The New Normal in the New Year
As you may know, I collect references to “the new normal” like an entymologist collects bugs. I’m curious about this “new normal”. And today, there was yet another reference to the “new normal” in The Guardian (“Terror threats will be the new normal for Europe, experts say“).
The new normal for the New Year. Perhaps, then, it’s an appropriate occasion to reflect once again on the meaning of this “new normal” in all its curious variety, which I will do today beginning with a brief history of the new normal and how it might bear on Jean Gebser’s transition to the “integral consciousness”.
It was, apparently, Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney who was the first to use the phrase “the new normal” in October, 2001 speech to the Republican Governor’s Association,
“Homeland security is not a temporary measure just to meet one crisis. Many of the steps we have now been forced to take will become permanent in American life. They represent an understanding of the world as it is, and dangers we must guard against perhaps for decades to come. I think of it as the new normalcy.”
Post-9/11, the “new normal” was envisaged as the National Security State, which Cheney justifies as now being “forced” upon the nations, democracies or not, by the realities of international terrorism. That wasn’t, however, the real issue. The real issue of “the new normal” began with the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War “balance of power” which maintained an uneasy equilibrium called a “World Order” in a “destructive antithesis” (as Gebser referred to it) of collectivism and individualism, both restrained in their mutual hostility by the knowledge of MAD — Mutually Assured Destruction.
And, of course, certain elites in both East and West liked it that way. It was their ticket to power and the basis of their claims to rule. We also know (because it is well documented) that there was virtual panic in elite circles in the West for whom “anti-communism” had served as their bread and butter issue. They were now without apparent rationale or purpose, including organisations like NATO which really had to work hard to re-invent itself — “re-missioning” was a term used, as I recall. And, of course, Mr. Fukuyama declared the “end of history” as the final and definitive triumph of individualism and capitalism over all forms of collectivism.
Anyone with a modicum of common sense should know that you can’t have one without the other. The anti-capitalism of the East was a protest against hyper-individualism, while anti-communism in the West was a protest against hyper-collectivism. Both ended up producing unbalanced caricatures of human beings because the individual and the the collective was not an antithesis but a polarity. Gebser understood early that both would self-destruct at the extremity and limits of their possibilities because, as over-specialisations of the individual or the collective, the antithesis represented a disintegration of the whole.
“The current situation manifests on the one hand an egocentric individualism exaggerated to extremes and desirous of possessing everything, while on the other it manifests an equally extreme collectivism that promises the total fulfillment of man’s being. In the latter instance we find the utter abnegation of the individual valued merely as an object in the human aggregate; in the former a hyper-valuation of the individual who, despite his limitations, is permitted everything. This deficient, that is destructive, antithesis divides the world into two warring camps, not just politically and ideologically, but in all areas of human endeavor.
Since these two ideologies are now pressing toward their limits we can assume that neither can prevail in the long run. When any movement tends to the extremes it leads away from the center or nucleus toward eventual destruction at the outer limits where the connections to the life-giving center finally are severed. It would seem that today the connections have already been broken, for it is increasingly evident that the individual is being driven into isolation while the collective degenerates into mere aggregation. These two conditions, isolation and aggregation, are in fact clear indications that individualism and collectivism have now become deficient” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, 1949, p. 3.
What Fukuyama did not understand, because he like everyone else thought in terms of mutually exclusive dualisms, is that the collapse of the collectivist stream also presaged the collapse of the individualist stream. This is, in effect, the whole meaning of “the new normal”. The “new normal” is also the process of a self-negation in the form of an “ironic reversal”.
