The Dreary Dystopia of Madhouse Earth
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
These opening lines to Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities are brilliant. It could be said that, right there, is the meaning of that strange “double-movement” described by Gebser, too, as the contemporary Zeitgeist. It might even be said that the “two cities” metaphor represents the “two worlds” of the two different modes of attention of the divided brain, as discussed in the previous post. And isn’t there in this “Two Cities” theme something of a prelude for, or an anticipation of, Robert Louis Stevenson’s later The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
These lines occurred to me this morning as I read that NATO has apparently invoked the collective defence clause of the alliance to send warships to interdict the flow of refugees from Syria, among them the Canadian warship Fredericton. And, of course, once again in the name of humanitarian intervention.
Current events are taking on the air of that kind of dreary dystopianism we find in science fiction novels and films. So, NATO has sent its warships to avert the “human tragedy” of mass drownings by what? By blasting them out of the water? Warships by water, razor wire by land. Israel plans to encircle itself inside a fence in order to keep out “wild beasts”. Donald Trump calls for walls around the United States. Fortress and siege mentality now afflicts virtually everyone everywhere. The many ironies of “globalisation”.
You see here the self-contradictions of Late Modernity — the simultaneous dyamics of opening and of closure, expansion with contraction, the coincidence of the centrifugal with the centripetal, and all it really amounts to is the breakdown of the logic of the modern mind into self-contradiction. Something’s gotta give here. What is sending warships to interdict the flow of refugees in the name of forestalling a “human tragedy” but another way of saying “we had to destroy the village in order to save it, sir”?
History now repeating itself again in the most farcical manner. Spaceship Earth is beginning to look more like Madhouse Earth.
And I admit it is a predicament. Everyone is caught up in this predicament. Everyone is caught up in a double-bind at our “end of history”, which is the very meaning of the diabolical. It not only seems intractable. It is completely beyond anything like a “rational solution”. Predicaments and double-binds are like that.
Meanwhile, the chaos will continue unabated in the apparent belief that not enough human sacrifices have been performed to satiate the hunger or appease the wrath of the dragons of Chaos. “Rational solution” now means hurling bombs at each other, and ever more and bigger bombs is deemed the way out of the predicament. This is called “rational”, and if anyone has an inkling that it is, in fact, madness and not reason, they aren’t letting on.
Who can doubt that what we are seeing in all this, as predicament and double-bind, is the complete self-negation of the Modern Age? Perhaps it was all necessary and that this is the meaning of the Tale of Two Cities, too — that the very worst of the dystopian possibility must become fully manifested in order for its contrary — the ideal or utopian — to become that much more recognisable, visible, and appealable.
So, there may very well be “method in the madness”, as Shakespeare put it.
In any event, so I tell myself.