Life in The New Normal

The idea behind free trade was to protect the poor against the rich. Yet neoliberalism and the monopolies it has encouraged have led to the opposite being achieved. — David Boyle, The Guardian

As you know, one of the major themes of The Chrysalis is the claim that the “New Normal” represents a self-devouring, self-negating, self-contradictory dynamic of the Modern Era itself, which is called “nihilism” or devaluation of values. And this devaluation of values is implied in those terms used to describe the “new normal” as “post-modern”, “post-Enlightenment”, “post-rational” or “post-truth society”, or post-democratic, post-Christian and so on and so forth, all of which is subsumed in the phrase “new normal” or even “chaotic transition”.

Befitting this state of affairs, there is a debate going on in many quarters about the death of liberal democracy, even though we might continue to pay lip-service to the zombie as if it were still alive. One might even describe the “new normal” in terms of the phenomenon of self-harm or self-mutilation of the Modern Era.

On the left, you have Chris Hedges’ The Death of the Liberal Class. On the right, you have Robert Kaplan’s “Was Democracy Just a Moment?” (in his book The Coming Anarchy). There are many others and there is an interesting ongoing debate in the pages of The Guardian, too, about the situation. There is Martin Kettle’s article on “our post-liberal age” (“Brexit was a revolt against liberalism“) and David Boyle’s response in today’s Guardian, “Liberalism is still alive — it’s neoliberalism that’s the problem“.  So, as you can see, there is quite a bit of confusion and perplexity about our real situation in post-modernity, or even whether we are “post-modern” at all. David Boyle is also the author of a book entitled The Death of Liberal Democracy?

Boyle’s piece is quite interesting because it does describe the self-negating dynamic of liberalism become “neo-liberalism” — which we might describe as overreach or “a bridge too far” (as the popular war movie of yesteryear put it). That is to say, hubris followed by Nemesis, or the process of ironic reversal called “enantiodromia” which describes how processes turn into their contrary or polar opposite. Nietzsche also anticipated this in musing that any final triumph of liberal institutions would simultaneously be their self-destruction. This is called a “Cadmean victory” and all the neos of the “new normal” — neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, neo-socialism (or “New Labour”) represent this, as betrayal or subversion of their own foundational principles through the process of ironic reversal. Boyle, for example, refers to neo-liberalism as a liberal “heresy”.

(It does remind me of a scene from an episode of The Game of Thrones, where the witch Melisandre counsels King Stannis Baratheon with the words “you will betray the men serving you, you will betray your family, you will betray everything you once held dear, and it will all be worth it” — the reward of total betrayal of oneself and others being the chance to sit on The Iron Throne).

What Boyle is calling for in his essay is very similar to what Charles Taylor referred to as “retrieval” in his lectures on The Malaise of Modernity. Retrieval is not return, I hasten to add. This is significant because “retrieval” is an important part of the integrative process, while “return” is not integrative. Retrieval means — “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater”.

Mr. Boyle is, in one respect, quite right — neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and neo-socialism are secular “heresies” inasmuch as they each have betrayed their respective core values. That betrayal is their specific form of self-negation or self-contradiction which we call “nihilism”, the specific form of which is called “decadence”. Lip-service is the disease of decadence, the various symptoms of which are referred to as “duplicity”, “hypocrisy”, “dissembling”, “faking it”, “pretense”,”inauthentic”, “insincere”, “B.S. Factor”, and so on, all generally what is subsumed in the phrase “post-truth society” as “new normal”.

We should not confuse the vital core meanings of liberalism, conservatism, or socialism with their “deficient” (ie decadent) forms as neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and neo-socialism. It is also important to insist that the act of “retrieval” is not a return, and is simply consistent with the process of integrating consciousness, since they do each express some truth about the human condition.




