New Consciousness and Reactionary Violence
I know that I had earlier proposed to do a series on the culture of untruthfulness and the nature of falsehood, as it pertains to our current membership in the culture of Late Modernity. By extension, this would have necessitated also an examination of the prospects for a culture of truthfulness.
But the significant and traumatic events of the last week have intruded on that, and I have to put that purpose aside for the time being. We need to address the indications and omens of deep transformation and historical change as they arise in our experience in the present and at “the end of history”.
It is said of our times that they are complex and difficult to understand. Actually, none of this is really true. It is all very simple and easy to understand. What is difficult is explaining in linear, sequential words the changes currently underway, and which have been underway since the First World War and its consequences made them a fate or a destiny for us all. Existing language is sometimes inadequate for that end, since manifestations of the truly new — real future — sometimes find no corresponding word or name appropriate to their truth, their identity, and their reality. History does not always repeat itself. And in those times when it doesn’t, those times are experienced with confusion, anxiety, and fear. That is the true meaning of the “apocalyptic” — disclosure, discovering, unveiling, unconcealing, revelation, the bolt from the blue. If the apocalyptic moment is sometimes associated with the catastrophic, it’s only because real truth comes unexpectedly and is “shattering,” as we say, annihilating our precious and treasured delusions and illusions (which today are legion).
But for many, this life-bestowing revelation of new and vital truth — of “salvific” truth, truth revealed at the right time — is more often than not experienced as the threat of death and destruction itself — as being itself a nihilism. And that, in itself, is just another form of delusion brought upon us by our own fateful all-too-human condition as self-aware beings and entities — narcissism.
In itself, narcissism — this all-too-human condition — is not in itself a moral fault. The moral fault lies in not trying to overcome it, which is why all the great and true spiritual traditions arose to begin with, when what we call “narcissism” today was earlier known as “idolatry”. Today, narcissism goes by various other more secular names like ego-centrism, ethno-centrism, ideo-centrism, logo-centrism, anthropo-centrism, but they are all variations on this one theme of narcissism and idolatry — a confusion of consciousness with mind or ideology, and of the true self with a mere self-image or self-concept.
Rene Descartes’ fateful formula for the Modern Era, cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) gave added impetus to the problem of human narcissism, today become acute. It underlies and gives sanction to the principle of “the rational pursuit of self-interest” that becoming exaggerated and lopsided has, unfortunately, undergone a reversal or inversion of sorts to become the irrational pursuit of self-destruction. This reversal or “perverse outcome,” is the process described as enantiodromia, which had its first philosophical representation in the thinking of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who was so influential on Nietzsche. It is otherwise called “karma” elsewhere. It describes the law of action and reaction. Enantiodromia basically states, that any action or process pursued to its limits or extremity invariably must revert into its opposite. The Greeks called this “hubris”, which was invariably followed by “Nemesis”, goddess of retributive justice. At the extremity, opposites meet and are revealed as being one and the same, or self-identical. Also, for that reason, they become self-annihilating in the delusion of their false oppositiveness or duality. This has also been called coincidentia oppositorum, in the writings of Nicholas of Cusa — the coincidence of ostensible opposites.
Nietzsche once famously wrote that, when one goes off to fight monsters, one had best take care not to become the monster oneself. That is his recognition of the law of enantiodromia and coincidentia oppositorum. Nietzsche’s warning corresponds to a Hindu principle: you become what you hate or “thou art that”. This principle of tat vam asi — thou art that — states that, ultimately, any radical or final distinction between subject and object, ego and it, is delusional. The principle becomes extremely refined in Buddhism. It becomes extremely self-evident in the case of Anders Behring Breivik and Osama bin Laden, bearers of an identical spirit, irregardless of how they rhetorically differentiate and rationalise it respectively and relative to their own histories and traditions.
This kind of non-linear, holistic, or integral thinking that is expressed in the law of enantiodromia and the principle of coincidentia oppositorum, however, is still quite foreign to the linear, sequential, syllogistic dialectical imagination and mind characteristic of Western or “Cartesian” thought. And this is the nature of our present multiple crises. There is really only one crisis, but manifesting in multiple and plural aspects, so that it even seems to us like disintegration and fragmentation. “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”, as Yeats’ put it in his great and ominous poem The Second Coming.
