Archive | September 2010

Cognitive Dissonance: or, Ripe for a Fall

I noticed in today’s headlines that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will insist in the current round of “peace talks” that Palestinians must recognise Israel as a “Jewish State”. No doubt, many well-intentioned people will consider such a demand reasonable enough without being fully aware of the implications of this. Those same well-intentioned people, however, will often express anxiety or wax indignant when Muslims insist on the Islamic character of an Arab state, so there are indeed (often unconsciously) held double-standards and moral duplicities at play here all round that make any real peace almost impossible to achieve, either in the Middle East or (equally) in the so-called “culture war” domestically.

As discussed in the previous Dark Age Blog, a state defined in ethnic terms (such as a “Jewish State”) is not a liberal democracy but a Volksstaat. To be a citizen of a liberal democracy means to be a full citizen “regardless of race, creed, or colour” (or, more recently regardless of sexual orientation also). All citizens in a liberal democracy are considered equal before the law and endowed with the same rights. This is the principle of “universality” that is beginning to disintegrate in the post-Enlightenment era, (even in the bastion of Universal Reason, the university itself). Universality is disregarded in a Volksstaat — a “folk-state”, “ethnic state” or “people’s democracy” — which constitutionally and legally discriminates between races, classes, communities, or other factors where there exists an “elite” (an “elect” as the word signifies) which have full citizenship rights based on ethnic, sectarian, or class affiliation, and others who are deemed “second class” or kept marginal. In the case of Israel, the insistence that Palestinians recognise Israel as a “Jewish State” probably pre-empts any negotiations on the Palestinian refugee’s Right of Return, or any remedies for the marginal citizenship status of Israeli Arabs. Talks have usually faltered on this sticking-point in the past.

The crux of the matter in Late Modernity is that the attack on liberalism and on liberal democracy by the “new conservatism” or by conservative reactionaries is rooted in the insistence that “community” rights have precedence over the universal rights of individuals. We saw this argument made essentially in The Financial Times article by The Weekly Standard’s Christopher Caldwell (“Roma reveal a rootless Europe“) to which I linked earlier. But “community” is a vague euphemism for any collectivity or class definable in terms of nation, region, race, creed, ideology, colour, ethnicity, values, or what have you — even in terms of “brand loyalties” or neighbourhood. Even a corporation might be defined as a “community”.

“Community”-interest is deemed to trump self-interest. But the fact is, we never participate as individuals in just one community exclusively anyway. We circulate through many communities in the course of a day, and often establish new ones or dissolve old ones in the course of life. To identify with one “community” exclusively (even such as “conservative” itself) is a form of collective narcissism just as much as the exclusive pursuit of self-interest is a form of individual narcissism.

The decay of the principle of universality (except when it comes to human narcissism, which is well-nigh a universal condition) and the disintegrating status of the secular modern liberal faith in “Universal Reason” is even what is described in the phrase “illiberal liberalism”. Even many ostensible liberals have been tempted to jettison the core liberal principle of universality. The scribblings of Michael Ignatieff during the Iraq War in support of “humanitarian imperialism” in the same breath as his infamous justifications for torture basically attempted to rationalise for liberalism the qualified and conditional character of the principle of universality, which basically negates the value itself. (This is why Ignatieff has been described, accurately, as being “a mind in crisis”). But it is exceedingly ironic (nonetheless telling) that Ignatieff, despite this compromise of the core liberal creed, was recruited by party insiders to take over the leadership of the Canadian Liberal Party (even though this has not gone over well with many liberals or with much of the Canadian electorate either. Possibly Ignatieff is the worst possible candidate to challenge the excesses of neo-conservatism which he earlier endorsed and approved). Many liberals, in fact, have abandoned their watch, folded up their tents, and retreated from the field of battle, no longer confident in the final authority of Universal Reason or the absolute value of universality itself (even if they are blissfully unaware that they have, in fact, compromised and negated their own founding principles and the core articles of their faith).

The principle of universality also predicates what was a prime feature of the Modern Era’s secularising activities — the quest for a moral-free idiom to supplant older theological or mythological terms and categories; an attempt at devising a neutral and universally-valid language of objective description and communication. What I have been describing above in terms of minds in crisis is recognised in the neutered/neutral idiom of the day as “cognitive dissonance”. “Cognitive dissonance” is a fittingly cooled-down description of what was formerly called “hypocrisy”, “duplicity”, or “double-standard”. The more technical term “cognitive dissonance” attempts to remove from the discourse the moral overtones carried by the earlier terms. Secularisation has basically been an ongoing translation of an older language into a new idiom.

