Losing the Plot

Language is wiser than the one who speaks it. The living language of people always overpowers the thinking of individual man who assumes he could master it” — Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

Popular discourse very often encodes “hidden” social and spiritual dynamics long before those dynamics become fully conscious or articulate. Take the phrase “losing the plot”. Everything we’ve discussed in The Chrysalis pertaining to the “culture of narcissism” (Christopher Lasch), the end of the Grand (or Master) Narrative (post-modernity), the crumbling metaphysical foundations of the modern mind and the corresponding breakdown of the mental-rational (or perspectival) consciousness structure (Jean Gebser), the disintegration of the personality and character structure of Modern Man (Rosenstock-Huessy), or “post-truth”, “post-rational”, “post-Enlightement”, and so on, is effectively condensed and encoded in the simple phrase “losing the plot”. All I’ve done in The Chrysalis is, in a sense, try to unwrap what is more deeply encoded by the phrase “losing the plot”.

Most contemporary sociological literature that reflects on the modern crisis is, likewise, simply an attempt to articulate fully what “losing the plot” actually means. In truth, most people neither really understand the words they speak, nor listen carefully to what is actually said. They speak without intention. They hear without attention or deliberation. Intention and attention, though, are the rhythmical dynamics of awareness, mobilised in the form of speaking and listening, expression and impression — the alternating current of human consciousness in its polar aspects. Since we don’t invest much awareness in our speaking and listening acts, the public discourse appears more like a computer programme. That lack of both intention and attention in our common discourse is what largely makes for the culture of narcissism and for what Lewis Mumford and Roderick Seidenberg referred to as “post-historic man”, who is basically an automaton (or what Lewis Yablonsky described as “robopaths“).

The circulation of vital speech in society is of far more importance to the health and welfare of that society than the circulation of money. This is what distinguishes the work of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser, or the “speech thinker” Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, or the media guru Marshall McLuhan. They paid attention to grammatical forms and to the circulation of speech in society for diagnosing the states or structures of consciousness, and whether these were healthy or diseased (in Gebser’s terms “effective” or “deficient”). Basically, what Jean Gebser calls a “structure of consciousness” is a grammar, which Rosenstock-Huessy calls a “matrix”. A structure of consciousness and a grammatical matrix are pretty much interchangeable terms.

We understand that the mental-rational consciousness is, today, in crisis and in the throes of disintegration from diagnosing the its speech patterns. Contemporary discourse is sick with spin, propaganda, lying, duplicity, racism, “post-truth”, “post-rational”, “fake news”, false memory, the “gender wars”, the “echo chamber” and so on. All these may be said to be outgrowths of what Christopher Lasch once described as “the culture of narcissism“, including, of course, nativism and nationalism. All this is summarised in the expression “losing the plot”.

The “plot” was, of course, what is variously called “the Grand Narrative”, the “Metanarrative” or the “Master Narrative” of the Modern Era, and the resultant state of perplexity, disorientation and confusion — if not havoc, mayhem, frenzy, and pandaemonium, and “identity politics” — that goes with the loss of the plot. Everybody senses it even if very few have managed to articulate it. There are now some efforts to articulate a “new story”, including Rosenstock-Huessy’s efforts to articulate a “universal history” of the full human experience of the Earth suitable for a planetary age. One might mention also Brian Swimme’s “Universe Story” as being among these.

Such efforts tie into Jean Gebser’s anticipation of the new, emerging structure of consciousness he calls “integral” or “aperspectival”. We see incipient forms of this new integral consciousness structure in things like “The Overview Effect”.

But it is also taking form in works like Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamics described in his book The Master and His Emissary. In time, linkages will start being made between such things as “global ecology”, Rosenstock-Huessy’s “universal history”, the overview effect, McGilchrist’s neurodynamic investigations, and Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy of integral consciousness. Eventually, these seemingly separate events and episodes will coalesce into a new coherent structure of consciousness — one truly universal and integralist. It will also mean a transformed ego consciousness — a “metanoia” or “New Mind” in Rosenstock-Huessy’s terms — and, in those terms, “identity”.

This “new story” definitely comes into conflict with “the culture of narcissism” and of the primacy of the self-interest as normative, that self-interest being the core value of what we presently understand as the “identity” or the mere “point-of-view” consciousness. And while it’s true we are “losing the plot” — which in Gebser’s terms is the “disintegrative” dynamic of his “double-movement” with all that this implies in terms of apparent madness and insanity — we also see, in formation, a new integration unfolding as well, so that we might speak of “losing the plot” as also a restructuration of values (Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values”) such as truth, reason, logic, space and time, and even a new understanding of “human nature”.

