The Parable of the Toothbrush: Ideology, Irony, and the End of History

In Canada, presently, there is a debate (at least, to the extent the current untransparent Conservative government will allow a public debate) about an impending free trade deal with China and the government’s controversial Foreign Investment Protection Act (FIPA).

The CBC’s Don Pittis has weighed in with his own views in an article entitled “Canada’s best future export to China could be our democratic example“, which elicited some (well-deserved) hoots and hollers from the gallery, as you might determine from many of the comments below the line.

Still, the article is interesting for what it reveals about the “deficient rationality” that guides — or really, misguides — the direction of Late Modern thinking. And I won’t so much point out the defect as invite you to read the article yourself and come to your own conclusions.

See if you can recognise the salient issue at hand, for it’s rather important to gain some insight into the growing fateful dysfunctionality of the mental-rational structure of consciousness of Late Modernity and its implications. In fact, we live in “Late Modernity” precisely because of the growing dysfunctionality of the mental-rational.

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12 responses to “The Parable of the Toothbrush: Ideology, Irony, and the End of History”

  1. alex jay says :

    Oh dear, so much to say and so little time! We can agree – as I usually do with you – that the mental-rational structure of the “Enlightenment” has reached its enantiodromia moment (the centre cannot hold and chaos looms on the horizon). However, the last 100 years or so have been orchestrated, manipultated and socially engineered through an AGENDA, which is as old as civilisation (magical, mythical, rational and probably archaic), though light years more sophisticated – even Orwell couldn’t have imagined techchnocratic advances from 1984 in comparison to 2012. We’ve come a long way from IBM punch cards to “Cloud”. Consciousness may have perspectivised on different priorities (spiritual/material – points of view), but its application to the pragmatic functioning of society in terms of power structures still stubbornly follow bloodlines, class, and useful-idiot enforcers. Very simply, though this subject would require tomes of supportive histoical evidence ala Marx et alia, there has always been a hierarchial structure defined by force and power that would be articulated by the neo-Darwinian (“survival of the fittest”) Galtonites and their eugenicist Anglo-American disciples like Davenport to the current techno-bio-genetic “last men” who are hell-bent on “improving” the species by no longer overtly killing, sterilsing, aborting the untermensche (my German spelling probably sucks), but rather technologically redesigning the species by gene selection so that anyone (in the .001%) could order a designer baby with the intelligence of Einstein, the looks of George Clooney and my humour : ) Oh heck, had enough …

    “It is pluralism that prevents voting from becoming a sham” (from the article you cite of the brain-dead morons that seem to have taken over public disourse).

    Where’s the mention of TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership – NAFTA on steriods) being negotiated in secret to continue and extend the full spectrum dominance of the corporate global take-over. Has this person just witnessed the most shambolic election in US history, or taking it closer to home, the 14% voter turn-out to elect police commissioners in ol’ Blighty – democracy at work. If this idiot is so delusional he wants to teach China a lesson in democracy, I’d suggest he stop taking the prozac and get Toto to pull the curtain on the Canadian/American “lessons” in democracy/plutocracy (same thing these days) and go to Venezuela to see what comes the closest to a fair election (even Jimmy Carter agrees).

    Time for a sip with the colonel …

    • Scott Preston says :

      What you call “the Agenda” is what I’m calling “the foreign installation”. It is a pattern of behaviours that is daily produced and reproduced socially, and is implicit to the structure of consciousness itself. The “Agenda” is nothing else but this structure with its more or less overt or covert purposes and goals, not its content. The structure is what Blake personified as one of the Zoas, as image of Zeitgeist or “ruling idea” in other contexts. The ruling spirit of this (receding) age is Urizen or the Ancient of Days, and the Zoas ideal is to reproduce human beings in his own image. His “Book of Iron Laws”, as Blake calls it, is what you are calling “the Agenda”. Noam Chomsky would call it “the hegemonic ideology” but then, ideology is not consciousness. Replacing one hegemonic ideology with another hegemonic ideology doesn’t change the consciousness structure or its ‘agenda’, which is its purpose. In fact ‘hegemonic ideology’ is probably interchangeable with the meaning of ‘the foreign installation’. Ideology or theology is the natural product of the mental-rational just as story is the natural product of the mythological consciousness, the way it reproduces itself and its sense of “order”. Each structure of consciousness has its own sense of “order” which it takes as the entire meaning and function of the cosmos itself.

