In this public announcement, we have chosen to analyse the « Greek case », on the one hand because it seems indicative of what 2010 has in store for us, and on the other because it is a perfect illustration of the way in which news and information on the world crisis is moving towards « make-believe news » between blocs and interests which are increasingly in conflict. Clearly it is a « must » to learn how to decipher worldwide news and information in the months and years to come which will be a growing means of manipulatory activity. (GlobalEurope Anticipation Bulletin, N°42, February 16, 2010)
That is the passage from the Leap/E2020 report on the global systemic crisis that I really wanted to highlight in making the link to the article earlier. The increasing reliance on, and resort to, perception management practices (otherwise called “propaganda” or deception management) is only one of the most revealing characteristics of the Post-Enlightenment. An additional aspect of the Post-Enlightenment (or, decadence of the Age of Reason or Universal Reason, otherwise now called “post-modernity”) is the sense of the world as being something absurd, and not reasonable or rational at all.
Of these, the triumph of the Absurd is of a profounder character than the employment of narrow instrumentalist rationality to undermine the principle of universal reason, which is that “manipulatory activity” of perception management to which the authors of the article refer. Recently, I was reading a book by the great quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg called Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science. On page 42 of the book, in which Heisenberg records the early years of Quantum Theory, I was struck by a passage that is profoundly meaningful:
“I remember discussions with Bohr [Niels Bohr] which went through many hours till very late at night and ended almost in despair; and when at the end of the discussion I went alone for a walk in the neighboring park I repeated to myself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be as absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments?”
This growing sense of nature and the cosmos as being “absurd” strikes at the core principle of the Modern Era: Universal Reason (and the principle of universality generally). Nietzsche, earlier, was already alert to the trend in the logic of events departing from universality and towards the triumph of the absurd. The resistance of many earlier physicists to Quantum Mechanics and its implications (including the resistance of the great Einstein) arose from a continuing and conservative commitment to the core principle of the Modern Era — Universal Reason — the conviction that nature and the cosmos were ultimately rational and very much like a clockwork mechanism, and that the human mind should faithfully reflect this universal orderliness. In Einstein’s case, this conviction was expressed in his succinct objection to Quantum Theory: “The Lord God does not play dice with the world”. And, in that sense, Einstein was very much one of the last great Newtonian scientists. Heisenberg’s “revolution in modern science” in this sense of nature’s essential “absurdity” is basically a negation of the principle of Universal Reason as being sufficient and complete in itself.
Now, this trend in science (and philosophy) is paralleled in popular culture, especially after the First World War. Quite evidently, it has nothing to do directly with developments in science and physics. The triumph of the absurd over universal reason has a different root source than in the realm of ideas. The word “absurd” is ancient and comes from the Babylonian word “absu” or “apsu”, which forms the meaning of our word “abyss” (and “abysmal”, which is the feeling Heisenberg describes as his “despair” above). The Greek word for abyss is “chaos” — the Great Nothingness. Chaos only means “disorder” in that sense. There is no order because there is nothing to order. Chaos has the same meaning as the formless and infinite and irrational (without limits or boundaries, ends or beginnings, and therefore without definition). The present mood of nihilism in late modern life and society is the irruption of the Absurd. It is the self-negation (which you may also call “suicide”) of the Modern Era. The trend is not being led by human beings. We are only its responders or respondees, more or less adequate to the challenge it presents to our society’s (indeed, our planet’s) continued existence. The irruption of the absurd not only has the same meaning as “nihilism”, but also of “apocalyptic,” in the sense of an unveiling or disclosure.
We come, in some sense, full circle here. Chaos and the Absurd have much the same significance as Aristotle’s description of Man as initially tabula rasa — blank slate. Given Nietzsche’s succinct formula for nihilism — “all higher values devalue themselves” — we have essentially the same description. We become again like an empty canvas. But any true artist knows what to do with an empty canvas. It’s an invitation to create. And here is where, today, all propaganda and perception management justify themselves.
In another sense, we return to the chrysalid stage — the stage of transformation which we are apt to call, in our terms, “revolution”, so Heisenberg’s description of a “revolution in modern science” isn’t just pro forma or cliche.
But… more about this in the next post on the end of universality and how we can guide events more creatively than we are at present, in which we are in great peril of annihilating ourselves and the Earth.
I should have mentioned previously that I am frequently on the road these days. I am doing crop inspection and consultation prior to the beginning of the harvest. I have been away for the last four days following the Endless Highway. If you ever have the chance to drive Saskatchewan highways, you’ll understand the meaning of the Endless Highway. The road goes on forever.
