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.
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13 responses to “New Consciousness and Reactionary Violence”

  1. misterdirk says :

    I hope this is not orthogonal to your explication, but I just listened to a very thought-provoking radio interview with Norway’s Johan Galtung.

    http://www.democracynow.org/2011/7/29/norways_johan_galtung_peace_conflict_pioneer

    • Scott says :

      Could have wished that the interview might have been longer and more substantial. He does mention avoiding the “clash of civilisations” scenario. But I’m not certain you can engage neo-fascists like Breivik in the dialogical process. Their style is totalitarian exactly because they are monologists. For them to suddenly become dialogists, they would have to cease to be neo-fascists.

      I’m not sure if our educational systems actually educate people to be articulately dialogical or teach them how to constructively engage in dialogue. And yet, the “secret history of the West” is, that it was originally conceived as the civilisation of the dialogue.

      • misterdirk says :

        Yes, I agree that dialogue and reasoned argument is a futile process in terms of changing those who are in the grip of that neo-fascist trance. And I’m not optimistic about the benefits of debate, in general. But it does have a performative aspect. In other words, a third party (the public) can observe that a set of odious ideas are, in fact, debatable. Conversely, if nobody interrupts the odious logic, then “it goes without saying” that they are de facto acceptable. So we have to talk back in order to quarantine the toxic element.

        • Scott says :

          Again, well put, I think. I worry sometimes about the naivete of some who think they can engage the reactionary right in the mainstream discourse of “the civilisation of the dialogue”, when this civilisation is precisely the thing they want to destroy, and who consider dialogue to be weakness. One of the reasons the Nazis succeeded in seizing state power in Germany was because the Socialists feared civil war like the plague. They still believed in dialogue with the reactionaries. Had the socialists mobilised their own street fighters, I doubt that the Nazis would have taken control of the streets and the public discourse they way they did. The Socialists ceded the streets to the Brownshirts, and consequently the public discourse to the Nazi propagandists. At least, that was also Rosenstock-Huessy’s view… the Socialists failed to rise to the occasion or even recognise the real threat the Nazis represented.

      • Scott says :

        I might add to the last bit… that Hitler and Goebbels were masters of propaganda, and they stole some of the thunder (and activists) from the democratic Socialists by naming their own movement “The National Socialist German Worker’s Party” (NSDAP). Too late, some of these converts came to realise that Nazism had nothing to do with “socialism” or “workers”, and thereafter followed the famous “Night of the Long Knives” when “politically incorrect” party members were liquidated for their deficient understanding of he purposes and ideology of the NSDAP.

        The Socialists also did not understand this new power and the allure of propaganda in the way Hitler did. In the Nazi lexicon, “socialist” was bent to mean a nationalist “ethnic identity” and the myth of blood affiliation (“Blut und Boden”, or blood and soil membership). Jews and other non-Aryans were excluded from this affiliation and membership by definition. It also had nothing to do with “workers”. Goebbels even characterised fascism as “ideal democracy”, except that the “demos” (the people or human beings) were defined as das Volk — through race affiliation and blood geneaology. Jews (and others) were therefore excluded from natural membership in this Nazi “democracy” and from membership in “das Volk” or “der Volksstaat” — the ethnic state or people’s republic. Jews weren’t “das Volk“.

        Ironically, Israel today promotes itself as an ethnocentric “Jewish State”, which is entirely the same concept as der Volksstaat, and uses much the same definitions of “democracy” (Arabs do not belong in the “demos”) and much the same justification for this as the Nazis used for their own programmes of ethnic cleansing.

        Ironically, also, the reactionary right in the West (which used to be the natural home of anti-Semitism) now finds all sorts of reasons to defend Israel and Zionism against its critics, and Zionist Jews by and large (not universally by any means) are all to happy to deflect the traditional Euro-centric pathology of xenoracism and xenophobia from themselves onto Muslims and Arabs. What a relief! (understandable, if not particularly noble). Actually, what is being defended and rehabilitated is the reactionary idea of an ethnic state or Volksstaat as the same illiberal democracy that the fascists promoted. And “patriotism” as something synonymous with ethnic affiliation or race membership.

        It makes you wonder: throw the Euro-centric dog a stick and he goes and chases it. Throw the Jew or “Kike” stick, and he chases it. Throw the “nigga'” stick, and he goes and chases it. Throw him the “commie pinko fag” stick, and he goes and chases it. Throw him the “redskn” or “injun” stick, and he goes and chases it. Throw him the “chink” stick, and he goes and chases it. Throw him the “Muslim” or “Arab” stick, and he goes and chases it.

        This is not particularly intelligent behaviour. Which may be why Jesus dismissed the Gentiles as “dogs” and even “swine”.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        I’m not sure if our educational systems actually educate people to be articulately dialogical or teach them how to constructively engage in dialogue. And yet, the “secret history of the West” is that it was originally conceived as the civilisation of the dialogue.