20 responses to “Life in The New Normal”

  1. donsalmon says :

    There may be – not sure here – some parallel between your insightful evocation of the deeper meaning of “retrieval” and Platonic “memory.” Plato’s memory is not a memory of the dead past, but a “memory” of the Origin. Retrieval is conventionally, I think, taken to refer to recovering something from the “past,” whereas if I understand you correctly, retrieval is a reconnecting of our outer/surface/waking consciousness with That. In other words, a true integration.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. You find the same notion of “memory” in Plotinus, too. But actually it’s both, since the original inspirations or moods that became ideologies — liberal, conservative, socialist, or environmentalist — are also “ever-present” because of the nature of the fourfold self. So “retrieval” inasmuch as it bears on Taylor’s quest for an “ethics of authenticity” is both historical and yet ever-present as well. This is that strange dialogue that Blake sees as the dialogue between Eternity and Time. So, “beginning” (or end) relates to Origin as Time relates to Eternity. They are polarities rather than absolute contradictions.

      The “return of the repressed” should actually also be considered as an act of retrieval — that is, consciously. That’s what I like about Taylor’s use of the term “retrieval”. It implies conscious process where “return of the repressed” implies unconscious process.

      • donsalmon says :

        on perhaps a much more simplistic level, the relationship between Eternity and Time is parallel to the confusion about the “Eternal Now” (which I think Eckart Tolle is sincerely trying to point to) and the passing present, the fleeting moment. Many who have a superficial read on Tolle are celebrating the infinitesimal moment rather than the Spaceless, Timeless Infinite which is eternally Present.


        Tolle had a funny moment when he advised parents not to make the mistake of trying to force their children into being “present.” Putting on his best over-the-top German accent, he advised against telling kids, “You Must be Present, In the moment, right NOW! And you will continue. For the next 15 minutes. or else!!”

  2. Scott Preston says :

    This very debate about the fate of liberal democracy, the crisis of liberal democracy, shows just how out to lunch Francis Fukuyama was about the “end of history” as the triumph of liberal democracy and the onset of a unipolar world order. Totally delusional, and we’re paying the price for that delusion. And it’s a rather steep price, too.

  3. Dwig says :

    The Archdruid Report this week also treats the origin and fate of American liberalism. This paragraph states the thesis:

    “To make sense of what American liberalism has been, what it has become, and what will happen in its aftermath, history is an essential resource. Ask a believer in a political ideology to define it, and you’ll get one set of canned talking points; ask an opponent of that ideology to do the same thing, and you’ll get another—and both of them will be shaped more by the demands of moment-by-moment politics than by any broader logic. Trace that ideology from its birth through its adolescence, maturity, and decline into senescence, and you get a much better view of what it actually means.”

    • don salmon says :

      It would be interesting to hear Scott’s take on John Michael Greer (the Archdruid report). I just dropped by there on Dwig’s recommendation and remembered why I find it so distasteful. He does seem to have the Burkean conservative’s inability to understand even remotely the Origin, or just about anything to do with integrality. It’s a shame because he’s an insightful guy in some ways.

      • Scott Preston says :

        JMG is a Burkean conservative. He’s made that explicit enough. Burke was one of Blake’s “spiritual enemies”. Burke in England and de Maistre on the Continent are usually the names associated with reactionary conservativism because they never made their peace with the French Revolution as a supposed offence against “the natural order of things”.

        But I’m sure JMG probably finds neo-conservatism as much a conservative “heresy” as David Boyle finds neo-liberalism a liberal “heresy”, or (on the left) Paul Mason finds neo-socialism a socialist “heresy” (which he does, oddly enough in the same pages and same day of The Guardian as David Boyle was berating neo-liberalism as a “liberal heresy”.

        Conservatism is a legitimate mood, inasmuch as “prudence” is a chief conservative virtue. That virtue can easily become vice and vicious as reactionary conservatism. The disease of conservatism is waiting overlong when one should rush, where the disease of liberalism is rushing where one should be patient. The disease of the conservative is “too late”, while the disease of liberalism is very often “too soon”.

