient patterns of co-operation and mutual aid of those ancient societies with a modern sense of individuality and personal autonomy.
This brings us to the puzzle of ancient Egypt. Maybe we don’t understand what went on there at all. The other day I became fascinated by a Joe Rogan podcast with the recently deceased John Anthony West. The teachings embodied in those temples and hieroglyphs seem to restore the connection between natural, cultural, and political orders. Most astonishing was the implication that the Pythagorean wisdom permeating Egyptian culture not only vastly predated Pythagoras but may actually have predated dynastic Egypt itself. The point is that something, some knowledge, and culture superior to ours pre-existed us and created a society vastly more stable, happy, and harmonious than ours for thousands of years.
It appears to be a teaching resurrected by Sri Aurobindo in modern times: divine materialism. Plato’s Timaeus gives us a hint of the principles of matter shaped and responsive to and capable of being transformed by spiritual influences. Aurobindo capped it off by saying the goal of matter is to evolve embodied and individualized consciousness. But not divorced from nature as our consumption culture has it now.
Egyptian science, then is not really separate from religion. In the words of Robert Lawlor,Science, it is directed toward the embodiment of spiritual knowledge, toward the internalization and corporeal expression of intellectual and spiritual power, RATHER than the mechanistic utilization of knowledge and power for the manipulation of the earthly environment.
Was the pinnacle of Egyptian collective life ever guiding the energy of the people of the Nile Valley toward the gestation of a divine humanity out of the transitory human form?
BOOKS: John Anthony West, Serpent in the Sky; Schwaller de Lubicz, The Temple of Man; Robert Lawlor, Sacred Geometry,