Moving from Pre-Tragic to Post-Tragic Forms of Consciousness

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David J. Temple:

"We speak with some depth in CosmoErotic Humanism about the distinction between three stations of consciousness, which we identify as the pre-tragic, tragic, and post-tragic. These three stations apply to both the personal and the collective. Briefly, in the pre-tragic station we have either not experienced tragedy or have managed to deny it. In the tragic station, we acknowledge and face the tragedy of suffering but often cannot find our way beyond it, so it destroys our capacity to respond, to innovate, or to creatively engage reality. In the post-tragic we have fully faced the tragic and live within it, but are able to transcend and transform it.

The move from pre-tragic to tragic is simply the movement in which we—to borrow Robert Jay Lifton’s phrase—“face the apocalypse.” We step out of the potentially fatal illusion that things will just continue on as they are, or that we will soon “return back to normal.” We must face the genuine possibilities of catastrophic and existential risk.

Tragic awareness often results in a “doomer” stance of hopelessness or resignation. But there is a way through: a post-tragic view can emerge. We begin by understanding that crisis is and always has been an evolutionary driver, and that our current meta-crisis is a birth. In the post-tragic, we allow the second shock of existence to awaken us to new possibility.

From the pre-tragic view, awareness of the meta-crisis and the possibility of self-induced species extinction does not occur, or is ignored. The obvious beauty and self-sufficiency of nature, as well as the simple givenness of the world, appear to override any possible bad news about the end of all things. The pre-tragic view of life is a specific and necessary phase to pass through, ideally during early childhood and adolescence, when the young human is brought into the fold of life.

But tragedies occur. And so, the pre-tragic view either gives way or becomes a defense. The emotional immaturity of a defensive pre-tragic view is often what becomes associated with the worst of new-age culture, where reality is “all good” and “all love.” The tragic view of life will have nothing of the idea that it is “all good.” In fact, the tragic view holds that there is perhaps almost nothing truly good in this world. It sees through the pre-tragic justifications of social, economic, and military atrocities, looking at human nature as red in tooth and claw. Of course, the worst thing for humanity to do would be to end all life for humans. And so the awareness of existential and catastrophic risks appears to be the final nail in the coffin of the pre-tragic view—from the tragic perspective, there can be no redemption at all for humanity or the world.

The tragic view eventually gives way, as tragedies open up from within and gradually yield to their unresolvability. Crises call forth transformation into new identities. Tragedies are not solved, but lived through. Burning in the pain of tragedy long enough, one becomes increasingly self-aware, able to endure despite defeat. Recognizing the incessant push of life—of Eros—enables the recognition that even within the depths of the tragic, in the darkness and terror, there is the possibility of redemption. Here is the return of laughter and stillness, the return of love and hope. The post-tragic also entails the clarification and complexification of the pre-tragic view of a good and loving Cosmos, or God.

There is no future for human culture if it remains struck in the pre-tragic or tragic view of the meta-crisis. The second shock of existence must be metabolized by human culture, and especially by those in the wisdom lineages of religious and philosophical thought. The meta-crisis is a demand for a mature and wise world philosophy that can help shift human culture into a post-tragic view on essential existential questions. In the clarity of post-tragic awareness, it often becomes clear how the tragedy arose. Careful analysis suggests that most tragedies can be cut off at their root, before they blossom into suffering."

Source: CosmoErotic Humanism

More information

  • Article: FROM PRE-TRAGIC TO TRAGIC TO POST-TRAGIC CONSCIOUSNESS. By Dr. Marc Gafni & Dr. Kristina Kincaid.

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