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 hybrisnemesis.

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”,

Perspectivism: The pyramid of vision

Perspectivism: The pyramid of vision

Urizen -- Architect of the Ulro, "Ancient of Days"

Urizen — Architect of the Ulro, “Ancient of Days”

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.

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8 responses to “Dark Age Ahead?”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Must apologise for some typos in the text. Keyboard failure is approaching, and it looks to be time to get another laptop.

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    “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.”

    Reading that made me realize what it is that takes the wind out of me when I interact in the society: the absence of spiritual lifestyle.

    We have risen too far above the habitat that supports spiritual and even physical well being, and the profit motive has been systematically destroying that nourishing habitat. The Dark Age is inevitable, and it seems to me there is one main reasons for this “era of pretense” that has nested itself in this “information age”: faulty reports in the global media; i.e. “perception management” and propaganda.

  3. Dwig says :

    The Archdruid has another blog going, devoted to introducing the history and current state of “natural magic”, titled “The Well of Galabes” (google for it). I think it’s his approach to creating cultures that have a chance of sustaining some communities through the dark ages ahead. (He sees no hope of avoiding a protracted collapse, based on his understanding of the fates of prior civilizations, and the “environmental nemesis” that’s already upon us.)

    • Scott Preston says :

      It may well be protracted. On the other hand, I tend to think of such “Dark Ages” as incubation periods, when the new kernel of the future consciousness slowly matures and ripens (hence the meaning of The Chrysalis). Seems to be also something about the rhythm of things — the pendulum of history, movement and repose, light to dark to light again, evolution to revolution back to evolution: “Dance of the Dialectic”, perhaps.

      Certainly, the mood is “apocalyptic” these days. It’s in film and literature aplenty. And, yes, Rosenstock-Huessy and Jean Gebser also both anticipated a period of “catastrophe” or prolonged “crisis” of civilisation before the emergence of a new sanity, and that was long before even the cumulative crises of the present — even the prospect of the mortality of the Earth itself — a thought, surely, that would make any sane man or woman shudder.

  4. Dwig says :

    Yes, the “rhythm of things” is truly relevant. Greer cites Polybius, Vico, Spengler, and Toynbee for historical examples and models of cycles. He does envision a “new sanity” in his book “The Ecotechnic Future”, which he sees taking several hundred years to emerge.

    In ecology, there’s Howard Odum’s “Pulsing Paradigm” (http://prosperouswaydown.com/principles-of-self-organization/energy-hierarchy/pulsing-paradigm/) and C.S. Holling’s “Adaptive Cycle”(http://www.resalliance.org/index.php/adaptive_cycle). In the latter, your “incubation period” probably corresponds to the alpha phase of the cycle.

    Speaking of “chrysalis”, check out Elisabet Sahtouris’ version at http://www.sahtouris.com/noflash.php?ref=5_3,0. I like the concept of the “imaginal cells”, and the struggle in the chrysalis between caterpillar and butterfly. (Hmm, in terms of the ever-present origin, the archaic human may have held “spiritual imaginal cells” of all succeeding consciousness structures. What comes after “integral”?)

  5. Scott Preston says :

    What comes after “integral”?

    Ah.. very good question, indeed. And you’re not the first to wonder what comes after the integral. Some Gebserians have asked that question. Does it then revert to the “archaic”, only to begin another “cycle”? Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence of same”? The concept of “yugas” suggests cycles — very broad cycles. Rumi may have glimpsed it as what he calls “non-being” or “non-existence”. But, in many ways, that is the significance of the “archaic” as described by Gebser (or attempted to describe, since it is elusive). Rumi’s “unto Him we shall return” suggests that, perhaps.

    The best interpretation of the “archaic” is non-Being or non-Existence because it is non-differentiation. There is no ego-awareness whatsoever. But it’s unclear to me whether Gebser thought of that as “animal awareness” or something else entirely — the awareness, say, of the infant or what Freud called “oceanic feeling”. But, it is a legacy structure, and is accessible. That seems to be the goal of meditation.

    But here’s Rumi’s remarkable (for his time) poem about that

    I died as a mineral and became a plant,
    I died as plant and rose to animal,
    I died as animal and I was Man.
    Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
    Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
    With angels blest; but even from angelhood
    I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
    When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
    I shall become what no mind e’er conceived.
    Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
    Proclaims in organ tones, ‘To Him we shall return.’

    Thanks for the links. I’ll check them out.

    • donsalmon says :

      “After integral” is a way of thinking that is still in the mental/rational. By the year 2100, I imagine we won’t even be thinking in terms of “years” or “centuries”

      and everything about the last sentence is still mental/rational, so it’s wrong as well:>))

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