Metamodern View of the Human Being

We began this series of six articles with the aim of conquering the term “metamodernism” by arguing that metamodernism must be more than a “cultural phase”. I hold that we should not be satisfied with a metamodernism that only describes certain shifts in culture, arts and architecture, but that the promise of metamodernism is much greater: we are shifting from one historical epoch to another and I think that metamodernism can offer a general and universal worldview that people can adopt to partake successfully in its historical development. In this last article I turn to the metamodern view of humanity itself. Not only does the view of humanity evolve through different historical epochs, but so do the ideas about how humanity can and should be transformed.

At the heart of the metamodern view of humanity and the human being lies a simple both-and scheme; if you like, the marriage of science and humanities.

In the scientific view humans are objects like any other objects of the natural world: there is no fundamental divide between the human world and the natural. With biology, physiology, medical science, behaviorism, evolutionary psychology, psychophysics and mathematical psychology, the human being can be described as an object which behaves in accordance to the same “natural laws” and patterns as all the rest of it. The human being viewed from a 3rd person perspective: an it/he/she.

In the tradition inherited from spirituality, religion, humanities and phenomenology, the human being is understood through the direct experiences of being alive, of having subjective consciousness, of having lived moods, perceptions, emotions and inner states which are prior to any specific objective measure of humans as objects. We are existential and spiritual beings that are always non-indifferent to our sense of the world (which, by the way, doesn’t hold true of only humans but also of other animals like the intelligent octopuses; each animal species and indeed every single animal has its own Umwelt, as Jakob von Uexküll put in back in 1920, its own way of “seeing” and sensing the world and relevant objects within it). This is the human being viewed “from the inside”, from a 1st person perspective. You might add, with thinkers such as Buber and Levinas, that we also view our fellow human being as a Thou, as a “you”, as someone we meet, as a relation. This is the 2nd person perspective.

The human Umwelt is of course shaped by more complex layers of culture than those of other animals, but this is only a matter of degree: one that puts human culture at the forefront, the study of memes (or rhizome) and metamemes and how these are shaped by society. Viewing the human self as evolving through these memes, shaping us as objects, subjects and relations, can be thought of as a 4th person perspective of the human being. The 5th person perspective would in turn be so see how the 4th person perspective is shaped through the limitations and intersections of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person perspectives and vice versa.

”…to consummate the marriage of sense and soul, we must view people […] as objects, subjects, cultural beings and parts of larger societal systems. ”

Viewing the Human Being from a 4th and 5th Person Perspective

In other words, in the marriage of objective knowledge and subjective experience, we must transcend the dualism of subjective/objective and arrive at a human being viewed in the 4th and even the 5th person perspective – a multidimensional being developing in chaotic dance with reality itself.

So to consummate the marriage of sense and soul, we must view people – as Ken Wilber famously observed – as objects, subjects, cultural beings and parts of larger societal systems. All of these four dimensions emerge and develop together. Until now the human being has transformed largely by cultural changes, development of society and to some extent by means of spiritual and psychological practices. But today we are approaching a point in history where technology and science may well alter us as biological objects as well, even at the genetic level.

Hence metamodernism views the human being as a transformational project. However, as we have noted in the earlier articles of this series, we cannot have in mind a specific static ideal of what humans can and/or should evolve to become – since any utopian concept we may have must itself be viewed as part of our limited and situated understanding. Rather, motion, change and development must themselves be viewed as the constants.

That being said, we are left with the choice of either consciously and deliberately steering the development of human beings, or to partake in a development of humanity and its role within the larger ecosystems in a haphazard and unconscious manner. The metamodernist view here is to create the “least bad” visions of human development and to seek to strengthen these tendencies.

