The Banquet of Consequences, the Bonfire of the Vanities
I hope Chris Kutarna, co-author of The Age of Discovery, doesn’t mind my public posting of a private correspondence, but I thought that I would re-post something I wrote to Chris this morning, as a follow-up to our meeting earlier this month. It does, I think, express the central concerns of The Chrysalis in a nutshell.
It’s a time a great ironies. Do we really understand the ironic — where, and when, we don’t know whether to laugh or cry at events? Ironic reversal. I don’t think we really understand that dynamic yet, but it seems implicated in the “karmic law of action and reaction”. Ironic reversal goes by other names: unintended consequence, revenge effect, perverse outcome, blowback, reversal of fortune, enantiodromia…. Nemesis. “The road up and the road down are the same”, said Heraclitus. Again… the paradoxical situation, the predicament. We have command of power, but no mastery of it.
It brings to mind a quote from Jean Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin:
“In every extreme rationalization there is not just a violation of the psyche by the ratio, that is, a negatively magical element, but also the graver danger, graver because of its avenging and incalculable nature: the violation of the ratio by the psyche, where both become deficient. The authentic relation to the psyche, the mental, is perverted into its opposite, to the disadvantage of the ego that has become blind through isolation. In such an instance, man has become isolated and his basic ties have been cut; the moderating, measuring bond of menis and menos is severed. Cut, severed: what was again the meaning of the root da-? It is this “cut off, severed, divided,” the “demonic”. The gates to the “demonic forces” have been opened; nothing exists out of itself, everything follows upon something else, everything has become a consequence. We may well ask: a consequence leading to what?” (p. 97)
Or, Robert Louis Stevenson’s remark: ‘Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences’ (actually, RLS never said or wrote that directly, but it’s close enough to what he probably meant).
There’s another meaning to “bonfire of the vanities” than nihilistic purification through book and art burning, etc. “Bonfire of the Vanities” is also the apocalyptic dance of the Nataraj — the dance of “creative destruction”, as it were. There’s a certain ironic reversal, too, in that the maelstrom of fire launched by Savonarola eventually consumed him as well. Was Savonarola, too, finally one of the vanities?
What was it Jesus said? “The sins of the fathers shall be visited down to the third and fourth generations”. That’s just another statement of the karmic law of action and reaction — the law of time-energy. Hence, the danger of “Post-Historic Man” as Seidenberg conceived it, as Fukuyama announced it. Post-historic man is post-conscious. He will never see in what way the law is fulfilled through time, and thus will never escape the law of consequence or the law of the Earth. Post-historic man is a catastrophe waiting to happen. Post-historic man is Blake’s “dark Satanic Mill” or the proverbial “mill o’ the gods” and is Nietzsche’s “Last Man” as well. This “dark Satanic Mill” as “mill o’ the gods” is what is referred to as “samsara” (or samsaric existence) and the rule of the karmic law. Blake calls samsara “Ulro”.
What Gebser calls “rationalisation” is what Seidenberg calls “organisation” (or systematisation by another name). That brings to mind the implications of Gödel’s Theorem. Does anyone yet really understand those implications? Any system, no matter how “organised” or “rationalised” it may appear, will always have a hidden “gotchya”. That’s what Nietzsche also meant by “the will to a system is a lack of integrity”. What that means, is, that there is a qualitative difference between a Totality and a Whole, and that we have confused two values as being the same — universality and integrality. That’s also the significance of Nietzsche’s distinction between “noble” and “ignoble” values, and how, in nihilism, “all higher values devalue themselves” — a dynamic otherwise called cynicism, fundamentalism, and reductionism.
So, what’s “irony” in this sense? It’s this: in any “systematisation” (or “organisation” or “rationalisation”), there is a self-negating element that eventually asserts itself. Energy is always polar — yang and yin, action and reaction. The polarity of time-energy is what we call “past and future”. The polarity of space-energy is what we call “subjective” and “objective” or inwards and outwards. That polarity of times and spaces already gives a clue to ironic reversal, and where we have gone wrong with “post-historic man”, who is also Nietzsche’s “Last Man”, the agency of his “two-centuries of nihilism”.
Once space and time (or space-time) are understood in terms of thermodynamics — as energies, the energies that make up the “karmic law” — and that all energy is polarity (for, as Blake puts it “without contraries there is no progression” or “contention [con-tension] is the father of all things”, as Heraclitus put it), then it will be understood what “far from equilibrium” (or the state of chaos) really means. It means that “the Sacred Hoop is broken” and “the Sacred Balance” annihilated.
And, this is quite evidently our present situation.