“And The White Knight is Talking Backwards”

Somehow — fantastically, improbably, impossibly — we’ve passed through the looking-glass and have become the topsy-turvey, inverted mirror images of ourselves — a kind of negative of the photograph, even a parody of ourselves. It’s Alice through the looking-glass. That’s the only way to begin to understand how the present period has suddenly come to seem so surreal, so bizarre, and so absurd. It occurs to me that this is the only way to also understand Lewis Mumford’s observation that everything once considered vice has now been revalued as virtue, or what was once considered unworthy of us is now considered worthy and desirable; or, for that matter, Sheldon Wolin’s diagnosis of our “inverted totalitarianism“. This is not describable in terms of reversion or of conversion, but only as inversion. The White Knight is talking backwards. We are being seduced by, and assimilated as, our own mirror image — like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I can describe the dynamics of that in terms of enantiodromia, or “ironic reversal” and the paradox of the coincidence of opposites. In those terms, everything presently strange, forbidding and ominous begins to make a kind of sense. I can describe it in terms of the self-contradictions of Late Modernity beginning to assert themselves, and thus the self-negation of the Modern Era of itself — as Nietzsche’s forecast “two centuries of nihilism” and his “Last Man” as this parody.  What I can’t tell you right now is what it means in psychological or spiritual terms, but it is quite evidently connected also with confusion about what is “real” today.

I can account for some of the how and the what of it. I can’t account completely, yet, for the why and the when of it. I can assemble a good deal of evidence, and put together a pretty good argument, I think, that this inversion is occurring to us whether we notice it or not. But I have the dreadful feeling that this inversion also has something to do with Gebser’s ominous reference to “the law of the Earth” and to its “automatic” fulfillment.


13 responses to ““And The White Knight is Talking Backwards””

  1. Scott Preston says :

    As I was driving home from the office, where I posted this thing about the White Knight talking backwards, a line from Nietzsche occurred to me which I think may well be relevant to this “inversion”.

    “When one goes to fight monsters, one had best take care not to become the monster oneself”.

    I have a feeling that the “inversion” is connected with this aphorism from Nietzsche, and that what Nietzsche is referring to here is the Shadow. So, most probably the “inversion” is the irruption of the Shadow.

    The Shadow is associated with images of the chthonic dieties, so there’s the connection with the “law of the Earth”.

  2. Patricia Wilson says :

    Ken Wilber has a monagraph available free on line (soon to be developed into a book) that looks deeply at the inversion, especially psychological and spiritual aspects, utilizing spiral dynamics in an integral framework. He takes direct aim at the mean green meme. It’s called Trump and the Post-Truth World.
    I’m not adept at posting links, but maybe you can find it.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks for the tip. I guess it’s an excerpt from a book coming out shortly. It’s posted at “Integral Life”.


      I’ve been very critical of Wilber in the past here at The Chrysalis (and elsewhere), but I’ll have a go at it and see what he has to say about this.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Well, that excerpt won’t inspire me to buy the book. But I probably will, just to see how much more wrong Wilber can get. He doesn’t understand “aperspectival” (which is Jean Gebser’s term for “integral”) at all. It’s not “aperspectival madness” (which would be equivalent to “deficient integral”), it’s perspectival madness. There’s no way you can equate the “narrowing” that Gebser talks about, and which Wilber has appropriated from Gebser, with anything but perspectival madness. Nor do I think he understands “post-modernism”.

        And a lot of people (including me) have simply concluded that Wilber does not understand Gebser’s philosophy of culture and consciousness at all. For that reason, I find Wilber a bit dangerous (even a bit pathetic) because he’s still unwittingly under the spell of Cartesian metaphysical dualism and pretending that it’s something other than it is. His AQAL model is strictly Cartesian. Merely pluralising the Ego-It relation (or subject-object relation) as also a “We-Its” relation does not alter that fact.

        What’s the problem with Wilber in my view? That he hasn’t himself suffered through the crucible of post-modern nihilism and the “death of God”, and therefore never experienced viscerally that disillusionment as also a liberation. Wilber tries to skip right over it. He just revalues “Evolution” as God. He’s never had his own “dark night of the soul”.

