Ironic Reversal

A few months back, I posted a piece on ironic reversal at our “end of history”. In it I noted the irony of the neo-conservative thesis — an irony that seems to have been lost on its true believers — that the “end of history” could be nothing but the absolute self-negation of the modern era, modern society, and modern civilisation; that “the end of history” could be nothing but the same “post-modern condition” that they pretended to deplore when it was enunciated by others. The “end of history” thesis served to affirm and justify Margaret Thatcher’s “there is no alternative” and “there is no such thing as society”.

The ironic reversal (or enantiodromia) implied in all this is, of course, that this “end of history” along with “there is no alternative” is the self-negation and deconstruction of the liberal democracy and its values, the historical victory of which it pretended to celebrate, for it could only result in a form of totalitarianism itself. This was the irony also recognised by Nietzsche when he wrote,

“Liberal institutions cease to be liberal as soon as they are attained: later on, there are no worse and no more thorough injurers of freedom than liberal institutions.”

We’ll leave aside, for the time being, the question of whether “the end of history” wasn’t in fact a Trojan Horse designed to legitimise fascism as the political form most logically suited to the conclusion of the Modern Era and the Modern Project.  Even if it was a Trojan Horse, in that respect, it would still betoken the self-negation — the nihilism — of the Modern Era.

The “end of history” (and Thatcher’s “there is no alternative”) was only a sign, a token, of the breakdown of dialectical reason and of the mental-rational consciousness structure itself, where thesis and its anti-thesis have become identical (and which is the true meaning of con-fusion, or “melting together”).  We have re-entered that ouroboric condition of mental stagnancy and standstill that Christianity once denounced as “paganism”, and which mentality was represented by the ancient symbol of the ouroboros,

ouroboros.jpgAnd here’s a more current image of the same,

The rational pursuit of self-interest

The rational pursuit of self-interest

It was against the symbolism of the ouroboros that the early Christians erected “the sign of the cross”, this repudiation of the ouroboros as definitive is still represented in the “mystic” Jacob Boehme’s illustration of the triumph of the cross over the ancient ouroboros,

Jacob Boehme

Jacob Boehme

This isn’t the place to go into details about this earlier revolution in human consciousness that is suggested in these contrasting symbolic languages — the cross against the ouroboros. What we want to focus on here is the resumption of the “pagan” condition represented by the ouroboros in consequence of “the death of God”, for the eruption and resurgence of fascism in our time is connected with the resurgence of what early Christians understood as “paganism” and the symbolic image of the ouroboros. And it is against this, too, that William Blake raged in his art and poetry.  The ouroboric condition of “eternal recurrence of same” is also what Buddhism calls the realm of “samsara” or suffering. In our time, the ouroboros is represented in the tyranny of the clock and as the clockwork universe, which is also why Christianity accentuated the timelessness of eternity over the secular or time-bound order.  This is very important for our understanding — “eternity” was not the eternal recurrence of the ouroboric cycle, but the timelessness of the “once-and-for-all”.

The ouroboric mentality has infiltrated our consciousness once again, and this is the essential meaning of the eruptions of fascism in Late Modernity and the nihilism of our time, for it is essentially implied in all types of reactionary attitudes and politics. There is no avoiding that conclusion. Human consciousness cannot progress or develop where the egregore of the ouroboros rules over the mind and spirit, for the ouroboros represents nature, and symbolises man as “natural” form and as bodily being only.  This is sometimes the called “the classical” attitude.

It needs to be emphasised that no new future can enter into the charmed circle of the ouroboric consciousness. It is a fate, not a destiny freely chosen. There are no “alternative” pathways out of the ouroboric state. “Progress” as such is only progression along the circumference of a circle, a perpetual rotation. One can never be done with anything.  It is not a coincidence that Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West follows the ouroboric model, and directly influenced fascist attitudes.

