It appears that the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last week was part of a larger project called “The Summer of Hate”. The rightists seem pretty cognisant of the this being the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love” (1967), and so even this year has symbolic value as a target — the destruction of all the values that defined the counter-culture and The Summer of Love, ironically by trying to emulate it.
Is there any further evidence of the “Shadow” at work than this choice of theme — “The Summer of Hate”? That broader “statement” about the fellowship of hate, or the solidarity of the haters and the righteousness of hate, hasn’t received as much attention as the “Unite the Right” event itself, an event that makes the term “Right” now virtually synonymous with “Hate”, and a belief that hate is more powerful than love or compassion.
When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors (and later my supervisor) steered me in the direction of propaganda analysis. He had been a resistance fighter in Belgium during the Second World War and had been mightily impressed by the power of propaganda to mobilise the energies of the nations for collective mass suicide. Having lived through that period, he came to see the propaganda weapon as the chief danger and threat to the realisation of any kind of human or humane social order.
So, I dived right into the question of propaganda with a sense of mission, both here in Canada and in Germany, where I eventually went to continue my studies and most especially to research the social legacy of the Nazi propaganda system in terms of its current impacts on the German language.
Somehow — fantastically, improbably, impossibly — we’ve passed through the looking-glass and have become the topsy-turvey, inverted mirror images of ourselves — a kind of negative of the photograph, even a parody of ourselves. It’s Alice through the looking-glass. That’s the only way to begin to understand how the present period has suddenly come to seem so surreal, so bizarre, and so absurd. It occurs to me that this is the only way to also understand Lewis Mumford’s observation that everything once considered vice has now been revalued as virtue, or what was once considered unworthy of us is now considered worthy and desirable; or, for that matter, Sheldon Wolin’s diagnosis of our “inverted totalitarianism“. This is not describable in terms of reversion or of conversion, but only as inversion. The White Knight is talking backwards. We are being seduced by, and assimilated as, our own mirror image — like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
I can describe the dynamics of that in terms of enantiodromia, or “ironic reversal” and the paradox of the coincidence of opposites. In those terms, everything presently strange, forbidding and ominous begins to make a kind of sense. I can describe it in terms of the self-contradictions of Late Modernity beginning to assert themselves, and thus the self-negation of the Modern Era of itself — as Nietzsche’s forecast “two centuries of nihilism” and his “Last Man” as this parody. What I can’t tell you right now is what it means in psychological or spiritual terms, but it is quite evidently connected also with confusion about what is “real” today.
I can account for some of the how and the what of it. I can’t account completely, yet, for the why and the when of it. I can assemble a good deal of evidence, and put together a pretty good argument, I think, that this inversion is occurring to us whether we notice it or not. But I have the dreadful feeling that this inversion also has something to do with Gebser’s ominous reference to “the law of the Earth” and to its “automatic” fulfillment.
I was reading in yesterday’s Guardian opinions from some noted conservatives, both pro or con, on the Trump administration. Opinions are divided, but it does show that “conservatism” is as fractious and factional as is “progressivism”. But I noted their often frequently expressed anguish to maintain conservative “orthodoxy”, or whether Trump was following or not following conservative “orthodoxy”.
Now, that’s really ironic given the conservative’s often loud and noisy denunciations of dogmatic “political correctness” in others, with the apparent failure to recognise the same dogmatism in themselves as this cherished “orthodoxy”. Reminds me of a children’s nursery rhyme:
- Tweedledum and Tweedledee
- Agreed to have a battle;
- For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
- Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Most dystopian literature depicts a future society in which humanity has ceased to be effectively creative. “Expect poison from the standing water”, as Blake put it in one of his Proverbs of Hell in his The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Another one of Blake’s very wise Proverbs of Hell, related to this, is especially poignant today: “The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind”. Indeed, “reptiles of the mind” is pretty much an accurate description of contemporary man’s state of mind, as we witness it daily — the irruption of the so-called “Lizard Brain” (which is probably what the alt-right’s adopted mascot “Pepe the Frog” signifies — the Lizard Brain associated with the Shadow). You may take these proverbs about the standing water as even the essential problem of the “point-of-view” consciousness structure now functioning, in Gebser’s terms, in “deficient mode”.
This effectively gives us another way of understanding Gebser’s distinction between the “effective” and “deficient” modes of a consciousness structure or civilisational type. Effective means creative; deficient means destructive. “Effective” means “generative”; deficient means “degenerative” or decadent. The one is associated with “Genesis” and the other with the Nihil, or Ens and Non-Ens.
Some of you may be Game of Thrones aficionados. For my part, it’s one of the most curious things I’ve ever seen — the magical, the mythical, and the historical all mixed up, pretty much as it really is in post-modernity. Despite being “fantasy” it is, in many ways, brutally realistic about the human condition. I see Game of Thrones as a metaphor for a world going through “chaotic transition”. There are already a lot of places on Earth today where it is not fantasy, but the daily reality. “Winter is coming!” has even become something of a meme among those who already feel or sense that we are on the brink of succumbing to a new Dark Age.
I know some Buddhists who are almost always at some retreat or another. They’re always retreating, retreating, retreating. I know what they’re retreating from. Themselves. More specifically from the Shadow. Unless these retreats are fortifying them for eventually facing and confronting the Shadow, whose name is the demon Mara, those retreats are a waste of time and money. Much money. They will never be successful Buddhists until they do come face-to-face with the Shadow as Buddha did under the Bodhi Tree, or as Jesus did in the desert.
The Shadow is real. It has valid psychic or spiritual reality. I’ve witnessed it. It’s just as real as you are because it is you, although that’s something of a paradox. The Shadow is also called “Prince of Lies” and is implicated in this current epidemic of fake news and false memory, of post-truth and post-reason, and those who warn that the Shadow is irrupting in our times are not just speaking metaphorically. So, the time has come to tell you of my vision of the Shadow, which I’ve kept long to myself.