1984 in 2016
I have an old photograph of myself from 1984. I’m sitting at a kitchen table. In the background, pasted to a cupboard door, is a full page clipout from the local newspaper. It’s a picture of “The Eye” — the all-seeing eye of Big Brother (or of Sauron for that matter). With all the naivete and myopia of the contemporary mindset, the picture and the accompanying article is a celebration of “the fact” that 1984 had arrived with no sign of George Orwell’s Big Brother.
Phew! What a relief! We could all relax our vigilance now. The thing of Orwell’s dread and horror, the dystopian future of his novel 1984, could safely be said to have passed us by, and 1984 could now be consigned to the dustbin of history. The “end of the world” had come and gone without any sign of Big Brother.
That naivete, myopia, and mere superstition about the date, 1984, goes a long way in describing what came next — Fukuyama’s triumphalist declaration of “the end of history”. One delusion fed into another.
But even in that “milestone” year, 1984, there were rumblings in the background and tremors in the underground, if anyone had bothered to pay attention. Bertram Gross had published his Friendly Fascism in 1980. Even earlier, US constitutional expert Arthur Selwyn Miller had published his The Modern Corporate State (1976) and Democratic Dictatorship: The Emergent Constitution of Control (1981). Noam Chomsky was analysing the propaganda system that helped sustain political and corporate elites in power, in which the political and the corporate were becoming increasingly indistinct.
The same kind of naivete and myopia was exemplified in some of the responses to the movie The Matrix. I read a few philosophical papers which argued that the “matrix” was impossible, and we need not fear that, because we weren’t brains in vats and the human body couldn’t generate enough electricity for the kind of machine world depicted in The Matrix to function. “Move along folks. Nothing to see here. Move along.”
All this reassurance and complacency might be (and has been) ascribed to a cunning willfulness and deflection — a part of the propaganda system itself. Kill the message. While I have no doubt that a large measure of that is due to cynical manipulation, just as much, if not more, is due to the naivete and myopia of sensate consciousness itself, which is what we mean when we speak of “thinking inside the box”, and which is connected to the philosophical position called “naive realism” — i.e., that reality is exactly as it appears to the physical senses, or that sense perception is the only kind of perception there is. I truly believe that all kinds of reductionist, fundamentalist, and literalist thinking is tied to sensate consciousness, which doesn’t even know of the possibilities of other modes of perception which are, to it, inconceivable, and which inevitably also distorts and perverts spiritual truths because it must translate those things into sensate terms. Sensate existence is what we call “one-track mind”.
When we speak of “consciousness” and of “species of consciousness”, it may be likened to light as it passes through a prism or crystal. The one light refracts into a plurality of colours of different frequencies or wavelengths. Each band may be likened to a “structure of consciousness”, and its wavelength sharply differentiates it from its adjoining colours. It perceives as real only what matches its frequency. Of its originary source in the singular light it knows nothing. It may be only vaguely aware of the prism, or if aware of the prismatic character of its existence, finds what lies on the other side of the prism a great mystery. “Integral consciousness” could be described as awareness of the prismatic character of existence, with an intuition about the common source of that multiplicity.
This analogy is, in effect, another way to understand Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”. Grammar is the prism. The refraction of the singular light into different “wavelengths” is the arms of the cross of reality as consciousness thrusts forwards, backwards, inwards, outwards forming our conceptions of space and time — subject and object, traject (past) or preject (future). So, when Rosenstock-Huessy says that “God is the power that makes men speak” and that articulate speaking is “cosmic process”, the analogy is the white light, the prismatic refraction, and the differentiation into discrete bands of energy.
“Deficiency” of a consciousness structure as Gebser uses it means to become stuck in one direction of the cross of reality and, in effect, legislate that one alone as “real”. But, in effect, the cross of reality pertains to different structures of consciousness as they have been articulated in space and time, and the centre of the cross of reality corresponds to the “ever-present origin”, which is akin to the light source.