The second aspect of note about the ouroboric symbol is that it represents what is now called “creative destruction” as part of the so-called “new normal”.  The self-devouring movement is also the self-regenerating movement. Nihilism and Genesis are treated as exactly the same process. This is, in fact, what cultural historian Jean Gebser refers to as the strange “double-movement” of our times — the baffling coincidence of contradictory tendencies in one and the same dynamic. “Creative destruction”, as a description of what Bauman also calls “liquid modernity”, is also fascism’s doctrine of “permanent warfare” as belonging also to a presumed “natural order of things”, which “natural order” can only be represented in terms of the ouroboros.  The current confusion of the “whole” with the “totality” (they are strictly speaking, contraries, not synonyms) belongs to the same ouroboric confusion.  Slavery and human and animal sacrifice were also “natural” to the ouroboric consciousness.

This “double-movement” takes the form of duplicity and self-contradiction in our speech and conduct. There is absolutely no difference whatsoever between the neo-liberal/neo-conservative dogma of “creative destruction” and the post-modern “deconstruction” that they denounce themselves as nihilistic. There is a whole series of “false oppositions” that disguise what are really completely identical positions and attitudes, and which speak therefore of a general breakdown of the modern consciousness structure. There is likewise absolutely no difference between demands for “ideological purity” and denunciations of “political correctness”. And if one is “decadence” and “nihilism”, then so is the other decadence and nihilism.

The importance of William Blake, Jean Gebser, and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy lies in this — that they seek to erect a barrier against backsliding into the ouroboric state and consciousness. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” is conscientiously designed to prevent the danger of just such a relapse (something that comes out in his short booklet The Multiformity of Man, and it is profitable to read it with that in mind). This is perhaps the predominant single idea in all of Rosenstock-Huessy’s writings and in his own proposals for a restructuration of consciousness or metanoia.

There are some very profound undercurrents to contemporary events — undercurrents or background dynamics — that will impact decisively on the human prospect, but that don’t seem to get much of an airing.

Still, as Hölderlin put it, “where the peril is greatest, there lies the saving grace also”. That, too, belongs to the strange ironies of Late Modernity and to Gebser’s insights into the dynamics of Late Modernity. Ironically, the apparent nihilism of Margaret Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as society” also suggests the possibility of now completely transforming and reconstructing “society” itself. Those who are concerned with social transformation and renewal might even take a secret delight in Thatcher’s nihilistic attitudes toward society.

If society has dissolved and become “tabula rasa“, a blank canvas, we have pretty much a free hand to reinvent “society”. And if we are at “the end of history”, then the tyranny of “history”, precedent, and tradition is likewise abolished. It is possible to use the nihilism of our time to our advantage, to effect a complete transformation of society unhindered by fossilised concepts, reified abstractions, and institutions of “society” or “history”.  We can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, in other words;  employ ourselves the “useful idiots” of our “post-ideological” era, and move to master the situation.


At least, it is this prospect that allowed Nietzsche to remain cheerful about the human prospect despite his forecast of “two centuries of nihilism”, as has come about.

It is possible, which is why Gebser encouraged us to recognise and focus on the saplings, the new growth, emerging from the detritus of the downfall of the old and amidst the ruins of the old.

“We have only one option: in examining the manifestations of our age, we must penetrate them with sufficient breadth and depth that we do not come under their demonic and destructive spell. We must not focus our view merely on these phenomena, but rather on the humus of the decaying world beneath, where the seedlings of the future are growing, immeasurable in their potential and vigor. Since our insight into these energies pressing toward development aids their unfolding, the seedlings and inceptive beginnings must be made visible and comprehensible.”

That same sentiment is what Rumi expressed in his great poem “Green Ears



20 responses to “Ironic Reversal”

  1. alex jay says :

    Did Nietzsche foresee the arrival of the great deceiver and torchbearer for this new illiberal-“liberal” coterie of social engineers, Barry “O”?:

    “Liberal institutions cease to be liberal as soon as they are attained: later on, there are no worse and no more thorough injurers of freedom than liberal institutions.”

    From Maggie’s “there is no such thing as society”, thirty years on, the new meme suggests that there is only society and there is no such thing as the individual. Even Maggie’s successor, David Cameron has turned “the no society” into the “Big Society”. Talk about an “ironic reversal”! Still, if the liberals have forgotten their ideological roots (nay, not merely forgotten, but completely reversed), why shouldn’t conservatives morph into creative destructionists; as my neck of the woods has recently experienced with disasterous neglect and criminal contrivance to destroy the countryside, eg the latest floods clearly demonstrate.