We will honour that term “cognitive dissonance” here while acknowledging and recognising its ancient pedigree in an earlier era. “Cognitive dissonance” is what permeates the consciousness structure of the confused and often confusing post-modern, post-Enlightenment period in which we presently find ourselves. “Cognitive dissonance” is the appropriate term here for characterising what cultural historian Jean Gebser described as a consciousness structure having entered into “deficient mode”. In our case, this would be “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” which has been in development over the last 500 years. While “deficient” means “decadent”, in broader terms it means essentially a loss of integrity (while in the context of the mental-rational, “deficient” could also mean “de-mented”). Loss of integrity is disintegration, and disintegration is crisis. Losing coherence, the consciousness structure becomes inarticulate. This emergent inarticulacy and dissonance is illustrated in terms where the university, for example, is described as being in reality a “multiversity” characterised by an extreme division of labour and by intellectual or departmental overspecialisation. In this condition of cognitive dissonance and inarticulacy, there is a chasm between what people say they do and what they actually do in fact — the classic characterisation of hypocrisy. Where word and act do not articulate, we have dissonance and a loss of integrity.

It is in the context of the present disintegrating mental-rational consciousness structure that human shortcomings like hypocrisy, double-standard, duplicity, dissembling, and cognitive dissonance (to describe all these) become the accepted norm of conduct, often referred to today even as “the new normal”.  At the same time, the quest for a new universal, a new ground of being, and a new integrity becomes of pressing interest and concern. It is like a “tale of two cities” where one era is in freefall while another struggles to be born and to become articulate in its own terms amidst the ruins. Even though it appears to the ear and eye as one common circulating speech, in fact two different and contending languages are being spoken.

A small example of that is the current contention around the meaning of the word “sustainable” and “sustainability”. In one language, “sustainability” means preserving the status quo against the considerable challenges, pressures, and stresses it faces from climate change, globalisation, resource depletion, and other critical factors. In the other language, “sustainability” means a complete transformation of the existing human and societal relationship to the world at large. The same word has radically different meanings, and that coincidence of opposites in this example serves as an index into a significant emerging mutation in consciousness. But when the same language spoken has also radically different meanings to its respective speakers (signifying “times out of joint”) this also generates much public confusion and disorientation.

The same process is happening with the value “universal”. When a reactionary like the neo-conservative Michael Ledeen can speak admiringly of a “Universal Fascism“, something is dead wrong with the content of the old language. Speech is diseased. That is cognitive dissonance expressed in its depth of absurdity. Something has gone wrong with the meaning of “universal” when it can be used to describe fascism, which is the very negation of universality. It’s in this context of the disintegration and inarticulacy of late modern consciousness structure that the new interest in spirituality — in Sufism, mystical Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, consciousness studies, etc — can be understood as a quest for a new principle of universality valid for all, and one that does not rely for its truth on Greek logic or on a narrow partisan and perspectivist ideology.

A passion for the unity of life remains as something to be consummated, but there is an increasing lack of confidence that it can be achieved through something called “universal reason” and via Greek logic (which loss of confidence takes two principal but contradicting directions in time today — one generally referred to as “the progressive”, and the other as “the reactionary”). A more secure foundation is being sought for the unity and integrity of all life, the earth, and mankind than has been established through the disappointing results of the Cartesian cogito. Since the sixties, in any case, when “universal love” irrupted on the scene, more attention is being paid to the pre-cognitive bases of existence in order to discover a new undeniable certainty and a new universal (whole and integral) truth valid for all — a new “ground of being” appropriate to the emerging planetary civilisation. Something that is also a directly lived experience rather than simply an idea.

The tension presently existing in society (perhaps globally also) as “culture war” was recently summed up by Dr. David Suzuki (with Faisal Moola) when he wrote: “Our critics want us to remain stuck in a time that has no future”.  That statement pretty much captures the mood of the times and draws the line between the current meanings of the “progressive” and the “reactionary”.

Last Rite of a Dying Conservative

In the former Dark Age Blog, I once posted a commentary on the trend amongst our decadent “end of history” conservatives to portray imprisonment as though it were like a vacation at a Holiday Inn. The post was occasioned by an article that appeared a couple of years ago in The Guardian newspaper in the UK, which reported on conservative complaints there about the UK prison system not being appropriately horrible, cruel, and vengeful enough.

Behold! Today I received in my post office box a Conservative Party pamphlet cynically designed along the same lines. It is headlined “Doing Time?”. It features on the cover a properly stereotypical, steroid-using-thuggish-looking, tatooed brute-of-a-man in prison wearing an apron emblazoned with the words “DID the CRIME” in bold letters. In one hand he holds up a barbeque flipper. In the other hand he holds a beer. He sports a smirk on his face as he glares out at the reader.