      The ruling hegemon of the magical consciousness is the Great Mother. The ruling hegemon of the mythological structure is the Sky Father (Zeus, Jehovah, etc). They set the “agenda” but humans serve as agency. The hegemon of the modern era was disguised in the form of “Universal Reason”, who is Urizen — variously called “Zeitgeist” or “ruling idea” consistent with the nature of the consciousness structure.

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    It’s surprising that even after Taiwan became an electronics manufacturing powerhouse, there were still some capitalists back in 1990 who thought that exporting toothbrush to china would be a sustainable business model. If anything, the toothbrush comment shows how desperate the business leaders must’ve been at the time for accessing new markets. I’ve heard of even fake Mercedes-Benz cars being produced in China these days. But I think the vast majority of non-Western producers and manufacturers (save for Japan) have a long way to go to catch up with Western manufacturers in terms of quality. Anything Chinese I have bought, from sweaters to coffee grinders, is hard to maintain beyond the first week or the first month. I have stopped buying anything Chinese until I see a significant improvement in the quality and safety of their products.

    “Ideology or theology is the natural product of the mental-rational just as story is the natural product of the mythological consciousness, the way it reproduces itself and its sense of “order”.”

    These insights are extremely valuable as I am gathering courage to begin reading “The Ever-Present Origin.” Thank you.

    Then, the ideological marker of the mental-rational structure that is evidenced in the article is perhaps this quantification of the goals and visions for the future. This mentality hampers innovative thinking, it seems to me. If a big toothbrush company, for example, is fixated on selling hundreds of thousands of toothbrushes into a market, that approach almost blocks any non-profit innovation on the method of cleaning the teeth itself. Couldn’t I just use my fingers instead of the toothbrush, for example, to massage the toothpaste into my gums and teeth and then wrap it all up with flossing? Wouldn’t I have healthier teeth if I just bypassed any toothbrush and used my fingers rather than those abrasive brushes they make nowadays — where even the “soft” ones feel like sandpaper? By the way, I’ve found that the only toothbrush that is “soft” enough for my gums is the “Crayola” brand for kids 🙂

    • Scott Preston says :

      There was a certain factor of delusional thinking, here, one which failed to recognise the reality of the circumstances — that the Chinese were quite capable of manufacturing their own toothbrushes or much else besides. “Toothbrush”, here, stands pretty much for any daily-used commodity.

      The assumption here was that goods would flow from “the core” (the so-called ‘developed world’) to “the periphery” (the “developing world”). This is the language used which framed the enter perception of the global reality. In fact, the Chinese didn’t conceive of themselves as living on anyone’s frontier or periphery, and because they refused to accept this framework of neo-liberal globalisation, they failed to assume the proper posture. In fact, the flow of goods and money has been the exact opposite of what was expected — a true “reversal of fortunes”, as it were. It is “the core” which is now “the periphery” — the Asian Tigers, generally — and it is Western nations that go begging for capital and investment from the new core. The toothbrushes are flowing the other way, and so ultimately, does influence.

      What the parable of the toothbrush means to convey is the breakdown of dialectical thinking. The Chinese were then, and are now, active players and influential shapers of global political economy, not the passive recipients and consumers of Western commodities they were intended to become.

      I would say that the meaning of “the parable of the toothbrush” is how the Western mentality has now become self-defeating, and will likely continue on this trajectory for the foreseeable future, and I think the Chinese recognise this. It’s one of the subtelties of Sun Tzu’s thought (compared to Machiavelli, for example) that you entice your opponent to squander his energies aimlessly, and in that way he defeats himself.

      Agree with you about Chinese made goods, by the way. Kind of shabby, although I have a few things that work perfectly fine. What I very much dislike is having no choice but to buy foodstuffs like oysters, garlics, snow peas from China. This is unreasonable, although within the parameters of narrow economistic thinking, it seems perfectly “rational,” at least, as much as they understand “rationality”.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        “What the parable of the toothbrush means to convey is the breakdown of dialectical thinking.”

        illuminating. Thank you.

        “What I very much dislike is having no choice but to buy foodstuffs like oysters, garlics, snow peas from China.”

        Precisely. I have encountered the “no choice” situation in retail stores where I cannot find good quality merchandise to replace the much better quality ones I had bought some 20 years ago. The little electric engine in my chinese coffee grinder lasted a month, same with the zipper of a chinese raincoat I bought. The list goes on. If I could have the option to buy these same products made in Germany, for example, I would certainly do it — knowing that they would cost me a lot more. On the other hand, I have an electric water kettle made in New Zealand which I bought from K Mart in the early 1990s. It’s still going strong.

