As a student, I once translated from the German one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s aphorisms that caught my fancy. And it ran so,
Black ice is very nice
For those who know how
How to dance precise.
“Black ice” may not be familiar to those who live in more temperate winter climates than Canada’s. It’s ice that you don’t immediately see because it’s invisible. You may be driving along a roadway thinking the way is clear when you suddenly hit black ice. You lose traction and you lose control of your vehicle. Black ice is very dangerous for walkers and drivers both.
Nietzsche’s poem not only reminded me of that, and the kinds of skills and vigilance you need to navigate black ice, but also reminded me of Shiva’s dancing the apocalypse — the dance of “creative destruction”. This is what Nietzsche has in mind, and which is connected with his belief that thinking should be like dance, and with his aphorism to “live dangerously!”. In German, though, the words he used translate more as “Thin ice” rather than my own “Black ice”.
I suppose that, as a student, I already sensed we were in for a rough ride ahead, and I couldn’t really understand why hardly anyone else sensed that. And last week’s announcement by the OED that “post-truth” is the word of the year is a sobering reminder that we are in a Dark Age… or, as we prefer to call it, the “New Normal”.
Tom Engelhardt at The Nation calls it “Empire or Chaos“, but it could easily be called “Empire of Lies” all the same. In the former Dark Age Blog, one of the first posts those many years ago dealt with the “Forms of Lying”, and they were plentiful compared to the forms of truth. And I put the question then, and put it here again — how can a social order survive that puts so little value on truth, or which holds truthfulness to be — not emancipating or liberating — but an obstacle and hindrance?
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”, said the Nazarene. And those of you who were with the old Dark Age Blog probably recall the lengths to which I went to distinguish between this “truth that sets free” and the “facts of the matter”, and how these things, truth and fact, had become dissonant and divergent. Ideally, the “facts of the matter” should be a faithful and honest image and representation of the truth, but they have clearly become dissociated. It wasn’t until I read Iain McGilchrist’s book on neurodynamics, The Master and his Emissary, that I appreciated the reason why they have become dissociated — the usurpation” of the Master’s voice by the Emissary — the ego-consciousness, or “perspectivist consciousness” in Gebser’s terms. The word “fact”, after all, means “a thing made” — a man-made thing. It’s related to the word “fabricate”, “faction”, and “factory”, after all. Truth, on the other hand, is disclosed or discovered or revealed.
It is this same dissonance between the two modes of perception represented as “truth” on the one hand and the “factual” on the other that is the problem of dualism, and which extends to the confusion of the Whole and the Totality, and therefore to things that pertain to Life and those things that pertain to Death. “Facts” are dead things, like 1 + 1 = 2. Their relevance and significance comes from their relation to truth, as signs, symbols and reminders of the truth, which is always holistic. Our “facts of the matter” — our representations — should be an honest reflection of the “truth that sets free”, but they aren’t. They have become divorced from truth, and this is precisely what we mean by “bubble” (or “irrational exuberance”) and also by “culture of narcissism”. For this reason, I have felt compelled to recognise a distinction between “awareness” and “consciousness” (or “mind”), or what McGilchrist describes as “Master” and “Emissary” modes of perception, respectively.
Those of you who know and appreciate Nietzsche will recognise this as nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves”, as the process of his forecast for “two centuries of nihilism”. And those of you who know Jean Gebser will also recognise this as his anticipated great “catastrophe” in the making, or “chaotic transition”.
This Jekyll-and-Hyde schizophrenia looks like an absolute disaster for humankind and the planet, the culminating and climactic crisis of dualistic rationality and consciousness. But there is also the sense in which “post-truth society” is also a “restructuration” of truth itself. If Double-Think, Double-Talk, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind, or what we call “duplicity” altogether, are disintegrative force and tendency today, it must be because the “truth that sets free” and the “facts of the matter” are contending in one and the same divided soul for supremacy. The soul has become a battlefield where Master and Emissary are contending. This is not only prefigured in William Blake’s “Vision of the Last Judgment” as the conflict of his “Zoas” who “reside in the Human Brain”, but is what Jean Gebser calls “the irruption” of a new consciousness structure — the aperspectival-arational. This transition, or “return of the repressed”, is chaotic for that reason — a chaos of the affects, of thought, of will, and of sense.
This chaos is Shiva’s Dance of “creative destruction” or what we otherwise call “apocalypse” — the shattering of the illusions and delusions which is always painful and even catastrophic. But it is also the revelation of truth. That’s the import of Leonard Cohen’s verse: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” And it’s in this sense, too, that Nietzsche understood his “two centuries of nihilism” as a necessary bridge we would have to cross on the way to his “transhuman” — otherwise, Aurobindo’s “supramental consciousness” or Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness” or William Blake’s “Albion Reborn”.
Gebser enjoined us not to be drawn into the “maelstrom of blind anxiety” and paranoia that would attend this chaos, but to recognise in it a restructuration of consciousness and to focus rather on the “seedlings” of the new emergent consciousness growing in the detritus of the old and struggling to break through because such recognition and acknowledgement, both within and without, would strengthen them in these disastrous and turbulent times — the “double-movement” of disintegration and decay with a new integration. We have to become apocalyptic thinkers in that sense — recognising in the present “devaluation of values” also an incipient revelation of “the truth that sets free”, or that which he called “time freedom”.
If we are destroyed, along with our Earth, we will be destroyed by our own anxieties, paranoias, delusions, and self-alienation, altogether into the maelstrom. We must seek the higher ground — Gebser’s “universal way of looking at things”, or the Overview beyond the “point-of-view” and “the social volcano”, as Rosenstock-Huessy described it — the contemporary version of Pompeii.
One way or another, “post-truth society” will, and must, passover. And it will passover either into complete death and self-annihilation, or to a new restructuration of consciousness and new truth, one where the “truth that sets free” and “the facts of the matter” are once again harmoniously synchronised. That, at least, was Blake’s promise of “the new age” he saw aborning even in his own time and which he referred to as “the marriage of heaven and hell”, where the “truth that sets free” and the “facts of the matter” were once again harmonious, and where his false god Urizen, the form of fallen Reason as “Single Vision”, is restored to himself and his “eternal form” as one of the four Zoas of the fourfold vision. For Urizen is the Prodigal Son.