A metamodern view of the human being is…

  • To see that humans are behavioral, organic “robots”, controlled by our responses to the environment, and that we are simul­taneously subject­ive, self-organizing and alive – beings of great existential depth.
  • To see that my identity and “self” are not ultimately my body or the voice speaking in my head; or at least that my fundamental identity is not exhausted by that everyday conception of a self (my body plus the voice talking in my head), what is some­times called “the ego”. The ego is just an idea, an object of awareness as any other created category that describes an object.
  • To adopt a depth psychology stance towards humanity, seeing that her consciousness is transformable by changing her funda­mental sense of self and sense of reality. This is achievable through psych­o­analysis (or “schizo­analysis”) and love relation­ships as well as athletic, aesthetic, erotic, intell­ect­ual and spirit­ual practices – where contemplative myst­icism stands out as a very valuable path.
  • To see that every person has a three-dimensional view of reality of her own, consisting of an ontology (a strong sense of what is real), an ideo­logy (a strong sense what is right) and a self (a strong sense of one’s own place in reality) – and that these three dimensions can be describ­ed in a pattern of sequentially unfold­ing developmental stages.
  • To see that different human organisms are at fundamentally diff­erent dev­el­opmental stages and therefore display very differ­ent behavioral patterns.
  • To understand the transpersonal view of the human being, where her deepest inner depths are intrinsically intertwined with the seemingly rigid structures of society. She is not an individ­ual – her deeper identity reaches through and beyond the indivi­d­ual, the person. The “person” is just a mask, or a role, depend­ent on context. It is not inherent to the individual – even if the human organism can of course be described with behav­ioral science.
  • To see that in the transpersonal perspective, individual people cannot really be blamed for anything. All moralism is meaning­less. This tran­s­lates to a radical acceptance of people as they are; a radical non-judg­ment that can also be described as a civic, impersonal and secular bid to love thy neighbor.
  • To see that the human dividual has many layers, that she is both animal, “human” in a multiplicity of roles, and that she has higher pot­entials within herself – and that she is born through the inter­actions, (or even intra-actions) of such layers within diff­erent people.[i] This has some important imp­lications:
    • The multi-layered psyche has both subconscious, con­scious and supra­­conscious processes (where the supra­conscious processes cons­titute higher and more subtle intelligence than our normal thoughts, such as univer­sal love, philosophical insight, deep artist­ic insp­iration and the like).
    • The higher layers of the psyche follow more general, abstract and universal logics, whereas the lower layers follow cruder, more selfish and concrete logics. But they operate simultaneously and interact with one an­other.
    • The multilayered nature of the dividual psyche means that we can often see unconsc­ious and supra­conscious layers in one another; we can often understand one another better than we understand our­selves. This is what makes practices such as psycho­analysis or psych­iatry poss­ible. It also means that my agency can origin­ate from you and vice versa.
    • This transpersonal perspective holds that our selves, even our bodies, are not “sealed” or “auto­nomous”; we develop together in one great, multidim­ensional netw­ork. This network follows a logic that is often largely alien to our individual thought processes and agencies.
  • To acknowledge the inalienable right of every creature to be who she is.
  • To have a non-anthropocentric view of reality, where human ex­peri­ence is not seen as the measure of all things.
  • To accept the idea that humanity’s biology and fundamental life exper­ience can and will change through science and technology, what is called trans­humanism.
  • To stretch solidarity towards the highest possible universality: love and care for all sentient beings, in all times, from all pers­pectives, from the greatest possible depths of our hearts.

”We are not atoms, individuals, but we are […] participatory dividuals. I don’t expect you to leave me be, but to recreate me.”

I suppose you can sum this up by saying that we are trying to – in the long run – transcend the ideas of “individualism” and “humanism”. Of course, we still have separate bodies (for now, at least), but we are not sealed containers, each with a will and rational faculty of her own.

You can see through me and my unconscious self-deceits and faults, often with greater clarity than I can hope to. Likewise, I can be controlled by any number of structural or cultural forces of which I am unaware. So see me in full, then, is not to pretend that I am only my conscious mind and whatever life narrative I may have going on within the limited frameworks of my own head. Rather, if you are to see me in full, and truly meet me as the being that I am, you must climb a much taller order: you must see me as a developmental, universal and faulty pattern of reality as a whole.

I am much larger being than an individual. I am a thousand voices crisscrossing and whispering within, from my earliest biological drives to my some 10 000 year history of civilization, to my unconscious drives and weaknesses, to my spiritual capacities which link me to the skies and the unyielding mysteries of the cosmos itself.

And when you meet me as such a being, you must also give your “self” away; I will correct you, manipulate you, harm you, heal you, need you, guide you, worship you, love you, see through you and develop you.

Strangely, this does not efface our uniqueness; rather it grants greater depth and meaning to our unique experiences and it validates them as an integral part of the evolving cosmos. Our uniqueness is deepened and reborn in a profound universality. We are not atoms, individuals (two versions of the same word, one Greek, the other Latin), but we are – more in line with quantum physics – participatory dividuals. I don’t expect you to leave me be, but to recreate me.

And when you gaze into the five-dimensional mystery that I am, I also gaze into you.

Through these six articles I have labored to describe the basics of the metamodern philosophy. Surely I must be mistaken about many things, and surely you can correct these and move beyond them. What I do believe I have achieved however, is to show you that we cannot be satisfied with an understanding of metamodernism as only a phase within the arts.

Let us begin to treat metamodernism as a philosophy, and let us work together to create a society informed by such a philosophy.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

[i] Barad, K., 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway. Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. London: Duke University Press.