What is “the Crisis”?
Few people it seems are really aware of the depth of the current “crisis of civilisation” or “the crisis of our age”, as Pitrim Sorokin called it. That ignorance in itself is part of the crisis. Many people don’t perceive an unfolding crisis or the immanence of Peter Pogany’s global “havoc” or John Feffer’s “Great Unraveling”. Various observers have pointed to this-or-that as evidence of an apocalyptic crisis and the Great Unraveling, but like the mythical Casandra have been doomed to be disbelieved.
So, we had best get clear on what “crisis” means and why it is here now.
The word “crisis” is related to a number of similar words derived from “crux” — “cross” — such words being “crucial”, “crucible”, “critical”, “the crux of the matter” — or crucifixion. Crisis is a crossroads, a parting of the ways; a sudden discontinuity or dissonance where a decision must be made, and the word “decision” is related to the word “scissors” — meaning to cut off.
Crossroads, in the superstitions of folklore and legend, were considered particularly evil places for that reason. Criminials were hung at crossroads. Witchcraft was conducted at crossroads. Jesus was crucified on a cross. Robert Johnson, in a contemporary Faustian legend, learned to play blues guitar from the Devil himself at the crossroads in the song made famous by Eric Clapton. The superstition about crossroads is related to the anguish and anxiety of having to make a decision, or having to change course or direction. Crossroads, like crisis itself, forces a decision, and as such forces one to become conscious of a predicament.
As an example, there’s a dramatic scene in The Lord of the Rings where the wizard Gandalf is stumped in the Mines of Moria when he comes across an underground crossroads. “I have no memory of this place”, and the party must halt while he ponders the options. To choose the wrong route would be doom for all, so there is much at stake, and much anguish, in making the right decision. That is our present dilemma and predicament, and yet many today deny that it has come to such straits.
The “crisis of our age”, according to Sorokin, is the lapse of consciousness itself into a purely sensate mode of existence and perception, or equivalently in some respects, what Jean Gebser called “the mental-rational consciousness structure now functioning in deficient mode”. The sensate mode of perception does not perceive a crisis. It remains invisible — “the sun still shines, the rain still falls” and so talk of crisis is dismissed as “alarmist nonsense”. So, the sensate mode of perception is itself part of the crisis of consciousness. The modern crisis is a crisis of consciousness, a crisis of the mind.
If you appreciate Jung’s typology of the integral “Self” as being comprised of four consciousness functions arrayed in a “crucial” pattern, then it will be seen immediately why the lapse of consciousness into a purely sensate existence (or “seeing is believing”) represents a deficiency of consciousness as a whole, and therefore in a critical situation,
Sensate consciousness is only one aspect of the fourfold or integral, and yet it considers itself the only valid aspect. As such, it is “extremist” in itself, and that means “hubris”. The inevitable consequence of hubris, in that respect, is Nemesis — reversal of fortune (enantiodromia), which is manifested in the form of self-contradiction. The other functions of consciousness lapse into desuetude orare made subordinate to the sensate function. In other words, they become “unconscious”, and that is the issue pretty much of John Ralston Saul’s The Unconscious Civilisation as well. In those terms, “sensate” decadence, the “deficient” mental-rational, and “the unconscious civilisation” are pretty much identical terms.
And so is “the culture of narcissism”, as Lasch described it. Sensate existence is narcissistic existence, because the ego-consciousness or body-mind, now deemed the only “true” or valid mode of functioning, is the construction of the physical senses and the impressions made upon the physical senses. And this narcissistic-sensate or sense-bound mode of consciousness called “the Selfhood” by William Blake, is the issue of his statement,
For man has clos’d himself up, until he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern
This is the crisis itself, but which the sensate consciousness does not perceive because it has made it unconscious. In fact, it cannot even perceive the crisis from its point-of-view at all.
The other functions of consciousness, however, do continue to function still as “the unconscious”, but that means in an enslaved or subordinate relation to the sensate. The result however is self-contradiction — the contradiction that goes by the name “conscious” and “unconscious” for, in fact, the psyche is not really divided in that way at all. This separation of the conscious function from the unconscious is simply the mirror image of the dichotomisation of the subjective and objective. In that sense, the unification of consciousness and cosmos is equivalently the unification of conscious and unconscious functions in the form called “integral” or in the Jungian “intuitive”. The intuitive consciousness is the same as Gebser’s “integral consciousness” or “integrum”.
The sensate mode of consciousness, however, does not even perceive its own self-contradiction, which is the real crisis of our age. For it is also a self-negation. The anecdotal example of that self-contradiction as self-negation is the famous remark by the hapless officer in Vietnam, quoted as saying “we had to destroy the village in order to save it, sir”. The man was apparently oblivious to that self-contradiction. Self-contradiction become self-negation is what we call “nihilism”, or “devaluation of values”. And, of course, sensate mode of perception does not know “value” except in terms of a quantity — “price” and “cost”. Sensate consciousness and quantifying consciousness are the same issue.
So, the mental-rational consciousness of “thinking” function enters “deficient” mode when it is enslaved by, and made subordinate to, the sensate mode.
In effect, then, the crisis of our age is a crisis of self-contradiction becoming a crisis of self-negation. As I put it a few years ago, antithetical values are made to occupy the same semantic “space”, as it were, but meet like matter and anti-matter, become mutually annihilate, and leave a void of meaninglessness.
This is, in essence, the nature of the contemporary crisis — self-contradiction becoming self-negation, which is connected to the meaning of “deconstruction”. But in my experience, you cannot even begin to explain that to someone locked in the “sensate” mode of existence (or what I’ve called “point-of-view” consciousness) without meeting with utter incredulity, because “the suns till shines and the rain still falls”. So, there is no crisis.
In order to perceive the current crisis as not just a crisis, but “world historic” crisis, the sensate consciousness would have to “suspend” its mode of perception long enough to perceive this self-contradiction as current reality. But that already suggests “self-overcoming” or “self-transcendence” or, as Blake put it, removing “the mind-forg’d manacles”, the “manacles” being enslavement of consciousness to the physical senses alone, or what Seth calls “the lovely liars”. That’s a pretty tall order, but that’s what “letting go” as a meditative mantra really means — liberation from the “mind-forg’d manacles” — liberating consciousness from its enslavement to the aggregate physical impressions of the physical senses, which we call “materialism”.
Dualism is the problem of self-contradiction finally become self-negating dynamic. The subject-object divide becomes reflected in the conscious-unconscious dichotomy as the Jekyll and Hyde schizophrenia — the dis-integrate or dissociated state; and that did not end happily for either Jekyll or Hyde. This is the crisis. And the problem is that the sensate mind is not even aware that it itself is generating “the unconscious” as its own self-contradiction, and ultimately, its own self-negation.