Über-Bobo goes global: the rise and mobility of a new dominant world class?

bobo3In his recent book, Souci de Soi, Conscience du Monde : Vers une religion globale ? (Armand Colin, Paris 2012) Raphaël Liogier examines the dominant religious sentiment of the age, a sentiment he calls "Individuo-globalism." Not quite religion, more than mere ideology, individuo-globalism desginates a transnational religious sentiment -a faith- which touches nearly every aspect of modern life. Rooted in the fertile soil of nineteenth century European Romanticism and later American Transcendentalism, nourished by Western reinterpretations and re-appropriations of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism as well as the various technological advances of the twentieth century, individuo-globalism has emerged onto the world stage and gives life to a new religious sentiment shared -and lived out- by millions.

What is individuo-globalism?

Essentially, it is a desire to be both individual and also global. It is a desire to be unique, self-knowing, to be oneself -and at the same time to surpass oneself by being connected to a greater, global, All (in the Buddhist sense). In so-doing, one may finally achieve union with one's truest self, maximize one's creativity, productivity, and well-being. The individual is opened to the global, which, in turn, is reflected (incarnated) in the individual. Each new experience, each new person, each new place offers the individuo-globalist to discover the true essence of the global, which then gives insight into the true essence of oneself. To borrow Raphaël Liogier's analogy, this new religious sentiment provides the floor-boards of the theatrical stage on which actors play out their existence- on which modern man narrates his existence.

What are the main factors of individuo-globalism?

Raphaël Liogier identifies three major themes of individuo-globalism: Creativity, Well-being, and Gnosis (knowledge of spiritual mysteries). Creativity, in the individuo-global sense, aims at personal development (professional, artistic, self-expression, etc). It is a goal which can be realized practically and incrementally through methods, training periods, coaching, retreats, and workshops which use "traditional" and "natural" approaches (which are "scientifically" proven) to liberate one's creative potential. In other words, to remove any obstacle which impedes creative energy from circulating through the individual. Specific methods include various forms of yoga, meditation, qi gong, to name but a few.

Well-being is closely tied to the theme of Creativity, though the focus is on the physical and spiritual wellness of an individual rather than his or her creative potential. As Raphaël Liogier explains, well-being, happiness, or contentment for the individuo-globalist are 'moral imperatives', and serve as proofs that an individual is living a successful existence, since "Well-being assures the presence of the infinite, the All without limits in the silence of my organs, in the smallest of cells, which express a communicative joy." In this sense, well-being is the concrete, physical proof that an individuo-globalist is actualizing his/her desire to be connected to the global, and to have the global reflected in his/her being.

The last theme, which Raphaël Liogier calls "Gnosis," is a quest for the single truth which, though unknowable in its entirety, is traceable in science, in nature, in those human traditions which are most "authentic" (and therefore natural). The multiplication of the forms truth can take is reflected in the kaleidescopic vision of truth to which the individuo-globalist aspires. The seeking for truth does not lead the individuo-globalist away from nature, but reveals truth through nature, and by extension, through all the beings in the universe. Since each parcel of material existence belongs, and indeed contributes to the Whole of the universe, each thing or being has the potential to reveal yet another aspect of the one, universal (or uni-diversal) truth. In this sense, the individual discovers he or she contains the essential aspects of truth, which means that his intuition, his personal feelings, personal experiences, and personal choice become sacred values. Still, the individuo-globalist must hold this individual aspect in tension with the global in his or her quest for truth. The hope is that by continually opening himself up to these ever-renewed, myriad representations or traces of truth, he will eventually accumulate more of the global truth in him/herself, thereby actualizing a greater Self.

