I woke up this morning thinking about neo-liberal economics, Jean Gebser, Adam Smith and his “Invisible Hand”, and how this metaphor (or simile) of the “Invisible Hand” morphed into “mechanism” in the term “market mechanism” — and, in those terms, whether in the form of “Invisible Hand” or “mechanism” (Mumford’s “Megamachine”), we aren’t dealing with a superstition masquerading as “science” or ideology.
There is, actually, an ancient antecedent and precursor to this benevolent “invisible hand” — it is the tribal “genius” (“genie”), or tutelary deity. And this relationship between Smith’s “invisible hand” and the tribal “genius” reveals something very significant about Jean Gebser’s philosophy of “consciousness structures” as well.
Crane Brinton once offered what I consider the best brief definition of the meaning of “modernity” yet — “the invention of a system for inventing systems”. That definition of modernity must be played against Nietzsche’s remark also that “the will to a system is a lack of integrity” in order to appreciate Brinton’s meaning here. With these two statements we really come to the gist of the issue — the origin, history, and the meaning of “the System”.
The invention of a system for creating systems also describes that “ensemble of techniques” that Jacques Ellul analysed and interpreted in his many writings on The Technological Society or (later) The Technological System. That “ensemble of techniques” (or orchestration of systems) constitutes the meaning of Lewis Mumford’s “Megamachine” as he described it in Technics and Civilization and in The Myth of the Machine.
But there is yet the Metamachine, which is akin to the “Master Narrative” of the Modern Era and has its origins in the metaphor of “the Clockwork Universe”. The Metamachine is the Master System that serves as the blueprint for all systems or techniques, which specifies their form and function and how they are to relate to one another as an “ensemble” or orchestra of systems, thus constituting the totality of the “built environment” and, in those terms, perhaps even the very meaning of “the Anthropocene”. This Metamachine is the Architect of our “invisible environment” (Blake’s Ulro) and Blake gave it name and purpose — Urizen.
It strikes me that the word “frenzy” best describes the current situation — frenzy being the marker of our “chaotic transition”, or of Jean Gebser’s “maelstrom of blind anxiety”, or of Peter Pogany’s “havoc”, or of Nietzsche’s anticipation of the “madness” that would attend his anticipated “two centuries of nihilism”. The contemporary terms being used for this frenzy are, of course, “irrational exuberance” or “animal spirits”.
It’s in respect of this “frenzy” (which some describe as “the Crazies”) that I want to return to something I posted some time back, and entitled “The Most Haunting Words in All Literature”, because for me the words were, and remain, daunting and haunting.
Norbert Wiener’s God and Golem, Inc (available also online) certainly speaks to the same issues as Lewis Mumford and his critique of “the Megamachine”, as well as Jacques Ellul’s sociology of the technological system. Wiener is known as “the father of cybernetics” and his more philosophical and sociological reflections on the “golem” (which is Mumford’s Megamachine equally) are as pertinent today as when he wrote them. In fact, I don’t think “the Matrix” is anything other than Wiener’s “golem”, Mumford’s “Megamachine”, or Ellul’s “technological system” (or, for that matter, Neal Gabler’s Life: The Movie) They are all attempts to give answer to the question that obsessed the character Neo in the movie: “What is the Matrix?”
So, what is the Matrix?
Until the recent death of “Joannie” (Eran Morin) from the TV series “Happy Days“, I didn’t really make the connection between Scott Baio’s appearances as a Trump stalwart and the TV series he’s most associated with that depicted America in the 50s as a time of happy innocence.
Do people really associate the slogan “Make America Great Again” with “Happy Days“? That would be bizarre. That would definitely be surreal. The 50s were, in reality, nothing like the idyllic time portrayed in the TV show. It was probably more like what was depicted in the movie Revolutionary Road, judging from my reading of the history of that decade. If people get their ideas of actual history from a TV sitcom, isn’t that the meaning of “post-historic man”?
Globalisation. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” It was always a lie — a propagandistic slogan only — from the outset, for even its proponents described it in terms of “creative destruction”. There would be “winners” and “losers”. But in public, they overplayed the “creative” and downplayed the “destruction” bit, and they did so in the context of an “age of diminishing expectations” as Christopher Lasch called the period.
“Neo-liberal globalisation” isn’t, actually, the most accurate term for this process. “Globalised neo-liberalism” is the more accurate term. “Globalisation” is actually the creative aspect of this process. Neo-liberalism is the destructive aspect. But these two processes — one creative and integrative, one destructive and nihilistic — have become conflated as the meaning of “globalism” itself.
Trapped in the Mirror was the title of a book on narcissism by Elan Golomb. It’s a very good title. Unfortunately, as I recall it, the book never really fulfilled the potential suggested by its title, largely because of its limited clinical and psychological focus on the individual where it could have broadened into the historical, sociological, or cultural context. Christopher Lasch attempted to do this with The Culture of Narcissism. Even then, I think, Lasch, despite the excellence of his sociological insights, erred in thinking that this, too narrowly, was a problem peculiar to “American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations”, as the subtitle has it.
Narcissism is the state of being “trapped in the mirror” and is the human, all-too-human condition. It has been that since human beings became self-conscious. It was just what was formerly called “idolatry”, which is the same state of being “trapped in the mirror”. If it were not the human condition, the ancient myth of Narcissus and Echo would not have been composed, and an event like the “Axial Age” of the prophets would never have occurred. It is narcissism that lies behind the legendary “Fall of Man”, and the Fall of Man was to become trapped in the mirror. This is also referred to as “the Fall into Time”, or “The Kali Yuga“.