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”.

Shiva Dancing the Apocalypse

Shiva Dancing the Apocalypse

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9 responses to “Misleaders: Why Democracy is in Trouble”

  1. donsalmon says :

    Hi Scott, great post as usual. About the grand narrative – I’ve had many conversations about this with people versed in postmodernist thinking (so called “post modernist”) who deplore any attempt at a grand narrative as “totalizing” (totalitarian-like thinking).

    I’ve tried to explain what I see as the difference between uniformity (which would definitely be totalizing) and a true (not “truthy”!) unity which I believe is the best foundation for the widest diversity possible.

    It’s very difficult – and it always seems like no matter how much I describe unity thinking, it is perceived by others as uniformity.

    It seems that is what is happening in politics (and the university and many scientific disciplines as well) – this desperate attempt at uniformity in thinking in order to counter the extreme anxiety of the disintegration of personality and society.

    Our website – http://www.remember-to-breathe.org – is about integration on the personal level. We discussed how to extend it beyond the fragmented individual for many months when we were first writing the text (back in 2012). our concern was so many people who practice meditation or are interested in therapy end up creating a situation which induces even greater fragmentation and disintegration.

    So we created “the most important page” – which is about the integration of the individual and society (though defining it that way already presupposes a lack of unity which we really don’t intend – but it’s hard to find words people will understand. We can hardly talk openly about the ever present origin “in” which all are always already united! – though our talk about the “core” is meant to hint at this).

    Good, thought provoking stuff.

      • Dwig says :

        Don,

        I’ve spent some time on your site, and found it quite interesting. I had an experience similar to the one you describe with your tooth. In my case, it was recurrent cramps in the arch of my foot, usually while I was in bed. My typical reaction was to hop out of bed and bounce up and down on the ball of the foot, which did release the cramp. One time, when it happened, I decided I was too tired to bother with this, and told myself “it’s only pain; it’ll subside in a while”, and practiced slow, even breathing while “noticing” the pain, which did fade over a few minutes. Since then, I’ve been able to stop bouncing, and have had an easier time with the other pains that growing old produces.

        I hope you don’t mind a small correction: on The Most Important Page, in the “The Missing Critical Ingredient” section, the phrase “one of the single most powerful factors” caused me a double take. If you want to allow for other most powerful factors, just drop the word “single”.

        From seeing your descriptions of brain function, I thought you might appreciate George Mobus’ website http://questioneverything.typepad.com/, which seems to me to be complementary to yours.

        Don, thanks for what looks like a fascinating and useful site. Scott, sorry for the off-topic comment, but I didn’t see a link on Don’s page to contact him directly.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Not a problem in the least.

          • donsalmon says :

            Hey Dwig: Thanks so much. Our site is still woefully incomplete (thank you SO much for that correction; there’s still tons of errors, I’m afraid to say). We’ve been focusing for the past year on creating audio and video material to put up in a store. I’m working today and the next few days on finalizing 17 “didactic” videos on the brain – just competed the music mix for 40 audio meditations, then on to practice “breathing” videos next month, the blog, youtube channel, social media (arghhh!!) and an online store. Should be done by September (nearly 4 years total working on the site!).

            Then on to the Aurobindo/McGilchrist/Kastrup/Brunton/Gebser/Merrell-Wolff (and who knows, maybe Preston too:>)) website, when the fun really begins. Actually, we’re going to focus our initial efforts in two areas – working out the deeper implications of Ed Kelly’s work (“Irreducible Mind” and “Beyond Physicalism”) and try to bring out some amazing work being done in India (“Foundations of Indian Psychology” – see http://www.ipi.org.in). My Vedic Astrologer tells me that some time in my mid to late 60s (that’s about 2 to 4 years from now) I might be ready to tackle these things:>))))

            Dwig, I’ll let Jan (my wife and co-conspirator) know to make that correction. Feel free to contact me at donsalmon7@gmail.com (and yes, we will have to make a video for that “About Us” page which is not even up yet – in fact, we haven’t even submitted the site to the search engines, but somehow, about 25 to 30 people a day are finding us – a good omen, i hope:>))

    • Scott Preston says :

      It’s very difficult – and it always seems like no matter how much I describe unity thinking, it is perceived by others as uniformity.

