“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.