Peak Chaos and “The Compulsion of the Stars”
I don’t know if you caught the fifth and last lecture in Charles Taylor’s series on “The Malaise of Modernity”. It’s well worth taking in. And I want to comment, in that regard, on what he characterises as the three pillars of the modern malaise in their deficient aspects: (market) individualism, instrumental rationality (technology), and the political malaise, which he describes in terms of “Invisible Hand mechanisms” in the sense that they are felt to be semi-autonomous processes or “inevitabilities” in the face of which we seem to be unable to do very much.
This threesome of “Invisible Hand mechanisms” which have the appearance of autonomous processes is a curious one, since it brings to mind the Three Moirai or Fates of antiquity and therewith, ironically, also something deemed completely irrational by modernity itself — “the compulsion of the stars”. This is another case of what I call “ironic reversal at our end of history”.
These apparent irrational compulsions in the form of “Invisible Hand mechanisms” represent a reversal of the Modern Project of liberation itself, for when we accept them as inevitabilities we are basically reintroducing the old “compulsion of the stars”, and therewith what was considered the old problem of paganism — the lack of all sense of responsibility for one’s own life and choice of destiny. And it is in these terms that Modernity is in the process of negating itself. In the very name of “rationality” we are asked to accept what is deemed to be fundamentally irrational — the return of the compulsion of the stars in the form of “Invisible Hand mechanisms”. This is a key aspect of what Gebser calls “the mental-rational consciousness” now functioning in “deficient mode”, i.e, breakdown of the consciousness structure.
In effect, what Taylor wants to say in addressing these “Invisible Hand mechanisms” is that these are superstitions only, but their influence as such prevents and inhibits our ability to form an authentic “democratic will”. That is to say, to form an effective holonic “We” that can challenge these alleged “inevitabilities” in an enlightened manner. And that is the theme of M Follet’s essay on community as process that Dwig referenced in a comment to an earlier post, and which Rosenstock-Huessy also addresses in his social philosophy and expressed in his short book The Multiformity of Man.
These “Invisible Hand mechanisms” as autonomous or mechanical processes (or what we call “Juggernaut” after the Hindu god by that name), and thus as a return of the Fates and of the compulsion of the stars, is exactly parallel to those developments called “technocratic shamanism” as described by Algis Mikunas in his essay “Magic and Technological Culture”, by Richard Stivers in Technology as Magic: The Triumph of the Irrational, by Lee Worth Bailey in The Enchantments of Technology, and, of course, in the warnings about this issued by Jean Gebser in his Ever-Present Origin.
Margaret Thatcher’s “There is no Alternative” or “TINA” principle belongs to the same irrationality and superstition about fate, inevitability and the compulsion of the stars. And to the extent it is accepted, the realm of freedom actually contracts, and with it the sense of responsibility. And with the loss of the sense of responsibility and self-responsibility, so do the possibilities of consciousness also contract. This is the theme of the “zombie”. And it is only in those terms that “Peak Chaos” becomes a fate for us — as a self-fulfilling prophecy.