It’s the most cynical piece of drivel and propaganda I’ve yet received from the government-of-the-day and from the (unfortunately) elected representative for our area (one Andrew Scheer, by name).

It’s very revealing, however, of our “new” conservatives’ cynical attitudes towards their own (and our) real political and social liberties. If they think being “inside” is the same as being “outside” (or even that being inside is like a vacation stay at the Holiday Inn), that doesn’t say much about their appreciation for our historically hard-won political liberties, which they evidently no longer retain the intellectual acumen to discern correctly. “Doing time” is what we all do now, apparently, regardless of whether we are inside or outside. The thuggish-looking brute depicted on this propaganda pamphlet could just as well be Andrew Scheer on the political summer barbeque circuit.

The exploitation of resentments of all kinds is what today’s conservatives seem particularly practiced and adept at. Having run out of real issues upon which to be further discredited, Canadian reactionaries, like “law and order” reactionaries elsewhere, always resort to vague “law and order” issues and mass anxieties about their security, real or (usually) just imagined, to salvage their standing with the mob-mentality that forms their political base. (And by “mob” I mean those infected with the disease and the virus of chronic petty resentments). For this is what this pamphlet attempts to do — play on the pathology of resentment.

The psychology and pathology of resentment was Nietzsche’s special area of inquiry, and he closely associated resentment with nihilism, (and resentment with weakness, sickness, and decadence). Against resentment, he counterpoised the feeling of gratitude as the specific life-preserving and life-expressive value of the sound and healthy human being. Much of his insight into the relationship between resentment and gratitude, weakness and strength, disease and health, is related in the opening pages of his quasi-autobiographical work Ecce Homo (translated, “Behold the Man!”. I say “quasi-autobiographical because much of the book is a statement of what the man wanted to become rather than what he actually was).

Gratitude (gratia) is grace, gracefulness, and is generosity of spirit. The word “generosity” is very much related to “genesis”. Nihil is the negation of Genesis, (and that polarity of values is very much to be born in mind when we speak of the sickness of resentment and the cure or corrective of gratitude, which I will speak to eventually). In fact, one of the authentic original meanings implied in the word “liberal” is “generous” — as in, giving freely of oneself.

(And in future posts, I’ll touch on the psychology of resentment as it pertains to genetic engineering, too. There is a connection.).

In these decadent times in which we live, however, we see “new” conservatives who conserve nothing, as well as the “illiberal liberalism” of neo-liberalism. It’s time to speak our last rites over these perverse and dying formations. Both are manifestations of the sickness of the declining and decadent age we are now passing through where traditional forms are being emptied of all meaning. In those very phrases such as “illiberal liberalism” and the “conservative reactionary” we have the very significance of Nietzsche’s terse, but potent, insight into the meaning of nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves“. In both reactionary conservatism and illiberal liberalism, two contradicting values meet like matter and anti-matter, mutually annihiliate, and leave a void of meaninglessness that is the original meaning of the word “absurd” (for it comes from the Mesopotamian “absu” signifying the Nihil, Void, or Great Nothingness).

Our Ignorant Armies of the Night.

This is one thing I appreciate about Obama, actually. The vulgar politics of petty resentment seems to be beneath him, unlike his adversaries. For that reason, he’s in a different class from these other fellows and their mob politics.

My definition of “elite”.

The Technocrat and the World Machine

As the bureaucrat was to the Nation State, the technocrat is to the Global Economy as World Machine.

This transformation of the older-type of bureaucrat into the new type “technocrat” has gone largely unnoticed by most people (although probably everyone has heard the word used). But this metamorphosis of the bureaucrat into the latter-day, post-modern technocrat is a fairly decisive confirmation of the passing away of the older era of the modern Nation State and its replacement by the global World Machine, which it is the function of the new-style technocrat to service. And with the globally-oriented technocrat, rather than the nation-oriented bureaucrat, also comes techno-science, the cult of expertise, and the cult of efficiency. (In fact, in the very revealing technocratic jargon of the day, the new lingo no longer even speaks publicly of “nations” but prefers to speak only of “economies”).

