Respect and Humiliation
There was an article by Chris Arnade published in The Guardian a few weeks ago (July 30 to be exact) entitled “What do Donald Trump voters really crave? Respect.” I have permitted it to sort of percolate in my mind since then without comment as I allowed it to suggest its own place in the whole schema of “chaotic transition”. It is not just “Trump voters” who Arnade has described here. It could just as well be the profile of the average member of the conservative “Base” here in Canada or elsewhere.
What Arnade speaks to is the two solitudes of a segregated community in Cleveland and their different responses to the sense of humiliation, of real or imagined victimage. This question of humiliation, of resentment born of humiliation, and the compensating demand for “respect” is going to be a very problematic one, and perhaps an intractable one.
The sense of humiliation, and the bitterness and resentment born of that sense of humiliation, is the prime driver of fascist movements. It’s that very sense of humiliation that results in the reaction formation of racism and “master race theory”. The Axis powers of the last century — Germany, Japan, Italy — were born out of the sense of national humiliation following defeat in the World Wars (in the case of European fascism) or, in the case of Japan, the humiliation of Western imperialism and colonialism. There is here, also to mention, the different response of North American indigenous peoples to humiliation and how they handled that.
The psychology of humiliation, resentment, and revenge, which is characteristic of reactionary politics, is going to be very much involved in the “chaotic transition” described by Jean Gebser, and perhaps the key driver in the disaster he sees unfolding. This is probably unavoidable, in Gebser’s own terms, and so we should understand why it is so.
One thing to note about Arnade’s characterisation of the two solitudes is the apparent absence of all self-pity in the face of the daily humiliations of the black community (he calls it “resignation” where I would call it “resilience”) while the white community (at least, those who identify as Trump supporters) ooze self-pity. As far as the latter are concerned, they are the real victims — victims if immigration, victims of globalisation, victims of feminism, victims of reverse racism, in fact victims of everything and anything that they altogether identify with the meaning of “liberal” or “liberalism”, including liberal democracy in general. The proud union man interviewed by Arnade is, of course, an interesting contrast to the others, for reasons having to do with the fellowship and dignity of work provided by the union. Self-pity as a response to the sense of adversity is only possible where there also exists as sense of self-importance.
And here we come to the nitty-gritty of it all — the sense of self-importance, or exceptionalism, that is the thing that is really offended, in the absence of which nothing would be experienced as “humiliated” at all. Trump’s appeal is to those whose own sense of self-importance (which he embodies himself) has been insulted or offended, which produces the sense of “humiliation” and breeds resentment. Ironically, this is a flaw in liberalism itself, especially in its economic implementation as permissive individualism or acquisitive individualism. You simply cannot be humiliated where you don’t have an extravagant sense of your own self-importance (which we call “culture of narcissism”) and where self-importance is offended, self-pity is implicated as well. In fact, losing self-importance is the whole meaning of the Christian practice of “long-suffering” or of dying to oneself daily.
Now, I don’t have any experience with things like Projects or Ghettos or ‘Hoods or what not. But I do have lots of experience with aboriginal communities who have had to suffer much the same assaults of imperialism, racism, and colonialism, if not genocide, and yet have endured. “Resignation” isn’t the right word for this. Resilience is the right word for this. And those indigenous communities which remain authentic “communities” and not just a “mass” or an aggregate, are remarkably notable for any sense of self-pity. Those communities that remain anchored in their roots (and that means largely the Sacred Hoop) are resilient, and self-importance is definitely not considered a virtue, and in that sense self-pity is considered a weakness of the character of the whole man or woman.
It’s actually surprising how often I hear Nietzsche cited amongst some of the First Nations people, especially his aphorism “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. But it may also be said that “if a man has a why he can put up with any how.” This is very much the implicit outlook, and is connected with the strong conviction that the healing or mending of the Sacred Hoop, once broken, is a great task, responsibility and purpose. And it’s here that I think “integral consciousness” may well gain its first concrete foothold.
(In fact, for some reason I’ve never been able to determine, one of the derogatory slang words for Indians is “Neechees”, which ironically sounds very much like “Nietzsches”, although it means “friend” in Ojibway. I was actually taken aback by that when I first heard it until I learned it was Ojibway. But how many dumb racists even know the irony that it means “friend”?).
Of course, this is not true of the indigenous population more generally, because I have encountered individual First Nations people who are uprooted, unanchored and emotional wrecks and just as consumed by the sense of victimage, humiliation and self-pity as others who have become uprooted. But the ones who recover, I’ve found, are those who return to the collective task and purpose of mending the Sacred Hoop. It’s the old adage that, once you hit rock bottom, the only path left open to you is up. This is not what I would call either “resignation” nor “resistance”, but the secret of resilience. I’m also quite convinced that it’s the indigenous that are going to lead and conduct the world into the Third Millennium, for if anyone has earned the honour of the pole position, in that respect, its them.
But… I want to talk further about the psychology of humiliation (and the demand for “respect”) in the context of the “mutation” addressed by Gebser. The “defeat” of an old and deficient structure of consciousness that has exceeded its shelf-life and sell-by date is obviously going to imply a humiliation of that consciousness structure. This is so regardless of the intent of the bearers of the new consciousness structure. Perhaps Gebser uses the word “defeat” ill-advisedly, but its import is much the same. As Nietzsche knew also, regardless of one’s intent, the mere presence of a new consciousness was enough to arouse indignation and sense of offense, if not humiliation, in those loyal to the older structure — the perception of its “criminality”. One is under no obligation whatsoever to honour or respect the old consciousness structure in its deficient mode. Respect isn’t an entitlement, and it’s very odd — in fact, self contradictory — that those who so loudly denounce “entitlements” think they are automatically entitled to “respect” (even as they denounce it as “political correctness” in others).
Alas, this is the kind of incoherence and self-contradiction you can expect during “choatic transition”. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be chaotic. And nobody owes that kind of incoherence any respect whatsoever. It only prolongs its death agony. In fact, what they mean by “respect” is not respect, but loyalty. And this is impossible. We can’t be loyal to a state of affairs, and a mode of consciousness, we know to be deficient and destructive.
We can’t take responsibility for someone’s sense of humiliation when we aren’t responsible for their sense of self-importance in the first place. Getting rid or “letting go” of self-importance is the first step on The Way. It’s a critical maneouvre in the way to integral consciousness, in fact. A “plus mutation” as Gebser calls it, is the ethic of inclusiveness, while a “minus mutation” is the ethic of exclusion. An ethic of inclusiveness is an affirmation of life. If anything, we owe our loyalty to that.
We are called upon, these days, to become global souls — the fullest meaning of that being Nietzsche’s “be true to the Earth!” That’s a big task because the global soul is, in effect, the return of the Anima Mundi. That’s what the “return of the repressed” means in its fullest and collective sense. This is what we are implicitly anyway.
We aren’t under any obligation to grant respect to the unrespectable or the disrespectful. Neither Jesus nor Buddha did. Jesus humiliated the Pharisees and Scribes in public. The Buddha humiliated the Brahmans. Jesus was condemned and executed because his mere presence was a humiliation of the old order. God, after all, “is no respecter of persons.” And, as Blake pointed out, its this sense of self-importance that is the real Anti-Christ — the “I am conceit“, as the Buddha called it. Those who would find their life must first lose it.
“The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow.” That’s one of Blake’s Proverbs of Hell, and it would be a fine and fitting motto for the new consciousness structure — the eagle being the bird that flies highest and sees farthest. Moreover, the crow is traditionally the trickster, and we have enough of trickery today, don’t we?
Be the eagle, and you owe no one an apology for being so.