The New Normal: Predicament

My predecessor blog to The Chrysalis, The Dark Age Blog (or TDAB), pretty much tried to describe the conditions of life in what is now being called “the new normal”. I started The Dark Age Blog to contest and combat the tendencies towards civilisational decadence implied in Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis and its precusor in Margaret Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as society” and the TINA principle (i.e, “there is no alternative”), both of which I perceived as degenerate — and that means, spiritually deadening.

So, I groaned inwardly when I first heard the term “New Normal” from the lips of former US Vice-President Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney (as he was nicknamed) in a speech he gave in October, 2001. As some of you know, I started collecting and cataloguing, like a botanist, all subsequent references to “new normal” in order to try to understand and interpret the nature of the beast we are all now presently living within. And those of you familiar with Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy may already recognise this “new normal” as his anticipated breakdown of the mental-rational consciousness structure, or as “post-Enlightenment”.

The new normal, which may also be said to be synonymous with “post-modern condition” and all that this implies about Modernity and modern ideas, can be summarised, I believe, in one word: “predicament”. Predicaments are intractable dilemmas, meaning they cannot be resolved by merely “thinking things through”. A predicament is the meaning of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. In formal logic, this is called “the ears of the wolf dilemma”, and there is no logical solution to it. It is a marker for the limits of logic and reason and also a marker for the transgression of those limits into hubris and Nemesis.

The ears of the wolf dilemma is profound.  I could probably write a book about its meaning. But it is ironic that after six or seven years of university education, probably the only thing that ever really stuck with me after it all was my utter surprise, one day in an otherwise tedious logic class, at learning of the ears of the wolf dilemma, which struck me as Reason’s Achilles Heel — the limit at which dialectical rationality breaks down; where thesis and anti-thesis become virtually identical — one and the same.

This is the situation of the “new normal”. If the present world seems completely mad, it is because of this ears of the wolf predicament. And to call this situation of the new normal as “chaotic transition,” rather than “the end of history”, is indeed, quite hopeful in itself. Even to describe this state of self-contradiction or predicament “normal”, and therefore sustainable, is impossible.

“Ironic reversal” in its various forms as “unintended consequence”, “perverse outcome”, “revenge effect”, or “reversal of fortune” are nothing else but symptoms of the ears of the wolf predicament and dilemma which prove and test the limits of the rational and the onset of its Nemesis. Nemesis is the process of enantiodromia, as reversal at the extremity, manifesting as the dynamics of the self-devouring, the self-negating, and the self-contradictory. And it is in this sense that “new normal” and “post-truth society” are also synonymous terms.

My American readers will probably have no problem appreciating the “ears of the wolf” dilemma, living as they are through what is probably one of the most dire electoral campaigns in the history of democracy — one that not only calls into question the viability of the party system, but the viability of democracy and democratic institutions more generally (as even the US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew acknowledges). In fact, doubts about the continued viability and resilience of liberal democracy more generally is also one of the themes of the “new normal” and is also attendant upon the breakdown of the mental-rational consciousness structure in the ears of the wolf predicament.

This civilisational predicament of self-contradiction as self-negation insinuates itself into the thought processes of everyone in a “globalised” world, where it manifests as “duplicity”. And under the circumstances, some form of fascism or authoritarianism becomes a mass temptation as a coercive, and even violent, way to resolve the dilemmas and predicaments of the self-contradiction represented by the ears of the wolf. This recourse is itself delusional. It is an attempt to deny or suppress the stress of the predicament or self-contradiction — through a reactionary “denialism” — rather than transcend it. Regardless of which ear of the wolf you choose or deny, though, the result is the same — damned either way. Such is the nature of Peter Pogany’s “havoc” or of “chaotic transition”.

A Dark Age, otherwise called by Nietzsche “two centuries of nihilism”, is thus a real possibility, even probability. But, of course, even Nietzsche saw this as a transitional phase on the way to his “transhuman” mutation, (which has nothing to do whatsoever with the fascist “superman”).

Evan Solomon published an article recently in Maclean’s Magazine entitled “Canada’s uneven journey to the new normal” which somewhat highlights this issue of predicament and the ears of the wolf dilemma. But as diagnosis it only deals with the symptoms, rather than the cause. Likewise, the subtitle to Christopher Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism addresses this same “new normal”: “American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations“. This phrase “diminishing expectations” announces the death of “the American Dream”. Lasch may as well have declared the death of God as declare the onset of “an age of diminishing expectations” (Carolyn Baker, in her book Dark Gold: The Human Shadow and the Global Crisis pretty much picks up on this theme of “diminishing expectations” as the condition of hopelessness implied in the demise of “the American Dream”). Much of the present political and psychological turbulence, not just in America but elsewhere, is owing to this sense of diminishing expectations and prospects, but is also a failure to appreciate the predicament of the mental-rational consciousness structure represented as “ears of the wolf dilemma” — in this instance, how to sustain growth in the context of limits to growth.

The consciousness structure of modern man stands helpless before this intractable dilemma and predicament, which is why it resorts to magical thinking or “technocratic shamanism”, as Algis Mikunas calls it. Magical thinking, in the form of technocratic shamanism, arises from the stress and pressure the predicament exerts on the consciousness structure, and the predicament arises at the limits of rationality. The limits of the mental-rational consciousness structure lie in the ears of the wolf dilemma, and the ears of the wolf is the state of self-contradiction that can very easily slip into self-annihilation, which is one reason why Gebser holds that “global catastrophe” may well be an inevitability.

Sorry. Didn’t want to spoil your day. But we missed our cubic centimetre of chance to avoid this fate some time ago. And I suspect that when William Blake stated that “I have also The Bible of Hell, which the world shall have whether they will or no” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, he was saying that we would pass through the crucible, whether we will or no. So, another term for “new normal” may well be “crucible” — and the word’s connection with the word “crucifixion” (and “crisis”) isn’t accidental.

In fact, for the mental-rational consciousness structure, the ears of the wolf dilemma feels like a crucifixion.

Because it is.



6 responses to “The New Normal: Predicament”

  1. InfiniteWarrior says :

    we missed our cubic centimetre of chance to avoid this fate some time ago

    Well, that’s a cheery thought. 😉

    Technocratic shamanism is, indeed, on the ascendency and takes many forms, including what is sometimes called the “Silicon Valley Magic Bullet Solution” to…everything. Cyborgism; bioengineering; The Gates Foundation’s questionable “philanthropical” endeavors; ad infinitum; world without end.

    But we’re aware of that, too, aren’t we? The technological solutions might seem promising but are, in many cases, nothing more than symptoms of the breakdown. As long as we recognize them as such, perhaps we still have that cubic centimeter of chance.

    There are a great many “Awakening” and “New Consciousness” groups out there that actually promote the mental-rational and the technocratic or attempt to fuse ancient wisdom with it rather than question it, but by the same means technology has brought us all closer together (e.g with the Internet), it may also increase our understanding of one another…just in time to hit that cubic centimetre of chance.

    Okay. Why did the image of Luke Skywalker’s X-wing just enter my mind?

    [T]he approach will not be easy. You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It’s a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction….

    Like this? [—–>]

    • Scott Preston says :

      Nice, clever graphic. But all too serenely orderly to describe chaotic transition.

      For one thing, we’ll have to stop describing the Empire-of-Mind-At-The-End-Of-Its-Tether as “new normal” and more as “chaotic transition“. It really matters how we name this because as “new normal” it implies lock-in, stymie, or stagnation that demands adaptation more than transformation. “New normal” encourages complacency or resignation, on the one hand, and hopelessness on the other — and both are dead-ends.

      If there is any recent precedent for this, it was the transition from the Age of Faith to the Age of Reason, and it was terrible, and Reformation and Counter-Reformation never really ended, not even with the Treaty of Westphalia.

      Are we really more “enlightened” now than then? I see the same superstitions, the same paranoias, the same conspiracy theories, the same explosive and intractable self-contradictions, the same responses to those intractable self-contradictions which centuries of literacy have not lifted from the mind.

  2. Charles Leiden says :

    Scott, good summary. Predicaments and double-binds. I wrote a newsletter in the late eighties that echoed these themes. I found some old issues the other day. The one issue starts off with the well-known story of someone losing their key in a dark spot and they look for the key under the light instead of where the key was lost. I wrote “our perspective views the present age as the last breath of breath of the rational, egoic, material orientation to our world. The sunset effect of western civilization. The more we hold on and apply these pathological orientations, the more society will decay and hopelessness will be experienced.. the worst scenario is just a continuation of business as usual… I even quoted those lines by Yeats Things fell apart… Double binds.

    Predicaments are intractable dilemmas, meaning they cannot be resolved by merely “thinking things through”. A predicament is the meaning of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.

    Richard Tarnas talks about the double bind of modern consciousness in the epilogue of his book The Passion of the Western Mind. Here is a link to the epilogue

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Thanks for that link. It reminded me also of the Global Consciousness Project, which I haven’t had an opportunity to check in on a while.

      While the machine continues its rapacious rampage, I’ve been attempting to keep track of all the “movements of the heart” or “cries from the heart of the world”, to quote Occupy, that are occurring simultaneously. They’re a lot stronger and more ubiquitous than many people seem to realize. Sure, the same efforts and means to destroy or drive them “underground” as we’ve seen historically are being utilized today, but the Internet has made it impossible to silence them. Those that haven’t been or aren’t becoming mired in the search for technocratic solutions themselves are alive, well and making great strides in forging connections between people I’d become discouraged I would ever see in my lifetime.

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