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.