A Different Interpretation of “Post-Truth Society”

Most analyses I’ve read about the current epidemic of “fake news”, or matters like “alternative facts” or “post-truth,” take the view that it’s about ideology overpowering and overwhelming reality.

I’m going to suggest that we look at this somewhat differently — not as ideology run amok so much as indicative of the bankruptcy of ideology itself and, in those terms, of the intellect also (or at least that form of the intellect Gebser calls “mental-rational”). It seems to me that, in the absence of any real “facts” or truth to buttress the received and conventional ideologies, their partisans and adherents now resort to simply making them up in a brazen attempt to disguise the fact that they are bankrupt.

Gebser anticipated that bankruptcy of ideology as also symptomatic of the deficient mode of the mental-rational consciousness. In that, he was seconded by Daniel Bell in The End of Ideology. The proof of that is pretty evident, inasmuch as those things we call “liberalism”, “socialism”, “conservatism”,–or their mutated forms as neo-liberalism, neo-socialism, and neo-conservatism — describe absolutely nothing coherent or intelligible. And yet, there is no question but that many people have invested their entire identities in affiliation with one of these ideologies by which their allegiance, they presume, distinguishes them or even “individuates” them.

The bankruptcy of ideology — or what is referred to as “post-ideological age” — is, I would submit, intimately connected with identity politics and the crisis of identity itself. In those terms, the bankruptcy of ideology — of a particular system of beliefs and convictions — becomes well-nigh felt as an existential threat, or at least a threat to the self-image.

Many social and political observers have concluded from the “end of ideology” (and its counterpart in Thatcher’s TINA principle and Fukuyama’s “end of history” both) that with the end of ideology, society would settle nicely into a technocratic governance model, sometimes called “managerialism” (Lewis Mumford refers to that as “the Megamachine” or Marty Glass as “The Mutation into Machinery”). That is certainly one possibility of the bankruptcy of ideology. My research, last year, into “marketing 3.0” or “spiritual branding” is certainly connected with technocratic managerialism — in fact, with what Algis Mikunas also called “technocratic shamanism”.

There is, on the other hand, another possible interpretation of the bankruptcy of ideology and of “the end of ideology”, and that is the bankruptcy of the modern intellect — the intellect having reached the limits, and even over-stepped the limits, of its possibilities and is now incapable of generating new ideas.

That is, of course, Gebser’s view in The Ever-Present Origin — that the modern “perspectival” intellect has become deficient, and the bankruptcy of ideology — and the crisis of identity involved in that bankruptcy of ideology — is only symptomatic of that deficiency. In which case, we may conclude, that the phenomena of “alternative facts” or “fake news” and such matters is a desperate attempt to restore the linkage (or con-fusion) between ideology and identity.

We may assume from that, if such is the case, that neither the technocratic option nor the reactionary attempt to salvage identity from the wreckage and bankruptcy of ideology can prevail in the long term, and that both are the offspring of an intellect that has become ineffective in responding to the challenges of the present, for both seem to resort to grasping onto one horn of the dilemma. Both are, in those terms, deficient responses to the bankruptcy of ideology and the failure of intellect.

It’s in those terms that the responses of technocratic managerialism (the cult of “expertise”) or authoritarianism are hardly distinguishable from one another, for both are but the two prongs, or facets, of one dilemma or predicament.

 

 

 

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11 responses to “A Different Interpretation of “Post-Truth Society””

  1. mikemackd says :

    A very interesting insight, Scott. I haven’t properly reflected on it yet, but with this bankruptcy of ideology, your scenario is consistent with the idea that what Mumford termed “Organization Man” has now taken over the reins.

    A few hours ago, I turned on my TV in time to watch some of Part One of an Al Jazeera doco called “The People vs America” (the trailer is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1YklFgND4M). At present, that seems consistent with your perspective to me, but as I said I need time to reflect.

    It also seems consistent with the ascendancy of Mumford’s “organization man”. I mentioned him before, on the “Idolatry and Self” string, but the lines immediately before that quote I gave are relevant here, as to what we can expect from now on in the country which, while comprising less than a twentieth of the world’s population has about a quarter of the world’s imprisoned population:

    Again from The Pentagon of Power (1970, being Volume Two of The Myth of the Machine):

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    Neither the ancient nor the modern megamachine, however automatic its separate mechanisms and operations, could have come into existence except through deliberate human invention; and most of the attributes of the large collective unit were first incarnated in an ancient archetypal figure: Organization Man. From the most primitive expression of tribal conformity to that of the highest political authority, the system itself is an extension of Organization Man – he who stands at once as the creator and the creature, the originator and the ultimate victim, of the megamachine.