I could also have said (just to wax mythical here) that the experience felt much like being a latter day Ulysses sailing through the Ocean of Insanity. The prairie city where my partner and I established our base of operations, called Swift Current (or “Speedy Creek” by some wits), touts itself as the city “where life makes sense”. Very metaphysical. And all very true if you find trees to be confusing and senseless. There’s nary a tree to be seen anywhere. Despite that, the Big Empty has a certain beauty of its own. (Hunters especially love it, it seems, because the deer and antelope have no refuge and no place to hide).
I didn’t discover much evidence there otherwise to justify the town’s boast for itself as being an Oasis of Enlightenment and Reason amidst a surrounding global Sea of Insanity and Senselessness. I happened to watch even a bit of television in my hotel room and couldn’t believe what I was seeing (for as some of you know, I’ve never owned a television). The town was even worse, in some ways, than some other places that make no ridiculous and obscure boast about being sensible. Speedy Creek (a.k.a. Swift Current) is the confluence for four main influences and seasonal influxes — hunters, “rig pigs” (oil men), cowboys, and farmers. In other words, lots of transient and temporary types flow through Speedy Creek. Sometimes dinosaur hunters, too. As a result, it is vexed with a mass outbreak of motels, hotels, and even a casino. Welcome to the boom town. Moreover, the province’s current premier, Brad Wall, comes from Speedy Creek and I consider him senseless.
I hope you had the opportunity to connect to the links I provided in an earlier post to the Leap/E2020 website (GlobalEurope Anticipation Bulletin, to which I’ve posted a permanent link on the right sidebar), as well as the London Times article on Goldman Sachs entitled “Doing God’s Work”. These short articles speak volumes about the end of the Modern Era and the global systemic crisis presently in formation. Perhaps then, after reading the articles posted there, you might have a sense about what I mean about sailing through a Sea of Insanity and an Ocean of Obliviousness like a latter day Ulysses.
And, no, Speedy Creek is not “where life makes sense” either.
Are you confused by the term “post-modern” or “post-modernity”? I don’t blame you. I have read a good deal of baffle-gab that makes excuses for its absurdities, its defects, and its excesses because it really wants to be considered avant-garde and fashionably “post-modern”. The problem with such material is that the author never really understood the meaning of “modern” to begin with. Therefore, with such an unstable footing, how could these post-modern authorities truly understand what it means to be post-modern at all?
Let’s correct this deficiency by putting a few historical facts in focus.
It would be far more revealing of our post-modern condition if by the term “post-modern” we understand “post-Enlightenment”. The term “modern”, in its contemporary usage, has no precise form and no clear definition. It’s sloppy. It’s foggy. It has about as much semantic clarity as the word “democracy”. When even Nazis like Josef Goebbels could promote fascism as being “authentic democracy”, and deceive many otherwise intelligent people about this in his time, something is wrong with the form and content of modern thought. No thanks to our commercialised culture, a man or woman today believes they are being “modern” if they buy the most up-to-date washing machine, computer, or automobile, even if they live (obliviously) under a dictatorship (but nevertheless call it “our democracy”).
On the other hand, the European Enlightenment, which represents the concrete self-consciousness of what it means to be “modern”, was specific and somewhat definite in its self-understanding of what it meant to be “modern”. The Enlightenment Era is also called “Age of Reason” to distinguish it from The Age of Faith (the Holy Roman Empire and the hegemony of the Catholic Pope). The meaning of the word “modern” is intimately connected with that self-understanding. Consequently, the term “post-modern” and the term “post-Enlightenment” have the same meaning, signifying the end of the Age of Reason — also of the end of the ideal of “Universal Reason” and (more disturbingly and by extension) of the principle of universality generally with all the social, cultural, and political implications of that. Therefore, if you want to understand the meaning of our post-modern condition, you must necessarily understand what were the central concerns, interests, and projects of the Enlightenment philosophes (also called The Encyclopediasts) whose foundational values and interests (many of which were formalised politically in the American constitution and in Tom Paine’s Rights of Man and his Common Sense) are now being actively negated and emptied of meaning, especially since the conclusion of the First World War. (We will address the odd and uncanny discrepancy between the ideals of “Universal Reason” and that of “Common Sense” in later posts). The post-modern condition means the negation of all Enlightenment values and ideals, and most especially of its central principle of universality (inevitably, therefore, of the principle of equality). This negation is what is today understood as value nihilism and even as “The Revolution of Nihilism”. This value destruction is recognised as being at the heart of the post-modern condition. It is the destructive negation of all Enlightenment virtues and values, which began with the First World War, but which have served as the guiding stars for much of the social, political, and cultural life of the Modern Era.
