A Celestial Telephone Exchange

Evil and World Order

by William Irwin Thompson, edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen
Harper & Row, 116 pp., $7.95

With Evil and World Order Mr. Thompson develops the line of thought begun in At the Edge of History (1971)1 and continued in Passages about Earth (1974).2 Perhaps “line of thought” is not quite the most suitable expression, for it is hard to extract from his work any extended argument. This isn’t in itself a condemnation, for the work of many powerful contemporary thinkers is dense and complex, and impossible to state crisply. Neither Hannah Arendt nor Wittgenstein is clear in the way Professor Ayer (for example) or Bertrand Russell is clear, but we are free to think such dense complexity a sign of philosophical depth.

What makes it hard to approach Thompson’s work seriously is, in part, his frequent name-dropping; throughout the texts we find references to the great mystagogues of our time—Teilhard de Chardin, Sri Aurobindo, Peter Caddy, David Spangler…. This last sage, Thompson tells us, “simply attunes his consciousness to the cosmic wave-length—that’s all.” That’s all. The message of all the mystagogues is that “the next stage of human evolution is the emergence of a human collective consciousness.” How disappointing, how banal, this seems, like the answers of mediums to questions put to them about what goes on in the spirit world. “Uncle Harry wants you to know he’s very happy.” No wonder that those who take the mystagogues seriously are inclined to encrust what they say with rich stories about flying saucers, extraterrestrial androids in government, worlds in collision, Stonehenge and Glastonbury, Chaldean astronomers and Pythagorean sages. Thompson’s ear is too hospitable to such stories.

Thompson has developed from a teacher of history, and (one would think) an enlivening one, at several North American universities into the founder and guide of the Lindisfarne Association, a body occupied with the making of a new culture and with preparing for the coming of the collective consciousness of the planetary community. It is altogether understandable that a man should be repelled by much that went on in the university world of the Sixties and scared—who isn’t?—by the way the world seems to be going. Thompson taught at York University in Toronto, one of the new universities, like Essex or Kent or Sussex in England, Nanterre in France, that grew in the warmly sympathetic atmosphere of the Fifties and early Sixties. There is a symptomatic observation in Passages about Earth; his disgust and despair come through it. The new university buildings

are slums where sullen bodies sprawl along the floor and pass a joint among themselves. Like Indians on a reservation or the poor in public housing, these students treat their physical surroundings with a contempt for the facile condescension built into the forms of their incarceration. They put out their cigarettes in the carpets, steal the paintings from the walls, strew their trash everywhere, bring their barking dogs into the lectures, and leave their old [sic] condoms in the elevators of the coeducational dorms. If the students must study, they cut out the assigned section…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.