29 responses to “Losing the Plot”

  1. InfiniteWarrior says :

    In a recent conversation regarding the uproar over [a] purported ban at C.D.C. of [certain] words, it was suggested that it is not acceptable to shift words to shift meaning. Yet that is precisely what also predominately preoccupies the emergent, planetary culture at the moment, as exemplified by Monbiot’s Natural Language.

    The very first “story” to pop to mind regarding this phenomenon pertained to the house built on shifting sand.

    They speak without intention. They hear without attention or deliberation.

    The result being that few say what they mean and even fewer mean what they say. There is a term for this: euphemism. And nowhere is the use of euphemism more apparent than the realm of politics, as illustrated in Reich’s latest: 6 Euphemisms for Conduct Unbecoming a President.

    I’ve noted this phenomenon in my own writing in the past: shifts in public discourse from “anti-” this or that to “pro-” this or that to make the concept being conveyed appear more palatable while the meaning of that concept invariably has stayed the same for more than thirty years. I would submit, however, that meaning is conveyed by context. It’s the whole composition that constitutes an opus and not a singular note thereof.

    As long as the “war of (singular) words” continues, I suspect little will change except, perhaps, for the worse. On the bright side, banning, changing or otherwise fiddling with single words should in no way affect our capacities for perception and understanding.

    • Scott Preston says :

      It occurred to me after I posted “Losing the Plot” that I should follow that up with something I planned to entitle “The Internalisation of Propaganda”, which is up my alley. But I’ve postponed that for a bit — but not for too long. It’s precisely in such circumstances of disorientation, perplexity and confusion that propaganda can become deadly. So, maybe tomorrow.

      What I want to end on with this post is the notion that these separate threads I mentioned in the post will, in time, weave together to form a new tapestry, as it were. Right now, though, they are like Gebser’s “seedlings” popping up through the detritus of a civilisation in ruins, or at least fast approaching it.

      I like that metaphor Gebser uses. There’s much more to it, too, than meets the eye.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        That will be an interesting read. It occurs to me, also, that there is a distinction to be made between state, party, etc. “propaganda” and the propagation of knowledge and true or factual information, the line between which has been blurred nearly beyond recognition in the ‘Century of Self’ for obvious reasons. Perhaps a factor in your “internalisation” treatise?

        Again, on the bright side, “the psyche” is not all there is to us. This term has also undergone a reductionist deformation in the modern era. It certainly doesn’t mean “soul” anymore.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I might mention too that there’s a lot of concern about “normalising” Trump or “Trumpism”. But Trump is just the reflection of what has been developing over the last couple of decades as “the New Normal” (reflecting Adam Curtis’s documentary, too, on “Hypernormalisation”). So, in some ways what is being called “Trumpism” has less to do with Trump per se than with this broader context of “the New Normal”. There’s something like a “psychic contagion” spreading through social media.

      So, in that sense, “Losing the Plot” and “the New Normal” are quite interchangeable terms, and this is what is being described in the term “malaise” or “malaise of modernity”.

      Where’s the escape pod?

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        “Escape pods are fake”

        (Couldn’t resist. Apropos to our present circumstances — especially in the sense of a reflection of the present zeitgeist — none of the the escape pods in PREY actually work, as one discovers — quite by accident, if curious enough — in finishing an upload to the billboard orbiting the station begun by an employee ultimately unable to finish the task. Not to worry, anyone. You’d have had to be there to get it.)

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Another cautionary tale about why one should remain skeptical in respect of scientific (particulary techno-science) infallibility.


    • Dwig says :

      This raises an excellent example of language abuse that I’m particularly sensitive to: the conflation of “science” and “engineering”. I like to use the saying “some people see things as they are and ask why; others see things that never were and ask why not?” as a way to see the distinction. Now, of course, “engineering” has fallen into disuse, maybe because it seemed too mundane, while “science” is powerful and sexy. Hearing “rocket scientist” always makes me groan.

      Oversimplifying, this is the basic difference: scientists study what is; engineers seek to change what is. Here’s a classic quote from the article: “At the time, food scientists were trying to come up with an inexpensive way to make that sugar, called trehalose.”. This is engineering — changing, or trying to change the world in specific ways. (The article is also a nice illustration of the tale of the sorcerer’s apprentice.)