Individuo-global "Stage-sets"

Continuing with the analogy of theatre, Raphaël Liogier identifies three principal "stage-sets" which accompany and enhance the individuo-global scenes played out by its 'players' in the modern world. The three décors are designated by Liogier as: "hyperscience," "hypertradition" and "hypernature." "Hyper" here represents a transcendental element in each field which enables the individual to connect to the global, to a transcendental reality. Something is hypernatural when it is supposedly based on the very essense of Nature, thus pristine and powerful - it's the idea that certain products are currently presented as "more natural than nature". The same logic more or less applies in the cases of "hyperscience" and "hypertradition". Hypertradition refers to supposed 'cultural authenticity' (or rather a 'culture of the original, the authentic'), by the acquisition of an authenticity which is hyped as truly authentic, supposedly to be found by endlessly seeking ever-renewable peak experiences through practising many different traditions. The hope of the individuo-globalist is that in this quest, he will finally access traditions unpolluted by our industrial civilizations, and so reach the 'genuine' and the 'unalloyed'. Industrial civilizations are simultaneously rejected and validated by the third and final element of the individuo-globalist pattern: "hyperscience". Science is considered to be credible because it's based on inductive reasoning; something can be said to be "scientifically proved or tested," for example. However, in the individuo-global view, science is valid and interesting only to the extent in which it actually reveals and testifies to traces of some higher, definitively mysterious reality.

A recent religious phenomenon which bases itself on these three stage-sets to add texture to its propositions is the "Revelation of Ares" movement:

This cult was floated by Michel Potay, who claims to have received a prophecy from Jesus. According to the brochures produced by his group, his prophecy confirms and reinforces that earlier revelation; already here two main templates of religious transition present in all individuo-global movements can be observed. First, the salvation of humanity being brought by individual, inner, immanent change (i.e. the articulation between the individual and the global but also the theme of knowledge and hypertradition, because this cult claims to portray the true inner meaning of the earlier transcendent revelations of the three monotheist religions). The inner change is to intervene only as the result of a voluntary and euphoric process. Penitence no longer means the suffering and sadness of punishment. This brings on the theme of well-being. Hyperscience is also on the 'menu'; the movement claims affiliation with Darwin's Theory of Evolution, which supposedly confers a modicum of legitimacy and credibility. To conclude, The Revelation of Ares is one example of how new religious movements everywhere in the world today almost inevitably 'mix' individuo-global themes and narratives  and base them on the specific patterns mentioned above. This is obviously, according to the author, revelatory of a general trend, caracterised by a surprisingly consensual deep structure, which he encapsulates as the 'New Religion' of today's global elites.

What holds it all together?

The individuo-global religious sentiment is held together by a fundamental belief in 'Energy': an energy both material and spiritual which is predicated as omnipresently flowing through the universe, an immanent power connecting and sustaining all beings. Acces to this energy allows the finite, mortal individual to be connected to the infinite, immortal, omniscient and transcendant All (in the immanent Hindu-Buddhist, tantric sense).

Nature, science, and human self-knowledge in its wildest, most natural (so most 'authentic') forms can supposedly provide unmediated access to this invisible force. Those who have been initiated into the language of this invisible but omnipresent Shakti or energy can supposedly see its traces everywhere; traces which are encoded in strands of DNA, in the quantic vibrations of atoms, observable in ancient rituals and directly to be experienced through yogic meditation and postures. The most common individuo-globalistic practices are presented as marketable methods designed to help the individual reconnect him or herself to this life-giving and life-sustaining energy circulating throughout the universe.

Any impediment, any obstruction to the circulation of 'energy' is understood in this new 'vulgate' to be the root of all evil, be it physical, spiritual or intellectual: the new nostrum is 'Everything must flow'. The circulation of energy, therefore, is sacred to the individuo-globalist. Whereas the notion of a stable, fixed cosmos overseen by a hierarchy of governing gods was sacred to the Greeks, the notion of a fluid, flexible, infinitely changing universe is mandatory and sacred to the individuo-globalist. Liogier calls this new conception of the universe "the oceanic sentiment," since it implies continual movement and transfer of energy.

