Not With a Bang But a Whimper

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. — T.S. Eliot “The Hollow Men

I’ve been absent from The Chrysalis for a while, in and out of medical clinics and hospitals as my doctors attend to my distressed kidneys (my condition remains stable, and I wouldn’t even know I had kidney disease otherwise).

I also took the time to catch up on some reading, including a recent publication by Wolfgang Streeck entitled How Will Capitalism End? (The answer is, not well). Those of you who are familiar with the economic writings of Peter Pogany on “chaotic transition” (Rethinking the World and Havoc Thy Name is Twenty-First Century in particular) will find that Streeck’s reflections on the fate of neo-liberal global economy runs very parallel to Pogany’s, with the exception that, where Pogany sees the present mayhem as a transition to a new global order, Streeck sees a slow withering away into an extended “Dark Age”. In fact, reading Streeck’s analysis of the situation is what brought to mind the mood of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”.

Unlike Jean Gebser or Peter Pogany, who can be said to be “apocalyptic thinkers” in that they anticipate “global catastrophe” and “havoc”, Streeck foresees a slow withering from within into systemic and social disintegration. That much he shares with Gebser and Pogany. Streeck sees, in response to this disintegration, a kind of anarchic re-organisation into ad hoc and transient communities (perhaps “tribalism” by another name) where individuals come together for common social tasks but which have no durability. These temporary arrangements against a larger background of havoc and social chaos, and which serve as a surrogate for the absence of any social order at all, bears a striking resemblance to what Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy also foresaw in his short book on economics called The Multiformity of Man.

Streeck’s analysis of the situation is lucid and persuasive, and his more sociological approach complements Pogany’s more economic one, as well as Gebser’s cultural (consciousness) one, as well as Rosenstock-Huessy’s linguistic-grammatical one. However, because Streeck sees no coherent or credible alternative or option waiting in the wings following the “self-destruction” of neo-liberal capitalism, he foresees an indeterminate period of social mayhem and social chaos as capitalism, like the former Soviet Union, collapses from its own unsoluble dilemmas and self-contradictions.

Streeck’s analysis might be faulted for lack of attention to ecology (or Rosenstock-Huessy’s “ecodynamic laws” of society) as the basis for a new integration, as something that is reflected also in Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness structure”. In any case, the trend will continue to be towards systemic and social (and indeed personal) disintegration as the “deficient mode” of the “mental-rational consciousness structure”, as described by Gebser, intensifies — as it is so obviously doing before our ears and eyes in terms of “post-truth”, “post-rational”, “New Normal” (hypernormalisation), the politics of unreason, the crisis of “identity” and the post-modern “loss of self” (and in a hundred other ways as well). Streeck, like Daniel Bell, traces such developments to the irruption of the “cultural contradictions of capitalism“, which is true, but in broader terms, following Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy, capitalism is the creation of a particular consciousness structure — the mental-rational — of which it is an objective expression, and so must reflect the deficiencies and self-contradictions of that structure.

For the foreseeable future, though, Streeck sees a survival and “adjustment” strategy as one of “coping, hoping, doping and shopping“, which is what brought to mind Eliot’s “Hollow Men” and Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Last Man” of “the end of history”, as well as Charles Taylor’s thoughts on “The Malaise of Modernity“.

Reading Streeck’s How Will Capitalism End? will probably persuade you that the present “nationalism against globalism” response (or rooted capitalism versus “rootless capitalism”) is a false dichotomy (effectively, nationalism of this kind is a de facto attempt to nationalise capital by other means) as long as these “cultural contradictions of capitalism” remain insoluble.

Nationalisation of capital, however, is not socialisation of capital, which are often confused with one another, any more than National Security is synonymous with Social Security (in fact, these are today in contradiction with one another). The “pursuit of rational self-interest” as a guide to the good life or the good society has become dysfunctional, reflected in “post-rational” society and in the loss of self and the identity crisis. “Rational” means — the moderate, the measured, the proportionate, and the ratio is what inform our sense of what is “just”. This has given way to “irrational exuberance” and “animal spirits”. Neo-liberalism has become irrational, then, to the extent that, through deregulation and the suppression of an opposition to itself, it has removed all barriers to moderation of the appetitive nature or “animal spirits”. Streeck does a pretty good job of showing up this essential irrationality and nihilism of Mr. Hyde behind Dr. Jekyll’s mask of sanity.



