Chaos and Modern Consciousness
What happens when you subtract the very principle of conservation from conservatism?
That question occurred to me once again this morning as I read the disturbing news reports of the ongoing harassment of conservation and environmental advocacy groups by the present ruling party in Ottawa. At present, about the only thing that separates us from a full-blown tyranny is the Supreme Court, and the ruling party of Stephen Harper is also trying its best to try and subvert it, too.
But has anyone really asked the more fundamental question: just what exactly is this “new” conservatism that has abandoned the very principle of conservation, and now even makes war on it? Is that not a self-devouring self-contradiction? Is it really Toryism at all, or just something that comes wearing conservatism as a mask, behind which lurks a spirit of malice?
What’s left over after the spirit has flown is what we call a “mentality”, and in the case of “new conservatism” the spirit that has flown is the very meaning of conservatism itself — conservation. Likewise, for similar reasons neo-liberalism has been described as an “illiberal liberalism”, and the neo-socialism of the Tony Blair variety — “New Labour” — has become a kind of millionaire socialism.
The reason for that is very simple to understand, too. Just as “new conservatism” has jettisoned the very principle of conservation, liberalism has jettisoned the very principle of universality. They have become nihilisms, self-devouring self-contradictions, now making war even on their own foundations and thus on the very foundations and premisses of the Modern Age itself.
What is left over is ideological incoherence, symptomatic of that disintegrative tendency in the structure of mental-rational consciousness that Jean Gebser already noticed emerging in the first half of the twentieth century. The Age of Decay, when a civilisation enters into its decadence and decline, is characterised by the chaos of its consciousness, and much of what is called “post-modern style” is this same chaos and incoherence. Or one might say “de-coherence”.
But the spirit of malice that animates contemporary conservatism is particularly notable. Behind the mask of an increasingly feigned civility is something very mean-spirited, narrow-minded, and small-souled. Behind the mask of civility is a chaos of self-contradiction — the dangerous nihilism of Late Modernity.
But then, as Nietzsche also put it, “one must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star”.
Or, perhaps also to a Black Hole?
Very few people, it seems to me, have addressed this chaos in the structure of Late Modern consciousness except indirectly, in terms of “cultural contradictions”, and even less to have penetrated their meaning sufficiently.
The spirit has flown from this Age. Because Conservatism has jettisoned the principle of conservation itself, we have an environmental crisis that threatens the Earth; and because liberalism has jettisoned the principle of universality, we now have growing inequality as well that threatens democracy. These are symptoms of an Age in the process of decay, one in the process of turning round, and narcissistically devouring itself and its own foundational principles.
That’s the essence of “the new normal” — its “Zeitgeist“, as it were. The “new normal” is this same chaos of Late Modern, or even post-modern, consciousness; the growing incoherence — de-coherence or loss of integrity — of the consciousness structure of Late Modern Man.
“New” conservatism, like “new” liberalism or “new” socialism, is therefore essentially a sickness of consciousness. Consciousness can become diseased, too. It can also become well. And just as there is the diseased condition, there is also the instinctual quest now for the principle of health — the “keys to the kingdom”. “Health” is the very meaning of the word “whole” or “integral”. And “health” would become, as Rosenstock-Huessy once insisted, the central principle of the New Age in the making.
That was also Nietzsche’s quest — the philosophy of the supremely healthy as a response and corrective to what he anticipated as “two-centuries of nihilism”. He was quite prophetic and prescient in that regard, because we are now truly in the midst of his sickness of nihilism, and are being consumed and devoured by it.
Metanoia or “New Mind” (Rosenstock-Huessy), “integral consciousness” (Jean Gebser), “supramental consciousness” (Aurobindo), “overman” (Nietzsche), “overview effect” (Frank White) — these are all attempted answers and responses to the sickness of modern consciousness; all attempts to discover and disclose the keys to well-being and a necessary corrective to the chaotic and increasingly incoherent state and condition of the Late Modern mind.
So, no more of this “I’m only human” crap. To survive ourselves, we need to become more-than-human, as this has been understood hitherto. And this is what Rosenstock-Huessy, Gebser, Aurobindo, Nietzsche, “Seth”, and William Blake represent. How to become “more-than-human”.
Our self-understanding is faulty. Our self-definition is flawed and limiting. It must change.