      • Scott Preston says :

        Yes, it is a good example of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I think of it in terms of the popular saying “too clever by half”. That’s what we call “hubris”. Or, to put that another way, their reach was longer than their arm.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Same here, Dwig. Bioengineering, especially, is an abuse (and not just of language) to which I’m particularly sensitive. And with the star of the neurosciences on the rise, how long do we suppose it might be before ‘Neuroengineering’ begins to rise along with it, especially if profit is involved?

        Also of particular concern to me is that there are a number of scientists today so preoccupied with defending science, they’re twisting their own logic and grasping at straws to defend absolutely any- and everything that even remotely smells like “science,” as in the case of bioengineering.

        I subscribed to NPR’s Cosmos and Culture for a time thinking it might break open the seal between the scientific community and the public at large until it became evident that most of the scientists participating were engaged solely for that very reason. The worst offender, a Naturalist who compared (as many scientists do) bioengineering with animal husbandry as her “defense” of it eventually left. Now, Adam Frank is the only scientist of the bunch whose opinions I both respect and care to keep up with.

        We’re not the only ones among the public concerned about this. The topic has ranged far and wide, and I’m personally happy to see artists paying close attention to it and actively engaged in imagining the best and worst that could come of such a development as “Neuroengineering.” I am, of course, speaking of the creators of PREY (better it were titled, ‘Neuroshock’) again. It was your comment which reminded of me of a minute detail among a plethora of minute details comprising the environmental storytelling that drives the game: part of an email exchange between Transtar employees that reads very similar to your saying: “You have the mind of an engineer. Good at answering questions, but not asking them.”

        Nothing wrong with having the mind of an engineer, of course. Engineers are among our best and brightest, but that conflation of science and engineering has proven problematic, to say the least. The sciences have their more practical applications, but the purely techno-logical leave much to be desired, namely conscionability.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      First I’ve heard of solar geo-engineering, but remarkably relevant to this conversation: What Happens If We Start Solar Geo-Engineering—And Then Suddenly Stop? [via Adam Frank]

      In a paper released this week in Nature Ecology and Evolution, [Alan Robock] and his colleagues make one argument for why solar geo-engineering could be worse than climate change itself. If humanity were to start solar geo-engineering—and then, decades later, suddenly stop—animals, plants, and ecosystems might suffer more than they would under climate change as usual.

      In other words, solar geo-engineering has the potential to harm Earth’s biodiversity more than letting global warming run its course.

      For ecosystems, everything depends on how quickly climate change occurs. If climate change slowly warms the globe over the course of decades, then animals and plants will have those decades to adjust. This will still be destructive—and, from a geological standpoint, it will count as speedy climate change. The Earth’s natural climate changes—such as the onset of an ice age—take thousands of years to set in.

      But if solar geo-engineers can hold off that temperature rise for decades, before suddenly losing the political or technological capability to do so, then sulfur dioxide would quickly fall out of the atmosphere and global temperatures would skyrocket. Decades of global-warming-induced temperature increase would set in over the course of years. Animals and plants would have even less time to respond to the suddenly scorching planet.

  3. Abdulmunem Othman says :

    A question jumps to my mind, whose plot we are talking about, only to hear a deep voice echoed in my heart saying we have lost the guidance of the divine plot. No matter how we navigate with words in this wide cosmos of ours the first cause ( the first and the last the visible and the invisible ) poses itself as the foundation on which we build our spiritual mansion that incorporate all others faculties, the human endowed with, major among them, is our imagination. We have to call things by their true names and refuse to succumb to any external influences to change our truthful testimony. Life is to please god in abiding by his code of values ( truth and justice ) and not to please this or that institutions. Every one knows when they are lying and no outside knower can know for sure the liar but the one that nothing can escape his attention that is why we are asked to be attentive and to fortified our attention with honest intention. All meanings are coalesced in the divine tapestry A universality that encompasses all the single entities of our cosmos and He is with you wherever you are and at the end of your personal journey you will return to Him. It is not a question of I know, it is a question of I feel, the realm of the pure heart that has captured the chattering of the head.