    You quite rightly point out that the antithesis and thesis have become indistinguishable and,consequently, choice has become redundant. Ergo, democracy is dead!

  2. abdulmonem says :

    On the eternal recurrence, I have this narrative picture of an old version that runs as follow, sages of all time, by the figure of the ouroboro, express the eternal manifestations of all things, wheel about in an everlasting rings, they end where they first begun, only the configuration is not the same, the cycle that help to show us the mystery of space and time , from whence the creation sprung and in whom the creation a new return . In the Quran there is a verse which says , as He started you, you will return. We started with his own accomplishment and we return to him with our own accomplishment. Our own personal accomplishment. lest our life, as Macbeth said, represents a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour on the stage of time/ space and then heard no more.It is surprising how the waste of Nature becomes its own food.

  3. alex jay says :

    Scott, I bumped into this by accident … what a fortunate discovery – lots of great stuff that you have been dealing with from a quantum approach:

    • Scott Preston says :

      It took me some time to get through that piece, but it was worth the while. The “weirdness” of quantum reality is addressed in a number of the early Seth books, mainly Seth Speaks and The Nature of Personal Reality and The Unknown Reality.

      Also, Gebserian psycho-history easily corresponds to the quantum description of reality (at least in Wheeler’s interpretation as Levy presents it), and of course Blake and the foundational role of “Imagination” was frequently called to mind as I read the piece. And if you replace the word “observation” in the Levy text with “perception”, you will also get some idea of what Castaneda was on about (particularly in his summary, last statement of his apprenticeship that is included in the 30th Anniversary Edition of The Teachings of Don Juan.

      I liked the way Levy ended it speaking of “the classical chrysalis that has long encased the human mind and fettered the human spirit” which is, of course, the theme of this blog, but which was also Blake’s protest against “Single vision & Newton’s Sleep”.

      We could go through Levy’s piece point by point showing how the revolution in consciousness represented in the quantum view is being reflected in some of the events of the day — suggesting, for example, that what was previously differentiated as “classical” and “romantic” orientations are, today, really Newtonian consciousness in conflict with Quantum consciousness, which is much the gist of Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin — the exaggeratedly analytical confronted by the holistic or integral. Wheeler, for example, is weaving the themes of the magical and mythical into the quantum description of reality, rooting these in an “eternal now” that corresponds to Gebser’s “ever-present origin”.

      There is actually quite a bit we could comment on in Levy’s piece.

      • alex jay says :

        I could find at least an half-dozen quantum explanations echoing Gebser, Blake et al that you consistently cover. The bottom line is that Atman is Brahman or as Christ said “I and the Father are one”. If this interconnectivity would infuse the consciousness of our species 99% of all the problems we are witnesssing would disolve overnight. Bye, bye to the I-You, Us-Them delusion …

  4. abdulmonem says :

    I read Levy piece also. I am familiar with the man through reading his articles put on Realty Sandwich site, I also visited his blog and read his article on Islamic hermeneutics. I think it is a good exposition of the movement in consciousness. My concern is the following
    first I prefer energy non-physic to quantum physic to avoid being continually jailed in the physical terminology, the single vision,
    , since all the theorists of the quantum emphasizes the dreamlike ,non-physical aspect of things.
    I do not like the idea of ascribing self-creation to the universe and throwing away the idea of the original observer, which i prefer the word caller . that on his call things moved from the blue-print existence lo actual existence, from the abstract to the concrete, from the invisible realm to the visible realm, as the vision of all Sufis emphasize. The principle of creation and command.
    I honestly do not understand, ascribing the ability to observe to the human and to the universe and its particles and neglect the mover behind all that. Nothing exists until it is called.
    It is sad that we are using the hardware and missing the central point the software.
    It is not the universe that is emerging because it is always in a process of emergence ever since the start but it is our understanding is emerging in an ever- expanding mode and leaving its veil, until humanity realizes that what the messengers delivered through the ages is the Truth.
    Everything is energy in mode of higher or lower vibrations, letters are carrier of information, like all photon in existence, and they are not only our tools of understanding the universe but are the tools of forming the universe. they are both carrier of information and formation.
    Without the original caller or mover the universe is dead, and this death is the end result of everything except His Face, every thing perishes except his face.
    In Wheeler I smell the aroma of the Sufis, but alas it is not fully realized.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I am familiar with the man through reading his articles put on Realty Sandwich site

      Ah… you know that site. They posted some nice things about the former Dark Age Blog.

