Age of Rage and Ressentiment

An excellent article by Pankaj Mishra in today’s Guardian, “Welcome to the age of anger“. It deserves special mention because it’s one of the finest diagnoses and interpretations of the chaotic present to have emerged from the creeping messiness, in my opinion.

It’s very often “outsiders” to the Western intellectual tradition who are most enlightening about that tradition, and who demonstrate the deepest insights into it. This is also true of Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, which I’ve just concluded reading. Like the indigenous of North America, they also see what the denizens of the Western tradition don’t see in themselves — the problematic nature of narrow perspectivising perception and the “point-of-view” consciousness structure, or what Blake called “single vision & Newtons sleep”.

And Mishra’s article, at least, is a very good analysis of the reasons why we urgently need to change.



9 responses to “Age of Rage and Ressentiment

  1. mikemackd says :

    I agree with your estimation of Mishra. I am a fan / of this man. I read, and took copious notes from, his 2012 book (London, Penguin) From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt against the West and the Remaking of Asia. This article represents a development of his thought from then.

    • Scott Preston says :

      It might be coincidental, or maybe Mishra is familiar with Gebser, but he uses descriptions and terms familiar from Gebser: “irruption” (rather than e-ruption), “maelstrom”, and “ever-present”, amongst other terms. No indication, though, that he is.

  2. Dwig says :

    This is a very good analysis (taking apart) of the decline of one social “age” and the rise of another, within the paradigms of the cycle of civilizations described by folks like Polybius, Vico, Spengler et al.

    One thing that bothers me, though: the constant, and apparently unconscious focus on the individual as the essential unit of analysis. It’s uncomfortably close to Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as society”.

    For me, this has been brought into sharp relief by contrasting it with the world view of the indigenous societies I’ve been learning about. I want to stop well short of the simplistic “noble savage” concept, but it seems that much, if not all of the dysfunctions that Mishra writes about, simply wouldn’t arise in such a culture (or at least would be dealt with systematically before they became “deficient” and harmed the community).

    I sometimes think that, after the self-inflicted demise of the “wasichu” ( culture, the indigenous peoples will once again inherit what’s left of Turtle Island, and set about the long task of restoring it to abundance. (There’s an evocative story in the last chapter of Robin Kimmerer’s book “Braiding Sweetgrass”, titled “Defeating the Windigo”.)

    • Scott Preston says :

      One thing that bothers me, though: the constant, and apparently unconscious focus on the individual as the essential unit of analysis. It’s uncomfortably close to Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as society”.

      I’m sure Mishra would agree, but I think he has no choice here: it is that way because we made it that way. He is, in other words, critiquing the “point-of-view” consciousness structure that manifests as the pre-eminence of the individualised self-interest, the pursuit of which was considered the essence of the “rational”.

      The value of indigenous culture to us is largely as a reminder of where we, too, have come from and what we also are. Natives certainly don’t want us appropriating their culture and traditions. As a native friend of mine said: “everybody is a native from somewhere”, and it’s easy enough to understand what he meant with that. “don’t imitate us. Remember who you are and where you come from”. We are all “native” from somewhere or somewhen.

      Until the coming of the European, the indigenous didn’t really know the full meaning of the Sacred Hoop. The Hoop had to break first, which it did with the contact, before it could be mended. They had their own “chaotic transition” in effect. The cup had to be emptied before it could be filled again, you see. The Hoop today is fuller than it was generations ago. They weren’t fully conscious of its meaning. Only its disintegration revealed its fullest meaning, and now it is in process of being re-integrated again — “mending the Sacred Hoop”.

      Rosenstock-Huessy’s ‘cross of reality” and the Sacred Hoop are quite interchangeable in meaning. When I explain the cross of reality to my indigenous friends, they immediately recognise it as the meaning of the Sacred Hoop. “The Sacred Hoop is in language” — means in all language.

      But it was necessary for the Sacred Hoop to die, first, before it could be resurrected and re-integrated. It was their faith that the Hoop would once again reveal itself in everything that gave them patience through their long suffering. Today, they are growing in confidence that the day of the Hoop has returned.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Let me put that another way, come to think of it. We do have to recognise ourselves in the Sacred Hoop. It is a mandala of the human form, and the human form is fourfold, but we have to recognise it in that way without turning it into a fetish, which would be (mis)appropriation. It is appropriate to think of it, though, as the proverbial “finger pointing at the moon”. It is a doorway to the understanding but there are many such doorways.

        I do have a kind of “Indian name” that was jokingly bestowed upon me by one co-workers when I worked on the Aboriginal Healing Project: “More Sioux Than The Sioux”. LOL. But it wasn’t because I had “turned native”, but because I showed how the meaning of the Hoop was global or universal, and how its fuller meaning was revealed in and through other similar universal symbols — that is was both uniquely indigenous but at the same time global.

        today, the Hoop means more than the human form, more than the tribal circle, more than the image of Turtle Island. It is all these, but also connects all these to the globe, which it also configures. It’s like one of those russian dolls, one inside the other. But this was not known before.

        • Dwig says :

          Thanks for that, Scott. And yes, it is global. One of the genuine gifts our civilization has given the indigenous people is the ability for them to come together from all over the globe and “compare notes”.

          • Scott Preston says :

            Do you know the book Black Elk Speaks? He was a Sioux visionary and a prophet, but he died a broken man because he believed he had failed in his mission to revive the Sacred Hoop. He didn’t though, and I wish I could tell him so. His vision wasn’t meant alone for him, or the Sioux or Turtle Island but for the whole earth, and when he decided to narrate his vision to John Neihardt, he fulfilled his calling, even though he didn’t know it. He, too, was the prophet of a new age. I wish I could tell him that, that his vision was intended to be shared with the whole world, and that it was a step towards the re-integration of the Sacred Hoop.

            He was a true prophet. He just didn’t know it.

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