Age of Secession

One of the most peculiar dynamics of globalisation is the proliferation of nationalist and secessionist movements. Scotland and the Ukraine are all in the news today, but there are active secessionist movements in Canada (Quebec), Spain (Catalonia), the Middle East, and elsewhere. Even in the United States. It’s a great example of what I call “ironic reversal” — an ironic reversal of “the end of history” and of the overt logic of, and expectations for, what is called “globalisation”.

In some ways, it represents a nice example of that double-movement or action that Carl Jung called “enantiodromia” — coincidence of opposites or reversal at the limit or extremity. Jean Gebser also made note of this double-movement of the times as early as 1949, in his Ever-Present Origin — his belief that the atomisation, fragmentation or disintegration of Modern Era was also an essential restructuration, ie, that its nihilism was also a genesis, the emergence of a new consciousness structure.

There are other names for enantiodromia or “ironic reversal”, as I’ve explored in past posts: “perverse outcome”, “unintended consequence”, “revenge effect”, or just plain old “reversal of fortune”. Some refer to such dynamics (none too accurately) as being “counter-intuitive”. That means, rather, self-negating or self-contradictory or anomalous; an outcome not as prescribed and predicted. Coca-cola would unite the entire world in song. A rising tide would lift all boats, etc, etc.

Even while the Pied Pipers of neo-conservativism, neo-liberalism and neo-socialism were celebrating the “end of ideology” and “the end of history”, and long before the events of 9/11, Benjamin Barber was writing his book Jihad versus McWorld, which established his reputation as being something of a prophet. It highlighted the implicit contradictions in the logic of globalisation. It was a fine book, which I think I should re-read, along with Amy Chua’s World on Fire.

Nobody wants to tell you this, but “development” (that is to say, “progress”) has really been displaced by “crisis management”, and crisis management is the fumbling attempt to resolve the self-negating, self-contradictions in the dynamic of globalisation. “Counter-intuitive” really only means that existing consciousness structure — the mental-rational consciousness — can no longer effectively master the circumstances it has generated for itself. “Counter-intuitive” means breakdown of its implicit logic, and that breakdown is manifesting as “ironic reversal” in all those optional ways as “perverse outcome”, “unintended consequence”, “revenge effect” or “reversal of fortune” or just “the anomalous”. And one of the finest books of the last century, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, addressed this very thing — the meaning of “the anomalous”, or the unpredicted and the “counter-intuitive”. The subsequent controversy about the book, “the struggle for the soul of science”, became encapsulated in the “Popper versus Kuhn” debate. But it was really the clash of old consciousness with an emergent new consciousness which was itself “anomalous”.  Marshall McLuhan’s quip that “breakdown is breakthrough” was also the theme of Kuhn’s history of scientific revolutions, which are de facto “mutations” of consciousness, or a restructuration of perception.

The emergence of the anomalous (the unpredicted) in science is how Nature tells us we’ve gotten off track — that our thinking and perception, theory and consciousness, is not in accord with the reality. “Crisis management” is this same thing on the social scale.

Globalisation has, as side-effect, the attendant intensification of ethnic self-consciousness, which McLuhan anticipated as “re-tribalisation” and the breakdown of the nation-state model. But it is highly ambiguous. These secessionist or nationalist movements can be interpreted as highly reactionary or as a new consciousness of a planetary “ecology” of peoples and nations. If the latter, secession from the existing nation-state model is really about integrating into globalism as a kind of planetary ecology of peoples, a defence of diversity and pluralism against the pressure of the homogenising uniformity of neo-liberalism. In those terms “secession” would be a withdrawl from the limitations of the nation-state model precisely in order to integrate into the larger planetary ecology — a desire for authentic membership. Secessionism may also drive in the other direction — the reactionary or insular — as dismemberment, which is what we associate with neo-fascism and the ethnic narcissism of what David Loy calls “the Wego”. We can’t suppose that secessionism is always driven by a reactionary and narrow-minded nationalism. It may actually be internationalist, particularly where the nation-state model is experienced as constricting or retarding and even as being irrational in the context of globalism.

As an example of the irrationalities of the nation-state model in the context of accelerating globalisation one might mention the peculiar fact that France, a NATO country, has been building warships under contract for Russia. Did you get that? That’s hardly unique. It’s just one of the bizarre contradictions between globalisation and nation-state interests, particularly in relation to the arms trade. In another ironic twist, all the advanced weaponry that the “Coalition of the Willing” left behind after the Iraq War or supplied to Syrian rebels have now fallen into the hands of ISIS. A fine example of “blowback”. Those are just a couple of examples of the self-contradictions — the irrationalities of this present time we call “Late Modernity”.

Those are examples of what Jean Gebser calls the extreme “sectoralisation” of the mental-rational consciousness — that it is able to ignore the contradiction between economic rationales and political values, for example. That “sectoralisation” is what we call the Jekyll-and-Hyde dissociation, or “the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing”. Economic rationales and political values now contradict each other. It’s not just in the danger of climate change that the “pursuit of rational self-interest” has become indistinguishable from and identical with the irrational pursuit of self-destruction (which is also “enantiodromia“).

Whether secession is healthy or unhealthy, reasonable or unreasonable, revolutionary or reactionary depends upon its motives and orientations. Is it oriented towards the future? or towards the past? Is it “post-modern” or “pre-modern”? Is it integrative or segregative in relation to the global era? It is really secession from the Modern Era, but in which direction — towards the planetary or away from it? Is the dismemberment a “re-memberment”, as it were — old nationalism or a new notion of internationalism?


2 responses to “Age of Secession”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    “The Scottish referendum is in this sense a symptom of a much broader loss of faith in the ability of existing institutions of governance to protect people against unaccountable power. This is why the campaign is not particularly nationalistic: the loss of faith at its heart is Scottish and English and Irish and Welsh and European and American. The demand for independence just happens, for historical reasons, to be the form in which Scots are expressing a need that is felt around the developed world: the urgent necessity of a new politics of democratic accountability.”

    I just now read this really fantastic piece on the reasons for the Scottish secessionist movement by Fintan O’Toole. I love it, because it really highlights what I tried to say here in this post, and which I continued on into the next post on “eras and empires”.

    Lovely and informative essay by O’Toole.

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    Even a California billionaire was pressing ahead earlier with a proposal to split the state into 6 states. The proposal didn’t even make it to the ballot here, though:

    Just imagine the arrogance that wants Silicon Valley to become its own state. The mean rent for a normal unit where everything works the way it should is around $2,000 a month (utilities not included) around here. And if you pay less than this, the toilet might not flush regularly, or the area might be ridden with crime, etc. In an area like this, where would the baker, the sanitation worker, the maid, the plumber, the locksmith, the appliance repairman, the journeyman electrician, etc. would be able to afford to live? People around here have jobs, yet they are forced to become homeless because they cannot afford to pay the rent. And the billionaires here want to make it a state??????

    The age of secession is truly a good example of “enantiodromia.” Expansion meets contraction – courtesy of theory meets realities-on-the ground.

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