With the technocrat and the cult of efficiency also comes a new kind of technocratic ethic, which may be succinctly described as “the one best way” of doing anything. The one best way is the formula. Today, you will find this novel human type of the technocrat ensconced in global institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and The World Bank, where the task of the technocrat is to tweak and oil the World Machine according to a very simple formula (much like a quickie, fast-lube of your car), so that the World Machine runs smoothly (and especially without dissent or contradiction). Some say (like Susan George and Fabrizio Sabelli in Faith and Credit: The World Bank’s Secular Empire) that the simple formula — free markets, free trade, privatisation of public services, and deregulation and de-taxation of capital, which The WTO and the World Bank treat as Holy Writ — is far more akin to simple-minded than simple. The trouble with formulae (in art, music, economics, and science) is that formulae are very often an alternative to real thinking and a substitute for the deliberate exercise of real consciousness — therefore more akin, ironically, to a religious dogma and to orthodox thinking than to the judicious exercise of reason based upon unprejudiced observation. In other words, technicism (which defines the technocrat’s modus) lacks healthy skepticism, and begins to resemble the most decadent periods of Late Medieval society.

(In fact, if you google up “World Bank” and “formula” in the same search, you’ll see what I mean.)

The reliance on the formula has the pernicious consequence that it devalues genuine creativity (if not consciousness itself) and insight while ignoring the constant changes and transformations of reality. In fact, it was Wall Street’s reliance upon an obscure and occult financial formula that helped precipitate the current market meltdown and global economic crisis still unfolding.

Once you understand this metamorphosis of the old-style bureaucrat into the new-type of technocrat (and Edward Bernays, author of the book Propaganda (1928);  inventor of the term “public relations”, is an excellent exemplar of the new type of technocrat), then a large part of the current significance of our “post-modern condition” will become much clearer. “Technocrat” is, in fact, of very recent vintage (perhaps no earlier than just after the Second World War). So is the term “technocracy” in consequence. “Technocracy” was what Aldous Huxley was trying to describe, in his time, in his dystopian 1932 novel Brave New World, but without having recourse to the term. (In fact, “technocracy” is a word now sometimes used by those of the fascist persuasion as a euphemistic alternative for “fascism” — also the implementation of “the one best way”).

For those readers who have joined The Chrysalis from its previous incarnation as The Dark Age Blog, you might recognise who and what the technocrat is actually. The technocrat is the living manifestation of what historian Jean Gebser described in his history of consciousness, The Ever-Present Origin, as “the mental-rational structure of consciousness having entered into deficient mode”, where “deficient” signifies “decadent”. (In 1949, when Ever-Present Origin was published, the word “technocrat” wasn’t then in circulation or Gebser would have undoubtedly described it as such). In Gebser’s terms, the deficient mode of the mental-rational structure of consciousness occurs when reason decays into mere exclusive calculation, quantification, and reliance on the formulaic. In fact, it was the philosopher Thomas Hobbes who defined reason as being simply “calculation”, (and it is perhaps not insignificant that Thomas Hobbes was the most influential philosopher on the neo-conservative movement via the work of Leo Strauss). Formula relieves the mind of any responsible, ethical choice in the matter.

(I prefer the term “logico-mathematical mentality” to Geber’s phrase “mental-rational structure of consciousness”, although they are precisely equivalent descriptions).

The technocrat represents a decadent type of Late Modern Man, still conceived absurdly as “rational man” or homo sapiens sapiens, but who is become the effective agency by which the earlier Deistic conception of “Universal Reason” (as the meaning of “God” in the form of Supreme Architect or Universal Engineer) — is now degraded into a reductionistic  rationalism and a mere calculating, quantifying logic in terms of technicism, scientism, or economism — via which Universal Reason becomes objectified and quantified in the world as the global machinery of the World Economy. As Marshall McLuhan once quipped, Man today (and especially in the form of the technocrat) has become the sexual organs by which the World Machine now reproduces and extends itself.

Take heart, however. The technocrat, as terminal exemplar of the decadent modern type, is the dead-end of a course of historical development now grinding painfully to a halt, and not the beginning of any new development in human consciousness. And yet, in the technocrat, too, is also something of the significance of the saying that, “where the peril is greatest, there lies the saving grace also” or “in today already walks tomorrow”. For, in higher terms, the technocrat represents (albeit presently in debased form) the principle that knowledge should be useful. The technocrat is only, in the older value-language of “salvation” and “transgression”, simply an “unredeemed” type — meaning, not fully or completely realised as human. An embryonic type, in that respect.

For the technocrat is, in contemporary terms, is the latter-day embodiment of that type that Jesus condemned, in his time, as “the scribe and Pharisee”– those who understand the strict letter of the law (the formula), but not the spirit of it.

The Cynical Politics of Manipulation

Not a day goes by, it seems….

You may recall the warning issued by Leap/E2020, which I quoted earlier, about a near epidemic increase in “manipulatory” activity and fake news on a near global scale designed to manage and steer public perceptions. Well, here is a choice and instructive current example from Canada.