    • Nicky Gallardo Bijl says :

      Well said! Knowledge through understanding becoming wisdom. It is Alchemy that weds the Sacred Masculine and Feminine. From the most ancient of days all the way to this present day there have been those dedicated few that do the torch bearing. Through the Light of Knowledge alone can we ever hope to come out of the Darkness of Ignorance and escape the state of perpetual chaos.

      Hermes Trismegistus or Thoth, scribe of the gods, in ancient Egypt transcribed to man the Hermetic teachings, which is the foundation for all great schools of esoteric knowledge. Only by committing ourselves to doing the Great Work, especially in these times that people seem to be utterly lost, we join together the Sun and the Moon, Mind and Heart, going from mere intellect to holistic intelligence.

      Each day even greater than the one before I have begun relying on my inner voice which stems from the heart and not the head. I have always been an (over)thinker and would have never thought it possible to be so fulfilled and experience so strongly the presence of Universal Love.

      I am 25 years old and people my age are not at all familiar with ‘the Hidden teachings of all Ages’. Etymology, Symbolism and Gematria (occult numerology) are the three keys one must obtain to enter the inner sanctum of the Temple. Ancient scripture being works of allegory rather than stories to be taken as having taken place in the physical domain.

      The Tarot and Kabbalah, when studied in conjunction as was always intended, are the Book of Life and Tree of Life that offer all the knowledge one needs to understand the path of the soul. From the Fool to the Magician we walk the path of the 10 divine emanations that are structured along the 7 levels of the Tree. The 7 being the gods as archetypes above us in the form of spheres we call planets. These 7 points are the 7 Chakras that have been neglected and forgotten. As Above So Below being one of the 7 Hermetic principles underlying all sacred creation.

      The Bible describing that the Kingdom of God is within. The Temple is the body and with great dedication and persistence we must seek out the Truth so that we may climb Jacob’s Ladder. Jesus the Christ is the Messiah that is thought to make his second entry to ‘save’ us from the Beast we ourselves manifested into the world… In order to be saved one must save him or herself… Awaken the Christ within through the holy Trinity of Love, Truth and Freedom.

      The powers that should not be have, over the course of many a century demanded enormous tolls on the human race in every way perceivable. They withhold the knowledge that we have the birth right to discover. They wield and use it for their own benefit, at the cost of the light in the world becoming more dimmed by the day.

      We need nothing but the Truth, for the Truth will set us free. Knowing our place in the world and that our actions bear consequences that do not go unanswered is the essential wisdom needed to find our way back to the light. We are all children of the living God. A piece of divinity embedded into the being of each of us and always there to guide us if we only dare to distance ourselves from all the distracting and fear feeding elements in our lives and enter the silence.

      Know yourself and you will know God.

      (Apologies for the amount of text, I don’t often get to write it down and found it hard to stop typing, hehe)

      • Scott Preston says :

        No need to apologise. Thanks for the comment. We spend quite a bit of time here at The Chrysalis discussing Hermetic Philosophy and its resurgence today, so quite appropriate.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        The Bible describing that the Kingdom of God is within.

        And among. Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I also among them, etc.

        Among would be where “the celebrat[ion] of the multitudes within” (in Whitman’s words) comes in. After all, “No man is an island unto himself” (in Merton’s words) and it’s pretty obvious “they need to come of one mind” (in Oren Lyon’s words) or — better yet — “one tapestry,” as our host and resident tapestry-weaver recalls.

        Speaking of the difference between self-help and Self-help, this article on the subject unexpectedly came to my attention today: Oprah Winfrey: one of the world’s best neoliberal capitalist thinkers. With #Oprah2020 making the rounds, now might be a good time to consider precisely where Oprah’s (and many others’), life philosophies fall a bit short.

        It bears repeating (as the second article points out) that this is, indeed, far from Oprah’s fault. In fact, I suspect it has much to do with the “internalisation of propaganda” our host mentioned yesterday. Otherwise: Oprah’s great. Oprah is also really — really — lucky to have been helped immensely herself all along the way. If you’re looking for self-help advice, you’d be doing yourself a disfavor to completely overlook Oprah and friends. Quite inspiring, if nothing else. On the other hand, if you’re looking for Self-help advice, seek out the “true lovers” Shams Tabrizi mentioned. Guaranteed, you won’t have ask. They’ll already be of one heart, if not one… tapestry.

  4. John says :

    Are there any further works authored by Gebser and translated into English. All I can find is stuff others have written about him besides the EPO. Have there been any papers by him translated?