    Whether the labor machine or the military machine came first, whether the general pattern of regimentation was first evolved by the priest, the bureaucrat, or the soldier are idle questions, since no firm data are available for judgment. We must confine our description of Organization Man to the point at which, through documents and symbolic evidence, he becomes visible. Since the first definite records, after the paleolithic caves, are Temple accounts, tabulating the quantities of grain received or disbursed, it seems likely that the meticulous order that characterizes bureaucracy in every phase derives originally from the ritual observances of

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    the Temple; for this kind of order is incompatible with the hazardous events of the hunt, or the chance-happenings of organized war. Yet even in the latter occupation, we find remarkably early records, in definite figures, of prisoners captured, animals rounded up, loot taken. Even at that early stage Organization Man can be identified by his concern with quantitative accountancy.

    Behind every later process of organization and mechanization one must, however, recognize primordial aptitudes, deeply ingrained in the human organism – indeed, shared with many other species – for ritualizing behavior and finding satisfaction in a repetitive order that establishes a human connection with organic rhythms and cosmic events.

    Out of this original cluster of repetitive, standardized acts, increasingly isolated from other bodily and mental functions, Organization Man seems to have sprung. Or to put it the other way around, when one has detached, one by one, the organs and functions of the human body, and along with the historic accretions of art and culture, what one is left with is their common mechanical skeleton and muscle power, essential for vertebrate life but functionless and meaningless when treated as a separate entity.

    The present age has reinvented this ideal creature as the Robot: but as a recognizable part of the human organism, and as an integral and indispensable aspect of all human culture, organization itself has always been present. It is precisely because mechanical order can be traced back to these primal beginnings, because mechanization itself has played a constant role in human development, that we can now understand the danger of isolating Organization Man as a self-constituted personality, detached from the natural habitats and cultural traits, with their limitations and inhibitions, that ensure a fully human character.

    Organization Man, then, may be defined briefly as that part of the human personality whose further potentialities for life and growth have been suppressed for the purpose of controlling the factional energies that are left, and feeding them into a mechanically ordered collective system. Organization Man is the common link between the ancient and the modern type of megamachine: that is perhaps why the specialized functionaries, with their supporting layers of slaves, conscripts, and subjects – in short, the controllers and the controlled – have changed so little in the last five thousand years.
    Like any other cultural type, Organization Man is a human artifact, though the materials out of which he has been fashioned belong to the system of animate nature. Historically, it is an anachronism to picture Organization Man as a purely modern product, or as solely the product of an advanced technology: he is, rather, an extremely primitive ‘ideal’ type, carved out of the far richer potentialities of the living organism, with most

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    of the living organisms either extracted, or embalmed and desiccated, and the brain itself shrunken to meet the requirements of the megamachine. (The current epithet for such reduction of human potentialities -‘head-shrinking’ – is all too deadly in its accuracy.)

    Within the limited settings of large-scale corporate economic organizations in the United States, W.H. Whyte has given a classic picture of the selection, training. and discipline of Organization Man at the higher levels of command, the transformation of the ‘fortunate’ – or at least fortune-seeking – minority into smoothly working components of the bigger mechanism. But this is only a small part of the condition which that begins with the infant’s toilet training and, through its equation of the Welfare State with the Warfare State, finally covers every aspect of life through to death and organ-transplantation.

    The degree of external pressure necessary to model Organization Man is probably no greater than that needed by any tribal society to secure conformity to ancient traditions and rituals: indeed, through compulsory elementary education, military conscription, and mass-communication, the same stamp can be imprinted on millions of individuals in modern society quite as easily as upon a few hundred who meet face-to-face. What the sociologist Max Weber called the ‘bureaucratic personality’ was destined, he thought, to be the ‘ideal type’ prevailing in the modern world. If the present constellation of forces should continue to operate without abatement or change of direction his prediction may be easily satisfied.

    The characteristic virtues of Organization Man correspond as nearly as possible to the machine that he serves: thus the part of his personality that was projected in mechanical instruments in turn re-enforces that projection by eliminating any non-conforming organic or human functions. The stamp of mechanical regularity lies on the face of every human unit. To follow the program, to obey instructions, to ‘pass the buck,’ to be uninvolved as a person to the needs of other persons, to limit responses to what lies immediately, so to say, on the desk, to heed no relevant human considerations, however vital: never to question the origin of an order or inquire as t the ultimate destination: to follow through every command, no matter how irrational, to make no judgments of value or relevance about the work in hand, finally to eliminate feelings of emotions or rational moral misgivings that might interfere with the immediate dispatch of work – these are the standard duties of the bureaucrat: and these are the conditions under which Organization Man flourishes, a vital automaton within a collective system of automation. The model for Organization Man is the machine itself. And as the mechanism grows more perfect, the residue of life needed to carry on the process becomes more minute and meaningless.

