Misleaders: Why Democracy is in Trouble
Here in Canada, we are approaching a federal election. The Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats, and the Greens will duke-it-out in the public arena for a chance to form a government. An election, once a cause for celebration (as it is in many freshly-minted electoral democracies), is now widely greeted with a groan, or with disdain and antipathy, or with a certain degree of weariness. In the long-standing democracies (relatively speaking), participation rates are plummeting, and Canada is no different.
It’s another symptom of the decadence of the Modern Era. The practice of politics has become little more than the art and science of deception. Those I know who have a real talent for politics, and who would make excellent politicians, now decline to do so, leaving the field pretty much free to the more cynical. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity”, as Yeats noted in “The Second Coming“.
All this also belongs to what the Archdruid describes as “the Era of Pretense”, or what Stephen Colbert similarly characterised as “truthiness”. Mr. Duck N. Dodge debates Mr. Bob N. Weave and the “first casualty”, as usual, is the truth. “Truth to the friend, lies to the foe” is the old formula for the conduct of warfare. And in a highly polarised and fractious society, where everyone is “looking out for Number One” in a kind of war of all against all, a shared truth cannot be established. This is the meaning of “disintegration”.
It’s not only a matter of contemporary politics, either. We also speak of the “multiversity” and it points to the same problem — the apparent inability of various specialised fields of study to articulate a shared truth or a universal framework for truth discovery — the need for a “universal way of looking at things”, as cultural philosopher Jean Gebser puts it. The problem of establishing a shared truth in a globalising world is another aspect of this dis-integration, with the very violent consequences which we see around us today.
It’s all of a piece, really — this problem of establishing or articulating a common truth. It’s the dissolution of the “grand narrative”, which is why there now exists these counter-measures — the desperate quest for the Integral Theory in the sciences, or ecumuenicalism in religion, or our hopes for an “integral” or integrating consciousness.
“Distantiation” is also Jean Gebser’s term for decadence (as much as structural “deficiency”). It’s the drifting away from the “vital centre”, or the all-prevading Logos as Heraclitus described it. The disciple John recognised the Logos of Heraclitus as “the Word”, as “the truth that sets free” and as this same vital centre. Decadence implies a decline or falling away from a universal standard which functions as a shared truth — a distantiation in effect, much as Yeats describes it in “The Second Coming” as “the widening gyre” — the journey of the Prodigal Son into the “faraway land” is the ego-nature’s expanding gyre and centrifugal distantiation from the vital centre.
The meaning of the “vital centre” or core is not difficult to understand. It’s what the Buddha called “the Ultimate Truth” as the unoriginated Origin of all things, or what Gebser similarly calls “the ever-present origin”. Or sometimes it is called “the Now” or “Eternal Now”. It’s been called by many names — “God”, “Tao”, “Great Mystery”, and so on. It’s also the central point of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” — the still point of the revolving world, and it’s the same all-prevading truth of things that Heraclitus called Logos.
Are we understood here? This is the form of our nihilism. Decadence is disintegration, and is this same distantiation from the vital centre that serves as the common truth. That’s why we deplore hyper-partisan politics (or at least, should if we had any sense). This fractious and schismatic hyper-partisanship reflects the disintegration of the consciousness structure of Modern Man, or what we call “personality” — although the irony is that there is no “integration” without a prior “dis-integration”. It’s from the vital centre that we perceive the higher balance of things — the true proportion, ratio, tempo and rhythm of things. This is the image and dynamic of Shiva’s dance. How many arms does Shiva have? They are the arms of the “cross of reality”.