      Yes, I understand. I have the same difficulty trying to explain to people why First Nations people want “integration” but not “assimilation”. Integration is “healing the Sacred Hoop”, while assimilation is devouring and homogenizing and uniformity. A lot of people still don’t get it because they really don’t understand the meaning of “integrity” at all.

      “Death of God” is dissolution of the Grand Narrative. “End of History” is dissolution of the Grand Narrative. The “multiversity” is end of the Grand Narrative. Nietzsche’s “nihilism” is also “end of the Grand Narrative”. It’s all much like that sudden disappearance of the man and his chicken outside the frame that I raised in the last post — they fall off the face of the Earth. It’s as if someone were telling a story but the story suddenly loses continuity, meanders and wanders away from the theme, goes someplace listeners can’t follow. Something like “what happened to Joseph in the Bible?” Or Seth? Or Ishmael? All that belongs to what Gebser calls “the mental-rational now functioning in deficient mode” or “disintegration” — the loss of its structural integrity.

      I once bought a book by Kierkegaard. Every second page was blank and even the pages were out of order. You’ld come to page 22 and the next page was 147. Ten pages later, you were back at page 23. Something like that describes the “end of the Grand Narrative”.. “A disturbance in the Force”. It’s the equivalent of the man and his chicken disappearing from the narrative of the UNESCO film. It’s actually much like watching television today (which I don’t. I can’t stand it. I’ve never even owned a television) — a jumble of disjoint (ie, inarticulate) images and messages one after another.

      It’s a fascinating process to watch unfold, this “end of the Grand Narrative” — the “deconstruction”. But, as noted even by Aurobindo, every new integration requires a prior or parallel dis-integration, and any successful revolution is the refounding of a new Grand Narrative after the old one has lost its power to unify or inspire in others the recognition of a shared truth. That’s what revolutions are — the invention of a new language, a new enthusiasm, a new “grand narrative”.

      Discovering that new grand narrative was Rosenstock’s quest for a “universal history” as much as Gebser’s quest for a “universal way of looking at things” (“catholic” in the original meaning of that word). My dear old professor at the Uni thought that the Star Wars movies held the kernel of the new Grand Narrative. He had me attend the film and write an essay about it. But really, my tastes inclined more to Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, although they are structurally quite similar in meaning. These are images of our “dreaming”, and in some ways are fine examples of how our dreaming tends to become our reality — a rehearsal of it. I should write something about that using these new narratives as examples. Darth Vader now walks amongst us as much as Gandalf the Gray or Golem, too.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    It is impossible to have all people to have the same interpretation. This will makes life stale and stagnant. As they say variety is the spice of life. Cultural and topics variety is what makes life grows in meaning toward self-contentment. This is what I like about Scott blog It keeps it vital and throbbing. Self-service and serving others are the purpose, after all life is action oriented and not only talk oriented, providing we do not fall in the hypocrite trap. The divine force is the activator of everything whether we are aware or unaware. God-awareness is self-awareness and those who forget god( the vital force), forget themselves. This is the difference between those who live is darkness and those who live in light.It is a question of punishment and reward here and there.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    I like to add that he who is awake in this one is awake in the other and he who is blind in this one is blind in the real other. If there are no misleaders , we would not write on the necessity of honest leadership. Now I understand the rage in Howl against the mechanistic civilisation that has fallen in love with oil and stone.

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    The Canadian population is a very intelligent population. Therefore, the tricks that will be used to destroy democracy in that country will be sophisticated and complex enough to bypass that intelligent population.

    This one hour 48 second long radio program provides an excellent and illustrative example of how democracy is being destroyed in the United States. The radio button to start the program is rather small. It’s right underneath the left corner of the thumbnail:

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/534/a-not-so-simple-majority

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