Paradox and Paranoia
Man is a paradoxical creature. Ultimately, it is what distinguishes the human from the machine. The machine cannot handle paradox. It is paralysed by paradox. That is why the Mechanical Philosophy and its logic had to deny and suppress the paradox in favour of “clear and distinct ideas” (as Descartes put it). But in doing so, it also had to deny and suppress Man in everything but Man’s mechanical aspects. In fact, dialectics and dialectical rationality breakdown in the face of paradox, which is connected, in logic, with what is called “the ears of the wolf dilemma”. When thesis and antithesis become one and the same, thinking dialectically collapses into perplexity, bewilderment, and confusion. The dialectic becomes a self-devouring, self-negating, self-contradictory process.
In earlier posts, I suggested that paradox and paranoia were intimately connected. Today, I want to explore that further as it pertains to the meaning of “chaotic transition”, and how paradox and paranoia can be transcended in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “metanoia“, or Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness”.
That Man is a paradoxical being, a coincidentia oppositorum or conjunction of the contraries, follows from Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamics of the “divided brain” and the two modes of perception, described by him as the “Master” and the “Emissary” modalities. If we credit McGilchrist’s revelations about the divided brain and the two modes of perception as described in The Master and His Emissary (and substantially corroborated by Jill Bolte-Taylor in her “Stroke of Insight”), then the first and central fact we must recognise is that to be human is to be a paradox.
And however much the Megamachine or the Mechanical Philosophy which serves that Megamachine, may try to mechanise man and make him controllable and predictable like a machine, it never will completely succeed. Tech pioneer, Jason Lanier, believes that the solution to our present tendency to turn men and women into automatons of reflexes is to “double-down on being human“. Unfortunately, that’s rather vague when it is precisely the meaning of “human” that is in contention in post-modernity. It would make sense if we were aware of our paradoxical nature that no machine could ever replicate or master.
Franz Winkler once wrote a book (1960) entitled Man: The Bridge Between Two Worlds. This also pertains to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. These themes address the paradoxical nature of this being human, and become easily understandable even in light of McGilchrist’s investigations of the two distinct modes of attention of the divided brain, one mode of attention attuned to the eternal and the infinite, another attuned to all the is time-bound and finite. That aspect of us that is attuned to the eternal and infinite we have traditionally called “soul”, and that aspect of us attuned to the time-bound and finite orders we have called “ego”.
This polar and paradoxical character of the human is what Nietzsche recognised also in his Dionysian-Apollonian contrast, although he was anticipated in this by William Blake. Nietzsche credited his wisdom with his “unique” ability to “switch between background and foreground perspectives”, as he put it, which facility he also credited to having one foot in life, and another in death and the grave. This ability to switch between background and foreground is, quite evidently, McGilchrist’s Master and Emissary relationship, and is fully explained by Nietzsche in the chapter of his Zarathustra entitled “The Despisers of the Body“.
Nietzsche is often criticised for being contradictory, and it is true. He cuts an ironic figure. But it is understandable when you appreciate that Nietzsche was dealing with the paradoxical nature of Man as he discovered this in himself, which he symbolised in the names of Dionysian and Apollonian forms of consciousness.
In the pursuit of power, and to become “masters and possessors of nature” (and human nature, too), the Mechanical Philosophy found it quite inconvenient to recognise the paradox. It was legislated out of consciousness by the law of non-contradiction. This was, in effect, the “usurpation” that McGilchrist describes in the Master and His Emissary by which the “Emissary” mode of perception suppressed and usurped the Master’s prerogatives. This coup d’etat, as it were, is what underlies John Donne’s poem “An Anatomy of the World“. It also underlies W.B. Yeats’ ominous poem “The Second Coming“. Here the Falcon and the Falconer are symbols, too, for the Emissary and Master poles and modes of attention respectively.
And, for those of you familiar with Castaneda’s works, you may recognise in this “master” and “emissary” relation what is there referred to as “the nagual” and “the tonal” as also two modes of awareness, one in terms of “non-ordinary reality” and the other as “ordinary reality”. Castaneda’s apprenticeship was instruction in how to move fluidly between the two modes of attention. The Hermetic “sacred marriage”, or hieros gamos, is also about marrying the two modes of attention
The chief distinction between the Hermetic Philosophy and the Mechanical Philosophy is the centrality of the paradox in the former, and its suppression in the latter. That suppression also led to the consignment of the Hermetic Philosophy to the outer darkness called “the occult”. Man and Nature, henceforth, were to be understood only as machines or automata, fully adapted in that respect to a Clockwork Universe which did not permit paradox.
