The Self-Immolation of the Modern Mind
“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.” – Gary Kasparov
I cribbed that quote by Gary Kasparov from Xraymike’s blog The Collapse of Industrial Civilization, from a recent post entitled “The Trumpocene: Darkness Gathers”. It is true that this short-circuiting of reason is the aim of propaganda. But in broader terms, what we are witnessing in the absurdities of the present period of history, which we find so “surreal” with its self-negating and self-devouring logic we call “chaos”, is better described as the self-immolation of the Modern Mind.
I know we all feel a certain sense of anguish about this. We would like to intercede and intervene in this process of self-immolation and attenuate that process before it completes its logic in total self-annihilation, which seems to be where we are headed presently. Spaceship Earth appears to be falling apart at the seams, which is the echo in physical terms of the disintegration of modern man’s consciousness structure.
The self-immolation of the Modern Mind is, I’ve decided, the best summary phrase to describe what’s happening. There is a biological counterpart to this thanatic process, as mentioned in earlier posts, and that is the phenomenon of cellular apoptosis. The process relates also to the chrysalis stage of the caterpillar as it transitions into the butterfly — appropriately, the ancient symbol of the psyche or soul.
It is, of course, the contention of this blog that this same process recurs in the history of the rise and fall of civilisations as structures of consciousness, as the meaning of what we call “chaotic transition”. What we call “nihilism” has its correspondence in the phenomenon of cellular apoptosis, or “programmed cell death”, which also, paradoxically, ultimately serves the purposes of life. It is in this process of the cellular apoptosis of the caterpillar, and the emergence of “imaginal cells” that will ultimately produce the butterfly (or moth) that we find the most appropriate metaphor for today’s nihilism and mental meltdown as chaotic transition. As ghoulish and gruesome as it might seem — like something from Invasion of the Body Snatchers — nothing can be done, for it would be unwise to intervene to try to attenuate this process, for it belongs to Shiva’s eternal dance of “creative destruction”.
We appear to be in the grip of forces of life and death over which we have no control whatsoever — a coincidence of erotic (eros or life) and thanatic (thanatos or death) forces. That brings with it a sense of anxiety, even paranoia, with the thanatic power in the evident ascendancy, which we call “nihilism” or “chaos”. The only thing we can do in this condition is become aware of what is happening to us, for in this awareness itself we assume the role of the “imaginal cells” that prefigure the butterfly. If the imaginal cells fail to develop properly — no butterfly. That’s the high-stakes risk of the present self-immolation of the Modern Mind that is being described as the “new normal” of “post-rational”, “post-truth” or even “post-human” society. This “new normal” (or Adam Curtis’s description of “hypernormalisation”) corresponds to that stage in the chrysalis where the caterpillar’s cells turn to “goop” — the primal soup.
And what is this process of cellular apoptosis but the saying from John 12:24: “Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”. It’s also the parable of the “faith of a grain of mustard seed”. That chrysalis stage and transfiguration is also the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection, the same process undergone by Jill Bolte-Taylor in her description of her “stroke of insight”. Her’s was the same process that the caterpillar undergoes in the chrysalis stage, you may note.
There is, then, in this present self-immolation of the modern mind the potential for the rebirth of the “soul”, and that these horrid things we describe as “post-rational”, “post-truth” and even “post-human” simply represent also an incipient restructuration of what we understand by reason, truth, and even “human nature”, with attendant new understanding, and reorganisation, of matters like “society” and “history” as well.
What the chrysalis stage teaches is that life is present and active even in death, and that the death of the caterpillar is also a necessary preparation for new life. “What is now prov’d was once only imagined” is how Blake describes the creative work of the “imaginal cells”. This is also the process that the cultural philosopher Jean Gebser calls “the double-movement” of our times.
And, as the great Sufi Rumi put it, “the cure for the disease is in the disease”, and that describes the chrysalis stage very well, doesn’t it? So, as horrific and terrible this self-immolation of the Modern Mind strikes us at present, the chrysalis stage offers us a very good parallel to understanding — that the death and dissolution of the caterpillar is the fateful and necessary precondition for the life of the imaginal cells that build the bridge to the butterfly. And what is that, also, but the pattern of Nietzsche-Zarathustra’s “Last Man” and those who build bridges to the transhuman, or to Aurobindo’s “supramental consciousness” or Gebser’s “integral consciousness”?
Of course, our “post-human future” may turn out to be quite inhuman, rather than suprahuman. Any “new renaissance” to be worthy of the name must be a rebirth of the soul — Gebser’s “the Itself”, the holistic “self”, and not a “genuine imitation” that is usually presented as an ideal by the notion of the “post-human” or “transhuman”. Too many so-called “Nietzscheans” seem to have overlooked the fact that the Nietzschean “self” is not the ego-nature but the “soul” — the “Dionysian soul” that is fully the same as Bolte-Taylor’s “Life Force Power of the Universe”, and that Nietzsche’s “overman”, as the “meaning of the Earth,” is the resuscitation of the soul, as a kind of Phoenix rising from the ashes of his “two centuries of nihilism”.
(By the way — although this isn’t the place to go into it too much — Nietzsche was somewhat in error about that which he called “soul” as that in us which “does ‘I am'” rather than that in us which merely “says ‘I am'”. That which “does I am” — as the Nietzschean “self” — is the psyche or psychic body (or libido), or called “inner ego” as contrasted with the “outer ego” (corresponding to the Jungian “Self” and “Ego” distinction). This “inner ego” also makes an appearance in Jill Bolte-Taylor’s experience of her own meltdown as a transitional stage to her awakening to “soul” proper. If you pay attention, you’ll observe it as that “inner voice” she experienced which attempted to regulate her body movements, and it’s the “blueprint” for the physical body for that reason. The “soul” itself — Gebser’s “Itself” — encompasses both the inner and outer portions. It’s this vaster awareness that is meant in the Buddhist doctrine of anatman — No-Self or No-Mind or No-Soul and which Bolte-Taylor discovered as the “Life Force Power of the Universe” with which she was identical. Harold Percival, in his book Thinking and Destiny, describes this tripartite character of the soul in terms of three “portions” — the Thinker portion, the Doer portion, and the Knower portion. The middle term — the Doer portion — is the “inner ego”, and is the Nietzschean “self” or “soul”, but which is really the psychic body — that which “does “I am”” rather than that which “says “I am””. So, Nietzsche’s distinction between Dionysian consciousness and Apollonian consciousness, while true as far as it goes, is a somewhat incomplete realisation. This tripartite structure is what is reflected in the Christian Trinity, in the Vedic Trimurti (of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva), and in the name Hermes Trismegistus (the “Thrice-Great”) — the mythical founder of Hermeticism. The “priest, philosopher, and king” that are usually taken to mean the “thrice great” are just symbolic representations of the tripartite aspects of the soul. The inner ego, or psychic body, is what Harold Saxton Burr attempted to map and describe in his experiments as recorded in his book The Fields of Life).