Late Modern Schizophrenia
“Man is the sick animal”. That was Nietzsche’s general definition of “man”, and as a definition it is probably more truthful than the usual self-flattering or idealised definitions — homo sapiens, homo oeconomicus, homo faber, “the rational animal”, “the moral animal”, “the political animal”, and so on. “Man is the sick animal” is also notable for being quite consistent with the first premise of most religious traditions, whether “original sin” or the First Noble Truth of Buddhism that life is dukkha — malaise, disease, difficulty, suffering, unsatisfactoriness, the imperfect and unwell.
“Man is the sick animal” is fully the equivalent of the First Noble Truth of Buddhism, as it is the first principle also of Nietzsche’s philosophy.
If our quest is for a saner and more just world order, it arises as a desideratum because we find our present world to be neither sane nor particularly just. Nietzsche also thought of his philosophy as a philosophy of convalescence from this sickness — a healing philosophy. And he shares that also in common with Buddhism.
“Integral consciousness” is also an issue of healing or mending. It’s the very meaning of the word integrare — “to heal”, “to mend”. Integrity has to do with health, or the whole. So, that’s another way of understanding the term “dukkha” — as the unwholesome. “Man is the sick animal” because he is unwhole, or incomplete. “Man is the sick animal” is also the first premise of William Blake’s art and poetry.
Recognising that we are sick, and in what way we are sick, should be the beginning of any new vital philosophy. It’s actually the essential meaning of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism: acknowledging that we are sick, coming to know why we are sick, learning to discern between the well and the unwell, and to follow the path out of sickness into health. This is the pattern of our evolution. It is the same pattern we find in Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral logic of his “grammatical method”, in fact. “Health”, he says, will be the next great revolutionary principle, and his social philosophy is a philosophy of social health.
We are not presently well at all. We walk in destructive paths of self-contradiction. These paths of self-contradiction presently are called “the new normal”, and I have previously highlighted the symptoms of this “new normal” as the duplicitous — double-talk, double-think, double-standard, and the inevitable double-bind. We are, in effect, schizophrenic, and that means “disintegrate”. It is not “human nature” to be dis-integrate or erratic, nor is it “the natural order of things”. It is error.
One of the most extreme examples of this contemporary schizophrenia is the nearly complete dissociation of ostensible political values and actual economic rationales, as mentioned briefly earlier. They are in a severe state of mutual contradiction that reflects the “compartmentalisation” or “sectoralisation” of contemporary consciousness, by which I mean a dissociation of the Jekyll-and-Hyde condition. This is particularly the case in the irrationalities of weapons culture and the war economy in relation to the dynamics of globalisation. Here, most tellingly, political values and economic rationales are completely divergent. That is to say, what we say we do or desire to do, and what we actually do are completely divergent. To put that another way, image and reality are divergent, word and deed are dis-integrate, and this reflects a consciousness structure that has now become divided against itself. Another term for that is deranged.
I have previously referred to one example of the dissociation of political values from economic rationales in the example of the global arms trade, one recent example being the startling revelation that France, a NATO country, has been building warships for Russia. It’s not the only example by far. Yesterday the BBC announced the introduction of Africa’s first fully home-built aircraft, and it was interesting to listen to the manufacturer’s chairman, Ivor Ichikowitz, deliver his rationale. No emerging or modern economy can dispense with a leading aerospace and defence industry. It is the actual driver of economic growth and technological progress.
Now, one should understand the full implications of that in the context of globalisation. Every nation to succeed in the neo-liberal world order requires a military-industrial-university-government-security complex or conglomerate to drive innovation, growth, and prosperity and “jobs, jobs, jobs”. In order to justify the diversion and allocation of human and financial resources to this driver of innovation and prosperity, the pressure of an existential threat must be maintained, a certain mass anxiety about the precariousness of national security and public safety must be sustained, otherwise some people might begin to question why so much public money is being diverted into weapons and a war economy when the global economy is “integrating” in a single global market of planetary free trade and the public weal requires attention.
This is a different question than whether a nation should have an adequate defence and security industry. It is saying rather that it should take the leading role in the economy and society. So, in effect what we say we want in terms of political and social values — peace, harmony, conviviality, etc — comes into contradiction with what we need in economic terms, which is violence and the threat of violence in order to sustain a weapons culture and a war economy as the chief engine of economic and technological progress. And if the nations are united about anything, it’s in agreeing that every nation needs a competitive war economy and weapons culture to thrive, and mutual suspicion and maintaining a certain level of conflict and stress must be the norm.
That’s the irony of “globalisation”. The world is not “integrating” in political terms. It’s doing the exact opposite, and every nation is now pursuing its own “military-industrial complex”.
How does one reconcile this with the rhetoric of universal human rights and humanitarianism and international law, etc? I was amused recently to read a headline in The Globe & Mail, “Canada ‘can’t lose opportunity to show its humanitarian side’ in Ebola fight“. Really? What’s it’s “other” side, then? What is its non-humanitarian side? That wasn’t even mentioned.
“Humanitarianism” and the rhetoric of human rights has been actually reconciled with the fact of weapons culture and the warfare economy in the form of “humanitarian war” or “humanitarian intervention”. It’s very Orwellian, of course. In that way we can remain comfortable with our schizophrenia… of having our cake and eating it too. “Humanitarian warfare” is the awkward attempt to reconcile our ostensible political values — our “moral” or idealised self-image, really — while preserving the baser economic rationale of a weapons culture and a warfare economy — a rather devious slight-of-hand, in many respects, since it allows everyone to preserve the fiction of “our side’s” essential goodness and of the enemy’s essential badness.
In truth, we’re all pretty sick.