Post-Enlightenment: An Epidemic of the Crazies

Although I never saw the movie The Crazies, it strikes me that the plot line about a virus that infects people with insanity is truer to our post-Enlightenment, post-modern social reality today than we would like to think. There is an epidemic of “the crazies”.  I see it and I hear it every day.

The arts (even the Hollywood stuff on occasion) often perceive and reveal realities which are not yet directly perceived by others. “So often do the spirit of great events stride on before the events. And in today already walks tomorrow”. So wrote the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), who was a contemporary of William Blake.  The German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770 – 1843) also put it very similarly: “Where the peril is greatest, there lies the saving power also”.  It is the business of the artist to perceive, and to perceive and communicate the presence of the future already latent in the present. Marshall McLuhan called this the artist’s “radar”.

You probably have seen it yourself even now: people who assert mere opinion as if it were fact, without bothering to test the opinion against reality; whether it conforms to experience, reason, and evidence.  That does, in fact, resemble schizophrenia.

Related to this is a kind of magical thinking, that one can over-rule or shout down truth and reality — or shout it back into the darkness — when it threatens to manifest itself.  Here, the repetitive expression of an untested opinion becomes a kind of aggressive magic chant or incantation, something which is very common in advertising. “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes a truth” — part of the “common sense”. So stated the dark wizard Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister and necromancer of the Nazi State. Thus arises delusion.

Connected with this is correspondingly the confusion of self with the self-image (the ego) that opinion merely seeks to buttress. Here, vain and often mad opinion serves only to protect the ego identity and self-image against being “shattered” by truth. That is not only cowardice in the face of truth, but is the very definition of narcissism — the confusion of self with the self-image. And since self-image (or “the brand” as it is now called) is quite vaporous and unreal, there is constant anxiety about it and about the ego identity. Here, “the truth that sets free” is actually perceived as the danger and threat of ego death and dissolution.  We often assume that human beings value highly freedom, truth, and life (or, as Jesus put it “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”), but in the main it is not so. They may dissemble and pay lip-service to these values, but what they really want is power and security. Thus arises hypocrisy, which is a disintegrate condition of the soul and psyche otherwise known as “loss of integrity”. The mind is not present.

And the mind is not present because of a fundamental confusion of ideology with consciousness, and of thinking with perception consequently. Everyone speaks of the need for “ideological purity” (or what is called “political correctness” in whatever form it may take). But this quest for “ideological purity” is part of the narcissistic condition — a refinement of the self-image in the form of a closed and enclosed system of belief.  “Ideological purity” leads to self-righteousness because “pure” means sinless. But it also leads to duplicity of the entire personality precisely because ideology and consciousness, thinking and perception, are not the same. Political correctness and ideological purity come to censor the act of perception and falsify reality. As Pascal once put it, “he who plays the angel plays the beast”. The pretense of sinlessness (purity) is itself perversity.  Self-righteousness is perversion and is often the disguise of “the beast”.  “Ideological purity” (or matters of “principal”) is a ruse and a deception that masks a devious and duplicitous will-to-power, for it’s a claim to sinlessness.

The symptoms of this post-Enlightenment “epidemic of the crazies” seem pretty evident: a schizophrenic, disintegrate condition marked by a pathological narcissism, delusion, duplicity, and magical thinking. It is a crisis of the personality more generally — what Erich Kahler identified as a “breakdown of the human form” in The Tower and the Abyss — a disintegration of the modern “self” which manifests as a single dynamic: nihilism.

And it reminds me of the kind of mass psychoses that marked the decadence of the Late Middle Ages. Today, this is called (even approvingly) “irrational exuberance“. Earlier, however, this “irrational exuberance” was called “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds“.

“Irrational exuberance” is just another term for an epidemic of the crazies and a way of saying “post-Enlightenment”. An epidemic of the crazies is a disease of consciousness itself, and is exactly what W.B. Yeats was referring to in his poem The Second Coming,

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


4 responses to “Post-Enlightenment: An Epidemic of the Crazies”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    “Self-righteousness is perversion and is often the disguise of “the beast”.”

    This “self-righteousness” is the most cunning and formidable opponent I have ever faced. It was interfering with my life within the family, society, and at work. It was an enemy I was able to defeat permanently only after reading Seth. The great calm that began seeping into my life little by little has been the direct result of that reign having come to an end.

    Very meaningful quotes from both Coleridge and Hölderlin.

    Woohoo! The library I subscribe to has “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds“ in its collection. It just became the book #301 on my list of books to read 🙂

    • LittleBigMan says :

      I should add that I had been unable to win over “self-righteousness,” because I did not know it existed in me in the way it did. I thought I was “the good guy.” In the face of such a cunning enemy, unmasking it isn’t half the battle – it is all the battle. Reading Seth unmasked that enemy before my mind’s eyes and right there and then the battle was over and won.

      • Scott Preston says :

        That’s good news. Nothing stops spiritual development dead in its tracks faster than self-righteousness. Once someone comes to believe they are already the Big Cheese, that’s when they stagnate and start to go moldy. As Blake put it, “the standing water breeds reptiles of the mind”.

        That’s what I saw in Fukuyama’s “end of history” screed and in a lot of the so-called “New Conservatism” — a smugness, a complacent self-righteousness that overlaid an inner stagnation. They like to call themselves a “movement”, but it’s actually stagnant and a symptom of our withering from within.

        That is why Jesus taught “humility” against self-righteousness. And this is what both Blake and Carl Jung read out of the Bible’s Book of Job. Job’s suffering was a consequence of his own self-righteousness, and his suffering humbled him. His self-righteousness was a spiritual disease, and his actual disease, ironically, restored him to spiritual health.

        Seth mentions this kind of constructive use of disease in a few places himself.

        That’s the way things work in matters of the spiritual. In the natural order of things, birth precedes death. In the spiritual order, death precedes birth. This is why the physical system is a “mirror” — or what Blake also calls “the vegetative mirror” — of the spiritual order. The visible world is a kind of inverted or reverse image of the invisible, and more often then not, it’s the poets and the artists, not the scientists, who perceive the invisible order hid within the visible. This faculty of inner insight is what Blake calls “the Poetic Genius” or “the Imagination” as being the “true man”, or what Seth calls “the You of you” which does already, despite the ego nature, perceive reality as it is.

        When Castaneda one day actually came to perceive directly and immediately “energy as it flows in the universe”, what did he say was the most shocking and surprising thing about it? Not so much that he finally saw, but that he had always seen it this way, only he didn’t know it until he woke up from the sleepwalk and trance-like state of his own “precious self” (as don Juan called it), ie, his own narcissism.

        The “end of history”, with its mood of finality, closure, and conclusiveness, is therefore a devastating creed of spiritual decrepitude, and testimony to what Rosenstock-Huessy earlier saw as a “withering from within”. Rosenstock was already fighting the “end of history” (which he saw as decadence) long before Fukuyama gave it a name.

        Self-righteousness is what we call, today, “the culture of narcissism” — and the cure for self-righteousness is humility. Like Job, we are going to be humbled.

        • LittleBigMan says :

          “Self-righteousness is what we call, today, “the culture of narcissism” — and the cure for self-righteousness is humility. Like Job, we are going to be humbled.”

          Exactly! “Humility,” could preempt “self-righteousness” very easily. For me, that would’ve been the only way out had I not been exposed to the work of Seth.

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