The Balance of Nature's Polarities In New-Paradigm Theory

The Balance of Nature's Polarities In New-Paradigm Theory

by Dirk Dunbar
Peter Lang Publishing Inc., New York, 1994; paper, 165 pages.

Since about 1945, the sense that Western civilization took a wrong turn somewhere has been generally expanding. The world wars were signals that something had gone drastically wrong, and the general belief that enough nuclear weapons existed to wipe out humanity, if not life on earth, was to many a desperate call for a new way of viewing and interacting with the world. Many new ways have been proposed in the past fifty years, from free market capitalism to moral interpretations of quantum physics, to feminism, to hippie enlightenment, to goddess worship.

Dirk Dunbar's book is an attempt to summarize the main threads of spiritual aspect s of these new ways. This "cultural transformation" involves science in the form of Jungian psychology and the new physics, and a broadened awareness of nature, especially in certain strands of feminism and popular music. Dunbar calls the general concatenation of ideas the "new-paradigm theory," and the overall thesis is simply stated in a sentence on his first page: "Western culture is reintegrating a feminine, ecological impulse into its dominantly masculine, rational value system."

The first sections of the book provide crisp explanations of how some of the new paradigm theory's most prominent developers- including Nietzsche, Emerson. Jung, Erich Neumann, Theodore Roszak , Fritjof Capra, Alan Watts, and Riane Eisler, as well as the Eranos meetings and Esalen Institute-have called attention to the problems of Western culture and helped shape the transformation. Collectively, says Dunbar, these scholars alert us to the fact that Western culture has been in a state of psychological and spiritual imbalance for about 2400 years, and at this point in history a general effort is being made to restore balance.

The central figure in this is Nietzsche's Apollonian opposition. Our culture has bee n so long dominated by Apollonian qualities (rationality, logic, and what we generally take to be masculine or yang traits) that Dionysian qualities (intuition, emotion, and general feminine or yin traits) have been subordinated and weakened, leading to an overemphasis on science and a lack of emphasis on our relation to nature, for example, not to mention ourselves. In his conclusion Dunbar says:

Recognizing the Mother Goddess, Dionysus, Shiva, and yin as representations of nature's dark, mysterious, female, receptive, synthesizing, and intuitive principles, and the Father-sky, Apollo, Vishnu, and yang as light, rational, male, aggressive, and discriminating principles, the scholars [of new-paradigm theory] contend that only through balancing the two can individuals and society at large actualize full human worth.

This sentence captures the gist of the book. The most important element of new paradigm theory is that the debilitating split between human beings and nature is being recognized and dealt with in postwar culture through the feminist and environmental movements and through an emphasis on personal psychology in the Jungian tradition. As important to Dunbar's argument as Nietzsche's figures is Erich Neumann's theory or prophecy that the collective Western psyche shifted from feminine to masculine emphasis about 2400 years ago and has only recently entered a stage of reintegration of the two.

Dunbar gives particular attention in the latter half of his book to the American countercultural movement of the sixties. He says that the counterculture was a manifestation of Dionysian aesthetics and more finely, that it was an effort to replace Apollonian, agape driven values with Dionysian, eros-driven values. Jack Kerouac (On the Road, The Dharma Bums) and Robert Pirsig (Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) represent different phases of the countercultural effort to make this replacement.

Further, Dunbar argues in some detail that the rock music of the sixties also embodied the change. A kind of unconscious rebellion was enacted in the music of the fifties, in which performers like Elvis Presley evoked distinctly Dionysian sensibilities. Dunbar points out that Presley in some sense came to be seen as a "god," reinforcing Dionysian sensibilities. The Dionysian evolved, in this view, into full-fledged, conscious rebellion by the late sixties, when the music of the Beatles, the "Rolling Stones, the Doors, and others deliberately invoked Dionysian, eros-driven feelings. He likens this to the popular transformation, in ancient Greece, of Dionysian rites into sophisticated drama. The whole thing signifies to Dunbar not merely a youth rebellion, but a shift of cultural paradigms.

This book is a concise summary of the philosophical and historical ideas about cultural change which have evolved in this century in the West. However, although Dunbar emphasizes the reintegration of feminine elements of the psyche into Western values, he mentions relatively few women. Still it is an excellent introduction to some major interpreters of modern culture.

Dunbar is a clear thinker and philosopher, a fine teacher and musician, and also an accomplished athlete, one of the outstanding players in the history of European professional basketball. His book is a helpful addition to the literature of this turbulent century and well worth the time and energy of anyone interested in the spiritual implication s and potentials of those changes.



Spring 1996