    Ultimately, Organization Man has no reason for existence except as a depersonalized servo-mechanism in the mega machine. On those terms,

    279
    Adolph Eichmann, the obedient exterminator, who carried out Hitler’s policy and Himmler’s orders with unswerving fidelity, should be hailed as the ‘Hero of Our Time.’ But unfortunately our time has produced many such heroes who have been willing to do at a safe distance, with napalm or atom bombs, by a mere press of the release button, what the exterminators at Belsen and Auschwitz did by old-fashioned handicraft methods. The latter were slower in execution but far more thrifty in carefully conserving the by-products – the human wastes, the gold from the teeth, the fat, the bone meal for fertilizers – even the skin for lamp shades. In every country there are now countless Eichmanns in administrative offices, in business corporations, in universities, in laboratories, in the armed forces: orderly obedient people, ready to carry out any officially sanctioned fantasy, however dehumanized and debased.

    The more power entrusted to Organizational Man, the fewer qualms he has against using it. And what makes this ‘ideal type’ even more menacing is his successful use of the human disguise. His robot mechanism simulates flesh and blood; and except for a few troglodyte specimens there is nothing to distinguish him outwardly from a reasonable human being, smooth-mannered, low-keyed, presumably amiable. Like Himmler, he may even be a “good family man.”
    This type was not unknown in earlier cultures: even within our own era these servo-mechanisms arranged gladiatorial combats in the Roman arena and manipulated the bone-wracking machines used by the Holy Inquisition. But before megatechnics invaded every department, Organization Man had fewer opportunities: he was once a minority, largely confined to the Bureaucracy or the Army. What makes the difference today is that his name is legion; and since he beholds his own image when he looks around him, he regards himself as a normal specimen of humanity…

    In every country there are now countless Eichmanns in administrative offices, in business corporations, in universities, in laboratories, in the armed forces: orderly obedient people, ready to carry out any officially sanctioned fantasy, however dehumanized and debased…
    [In] Dr. Stanley Milgrim’s experiment in The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology: …

    280
    … Out of forty subjects only fourteen defied the experiment’s instructions and refused to cooperate further when the response registered showed intense pain or torture. To their credit as human beings, some of the subjects who continued were emotionally disturbed by the experience: yet ‘in the interest of science’ sixty-five per cent of the continued beyond the danger point…

    [Hermann Muller]: ‘Man as a whole must rise to become worthy of his best achievement. Unless the average man can understand the world that the scientists have discovered, unless he can learn to comprehend the techniques he now uses, and their remote and larger effects, unless he can enter into the thrill of being a conscious participant in the great human enterprise and find genuine fulfillment in playing a constructive part in it, he will fall into the position of an ever less important cog in a vast machine. In this situation, his own powers of determining his fate and his

    281
    very will to do so will dwindle, and the minority who rule over him will eventually find ways of doing without him’…
    ‘Find ways of doing with out him’ seems like a quiet phrase: but is not its quietness ominous? Would it not have been more honest to say ‘do away with him’?

    .

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yeah. “Organisation Man” is the theme of Seidenberg’s Post-historic Man as well.

      Interestingly, I was just reading an interview with the rationalist Daniel Dennett in The Guardian along these lines. I don’t usually have much time for Dennett and his “illusion of consciousness” theme, but I read it anyway. So here’s what the great proponent of consciousness as an illusion has to say about that,

      “One of the big themes in my book is how up until recently, the world and nature were governed by competence without comprehension. Serious comprehension of anything is very recent, only millennia old, not even a million years old. But we’re now on the verge of moving into the age of post-intelligent design and we don’t bother comprehending any more. That’s one of the most threatening thoughts to me. Because for better or for worse, I put comprehension as one of my highest ideals. I want to understand everything. I want people to understand things. I love understanding things. I love explaining things to myself and to others. We’ve always had plenty of people who, for good reason, said, “Oh, don’t bother explaining to me how the car engine works, I don’t care. I just push the ignition and off I go.” What happens when we take that attitude towards everything?”

      Perhaps Dennett might consider his own role in elevating the post-conscious “organisation man”? He aspires to be, like Dawkins, “the blind watchmaker”.

      • Risto says :

        David Bentley Hart in his long but entertaining article about Dennett’s book “Breaking the Spell”:

        “I confess that I have never been an admirer of Dennett’s work. I have thought all his large books—especially one entitled Consciousness Explained—poorly reasoned and infuriatingly inadequate in their approaches to the questions they address. Too often he shows a preference for the cumulative argument over the cogent and for repetition over demonstration. The Bellman’s maxim, “What I tell you three times is true,” is not alien to Dennett’s method. He seems to work on the supposition that an assertion made with sufficient force and frequency is soon transformed, by some subtle alchemy, into a settled principle. And there are rather too many instances when Dennett seems either clumsily to miss or willfully to ignore pertinent objections to his views and so races past them with a perfunctory wave in what he takes to be their general direction—though usually in another direction altogether.”

        https://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/003-daniel-dennett-hunts-the-snark

        Sounds like bad case of mental-rational consciousness in deficient mode!