        Burkean conservatives tend to believe that all the problems of Late Modernity begin with the Liberal/French Revolution (including the Russian Revolution as follow-up from the French). “Liberte, egalite, fraternite”, simply upset the “natural order of things”, as something “unnatural”. And having supposedly accomplished the “roll-back” of the Russian Revolution, their next logical target is to roll-back the French Revolution. Liberte, egalite, fraternite is now their point of attack. This is part of the “double-movement”.

        Of course, revolution is “unnatural”. That’s not an argument against it. The problem here is the squishiness of words like “natural” and “order”. That was Blake’s point of attack on Burke, for what Burke thought of as “the natural order of things”, Blake called the “Ulro”.

        There are many problems and self-contradictions with the Burkean perspective, not least of which is its blindness to its own self-contradictions and the meaning of modern history. Blake defended the Lutheran and the Glorious Revolution, little realising it seems that the French followed logically from both, and the Russian from the French.

        Prudence is a laudable virtue until it becomes an imprudent prudence, which is the disease of the reactionary. Prudence, when it functions well, puts the brake on “progress” until such time as this “progress” is actually assessed for its merits or demerits. The problem of too much prudence is therefore, that of “enantiodromia” — it turns into its opposite and a virtue becomes a vice. The same disease afflicts the liberal, though, inasmuch as “progressive” can become rashness and recklessness.

        And, as you can see, this is the contemporary political problem of a non-conserving conservatism and an illiberal liberalism.

        • Dwig says :

          Actually, what Greer means by the term “Burkean conservative” may not be what you’re thinking. He lays it out in detail in In particular, he says, Burke had no problem with the French people rising up to change their government — he criticized the way they went about it. (And the results — the terrors and Bonaparte — justified the criticism.)

          Also, his example of the working out of his form of conservatism — a detailed defense of same-sex marriage, based on the pragmatic considerations involved, is worth some thought.

          • Scott Preston says :

            For some reason, your comment ended up in the spam box. Not sure why.

            In any case, that’s not my understanding from my reading of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke, being Irish, was rather conflicted about revolution. He thought the English Glorious Revolution (Cromwell’s) was the most appropriate model (a kind of constitutional monarchy that preserved the class system of aristocratic titles, rank and privilege as “the natural order of things” — he uses that phrase throughout) without understanding why that was not possible for the French to merely ape the English model. Blake couldn’t stomach that reformist view, but also became disillusioned with the advent of the Terror. Blake’s own views were what today we would probably describe as “libertarian socialist”, given his political formula “The Arts, and all things in common!” Burke’s conservatism left in tact the two institutional authorities that Blake loathed — the State and the Church. But then, Blake was also realistic enough to know that such a thing wasn’t possible until human beings “opened the doors of perception”, which is ever the chief aim of his art. I suppose Blake’s political views could be somewhat comparable to Jacque Ellul’s “Christian Anarchism”.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Just to add to the above comment, it may not need to be emphasised that the condition of both conservatism and liberalism (that is to say, all the “neos”) inasmuch as they have become self-contradictions in that respect highlights the “deficient mode” of the mental-rational consciousness structure. Nobody can say that contemporary conservatism is “prudent” (certainly not with Trump or the so-called alt-right) and we can see that liberalism become neo-liberalism is reckless and rash in its pursuit of “progress”. They’ve become self-contradictory, and in those terms are headed towards self-destruction.

        • don salmon says :

          I must say, I’m impressed. Extremely clear answer to JMG and very much helps articulate what it was I found so distressing about his writing (despite his interesting and rare insights into the occult world – would love to hear more about that on this blog – hint hint:>))

          • Scott Preston says :

            I will oblige by following up on my comment with a regular post. It seems timely to do so, since the political stakes are so high right now. Very dangerous times.