        The post-modern condition began with the First World War and the disillusionment of the intellectuals with the utopian prospects for the Age of Reason. Rosenstock-Huessy, a soldier in the trenches during that war, recognised it for what it was — the end of the modern era, and the onset of of Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism”. Post-modernism is simply the self-consciousness of that dynamic. To understand post-modernism, therefore, we have to understand what Nietzsche saw in that and what he meant by the phrase “incipit tragoedia”.

        Apparently, Wilber is trying to synthesise or fuse together Nieztsche’s “Dionysian madness” with Gebser’s irruption of the “aperspectival consciousness”, and so comes up with “aperspectival madness”. I don’t think such a synthesis works at all.

        Oh well… I’ll have to get the book. The excerpt didn’t completely satisfy me that Wilber understands what he’s actually talking about. But maybe it needs the context of the book.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    They say, it is what we stand under determines our understanding. If we stand under the radiating space of the chthonic shrine we automatically color our soul accordingly. The devouring shadow. Human is the image of the divine, once that image is dishonoured human defacement takes place . It is spiritual beauty is the aim of life not the given physical beauty that fades like any other thing physical. Physicality is the carrier of spirituality not the opposite, the opposite that our civilization is deforming itself in its swamps. They say spiritual deformity collapse into physical deformity once it reaches the point of no return. Hope we stop talking backward before it is too late.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Here is an article by Carol Anderson on new york time/sunday review demonstrates how the flag of white resentment under witch Trump stands,colors his understanding that sets his policies in this unhappy, divided America. It is strange how people are misled in thinking they are doing the right thing while they are doing the wrong thing. It is not whiteness against other colors, it is honest intention versus ill intention.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I looked that up. She has a couple of articles on that in the NYT. The latest is 5. Aug and is called “The Policies of White Resentment”. I take it that’s the one you are referring to?

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Would that it were that simple. That would make everything easily explicable and digestible, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, the “it’s all about race” argument simply does not hold water and here’s why.

      Trump was not swept into the White House on a wave of “white resentment” or even entirely on a wave of absolute rage against “the Machine.” (Not to be confused with the band of the same name.)

      Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million and, as I’ve pointed out in the past, even that is with only about half of Americans voting at all. This is the “tyranny of the minority” effect I’ve also pointed out in the past — a tyranny that definitely contains a tiny (and I do mean tiny) strand of “white resentment” (“Alt-Right,” etc.), but making monoliths of entire ethnicities and even an entire nation doesn’t come close even to scratching the surface of what is actually happening in America on the national stage, much less on smaller scales.

      The stranglehold of our two extremely unpopular, predominately oligarchic national parties must be broken. American’s of all stripes sense this even if we don’t all know precisely why it is imperative that we break that stranglehold; get money and corruption out of politics; and take back our democracy.

      Trump ran and won the electoral college as the “anti-establishment” candidate and he won the electoral college primarily due to those two dominant parties’ incessant gerrymandering. Unfortunately, some of us did buy the “anti-establishment” schtick because Trump actually is “anti-establishment” in the sense that the Federal government is in the “corporate triceratops'” way. (Trump even said as much, remember?)

      A great many of those “anti-establishment” voters aren’t actually “anti-establishment” themselves. Rather, they’re sick to death (often literally) of the “status-quo,” which is what Clinton represented to them as well as Obama, whom many of those same voters invested their hopes in only to have them dashed in their minds.

      To top it all off, there is the ever-present, ever-expected argument that one or the other predominant parties’ candidates is bound to win, so we mustn’t “throw away” our votes by voting for (or writing in the name of) a candidate representing a third, fourth or fifth party. As long as that supposition holds, it will itself remain a self-fulling prophecy.

      I’ve had more than enough of the status-quo myself and decided that my personal vote would best “serve life” by helping the Green Party qualify for a Federal grant. I didn’t think Jill Stein persidential quality, but expect her to win. The goal was that Federal grant and the Green’s qualified for it. While I’d like to think I might have had something to with that, I really didn’t. My vote didn’t even register as a blip on the radar any more than those who wrote in Sanders (who wasn’t even an write-in candidate — talk about waste!) and, of course, I have to live with the stigma of “costing” those Clinton fans their “win.”

