Times Out of Joint
You can learn a very great deal about what we mean by “human nature” from studying human beings caught up in the process of revolution. Revolution is “time out of joint”, as Shakespeare put it in Hamlet. “These are the times that try men’s souls”, wrote Tom Paine in one of his revolutionary pamphlets entitled The American Crisis, and it has much the same meaning. Dickens cast the crisis of time and times as A Tale of Two Cities, while Robert Louis Stevenson cast the conflict of times as a struggle between Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll within one and the same personality. Times out of joint means polarisation, de-coherence, schism. To be “out of joint” means to not articulate. We also call it “culture war” today, or situations where there is no bridge, no common meeting ground.
Revolutions are a crisis of time. The past and the future come into decisive confrontation and conflict. Rosenstock-Huessy wrote a very interesting book about this polarisation of times in his study of the European Revolutions called Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man. The theory and practice of revolution has been, in fact, one of the chief exports of modern Western civilisation, even though people don’t tend to think of it that way. Even the Marxian revolutions of the last century were less about Marx than about “modernisation”.
The situations of France and Russia at the outbreak of their respective revolutions are very revealing in this respect. Russia in 1917 was a nation of 3 million industrial workers and 120 million serfs. Rosenstock-Huessy observed some rather overlooked details about that contradiction, one being that those 3 million wage slaves were commuting between two eras — Western capitalism and feudalism, as the wage slaves would often return to the Mir and their families to often help with the harvest and so on. They were commuting between times, as it were, and the contradiction between the future and the past became unbearable. The Mir is an important symbol in Russia, for it translates as “world”, “peace”, “village” and also as the name of a Russian space station.
At the same time, though, growing shame, embarrassment, and a sense of humiliation about Russia’s “backwardness” infected all classes of Russian society, who were already comparing the situation in Russia with that of Western Europe. Even Russian aristocrats, as in France of the anciens regime, shared the mood of the Russian “Nihilists”, as the revolutionarists were called. Some aristocrats even became revolutionaries, like the important anarchist theorist Prince Kropotkin. But, bizarrely, amongst the Russian nobility you were considered a coward if you didn’t contemplate suicide or actually commit suicide. So, it wasn’t just the Russian peasant or industrial wage slave that suffered from the situation. Almost everyone felt trapped by history, or what we today call “the System”, and the Russian “Nihilists” were especially keen to do away with all of it once and for all.
The situation described, therefore, should not be too difficult to understand: the Gospel of Matthew put it this way: “”No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Everyone in pre-revolutionary Russia lived with the stress of that contradiction. And stress eventually became distress. What lies within Matthew 6:24 is the formula and rationale for revolution. This situation of having “two masters” in the form of different ages simply became intolerable.
Conventional thinking has it that revolutions are really about economics or preserving the self-interest — about “money”, wealth distribution, taxation, etc. This is really quite foolhardy thinking that barely touches the core of the issue of social stress become social distress. “It’s the economy, stupid!” was even a political slogan. It barely scratches the surface, and so they are taken by surprise when a real social revolution erupts somewhere that was completely unexpected. But so successful has been this propaganda of economism that people, by and large, have been seduced by it completely, and so much so that it has become the handy rationale for explaining feelings of stress or Angst. Even the socialists now think that the issue of social justice is really only about wealth distribution and economics. Such reductive thinking is what we call “economism”, and it’s pretty widely shared as the consensus of what we call “neo-liberalism”, “neo-conservatism” and “neo-socialism”. But it’s almost completely delusional.
“The average church-going civilizee realizes, one may say, absolutely nothing of the deeper currents of human nature”, wrote William James. But not only the “average church-going civilizee” we might add. Human beings, generally speaking, all misunderstand and so, in consequence, also misrepresent themselves as being something they’re not. “Become what you are!” was Nietzsche’s formula for self-overcoming, in that respect. If we are so concerned today with “self-realisation” or “authenticity”, it’s because we have misconstrued ourselves (or have been misled about ourselves, which is what I’ve referred to in earlier posts as “the foreign installation”.
This hasn’t much of anything to do with economics or money. It’s the problem of serving “two masters” which is stress-inducing, and which is also the problem of “dualism” in thought, speech, and action, or what I’ve been calling our “four riders of the apocalypse” — Double-Think, Double-Talk, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind.
Times out joint today means that the Modern Era and the Planetary Era are in conflict, despite all attempts to make “globalisation” synonymous with “modernisation” or even “westernisation”. This is largely mirage and hallucination.
“Pride goeth before a fall” is not a moral principle. It’s a sociological one. “The sins of the fathers shall be visited down to the third and fourth generations” is also a sociological rule. For the same reason “time makes hypocrites of us all” is also a sociological problem. It means, the inability to change in time, what we call “intransigence” (or “reactionary”), and that also means “irresponsible”, for against this problem of the inability to change at the right time, Rosenstock-Huessy offered his new formula for thinking in the Global Era — respondeo, etsi mutabor, or “I respond, although I will be changed”.