Gnosticism is somewhat difficult to pin down. Roughly, it is a construct of ideas about what is supernatural and the relationship of humans to the supernatural. It seems to have been developed mostly in the first few centuries A.D., with an important concentration of activity in the Greek/ Egyptian city of Alexandria when that city was an international centre of scholarship, research, organized curiosity, and invention of ideas. From the point of view of the orientation being developed in these blog postings, call it Blind-Spot philosophy, Gnosticism is a metaphor or allegory (not entirely successful) for important realities of the human condition, and so possibly a helpful reference in sketching an overview of the Blind-Spot positions. There are gnostic elements in, and a gnostic structure or flavour to, Blind-Spot philosophy. For one thing, there is a fundamental dualism in Gnosticism, the dualism of spirit vs material nature, since, on that view, the whole drama of human life flows from each human spirit being catastrophically imprisoned in matter or nature. In Blind-Spot philosophy there is also a fundamental dualism of freedom vs unfreedom, or intelligence (freedom) vs brute actuality (unfreedom). What is conceived in Gnosticism as spirit has some congruence with what in Blind-Spot philosophy is called the interiority of an intelligence. The idea or fable of disembodied spirit(s) can be plausibly interpreted as an allegory for the experience of the interiority of personal intelligence.
The primary task of early Gnosticism was escape from demonic control, especially control by the demons of stars, dictators of astral or astrological fate. Some specialized knowledge (gnosis) was necessary to enable that escape, knowledge of the supernatural origins of the human imprisonment, and of the structure and history of the supernatural world, leading to discovery of how to be fully human by the memory of being divine. The shape of power in that view is emphatically and quite literally top-down: the demons in the starry sky have overwhelming power. Blind-Spot philosophy rejects the idea of disembodied intelligences, including demonic ones. However, as the star-demons represent a dominant evil, an imposing of control and subordination on people where there should be freedom and equality, there is a congruent dominant evil in Blind-Spot philosophy. In Blind-Spot philosophy the dominant evil is not supernatural but is instead cultural and historically rooted. Specifically, the dominant evil is a cultural stream of human macro-parasitism, a cultural, political, and economic faction which successfully maintains and evolves a culture (Aryan or patriarchal masculinity) of macro-parasitic control over masses of other humans, where there should be freedom and equality.
Recognizing the broad dominance of evil, injustice, and oppression within a supernaturally top-down perspective, gnostics thought there had to be two gods, a greater and a lesser, the greater one good, the lesser one evil or at least prone to catastrophic mistakes. Gnosticism is, therefore, often construed as a religion (in one form, a version of Christianity) or a religious philosophy since it has much to claim concerning supernatural divinities. By contrast, Blind-Spot philosophy is nothing like religion since it has nothing to say about supernatural divinities, except that the idea of disembodied intelligences, personalities, or ideas is not rational, neither locally nor cosmically. Blind-Spot philosophy does have a claim about transcendence, but not in the form of omnipotent or all-encompassing divinities who shower gifts or miseries down upon humans from on-high. That would be the supernatural top-down perspective. In Blind-Spot philosophy, intelligences are all embodied and individually creators of freedom, which means we are individually transcendent with respect to the brute determinism of nature or strict actuality.
As discussed in recent postings (Being vs Freedom: Metaphysics Old and New, and The Tragedy of Romanticism: Episode One) there are certain circumstances of human life which make it very tempting and easy to imagine a profoundly top-down shape or structure to reality. It has been traditional for cultured humans to be trapped mentally within such top-down visions. Gnostics were early promoters of a version of that idea known as The Great Chain of Being, a prime example of top-down metaphysics. That was the context in which the gnostic views of time, freedom, and subjective identity were conceived, an extremity of top-down thinking. That perspective is rejected and opposed by Blind-Spot philosophy, which recognizes embodied intelligences as individually or autonomously creative, and as such presents a strictly bottom-up perspective, yet still recognizing transcendence in human experience. Gnosticism was and is a kind of obsession with transcendence of a supernatural kind. The idea of supernatural transcendence is an allegory for the reality of the freedom of individual intelligences.
Both Gnosticism and Blind-Spot philosophy recognize a dominant evil which perpetrates a profound distortion of reality on a mass scale, creating a ‘hidden or secret reality’ which is normally unidentified because of (cultural) distortions arranged and maintained by the dominant evil. In both, the core secret to be discovered and revealed is about the power and freedom of the individual self or subjectivity (the blind spot). Both claim that in ordinary circumstances we function in a condition of relative disability, imprisonment, or slavery through accepting misrepresentations of reality, including alienation from our personal subjectivity. The main aspiration is direct self-acquaintance, based on recognizing a difference between the crippling concept of individual subjectivity promoted by top-down culture as compared with the self of immediate and innocent acquaintance. The supernatural imprisonment or slavery of human beings depicted in Gnosticism is an allegorical identification of the imprisonment of individuals within cultural traditions which legitimize and sanctify a perpetual macro-parasitism. In both Blind-Spot philosophy and Gnosticism, philosophy is conceived and practiced as a way of evading and resisting the dominant evil, first identifying the dominant evil and then re-positioning the self beyond the control of the dominant evil. In both, it is self-recognition which enables personal liberation, achieved by an act of taking possession of personal innocence, always available (gnostic “remembering”). However, there are at least important differences of emphasis in how knowledge is conceived in these two orientations. In Blind-Spot philosophy there is more emphasis on attending to a thinking process, self-directed reorientation, than on any special knowledge (although a knowledge of human history is relevant). Practical acquaintance with the innocent creator of interior non-actualities is basic. In Gnosticism, secret and arcane knowledge of the divine origin of human spirit, passed in person from master to worthy disciple, is the key to liberation and personal freedom. However, the disciple still has to use the knowledge to “remember” innocent or primeval life, to reawakening an innocent intelligence.
