Is a Post-Conscious World Possible?
Is a “post-conscious” world possible as the logical conclusion to Blake’s “Single Vision & Newtons sleep”? What if all the “post-everything” today just all adds up to “post-conscious” — the narrowing of consciousness to a nothing — the nothing otherwise known as “oblivion” or what William Blake referred to as “Non-Ens”?
That’s the question I want to put to the readership today, especially after watching Adam Curtis’s recent documentary HyperNormalisation — the follow up to his other great documentary The Century of the Self.
A post-conscious world seems a definite possibility — the possibility implied in techno-fascism and “technocratic shamanism” and represented in contemporary mythologies of the zombie or the automaton. Nietzsche also once mentioned the automaton as a distinct possibility subsequent to the “Last Man”, perhaps as extreme contrasting type to his “free spirit” and “overman”. And it is an oddity also that Francis Fukuyama, after publishing his The End of History and the Last Man, almost immediately seemed to contradiction himself by publishing afterwards Our Post-Human Future (as well as America At the Crossroads).
It is entirely conceivable that Walter Benjamin’s anticipation of human self-alienation resulting in self-annihilation may take other forms than physical destruction. Self-annihilation may also conceivably take the form of extinguishing the light of consciousness, when consciousness is felt as the ultimate burden of a world-weary age. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra does, in fact, encounter that in his parable about “the teachers of sleep” and there is much in Rolf Jensen’s The Dream Society (a nightmare, in my books) that brings to mind techno-fascism, technocratic shamanism, and Nietzsche’s “teachers of sleep” as a post-conscious society celebrated as a utopia.
The spectre of Margaret Thatcher hangs all over this. Here TINA principle (“There is No Alternative”) automatically undercut the basis for consciousness or for being conscious at all, and there is a direct connection between that and Adam Curtis’s description of “post-politics” in the documentary HyperNormalisation. Consciousness exists where choices have to be made, where alternative pathways into the future have to be evaluated. It was Thatcher who first annihilated future with her TINA principle, and it was Fukuyama who followed that up by annihilating history with his “end of history” pronouncement. With future annulled and with history annulled — and add into that “there is no such thing as society” — and consciousness becomes an irrelevancy. Consciousness exists for the purpose of discerning between past and future, and between the inner and the outer, and choosing, at every moment, between these four dimensions. That’s the meaning of the Sacred Hoop and Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”. They are representations of consciousness always in the crucial or critical moment of making decisions and choices between backwards and forwards and inwards and outwards. Consciousness is sight, yes, but also hindsight, foresight, and insight. Thatcher’s TINA principle and Fukuyama’s “end of history” foreclose on any need for either foresight or hindsight, and thus for any consciousness whatsoever.
The automaton as human ideal is also, evidently, the dread of Lewis Mumford as well (judging from Mikemackd’s frequent quotes from Mumford posted on The Chrysalis). That is to say, “post-consciousness” as an ideal. Post-consciousness also seems to be the anxiety expressed in films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Equilibrium, and Dark City as well as the many zombie films around today.
One of the possible interpretations of post-rational, post-truth, and post-politics (or post-Enlightenment, and so on) is the complete extinguishment of consciousness. The other possible interpretation is somewhat the opposite — as being a concomitant restructuration of reason, truth, and politics. A “post-conscious” condition was also implied in Marshall McLuhan’s and Jacques Ellul’s interpretations and critiques of the technological society. McLuhan foresaw a “numbing” of consciousness as a result of the extension of the human nervous system into space, while Ellul’s criticism of the technocratic logic of “the one best way” also forecloses on the issues of decision and choice, and, in those terms, of the need for a discerning consciousness at all.
Blake thought politics was the chief human science for a good reason, although “politics” for Blake meant more the psychic politics of the governing relationship between his “four Zoas” — the politics of fourfold vision. That explains his horror of “single vision” as leading to Non-Ens. The Zoas, being the constituent elements of consciousness itself (they “reside in the Human Brain” and nervous system) reduction to single vision leads to “post-politics” and also post-consciousness. In those terms, “politics” for Blake is not “war by other means”, as is the presumption today, but the harmonising and dynamic equilibrium of the conflicting powers of the four Zoas, very much in the manner described by the indigenous Sacred Hoop and Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”.
There’s a popular saying that points to this condition of “post-consciousness” — “the lights are on but nobody’s home”.
There are all kinds of false doctrines today teaching the desirability of “post-consciousness” — genetic determinism or the idea of “programming” or technocratic solutions to social problems — which does reach thirsty ears eager and anxious to be relieved of the burden of personal consciousness, or seeking relief from the stresses and distress of present conditions — of inner chaos, Angst, pain, or emptiness — by a “retreat” into dormancy, trance, sleep, or unconsciousness. This also is a form of self-annihilation as distinct from a self-overcoming or transformation of consciousness. If the integral consciousness has its antithesis, it is single vision, and single vision might as well be called “post-consciousness”. After all, single vision was what took the life of Narcissus in the myth of Narcissus and Echo.
I do sense with some people that they have given up awareness as too burdensome. “The lights are on but nobody’s home” really does characterise them — they aren’t present, and they’ve programmed themselves precisely in order to avoid being present — they think in commonplaces, respond in automatisms, cliches, or formulaic responses. “I have become comfortably numb”, as the Pink Floyd song puts it. The just “go through the motions”, as is said. Isn’t the automaton, or post-consciousness, exactly what Einstein also meant when he remarked that insanity was repeating the same actions over and over again expecting different results each time?
A post-conscious society is one that does not learn in any real sense, but is only programmed and programmable. To learn takes consciousness. To be programmed requires no consciousness. And that is, after all, the ideal of techno-fascism and technocratic shamanism, and which is the theme of much contemporary dystopian literature and film. Quite a bit of contemporary “education” resembles computer programming rather than education, and is pretty much what is described as “perception management” as mentioned in HyperNormalisation.
The word “education” means to “draw out” or call forth those slumbering and dormant potentialities that exist in the human frame. A lot of what goes by that word “education” today does the exact opposite — it’s enclosure, leading, as a result to Blake’s warning that “man has closed himself up till he sees all things thro’ the narrow chinks of his cavern”. That condition is not consciousness. It’s the condition of the automaton which, we might say, is McGilchrist’s “Emissary” become completely and utterly dissociated and alienated from “the Master” and Bolte-Taylor’s “life-force power of the universe” (otherwise referred to as “ever-present origin” and “vital centre” by Jean Gebser, or as Meister Eckhardt’s “Aristocrat” or Emerson’s “Oversoul”).
The parable of the Prodigal Son could have ended differently, I suppose. Suppose the Prodigal Son never came to remembrance of himself. Suppose the Prodigal Son, instead, finding the consciousness of his situation living as a swine amongst swine utterly intolerable and chose rather self-annihilation — the path of the inhuman or subhuman — to forget rather than remember his origins and essential nature? To become, instead, unconscious — to forget he was a man and became a pig? It happened to Ulysses men, after all. They forgot they were men and became swine (with some help from the witch Circe). Circe, in that sense, might well serve as the archetype of today’s “brand manager” or of the “technocratic shaman”, turning citizens into consumers whose lives become “branded behaviours”.
Could that be the meaning of “hypernormalisation”?