I will have more to say about the malicious destruction of the principle of universality by über-conservative reactionaries in later posts, as this has become characteristic of post-modernity. Here, though, we want to explore the meaning of the term “modern” as a value in its own right, and why the recognition that we are now “post-modern” represents a fundamental insight into our current negation of the meaning of “modern” as a value, (for “modern” is often used interchangeably with “liberal”). Upon inquiry, we will find that the root meaning of the word “modern” is found in the Latin word “modus“, meaning “measure”. The word “modus”, in turn, also informs the meanings of significant word-values like “moderate” and “moderation”, “modest” and “modesty”, “model”, “mode” (method or means), “modify”, “module” and “modulate”.
The negation of these values is formed by the prefix “im-” (or ‘”in-” or “un-“) as, in English usage, “immoderate” and “immodest”, or generally “unmeasured” or excess. All the meanings of modus have the same significance as the meanings of the words “ratio” (which informs the word “rationality”), or as proportion and proportionality (as measured response), as against the irrational (the absurd) and the disproportionate (the extreme or excessive) — therefore the unbalanced. We all know that “unbalanced” often means “insane”, irrational, mad, or crazy. In other words, “modus“, as measure, does not have as its primary significance the meaning of quantity or quantification (and therefore of the mass, which — like individual — is a term borrowed from physics). It is first and foremost a sense and quality of rhythm, measuredness, balance, proportionality, and not the meaning of numbers soaring into the stratosphere on stock market ticker tapes or opinion polls. In essence, rationality is not primarily quantification or “logic”. It is a continuous balancing of life’s equation (equanimity in Buddhist terms) that comes with a primarily aesthetic and intuitive sense and feeling of proportionality and balance such as we find principally in art, poetry, dance, and music. It is a rhythmical-ness, in other words, that emerges from a soul sense of equanimity restored (another word for proportionality), which is the authentic — often subliminal — underpinning of reason and of rationality itself.
(We will discuss this true nature of reason as a proportionality that arises from a deep inward sense of equanimity in later posts to The Chrysalis. For the time being, it is significant to note that Nietzsche — one of the greatest philosophers of recent times — believed that thinking and true “rationality” should be experienced as rhythmical and proportional, like dance or music, and not as mere calculation contra Hobbes — a neo-conservative favourite).
The philosophes of the Enlightenment (“enlightenment” being somewhat of a misnomer, actually) did not invent their ideals from nothing. The ancient Greeks were the first to formulate what were to become the principles of what we call “modernity”. Even the name “philosopher” is taken from the Greeks, after all. And “modern”, as a moral value, has its contemporary roots in the Renaissance (ie, “re-birth”) of the classical Greek spirit. That spirit originally proscribed and eschewed what was deemed the one and only grievous sin amongst the ancient Greeks — hybris. Hybris means excess, extremity, and indulgence, also in the sense of immodesty and immoderation (the fatal sin of Narcissus being that he indulged and was self-indulgent). The Greek version of the “Golden Rule” (or the Golden Mean) proscribed all such extravagance and self-indulgence. “Nothing too much” or “Nothing in excess” is the meaning of the Apollonian Code. “Enough is enough” is the popular rendering of the more articulate and elegant Greek rule. To be modern in the classical sense is to eschew extremes and excess; is to forbid immodesty and immoderation as exceeding a limit or boundary. We are “post-modern” because we have forgotten this rule. We no longer follow the rule.
But in the post-modern era, “greed is good” to quote Gordon Gecko from the movie Wall Street. All hybris is rewarded, even if it is ultimately destructive and self-destructive. Moderation and modesty are presently penalised. Extravagance is admired. Excess becomes laudable. Irrationality (which greed is) is promoted. We now believe, actually, that we have overcome and triumphed over all limits, as the Greeks knew and understood limit. Even the limits of reason. Yet, at the same time, we are now colliding with all sorts of new limits — Planck’s Wall, Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem, or Heisenberg’s Uncertainity Principle.
In the follow-up posts: the implications of the end of Universality (or Universal Reason), and more current attempts to revalue the meaning of universality in more realistic terms.