Science and Civilisation and Donald Trump
Donald Trump’s speech about “saving our civilization” delivered in Warsaw the other day just about sent me over the deep end, since Trump himself is a vector for its immanent self-annihilation and suicide. Trump’s rhetoric belongs to the phenomenon of “symbolic belief”. Whatever Trump merely thinks he’s doing, and despite whatever he merely tells himself and others all that he thinks he’s doing, his already muddled and incoherent rhetoric is contradicted by what he actually does in reality. Trump is the perfect avatar of “post-historic man” and of the “post-truth era”, the distillation and precipitate of this civilisation’s malaise and nihilism as the real meaning of its “end of history”. The Toronto Star even keeps a running scoreboard of how many lies Trump has uttered since becoming the Troll-in-Chief and King of the Trolls (last count, 358). Cynical rhetoric about “saving our civilization” is probably about the biggest lie of them all.
“Duplicity is the currency of the day”, says Pope Francis. The “crooked timber of humanity” has its day in the ascendancy of “the forked-tongue”. I have said, through the earlier Dark Age Blog and through the present Chrysalis as well, that the onset of our Dark Age, however long that might last, is due to our own “four riders of the apocalypse” who I have named: “Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind”.
That’s what “post-truth society” means. Lip-service and “symbolic belief” are just other forms of duplicity, for it means there is a dissociation of image from reality, of self-image from identity, and fact from truth. This is the form of modern man’s intensifying self-alienation and “distantiation” from the “vital centre” (as per Jean Gebser), and attests to the fragmentation and disintegration of the personality and consciousness structure of Modern Man precisely as described by W.B. Yeats in his ominous poem “The Second Coming”. (It is not difficult to see in Yeats’ “Falcon” and “Falconer” metaphor the Emissary and Master aspects of Iain McGilchrist’s “divided brain” and the complete dissociation of the mode of attention of the “Emissary” from the mode of attention of the “Master”. This is what is also reflected in the phenomenon of “symbolic belief”).
This loss of integrity of the personality manifests as the dissociation of thought and reality — words and acts contradict one another. “Cognitive dissonance” is even too sanitary a phrase for this decay and disintegration of the personality and consciousness structure, which is experienced as “identity crisis”. In post-truth society, the triple process of Truth, Truce (peace), and Trust (faith and credit) also begins to disintegrate and fall apart, eventually leading into social collapse.
Yes, indeed, all this appears as insanity and madness, because it is. This amounts to what Jean Gebser calls “a maelstrom of blind anxiety”.
Now, if Trump and his acolytes and hangers-on were really interested in “saving our civilisation” (Steven Bannon represents Trump’s self-contradiction to this), then they would be doing everything they could to conserve, respect, and honour the consciousness structure that gave birth to, and continues to inform, that civilisation. That consciousness structure is the “mental-rational” or “perspectival” and it is dialectical in nature. The formal order of the many societies of the modern instantiation (ie “our civilisation”) is a reflection of dialectical consciousness with its three terms (“dimensions”) of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
Dialectical consciousness (as the meaning of the perspectival or mental-rational) is what is illustrated in the Great Seal of the United States
Here, thesis and antithesis form the two basal points, while the synthesis is represented as the “all-seeing eye”. This is the shape of consciousness attuned to a cosmic reality envisioned as three-dimensional — the spaces organised as length, width, and depth. This is reflected in the political organisation of society in the form of the liberal democratic order as the separation of powers — legislative, executive, and judicial. It is reflected in the judiciary as Prosecutor (Thesis), Defender (Antithesis or Dissenter) and Judge or Jury (Synthesis). It is reflected in the political organisation as Ruling Party (thesis), Loyal Opposition (antithesis) and the Federation or Confederation (constitutionality or principle of federation). It is also reflected in the three fundamental freedoms of a liberal democracy — freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly.
This dialectical or trinitarian arrangement of values originates with the invention of perspective in the Renaissance and the disclosure of the “third dimension”. It is quite clearly a representation of Da Vinci’s illustration of the perspective eye
And it is this triangulating, perspectivising mode of perception that forms the basis for Rene Descartes “wondrous strange” method — the cogito or res cogitans as he himself illustrated.
This is the meaning of the “mental-rational” or “perspectival” or “dialectical”. A “dialectician” is someone who thinks in perspectivist terms, and that means in terms of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, as illustrated here,
Thus what is meant by “rationality” is the dialectic, and this is rooted in a “ratio” of spaces perspectivally organised and ordered as length, width, and depth become thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
In those terms, liberal democracy and the dream of a “scientific civilisation” are two sides of the same coin, developments from out of dialectical consciousness. The three fundamental values or freedoms of the liberal democratic order were originally conceived to facilitate science and the development of a “scientific civilisation”.
All talk about “saving our civilisation” such as we hear from so-called “conservatives” or alt-right reactionaries is fraudulent and the essential duplicity as long as they devalue, debase, and desecrate the consciousness structure that underpins it. The reason they don’t do that is because their real interest is not in “saving our civilisation” but in annihilating the liberal democratic order completely and its mode of consciousness — dialectic or perspectival. Disinformation is a main strategy for this. This is not “saving our civilisation” at all. This is nihilism.
I’m not particularly interested in some reactionary project of “saving our civilisation” in any event. I’m interested in transformation because I recognise the limitations of the dialectical mind and consciousness structure. It was only ever a partial revelation of our full reality, and has become especially apparent to thoughtful people since the addition of the fourth-dimension — time — and Einstein’s unification of space and time.
Gebser’s “aperspectival consciousness” (or Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s “quadrilateral logic”), which I have called “fourfold vision” after William Blake, is not anti-perspectival. You couldn’t even drive or park a car without some understanding of perspective. It is a restructuration of consciousness appropriate for four-dimensional reality as dialectics was appropriate for a three-dimensional cosmos, but which is no longer adequate. Gebser’s “plus mutation” means moving from the threefold to the fourfold — an enrichment of consciousness by the addition of a new direction and dimension. This is exactly contrary to the intentions of the reactionaries.
And this, I hold, is why we also have to look to matters like the indigenous “Sacred Hoop”, which preserves this fourfoldness in its very structure. And, in fact, as you can see clearly, the dialectical pyramid or triangle forms the quadrants of the cross and hoop structure.
By comparing these different structures, you may come to appreciate the meaning of “perspectival” and “aperspectival” as Gebser uses the term, and the difference between Blake’s “Single Vision” and his “fourfold vision”, and perhaps, too, why the Whole and the Totality can never be identical. You can’t come to the meaning of the Sacred Hoop or cross of reality by merely adding up the four “perspective” quadrants into a totality. The whole is not the sum of its parts.
After all this, I forgot even to mention the article by David Runicman that was the initial stimulus for this post, published as The Long Read in today’s Guardian as “How Climate Scepticism Turned Into Something More Dangerous“. I have simply taken it further than Runciman has, although it’s a good article to ponder.