A Tsunami of Unreason, II
I was reflecting this morning once again on the phenomenon of “dehiscence”, as discussed in the last post and in other places, and how this described the relation between ancient Greece and Rome. Here is another pretty good example of civilisational dehiscence.
When the Romans invaded and conquered Greece after the Battle of Corinth in 146 B.C., and subordinated Greece to being a province of Rome, they were astonished really by the level of Greek civilisation compared to their own. They were so impressed, in fact, that they pretty much adopted and reworked Greek civilisation as their own, importing it wholesale. Most of the Roman deities were originally Greek, and Roman republicanism is pretty much a direct translation of Greek democracy — the Latin “publicus” being pretty much equivalent to the Greek “demos“. Greek slaves were taken to be tutors to the Romans. Such was the fate of the philosopher.
The assimilation of Greek civilisation by the Romans was so complete, in fact, that historians usually call this period of classical civilisation “Greco-Roman“. But we might also ponder whether, with this wholesale metabolisation and digestion of everything Greek, the Romans didn’t also swallow the poison pill and the seed-germ of its own self-contradiction that was also “the Greek Mind”, and that would eventually result in Rome’s later decadence and collapse also.
The question is worth pondering because of the “renascence” or rebirth of the Greco-Roman mind during that period we call “the Renaissance” (or Renascence), which is another case of “dehiscence”. This incredibly fruitful period of time in early Modern history was the fortuitous result of two dynamics — the decadence of the Catholic Church and of the civilisation of the High Middle Ages (then called “Christendom”) and the slow rediscovery of Greco-Roman civilisation after the Dark Ages, largely owing to the mediating influence of Muslim and Jewish scholars in Moorish Spain (Averroes, Avicenna, Maimonides). For the Modern Mind has, in fact, taken much of its exemplars and models of law, politics, philosophy, etc from the Greco-Roman world — it’s structure of consciousness that Rosenstock-Huessy called “the Greek Mind”. The Islamic Golden Age, too, was the fruitful confluence of Judeo-Islamic culture and the Greco-Roman.
So, it is simply untrue, by the witness of the historical record, that religion has been anti-reason. Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Yoga have all nurtured and “civilised” the intellect as an important part of spiritual life. Other reasons for their eventual decline and fall have to be identified, because those symptoms of malaise and eventual decline and fall all look remarkably alike, and completely resemble our own situation and predicament in that period of Late Modernity we are calling “the new normal”. It may have less to do with “cycle” than with a wrong-headed philosophy — perhaps some overlooked factor or secret influence deep within the Greco-Roman consciousness structure that acts as a poison pill and ultimate self-contradiction leading to self-annihilation.
In biological terms, too, this is called cellular “apoptosis” and “lysis“. Apoptosis is also called PCD or “programmed cell death” or thanatic impulse that eventually overrules the eros principle. The cell has a built in self-destruct mechanism. In effect, apoptosis bears an uncanny resemblance to the neo-conservative and neo-liberal doctrine of “creative destruction”.
Death is the hunter, and it hunts societies and civilisations as well as individuals. Disintegration, degradation, decay, decoherence, debasement, dehiscence, degeneracy, nihilism are just so many other names for Death and for Nietzsche’s “stare into the abyss”. And surveying the “sickness unto death” that was the decline and fall of civilisations, they all look remarkably similar in their final stages, and they all look remarkably similar to what we are now calling our own “end of history” and “the new normal”.
If “duplicity is the currency of the day”, as Pope Francis has rightly noted, and is the essence of this “new normal”, then this is not so much a “moral” issue as a survival issue and an existential threat. Duplicity is just disintegration by another name. Dr. Jekyll has become merely a mask for Mr. Hyde — Hervey Cleckley’s “Mask of Sanity“. But is this duplicity that we call “cognitive dissonance” or “culture of narcissism” today really “programmed” into us as an inevitability? Or is it some flaw, some error, in the consciousness structure and in the underlying philosophy that supports that consciousness structure? Or are we doomed by our own biology?