The Harper government here has recently been hyping alleged attempted incursions of Russian bomber patrols into Canadian airspace to justify spending $16 billion dollars on new F-35 stealth fighters. (And, of course, the always compliant — if not totally gullible — yellow journalism of the Canadian conservative press, like the Sun chain, swallowed this bullshit whole and mouthed the government’s lines like Gospel).

However, as reported today, information requested and received by The Ottawa Citizen from NORAD (the North American Air Defence Command) doesn’t support the Harper government’s cynical hype about these allegedly increasing Russian “incursions” at all. It’s a blatant example of using fake news for the purpose of public fear-mongering, a practice that has become virtually routine with the present Conservative government which appears to be truth-challenged.

(Another choice piece of Harper government baffle-gab: Canada needs more prisons to handle “unreported crimes“, says the mentally-challenged Minister of Public Safety, Mr. Stockwell Day. Eh? Build them and the criminal convictions will come, I guess. And isn’t it up to the court and the justice system to determine whether a particular act has been a crime at all; and not up to Stockwell Day or Conservatives?).

What is this ethically-, mentally-, and truth-challenged government trying to pull? The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is primarily a ground-attack aircraft, not an interceptor like the CF-18 currently in service, which is more appropriate to Canada’s domestic needs. What the hell are you going to do with a predominantly ground-attack aircraft in Canada? Take out anti-globalisation and G20 protesters? Take out Indian blockades of roads and railways?

Ah yes, perhaps there’s the rub. Perhaps the acquisition is not designed for Canada’s domestic sovereignty requirements at all, but to function in a support role for adventures euphemistically termed “international missions”.

Who will rid us of this pestiferous Harper government, since the true believers don’t seem to mind at all if Dear Leader and his toadies lie and bullshit habitually and with seeming impunity (and require others to do so as well, it seems. See ceasefire.ca, “The Conference of Defence Associations secret contract with the Department of National Defence”)

“Conservative lies good. Liberal lies bad”. For, as we are already made to know, the “new conservatism” lies unashamedly for the sake of a “higher truth” than the… ah… the… ah… the… uhm… (lessee)… oh yeah!… than the everydayordinarykindoftruth. In fact, it’s practically the very definition of the “new conservatism” (or, for that matter, neo-liberalism and neo-socialism too) that deceit and deception in the form of “virtuous” lies are good (like greed) because they are performed in the service of a “higher truth” than the… ahh… the… ahh.. the ordinarykindoftruth, you know?; the plain-old brown-paper-bag variety of the ordinary, viciously realistic kind of truth.  Our neo-politicos of various descriptions aren’t particularly well-known or admired for truth-speaking or for being, as they say, “straight-shooters”.  And, of course, the contrary of straight is crooked.

Welcome to the post-Enlightenment.

The Five Blind Imams: A Sufi Tale

It’s time to put my shoulder to the wheel and get down to the business for which The Chrysalis was instated. That business is not principally to resuscitate themes formerly covered through some 800 articles published in The Dark Age Blog in which we traced the rise and decay — the inspiration, expiration and exhaustion — of these last 500 years called “The Modern Age” now in process of irrevocably passing away. The task of The Chrysalis is, instead, to attempt to describe and provide insight into the new horizons emerging that will define the next era — and the new historical type of human being — now in incipient formation. We may call this new orientation and horizon “transmodern” rather than postmodern. It is called by some “Integral Era” (and its consciousness characterised as “integral” or “holistic”) and that is as good a name as any.

We will begin the new series with the short, famous Sufi tale of the five blind imams or scholars (sometimes described as being only four). You are probably already familiar with it. The tale, which has more depth to it than meets the eye or ear, narrates how a party of five blind imams came across an elephant. Each imam (or scholar) grasped a part of the elephant and began to describe it in terms of what he was familiar with. One, grasping the elephant’s trunk, described the elephant as being a snake. Another, stroking the elephant’s broad leg, described the elephant as a tree, and so on. They could not agree on the nature of the creature and so quarreled amongst themselves like our latter-day politicians. Each interpreted his experience through his own perspective (which Nietzsche would describe as being a mere “niche-and-corner perspective”).

The elephant in the tale can be interpreted vicariously as either “God” or as the Great World System  — the Cosmos. The five blind imams, or scholars, are the five physical senses contending, each sense believing it is the definitive and final authority in grasping and comprehending the whole of reality.

