The Churn. The Crucible.
“Churn” is just as good a word for our chaotic transition as any, and perhaps easier to absorb. The churn is affecting everything — rationality, truth, social relationships, language, and so on. Canada’s Liberal Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, recently used the phrase “job churn” to describe precarious employment and job opportunities for the young in the future. What Morneau refers to as the churn is what I call the crucible. Precarious livelihood is only one aspect — albeit a big aspect — of the Churning.
The subtitle to Christopher Lasch’s book The Culture of Narcissism (1979) was American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. Of course, this malaise is far broader than America alone. It was prescient of him, though, since this issue of “diminishing expectations” becomes, later, Paul Krugman’s The Great Unraveling. It was against the reality of diminishing expectations that the neo-liberal slogan was hurled like an incantation: “a rising tide lifts all boats!” Of course, as it turns out the rising tide was more like a shockwave.
It was a lie and a fraud from the outset — at best a delusion as delusional as Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history”. We could just as well call our age Age of Delusion as anything (the meaning of Stiglitz’s book The Roaring Nineties) or Age of Irrational Exuberance. So, there’s another paradox of the times: diminishing expectations meets irrational exuberance.
Diminishing expectations means not only “unraveling” but also that the future ain’t what it used ta’ be, and suddenly instead of a rising tide and end of history we have The Great Churning which in Gebser’s EPO is called “maestrom”. Churn is, in some respects, the logic of enantiodromia — or reversal at the extremity.
And also of course Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan is a magic incantation hurled against the shockwave of diminishing expectations, which reminds of Xerxes ordering the Bosphorus to be whipped for impeding the advance of his army. Trump’s megalomania, typical of the thorough narcissist, is his belief that his “charisma” — his “mana” — alone can master the Churn and overcome all obstacles, including, evidently, unruly women and angry white males.
“Diminishing expectations” is another term for “post-modern” too and for “end of the Grand Narrative”. Charles Taylor’s The Malaise of Modernity is another term for diminishing expectations. So is disillusionment, which is also demoralisation. Disillusionment, however, is a paradoxical process because it is also the meaning of the apocalyptic — revelation attends disillusionment as “shattering truth”. And it is against this process of disillusionment that “technocratic shamanism” tries to construct new illusions — to preserve the condition of illusionment which we refer to as “boosterism”.
Which is, of course, the opposite of enlightenment.
It’s for this reason that I hold that “post-rational” or “post-truth” belongs to a deconstruction and reconstructuration of the rational and truth also, and therefore also of the meaning of “human nature” and consciousness too. The cure for disillusionment is not more illusionment but enlightenment, and it isn’t coincidental that with the onset of the Churn we are discovering new tools to learn to ride the shockwave — chaos and complexity theory, or ecologics, that represent the incipience of a new consciousness structure, or what Ilya Prigogine called a “new dialogue with Nature” in his wonderful book Order Out of Chaos. “Dissipative structures”, diminishing expectations, deconstruction, value nihilism, demoralisation, and disillusionment are remarkably similar processes.
There is a procedure in Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic agriculture practice that illustrates this Churn perfectly — the preparation of water (or compost tea). In a large vat of water or compost tea you create a vortex, moving in one circular direction. After a while, you then reverse the movement so the vortex flows counterclockwise. The period in between the flows is “chaos”. This inbetween chaotic transition is the crucis, and an essential part of the inspiriting or enlivening of the water. The water, being so vitalised, becomes a living substance. In effect, the interstice between the directional flows of the vortex represents a fecund or generative “coincidentia oppositorum” (a mating of the yin and yang poles), and in those terms is a very good analogy (and perhaps more than an analogy) with the process we call “enantiodromia” which is also a coincidence of opposites. The “chaotic transition” here is also the transformative process.
And it is in these terms that we can also understand “Churn” as Gebser’s “double-movement” also. Water is not only life, as the Standing Rock protesters insist. Water is the manifestation of the inherent “underlying” flux of energy and assumes its laws and its patterns. Everything flows, but water is especially the material realisation of that flow made visible. And the same patterns which govern the flux of water govern grammatical speech too, including the chaotic transition. Speech flows and circulates (or stagnates) just as water flows and circulates (or also stagnates). Time follows the same patterns, which is why we sense an affinity between time and water.