      I do not like the idea of ascribing self-creation to the universe and throwing away the idea of the original observer, which i prefer the word caller

      There were a couple of dubious statements in Levy’s piece, and the self-engendering nature of the universe was one — it recalled the ouroboros. The second was he still situates consciousness as an epiphenomenon of the universe — something to the effect that the universe exists to make consciousness possible. That seems to contradict some other things he said, where he makes the universe, in effect, an epiphenomenon — an attribute — of consciousness itself. This is what Rumi meant when he talked about the phenomena trooping back to revive themselves in the well inside himself.

      Think of how PHENOMENA come trooping
      out of the Desert of Non-existence
      into this materiality
      Morning and night,
      they arrive in a long line and take over
      from each other, ” It’s my turn now. Get out!”

      A son comes of age, and the father packs up.
      This place of phenomena is a wide exchange
      of highways, with everything going all sorts
      of different ways.
      We seem to be sitting still,
      but we’re actually moving, and the Fantasies
      of Phenomena are sliding through us
      like ideas through curtains,
      They go to the well
      of deep love inside each of us.
      They fill their jars there, and they leave

      There is a source they come from
      and a fountain inside here.
      Be generous.
      Be grateful. Confess when you’re not.

      We can’t know
      what the Divine Intelligence
      has in mind!

      Who am I,
      standing in the midst of this

      So yes… the “aroma of the Sufi” emanates from Wheeler.

  5. abdulmonem says :

    If we ruminate Rumi fully and realize what he realized, we enter the realm of gnosis and no longer need the sticks of others,because then we have created our own stick to strengthen the other sticks in the service of god, ourselves and mankind.

  6. alex jay says :

    Interesting that I keep bumping into information I’m not actively seeking,yet,through a process of synchronisation, seems to be connected in a weird quantum fashion. Here is another angle in the fundamental importance of “observation” or as you point out perhaps “perception” would be more appropriate. Anyway, below is a short video on epigenetics, which to my mind is quantum genetics as opposed to its materilistic/mechanistic current Frankenstein version.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Placebo and nocebo effects are the things I have noted earlier as aspects of the magical consciousness structure. So epigenetics is, to a certain extent, the simultaneous discovery of the role of consciousness in biology as in quantum physics and the act of perception.

      As mentioned also earlier, “perception” has been the largely ignored function of consciousness, even though primary, as an over-emphasis on the Cartesian “cogito” or thinking thing. Obviously, though, the act of perception necessarily precedes the act of thinking, for I must first perceive that the thing I am doing is called “thinking” before I can know it as thinking. Perception is primary or, to put it more succinctly, perception precedes conception.

      The “field” effect of consciousness is also something that occurs in physics as the quantum field (Wolfgang Pauli). Here, it is treated as a shared consciousness structure or shared system of beliefs that I have been referring to as “the foreign installation” — the culturally conditioned mind (the Freudian superego). The “field” as described here is an egregore (you might want to google that up). It regulates the act of perception — even censors it and keeps it in chains as Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles”.

      Basically, everything described as “epigenetics” in this clip is addressed by Seth in his books also, particularly the role of beliefs in constructing or projecting what we call “reality”, as well as their role in engendering disease or well-being. This you find also in Blake as the supreme role of “the Imagination”, which he identifies with Christ consciousness.

  7. Scott Preston says :

    On the theme of “ironic reversal”, one might take note of the proliferation of separatist and secessionist movements coincident with the intensification of globalisation, and recall that what is presently called “globalisation” was even more prominent before the First World War than today — that is, as a conceived universal empire of the “free market”.

