Dark Age Ahead?
As long-time readers know, The Chrysalis grew out of a former popular blog entitled The Dark Age Blog (TDAB), which I terminated about four or five years ago. Some readers, the “veterans”, have been subscribers to both blogs for nearly a decade since I started blogging on these themes. And through some 1500 essays in both TDAB and The Chrysalis, you’ve stuck with the blogs. That really amazes me.
For more recent subscribers to The Chrysalis, a brief history of all this is in order.
The moment of decision came for me when Francis Fukuyama published his now well-known thesis on The End of History shortly after the collapse of the USSR and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Until that time, I was living in the beautiful city of Vancouver, BC, more or less happily immersed and absorbed in making a good living as a systems analyst and computer programmer. Although even then I felt a degree of uneasiness with the times we were living through, Fukuyama’s essay brought that unease into focus. Unlike many others, especially in the media, who received Fukuyama’s pronouncement of “the end of history” with triumphalist joy and a kind of mindless enthusiasm and boosterism, I began to read between the lines of the essay. And what I read between the lines (the ignored and unstated — but latent — “background” of the essay) disturbed and alarmed me greatly.
I saw not the “victory” of liberal democracy but defeat; not “success” but failure; not the climactic “triumph” of the European Enlightenment but it’s breakdown. The background was, in effect, in complete contradiction to the “foreground” and I was very disturbed that so few even perceived that “hidden” context, so mesmerised, fascinated, and entranced they were by the foreground. They were as if unconscious.
For a long time, I struggled to find an idiom — a language — that would adequately express the quiet “hidden” truth that was straining to be heard over the triumphalist shouting and din. I recalled nietzsche’s prophetic insight that the triumph of liberal institutions would also be their self-negation, and that self-negation — or self-annihilation — was the background truth I saw there. I saw an implicit and latent nihilism at work in the thesis. I lost complete interest in my career, for I was also reminded of James Joyce’s personal slogan from his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which we read in high school — non serviam, “I will not serve”. It was also “Lucifer’s” motto as Milton gave it in Paradise Lost.
What I saw was not the victory of liberal democracy or triumph of the Enlightenment but a Dark Age — the background truth that was bound to assert itself, and which it has done since then in various ways: the neo-conservative ascent, the neo-imperialism of “humanitarian intervention” and the Iraq War, neo-liberal “globalisation”, the erosion of democracy, hybris in all things. “Hybris” was what the end of history thesis was. But what was lurking in the background was the inevitable consequence of hybris — nemesis.
I saw the “end of history” as a pretense, as a bubble of perception. Gradually I came to understand that “bubbles” signify a breakdown of perspectivism (confusion of foreground and background effects) corresponding to what Jean Gebser called “the mental-rational consciousness structure functioning in deficient mode.” Rationalisation rather than reason. Eventually, I hit upon the single term and diagnosis that would summarise all this: narcissism. And narcissism is fatal.
I also hit upon a formula to account for the confusion and bubble: what I began to call “Khayyam’s Caution” — “only a hair separates the false from the true”. That’s the principle behind what Stephen Colbert called “truthiness”. And I also saw in that confusion that “the truth that sets free” must be distinguished from “the facts of the matter” as background and foreground must be distinguished. The “truth that sets free” is the actual background to interpreting what are “the facts of the matter”.
The Dark Age Blog was a result of trying to find a way of articulating the “background” and making the background explicit rather than implicit in Fukuyama’s thesis. But “the end of history”, too, was also a consequence of “the death of God”. It follows directly from nietzsche’s announcement. There’s a direct line leading from “the death of God” to “the end of history”. Fukuyama even partially acknowledges that in the full title of his book, The End of History and the Last Man.
Since I began The Dark Age Blog — and earlier, too — there has been a regular stream of new publications warning of a new Dark Age in the making: Jane Jacob’s Dark Age Ahead, Morris Berman’s Dark Ages America and his Twilight of American Culture, historians William Irwin Thompson, Jacques Barzun, and many others. I was reminded of this upon reading another pretty good essay on this called “The Era of Pretense” posted on The Archdruid Report. It brought back memories of TDAB.
How did we get from the glow of The End of History to Dark Age so fast? Enantiodromia is the reason. The background is now overwhelming the foreground. The hidden truth is overwhelming and negating the ostensible “facts”, which is what I mean when I speak of Jung’s and Heraclitus’ notion of enantiodromia — ironic reversal, or also known as “perverse outcome”, “unintended consequence”, “revenge effect”, “reversal of fortune”, and so on. It is the hidden or “invisible” background asserting itself over the foreground. The bubble bursts.
The Archdruid makes the bold claim that the lights will go out and the water cease to flow by mid-century. But in spiritual terms, the lights went out and the water ceased to flow a long time ago. The physical reflection of that just takes a while to materialise and manifest. For, as I say, what we call “spirit” is the actual background to what we call “physical” or “material” and not something apart or segregated from it. “Heaven in a Wild Flower” and “Eternity in the hour”, as William Blake put it. It’s not separation; it’s perception alone that decides what is background and what foreground effect. What leads to a bubble, to narcissism, is the failure to contextualise the percept — the vaster “background” which then becomes what we call “the unconscious” or “hidden dimension” or “the infinite” or “the beyond”. That’s only a result of the structure of consciousness and mode of perception. The famous “all-seeing eye” surmounting a pyramid of vision, symbol of the Enlightenmet, is also, equally, an image of this narrowing of focus and perspective, which is also blinding. It can also be an illustration of a “bubble of perception” or of Blake’s “single vision”,
The Dark Age Blog tried to make this background explicit, and found that, instead of “triumph”, it was nihilistic and contained, instead, the seeds of fascism. Hence the “era of pretense”, as the Archdruid calls it — eras of lip-service, hypocrisy, duplicity — of what I call our true “four riders”: double-think, double-talk, double-standard, and double-binds. The Modern Era is dissolving and decaying from within, and not because of any external “existential threats”. That, too, belongs to the “era of pretense” — an era of “faking it”, and of image-mongering, branding, and perception management. We’re doing quite a good enough job of sapping our own foundations and legacy without the excuse of an external “existential threat”.
The Chrysalis emerged from The Dark Age Blog as an attempt to disclose something more hopeful in the times than another Dark Age — the seedlings of something truly new emerging amidst the detritus and decay of the old. That is, the “integral consciousness”, the new holistic consciousness that can and must integrate that vast area outside the “pyramid of vision”, depicted as a wasteland or void, that has been ignored hitherto but which can integrate it into its structure. I started The Chrysalis with that single idea in mind: how to outrun the breakdown and collapse of the Modern Era, or what we are calling “post-modernity”.
And it will only happen through a “metanoia” — or “new mind” — that can successfully overcome and dispense with the “paranoia” that is largely shaping events presently. That paranoia (and its attendant Angst) is simply the result of having misread the background, or having failed to “read between the lines” of the “end of history” presumption.