        • Scott Preston says :

          You probably know the old saying about “carrying coals to Newcastle”, a statement about acts that are unreasonable because Newcastle in the UK was a coal producing area. Much the same can be said about shipping produce from China to Canada or elsewhere. We are quite capable of producing the produce that is imported from China. We even import salmon from the US while exporting salmon to Japan.

          All these examples illustrate, I think, why we cannot equate “reasonable” and “rational”. E.F. Schumacher wrote about this in his two most noted books Small is Beautiful and A Guide for the Perplexed. It’s another way of understanding what Gebser means by ‘deficient rationality’. It may be ‘rational’ in narrowly focussed systemic terms, but it is not reasonable in broader terms. It’s actually quite absurd that we are “carrying coals to Newcastle”.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    “carrying coals to Newcastle”

    LOL. I hadn’t heard that expression, but I have heard an equivalent to it, saying: “selling ice to eskimo” 🙂 The unthinkable is unfolding before our eyes.

    “We even import salmon from the US while exporting salmon to Japan.” LOL. It defies reasonable decision making, yet we have our “business leaders” perpetuating this.

    Thank you for the citations from E. F. Schumacher.

    • Scott Preston says :

      There used to be an E.F. Schumacher Foundation, but it’s now changed it’s name to New Economy Foundation, although I think it’s mostly focussed on the UK.

      By the way, the subtitle to Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful is economics as if people mattered and that pretty much is a protest against what contemporary economics is NOT about, which is largely about balancing equations and abstract systems modelling, when it’s not, that is, promoting itself as a surrogate religion as a substitute for “the death of God”.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        That sounds like a book I — need — to read, since everytime I get into discussions about the urgent need for revolutionazing how people and governments think, somebody always asks me “So, what’s your solution?” The table of contents tells me I can gather some ideas for answering questions like that. Generally, though, I am of the belief that it isn’t a vacuum of solutions that has created the persistent and crippling economic and social issues of our time, it’s a lack of will and sky high corruption of key decision makers that have kept things worsening for the ordinary folks. methinks. Just the other night I was watching a documentary on http://www.hulu.com called “Park Avenue” — and apparently the corruption has rotten even the Supreme Court Justices at one time or another. Here’s the link to the documentary, but if you are using Fire Fox, it may not allow you to access it. I’ve noticed I am unable to watch many Youtube clips on Fire Fox.
        http://www.hulu.com/#!watch/417228

        • Scott Preston says :

          I have to re-read Schumacher’s works myself. But here’s a few excerpts from his Small is Beautiful if you’re interested… http://neweconomicsinstitute.org/content/small-beautiful-quotes

          “Small is Beautiful” wasn’t Schumacher’s selection of titles for the book, and it’s kind of misleading. The publisher selected it, and Schumacher wasn’t happy with it. Appropriate, sustainable scale was his aim, not just “smallness” as a general principle. When I was an undergraduate, he was scheduled to speak at my university. Unfortunately, he died just days before he was to arrive to deliver his lecture. Nonetheless, it’s one of the most influential books of our time.

        • Scott Preston says :

          The only chance for social transformation is if people are brought to insight into their own “false consciousness”. “False consciousness” is what I have been referring to as “the foreign installation” — the aggregate of beliefs, assumptions, attitudes that are basically appropriated from the present milieu, or implanted in the soul by education, propaganda, authorities, etc, and which serve as inhibitors against self-realization. It is these alien factors that together comprised the Freudian “superego”. But, in fact, superego is the foreign installation, and is the equivalent of what Blake called “Urizen” — the false god. In Buddhism, this is Mara, the Architect and Lord of the ego.

          This insight into the false self is what begins Nietzsche’s book Zarathustra — those sermons delivered to the masses assembled to watch the tight-rope walker in the plaza. In some ways, here, Zarathustra corresponds to the role of Seth — also insisting we examine the inadequacy of our beliefs about ourselves and our reality, which distort the full expression and functioning of our consciousness.

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    I am currently in the process of reading E. F. SChumacher’s excerpts from the link you posted. What a wonderful read. I am thoroughly enjoying it. His words, pretty much like your own, put me in my spiritual element. Thank you.

    “The only chance for social transformation is if people are brought to insight into their own “false consciousness”.”

    I see the wisdom in that remark and I agree with it entirely. Real and lasting change does truly begin from within, doesn’t it?

    “But, in fact, superego is the foreign installation, and is the equivalent of what Blake called “Urizen” — the false god. In Buddhism, this is Mara, the Architect and Lord of the ego.”

    That remark alone is worth several books. Thank you for these exceptional insights

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