The Commonwealth

It would seem that the Harperite faction in the ruling Conservative Party of Canada is on a mission of destruction, or at least deconstruction, of liberal democracy. In this, they are following much the same neo-conservative programme that Margaret Thatcher followed in the UK, based on two principle conceits: one, “there is no alternative” (the TINA principle) and second, “there is no such thing as society”. These are the principles of someone who is delusional.

Let’s try to circle the square here, so to speak, (like the insurgents of Tahrir Square in Egypt or Liberty Square in New York) rather than square the circle and attempt to draw out the implications and consequences of this post-modern political configuration of the so-called “neos” —  neo-conservatism, neo-liberalism, and neo-socialism (New Labour), for they all follow a similar programme and path. Despite their ideological pretenses and overt declarations and manifestoes, they all represent an extremity of post-modern politics, and cannot help themselves in that regard.

For the most part, they all follow a right-wing libertarian agenda that, psychologically speaking, represents a muddle-headed extremity of reified perspectivisation, or what I have taken to calling “line-of-thought-and-point-of-view” consciousness and perception. You may just as well call it “egocentric individualism”, as the Kulturphilosoph Jean Gebser did. Others have called it “the culture of narcissism” and have made note of its anti-social (if not sociopathic) direction and tendencies, as made evident in the famous foundational principles of Thatcherism cited above. Mrs. Thatcher was noted not just for dismissing “society” as an empty abstraction, but for also declaring that she “saw” (this must be emphasised for its utter absurdity) “only individuals and families”. She did not see anything like society.

This logic of the neos, in all its dimensions, may seem aberrant (and it is aberrant) but it is quite internally consistent nonetheless. This merely tautological and internal consistency gives this ideology its appearance of “truthiness”, in Stephen Colbert’s memorable words.  And it is internally consistent and self-justifying despite reality because it is based on a fundamental deficiency and deficit of consciousness that is never allowed to be scrutinised or closely examined — the belief that seeing, and that means perspectivising perception, is the only true awareness and knowledge. If you will notice, the fundamental symbol of the modern Enlightenment and it’s notion of Universal Reason was always represented by an all-seeing eye, and an all-seeing eye surmounting a pyramid, which is the image of the eye as “point of view” and its cone or field of vision as the pyramid or “line-of-thought”, which is a threefold structure consistent with its determination of reality as being (spatially) three dimensional. This threefold structure is what Jean Gebser has called “the mental-rational structure of consciousness”.

Society is not seen, that is true. Society, however, is heard. Society is constituted by the ear and not by the eye. It does not exist for the perspectivising, narcissistic ego except as an abstraction. But it does exist for the ear which hears the circulation of speech amongst human beings and which listens to its articulations, rhythms, and intonations, or indeed its shouts and silences, and its inarticulate gibberish and baffle-gab, too.

Society is founded by speakers and listeners, is sustained by speakers and listeners, and is daily renovated or changed by speakers and listeners. In other words, society exists through dialogue, and it perishes in the absence of true dialogue, and this is a transaction between the mouth and the ear, not the eye. For the eye, society is an abstraction that does not exist because it is invisible. For the mental-rational structure of consciousness, the monologue, not the dialogue, determines truth and reality and is called “opinion”.

(And the truth be known, too, neither Thatcher’s “individuals” nor “families” exist for the eye either, but are constituted by naming, which is a matter of speech and pre-existent society).

All this accounts for the disaster that is Late Modern/post-modern society, which is perspectivism become an entrenched, ossified egocentric individualism/culture of narcissism equally obsessed with images and self-image. The observant eye forms a pathway to the brain, but the engaged ear forms a pathway to the heart. Thatcherism is literally senseless and even inhuman because it discounts the ear as an organ of knowing, and the value of speaking and listening as the essence of society. Thus, for Thatcher and the Thatcherites (and for us in Canada in the case of Stephen Harper and the Harperites, too) society does not exist because it is invisible. These so-called “Libertarians” are deluded, and utterly reactionary and nihilistic in consequence.