At a deeper level of comprehension, following the teachings of Marshall McLuhan, the five blind imams may be considered equally different human Ages or types of human civilisation. Each civilisational type had its own inherent sensory bias, privileging one sense over the others as the authoritative and definitive sense — the era’s characteristic version of the “common sense”. In the case of the Modern Age, the eye, beginning with the invention of perspectivism, was accorded the status of being the privileged and biased organ of knowing and final determiner of truth (“seeing is believing”), whereas the Middle Ages emphasised the ear and the authority of “the Word”. Therefore, each civilisational type had, correspondingly, its own type of ignorance as well — its own fatal blind spot attending its bias that would eventually be its undoing.

This is in the nature of what William Blake described as the disintegrate state of the Universal Adam he named “Albion“, who fell apart “on the stems of vegetation” into the four segregate warring and quarreling gods called “the Zoas”. The Zoas are aspects of the fourfold human or fourfold Self in the primal integral state.  The four Zoas plus Albion constitute five types or structures of consciousness. In this sense, they correspond to the five blind imams of the Sufi tale.

Glad Day: Albion Restored

These five types correspond also to historian Jean Gebser’s five structures of consciousness, which manifest historically as five types of human civilisation. These structures or forms he describes are: the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational, and the (prospective) integral. These have some correspondence also with Blake’s complex mythology of Albion and the Zoas, as well as to the Sufi tale of the five blind imams. (And the integral consciousness structure, while very much superior in an existential sense to other structures of consciousness, does indeed have its own blind spot which will, in turn and in time, ultimately prove fatal for it as well).

Modernity is characterised by the mental-rational structure of consciousness, presently degrading and disintegrating. It is in the state that Jean Gebser describes in his chief opus, The Ever-Present Origin, as having entered into its “deficient mode” of functioning. Every civilisational type eventually runs down into its deficient mode of functioning, (which deficient state is but another way of characterising what we call “decadence”). It succumbs to its own bias — hoist on its own petard, as Shakespeare put it — which also represents a blindness or ignorance. In the case of the Modern Era, this is characterised by the “fall” (as it were) of the value “Universal Reason” (and universality) into its quantified and exhausted form as World Machine, now actualised as the juggernaut and globe-straddling Colossus called “Global Economy”.

Post-modernism is only the self-consciousness of Late Modernity as having now entered into its specific deficient mode of consciousness, the mental-rational structure functioning as a mere instrumentalism (rationalisation rather than reason). As readers of The Dark Age Blog will recall, the symptoms of this include proliferating “perverse outcome”, “unintended consequence” (or “revenge effect”) and the consequential resort to strategies like “crisis management” to attempt to navigate “the risk society“. The truth of our post-modern condition, which has become the retrospective self-consciousness formally called “post-modernism”, is the decay of Universal Reason (reasonableness per se) into a mere instrumentalising rationality now described as “techno-science” along with value materialism, where (as the saying expresses it) we know “the price of everything but the value of nothing” and in a state where “every man has his price”. This represents an exaggerated (and that means hubristic) development of the intellect at the expense of other human resources and potentialities. The descent into the pure quantification of value as price or measure represents the exhausted form of the value and is the principle manifestation today of Late Modern nihilism. As Nietzsche put it in his succinct definition of nihilism, which is the Age’s self-negation: “all higher values devalue themselves” — in this case, decaying into their quantified and purely objectified form as mere exchange value.

The beginning of the Modern Era’s denouement — although the trap was laid earlier — is not difficult to date: the period 1914 – 1945 is decisive. Yet, in the incredible destruction and chaos of this period, which sealed the fate of the Age of Reason and justifies the description of our time as being “post-Enlightenment,” also emerged the first initial steps toward a new era and a new consciousness which has come to be called “the integral” or “holistic”. In fact, the destruction and this new development are married like William Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell“, for although the great “world” wars of the early 20th Century were catastrophic and unbelievably destructive, they also represented the “apocalyptic” birth pains of the new global consciousness precisely as “World” Wars. It is not insignificant, in fact, that the man who reputedly first coined the term “World War” to describe the Great War of 1914-1918, Ernst Haeckel, also invented the term “ecology” to describe — albeit somewhat crudely and with the usual prejudices of that time — the complex interconnectedness, interdependency, and relatedness (relativity) of things within a field. At the same time, in the newly emerging physics of quantum mechanics, field awareness was beginning to displace the centrality of particle and of Newtonian atomism just as Picasso’s art was displacing point-of-view perspectivism with attempts to represent the whole — the global or field view.

