The Inquisition has become symbolic of the irrationalities, disproportionalities, and reactionary paranoias of decaying regimes. The Inquisition was the form of that self-negating, self-devouring logic of the Age of the Church that is revisiting our time as well. It is the shape of the so-called “New Normal”.

In structure and spirit, too, something like the Inquisition recurred during the Industrial Revolution with expansions to the Sedition Laws and the Combination Laws. It was just the same inquistional heretic hunt but now in secular disguise. Law then, too, was driven by the same irrationalities, disproportionalities, and reactionary paranoias as during the waning years of the Holy Roman Empire.

You can anticipate, I think, something similar arising again in these times, and particularly directed at repressing those who challenge, in word or deed, the political and economic orthodoxy, and the growth dogma. In fact, I’ld say that the “New Normal” — post-truth, post-rational, etc — is already preparing the way for the return of “the Rough Beast”, who is, in many respects, William Blake’s “Accuser”.

We like to pride ourselves, as “modern” men and women, that we have escaped those kinds of “primitive” irrationalities. Jean Gebser, for one, has shown how this is delusional and, to a great degree, self-deception. It’s also what Hervey Kleckley referred to as “The Mask of Sanity“. It belongs to those symptoms of morbidity and decay that Gramsci recognised as an aspect of crisis.

New forms of Inquisition are often the main theme of dystopian science fiction. (Orwell’s 1984 or the movie Equilibrium spring to mind as examples. Probably Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, too, although I’ve never read or seen it). There are foreshadowings of a new Inquisition,  in the attempts, for example, to bundle environmental or animal rights activism into the “war of terror”, as “eco-terrorism”. The heresy of the day is to challenge the growth dogma, even though, in truth, most of the “terrorism” has ironically been in the other direction. The facility of the human mind to deceive itself about such matters is quite impressive.

It goes with the territory, though. Any dis-integrative dynamic (or nihilism) will be attended coincidentally with irrationality as a loss of proportionality, a loss of equilibrium and equanimity, a loss of integrity in all things, including our sense of justice and in what constitutes the moderate and the measured response. In biological and physiological terms, it’s called a disruption or loss of homeostasis, which is the formal definition of disease or even “death”.

It’s in the context of the dis-integrative dynamic that Inquisition, in whatever form it assumes, inserts itself as the poison that will cure the disease, even though a review of the history of inquisitions shows that it is no cure at all, but a vector for the disease (or malaise) itself. Nietzsche once noted the irony of that: the essentially healthy always choose the right means to recovery of health, while the truly sick always choose the wrong means, and concluded that this was just in the grand scheme of things. He intended that to be understood as true of societies and civilisations as well as organisms.

But, then again, it is the job of the caterpillar to resist the butterfly. And that is the essential meaning, too, of Nietzsche’s aphorism: “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. It’s essentially true. The persecutions of the Christians in Rome, strengthened the Christians. The persecution of the free thinkers by the Inquisition strengthened the Free Thinkers. The persecution of the working class and the industrial proletariat by the aristocracy and the industrial bourgeoisie strengthened the working class. And in this pattern we see an essential truth of Heraclitus and of William Blake: “strife is the father of all things” or “without contraries there is no progression”.

That’s what we call “coincidentia oppositorum”, but also paradox. That is what is represented, too, in the peculiarities of the chrysalis stage — the contention of the butterfly and the caterpillar, which highlights another of Nietzsche’s aphorisms: one must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star. Inquisitions are like the caterpillars, and the caterpillar, in the chrysalis stage, is a perfect metaphor for the political reactionary.

Appropriately, though, the butterfly has traditionally been the symbol for the soul or psyche. And that is what Nietzsche also intended to be understood by describing himself as “Herr Vogelfrei” (ie, Mr. “Free-as-a-Bird”) and “the free spirit”.

The double-movement, the paradoxical, the self-contradictory and coincidence of opposites, or the transmutation and metamorphosis and meaning of “chaotic transition” all comes together rather nicely in the metaphor of the chrysalis, doesn’t it? And I suspect that in the simple metaphor of the chrysalis, you’ll discover the real meaning of Blake, Nietzsche, and Gebser, too, and of much that is seeming surreal, absurd, and bizarre about our times. The caterpillar and the butterfly are contending with one another, even though they are still one and the same organism.

it’s what the symbol of the crucible represents in alchemy. It is also a chrysalis, the metamorphosis of the base metal into gold. The double-movement, polarisation, crisis, “chaotic transition”, turbulence, crucible of change, the role of imaginal cells in the metamorphosis of caterpillar into butterfly, or lead into gold — all come together harmoniously in the symbol of the chrysalis — even paradox and paranoia.

There’s an intimate connection, too, between Nietzsche’s “free spirit” and Jean Gebser’s “time-freedom” coincident with “the integral consciousness” or “diaphainon“. That which must undergo a death, and a resurrection from death, is also represented in the chrysalis — a renaissance. We are going to undergo many trials and tribulations during the chaotic transition. But if you keep the symbol of the chrysalis in mind, you can understand their meaning, and, moreover, have an image to guide your understanding of events.

The anguish and agony of birth, and the anguish and agony of death are easily confused with one another, largely because, in they are the same. That’s the meaning and lesson of the chrysalis.





8 responses to “Inquisition”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Strange times these are indeed. A couple of interesting articles in today’s Guardian. The first, by John Naughton, is entitled “How a half-educated tech elite delivered us into chaos”. It’s very pertinent to recent posts in the Chrysalis, particularly also as a description of the problem of “post-historic man” as described by Seidenberg and Mumford. So, Naughton’s article will provide you with more insight into what that means, and also why some people think we’re headed into a “dark age”.