This model represents our best hope for an authentic “globalism” which, as I’ve insisted upon in past posts, must be accomplished in a “universal history” of the collective human experience of the Earth. Gebser’s history of civilisations as various structures of consciousness — archaic, magical, mythical, mental-rational, and prospective “integral” — is, in effect, an attempt at such a universal history of the human experience, and each the four corresponds to one of the space or time fronts of the cross of reality. It is, in effect, a map of the fourfold human form as that form has “unfolded”, in its various articulations, over time and in different locales. One light prismatically refracted into different structures or “species”, which comprise, nonetheless, one psychic ecology. Extremism destablises the equilibrium of the cross of reality for it means, basically, to become stuck in one direction of the cross of reality — too much backwards, too much forwards, too much outwards, or too much inwards.
Since the cross of reality is a mandala of the human form in its fourfold aspects — as sensing, willing, thinking, feeling — extremism (or the hyperbolic) in any direction ends in a deformation of the human — a caricature of the human — which is nonetheless set up as the norm and standard.
Which brings us back, in a round-about way, to Orwell and his 1984. Newspeak is caricature, and godknows there’s plenty enough of it around these days. But the parallels between Orwell’s dystopia and the present situation certainly don’t stop there. It’s rather amazing, in fact. Orwell’s Winston Smith is reprised in the role of Ed Snowden. The terrorist Emmanuel Goldstein and “the Brotherhood” reprised in the role of the jihadi and the Islamist militant. The seemingly endless war between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia reprised today as “clash of civilisations”. And, of course, after 9/11 and Paris resistance to the growth of the mass surveillance state and the national security state has just become an order of magnitude more difficult to justify in an atmosphere of fear and paranoia. Even the marginal “Proles” of Orwell’s dystopia are reprised in the contemporary “Precariat“.
There are no “masterminds” behind all this, although there are certainly groups of opportunists looking to position themselves for maximum gain from the situation. As Sheldon Wolin noted in his Democracy Incorporated, the emerging “inverted totalitarianism” has been the cumulative outcome of small incremental decisions that have synergistically worked to effect this outcome as blowback, revenge effect, or perverse outcome — “ironic reversal”, as I’ve termed it all. In effect, a lot of Sorcerer’s Apprentices who were deluded enough to believe they had command, but in truth had none whatsoever. Like the great and powerful Oz, they had to appear like they were in command, when the truth was they had absolutely no mastery of the demons they had summoned at all. But the legitimacy of elite rule requires the perception that they are, in fact, in control of the situation, when the truth is they have absolutely none. They are not instigators, they have been reduced to being “crisis managers” — responders to a series of events that altogether are converging into a singular major global crisis that nobody actually wanted, but which has become a fate.
The decisions that were made over the course of the last few decades were bad decisions. But they were decisions made within the confines and within the context of a particular structure of consciousness (now become “deficient”) in which they seemed rational, appropriate, and fitting decisions by a kind of projective geometry of thought. They made “sense” within the context of that limited mode of perception, and within the parameters of that consciousness structure. Those decisions followed from the implicit, but invisible, logical dynamics of that structure, whereas if you scrutinised them from the vantage point of a different mode of perception, they made absolutely no sense at all, and appeared completely lunatic.
But as is said, “the sins of the fathers shall be visited down to the third and fourth generations”, and that is not a religious scruple. That is a sociological law. In effect, the working out of the karmic law. The destructive energies unleashed by the First World War took an entire century to try to pacify. And the destructive energies unleashed by the Iraq War will likely take as long again to pacify. There are good, sound reasons why the karmic law of action and reaction functions the way it does — part of that implicit “pattern” in evolution that Jean Gebser attempted to identify, and which Rosenstock-Huessy also saw in the pattern of the European Revolutions. It is because the human form is fourfold, and the shock of any historical event must work its way through the entire human form before it comes to rest — through the four functions of consciousness, sensing, feeling, willing, and thinking. Only when the shocking event has completed this circulation through the human form, which is the work of generations, can it finally come to rest.
That’s also the meaning of the “cross of reality” as mandala form.