We will call society a “commonwealth” and recognise this commonwealth as the public domain. The commonwealth is not simply an economic relationship between classes (economism), but more fundamentally still it is a linguistic one — a realm constituted by shared (and that means sincere) speaking and listening, which is the only meaning of “communication” and “community”. These words mean “sharing”, a word that has become, to the culture of narcissism and egocentric individualism, almost synonymous with “communism”. Grabbing more than your share has even become synonymous with “success”.

The fundamental commonwealth is all those things which are shared in common and which is the public domain. But this public domain is precisely the thing that the neos are out to annihilate in the name of “individualism”, “privatisation”, and “deregulation” emancipating egocentric individualism from “society”. “There is no such thing as society” as justification for privatisation and deregulation also means the destruction of society as a commonwealth. What is shared in common is the Commonwealth, and that is the fundamental nature of democracy.

Therefore, the pretentious, self-styled emancipators of egocentric individualism (entrepreneurialism) from the constraints of society are also the ultimate destroyers of society and, inevitably too, of individuality also. The individual and society exist in a dialectical relationship of interdependency as “private” and “public” spheres. Thatcherism only recognised private spheres as the “individual” or “the family.” This ideology is socially destructive.

There is no such thing as a “self-made man”. But a deficient dualistic rationality which attempts to eliminate one term of the paradox or contradictory relation in order to favour another (which is called “prejudice”) ends up destroying both and becomes a species of totalitarianism. And this is the source of the problem in which the middle class is disappearing (ie, “the centre” is dissolving) while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The greedy, the malicious, the delusional — in short the egocentric individualist — has found sanction for the repudiation and destruction of society as a commonwealth in the ideology of the troika of neo-conservatism, neo-liberalism, and neo-socialism, and thrown back upon himself, this “egocentric individualism” also becomes identical with survivalism.

Herein lies the secret of that strange paradox of Greek myth that the goddess of Reason, Athena, was also the terrible Gorgon in her other mood. Reason, decaying into mere perspectivism and rationalisation, not only becomes a form of anti-reason and anti-universality, but turns round and devours its mother. Hegel referred to this tendency of true reason to decay into rationalisation as “the cunning of Reason”. Jean Gebser called it “deficient rationality”. Nietzsche described it in terms of nihilism: “All higher values devalue themselves”.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch….

Canada’s own election fraud scandal continues to unfold in the most bizarre ways, but not unfamiliar in consideration of other jurisdictions today where democracy is evidently under increasing stress and crisis, including Russia, the USA and the UK and amongst the countries of the “Arab Spring”. Nonetheless, all this is consistent with Thatcherism and “there is no such thing as society” as rationalised destruction of the commonwealth, or the plunder and pillage of the public domain by our new Vandals and Viking raiders in the corporate and political classes.

Even more significantly, it is the breakdown of dialectical reason into dualism and the collapse of the erstwhile dominant mental-rational structure of consciousness in our time. The absurd thing…. while we struggle here in Canada against political corruption and the scandal of election fraud that (evidence suggests) has been perpetrated by the ruling party or its affiliates, a representative of the ruling party, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, is in Burma advocating that the Burmese follow Canada’s ruling party example and hold “free and fair elections”.

(The Canadian government conferred Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s democracy leader, with honourary Canadian citizenship — another cynical public relations stunt. They did the same with the Dalai Lama, then tossed the Dalai Lama overboard on the way to seeking greater trade and economic relations with the Chinese government).

As the old quip goes “we’re not in Kansas anymore”, meaning… we’ve departed the realm of plain-speaking and “common sense” for the absurd, the surreal, and the ridiculous.

But then, Tom Frank also wrote a book recently, called What’s Wrong With Kansas? noting that “Kansas”, as symbol of the kind of honest, plain-speaking common sense that the anti-totalitarian Orwell commended, wasn’t even itself in Kansas anymore.

All higher values devalue themselves.


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