Enantiodromia: Modernity in extremis

I’ve heard the name Paul Verhaeghe before. I can’t recall where I heard the name, but Mr. Verhaeghe has an article in today’s Guardian about the psychological ravages of neo-liberalism entitled “Neo-liberalism has brought out the worst in us”. It seems appropriate to bring it to your attention as it follows closely on what I wrote a few days ago on “Late Modern Schizophrenia”, or earlier in “The Ravages of the New Normal“.

This kind of medical model approach to the social phenomena of Late Modernity recalls the Canadian made documentary The Corporation. It is actually a good development when we start to think in terms of health and illness rather than moralising in terms of “good and evil” matters that are actually issues of well-being or sickness, or of wounding and healing, or dis-integrative and integrative.

I want, however, to interpret and re-interpret Mr. Verhaeghe’s observations on the dynamics of neo-liberalism further, as an example of that process of “enantiodromia“, formally named as such by another psychoanalyst Carl Jung after the philosopher Heraclitus. Enantiodromia, as discussed previously, describes reversal of action at the extremity or the “coincidence of opposites” (coincidentia oppositorum) at the limit. Enantiodromia is characteristic of the ironic or the hybristic.

Many of William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell are, in fact, illustrative of the process of enantiodromia or reversal in extremis,

If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise”
“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”
“Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.”

Nietzsche’s succinct formula for nihilism, “all higher values devalue themselves”, also describes the dynamic of enantiodromia, which we can also describe in terms of “revenge effect”, “unintended consequence”, “reversal of fortune”, “blowback”, “perverse outcome”, and so on — the self-negation of an act at the extremity or limit. Here by “in extremis” or limit I mean an aged civilisation and its consciousness structure (psychodynamics) that has reached the absolute limit of its capacity and then starts to undergo its own self-negation. The act begins to devour itself. The unity of the consciousness structure begins to negate itself.

Thus, when I say that presently the “pursuit of rational self-interest” has become indistinguishable from the irrational pursuit of self-destruction and identical with it, I am describing the process of enantiodromia as something typical of aged civilisations which have overreached the limit of their possibilities for further articulation or elaboration, which we call “expansion” or “growth”.

This Heidegger sensed as his despair of reason to save us. This H.G. Wells referred to as “Mind at the End of Its Tether”. This Nietzsche knew as our “two centuries of nihilism” and the devaluation of values… the exhaustion and breakdown of the mental-rational consciousness structure in development since the Renaissance, and even earlier — what Rosenstock-Huessy refers to as “the Greek Mind”. That’s the real meaning of Mr. Fukuyama’s “end of history”. So, I turn Mr. Fukuyama on his head.

This is what Mr. Verhaeghe is saying in his article, essentially — the presumption of neo-liberalism is that the principle of the pursuit of rational self-interest (despite irruptions of “irrational exuberance” or bubbles as market jargon has it) is a sure and certain guide to health and happiness and freedom, yet it is actually generating the opposite outcome. This self-negation or self-contradiction is typical of civilisations approaching breakdown and collapse. Their purposes are finally frustrated.

It is not coincidence that the “democratic deficit” grows apace with the expansion of neo-liberalism, “counter-intuitively”, as they say. It is enantiodromia. One may say the same for the dynamics of globalisation in general — the process which was enacted and expected to unite and “integrate” the globe is having the exact opposite outcome, as secessionist, separatist, nationalist movements and wars on the peripheries frustrate the dynamics of globalisation, something also “counter-intuitive” that Amy Chua puzzled over in her book World on Fire, but which she failed to understand, much as Fukuyama also failed to understand in what perverse way his “end of history” was actually, and ironically, true.

So, when I speak of “Late Modern Schizophrenia”, this schizophrenic condition is the expression within the mental-rational consciousness structure of the self-negating and self-contradicting action of enantiodromia itself, which is but another interpretation of the karmic law of action and reaction. This is not really a moral issue so much as a mental-health issue — the disintegration of the consciousness structure that has characterised the Modern Era. We have become this self-negating process of enantiodromia.