I’ve described duplicity as having four aspects to it: double-talk, double-think, double-standard, and double-bind. All aspects of the “forked-tongue”, and they are all aspects of “the new normal”. There is, I think, a sound reason why duplicity comes in four forms. Rosenstock-Huessy identified four diseases or “evils” of society — war, anarchy, decadence, and revolution. They have all played a role in the decline and fall of civilisations, but also sometimes as precursors and stimuli to their resurrection and transformation too. “The cure for the disease is in the disease”, Rumi once wrote. It’s also true that there is no re-integration without a prior dis-integration and loss of integrity. It may be painful to admit, but Blake’s Proverb of Hell that runs “if the fool persists in his folly he will become wise” may be our own issue at our “end of history”, assuming we survive it… and ourselves and our own self-contradictions.
If war, anarchy, decadence, and revolution are four forms of social death, society has erected four fronts against the abyss and Death — arts and sciences, politics and religion. The four fronts are four because our reality is a fourfold structure of two times (past and future) and two spaces (inner and outer). This is also reflected in our current politics — liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and environmentalism, or individual, family, commonwealth, and nature, respectively. These are the representatives and agents that guard over the four fronts of social reality. The “ratio” of rationality is the balance of these four dynamics. The irratio is the disintegration of these four into separate “points of view” that consider themselves alone final and total. And in my own survey of the decline and fall of civilisations, this has been what happened — one point of view attempted to imperialise and colonise the others, or exaggerated its own significance at the expense of the others.
Hyper-individualism or hyper-collectivism, hyper-conservatism or hyper-liberalism all lead to the same place — social decay and social death; or, as W.B. Yeats’ put it in his poem “The Second Coming” — “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”. That centre is what Jean Gebser calls “vital centre” or “ever-present origin”, or what Blake calls “the fountain”, what Rumi calls “the well”. It is also called “Eternal Now” and corresponds to the centre of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”.
We’ve already noted that consciousness is also fourfold in structure — corresponding to Jung’s “four psychological types” but which are aspects of the unity of consciousness itself. Thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing (or intuiting) are four faculties of consciousness, the four aspects of the fourfold human. Exaggerating one of these over another leads to imbalance or what we call “eccentricity”, which really means loss of the vital centre or dislocation of the vital centre. Our social institutions are really elaborations of these consciousness functions, and when they are functioning properly, they are functioning harmoniously and cooperatively — arts and sciences, politics and religion. This is what we call “conviviality” or the “convivium“, and that is the issue of the “integral consciousness” structure and the new “ratio” and the new sense of proportion and balance. “Eccentricity” is connected with paranoia. Metanoia or “new mind” and its relocation to the vital centre is also transcending paranoia. Paranoia is disintegrative, metanoia is integrative.
I think we can put it more concisely, even: decline and fall is consequence of a consciousness structure that is not functioning effectively or harmoniously, in the mode we call “intelligence”. It has become too narrowly focussed and exaggerates only one function. These consciousness functions are not moral issues, or luxuries, they are geared towards our survival within the terms of physical reality. Spacetime is a fourfold structure, and these consciousness functions are not metaphysical or mystical or occult. They are life’s weapons against extinction and which have become, in human beings, conscious of themselves as functions. Their harmonious functioning alone has the meaning “intelligent” and not otherwise. Intelligent and integrate are related words. To over-exaggerate the importance of one is what is called “hybris” (or “hubris”), and the decline and fall stage is the fruit of hubris called “Nemesis”.
I do not recognise this “new normal” or “end of history” as at all “intelligent” in its fullest sense. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is quite unintelligent and fatally so. Intelligence has nothing to do with “points of view” — the very word means “to draw connections between” to discover and disclose correlations. Intelligence is William Blake’s warring four Zoas reunited and reintegrated in the quintessence, who is Albion.