            Not sure I can speak, presently, to JMG’s “druidism”. As you may know Blake saw Druidism as what Gebser might call “deficient magical”. Having not spent a lot of time with JMG’s website, I can’t say whether this fits or not, although once one declares oneself for druidism, I suppose it does become somewhat lopsided approach. And combined with conservatism, it could very well be a case of “return” rather than “retrieval”. There’s a fine line here.

            In any case, I will speak to the political dangers of the present and their meaning in the broader context in terms of the reactionary and the counter-reactionary as also implicated in this choice for return or retrieval, respectively. as I used to put it following what I thought was Omar Khayyam “only a hair separates the false from the true”. And this is certainly the case here.

            • don salmon says :

              My sense is that Greer, like some 95% of people into the occult, is fishing in very dangerous waters (i.e. deficient). I personally think the greatest danger today is not the outer deficient mental structure but the opening to the inner worlds. Parapsychology is – for all but the most recalcitrant – fully proven

              “The Self Does Not Die” just came out, with 100 verifiable stories of paranormal perceptions of people with Near Death Experience;

              Even more stunning in terms of signs of a “new age” is the epochal publication of “Transcendent Mind” by the American Psychological Association (APA). I can tell you as a grad student in the 1990s who had to read hideously boring, superficial, meaningless drivel from the APA, which toed the materialist line as religiously as any, this is truly paradigm breaking. Imants Baruss is a Canadian psychologist who has been quietly pushing the non materialist view for 25 years, but never would I have imagined the APA would publish one of his books, as an official textbook no less.

              I’m not aware of any parapsychologist, including Baruss, who has any sense of the immense dangers their reckless entries into the inner realms have brought forth. In a way, if you feel the Forces behind the T***p phenomenon you can almost see, and touch, viscerally, what Sri Aurobindo calls the forces of the lower vital (prana/life) worlds. He writes of those worlds in the 2nd book of Savitri in truly terrifying, hair-raising language (it’s available free online – look for the stories of the worlds or planes of life).

              I see the worldwide proliferation of compassion training programs as at least a tiny barrier to the effects of these hostile forces. But when you look at the polarization around the world and the nihilism (you can see the tiny vital beings rubbing their hands in glee, whispering in the ears of depressed and demoralized and therefore receptive humans – “you’re in it for yourself, go for it, just kick and scream, go ahead, it feels good” – and then feeding off the energy and mayhem that results).

              There are other yuuugely positive signs as well as negative ones.

              Well, anyway, we live in interesting times.

  4. InfiniteWarrior says :

    Speaking of “intractable”….

    I was beginning to think the comment of soundofthesuburbs on Boyle’s article (Liberalism is still alive — it’s neoliberalism that’s the problem) might be dismissed as utterly irrelevent — greed being an obvious, ever-present reality since whatever-time human beings began walking the earth.

    Every social system since the dawn of civilization has been set up to support a Leisure Class at the top who are maintained in luxury and leisure through the economically productive, hard work of…

    …everyone else. I can’t think of any idolatry…I mean, ideology…that hasn’t been warped by it, but the agents that actually cause such “heresies” — avarice, hubris, anger/wrath, etc., etc. etc. — are rarely, if ever, mentioned.

    The conventional wisdom appears to hold that if we can just “purify” these ideologies of their heretical elements, we’ll be okay. Alas, we’ve been down that road too many times before, too, haven’t we? Few ever target the ideologies; rather they tend to target the people who adhere to those ideologies.

    The founders of our religions were/are aware that such agents as avarice aren’t intractable, but to use Scott’s preferred term “transmutable”. Obvious as they are, perhaps they’re not receiving enough attention? (Well, other than in the flippant, accusatory sense.)

    • donsalmon says :

      Hey IF: I had the impression you’re in the Charlotte, NC area – is that right? It’s my impression there’s a surprising number of folks in this region (western north carolina) who are very aware of this tendency of greed to lead to domination and are actively – to wildly varying degrees of success – feeing their way toward a more integral type of community (integral in, well, the “integral” sense and not in Wilber’s sense). Whatever will happen will happen – nonetheless, it’s part of what makes me optimistic.

