Canada’s controversial, newly re-elected Conservative Prime Minister, Mr. Stephen Harper, was recently quoted in the media as saying that “Islamicism” is the principal security threat to Canada. Afterwards, a terrorism expert from the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto stated in a CBC radio interview that Mr. Harper’s views constituted what he called, politely, “legacy thinking,” — which may be something of a euphemism for “reactionary”.
“Legacy thinking” could easily be another way of expressing what we have referred to as “deficient rationality,” following the usage of cultural historian Jean Gebser, who (along with many others today) identified it as the signal symptom of the deteriorating situation of the Modern Era and the dissolution of its specific mode of consciousness — “the mental-rational structure.”
Others call all this “madness.” I will call it what it is in quite similar terms — delusive thinking.
My own survey of the historical decline and fall of civilisations, eras, societies, or empires suggests that delusive thinking about the nature of “threat” was almost invariably the cause of their demise. It is somewhat akin to Marx’s notion of “false consciousness.” And while this more or less corresponds to Jean Gebser’s meaning of “deficient rationality,” I feel that “delusive thinking” is perhaps the more easily accessible term. Still, “false consciousness,” “deficient rationality,” “delusive thinking” (or even “legacy thinking”) could all serve as interchangeable terms for describing the crisis of modernity as being characteristically a crisis of consciousness and perception. “False consciousness” may also be described as “legacy thinking” revealed in the incapacity of the Late Modern mentality — grounded in dualistic logic — to master the circumstances it has largely created for itself by its own applied rationality in the form of an objectified technology. To actually do so, it would now have to transcend itself and its own present limitations, for it has become anachronistic.
The most evident present way this is expressed today is in the climate change “controversy,” (which is really only “controversial” outside climate science itself). It’s not coincidental that Chaos Theory and Butterfly Effect first arouse from problems encountered in meteorology and with the study of weather, problems which challenged any straight linear cause-effect relationship between a limited set of variables. In this sense, meteorology was simply catching up with corresponding discoveries in quantum physics (uncertainty) and ecology (complexity) and dynamic systems. The corresponding problems for sociology and history in the global era are pluralism, cultural diversity (multiculturalism), and the co-existence (and co-evolution) of many human histories or traditions.
The common challenge all the departments of knowledge confront is the same — non-linear, non-dualist reality confronts a legacy of linear, dualistic consciousness, thought, and perception and reveals these as being deficient or insufficiently realised. This is the source of much stress today, as reality applies pressure on our consciousness and perception. This has only been gradually revealed since the First World War and constitutes the profounder aspects of the oft-mentioned “paradigm shift” of our times — the deeper interconnectedness of all things.
And it is in this new global context that “legacy thinking” and ways of perceiving become anachronistic and frustratingly deficient for those who cling to them. It is the same problem that reveals itself, say, in the bizarre manifesto of the reactionary conservative Anders Breivik. Unable to consciously handle non-linearity, multiplicity, plurality, complexity, and more than a very limited set of social variables, he forces them all to collapse into a single entity and Hydra called “cultural Marxism” (or “socialistic multiculturalism” as others have put it) and reverts to a pre-modern and anti-modern ideal of society. It is this that I’ve referred to earlier as threat conflation leading to threat inflation. “Cultural Marxism,” a deficient mentalistic abstraction, is massaged into a mythological creature and symbolic form corresponding to the old archetype of Satan.
The problem of delusive thinking (or false consciousness; or deficient rationality) is that it results in defective, inadequate, incompetent, or inappropriate and unskilful responses to perceived existential threats or crises. Deficient responses, generally described by the term “reactionary,” take the form of self-destructive or nihilistic responses. In our time, this typically takes the form of revived latent forms, but still deficient, of predominantly pre-rational magical or mythical consciousness such as we witness in the fascist period.
It is for similar reasons that literary or art critics often decry the appearance of cliché, formula or cant in uninspired and uninspiring artistic works as belonging to the decadent, ungenuine, or inauthentic. At one time, these same devices (such as perspectivism in art) were innovations, lauded truly as the works of creative genius in their time, and were widely imitated and emulated. But when these devices no longer answer or correspond to our experience of ourselves or our reality, they degenerate into these inauthentic forms of cliché, formula, or cant. They become the elements of “legacy thinking.”
Even to judge, critique, or evaluate artifacts or works of art in those terms already suggests that there has been a change in consciousness and in the mode of perception.
Since the First World War, our self-understanding and our experience of “reality” has changed completely, and the war has left us with a turbulent legacy of still unresolved social issues. Yet our thinking (and our pedagogy in consequence) has barely caught up with the fact, still being blinded by a patently false sense of triumphalism that conservatives, especially, seem to want to revive and recover from post-modern cynicism and value deconstruction. In very many ways, thinking still moves and circulates repetitively in old grooves like a stereophonic needle upon a broken record. “The sins of the fathers shall be visited down to third and fourth generations” is simply a statement of the sociological fact that, as another man put it, “time makes hypocrites of us all”.
“Reality,” “truth,” etc, became a problem for us after the World Wars because our real experience of the global era the wars inaugurated no longer conformed to our “legacy thinking” — our basic historically-conditioned assumptions about ourselves and our reality. Disillusionment is no bad thing, actually. We need to become disillusioned and disenchanted in order to even overcome ourselves (Narcissus would have lived had he been properly disillusioned and disenchanted). If people experience this as apocalyptic “nihilism,” so be it. Perhaps the infant been weaned away from the Mother’s breast also feels this as an existential threat. The great threat today is internal to ourselves, and it originates in-and-as a delusive thinking that results in inappropriate, inept, and unskilful responses to the questions and challenges that the new reality of the planetary era presents to us in our time. Getting clear about our situation is the first step in resolving the crisis.
Unfortunately, there are many vested interests, “powers and principalities” and systemic factors that have a stake in preventing us and obstructing us from achieving that clarity about our true situation. Once called “propaganda”, today it is largely referred to as “perception management.” They are also in possession of the means and resources to do it, too. Consequently, as Mr. Einstein once put it, we are hurling headlong towards catastrophe — a self-inflicted, designer apocalypse.
To me, that seems simply self-evident. Perhaps it is even necessary, if the only way out is now through.