As The Boss, Mr. Springsteen, says there’s “darkness on the edge of town”, and that’s what Mr. Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General also sees when he speaks of our “darkening horizons”. Our schizophrenia is the crucible of our own self-negation, which Nietzsche already foresaw, and which Robert Louis Stevenson also foresaw in his Jekyll-and-Hyde parable. We have become this same process of enantiodromia. We now embody its dynamic of self-contradiction, which to others looks like hypocrisy, but which is really the self-contradictory dynamic of enantiodromia in action.

And the only question is, whether we can master it or whether it will master us, whether we can outrun it or whether it will finally run us down. This is the issue of “integral consciousness” and of our intuitions about the “quantum leap”, which has become a kind of metaphor for our own self-overcoming and self-transcendence.

14 responses to “Enantiodromia: Modernity in extremis

  1. alex jay says :

    Sorry to go off topic (though it would take me ages to comment on your last three posts), but I think you might find this pictorial interesting – notice the Holy Spirit breeching the north pole in the circumference of the four-fold vision ala Jacob Boehme)?


    Or the human brain? … but then we are the stuff of suns and sons we are or daughters from a Japanese perspective, which I believe is the only culture that feminises the sun.

    Meanwhile, we’re still counting angels on a pinhead – albeit with scientific gravitas … and the atheists are founding churches with Sunday services … and David Cameron warns us about the the latest terror threat from “9/11 Truthers” – worse than ISIL/ISIS/IS/Khorasan/Khardisians or whatever some think-tank wonks conjure up after a Friday afternoon piss-up.

    Homo Absurdus … and if wasn’t funny it would be pathetic, which it is. Just check out Obama’s UN speech. I could only handle 5 minutes out of the 35. Surprised there wasn’t a mass exodus of the delegates after the lies upon lies that the puppet regurgitated with a straight face.

    Surely, we’re doomed.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Hard for me to imagine that a supernova would demonstrate such perfect symmetry. But then, it is a computerised model which probably uses a recursive algorithm and a fractal set to generate the image.

      I wouldn’t be too surprised to find that it does resemble the brain, nonetheless. It’s all energy and thermodynamics, and energy flows in lawful ways, which is the issue of Chaos Theory. Best book on that subject is Ilya Progogine’s Order out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature, which I consider one of the most important books of the last century.

      (In fact, I might mention that a student of Prigogine’s and himself a specialist in Chaos Theory is a subscriber to The Chrysalis).

      • Scott Preston says :

        While mentioning Prigogine, I might also mention some of his other works which I have not, as yet, read, but which appear very inviting: The End of Certainty, From Being to Becoming, Exploring Complexity, and Is Future Given?. The very titles touch on themes I’m most interested in.

        It also reminds me that I might want to turn to Prigogine’s work on thermodynamics and chaos to find evidence for enantiodromia. I’m sure it’s there.

    • abdulmonem says :

      Sorry Alex , the sun in the Arabic language is female.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    By the way, as another example of “enantiodromia” I might mention a remark by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy that I always found significant: As he puts it, in the natural order of things, birth precedes death. In the spiritual order death precedes birth. One need not look at this is in some kind of dualistic way, but as the unitary action of enantiodromia. Birth is simultaneously a death; death is simultaneously a birth.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Just to add to that last post — I see no reason to suppose that the laws of thermodynamics and of psychodynamics should be different at all. Both deal with energy and the energetic flux. It is for that reason that exploring the cosmos is self-discovery, and self-discovery is reciprocally exploring the cosmos. Energy is the common denominator, and all energy is conscious.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    In both realms death precedes life. Having life is a call for active engagement, authentic existence that is reflected through authentic contact with self and the cosmos. Knowledge of one pours in the other, mutual communication.Awareness need no language however language needs awareness to asserts itself through speech. that is why we have forms and words.

    • Scott Preston says :

      In both realms death precedes life

      This is the very heart of the process of enantiodromia, or reversal at the extremity — in the natural order, birth precedes death. In the spiritual order death precedes birth. It is the principle of initiation, the coincidence of a beginning and an ending. One dies a natural being, is reborn a spiritual one. That’s the meaning of the initiate.

  4. Steve Haines says :

    Hi Scott, I thought you’d find this spoof of The Usual Suspects amusing… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a32_OvjSDXk

    • Scott Preston says :

      Hi Steve. Interesting, if unusual presentation of enantiodromia. I also noted this TEDx talk by John Parry Barlow on Enantiodromia, although after watching it, he didn’t actually say much of anything about it, really. His talk is quite misnamed, but it is worth noting that enantiodromia is on people’s minds.

