The Real “Clash of Civilisations”

It is, I’ve found, quite pointless to look to the mass media for illuminating insight into the roots of contemporary social conflict. The mass media thrive on the superficial drama of social conflict and thus serve only to perpetuate the deficient “common sense” paradigm that drives social conflict to begin with.

The real conflict of our time, however, is not what it appears to be as given in the shallow and narrow punditry of the mainstream press. The real “clash of civilisations” is a growing conflict between an “either/or” consciousness and logic (legacy thinking) and an emergent “both/and” consciousness and logic. This distinction between “either/or” and “both/and” is the fundamental form in which a conflict between a dualistic mentality and integral consciousness are taking shape. The real “clash of civilisations” is an emerging conflict within time, between past and future, and not across or between global spaces.

A strictly “either/or” logic is a dualistic logic. It is by definition,, therefore, a disintegrating logic and this is reflected in the method of analysis. As dialectics it had a certain validity, for in dialectical reasoning the contradictions of thesis and anti-thesis mutually condition and shape each other, leading to the third — synthesis — which is agreement or reconciliation of the contradictions. Dialectical reasoning has its roots in Socratic method, the method of conservation, of question and answer, of speaker and listener. This was the fundamental root of dialectical reasoning.

But the decay of dialectical reasoning into the dualistic mentality of an “either/or” logic prevents the dialectic from functioning properly to effect a new agreement or covenant represented by the “synthesis”. In political terms, this is called “polarisation”, but in broader and profounder terms it is self-contradiction. In the dialectic or dialogical (equivalent terms), speaker and listener meet each other as social agents in quest of a higher truth than either of them possess individually. There is a unity of intent which remains open, fot aims for something “beyond” the limited self-interest of the interlocutors, which is the realisation of a common or shared truth. In dualism, this dialectical process disintegrates, for now thesis and anti-thesis meet as hostile and contentious powers, and even within one and the same mind.

This became formalised in Cartesian metaphysical dualism. The difference between a Descartes and a Socrates is that in the mind of Descartes — in the famous cogito — the speaker and the listener became one and the same ego. The ego that put the question was expected to be the ego that answered the question by the process of thinking — (really, talking to itself). The cogito was expected to be both thesis and its anti-thesis, diction and its contradiction. This was the method of radical doubt. From this position of metaphysical dualism emerged silly notions of “the self-made man” or “the rational pursuit of self-interest”, and of contentious oppositions of all kinds —  of I and It, mind and body, spirit and matter, us and them, conscious and unconscious which is characteristic of the mind of self-contradiction.

This is the source of that “inner division of modern man who thinks only in dualisms” observed by Jean Gebser — that is, of a mind that now thinks only in a strictly “either/or” logic that has now become self-devouring and nihilistic. Fundamentally, this mind of self-contradiction means that one and the same mind has become both thesis and anti-thesis, and this situation is implicated in Nietzsche’s succinct formula for nihilism — “all higher values devalue themselves”. The “rational pursuit of self-interest” has become indistinguishable from the irrational pursuit of self-destruction, which is the condition today of extreme narcissism.

It was against this mind of “Self-Contradiction” that William Blake struggled in his time, and not much of Blake can be understood at all without understanding what he means by “self-contradiction”. Blake’s consciousness (like that of Nietzsche, Heraclitus, Rumi, Buddha, etc) is a “both/and” consciousness rather than an “either/or”. By “both/and” we can equally say “integralist” rather than dualistic. It accepts that truth and reality are paradoxical.

And that is the situation we actually find ourselves in today when, in quantum physics for example, light is both particle and wave. Things are and they aren’t. The famous Aristotelian “law of contradiction” which states that A cannot be also not A has become an impediment to effective thinking, which is reflected in Ayn Rand’s kind of demeaned Aristotelianism and vulgar Nietzscheanism when she once insisted that the problem with American culture was this: that Americans had forgotten that “A is A”.

In effect, this is a very reactionary viewpoint, which insists on the absolute validity of an “either/or” logic which has become nothing else but the logic of self-contradiction. It was because Blake’s logic is a “both/and” logic, and not an “either/or” logic, that the dualistic mind considered Blake “mystical”, or that the Greek rationalists thought Heraclitus “Dark” and “Obscure”.

It is against this “either/or” logic of self-contradiction and mental dichotomisation that both Jean Gebser and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy laboured in order to disclose a new more vital logic that reflects our actual reality and which embraces the paradoxical. Their contemporary concerns are very similar to those of Blake earlier, as well as the problem of nihilism that Nietzsche first raised. When some people speak of “inclusiveness”, for example, they are striving to realise this “both/and” basis of the new global consciousness.

In some ways, what is today called “culture war” is, at a more fundamental level, a clash of the Newtonian worldview with the emergent Quantum worldview. But that is just another way of saying, a clash between an “either/or” consciousness structure and a “both/and” consciousness structure, between the dualistic and the integralist. This conflict is not a “clash of civilisations”, but a clash between past and future which has become planetary wide. In some aspect or another, it affects everyone in often confusing and perplexing ways. But it is a struggle within the collective consciousness of the globe which then comes to be draped and attired in political, cultural, or even physical events and terms only second.

The shape of consciousness is changing. It is mutating. And much of this is happening even despite ourselves.

In revolution, the future attacks the past. In counter-revolution (the reactionary) the past attacks the future — the past is on the offensive. I am beginning to think that this is the deeper significance of the epidemic of school shootings or knifings in China, too. While it is quite evident in the case of Norway’s mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, it is perhaps less overt in these other cases, but I believe they share this common undercurrent — the past is attacking the future.

 

 

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8 responses to “The Real “Clash of Civilisations””

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    “It is, I’ve found, quite pointless to look to the mass media for illuminating insight into the roots of contemporary social conflict.”

    Which is one of the reasons why I usually go no deeper than reading the headlines and that’s about it. Except, of course, The Guardian, which I really like and, given time, still visit. Which, again, is the reason why I cherish websites like this one that manage to revive and resuscitate the curious child in me: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/

    Check out the MIT News video that demonstrates what might have implications as “artificial robotic mussles” for robots and cyborgs of the future: http://video.mit.edu/watch/artificial-muscles-at-mit-13539/

    “Blake’s consciousness (like that of Nietzsche, Heraclitus, Rumi, Buddha, etc) is a “both/and” consciousness rather than an “either/or”.”

    That is of the difference between “symbolic” versus “diabolic” 🙂

    “This conflict is not a “clash of civilisations”, but a clash between past and future which has become planetary wide.”

    Very much so — “times out of joint” — which I believe you have also termed it while quoting Shakespeare. I believe this was also the main point of that best seller of the American Great Depression era (as I was told by a professor back in college): The Saber-Tooth Curriculum: http://www.amazon.com/The-Saber-Tooth-Curriculum-Classic-Edition/dp/0071422889/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1358406061&sr=8-1&keywords=saber-tooth+curriculum

    “In revolution, the future attacks the past. In counter-revolution (the reactionary) the past attacks the future — the past is on the offensive.”

    I don’t know if I’m entirely correct in this, but this is something I’d like to call ‘devolution’. This when “past attacks the future” as you have said it beautifully is a terrible thing. It brings much suffering with it.

    • Scott Preston says :

      That is of the difference between “symbolic” versus “diabolic”

      Quite right.

      I don’t know if I’m entirely correct in this, but this is something I’d like to call ‘devolution’.

      Again, this relationship stems from the controversy between Parmenides and Heraclitus, or Being and Becoming, or Permanence and Change. It actually expresses something more archetypal of course, that these two in their time happened to embody and articulate. They are, for that reason, considered the founders of philosophy, and that is perhaps their chiefest significance.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        I’m so motivated by your essays to begin to read from the works of Heraclitus. Thank you, Scott.

        • Scott Preston says :

          You might have a hard time finding the works of Heraclitus. No one has found them yet. We keep hoping, though.

          Heraclitus was considered so obscure (he was called “Heraclitus the Dark” or “Heraclitus the Obscure”) that no one bothered to preserve his writings. What we have are called “the fragments”, mostly extracted from others who quoted Heraclitus or were grappling with some of his paradoxical sayings. We have, perhaps, enough to gain some insight into his work, but we don’t have a full corpus. There’s also the problem of translation. The copy of the fragments that I have don’t entirely resemble the fragments translated by others. I don’t think the author of my copy understood Heraclitus or what Rosenstock-Huessy meant when he called Heraclitus “the Greek Buddha”.

  2. amothman33 says :

    It is the bad attacking the good,it is now the turn of the good to attack the bad,It is a fight from the begining, the satan and the angle and the human the arena for the fight.oblivous no more! Donot watch but participate. This is the meaning of strifing into Him.My admiration for Scott for his stand with idle no more.am

  3. amothman33 says :

    am with idle no more.The openning is everywhere.

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    I see. So, Heraclitus was not someone like Plato or Aristotle. I found the “Fragments” on Amazon and read a few sentences from Heraclitus:

    “All things change to fire
    and fire exhausted
    falls back into things”

    It seems to me he might be speaking of the law of conservation of energy here — in 500 B.C. Wow!! I have included the “Heraclitus Fragments” to my list of books to read. Thank you for referring to that citation.

    • Scott Preston says :

      It seems to me he might be speaking of the law of conservation of energy here — in 500 B.C

      That’s probably correct. “Fire” is energy. Heraclitus claimed that the archon, the primal element, was fire. But, more than energy, fire is also the principle of light.

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