      I just got this quote from Mirra Alfassa (SrI Aurobindo’s collaborator) that – perhaps somewhat tangentially – speaks to this. Note the comment in particular about the supramental Force that is spreading through the world at this time (something that Gebser himself said he was influenced by in the early 1930s when he felt himself within the field of Sri Aurobindo’s Force)

      “As the beginnings of the supramental life, which must be the next
      realisation in the unfolding of the universe, develop, perhaps not
      in a very obvious way but very surely, it becomes more and more obvious that the most difficult way to approach this supramental
      life is intellectual activity.

      It could be said that it is much more difficult to pass from
      the mental to the supramental life than to pass from a certain
      psychic emotion in life—something that is like a reflection, a
      luminous emanation of the divine Presence in matter—to the
      supramental consciousness; it is much easier to pass from that
      into the supramental consciousness than to pass from the highest
      intellectual speculation to any supramental vibration. Perhaps
      it is the word that misleads us! Perhaps it is because we call
      it “supramental” that we expect to reach it through a higher
      intellectual mental activity? But the fact is very different. With
      this very high, very pure, very noble intellectual activity, one
      seems to move towards a kind of cold, powerless abstraction, a
      frozen, an icy light which is surely very remote from life and still
      further away from the experience of the supramental reality.
      *****In this new substance which is spreading and acting in the
      world, there is a warmth, a power, a joy so intense that all
      intellectual activity seems cold and dry beside it.***** And that is
      why the less one talks about these things the better it is. A single
      moment, a single impulse of deep and true love, an instant of the
      understanding which lies in the divine Grace brings you much
      closer to the goal than all possible explanations.

      Even a kind of refined sensation, subtle, clear, luminous,
      acute, which penetrates deep, opens the door for you more than
      the subtlest explanations.”

      • Scott Preston says :

        Mortality is the only guarantee of human progress in this respect. This Rosenstock-Huessy concluded from his study of the modern revolutions. It is also the conclusion of Thomas Kuhn in his epical work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Paradigms do not change owing to rational debate and discourse, but because the adherents of the old paradigm die.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        you’re in the Charlotte, NC area – is that right?

        Yes, and fortunately, Charlotte and the surrounding area has a far more diverse population than one might think, for which I’m grateful.

        The area I actually live in (a little SE of Charlotte) is an interesting mix of old and new, with a thriving arts community; a number of co-op initiatives; etc. Unfortunately, the nearest town’s last mayor was a firm believer in unlimited growth. During her reign, I saw the area ravaged by bulldozers paving the way for a new spate of shopping centers and high-priced housing developments. Now, that town — and everything immediately north, west and east of it — is (or is rapidly becoming) little more than just another suburb of Charlotte.

        It’s my impression there’s a surprising number of folks in this region (western north carolina) who are… feeling their way toward a more integral type of community

        Despite alarming trends, I sense that movement here as well.

        PS I don’t find Aurobindo’s term all that misleading.

        • don salmon says :

          yes the whole region is an interesting mix of old and new. Nice to hear good stuff is happening over your way. We’re all hoping here that our mayor – a lawyer who has worked for many large (and greedy) developers – doesn’t undo much of the good that has been done.

          The good thing is that so many people here are aware of the dangers and are working really hard to bring about something different.

          I do think that, in addition to mortality (I think Max Planck may have been the one who said that science proceeds funeral by funeral) there is a Universe Intelligence at play, one with a remarkably good sense of humor (got the DTs, anybody?)?

          Besides, I have to enjoy it myself, being that my first name, derived from the Gaelic, means “world-might.” Who does that other Donald think he is anyway??

  5. InfiniteWarrior says :

    one with a remarkably good sense of humor

    You can say that again, too. : )

    • donsalmon says :

      (re: good sense of humor)

      The 19th century Indian yogi Ramakrishna was once asked why “God” permitted evil.

      he replied, “To thicken the plot.”

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