  5. Scott Preston says :

    An all-too brief article on biorhythms and the environment. Very suggestive, in terms of the consequences for our own biological functioning of disrupting those environmental rhythms.


  6. Scott Preston says :

    Imagine that you play a character in a novel, or in a film. You’ve rehearsed the role over and over again, have memorised your lines, etc.

    But one day, you go to work and unbeknownst to you, somebody has changed the plot — the screenwriter, the director, the author — and no one has told you, or some other members of the cast. So you rise to do your part, as rehearsed, but everything has changed about the plot. You can imagine your disorientation and perplexity. You might wonder whether you’ve accidentally shown up on the wrong set.

    That’s somewhat akin to the sense of “losing the plot”.

    There is, in fact, a sociological approach called “Dramatism” that treats of social agents as roles and acts (perhaps taking Shakepeare’s idea of “al the world’s a stage” quite literaly). It’s associated with Kenneth Burke, and is sometimes referred to as the philosophy of “symbolic action”.


    It’s very worthwhile. I highly recommend Burke’s work in this respect.

    An associated social philosopher in this approach of “symbolic action” is Hugh Dalziel Duncan, and he’s written a couple of very intriguing books, one called Symbols in Society and the other called Communication and Social Order. I find that both Burke and Duncan complement Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy quite nicely, and even Gebser’s cultural philosophy.

    I should myself probably spend more time on them than I have to date.

  7. Scott Preston says :

    I recommend reading Photek1986’s recent posting on Colin Wilson and his “philosophy of optimism”. Wilson is an author who I’ve yet to read, but he certainly sounds interesting, and quite appropriate for the purposes of The Chrysalis


  8. mlhe says :

    On the deep roots of frequency, vibration, sounds, and words: http://www.sureshemre.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/ontological-semiosis/

  9. davidm58 says :

    White evangelicals – another group that has “lost the plot”

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Somehow I doubt that will have any more effect than the decades-long struggle interior to the Evangelical community itself which precisely mirrors all others between “liberals” and “conservatives” now occuring within every community imaginable, religious and otherwise. Nor will the hundreds of “open letters” now pouring forth from Evangelicals to Evangelicals imploring them to turn from the disastrous path upon which they embarked long ago for the sake of Christianity itself and not particularly liberalism.

      Guaranteed, no “outsider” will make a dent if even the latter cannot. Those cavern walls are far too thick and solid. There aren’t even any “narrow chinks.” Ain’t nothing getting through that.

      We can only hope that when Trump fails spectacularly, they’ll get a clue that their purported “savior” was neither a businessman nor a politician, but the son of a poor carpenter and a wandering desert father engaged in attempting to free people from the very same influences certain Evangelicals, et al, have so willingly embraced.

      Actually, even that probably won’t get through.

      • Scott Preston says :

        I have been thinking quite a bit lately about caves and caverns. Gebser, of course, associates the cave with the magical structure of consciousness, so there’s a certain irony in futuristic scenarios of “domed cities” for example, which despite their “futuristic” image are really a return to the cave.

        The word “paradise” means “a walled enclosure”, thus having some affinity with the idea of the cave — symbolically, security, protection, safety, etc. Walls of all kinds — not just physical but also symbolic walls — recall the cave, but also the structure of consciousness associated with that. Bubbles are caves. In some ways even the “global brain” is a cave.

        Caves are mysterious places — passageways to (and gateways from) the underworld as well.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          In some ways even the “global brain” is a cave.

          It should be noted for the uninitiated that “the global brain” is neither a reference to the Internet nor to human brain function within the “cavern” of the skull, per se. It’s a term coined by Peter Russell.

          He explores the idea that the Earth is an integrated, self-regulating living organism [Gaia Theory] and asks what function humanity might have for this planetary being. It suggests that we stand on the threshold of a major leap in evolution, as significant as the emergence of life itself, and the essence of this leap is inner spiritual evolution.

          The distaste of Gebser, et al, of the term, “evolution,” along with the more mechanistic terms inextricably interwoven (for the moment) into contemporary language, e.g. “function” and “role,” notwithstanding (such terms are easily translated into anyone’s preferred terms), Russell’s “explorations” remain worthy of contemplation, imo.

  10. Charles says :

    Appreciate all the good ideas.

  11. donsalmon says :

    One of my favorite quotes from the 19th century Indian saint Ramakrishna:

    When asked why God allowed evil in the world, he responded, “To thicken the plot.”

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