This apology of 'energy' may be understood as a western reinterpretation of certain concepts to be found in the esoteric strains of Asian religions such as Hindouism, Buddhism and Taoism, all of which seem to offer sanctification of and through the infinite, and of the endless flow of energy. Liogier points to the examples of Tantric Yoga which contains distinct conceptions of chakras (centers of spiritual power in the human body), the flow of a sublte, life-giving ether (prana), and the methodology of kundalini yoga which aims at awakening an energy latent in every human being and believed to be located at the base of the spine. According to Liogier, the aspiring individuo-globalist is lead to use a generally re-packaged version of such methods in order to supposedly master the kundalini energy which has the faculty of "spiritualiz[ing], in a way, the bodily essence of the adept." However, as Liogier himself explains, in such esoteric Hindu traditions, this methodology was meant to be employed as a means of detecting and finally surpassing the illusion of energy itself.

Rather than serving as the means for the initiated person to plug into some transcendant 'energy' and turn it to one's own agrandisement, efficiency and profit, the goal of such Eastern practices was to lead an individual to Moksha, a sort of awakening, entailing the liberation of the initiate from the chains of the endless cycles of birth and death. And thus to surpass suffering and the mortal condition. As Liogier points out, this represents a form of salvation, though not essentially a salvation which brings better health, longevity or well-being. However, the latter interpretation is characteristic of the expansive claims offered by the religious platform of individuo-globalism.

Through individuo-globally branded methodology, continual movement, and diverse experiences, the individuo-globalist hopes to reconnect with the oceanic energy of the universe and thereby progressively to attain 'self-improvement' and liberation from the limits of time, mortality, and finitude. Inspired by the conviction that true essence, true knowledge and true self-knowledge can be found in one single marketable package - or a long series of packages - efficiently providing access to the oceanic power of this sacred energy, the individuo-globalist is driven to continually seek new experiential products. The more diverse, the more abundant and the more 'natural' these packaged experiences appear, the more the individual is led to believe he or she can ever more 'authentically' open up to the essential energy of the global which, in turn, is increasingly incarnated in him or her as an individual.

Where is individuo-globalism heading?

As we have seen, the individuo-global seeks to actualize his desire to be connected to the great 'energy of the universe', the global, which will in turn maximise and agrandize  his individuality, his Self. This process is accomplished in part by individual practices of meditation, yoga, etc., but also through the possibility of accessing an increasingly 'nomadic', globally connected life-style, and the priviledge of accrued professional mobility thanks to a combination of academically acquired intellectual capital and the wonders of modern technology. Hence, the question is raised: who indeed can secure access to such means, and who can aspire to be an active participant in the faith culture of individuo-globalisim? To take a concrete example, the possibility of mobility does not belong to everyone; only an elite group, the most wealthy and best-educated have the possibility of living a truly mobile, nomadic, neo-bohemian lifestyle. These are in fact the new 'Happy Few', lucky enough to possess the intellectual, social and biological capital providing them with a ticket to ride - or rather surf on - globalisation's uncertain wave. As a result, Raphaël Lioger lifts a corner of the veil on the rapid rise of a new world division and a potential new class antagonism: that between the highly paid, mobile, transnational class (Über-Bobo?) and what he delineates as the 'nationally-confined and forcibly sedentarized' world underclass, condemned to ever-increasing precarity (recently baptised the 'Precariat') by globalisation itself. Is the individuo-global model of society, then, one that is confined only to a minority having their base of operation in the more developped, 'industrially advanced' countries? According to Raphaël Liogier, for these people, the importance of mobility in our global society operates at a different, quasi-religious level, "One should no longer speak of a religious mobility, but of the religion of mobility." What we are witnessing is the construction of a global culture maintained by the over-paid, neo-nomadic cadres at the top who are imposing a new 'pecking order' on the individuals trapped at different levels of global society. If those at the bottom wish to be heard and understood, we may wonder, will they be obliged to adapt their language to the 'sensitive' ears of individuo-globalists? In this sense, will the latter be mirroring a truly diverse vision of global reality? If not, then will the global not increasingly be absorbed into the individual (or a certain class of individuals), rather than issuing onto the truly global, "truer" vision floated as the individuo-globalist platform?