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-person-system

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”

 

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.

Sacred Hoop 2

Sacred Hoop /Medicine Wheel

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.

 

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15 responses to “Too Much of a Good Thing”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    “Language is wiser than the one who speaks it” (Rosenstock-Huessy) corresponds in meaning to the indigenous belief that “the Sacred Hoop is in language”. Many traditional popular sayings, for example, although anonymous and of unknown origin, are pointers to profound truths. The problem is that we merely repeat them robotically and without consciousness, understanding, or insight. This is the problem of “post-historic man” as described by Seidenberg and Mumford.

  2. T.Collins Logan says :

    One of your best posts to date, IMO – it pulls things together nicely. I would say, however, that this state of affairs isn’t “new.” Though many philosophers, prophets, pandits, etc. have insisted on the uniqueness of their current era, really such themes keep repeating throughout human history, resurfacing in subtly different forms. I do think it is possible to observe nudges forward in cultural evolution…but the arc is much, much longer than I suspect anyone yearning for resolution would like it to be. For example, I recently described the one-to-one correlations between capitalist systems and feudalist ones, and really there is very little (if any) difference – but of course we are conditioned to believe that there is. Embedded as we are in our milieux or Zeitgeist, we will always find it easier to believe that our most beloved thinkers have found a new angle – or new evidence for a more sophisticated or nuanced view. But, in reality (following your post’s equation): “There is nothing new under the sun,” or “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” I am pointedly reminded of this every time I revisit Aristotle, where my predictable reaction will be: “Really? He thought of that? And we’re still chewing on the same problem, without significantly more advanced insights…? Wow.” Too often, it seems, it is only the language that evolves, gaining specificity and clarity, but covering the same ground.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks. I have the feeling, though, that I’ve left something unsaid that still needs to be said. Perhaps the theme of “overdose” — in this case, our overdosing on ego, or an overdose of self-interest, which becomes, perhaps, meaningful when we view it through the lens of the cross of reality or Sacred Hoop. We can overdose on any one of these arms, directions, or vectors of the cross of reality.

      Overdose is exactly what “you can’t have too much of a good thing” leads to and is pretty much what’s described by that extract from Gebser I posted above.

      I also think it’s true that the “eternal verities” or values never really change, although their expression differs depending upon the structure of consciousness through which they are expressed. We can see this, I think, quite explicitly in the case of Rosenstock’s “cross of reality”. It’s fundamental resemblance to the ages old Sacred Hoop is a clear example of how “all that is old is made new again” which is basically what Nietzsche meant by “revaluation of values”. The value is like crystal — it changes its aspect depending upon whether it finds expression through the magical, or mythical, or mental modes of consciousness and expression, but always remains ever itself. Values die and are revived and resurrected in new forms.

      • T.Collins Logan says :

        “Overdose” is a helpful term for me – gels your sentiment. Thx.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Basically, it might be said that an exaggerated or biased emphasis or over-development in any one direction of the Sacred Hoop/Cross of Reality — backwards or forwards in regards to times, or inwards or outwards in regards to spaces — could be effectively termed “overdose” along that “line” of development. The result is that this development becomes a caricature of itself. This is that extremity that Gebser describes as a consciousness structure entering “deficient mode” of functioning.

          So, for “overdose” we could also substitute terms like bias, exaggeration, hype- or hyper-. or similar notions of excess or hybris. So the Sacred Hoop/Cross of Reality allows us to diagnose the health or ill-health of a social situation by assessing its particular bias, or how far it has traveled along only one vector or direction of its spatio-temporal axes — a useful way of approaching it.

          Usually, though (in Rosenstock-Huessy’s assessment) any society that becomes exaggerated in one direction eventually runs into its Nemesis in the form of one or more of four “correctives” or diseases — anarchy (chaos) or war in respect of the two spatial fronts, or decadence and revolution in respect of the two time fronts. It’s these “social diseases” that accord with Gebser’s notion of the “deficient mode” of a consciousness structure.

          • T.Collins Logan says :

            The difference now, alas, is that due to the massively increased complexity, interdependence and technological “superagency” of modern society, any such adjustments could be much more destructive and regressive than what was possible and necessary in previous eras.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Yes, the corrective “adjustment” (or “scourge” as tradition calls it) is most likely to be a terrible one — a “global catastrophe” in Gebser’s terms. I don’t think anyone now realistically anticipates anything but an apocalyptic one. Or, as Nietzsche once put it, incipit tragoedia — “the tragedy begins”.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      The Tao, which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or…ideologies…all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess.

      ~ C.S. Lewis

      • mikemackd says :

        What an interesting quote! Thanks for posting it, I.W.

      • mikemackd says :

        From the same source of the C.S. Lewis quote above: C.S. Lewis’s “The Abolition of Man”, at: https://archive.org/stream/TheAbolitionOfMan_229/C.s.Lewis-TheAbolitionOfMan_djvu.txt

        It is interesting to compare this to Mumford’s “Pentagon of Power”, the current wealth and power imbalances, our politicians and their masters, et al:

        QUOTE

        The Conditioners, then, are to choose what kind of artificial Tao they will, for their own good reasons, produce in the Human race. They are the motivators, the creators of motives. But how are they going to be motivated themselves? For a time, perhaps, by survivals, within their own minds, of the old ‘natural’ Tao.

        Thus at first they may look upon themselves as servants and guardians of humanity and conceive that they have a duty’ to do it good’ … critics may ask. Why should you suppose they will be such bad men?’ But I am not supposing them to be bad men … It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.

