Many primal societies had a deep intuitive sense of humanity's embeddedness in the natural word, which itself emerged from the mystery of creation. Traditional religions functioned as religion in the traditional sense of the Latin root religare – to "bind again" or reconnect. Religion seems to have emerged in part as a corrective to growing ego-driven action, reminding the individual to come down to earth, to return to source, to remember that all things are kindred and brought together by the same Great Mystery.

Science helps us embellish this primal insight, showing with great quantitative precision how the biochemical processes keeping us alive are woven into the entire fabric of the living biosphere, how all atoms that constitute the molecules of our chemistry emerged from the mystery of that great primordial fireball. Ironically, as the precision of our knowledge increases, so the objectifying attitude of science represses our subjective, felt connection to this living evolving reality. Having literally lost our souls, we stand autistic in the face of nature.

Our spiritual disorder was transparent to reflective Native Americans, who responded to the arrival of Europeans first with confusion, then with frustration and anger, and finally despair. Indian faith, as we saw in the previous chapter, sought harmony of man with his surroundings; the White man sought dominance of his surroundings. As the Lakota chief, Standing Bear (1) put it "For one man the world was full of beauty; for the other it was a place of sin and ugliness to be endured until he went to another world there to become a creature of wings, half-man and half-bird."

What does this mean, for our "Western" integral polity?


Reflecting on the questing human individual as he or she emerges within the primal community, Herman shows how we can identify four primary values and processes that constitute the necessary, minimal coordinates of the quest. This structure, for him, functions like a Jungian archetype, a deeply rooted way of thinking and behaving.

The Mandala of Primal Politics

Figure 16.1 The Mandala of Primal Politics

The four quadrants of the mandala represent the distinctiveness of each element (see Figure 16.1). The surrounding circle represents their interconnectedness in continual dynamic interaction, converging in the unity of the single centre point – the quest itself. It is helpful to imagine each value of the four quarters as an independent good, an end in itself while simultaneously a necessary means for the realization of the others, in which all collectively constitute the truth quest. Each can be expressed as both a noun and a verb; each describes a goal and a process, each is an end and a means to an end.

Herman then describes how these operate in small nomadic hunter-gatherer communities, and then how they reappear at transitional moments through history, from the Greek polis to the present time.

Since each value is actualized to the degree that all the others are also pursued, the mandala describes a synergistic relationship between its constituent elements. We find this synergy optimized in small-scale, self-sufficient, tightly bonded communities where individuality is prized, while human needs are met in a co-operative and caring fashion. The paradigmatic example of such a hunter-gatherer society is that of the traditional San Bushmen of Southern Africa. The early success and resilience of their way of life is testimony to the life-enhancing power of the mandala dynamic. The fact that we find this constellation of values and practices reappearing at liminal periods of transition and creativity – from the classical Greek polis to Renaissance Europe – suggests that here we have an archetypal template for an open-ended, creative politics – a primal politics.

Since the mandala of primal politics is rooted in the deep structure of what it means to be human, it can function effectively as an ideal and offer criteria for development, without having to be embodied in small-scale self-sufficient communities. Its values can guide us in whatever institutional or historical setting we find ourselves toward actualization of the optimum form. The more completely we understand the big story telling us into being, the better able we are to respond creatively to the challenges of our moment by applying the discipline of the mandala. We now deal with each of the four "primal political" elements in turn.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >