“Post-Rational Society” or “Post-Truth Society” — take your pick. Flip the coin. The result is the same.
Despite the fact that we have been warned for decades that this was coming, and it was anticipated, it is still a surprise to realise we are actually, finally in it in a conscious sort of way. Now I’m intensely curious about it. It reminds me of the patient who suffers from an undiagnosed illness, tormented more by the gnawing uncertainty of it than anything, who suddenly recieves his clear diagnosis. “You have terminal cancer.” Phew! What a relief! Now, at least, he has a name for the damnable thing. And better a gnawing certainty than a gnawing uncertainty.
Most people, I suspect, hope that this is a temporary aberrancy, and that if we do not adjust our sets, or fiddle with the rabbit ears, our favourite programme will resume shortly.
Nope. Not going to happen. This is ’til death do us part, stuff. And in the case of post-truth, it’s “either you go or I go. Which will it be?”
Needless to say, if we really do now live in a post-truth era, “speaking truth to power” becomes a futile gesture and impotent strategy. Something is wrong with the content of language. This lifeblood of society, sincere speech, no longer circulates. There are certain unhappy consequences to this very comparable to myocardial infarction. Where there is no common speech, where there is no shared truth, only violence can restore order. What you have in post-truth/post-rational society is, ironically, a speechless situation and condition. There is a big difference between mere “talk” and real speech, which we have mostly forgotten because “all higher values devalue themselves” as Nietzsche defined cynicism and nihilism.
This situation of speechlessness was already implicit in David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd (1950) and even earlier. It’s part and parcel of Gebser’s diagnosis of the condition of the atomised and fragmented modern consciousness in The Ever-Present Origin, which he began in 1932. It was especially noted by the “speech-thinker” Rosenstock-Huessy as emergent crisis during the period 1914-1945. Post-rational/post-truth society, as you may surmise, is the culmination of this — a society full of talk and talking heads, lies and endless propaganda, but speechless all the same. And it’s terminal, for all sorts of reasons.
It’s in view of this that there is such an urgent emphasis, these days, on “dialogics” to supplant dialectics. The physicist David Bohm, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and “grammatical method”, Martin Buber, or the Russian Mikhail Bahktin and “dialogic imagination“. Not “data”, not “information”, but sincere, truthful speech and dialogue is the “lifeblood of society”, as Rosenstock properly referred to it. It is probably the very impersonality of the technological system that leads us to believe we can do without reasonableness or truthful speech, and can survive merely on “data” or propaganda (“branding”).
The rewards of the kind of irresponsible speech we call “talk” or “post-truth” have proven too great to expect this situation to change (and if there’s any doubts about the apparent reward of duplicity, Ralph Keyes’ The Post-Truth Era (2004) makes for sobering reading).
These are very Mephistophelian times. And if that doesn’t scare the Bejeezus out of people, not sure what will. Yet, it’s also true that Mephistopheles, being the archetypal Trickster figure, always ends up hoist by his own pitard — “part of that power that ever evil would do, but always does the good”, as Goethe has his Mephisto describe himself in Faust.
Howso then? In The Chrysalis, over the course of the years, we’ve suggested that what is now being called “New Normal” or “Post-Rational” or “Post-Truth” is all that, to be sure, but also involves an essential restructuration of what we mean by “truth” and “rationality”, of consciousness and even “human nature” more broadly. We’ve referred to this as “chaotic transition” to describe what Gebser calls a “mutation” of the consciousness structure of modern man — one so complete that it embraces the totality of the human form — body, mind, soul, and spirit, and in those terms: a lack of harmonisation of the consciousness functions of sensing, thinking, feeling, and willing — a lack of coordination and synchronisation of the functions. Such mutations are not painless by any means. They may even appear as a diseased condition for some time, as a “dark night of the soul”. So, it has been also my contention that “identity politics” which is pretty much implicated in all of this in one way or another, is also part of “chaotic transition” and of the fragmentation and disintegration of the personality and consciousness structure of modern man.
Now, we have also said that “chaotic transition” of this nature is also a manifestation of “the return of the repressed” — a relaxation of the inhibitions. Gebser calls this “the irruption” of formerly repressed elements of the psychic structure of modern man largely owing their repression to the selective perception of a deficient “perspectivist consciousness” — the point-of-view consciousness based on the “ratio” of the three spaces of length, width, and depth that arose from the discovery of the third dimension in the Renaissance. This tripartite structure is the essence of the perspective or mental-rational consciousness, as illustrated by the Great Seal of the United States (as discussed many times earlier in The Chrysalis) which is actually the symbol of the European Enlightenment (ie, the “Illuminati”, so-called, which just means “enlightened”)
This is the shape of the modern consciousness we call “perspectivist” or “mental-rational”, and it is based on the perspective eye of Leonardo da Vinci, as so,
This triadic symbolism is quite ubiquitous because it is the very image of dialectical rationality itself — the triad of thesis, antithesis and synthesis (and the law of noncontradiction which means, basically, that thesis and antithesis can never be one and the same thing, which would be self-contradiction or “paradox”). When thesis and antithesis (which form the base of the pyramid of logic) become one and the same, however, you have impasse. Logic breaks down. “Progress” stops. So does “history”. The mental-rational consciousness begins to function in “deficient mode” as Gebser refers to it. When thesis and antithesis become one and the same thing, you have “coincidence of opposites” or “conjunction of the opposites”. What arises then is predicament — caught between a rock and a hard place, or damned if you do and damned if you don’t. This I formerly described as “the ears of the wolf dilemma” — You have a ravenous wolf by the ears (thesis and antithesis). But, if you let go of any one of those ears, you’re done for. You’re stuck. And, of course, you’re anxiety levels shoot through the roof because you can’t go forward, you can’t go backward, you can’t go left, and you can’t go right. No Exit.
This is what led even Heidegger to declare “Only a god can save us now”. The mental-rational consciousness cannot extricate itself from this dilemma and predicament. The ears of the wolf dilemma, which is our contemporary predicament, demonstrates the limits of rationality and rationalism, beyond which “here be monsters”.
The usual suspects under such circumstances of mental breakdown are anguish, uncertainty, panic, and desperation and a tendency to revert to “magical thinking” to resolve the dilemma, since dialectical rationality offers no exit and no way out. The only other resort is called “leap of faith”. You grab onto the two ears of the wolf firmly and execute a somersault into the unknown over the back of the wolf and then run like hell.
The return of the repressed with the breakdown of modern man’s consciousness and logic was very much a concern with Gebser. While the return of magic and myth (and the archaic) sounds welcome, in some respects, what very much returns with the repressed is the Shadow as well. The Shadow is the counterpart to the ego-nature. It’s Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll and is Mephistopheles. He’s a nasty dude if not recognised and handled correctly, which is why the Shadow is called “the Dark Side”. But like Mr. Hyde himself, the Shadow also contains much of the suppressed vitality that needs to be integrated into consciousness, which is why Carolyn Baker calls the Shadow “Dark Gold“. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, of course, self-destructed because they couldn’t overcome the dualism — the schizophrenia. It’s a warning about why we need to transcend dualistic thinking. Some call the Shadow “the Sinful Self”, and integrating this “sinful self” with the consciousness was precisely the meaning of Nietzsche’s amoralism and of his “revaluation of values” or “transvaluation of values”.
(As Heraclitus knew, Dionysus was a transform or metamorph of Hades, god of the underworld. I’m unsure whether Nietzsche knew that).
So, let’s return to this question of whether post-rational/post-truth society is a dissolution along with an essential restructuration of reason, consciousness, and truth itself. The problem should become immediately apparent. We are in the global or planetary age. The globe is a sphere, not a triangle or a pyramid or a cone. The sphere is Gebser’s preferred symbol for the new consciousness — the arational-aperspectival — with its new logic and consequent new understanding of “truth”. Late modernity, especially in the form of neo-liberal globalisation and in the name of “modernisation”, is trying to cram a sphere inside a pyramid in which it doesn’t fit. The pyramid, though, does fit inside the sphere. It’s in these terms that I hold that the post-rational/post-truth society, following Gebser’s pointers, is also a restructuration of consciousness, logic, and ultimately of truth.
The globe is a sphere, not a triangle, and is there anything more ridiculous and absurd in trying to reconcile this contradiction than the symbol chosen for the DARPA Total Information Awareness programme for mass surveillance?
Notice the blind spot there? This symbol is rich in self-contradictions, irrationalities, and absurdities, but which invokes Bacon’s formula for rational science — “knowledge is power”. It’s an attempt to force the globe, a sphere, to submit to the pyramid — to perspectivist consciousness — to force the whole to submit to the part.
Now, by way of contrast, I want to select two symbols, one from the Hermetic Philosophy that was suppressed by the mental-rational consciousness, and another from indigenous North American culture. We’ve discussed the meaning of these before, but here it is again
The other is the by now familiar Sacred Hoop or Medicine Wheel of most of the indigenous tribes of North America,
And, to round things off, a vision the psychologist Carl Jung had of the integral Self, which he recorded in his “Red Book”.
You can imagine these, rather, as spheres. And you will note that the pyramid or triangular structure is contained within the mandala like structure of the Hermetic Cycle, The Sacred Hoop, or Jung’s integral self. The same goes for Rosenstock-Huessy’s “new quadrilateral logic”, his “cross of reality” which is also a mandala structure,
And the same may be said for Richard Moss’s “Mandala of Being”
And you will observe how different this representation of consciousness is from Descartes’ own illustration of dialectical rationality or his philosophy of metaphysical dualism, which again replicates the pyramid and the eye of perspective perception,
The pyramid or cone of perception or tripartite, triangulated “ratio” of rationality is contained within the sphere as a quadrant of that sphere itself. It’s more holistic. The pyramid is not. Vast swathes of reality are simply ignored by the perspective eye. In fact the whole area outside the limits and parameters of the pyramid are depicted as a wasteland of nothing! That is to say, it is excluded from consciousness, and often dismissed as “the occult”. It’s no accident, in fact, that the very words “occult” and “consciousness” were coined at roughly the same time.
So, as bad as post-rational/post-truth society seems — and it is in a state of radical dissolution now — you can see already the restructuration that is underway, in which the pyramid is subordinated to the sphere or mandala. And this, I submit, is the real “clash of values” and the gist of chaotic transition. And those of you familiar with McGilchrist’s neurodynamics of “the Master” and “the Emissary” will recognise that. The sphere is the master, the pyramid is an emissary.
And I’m not done with this yet.