Peak Chaos

“Post-truth” was a phrase I used a decade ago in the old Dark Age Blog, principally in my attack on Thatcherism and on Fukuyama’s “end of history” triumphalism. It seemed to adequately describe the threat of “Dark Age” being sounded by writers like Morris Berman, Jane Jacobs, Tom Frank, or William Irwin Thompson, amongst others. It’s rather unnerving, though, to see the term “post-truth society” now come into fairly common usage in 2016, or even recast as a utopian ideal as in Rolf Jensen’s The Dream Society (which I’ve described as “capitalism 3.0”).

If you think about it, though, “post-truth” and “chaotic transition” are quite interchangeable expressions and very much connected with the significance of Charles Taylor’s lectures (and book) on “malaise”, as referred to in the previous post. There, however, the status of truth is evaluated in terms of (the ethics of) authenticity and the inauthentic, where the inauthentic is described as the debased or degraded authentic (or what I’ve sarcastically referred to as “the genuine imitation”). These debased or degraded forms of the authentic (or originary), in this context, thus correspond to Gebser’s “deficient mode” of the mental-rational consciousness structure. And if you’ve followed The Chrysalis long enough, you will see in this the process of “the devaluation of values” that is nihilism, and especially in terms of my pet bugbear – the confusion of the totality with the whole. The “totality” is an inauthentic (or counterfeit) whole.

(Again, Henri Bortoft’s distinction between authentic and counterfeit wholes is very relevant, and is also an issue about truth-values).

It will be seen, also, that the Archdruid’s (John Michael Greer) report on “The Era of Pretense“, or the present Pope’s lament that “duplicity is the currency of the day”, or even Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” belong to the same phenomenon described Taylor as the inauthentic or counterfeit reality that now goes by the name “post-truth society”. And this is exactly the terms that Iain McGilchrist uses in describing the “usurpation” of the Master by the Emissary in his book on neurodynamics (see, for example, “Divided Brain, Divided World“). It is really all one and the same root issue, isn’t it?

“Post-truth society” also invokes Nietzsche’s forecast of “two centuries of nihilism” in which “all higher values devalue themselves”. They become counterfeits. That corresponds to what is called “Gresham’s Law” which states “bad money drives out good”.

It is unfortunately the case that “post-truth society” is an overture to that “global catastrophe” that Gebser (and Nietzsche) foresaw as a near fate for the Age. Indeed, how could it be otherwise?

And yet there is also the case made by Gebser, by Nietzsche, by Mr. Taylor as well that the crisis of truth is also essentially a restructuration of truth in the very midst of its contemporary debasement and degradation — what we might call the Phoenix theme or the “apocalyptic theme”, ie, that the crisis is at the same time an emergent revelation. This is also what Charles Taylor wants to say about his inquiry into the modern self and “the ethics of authenticity”. And it is also the case that William Blake’s notion of “Ulro”, or Plato’s Parable of the Cave, or the Buddhist notion of “samsara” are all addressed to the problem of counterfeit truth. What Buddha, Plato, Jesus, or Blake share in common is that they all appear in ages of the crisis of spiritual truth — in ages of transition. The Buddha in the transition called “Axial Age”, Plato with the transition from mythical to mental-rational consciousness, and Blake during the Age of Revolutions, which we are not done with yet.

What will “peak chaos” look like? If “post-truth society” is indeed the “new normal” what would be the climax of this dynamic?

The bleakest of projections is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. As the imagination of a future global catastrophe it probably can’t be surpassed in its bleakness. But, in some ways, it is not so much the imagination of a possible dystopian future than it is a parable about the present. It’s the imagination of the “abomination of desolation” as utter nihilism and the loss of all moral horizons. The desolate landscape in The Road is a symbolic depiction of the spiritual “wasteland” — a landscape not only empty of life, but empty of all empathy, sympathy, fellow-feeling, or solidarity. Not only is it dog-eat-dog, but man-eat-man. The Road is the imagination of “peak chaos” as it might be, and it’s certainly a possibility. Interestingly, though, McCarthy never really finishes the tale. The father dies while the son is left to “carry the fire”. The conclusion of the film, though, leaves us in suspense about what comes after “peak chaos”. It’s as though McCarthy is saying, “what comes after is not mine to conclude or decide. It is the work and task of the younger generations to finish the story”. So the tale ends without our even knowing whether they made it or not through the abomination of desolation.