    On that theme of “dark age”, too — and as a way of illustrating what I wrote about the discombobulating effects on sense of an irruption of a technics into a society unprepared for it — this humorous, but also very serious article by David Mitchell entitled “The Earth may not be flat, but it might just be doomed” is highly relevant. There’s a curious connection between the two articles

    Mitchell’s article actually touches upon some of that “return of the repressed”, even though it’s not recognised as such, and this “flat earth” craze is a symptom of a broader “malaise of modernity” and a desire to roll-back history, rather than effect an integration of the past. This is similar to groups like “Galileo Was Wrong” (you can google that to find out about this group).

    All-in-all, compelling evidence for what Gebser anticipated decades ago, but also McLuhan.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      From ‘The Earth may not be flat.’

      Mark Sargent has 43,415 subscribers to his “Flat Earth” YouTube channel.

      In that case, why think Sargent merits much, if any, attention? Compared to the whole, that’s an exceedingly small number. Likewise for “flat earthers” of many other stripes.

      As for ‘how tech leaders delivered us into evil,’ I’d chalk the advertising fiasco up to what it is: naivete. It’s much like sending a probe into space with a universal message imprinted on two disks. For some reason, on reading this article, I was immediately reminded of a line delivered by the (slimy) character, Kitz, in Contact: “Why is the default position of the egghead set that aliens would always be benign?”

      The pertinent point would be “half” an education. This is supposedly why liberal arts college and university curricula are set up as they are: regardless what one plans to major in, a “well-rounded education” comes first. Ergo, the first two years at university are usually spent studying subjects in which one has no particular interest. I’m personally of the mind these subjects should be covered in secondary and high school. Further, I think students up to the task. As much or more important than either, however, I should think would be fostering an interest continual self-education.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Compared to the whole, that’s an exceedingly small number.

        Not if the “whole” means the universal set of conspiracy theorists, which is the point I was trying to make. It’s something with a larger context, including some of the tabloids or other sensationalist media.

        I think it this case, it reflects the breakdown of perspectivism. I trust these people are sincere in their convictions, but that would mean they are what Gebser would call “pre-perspectival” — a flat earth is a two-dimensional construct. it may well be on the other hand, that there are some who just can’t perceive perspectivally — ie, in three-dimensions, let alone think in four.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          Not if the “whole” means the universal set of conspiracy theorists

          Of course, the “whole” (as opposed to “total,” a distinction you’ve made time and again), is a reference to the whole of humanity for the purposes of my comment. Conspiracy theorists abound, of course, but do they represent the majority of human beings or, might it be, they are convenient scapegoats for those who wish to prove a point that can’t be proven?

          Back to the article in question: the author is actually addressing the possible ramifications of unbounded skepticism. He might have just as easily picked the prevailing Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm as the target of his parody with far, far better results. As it is, the point is obscured.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Another article that deals with the strange self-contradictions of libertarian ideology, but which are implicit in the conflicting logic of neo-liberalism itself.

    Such “ironic reversals” are rampant today, and not frequently recognised as such (Jung’s “enantiodromia” playing itself out). Naturally, that’s bewildering if you don’t know the pattern (the flipping of polarities, or the Jekyll and Hyde problem).

    It’s an example, too, of what I’ve described as the self-negating, self-devouring dynamic of Late Modernity. Nothing is as it seems. Everything comes wearing a mask — a “brand”.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Just occurs to me. Although I haven’t read all of his writings on the subject, many of Daniel Bell’s books seem pertinent to trying to understand the times we live in. The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism I recall as being a very good book (I’ve just reordered it). The Coming of Post-Industrial Society and The End of Ideology may also provide insight into the oddities of the present time. But especially, I think the Cultural Contradictions may go a long way in explaining why irony becomes the only constant in post-modernity — those contradictions playing themselves out. We certainly see them in neo-liberalism.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    On the possibilities of “post-historic man” also morphing into “post-conscious man”, there’s an interesting book by Franklin Foer entitled World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. It was recently reviewed in The Guardian also.

    It would certainly qualify as ironic reversal if that how it ultimately plays out, and it is certainly a possible scenario for the Megamachine… perhaps even the more likely one given current trends.

    On the other hand, Foer the deconstruction of “mind” might not be what it seems, but a restructuring. Foer may be concerned for the fate of what Gebser calls “mental-rational” or “perspectival” consciousness. It’s paradoxical. “Post-mind” may be, like “post-truth” and “post-rational”, a transformation more than a deformation. But, at this juncture, it may go either way. I suspect it will go both ways.

  5. erikleo says :

    Recently in our local philosophy group we discussed Camus and he dismissed the religious response to ‘absurdity’ – without really understanding religion’s inner core, or at least he never investigated the mystical side of religion/spirituality. His ‘answer’ to modernist angst was simply ‘acceptance of an ‘indifferent universe’ – which is the lazy phrase used to describe scientific materialism. Are we sure it IS indifferent? Millions of people testify to a deep connection with the universe. The definition of religion given by William James that there is ‘an unseen order in the universe and it is our task to align ourselves with it’ may be unpopular today with the consensus mentality, but – on the other hand- there is a counter-movement where millions of people realise ‘becoming who they are’ is more important than living up to consensus-expectations or externally constructed agendas.

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