The destruction and nihilism of our time is inseparable from the birth of a new consciousness, too.  The significance of this coincidence of opposites since encapsulated in the term “creative destruction” was not lost of some observors, such as D.H. Lawrence in literature, Rosenstock-Huessy in sociology, and Jean Gebser in history, (and Nietzsche in his earlier anticipations for “two centuries of nihilism”) who saw in the world wars not only the mind-boggling destruction, but also the painful and laborious emergence of a new consciousness structure now being called “integralist” or “holistic”, or sometimes “globalist”. The first tentative steps in this direction, however, have often been crude, fumbling, and inarticulate, and invariably misunderstood.

It is probably an indication of how our thinking lags behind our actual reality that the term “post-modern” to describe this transformation wasn’t even invented until 1973, even though some of the observors mentioned above already understood that the World Wars were the form of an unrecognised World Revolution that had negated all the happy assumptions and expectations of the Enlightenment and of the prospects for the Age of Reason. And “World” War is yet another “perverse outcome” or dark aspect of the principle of “universality” itself.

It is safe to say that the principle that lies at the heart of the new development can be easily identified, too. Consciousness is not ideology. The Cartesian equation that made being and existence consequent upon thinking — where thinking and being are made equivalent and which is expressed by his famous formula, cogito, ergo sum — proved to be a disaster finally in the real world terms. For clearly, the events of the early 20th century proved it was possible to think in a strictly mechanical sense without any authentic awareness at all. Thinking had become formula (just as in culture music became formulaic). The one-sided, biased, and hubristic emphasis on the cogito had resulted in absurdity and in irrationality (see Rosenstock-Huessy’s essay “Farewell to Descartes“), that had brought the world to the brink of the abyss. The mental-rational structure of consciousness proved to come with its own inherent ignorance, bias, and blindness, despair of which drove men like Aldous Huxley to compose his Brave New World, W.B. Yeats to write The Second Coming, and George Orwell to pen his 1984.

But high artistic accomplishment is not necessarily proof of political perspicacity too, in these cases. And if these types had given up on the myth of modern man as Prometheus, they represent, instead, the post-War, post-modern type we can describe rather as Epimethean Man — the dystopian man of afterthought, hindsight, and of retrospective regret. They serve to book-end the passing era rather than as markers of the beginning of the new.

The “new” horizon, however dimly perceived at present and still embryonic in many ways — this is our interest. It is being called presently, “Integral Era”.

Urbi et Orbi

I’ld like to take a moment to interpret the image of the famous Flammarion Woodcut that I posted in the previous article entitled “Peregrinator”.

The woodcut’s origins are controversial. Although it appears to be medieval, no version dated earlier than 1888 has been found outside Camille Flammarion’s popular work on Astronomy. I first came to know of the woodcut in my university days when it appeared as the cover illustration on an introductory textbook of philosophy.

(A bit of the history of the woodcut, filed as universum.jpg”, can be found on the Wikipedia commons site).

I do not believe it to be medieval, in fact. Although the style is medieval, the concepts represented definitely are not. The caption to the original (uncoloured) image that appeared in Flammarion’s 1888 work states: “A medieval missionary tells that he has found the point where heaven and Earth meet…”. The caption “Urbi et Orbi” that appears at the bottom of the later copy was apparently added by someone at a later date. That modification, however, is not insignificant in itself.

The Latin “Urbi et Orbi” means “To the City and the World”. This is the traditional opening of a papal message (such as the Easter Blessing) where the Pope addresses the City of Rome (or the Vatican) and the (Catholic) World beyond — the part and the whole, the particular and the universal, are meant. The employment of this traditional opening address as a caption for the Flammarion Woodcut is extremely odd, and even appears to be somewhat out of place. But, as we shall see, it is not without meaning, even a revolutionary one.

This “medieval missionary” depicted is sometimes described as being a “monk”. But his attire is not typically that of a missionary or a monk, but of a pilgrim (he carries a walking stick. And my university textbook took him for a philosopher, too). In general, the figure can be taken as a symbolic form for Man in the universal and the abstract. In particular, being described as either missionary, monk, or pilgrim, he is a representative of a particular historical type of human being we might describe as homo religiosis. By rendering the scene in medieval style, the artist wants us to lead us to understand that this historical type has become antiquated as history’s “past man”, who has now left the cozy and comfortably familiar enclosed and enchanted sphere of the medieval life-world — the world in which God was omnipresent matrix of existence in which human beings “lived, moved, and had their being”.

What do we read from the figure in the picture described as having “found the point where heaven and Earth meet”? There is the gesture of his right hand which may have an ambiguous meaning. On the one hand, it may be that he has just thrust this hand through the curtain that separates the earth from the heavens, or the urbis from the orbis. But to me, it appears that his hand is raised in a gesture of dismay or shock, as if he is attempting to ward off the terrifying sight now present before his eyes. It is not the City of God and the Angels — the heavenly paradise — that greets his gaze, but a dark, cold, blind, menacing, and lifeless universe of wheels and cogs, ice and cloud, with its darkness and coldness contrasting starkly with the warm, colourful, and enchanted domain of the familiar Earth. “Heaven” just ain’t what it used to be.