      No problem. I can live with that. Easily. My conscience is clear.

      • Scott Preston says :

        It’s quite unsettling that half of all Republicans polled are OK with Trump “postponing” the 2020 election, in whatever way they mean “postponing”. Indefinitely? That’s prima facie proof, I think, that democracy is in big trouble.

        This is quite ironic given that it’s the conservatives who our noisiest about the the threat of the “Left” (or of “liberal fascism” as they call it) to what they understand as “democracy”.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          It’s not so unsettling from my end. We hear the same thing from “polls” asking if that’s a-ok with anyone whenever the Democratic party is “in charge” on Capital Hill. The spectre of “suspending” democracy is constantly run through the “public mind” 1) to divert our attention away from the fact that it’s already been “suspended;” 2) to divert our attention away from what needs to be done about it; and 3) to try and make or keep us so afraid of the spectre itself that we just give up and give in.

          It’s not fascism (liberal, conservative or otherwise) we have to worry about. It’s the Authoritarianism of all “sides.”

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          PS Solnit faults only one of the two parties as well, but does recount the “flipping” of the Democratic and Republican “platforms” from the sixties onward very well.

          Republicans won much of their current power in Congress by patiently increasing their influence at the local level. This helped them win state legislatures, which in turn allowed them to redraw districts and create unsinkable Republican strongholds, which permitted them to become a huge majority in the lower house even as their base shrank.

          Winning state legislatures have allowed the Democrats to redraw districts as well, primarily concentrating on metropolitan areas, creating “strongholds” of their own.

          The true “minority” here, however, was cemented into place by Citizen’s United vs FEC, which both the Democratic and Republican parties have availed themselves of via the Pacs and Superpacs it made possible.

          Connected PACs

          Most of the 4,600 active, registered PACs are “connected PACs” established by businesses, labor unions, trade groups, or health organizations. These PACs receive and raise money from a “restricted class”, generally consisting of managers and shareholders in the case of a corporation and members in the case of a union or other interest group. As of January 2009, there were 1,598 registered corporate PACs, 272 related to labor unions and 995 to trade organizations.

          It’s not like we weren’t forewarned at least twice. Once by Jefferson and once by Eisenhower.

          [B]anking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies…. [T]he principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale. ~ Thomas Jefferson (The very racist Jackson was afraid of the banks as well.)

          In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

          Obviously, our so-called “leadership” has fallen down on the job in that respect.

          There are actually two “complexes:” the military-industrial complex and the consumer-industrial complex. The two predominant parties in the US serve both. The problem with Obamacare, for example, is that it was written by the insurance industry for the insurance industry, the stickiest provision being that Americans are now required by law to purchase insurance whether they can afford it or not and are financially penalized come tax-filing time if they can’t. To his credit, Obama argued for and won provisions that ended some of the more predatory practices of the insurance industry, such as denying health coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, but that hardly compensates for the fact that our health coverage is owned not only by the insurance industry but by the banking industry. It’s nearly impossible to find an affordable, quality health policy now. Rather, the predominant trend is the HSA, “Health Savings Account.” Make regular contributions to a HSA and you might just be able to afford a doctor visit. If not, tough luck because the social safety net is so underfunded (thanks primarily to military spending) that it very simply cannot help everyone who needs help. Ergo, Social Services has had to become somewhat creative itself. Working single people who qualify for nutritional assistance (formerly food stamps) may be approved…at $16 per month…so that their Medicaid coverage cannot be revoked. That kind of thing.

          Perhaps our best hope is this from Solnit:

          It’s worth remembering that democracy has always flourished not in the citadel of government but in the campaigns to open it up, to make it more than it has been. The dream arises on the outside, but it is about being allowed in. May we pry open the doors, unlatch the windows, let the breeze blow through.

  5. abdulmonem says :

    Yes Scott, that is the one.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    Actually, come to think of it, this blog posting is just a continuation of an earlier one called “Trapped in the Mirror”


    It just seems moreso now.

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