9 responses to “Not With a Bang But a Whimper”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    Happy to see you back well and creative. I felt disquieted when you have disappeared without notice knowing your malady. I am happy also for the way you interact with your ailment. Interacting with the social maladies is the main errand of the humans that keeps them away from self preoccupation in an unhealthy fashion and also leave them free to address what is important. The mental code becomes deficient when leaving the moral code, the two wings that keeps humanity in flight in this world of ours. You have done well in selecting the hollow men of Eliot to describe the situation away from the turns and turns of the mental apparatus, reminding us of the meeting with the forgotten One , the one that is with us all the time, no wonder the poet is the hero of Blake. The ugliness of the darkness of the heart that inspired Eliot to mutinied against the corrupted heart of the people ruling the system without going astray in addressing the system which is only an extension of the steward. By honesty I protect you and you protect me in this world of fragmented knowledge and widely dispersed information. The rational and the empirical have killed our world, no wonder all these voices of warning. They say sapient soul in mordant time encounters the hellsh that throw it into despair if the rein of the faith is not at hand in this world thatis about to fall apart.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Tad Homer-Dixon has a quite incisive assessment of Trump which he’s posted on his web-page about Trump and “chaos as the New Normal” (or Adam Curtis’s “hypernormalisation” by another name).

    along with a prospectus of possible or likely outcomes (his own four riders of the apocalypse: war, financial crisis, authoritarianism, and civil strife)

  3. Charles says :

    Good writing Scott. Thanks for the ideas.

    The “pursuit of rational self-interest” as a guide to the good life or the good society has become dysfunctional, reflected in “post-rational” society and in the loss of self and the identity crisis.”

    There is a quote by Gary Coates in the book Resettling America (1981) that is a incredibly articulate description similar to what you are writing above.

    “Growing numbers of people, especially in the affluent, overdeveloped parts of the world, are beginning to realize that the unrestricted satisfaction of all desires does not necessarily lead to well-being nor does the pursuit of happiness, in the form of material wealth, necessarily lead to security and self-fulfillment. It is increasingly evident that a society that must cultivate selfishness, egotism, envy, and greed to sustain its economy does not, through some magical and omnipotent “invisible hand,” become a great society based on cooperation, community and generosity. While we once believed that we were escaping the limits to our freedom set by the small town and village, we are now learning in our increasingly unmanageable cities that the mechanistic order of the systems manager cannot adequately replace the organic order of the community of shared responsibly and mutual obligation.
    Rather than producing an egalitarian society in which everyone is supplied with the material necessities of life, the urban-industrial experiment has produced a world in which unconscionable wealth for the few is achieved at the expense of unspeakable poverty and deprivation for the many. And the gap between the rich and poor grows wider with every well-intentioned effort to overcome it. Our hoped-for salvation, technological progress, has not only failed to solve the problem of production but has instead produced the basis for much of our current despair, in the form of ecological degradation and the ever-present dangers of nuclear war and global destruction. With the growth of an “objective” science, uncontaminated by purpose or value, we thought that we had finally demystified nature and society, only to find that science itself has become an ideology that mystifies the nature of self and society and is in the process of generating a new priesthood of power, a “value-free,” white-collared, technocratic elite.”

    Are you familiar with Gerald Heard? He wrote the book The Five Ages of Man: Psychology of Human History. I read about Heard’s book in a book by Jean Houston- Life Force: The Psycho-Historical Recovery of the Self that I read many years ago and and then lost. It is worthwhile.

    • Scott Preston says :

      That’s a good quote. Thanks. It’s ironic, too, (given my most recent post) that whenever a lot of social observers point out the deleterious consequences of technological progress, they mention ecological degradation, war, anomie, and so on — but omit to anticipate or mention automation and the social problems of automation, which are now emerging as a major theme of disruption.

      • Charles says :

        Scott, irony is the word, as you know. I am glad anomie is mentioned. Stivers book Shades of Loneliness is a honest portrayal of modern technological society. He writes (borrowing from Ellul) that there have been three milieus: nature, society and now we live in a technological milieu. The technological context is the background and this mediates all relationships and helps create the human world. Automation is obviously part of the technological imperative. The bottom line (the profit motive) is the holy grail in capitalism so this creates the basic adversarial relationship between ownership, management and labor. Labor is a cost to be avoided so if a machine can replace humans, it will be done.

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