        I am very doubtful myself whether the benevolent impulses, stripped of that preference and encouragement which the Tao teaches us to give them and left to their merely natural strength and frequency as psychological events, will have much influence. I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently. I am inclined to think that the Conditioners will hate the conditioned.

        For without the judgement ‘Benevolence is good’ — that is, without re-entering the Tao — they can have no ground for promoting or stabilizing these impulses rather than any others. By the logic of their position they must just take their impulses as they come, from chance. And Chance here means Nature. It is from heredity, digestion, the weather, and the association of ideas, that the motives of the Conditioners will spring. Their extreme rationalism, by seeing through’ all rational’ motives, leaves them creatures of wholly irrational behaviour. If you will not obey the Tao, or else commit suicide, obedience to impulse (and therefore, in the long run, to mere ‘nature’) is the only course left open.

        At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’ — to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity.

        Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man.

        UNQUOTE

        Or, as Mumford put it, Caliban’s conquest of Prospero.

        • mikemackd says :

          It seems that C.S. Lewis, Mumford and McGilchrist are onto the same quarry:

          Perhaps the one that would be least palatable to our present science-oriented generation is that the abstract intelligence, operating with its own conceptual apparatus, in its own self-restricted field is actually a coercive instrument: an arrogant fragment of the full human personality, determined to make the world over in its own oversimplified terms, willfully rejecting interests and values incompatible with its own assumptions, and thereby depriving itself of any of the cooperative and generative functions of life—feeling, emotion, playfulness, exuberance, free fantasy—in short, the liberating sources of unpredictable and uncontrollable creativity.
          Mumford, L. 1966. “Utopia, the City, and the Machine.” In Utopias and Utopian Thought, ed. Frank Manuel. Boston: Beacon Press, p. 10.

          Iain McGilchrist noted of the left hemisphere that while its manifestations “might lack charm, [it may appear] solid, down to earth, realistic and a sure path to the truth. But this is not at all the case. It is not in touch with the world. It is demonstrably self-deceiving, and confabulates – makes up a story, when it cannot understand something, and tells it with conviction … It is not reasonable. It is angry when challenged, dismisses evidence it doesn’t like or can’t understand, and is unreasonably sure of its own rightness. It is not good at understanding the world. Its attention is narrow, its vision myopic, and it can’t see how the parts fit together. It is good for only one thing – manipulating the world. Its world is a representation, a virtual world, only. It neglects the incarnate nature of human beings, reducing them to the equivalent of brains in a vat. It reduces the living to the mechanical … The financial collapse was a perfect example of the following of algorithms that had been ‘proved’ to work in the abstract, and was repeatedly marked by self-referential loops of reasoning that cut it off from the real world outside the window (McGilchrist 2012, Kindle locations 384-399).

          In other words, they will not only ruled by their Calibans, but will earnestly believe they know what they are doing when they are in fact quite clueless.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Good quotes from C.S. Lewis. I read Abolition of Man in my university days. Forgot completely about it. Wondering why he chose to use the term “Tao” rather than “Logos” (since they are pretty much the same). Perhaps it was because “Logos” has become too much associated with the mental-rational (the logico-mathematical) rather than the Tao.

  3. InfiniteWarrior says :

    Your lead-in contains a number of good examples of “making the unconscious conscious.” Here’s another: “All it takes is money.”

    {blink, blink} ‘Really? Are ya sure?’

    This is, no doubt, why we tend to speak of “consciousness” in metaphors of the sea as opposed to (frankly, Jungian) categorizations, i.e. “collectives” of consciousness and unconsciousness. (I believe you touched on that ever-so-slight error in Western categorical tendencies in TDAB days.)

    The problem with discussing “consciousness” at all is obvious. I recall a debater dissing Deepak Chopra’s “arguments” thusly: “He just replaces (the term) ‘God’ with ‘Consciousness’ and….” Well, you can probably guess the rest.

    Egads.

    As for the “un-” or “subconsciousness….”

    We tend to speak (and write) of these in terms of undercurrents and eddies. It is from all the images (and imagery) we’ve run across of whirlpools and vortexes that I get the impression we’re all aware we’re “circling the drain,” so to speak.

    The good news, as I see it, is that the plug has been pulled. (Has been, past tense.) The floodgates might be open (thinking along the lines of the Internet here), but I think we’ve developed (if that’s the right word) the capacity to “separate wheat from chaff” or, in popular terms, to detect the “bullshit” and eliminate (or “selectively ignore”) it in large part, whenever it comes our way. Could be wrong, but — somehow — I doubt it.

    That the floodgates are open constitutes the genuine challenge of our times, imho. There has never been a time in human history, when we have been inescapably aware of our beautiful and incredible inter-connectedness.

    What we do with it, is up to us.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The flood-gates otherwise called “the gates of hell”, and it’s become quite evident that somebody forgot to shut them after the Nazi period.

      On Deepak Chopra’s equation of consciousness with God…. he wouldn’t be wrong at all. That’s basically what it means to say that “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.” I’ve never read anything by Chopra. some things I’ve heard sound “iffy”. But on this, he’s not wrong at all.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Well…he could be half-wrong. We tend to think of consciousness as a ‘reflection.” But is it? Really? Or is “consciousness” the “manifestation” of intentional awareness?

        We’ve long been touching upon the subject of a distinction between awareness and consciousness.

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