Others, rather than seeing triumphant “liberal democracy” and the “end of history”, saw in the breakdown of “the balance of power” a “coming anarchy” and the need for a “New World Order”. In 1994, the neo-conservative Robert Kaplan published his controversial book The Coming Anarchy, which questioned the need for democracy at all, and looked to the Roman Empire and the Emperor Tiberius as the model and solution to the “chaos” that had erupted with the collapse of the USSR. Pretty reactionary stuff. The old Cold Warrior Samuel Huntington proposed a “New World Order” framed within a new “clash of civilisations” — a kind of globalised Kulturkampf, (culture war). He objected to his former student Fukuyama’s “end of history” and to neo-imperialist solutions to the “coming anarchy”, not from any humanitarian motives. He basically wanted a perpetual conflict. Why? Because he believed Americans (and not just Americans) needed a collectivist enemy “Other” to define their identity as individualists. Huntington was nostalgic for the Cold War. He missed it. And he sought to reconstitute it as “clash of civilisations”.
But what is all this “anarchy” and “chaos” except the hyper-individualistic acting without the constraining moderation of the collective? And so now, faced with the consequences of their own exaggerated dualistic way of thinking, they now want to abandon democracy and individualism completely and pursue a totalitarian solution themselves!
That’s the principle of enantiodromia in action — reversal at the extremity, called hybris, upon which follows Nemesis. That which is allegedly being “forced” upon us is Nemesis. Nemesis is the name for “the new normal”. But nobody wants to tell you that. The “new normal” was long in preparation before Al Qaeda handed it over on a silver platter.
So, after Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney announces the arrival of the “new normal”, Robert Cooper, an advisor to Tony Blair and author of The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century, (2003) offers us an insight into the meaning of the “new normal”. He calls for a new imperialism and “the normalisation of the double standard”.
Now, just what does “normalisation of the double standard” as a characteristic of the “new normal” actually mean? It means, also, double-talk, double-think, double-dealing, and double-bind, as I’ve addressed those in the earlier Dark Age Blog. All are manifestations of duplicity or “the forked-tongue”. So, when the present Pope Francis says that “duplicity is the currency of the day”, that is the essential character of “the new normal”. We’re not even going to pretend that there is any connection or coherence any longer at all between what we say we do and what we actually do. The word and the act become totally separate from one another. Decoherence of word and act. But that means — disintegrate. And that means decadence. There is an overall loss of integrity.
Decoding Cheney’s “new normal” as something now “forced” upon us means, duplicity is being forced upon us. We will continue to espouse principles of Enlightenment, democracy, humanitarianism, respect for the individual life, etc, etc, but we will, in fact, act otherwise and we simply don’t give a damn whether there is any harmony at all between what we say and how we act. And there’s no question that the Iraq War, for example, represented a trial run for the doctrine of the “new normal” as the doctrine of the double-standard, and therewith all the other attendant patterns of duplicity in the form of double-talk, double-think, double-dealing, and finally a double-bind.
The dissociation of mind and body, thought and deed, word and act, or perception and reality that is duplicity (or dualism) in all these forms is a symptom of Nemesis — reversal of fortune. That is how Nemesis announces itself. At the point of reversal, the old and the new coincide, producing a kind of schizophrenia or split personality in which our thoughts and our acts do not coincide. Our inertia in the form of old habits of perception do not faithfully reflect the new reality. For this reason it is said that “Time makes hypocrites of us all”. But that is Nemesis. And what Gebser has described in the quote extracted above is the old problem: hybris followed by Nemesis. Today, though, we call it enantiodromia. In essence, it is Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism”. Nemesis is just another name for a dynamic of self-negation, and it’s reflected in one the paradoxes of Heraclitus: “the road up and the road down are the same”.
That said, though, it is this very situation of the “new normal” (otherwise called “chaotic transition”) that makes possible the search for a new harmonisation and equilibrium — that is to say, a new integration. The integration of word and act is called “sincerity”. That’s what the word means. It means “against decay”. It means, I’m invested in what I say mind, body, soul, and spirit together as an integral whole, and not in bits and pieces. And that is what everyone craves who searches for “authenticity”.
What we have presently, as “the new normal”, is the insincere, the inauthentic, the ungenuine. It goes with the territory because they are symptoms of the disintegrate — of the loss of the integrity of the whole person. But, no society can ever survive the insincere, the inauthentic, the ungenuine as the “norm”.