(And, if you want to really appreciate what is here depicted in the 1888 woodcut, reading Morris Berman’s 1989 book, The Re-enchantment of the World, will certainly help put the image in broader historical context — even if I have a few reservations about Berman’s book myself).

This pilgrim is historical Man. And what the artist has rendered here is something quite remarkable; something which accounts for much of the fascination this woodcut has had for people, whether the artist actually intended this or no. It comes in the form of a question the woodcut places before us: just what does this pilgrim do now that he has faced the horrible truth that “the world to come” is a lifeless monstrosity and a mechanistic horror? Remember: 1888 is virtually the same time that a still unknown German philosopher named Friedrich Nietzsche is also writing about “the death of God”, which is here visually represented in the Flammarion Woodcut.

If you know Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, you may recall his parable of “The Madman in the Marketplace”, who, wailing and lamenting in public, announces the death of God which he has witnessed, and who, being mocked by the gathering crowd who he calls “the murderers of God”, retreats into a church to sing his last rites over God’s bloodied corpse. It is not difficult to imagine, at all, that Nietzsche’s “madman in the market” is this very same pilgrim depicted in the Flammarion woodcut.

It may have been an inadvertent stroke of genius, here, but what the artist has rendered here is not just a contrast of “the Other World” or “the Beyond” as being in reality a godless, lifeless, and unholy machine — the Clockwork — that exists behind the warm, illuminated, enchanted, and living world. The choice to render this woodcut in medieval style serves, essentially, an historical purpose. What the pilgrim is gazing upon, in apparent shock and horror, is not “the other world”, but quite literally “the world to come”. He is looking into the future. He is looking into the same future that Nietzsche described as “two centuries of nihilism”. There is a direct line leading from the mood of this woodcut through to Ginsberg’s poem Howl and to the barren “Machine World” of The Matrix. It is through such examples as these that we can trace historically how the meaning of “Universal Reason” as conceived by the early Deists gradually comes to be objectified, quantified, and implemented logically as the world machine called “Global Economy”.

This has been a multi-generational project, but it illustrates the principle: “you create the reality you know”. We did not discover that the world is a great machine. It was an hypothesis or assumption originally laid down to be demonstrated by experiment and not necessarily as a truth given and ordained in advance. But, by our very assumptions and actions, we modeled our world on the belief that it was, indeed, a great clockwork mechanism.

Now the caption “urbi et orbi” takes on its meaning as the world that was, and as the world that will be. The artist wants to draw out a stark contrast between the past and the future as two different epochs: a “tale of two cities” in a sense. Not two different “spaces” are here represented, but two different times or eras.

This is even highlighted in the German cataloguing information for the woodcut recorded at the Wikipedia site:

“Eine Montage von Camille Flammarion für sein Werk ‘L’Astronomie populäire’, das 1880 erschien”; siehe: Jean Pierre Verdet. Der HIMMEL. Ordnung und Chaos der Welt. Ravensburg: Maier, 1991, S.26.

Although the file name is given as “universum” (the universe), the German catalogue names the woodcut “Heaven: The order and chaos of the world”. The Universal Machine depicted in the woodcut is here described not as “Order” (Cosmos) but as “Chaos” — a void of meaninglessness which has the same significance as Nietzsche’s “Great Nothingness”.

One man’s Order is another man’s Chaos. Why? Because the world of wheels and cogs, of ice and darkness, that the horrified pilgrim witnesses is a lifeless, cold, and dead world (we can, apparently, see the pilgrim’s breath in the lower left-hand corner). It is the image of the world that follows from the death of God, and one which we seem to be hell-bound — as the saying goes — to create for ourselves — even despite ourselves.

We must learn to imagine the world differently than we have done until now, because all human activity and work is a continuous translation of the imagined into the actualised. As Blake correctly put it, “what is now prov’d, was only first imagined”.

And were we being at all truthful and honest in imagining the cosmos as a great clockwork machine to begin with?

Peregrinator

We are all pilgrims and wayfarers in this world. We are all just passing through. There are no settlers and no houses built to last for eternity — not states, not nations, not parties, not ideologies, nor religions, and least of all the body or the “soul” (as people think of this). Not even the stars or the Earth will abide.

(First line of attack on narcissism. First law of the new “common sense”.  Any other conception is delusion and self-deception).