Almost everything about The Road is really symbolic about matters of the present but which have the potential to develop into “peak chaos” as pictured there. In one way or another, we are going to have to face “peak chaos”, and whether it is as horrific and dreadful or definitive as depicted in The Road is an open question. Certainly Gebser would not have considered it beyond the scope of the possible, as he makes clear in the opening pages of his Ever-Present Origin — that the fate of the Earth and its mankind are now in question, and that was before the threat of climate change even figured in anyone’s anticipation of a “global catastrophe” in the making.

There’s also William Blake’s vision of Peak Chaos that he anticipated in his “Vision of the Last Judgment“. And one can say that Rumi’s poem “Green Ears” is also about what we could describe as “peak chaos”. And then, there is Walter Benjamin’s ominous words from “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

“Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, is now one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic.”

That is to say, once again, the tension between the authentic and the inauthentic, or the originary and the counterfeit. Or, in Iain McGilchrist’s terms equally, between the Master and the Emissary. For, as “usurper”, the Emissary is also the inauthentic and the counterfeit.

It’s really all of a piece.



9 responses to “Peak Chaos”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Good grief! I had not heard of this until moments ago, when I read it on the Guardian site — the great forests are dying.

    Shades of “The Road”. Quite uncanny.

    • Steve Lavendusky says :

      We’ve recently had a glorioius reprieve from chemtrailing here in Austin until tonight. Our beautiful skies are defiled once again and no one seems to care. I’ve grown more and more outspoken on this matter to friends, strangers, and family, only to be met with the classic “deer in the headlights” gaulk. It seems that they, and the general populace enmasse, have yet to acknowledge the obvious in the skies above them. Chemtrails are a very real phenomena my friends.

    • truthandconsequences1 says :

      A book that’s well worth reading is The Global Forest by Diana Beresford Kroeger. It’s been called “botanical poetry” by one reviewer.

      The subtitle of the book is 40 Ways Trees Can Save Us. However, we and the biosphere we are destroying might be too far gone for salvation.

    • Scott Preston says :

      “On average, one tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year. Two mature trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four.”
      – Environment Canada, Canada’s national environmental agency

      The great forests are crucial, as you can see. They are Nature’s true alchemists, even where we call transmutation “transpiration”, turning carbon dioxide into oxygen. So, the death of the forests is alarming. They are the linchpins. Can’t say, though, that I’ve read any studies about oxygen depletion as part of climate change or reckless logging practices like clearcut (although concerns about the Amazon as being “the lungs of the Earth” are common).

  2. Charles Leiden says :

    There is denial going on everywhere. As one says, denial is just not a river in Egypt. Hope is about change and change will not come from the “powers that be.” Marty Glass writes: What could we honestly expect from this being? A being that poisons its own home, polluting its air, its water, its soil, its food, its own bodies, invents ‘acceptable levels’, and then lies to itself about the results of its measurement of those ‘levels’?

  3. abdulmonem says :

    It is really frightening to see the shock that is expected to engender action is turned into resignation in the face of the mass death of trees and the invasion of strange insects. The mass killing of peoples and the deception hidden by the veil of collateral damage and the blind murders of the drone. Do not think that these events are disconnected. It seems we are reaping the fruits of our dishonest and deficient human consciousness. Everything is interconnected and the ill behaviour of the humans can not go without destructive consequences. It is time to stand up to those who perpetuated separation and killed every tie of inter-connectedness, those who have polluted everything at this time when we have started to witness the destruction of the morally beautiful despite the illusive appearance of luxuries and fancy images. One has to be careful not to get consumed in the sighs of the visible frightful effects. We are living on the same ship, what ails you ails me and what gladdens you gladdens me. It is time to extend the span of our empathy to every one and to everything far or near, and get ourselves out of the program that made this life, is the only abode and there is nothing after death despite the emphasis of all prophets that there is something beyond death and in this one as we see the results of our misdeeds. .

    • Steve Lavendusky says :

      “It is only when we are aware of the earth as poetry that we truly live.”

      • Scott Preston says :

        Ha! I had to look that up. Henry Beston, American writer and naturalist. Blake would agree, of course. The “Poetic Genius” is his name for God. In other words, the cosmos is God’s poem, and therefore all symbolic form. Rosenstock-Huessy also believed that the history of mankind was God’s poem, much like The Odyssey is Homer’s poem. In fact, I was just drafting something about that today until I was interrupted. You anticipated me with that quote.

        • Steve Lavendusky says :

          I love Beston. Reading a cool book called, “Testimony to the Invisible: Essays on Swedenborg by Jorge Luis Borges, Czeslaw Milosz, Kathleen Raine, D.T. Suzuki, Eugene Taylor, Wilson Van Dusen, Colin Wilson.” Kathleen Raine of course is a Blake scholar. I think Blake said something like if your not a poet your not a Christian.

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