        I’m sure they don’t. They educate people to “debate.” Debate today is not dialogue; it is argumentation in the worst sense of the term, war-like itself in its false grounding in the win or lose scenario.

        Our is a civilization of law-making but, despite what we hear, there is not even such a thing as a “nation of laws,” only nations of lawyers. (I believe you’ve delineated all the universally acceptable reasons for such an outcome in the past.)

        That we are nations of lawyers (if not judges, again in the worst sense of the term), is why there will never be a political solution to our intractable issues. Despite what it could be, the reality of politics precludes any other possibility with the exception of one: the gradual and far more natural changes that occur every day, everywhere.

        You often quote Rosenstock as saying “death is the only guarantee of human progress.” In every way that sentence can possibly be interpreted, it remains true. While nothing ever changes on the surface, true change nonetheless continually occurs otherwise. We just rarely hear about it, most of us obviously preferring instead to focus on and harken to the deadening drone of that never-changing surface.

        The circumstances we’ve created for ourselves are prompting the very changes we all seek, whether all of us know on a conscious level precisely what that is or not. The only question is whether those changes are occurring on a grand enough scale and in time to avert an ultimate catastrophe. That, we cant know.

        • Scott says :

          “mortality is the only guarantee of human progress.”

          As long as it’s not total, that is. Then “human progress” becomes moot. The death of one generation is the precondition for the progress of the next… it’s “time in the sun”. That phrase itself takes notice that sometimes old growth forests suppress the light and rain needed for the seedlings to thrive, and thus prevent the revivification, revitalisation, and renewal of the forest itself.

          And so it is with human society, too.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          Thanks for the correction.

          As long as it’s not total, that is

          Is there such a thing as “total” mortality? I’m none too sure.

          The death of one generation is the precondition for the progress of the next

          I don’t agree with that. Subsequent generations have innumerable possibilities and, therefore, options at their disposal. Whether they choose to avail themselves of them or not is a different question.

          sometimes old growth forests suppress the light and rain needed for the seedlings to thrive, and thus prevent the revivification, revitalisation, and renewal of the forest itself.

          While I’m of the mind that even vegetation is “sentient” in some manner we may never understand, the analogy ends there for me. The fact remains that human beings have the choice of allowing ourselves to be smothered to death (and/or manipulated) or to seek out the “light” ourselves. Inspired to do so, whether by circumstances, words or actions, the choice is ours. Either we take the time and put forth the effort or we don’t. End of story.

  2. Scott says :

    Article this morning in the Toronto Sun by Warren Kinsella rebuking some pundits in the conservative right for their double standards seems to capture some of the things I wrote about yesterday,

    http://www.torontosun.com/2011/07/29/right-wing-spin-compounds-norway-tragedy

    • misterdirk says :

      Yeah, I’m seeing a lot of this myself. The various comments that I read in the first 6-12 hours revealed a kind of whiplash condition as the radical right wingers re-calibrated their reactions in order to accommodate the severe cognitive dissonance as fresh facts were revealed. You can just sense how much they love and admire the killer as one of their own, even as they squirm around for a posture that holds him at arms length.

      • Scott says :

        That’s very well put. It’s probably notable that the very conservative Toronto Sun even published Kinsella’s article, perhaps acknowledging that some reactionary right-wing pundits have, indeed, gone over the edge in trying to rationalise Breivik’s act.

        I make a distinction between conservatives and reactionary conservatives, but that has become increasingly difficult to make with so-called “new right” conservatism which has more or less become mainstream and has come to monopolise and appropriate the legitimate traditional conservative discourse. The reactionary and regressive nature of new right conservatism is characterised by their tendency to dismiss even traditional conservatives as “paleoconservatives”, therefore not worthy of consideration. I believe that in the US, the organ of traditional conservatism is still The American Conservative magazine, which is none too happy about neo-conservatives having hijacked the conservative discourse.

  3. Scott says :

    Just reading a not-very-useful article by John Allemang in The Globe and Mail summing up the opinions of a few experts in forensic psychiatry, etc. Only one thing stood out for me… a statement by historian Erna Paris:

    “The more this discourse is allowed to persist, the more normalized it becomes.”

    Yes. I believe that Carl Jung described it somewhat similarly. He called it “psychic contagion”.

  4. Scott says :

    I’ve spent many hours trolling through articles and websites on the net (some very unsavoury and tasteless ones, too) about Anders Breivik. One very good article by Kenan Malik, however, stands out for me addressing the whole irony of the situation, “The tragic ironies of Breivik’s terror” is worth reading. Unfortunately, those ironies he describes seem to be lost on many.

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