Overweening Generalist

Monday, May 16, 2011

We, of a Certain Genetic Caste?

Turning in my vat of whimsy now, hoping to stay afloat, I proffer an idea from the late 20th century countercultural figure Robert Anton Wilson (who actually died in 2007), in my eyes one of five or ten most underrated thinkers, of any "class," of the last half of the 20th c. For me, Wilson seems a wildly successful (in terms of creative intellectual/artistic thought and sheer mass of production of wide scope) example of Mannheim's "free-floating intellectual." He wrote novels, plays, screenplays, encyclopedias, and a hefty mass of non-fiction. More on other aspects of his thought in subsequent OG riffages...

Of many projects, Wilson ("RAW" to his fans) greatly expanded on an idea usually credited to Timothy Leary: a sort of General Unified Field Theory applied to the biological and cultural evolution of metaphorical "circuits" in the brain/mind, most commonly known as the Eight-Circuit Model.

In his book Prometheus Rising (1983, revised ed. 1997) Wilson describes and extrapolates on the evolution of socio-sexual morality in human beings. This "circuit" is "activated and imprinted at adolescence, when the DNA signal awakens the sexual apparatus.The teenager becomes the bewildered possessor of a new body and a new neural circuit oriented to orgasm and sperm-egg fusion. The pubescent human, like any other rutting animal, lurches about in a state of mating frenzy, every call gasping for the sexual object."

Remember those days? Oh? You're still there? Moving on:

This circuit, according to Wilson, arose around 30,000 years ago (more recent research suggests it's closer to 50,000?), is imprinted in the left hemisphere of the neocortex, the imprinting sites being the breasts and genitalia, and was previously described by Freud as the "phallic" stage, and by the mystic Gurdjieff as the "false personality." In Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis it is "the parent."

Because sex is so exciting and disruptive, every culture places taboos on at least one aspect of it, for reasons unavailable to those living in that culture. ("It's the way we've always done things! God told us it was this way! Anyone who doesn't believe this is crazy, dangerous, or both!")

Indeed, for a robust, general idea of "morality," sexual attraction, mating, inheritances, genetic drift, reproduction, and the future of the species seem potent enough to make much ado...

Wilson says the "principle function" of this "circuit" is to form an adult personality, one that will care both for and about the children. Because we are the symbolic species, this involves lots of "planning, hoping, and having aspirations."

Long ago, mystical traditions worldwide intuited this circuit as one that will cause a person to become hopelessly "attached" or "stuck on the wheel of karma." Becoming a mommy or daddy certainly seems to encourage the mind to stay with worldly things. This is where the idea of celibacy arose: by negating the imperatives of this circuit, one remains free and has a chance at enlightenment, satori, nirvana, by realizing the mind of god, by getting a job as a Holy Man, etc.

[We moderns deserve some sort of credit for, at some point, insisting that we can have our cake and eat it too: I'm sure there are mommies and daddies out there who also have very active, rich spiritual lives. I have personally known a few myself. It isn't easy, from what I could see. But back to genetics and social evolution...]

Okay, so what about homosexuality? If this evolutionarily-evolved genetic circuit which has to do with morality, sex, taboo, and being a parent does as supposed by Wilson and Leary, what was homosexuality?

Wilson compares it to left-handedness, and says it was encoded in the genetic script to serve "an auxiliary function." In tribal and band societies, homosexuals were shunted into the role of the shaman, the healer, the witch-doctor. In modern, complex societies, homosexuals are pushed into the role of intellectual or artist, both of which still play a shamanic role. Other non-child-bearing "outsiders" who fit in here with the homosexuals are the heterosexual bachelor/bachelorette, the hermit, and the spinster. (Wasn't that a Pedro Almodovar film?) But the intellectual/artist plays a special shamanic role in "making, breaking, or transforming cultural signals."

In a footnote about the role of homosexuals in the genetic scheme of evolution, Wilson gets off into his characteristically bold and jazzily-creative speculative riffs, viz:

"Those who claim any perennial sexual variation is 'against nature' are underestimating nature's variety, diversity, and economy. The 'mutation' of Leonardo da Vinci, a left-handed homosexual, was needed to break up the signal of the dying medieval reality-tunnel and remake our perceptions into the reality-tunnel of post-Renaissance scientific humanism. His success is registered by the fact that a Leonardo painting is still the 'norm' of what we mean by 'realism,' i.e, most people (including right-handed heterosexuals) are living in the scientific-humanist 'space' this man invented."

Now, as a right-handed heterosexual with no children, I don't know about you, but I welcome Leonardo with open arms, as one of "us."

The present blogger sees the entire oeuvre of Robert Anton Wilson as a cornucopia of the Generalist at his/her most dazzlingly brilliant and fecund.

1 comment:

Eric Wagner said...

I wonder about the impact of contemporary technology on teenagers' fourth circuit imprints these days. I alsowonder about different ideas about taking care of children and how they influence school policies these days. Also, I think the time has come to start thinking about the Robert Anton Wilson centennial in fifteen years, in the perhaps glorious post-Trump future.

Great post, as usual.