Once upon a time, it was de regueur for the loyalists of liberal democracy to mock dictatorship (and particularly the Soviet Union at the time) for being “afraid of the little mouse of thought”. In fact, it was taken as the very essence of dictatorship that the dictator was deeply afraid of “the little mouse of thought”.
Given McCarthyism, COINTELPRO and the well-documented covert operations (“black ops”) against dissidents in the US and elsewhere, the accusation was always more than a bit disingenuous, duplicitous, and hypocritical. But it is also self-revealing of the state of uneasiness, insecurity, paranoia and simply the bad conscience of the ruling powers.
If fear of “the little mouse of thought” was the considered the essential characteristic of dictatorship and the reactionary attitude, one would think that recent revelations and exposures of the sheer ubiquity of the mass surveillance state would give one pause for reflection on the actual state of liberal democracy and our “illiberal liberalism” at our “end of history” — that deeply ambiguous and equivocal phrase.
The reactionary, however, isn’t really given to honest reflection, self-evaluation, sincere self-appraisal, or self-knowledge. Instead, rather than honestly face one’s own self-contradictions and duplicities, ideological reconstruction, revisionism, lip-service paid to “principle”, and rationalisation (and failing that, violence) are the usual resorts of the reactionary mentality and attitude, regardless of how irrational, absurd, or untruthful these may be.
Ultimately, the reactionary is a decadent and degenerate type.
So it is with the excuses, rationalisations, and ideological reconstructions around the exposures of mass surveillance. As has been revealed, the pretense of a “global war on terrorism” has served largely only as convenient excuse, rationalisation, and cover-story for disguising other purposes. The theft of private life by the techno-corporate state is merely the flip-side for the more serious issue of the total objectification of the subjective — the adsorption, in fact, of all subjectivity into total objectivity. There are to be no real “individuals” at all.
The same old fear of “the little mouse of thought” drives the techno-corporate state as much as it did the totalitarian states — the same constant pressure is applied on the subject to become total object of scrutiny and examination. Mass surveillance massifies. But it also reveals the same uneasiness and insecurity, the same fear and paranoia, about “the individuality” — the hidden, the secret of subjectivity.
Nothing, in my view, reveals the total self-negating, self-annihilating nihilism — the disintegration and dissolution — of the reactionary mind of Late Modernity than this. A kind of ironic reversal of the entire course of modernity — an enantiodromia — is at work; a perverse outcome, as it were. For we leave behind, now, the “I think, therefore I am” which guaranteed the sovereignty of the individual, thinking subject for Benthams Panopticon of “to be is to be perceived”. To be the “subject” of mass surveillance is, in fact, to become the subjugated and the objectified.
This dynamic of radical (or ironic) reversal at the extremity of action is what Jean Gebser saw in what he called the “deficiency” of the mental-rational consciousness structure that characterises the very meaning of the term “modern”. Here is how he described it in his first chapter “Fundamental Considerations” of his book The Ever-Present Origin,
“When any movement tends to the extremes it leads away from the center or nucleus toward eventual destruction at the outer limits where the connections to the life-giving center finally are severed. It would seem that today the connections are already broken, for it is increasingly evident that the individual is being driven into isolation while the collective degenerates into mere aggregation. These two conditions, isolation and aggregation, are in fact clear indications that individualism and collectivism have now become deficient.”
What Gebser is describing, however, is the pattern of an ancient issue — hybris, followed by Nemesis. Isolation is atomisation, and collectivism is massification. And these are, correspondingly, the very features of the degenerate and decayed period in the world cycle described by Hindus as “the Kali Yuga” at the end of which Shiva dances his dance of death and rebirth.
(Note: Blake’s “Albion” is also Shiva, as we note from his caption to his painting “Glad Day“, “Albion rose from the mill where he laboured at the Mill with Slaves, Giving himself for the nations he danced the dance of eternal death.” But the “dance of eternal death” is, for Blake, liberation. This is also the meaning of Shiva’s Dance of Death)
(One should regard these images also in connection with Nietzsche’s positive views of “active nihilism” as also a resurrection or rejuvenation in the “transhuman”. There are many close parallels between Nietzsche and Blake, and between Nietzsche’s “transhuman” and Blake’s “Albion”).