  5. LittleBigMan says :

    Verhaeghe’s article was richly compact and, to my experience, accurate.

    I have seen the documentary “The Corporation.” It’s outstanding which boggles the mind as to why is it that there hasn’t been a universal revolt against corporations……but wait…..many of those who wish corporations would go away actually work for corporations 🙂 The people seem to have been inextricably linked with the very entity that is destroying their wellbeing. Doomsday made inevitable.

    To me, even before I read about its name and meaning on TDAB and now on The Chrysalis, enantiodromia was an energetic fact: a surge of energy followed by a crash in bed……health followed by illness and illness followed by health……the rise of the sun followed by the dusk and vice versa……the harshness of winter followed by the vigor of spring……the ascent of water into the sky as vapor and its descent into the valleys as rain. My maternal grandmother used to say: “In old age we become like infants again.”

    But what no one seems to expect is what the principle of enantiodromia might mean with respect to what mankind has done in the past 2500 years.

    Seth’s account of what happened to the very advanced Lumanians might have some clues about what we can expect:

    “They [the Lumanians] formed energy fields around their own civilization. They were, therefore, isolated from contact with other groups. They did not allow technology to destroy them, however. More and more of them realized that the experiment was not a success. Some, after physical death, left to join those from the previous successful civilizations, who had migrated to other planetary systems within the physical structure.

    “Large groups, however, simply left their cities, destroyed the force fields that had enclosed them, and joined the many groups of relatively uncivilized peoples, mating with them and bearing children.” (Seth Speaks, p. 215-216).

    The principle of enantiodromia is pretty clear in the excerpt as the Lumanians move from a life within the isolation of a force field to a complete integration with the outsiders of the “uncivilized” kind.

    This brings up some clarity but also so many questions about where mankind within this plane of physical existence is headed.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Seth’s account of the Lumanians is, indeed, intriguing, although I don’t know what to do with it. And apart from the riddle of “Boskop Man”, I’m puzzled by the lack of archaeological evidence for the kind of civilisation Seth describes. Surely a civilisation as apparently advanced technologically as the Lumanians would have left some physical evidence of their underground cities besides legends?

      Still, Seth’s account of the Lumanians closely resembles the legend of Mu or “Lemuria” (even the name is somewhat similar)


      It might also account for “the greys” and for the phenom of “alien abductions” if it were true, as it appears that Seth’s description of the physiognomy of the Lumanians closely resembles that of Boskop Man and also of “the greys”.

      Very curious.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        I had never heard of the “Boskop Man.” You might have mentioned it before, but I certainly couldn’t remember it.

        According to the information on Wikipedia, the skulls of the Boskop Man were “30% larger” than the typical skull of a man today. This suggests they were using abilities of their brain that we today don’t use at all. There may be a connection between this and the telepathic mind of the Lumanians as mentioned by Seth.

        As for why we haven’t found evidence of their existence so far, I think that this maybe because the technology to conduct sophisticated archaeological search isn’t that old, and in addition, it is quite possible that archaeologists haven’t looked in the right places either.

        I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it would take our species another 500 years before they stumble on the evidence of this “first great civilization” as Seth calls them. Not to mention that no one has been able to find even the Malaysian Airline MH317 that vanished over the Indian ocean on March 8 of this year.

        At the same time, I entirely agree that given Seth’s description of the main location of The Lumanian civilization – present day Spain and the Pyrenees – at some point in the future we should be able to find some evidence of their existence.

        According to Seth’s descriptions, the Lumanians must have been around the time of the Stone Age. But given that the Stone Age lasted for about 3.4 million years, that leaves a very wide window of time for investigation of their existence but also it might explain why much of the evidence of their existence may have been obliterated through the ages.

        I hadn’t heard of the “Lost Continent” of Mu. It looks more than twice the size Australia. It’s unlikely that a landmass of that size can simply vanish, but anything is possible given that our planet has seen some very turbulent times.

        But I think even at our very peak of knowledge – whenever that might be – many many mysteries about the past will remain forever undiscovered.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: