Jihad vs. McWorld: In the Current of the Demonic
Towards the end of his productive life, Nietzsche suggested that in future, Europe (the West generally) would have to engage with Islam in a kind of dialectic simply in order to become clear about its own values. I’m not sure that Nietzsche anticipated that this dialectic would take the form of war and terrorism, but that seems to be the form this dialectic has now taken. No doubt the soul-searching is reciprocal, with the need altogether to question value-systems that seem to have gone awry. But given that Nietzsche also anticipated “two centuries of nihilism” it would seem logical that Nietzsche believed that the form of the “engagement” would be very turbulent and violent.
A century later, in 1995, Benjamin Barber made a name for himself when he published Jihad vs McWorld: Terrorism’s Challenge to Democracy. It was really an attempt at such values clarification that Nietzsche anticipated would simply be forced upon everyone. I finished reading the book in August, 2001 — just a month before 9/11. Barber’s book immediately became a bestseller after 9/11, of course. You could say it was prescient. Or you could say, rather, that it was simply the logical step in Nietzsche’s prophetic anticipation of his “two centuries of nihilism”. Now all are drawn into the current of the demonic.
None of it was necessary. Prophecy is not fortune-telling or clairvoyance. Nietzsche could count on this dialectic fulfilling its inherent logic as a fate because Nietzsche could count on the somnambulism of human consciousness — its inherent inertia and automatism, and its increasing unfitness to function in a world becoming increasingly “smaller”. In that sense, Nietzsche was one of the first to understand the dialectics of globalisation.
But dialectics is not dialogics, although you may say that the dialectic of war and terror, or of McWorld and Jihad as Barber put it, is a very perverse form of “dialogue” — the dialogue of the guns. Oddly enough, dialectic and dialogic are exactly equivalent in meaning, originally — speaking and listening is the “dia-” — although in dialectics this process became completely abstract and unhinged from dialogue as a conflictual and oppositional relationship between a thesis and an antithesis, rather than speaking and listening process, and this is very much related to what Jean Gebser means by the “mental-rational consciousness” now functioning in “deficient mode”, or why Rosenstock-Huessy is attempting with his “grammatical method” to refound dialectics in dialogics — in thinking as a real-world grammatical process.
The relationship between abstracted dialectical reason and dialogics is precisely that which is reflected in what I call Khayyam’s Caution: “only a hair separates the false from the true”. Dialectics is, simply put, the Socratic Method of question and answer that has been abstracted and uprooted from the real-world process of speaking and listening in turns and massaged into a mental technology of thinking in terms of dualisms. That was Descartes great accomplishment, if you want to put it that way — one and the same mind was made the questioner and also expected to be the responder, too. For Socrates, thinking was dialogical. It was a social and public process and couldn’t be anything else. Descartes made it a private affair of the mind by abstracting the social process into a technology of thinking called “dialectical reason”, which is a kind of schizophrenia of the mind, and is probably the root of the “culture of narcissism” and the Jekyll-and-Hyde problem both.
Crane Brinton (I believe it was Crane Brinton) once defined modernity as the “invention of a system for creating systems”. That’s a pretty good definition of the Modern Era. The master system was dialectical reasoning, and the visible manifestation of that was perspectivism itself — in terms of a dialectics between foreground and background effects constructed in terms of a ratio of spaces in terms length, width, and depth. That is the tripartite “ratio” of rationality. Foreground and background became text and context, and therewith also conscious and unconscious. The Cartesian “cogito” or “res cogitans” (the “thinking thing”) is nothing else but the perspectivising “point-of-view” of the Renaissance artists made normative, as ego consciousness, and it is no coincidence that the very words “consciousness” and “occult” both came into usage at around the same time.
The all-too-human proclivity for thinking in terms of dualisms, whether the abstract dualisms of secular dialectical reason, in terms of antitheses, or the metaphysical dualisms of the religious mentality in terms of “good and evil” are of the same nature. The thesis and antithesis are bound together like Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.
It is indeed the case that “you create the reality you know”, and often in such subtle ways that it remains quite invisible to us, or that, as Heraclitus put it, character becomes fate. Nietzsche relied upon the Heraclitean maxim for his anticipation of “two centuries of nihilism”. “Fundamentally, we experience only ourselves” he wrote in his Zarathustra. How we think (Gebser’s “structure of consciousness”), and not just what we think about, becomes a fate for us, and that is also the fundamental theme of Percival’s Thinking and Destiny.
An End to Evil (and Fukuyama’s “end of history”) was the neo-con screed by Perle and Frum to rationalise neo-imperialism and postmodern warfare. The jihadis think no differently in terms of globalisation and “McWorld”. All this is childish logic; a childish logic which has, nonetheless, become a fate for us all, and the danger here is that everyone will be drawn into the current of the demonic, which is the nihilistic, in the delusional belief that they are all doing the “good”. As Nietzsche also once put it, when one goes to fight monsters, one had best take care not to become the monster oneself.
The endgame of the dialectic of war and terror is only mutually assured self-destruction. In the name of “defending our values”, we will negate every one of them, and Islam itself will become void as much as “Christendom” was made void by Inquisition and Crusade. McWorld and Jihad are both headed towards mutual exhaustion of their values. Siege mentality, fortress mentality, the mass surveillance state, and the erection of all kinds of walls and fences, mental, political, and literal, will now become part of “the new normal”. It truly is a world in upheaval.
It’s beginning to look a lot like we’ve finally blundered into Orwell’s dystopian vision of the future in his 1984. Barber’s book, though, makes excellent reading for those who want to understand the “double-movement” that Gebser also saw in the dynamics of the times. If you haven’t read it, it is probably a good time to consider doing so and to reflect on the meaning of it.