The “return of the repressed” is largely the irruption, once again, of paradox. Some are evening referring to this as the “Age of Paradox“. In his series of lectures entitled The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, Jacob Bronowski refers also to the “crisis of mechanism” attendant upon the irruption of the paradoxical, or coincidence of opposites. In other words, it is a crisis of consciousness, inasmuch as this “consciousness”, which Jean Gebser calls “perspectival” or “mental-rational”, was mechanistic, and did not permit the paradox to enter.
In other words, it is also a crisis of identity and of concepts of “the modern self” and the ego-nature.
This is where the irruption of paradox is attended also by paranoia. “Uneasy lies the head” is particularly true of the situation of McGilchrist’s “emissary”. What we today call “identitarianism” is really the anxiety and panic of the emissary, or ego nature, at this return of the repressed. This panic and anxiety often takes the form of attempting to resolve the predicament and dilemma by the “techno-fix”– ie, more of the same. It’s in this sense that many have criticised the techno-fix as a form of denialism, fully equivalent to the old cumbersome Ptolemaic model of the universe which kept adding cycles and epicycles to try to account for the anomalous appearances of the heavens, until Copernicus simplified the whole thing with his helio-centric model.
In other words, it’s what we refer to in popular language as “the one track mind”, or as monomania. The critique of this in the face of dilemma and predicament is what underlies the manifesto “No App For That“. The Emissary’s struggle with the paradoxical is, in effect, its struggle with the “Master”, or what Seth also calls the “return of the ancient force”. That’s the gist, too, of Goethe’s “two souls” from his great drama Faust.
“Two souls, alas, reside within my breast,and each from the other would be parted. The one in sturdy lust for love with clutching organs clinging to the world, the other strongly rises from the gloom to lofty fields of ancient heritage”
There again, the human as paradox, and in therein also you can see Nietzsche’s own distinction between the “Self” and the “Ego” as described in his Zarathustra. In Emerson, it appears as “The Oversoul“. In Meister Eckhart, as “The Aristocrat”.
Along with the return of the repressed and the irruption of the paradoxical has also come a new appreciation for the Hermetic Philosophy and for Heraclitus, too. In the face of the “crisis of mechanism”, instead of the techno-fix, today’s most vital philosophies have, instead of suppression or “resolution”, have brought the paradox directly into the centre of their thinking. Not just William Blake or Nietzsche, but also thinkers like Jean Gebser and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. They do not see paradox as the problem, but as a potential return to integrity and integrality. Crisis it may well be; chaos it may well portend; anxiety and paranoia may attend it, but ultimately they see it as a kind of “call from beyond” that we need to wake up to the essential fact — life is paradoxical. Man is a paradoxical creature, and to deny it is to deny life and to deny what is truly human about us.
This is what underlies Rosenstock-Huessy’s conception of The Multiformity of Man, as well as Gebser’s recognition that the human form is a potentially integral structure of different “structures of consciousness”. The difference between “paranoia” and Rosenstock-Huessy’s “metanoia” resides precisely in the willingness of the latter to incorporate the paradoxical, which minds schooled in the mechanical philosophy find deeply unsettling and uncomfortable.
Irony and crisis tend to go together, and irony (or ironic reversal) is one of the main ways the paradox reveals itself. Everything we today refer to as “unintended consequence”, “perverse outcome”, “revenge effect”, and so on — all affairs of ironic reversal or enantiodromia. have their explanation in the irruption of the paradoxical, including, and especially, as what Gebser calls “the double-movement” of our times. To appreciate the meaning of the paradox, is to gain insight into the meaning of the double-movement, and why this appears as “chaotic”.
If, as Jean Gebser put it, the mental-rational structure of consciousness (or perspectival) is now functioning in “deficient mode” (that is, the Emissary), it is largely owing to the fact that it cannot effectively handle paradox, which is one of the reasons some are insisting on a new “both/and” logic to replace an ineffective “either/or” type logic (dualism, in other words). It’s because the old logic, which denied the paradox, has become self-defeating, and yet the new logic that has become necessary has not yet taken hold.
And that’s the nature of the present crisis.