This morning, I want to pick up the thread of a theme that I raised in my response to a comment by Abdulmonem in the last post — the dissolution or disintegration of the “ratio” that informs rationality. This is, of course, revisiting a persistent topic in The Chrysalis, namely the breakdown of the mental-rational structure of consciousness in our time. The dissolution of the ratio as the meaning of the irrational is equally the meaning of the “breakdown of the human form” as Kahler describes it in The Tower and the Abyss, and “loss of the vital centre” as Gebser calls it in his Ever-Present Origin. This is also the estrangement and alienation of the ego consciousness from the intuitive self described by “Seth”, for in many ways the ratio that governs our reason is very much an intuitive affair.
I’ve taken note of a recent spate of articles bemoaning not just the breakdown of traditions of diplomacy, but the apparent devaluation of diplomacy itself. The most recent statement on this comes from Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare, retiring operations chief of the Canadian Armed Forces (“Retiring Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare says the world needs more diplomacy“, CBC).
We may assume that this devaluation of diplomacy in favour of “the gloves come off” and “the clash of civilisations” is another symptom of the disintegration and breakdown of the mental-rational structure of consciousness at our “end of history”, and that it is also another pernicious aspect of “the new normal”.
“East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet” — Rudyard Kipling
What a sea-change has occurred in our world since Kipling, the poet of Empire and “the White Man’s burden”, penned those words as being “the common sense”! Kipling held that a kind of Iron Curtain separated the consciousness of the West and the consciousness of the East — logic against mysticism.
But not only do we have meetings of East and West today, but also (and largely only since the Brandt Report of 1980) a North-South dialogue. The consciousness of a Rudyard Kipling already seems to us quaint and antiquated, if not simple-minded. E.M. Forster’s 1924 novel A Passage to India and later Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East (1932) were already beginning to see the breakdown of that “Iron Curtain”, significantly after the First World War.
In this post, I want to pick up and elaborate a bit on a theme that I raised in a comment thread to the posting “The Austerity Fraud“. It was in a comment in reply to LittleBigMan about political humour in the United States, and how you have these contrasting types — John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart in contrast to the conservative “heavies” such as Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Coulter, Beck, or Hannity, who are usually the targets of the light-hearted mockery and ridicule of the former (and the very “mass” of the latter presents a very big target, indeed).
What is happening in the United States in terms of its political culture is really quite fascinating, as it seems no longer to be so much about ideology and conflicts of ideology than it is about matters of mood; not so much the old “right versus left” contest, but gravitas versus levitas. In that sense, we can truly speak of “The End of Ideology” as Daniel Bell once anticipated.
I have just concluded reading Eugen Kogon’s The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them (originally published in German as Der SS-Staat, 1948). Kogon (1903 – 1987) was a political prisoner of the Nazis from 1938 to 1945, spending most of his time in captivity at the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar. The book is a chronicle of his experiences in the camp as well as the reminiscences of other survivors of the horror, and of the unspeakably abysmal depths of perversion, depravity, and debasement into which human beings can descend.
My concern is, that we have not faced and digested the lessons of this horror to sufficiently inoculate us against a repetition of it. If Nazism opened the gates of Hell, we have not yet succeeded in closing and sealing them up again.
I’ve been watching quite a few videos lately, which is somewhat unusual for me. But cinema is one arena in which the contemporary struggle of values, or with values, is being carried out in public and one can learn a great deal about the contemporary mood — or Zeitgeist, if you will — by being attentive.
I’ve noticed a recurrent theme in almost all the contemporary videos I’ve watched, and that theme is “back to Adam and Eve”. In virtually all the videos existence is portrayed as absurd, meaningless, pointless, the only real thing being the love of a man for a woman or, more generally, eros. Outside Eros is Nothingness. Amo, ergo sum.
“Behind” and “beneath” all the seemingly happy glitz and glitter of Late Modernity lies something quite sinister that will bring all the vain triumphalism of the “end of history” to naught. In fact, I would say that the “end of history” was even a piece of collective self-deception in that regard – a diversion, and perhaps even a cowardly one — and of a piece with the more general Zeitgeist of delusion and denialism. There is, in Fukuyama’s celebrated End of History and the Last Man, even the occasional slip-up that suggests Fukuyama knew at some level that his thesis of the final triumph of the Modern Era and of liberal democracy was counter-factual, little more than a “noble lie” to serve the ideological and power agenda of his confrères in the neo-conservative movement, who later congealed in The Project for the New American Century (PNAC).