Too Much of a Good Thing
Sometimes — perhaps most of the time — the most intractable dilemmas and predicaments evolve, synergistically, out of the simplest of errors or deficient beliefs (or “sins” if you will). “You can’t have too much of a good thing”, which I hear uttered occasionally in one form or another, and which is assumed or implied in great many similar statements or acts, is one such error, faulty belief, or “sin” which gives blessing to excess, gluttony, greed, cupidity, avarice, self-indulgence of all kinds as being virtuous. “There is no such thing as a house that’s too big”; “Everyone can use an extra 500,000 dollars” are statements I have heard with my own ears which reveal the spirit of hubris (or “transgression” as the Latin puts it) that underlies many of the problems of the Late Modern Era.
Here the popular saying that “big things come in small packages”, which is actually formalised in non-linear logics, complexity theory, or chaos theory as “The Butterfly Effect” is very appropriate. Popular sayings often record very profound truths that, nonetheless, are even ignored by the populace that utters them. Or, lip-service is paid to these popular truths even as one acts contrary to them — “honoured in the breach” only.
Lip-service is the disease of decadence, as “the speech philosopher” Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy once observed, and God knows there is a lot of it around these days. That’s essentially what Pope Francis meant when he stated a while ago that “duplicity is the currency of the day”. We “don’t walk our talk” is just another way of putting it. That’s pretty much what I mean in writing that our own “four riders of the apocalypse” are named: Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind as the four faces of “the New Normal” in human affairs — the four faces of our present nihilism. It’s rather obvious that these are the chief features of the current social chaos, and they attest to the disintegration (or loss of integrity) of the personality and consciousness structure of “Modern Man”. “Integrity!” is demanded and is on everybody’s lips even as everyone acts contrary to it. I have even read, with astonishment, a justification for this schizophrenia and the duplicity of the “New Normal” from a man who suggested we restore such virtues of “integrity” (or integrality) as ideals, but should not aspire to act on them since such ideals so often interfere with the “realistic” and “rational” pursuit of one’s own self-interest, still taken as the obvious supreme good, contrary to its actual and evident effects and consequences. Quite obviously this is a rationalisation for “the forked-tongue”. The forked-tongue is another way of describing “lip-service” and the loss of integrity.
“You can’t have too much of a good thing” goes hand in hand with “No Limit”, and becomes completely disastrous when assumed to be the essence of the “rational pursuit of self-interest” as the prime mover of the Good Society. It’s evident that what the individual in his or her self-interest considers “rational” becomes completely irrational in the larger context or big picture view. What seems to the individual like an obvious good — no constraint or limit on the pursuit of self-interest — has synergistic effects at the collective level that become self-negating and self-disorganising. You do not get to the Good Society by the mere aggregation or sum totality of every individual’s right to pursue their own self-interest without limitation. This is why the “We” form of the person system of grammar is not the plural of “I” but an entirely different person — the historical or collective person, as Rosenstock-Huessy has argued in his grammatical logic.
“You can’t have too much of a good thing” is obviously completely untrue and defies even common sense. (Water is a good thing. Too much water is toxic). That hasn’t stopped people from believing that “the sky’s the limit” or that there are no limits particularly when it comes to the appetitive nature. What we call “individualism” as the unhindered pursuit of the self-interest isn’t authentically individual or personable at all. It’s extremist, and as the foundational or core principle of the “good society” actually results in the self-disorganisation and self-negation of society, which is Nemesis.
This is one reason why Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and his quadrilateral grammatical method is rather crucial to overcoming our present predicament and outrunning the chaos. The “cross of reality” displaces the “I” form (or ego-nature) of the person from the centre and locates it within a quadratic or fourfold relation with the other persons of grammar — the “You”, the “He or She” or the “We” form through which we circulate daily. Our real identity is not found in only one form — the “I” only — but is expressed through all these forms.
The cross of reality illustrates why there is, indeed, too much of a good thing. To become carried away on only one dynamic or vector of the cross of reality — to lose connection with the vital centre — leads to the disintegration of the whole. This being “carried away” is the process cultural philsopher Jean Gebser (in The Ever-Present Origin) calls “distantiation” (or alienation) from the vital centre. Contemplating Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” (which bears a striking resemblance to the indigenous Sacred Hoop) we see that it is illustrated by Gebser’s interpretation of the present situation,
“The current situation manifests on the one hand an egocentric individualism exaggerated to extremes and desirous of possessing everything, while on the other it manifests an equally extreme collectivism that promises the total fulfillment of man’s being. In the latter instance we find the utter abnegation of the individual valued merely as an object in the human aggregate; in the former a hyper-valuation of the individual who, despite his limitations, is permitted everything. This deficient, that is destructive, antithesis divides the world into two warring camps, not just politically and ideologically, but in all areas of human endeavor.
Since these two ideologies are now pressing toward their limits we can assume that neither can prevail in the long run. When any movement tends to the extremes it leads away from the center or nucleus toward eventual destruction at the outer limits where the connections to the life-giving center finally are severed. It would seem that today the connections have already been broken, for it is increasingly evident that the individual is being driven into isolation while the collective degenerates into mere aggregation. These two conditions, isolation and aggregation, are in fact clear indications that individualism and collectivism have now become deficient” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, 1949, p. 3.
If you reflect on this warning in connection with Rosenstock-Huessy’s cross of reality and grammatical method, or, for that matter, the indigenous Sacred Hoop, the meaning is quite evident.
The “sacred balance” is the perpetual balancing and rebalancing of the four fronts of the spatio-temporal order — past and future, inner and outer (or trajective and prejective, subjective and objective) without “privileging”, as they say, one or the other. And the chaos of our day is the result of privileging one over the others, which is what we call “hypernormalisation” or “hyper-partisan” points of view (Hype in general is hybris and excess). These four fronts, as noted in earlier posts, have traditionally been represented by “The Guardians of the Four Directions” (and are equally the “Four Zoas” of William Blake’s divided and disintegrate humanity).
“Fourfold vision” is what we need. Fourfold vision is what we don’t have and don’t practice. Instead, we have dualism, which is false consciousness. Delusion is false consciousness. It is false consciousness to be carried away on only one arm or vector of the cross of reality or one quadrant of the Sacred Hoop, whereby the others become “the unconscious”.
The cross of reality or the Sacred Hoop not only demonstrate the foolishness of the belief that “there is no such thing as too much [of a good thing]”, it illustrates the real meaning of “integrity” as integrality or holism. Obsession — the very word means to become displaced from or alienated from, or to lose the vital centre.