There are two conflicting ethical tendencies within Gnosticism. The dominant one is elitism, special entitlement, or exceptionalism, in which those initiated into the sacred knowledge are the exceptions. People who accept the reality of The Great Chain of Being have a difficult time avoiding a supernaturally ordained hierarchy within the human collective. Fables of “the higher Being” make everyone accustomed to various forms authoritarian control, and to lack readiness to question authority in general. Gnostic dependence on secret troves of sacred knowledge makes initiates accept subordination to authorities claiming to guard the knowledge. Elitism also tends to condemn the majority of people as beyond help or unworthy of anything better than existing injustices, even sometimes declaring that misery somehow benefits the victims. However, there is a vestige of an opposing tendency arising from the gnostic conviction that all people have a divine or supernatural origin. That would tend to inspire a universality of respectful, loving, and nurturing treatment of others. Blind-Spot philosophy rejects exeptionalism and subordination, and bases ethics on the insight which must follow from authentic self-acquaintance, that all intelligences are individually transcendent creators of freedom within the unfreedom of brute actuality and the crippling dominance of macro-parasitic culture, and that, as such, all intelligences merit respect and nurture.
The conceptualization of time is also crucial to both, but the attitude to time, or the orientation toward time, is completely opposite in Blind-Spot philosophy as compared to Gnosticism. The gnostic obsession with eternity is absent from Blind-Spot philosophy, replaced by the love of freedom within time and only conceivable within time as a transcendent creation of individual intelligences. Blind-Spot philosophy rejects the quest for eternity, infinity, or Being. In Blind-Spot philosophy the transcendence of individual intelligences is not achieved by recognizing a unity or identity with an omnipotent, universal, and eternal deity on-high, or with eternal Being, but instead is achieved in individually creating personal freedom by the use of the non-actualities of interior subjectivity, so creating freedom-in-time in the process of living a particular life.
The gnostic myth of the catastrophic rupture of human spirits from their primeval union with divinity and the fall of human spirits into the iron embrace of nature and time, is recognition of a self-alienation within conventional styles of living, a sense of being misrepresented, misevaluated, and diminished by the personal identities offered by the ambient culture and economy. The gnostic myth of the Fall from Grace is an allegory for the loss of recognition of the transcendent creative freedom of every individual. The sense of being punished for some primal fault or crime is misidentification of self as blameworthy because it revolts against the determinism of nature by spinning freedom in an unfree world: the rebellion of the angels. Escaping, transcending, the iron embrace of material nature is exactly what intelligences already do in the ordinary world by constructing the conditions of personal freedom, constructing teleological time from discretionary interior non-actualities.
The differences between Gnosticism and Blind-Spot philosophy have consequences concerning social, economic, and political situations. There was a sense in Gnosticism that the world within time is irredeemably bad, justifying pessimism such that it would be pointless to invest any effort into improving the common predicaments of human life. Such quests as that for eternal Being or for the remote god beyond the hierarchy of astral demons, always provide an excuse to leave institutional injustices as they are. In Gnosticism the only hope of improvement is available to small groups of initiates, and that hope is of escape into the supernatural through arcane knowledge of invisible things and rigorous personal detachment from material nature. This is similar to systems of reality which identify salvation or resolutions of injustice only in an afterlife. Blind-Spot philosophy rejects both of those otherworldly fables. This world at hand, and only this, is the one in which the transcendence of intelligences gets to express itself. Catastrophe is not the same thing as tragedy. Tragedy is final but catastrophe can be overcome. It is true that the current state of human life generally is catastrophic, but that does not make it tragic. There is no fatal flaw in fundamental human nature, no universal taint from an original sin. Autonomous freedom is not a crime against anything. Being free is a crime only when it is exercised and practiced by reducing, restricting, or denying the freedom of other intelligences.
Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, by Frances A. Yates (1899-1981), University Of Chicago Press (first published 1964. Midway reprint 1979. Paperback edition 1991), ISBN-10: 0226950077, ISBN-13: 978-0226950075.
The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, written by (Dame) Frances Amelia Yates, Published by: Ark Paperbacks, an imprint of Routledge & Kegan Paul plc (1983) (first published 1979), ISBN 0-7448-0001-3.
The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, written by Thomas C. McEvilley, published by Allworth Press; (2001), ISBN-10: 1581152035, ISBN-13: 978-1581152036.
Gnostic Philosophy: From Ancient Persia to Modern Times, written by Tobias Churton, Published by Ten Speed (2005), ISBN: 1594770352.
Copyright © 2015 Sandy MacDonald.