        • Scott Preston says :

          I’ld say that’s a pretty good assessment of Dennett. Thanks for posting that.

          Also, that Bellman’s maxim: “What I tell you three times is true” (sounds familiar but I’m not sure from where) — that’s something we ought to look out for. As Gebser put it, a threesome like that often belongs to magic, and so to a feature of “technocratic shamanism”.

          • Risto says :

            Hart is in my opinion one of the best critic of the new atheists. I think you might like his writings. He’s very eloquent in his theology and his style is far from the unreadable analytic jargon which plagues much of modern theology.

            Bellman is a character from Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark”. Hart compares Dennett to Bellman’s logical madness but doesn’t give Dennett credit even sticking to that. I suggest you read the article I linked, if you have the time. Like I said: it’s very entertaining and it points where Dawkins, Dennett and like go wrong.

    • Scott Preston says :

      There are very many who cannot rise to the challenge of complexity/chaos, and who, in those terms, find consciousness painful, and who will opt for “the sleep of reason”, which is what I see idealised in such things as Rolf Jensen’s Dream Society — they can be easily seduced into something akin to a coma.

      Nietzsche referred to that possibility of a post-conscious man in the form of the “automaton”, but also in his doctrine about “the teachers of sleep”, among whom I mount include Dennett.

  2. andrewmarkmusic says :

    The bankruptcy of ideology was what I was getting at in my comment the other day . The internet is transmuting that into 7 billion points of view………
    So there goes Fresco’s hope of a technological resourced based economy!
    I know it seems a bit odd but I’m asserting that complexity need not be synonymous with unfairness and callousness; that an ‘economics of human decency’ is not beyond the scope of societal possibility .
    If this were true we wouldn’t necessarily need something new; but remember something lost! The Golden Rule economy which should have always been part and parcel of the establishment of the state of Israel .

  3. abdulmonem says :

    I do not like calling him organisational man taking the destruction he is inflicting of the human soul and such type is not confined to only man but there are so many women fit the description. On the bankruptcy of ideology I agree with Scott it is ideology working in reverse but it is a malady of the soul that has lost its fight with its ego.

    • mikemackd says :

      When he spoke of organization man or post-historic man, Mumford was using the parlance of his era, a time when the term “man” was implied to enfold “woman”. Nothing sexist was intended at the time, but later feminists (correctly) pointed out the implicit sexism of that conflation, so now we make that distinction. It often involves rephrasing – for example, pluralising to “they” instead of “his or her”, but that’s O.K. by me as I think it’s worth the effort.

      He used the term “organization” as adjective, meaning persons who had conflated their identities with the megamachine in the manner described by Walter Russell Mead (see my post on the string after this), but I take your point. After all, his criticism of organization man was that he – or she – surrendered his – or her – organic nature in service to the machine. Perhaps he should have referred to “the machine mind”, but he meant the machine-Satan twin birth, the usurpation of the Master by the Emissary.

      The fact that a man with such powers of expression used more than one term implies he wasn’t happy with them either.

      Let’s coin a better term.

      .

      • mikemackd says :

        I thought of one: “juggernautist”. It doesn’t appear on Google, but when I tried a few variants I found that a gentleman called Gaurav Rastogi coined the word “juggernautistic” in 2010, which he defined as:

        “a company that is a massive, seemingly unstoppable force in business, and one that is abnormally obsessed with itself, has a short (usu. quarterly) attention span, and is known for communication disorders that don’t allow it to treat others as people.”
        https://2m1b.wordpress.com/2010/05/14/juggernautistic/

        So I would broaden his term to mean any organization, not just companies, but nation-states etc.

        “Behemothist” is perhaps better, because “Behemoth” can mean “something enormous, especially a large and powerful organization”, and “behemothian” means huge, very large, daunting, greatly important (Wiktionary). and links with McGilchrist’s beloved Milton, who in Book vii of Paradise lost wrote “Behemoth biggest born of earth upheaved / His vastness: Fleeced the flocks …

        Maybe that could be shortened to “behemanic”, as in:

        “Poor guy. He has behemania, don’t you know”.

        “Behemania? Oh, … no! How long?”

        “Since Trump won the election. He’s been behemanic ever since, shouting “America First! America first! ALL the time. He just can’t stop himself.”

        “How sad: and he used to be such a nice guy …”

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