Chaos and Modern Consciousness, II
All talk about “Late Modernity” or “Post-Modernity” must begin with Nietzsche. All this blather about “cultural Marxism” being the Zeitgeist is so utterly delusional that I have to consider it a sign of a mass psychosis. We are not in or entering a Marxian phase. We are in a Nietzschean phase. Hegel and Marx were both checkmated by the World Wars, and it is Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism” that is currently the dominant tendency.
So, we need to grapple with Nietzsche and the meaning of Nietzsche’s “nihilism” if we are to understand the condition of the consciousness of Late Modern Man as I raised it in the last post.
Nietzsche’s formula for nihilism is this: “all higher values devalue themselves”, and the highest value of all, God, Nietzsche announced to be dead… murdered, actually. All values begin to devour themselves. This devaluation of values is decadence, and decadence is a form of nihilism — the process of emptying all values of meaning in self-negation or self-annihilation.
Rosenstock-Huessy called this decadence a “disease of speech”, and identified it with “lip-service”. Another name for the disease of lip-service is “hypocrisy”, and the problem of hypocrisy is the lack of integrity between the word and the act. One still speaks the old language of values, but one acts in such a way as to negate and make void those very values. This need not be a fully consciousness duplicity. Very often it is not. The problem of lip-service as a symptom of decadence is what is expressed when it is said that “we talk the talk, but we don’t walk the walk”.
This is the issue that I tried to draw out in the last post in noting how “new” conservatism has jettisoned the very principle of conservation, while liberalism has jettisoned its own core value of universality, and how this devaluation of values now impacts on our present situation of environmental crisis and at the same time, growing inequality in society, or what is called “the democratic deficit”. A conservatism that conserves nothing is a self-negation, just as an “illiberal liberalism” is a self-negation. They still speak the old language of values, but they act in such a way as to completely negate them.
In other words, the talk and the walk meet each other as complete contradictions — and like matter and anti-matter, they collide, become mutually annihilate and disintegrate, and leave a void of meaninglessness… a chaos. That is the gist of how all higher values come to devalue themselves. And Nietzsche saw this disintegrative tendency as the inevitable fate of the Modern Era and the modern consciousness– as its “two centuries of nihilism”.
And what is being called “the new normal” is this self-negation; is this “two centuries of nihilism”; is this disintegration of the modern consciousness structure as Jean Gebser later described and diagnosed it in his Ever-Present Origin. It is Nietzsche’s catastrophe in the making. “Death of God” was simply Nietzsche’s term for this total disintegration and the desolation of the abysmal, or what W.B Yeats and Jean Gebser later called the loss of the vital centre, for the vital centre is the unifying centre. This is the gist of Nietzsche’s remark,
“Since Copernicus, man has been rolling from the centre towards X“
Nietzsche attempted to give “X” a meaningful value despite his two centuries of nihilism, and that value he called übermensch — the “overman” or “transhuman” — which value has been so badly abused and misunderstood. The Nietzschean “overman” is still the Christian “god-man” of the early church — an “ascended” type in terms of his or her consciousness. For Nietzsche, Goethe had been the closest exemplar to his ideal of the overman.
It should be noted that Blake had already perceived the disintegrative tendency in the modern consciousness, which he called “single vision”. A lot of his “Prophetic Books” are about the desolation of this disintegration, and his poems are actually maps of consciousness in the throes of either disintegration or re-integration.
Nietzsche, likewise, sought out the keys to a new integration of consciousness. The situation wasn’t all doom and gloom for Nietzsche. But there is something about Nietzsche’s resolution of, and corrective to, the problem of nihilism or disintegration that already seems somewhat curiously antiquated. Nietzsche raged against the narrow nationalisms and racial bigotries of his time, which he dismissed as being nothing more than “nook-and-corner perspectives” that would bring Europe, if not all mankind, to grief. Precisely that “mentality” that we have called “the point-of-view-line-of-thought” consciousness, and which Gebser later was to describe in terms of reified perspectivism, but which Blake had already called “single vision”. Blake’s “single vision” is this same “nook-and-corner” perspectivism denounced by Nietzsche as typical of the nationalist, religionist, or racialist bigot — a type that Nietzsche particularly detested as especially nihilistic. It was the cause of his decisive break with Richard Wagner.
Against these bigotries and nationalisms of the “nook-and-corner perspective”, Nietzsche posited himself as “the good European”. Today, that sounds somewhat quaint to our ears. In Nietzsche’s time of competing nationalisms, however, it was somewhat radical to consider oneself a “good European”. It seems that even Nietzsche’s counter-nihilism of a new integration extended no further, really, than the continent and culture of Europe.
I want to emphasise that for this reason: because within the time of four generations since Nietzsche, we have gone from that issue of European integration to the problem and issue of global integration and globalism. We have gone from Nietzsche’s “nook-and-corner perspectivism” to “overview effect” in a very short time indeed! The “overview” against the “point-of-view”, in other words.
What does this mean? It means that even as we endure and suffer Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism” a new integration of consciousness has also been occurring. This is that strange “double-movement” described by Jean Gebser — a disintegration accompanied by a new integration. We have gone from Nietzsche’s “good European” to the “Global Soul” in a very short space of time. Human consciousness is expanding even as it is narrowing and contracting, too.
Nietzsche, even in his time, seems to have had some trouble thinking of the Earth as a global whole. It isn’t until after the world wars that we begin really to think of the planet as a global whole, and then it is sealed definitively by the views of Earth from space — the “overview effect” is this continuing new integration of consciousness.
So the 1948 statement by Fred Hoyle that opens the video The Overview Effect is profoundly true,
“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available…. a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”
That idea, though, seems to begin with Nietzsche’s “Be true to the Earth!” and that idea is the idea of a new integration of consciousness occurring even in the midst of the ruins of an older consciousness which Gebser calls “the perspectival” or “mental-rational consciousness structure” now in the throes of dis-integration and self-negation.
The real issue is now, how to outrun that disintegration in Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism”.