    A sense of dislocation and deracination seems to attend globalisation that also intensifies its contradiction — disintegration and fragmentation, a heightened degree of self-consciousness amongst previously assimilated ethnicities — Quebec, Scotland, now in the Ukraine, the south of France. There are even some (so far minor) secessionist sentiments in the US.

    So, you have this strange coincidence of opposites — the more intensely the universal empire of the free market is pursued and applied, the more fractured and fragmented it becomes, somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces keep increasing in number even as you try to put the puzzle together into a coherent picture. This phenomenon belongs to that “double-movement” of the times that Gebser highlighted as one of the peculiarities of Late Modernity.

  8. abdulmonem says :

    after seeing the video I was called , on the way to respond to the call , I was thinking that the movement from the genetic to epigenetic is the same movement from the physical physics to energy physics .one on the micro level and the other is on the macro level, then I returned to read your comments only to find that you have caught the similarity which indicate that the world is moving fast toward the root.

  9. LittleBigMan says :

    “…..the more intensely the universal empire of the free market is pursued and applied, the more fractured and fragmented it becomes……”

    Yes, because the ground level motivation and implication of this “free market” is the big guy having the free hand to push the little guy out of the way and take over whatever the heck is left with impunity – and most importantly – the support of the state. The many headed dragon that is the “fortune 500” couldn’t do a darn thing without the support of the state.

    Michael Desch’s article does a pretty decent job of explaining the Kantian liberalism root of American illiberalism. But what a disappointment it was to read his very last statement:

    “Lockeanism at home and Machiavellianism in the rest of the world.”

    It seems to me that if America was to embrace that view, then she would almost certainly have to relinquish the status of being a superpower – that is, if she is to maintain strongly liberal values at home while remaining only an observer toward power grab, political corruption, and back-stabbings in the rest of the world.

    But since we know that that isn’t going to happen, and America will insert her own players into the nasty bloody political games played in the rest of the world, then, Desch is wrong to think that a superpower would be able to play this double standard game of playing the saint on the inside and a devil abroad without very significant blowback and reversal of fortunes on the inside.

    Desch is deluded if he thinks that a state – and especially a superpower at that – can turn itself on or off like an automaton and act so differently within and beyond its geographical boundaries. In fact, many of the tactics that are being used to suffocate democracy in the West today are the same tactics (bribes to lawmakers & elimination of those who cannot be bribed) that have been used on a mass scale “in the rest of the world.”

    Money and weapons (we may refer to them as greed and ill-will in the spirit of Buddhist dukkha discussed on The Chrysalis) will turn back on and be used against the very peoples whose taxes supported the creation of the hegemon. As far as I understand it, this ironic reversal of the direction in which the head of the spear will point is both inevitable and necessary for the emergence of integral consciousness. Personally, I would’ve rather seen humanity emerge into integral consciousness from another consciousness structure than this mental rational one. The pain, grief, and suffering would’ve been much less.

    The discussion about quantum theory both fascinates and befuddles me. Basically, it seems to me, with quantum physics, we have found ourselves on the verge of a new world for which our language and means of communication lack any expression. This is why Paul Levy’s piece is so long. It takes him three dozen pages to express what would’ve been a few sentences if we had the right language to speak about this new unknown world of ideas and events.

    • Scott Preston says :

      “Lockeanism at home and Machiavellianism in the rest of the world.”

      This is even barely conceivable as effective policy only where boundaries and borders are clearly defined. In the planetary era, they are not. They are, as an aspect of Bauman’s “liquid modernity” also, fluid and not fixed. It is one of the essential meanings of “post-modernity” that it also means that the nation-state becomes a fuzzy concept, since the nation-state and the nation-state system was one of the chief creations of the Modern Era itself.

      In effect, what is now being misleadingly called “the international community” is the new model of governance. It is not the U.N. either. It is a largely deracinated global elite that shares more in common with each other than they do with their own countries of birth or origin. “The international community” describes, in that sense, what Orwell knew as a transnational “oligarchic collectivism” described somewhat in his book 1984. This is the only sense in which “the international community” can be understood at all — and which are embryonically represented in groups like the Trilateral Commission, Davos, and the Bilderbergers. (Huntington, by the way, who I quoted in the next post about secret power, was a member of the Trilateral Commission).