But here I want to suggest why the reactionary attitude is the essence of our contemporary nihilism and why the paranoia about “the little mouse of thought” reflects the disintegration of its mode of consciousness, even as it casts about suspiciously for “causes” outside itself — the usual scape-goating response. It is the fear of a new consciousness structure and a new human type and form that is implied in the fear of “the little mouse of thought”.
I want to suggest to you today, that the fear and paranoia of the techno-corporate state and its benighted supporters is directly connected to the fear of “Albion” and his dance of emancipation, in terms also addressed by Jean Gebser,
“Today this rational consciousness, with nuclear fission its strongest weapon, is confronted by a similar catastrophic situation of failure; consequently, it too can be vanquished by a new consciousness structure. We are convinced that there are powers arising from within ourselves that are already at work overcoming the deficiency and dubious nature of our rational ego-consciousness via the new aperspectival awareness whose manifestations are surging forth everywhere. The aperspective consciousness structure is a consciousness of the whole, an integral consciousness encompassing all time and embracing both man‘s distant past and his approaching future as a living present. The new spiritual attitude can take root only through an insightful process of intensive awareness. This attitude must emerge from its present concealment and latency and become effective, and thereby prepare the transparency of the world and man in which spirituality can manifest itself.” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin
I would like to suggest to you that this is the real “threat” that the reactionary and the mass surveillance state is intended to forestall, and which would constitute a challenge and threat to its own power and legitimacy.
A suggestive (and revealing) example of this I touched upon earlier. In an article in the conservative — even reactionary — Canadian paper The National Post, the columnist, Kelly McParland, even managed to square the circle by combining the dual “threats” of religious extremism and ecological activism in the term “eco-jihad“, thereby providing a kind of perverse rationale for combining the “global war on terror” with domestic surveillance and repression, as if these belonged to one and the same “global threat”, and that this reactionary attitude of the mental-rational consciousness “fortress mentality” is connected, too, with the active suppression of environmental science by the Harper government in Canada, for example.
That is, the reactionaries want “globalisation” but without globalism. It was this very attitude and self-contradiction, however, that resulted in the violence of the First World War.
The prospect that a new consciousness structure — the holistic, integral, or “aperspectival”, as Gebser calls it — can “vanquish” the old consciousness structure — the narrowly perspectival “point-of-view-line-of-thought” structure that has become degenerate, and has already exceeded its sell-by date — is, I would suggest, the real “threat” that the mass surveillance state is intended to forestall. There are already hints of this in the defensive statements of its architects and operatives that have, for the most part, been entirely overlooked in their meaning, and which largely contradict the pretense that the threat of global terrorism is the sole justification for the mass surveillance state.
In fact, even the very crafty and sly attempt to incrementally expand the definition of “terrorism” to include broader forms of dissent (including whistleblowing) and perhaps nip in the bud, thereby, any real manifestations of the new seem to expose the ostensible rationale for mass surveillance as being merely a reactionary rationalisation. Bentham’s ideal of the panopticon, which is equally the “evil genius” of Descartes’ fantasy, existed as an ideal of the mental-rational consciousness long before “terrorism” became an excuse and opportunity to activate it.
And, there you have a case of ironic reversal and enantiodromia indeed — in how the “evil demon” of Descartes became the ideal of the Benthamite panopticon, and then finally the “normal” reality of the mass surveillance techno-corporate state of Late Modernity, within which the besieged, anxiety-laden, and frightened ego-consciousness huddles for protection against a veritable Lernaean Hydra of existential threats (Mr. Harper’s corny “sea of troubles” engulfing Canadian shores) and in the midst of which certain self-styled “men of destiny” appear as Good Shepherds, Spirit Guides, Shaman Kings, or Crusader Knights in Shining Armour.
Maybe what they all ultimately fear in “the little mouse of thought” is that child-like clear consciousness and sober perception which finally shouts out, “But the emperor has no clothes!“