The real problem of our time is narcissism, and the narcissism of our time is this: that the mental-rational structure of consciousness, characterised by dialectical rationality or Cartesian and Aristotelian logic — analytical, sequential, linear, syllogistic, perspectivist — is no longer adequate to master its new historical circumstances, which circumstances it has largely created for itself by its very earlier successes (the recent nuclear meltdown at Fukushima being a case in point, which dramatically demonstrated the delusion and the limits of mastery). Reversal of fortune is the rule of enantiodromia. Alvin Toffler once called this condition “Future Shock” in a book by that title.
For this reason, things now appear overwhelmingly complex, unpredictable, out of control, and manifesting as a continuous series of traumatic crises and shocks, perverse outcomes, unanticipated consequences, “revenge effect”, or “blowback”. And this has been the case since the future irrupted into our lives with the First World War and cast into doubt the continued viability of the Modern Age — an Age defined by its ideological and philosophical premisses, its unique mode of consciousness and perception, and in its political organisation into the Nation State system.
The Global Era and the Planetary Age is now upon us. Yet much of our thinking, perception, and consciousness remain mired in an already obsolete age based upon now anachronistic assumptions and beliefs that are no longer effective or effectual. These treasured assumptions, beliefs, and values, which shape personal and collective identity, are being frustrated in their expression by the new reality, still only dimly perceived by many. This gives rise to anxiety and paraonoia about the self and its security, becoming perversely expressed in “survivalist” movements and ideologies, or radical (that is, reactionary) conservatism.
The fundamental conflict of our time is, therefore, between old and new consciousness, or past and future times. Old consciousness (now become “deficient rationality” in historian Jean Gebser’s terms — as breakdown of the mental-rational structure of consciousness revealed in its seeming ineffectuality and frustrated inability to master its new circumstances) desperately tries to hold onto its identity and purpose. This fear of an existential threat gives rise to reactionary ideologies and even reactionary violence, along with threat conflation and inflation. Whether it is called “conservative Christian” violence or “conservative Islamic” violence, they are instances of reaction, just as is fascism, and they share the identical spirit, mood, purposes, methods, and aims. They are all profoundly anti-Modern and anti-Global, too, attempting to roll back history to supposedly pristine, and “purer” earlier Eras. For the fascists, it was the pre-Judeo-Christian ideals and values of the Greco-Roman Age or the European tribes. For Anders Breivik and Osama bin Laden, both, it is some idealised pre-Modern state circa 13th century, or so (although Breivik also speaks of refounding the European “tribes” also). They all find the new Planetary Age and emerging integralist or holistic consciousness deeply threatening to their personal and historical identities.
Post World War I, some men, recognising that the World War had changed everything and had ushered in a new era, have worked urgently and diligently to build a new, more adequate logic for the Planetary Age. Non-Aristotelian, non-Cartesian, it is integralist, holistic, and capable of confidently handling non-linear reality. In sociology, the work of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy stands out (himself a German officer in the World War). In cultural history, the work of Jean Gebser is even remarkable. In art, the works of Picasso with his challenge to the “single-vision” of perspectivist consciousness and perception. Also notable is the challenge of quantum physics to the old Newtonian “Frame of the World”. And in biology, ecology (the word was significantly coined by the same man who first used the term “World War” for the Great War) issued a challenge to the one-dimensional linear cause-effect model, adequate for dead matter, but was demonstrated to be completely inept and inadequate to account for real life and real life-processes. In Chaos Theory also, the attempt to model complexity and problems arising from the “all-at-onceness” of things in the Planetary Age became an urgent task.
This new “paradigm shift” towards “integral” or holistic, ecological consciousness is still largely in formation, but it is profoundly unsettling to the identities and values of people who feel that their values, identity, and reality are all slipping away, and who need someone to blame for that.
To summarise this first (a part of a series, I hope)
- The crisis of our age is a crisis of consciousness.
- The nature of that crisis of consciousness is a conflict of between old and new structures of consciousness, thus a conflict of times — past and future times.
- The nature of that conflict of times is between “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” (or, Modern Era) and the emerging “integral structure of consciousness” (or, Planetary Era).
- The “irruption” of the new consciousness structure is experienced as “apocalyptic”, but equally as “the end of the history”.
- This conflict is characterised by deep anxiety and paranoia about the self, its security, its identity, and its values, and is experienced as an existential threat.
- Conspiracy theories and reactionary survivalist ideologies abound and multiply.