      Democracy can’t exist where there is secret law, and law made in secret. Slavoj Zizek, in his typically over-cerebral way, has an article that somewhat speaks to this in today’s Guardian. And with FISA courts, the “Five Eyes” group, or “fast track” authority for negotiating trade agreements, or concentrations of power in the executive branches of government (Presidency or PMO) and so on, we are already very, very close to this situation

      Technology itself is pushing us in this direction, because speed becomes of the essence. Democracy was conceived and effective when societies were largely rural, slower, when there was time for deliberation and “sober second thought”. These conditions no longer exist as society itself moves closer and closer to the ideal of a fully autonomous automaton or cybernetic “system” in which the individual is irrelevant and therefore, also irrelevant, are things like “free speech”, “free association”, etc. They still exist, to a degree anyway, but as the impotent residuaa of a bygone era.

      Hence, there is a close connection between Huntington’s quote and Taylorism or “scientific management”

      “In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first” — Taylor

      “The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.” — Huntington

      Basically, it seems to me, with quantum physics, we have found ourselves on the verge of a new world for which our language and means of communication lack any expression. This is why Paul Levy’s piece is so long. It takes him three dozen pages to express what would’ve been a few sentences if we had the right language to speak about this new unknown world of ideas and events.

      New consciousness, rather. That is why the famous “anything worth saying can be said in 25 words or less” is bunk in conditions of rapid change. It assumes a background or context of interpretation and understanding (called “common sense”) that no longer exists. We no longer live in the Newtonian-Cartesian context or milieu, yet our ego consciousness has not caught up with this fact. Everything thus appears strange, ominous, disorienting. It will take a while before our language and thought catches up with our new reality, as we search for new models — a new language of orientation.

      • Scott Preston says :

        By the way, an obsession with speed and forceful power is typical of the fascist mentality and fascist aesthetics, too, whether this was Nazi “blitzkrieg” or the fascist “Futurists” of Italy. A cultish obsession with the exhilaration of speed and violent emotions seems rather typical of the fascist mentality.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        Reading Seth and don Juan Matus has kind of spoiled me. I look for the same conciseness and clarity in everyone else’s account of the unknown reality as I find in their work. Ironically, in each case, it wasn’t the bearer of knowledge who wrote anything down, but it was the sidekick who did it. I’m not sure if there’s a necessary correlation between shamanism and reclusiveness, but I cannot help but wonder why they – who know so much about the nature of reality and no doubt many of them exist even today – choose to remain silent and keep themselves so much.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Not unusual. Buddha wrote nothing. Jesus wrote nothing. Socrates wrote nothing. Presumably, they wanted their insights born alive in the immediacy of speech rather than entombed in scripture and frozen in letter.

          • LittleBigMan says :

            “they wanted their insights born alive in the immediacy of speech”

            Very insightful. That makes perfect sense for a member of the integral consciousness species who is preoccupied with the now.

  10. abdulmonem says :

    There is no impunity, God has his own system of checks and balances, all prophets told us that ,but it seem we have no confidence in their sayings and started having more confidence in other human talks and even then we are still reluctant to have faith that the basic message of the principle of ironic reversal is pointing in that direction The film of playing saint inside and a devil abroad is not a new production, it started with the start of the western civilization, what is new is that the number of the people of the west who start to see the robbery, the exploitation, the power grabbing,political corruption ,wealth stealing, falsification and back-stabbing of their governments ,are rapidly increasing ,specially after they discovered the lies associated with war on Iraq and the stories of the whistle-blowers. and particularly after seeing their freedom and their way of life are endangered.
    I hope the warnings emphasized by Scott through the messages delivered by Blake , Neiztche, Gebser ,Rosenstock,Seth,Castenada and others be of benefit before the principle of ironic reversal is effected. Of course so many individuals talked and still talking about the corruption, but no sign of correction is on the apparent horizon.

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