The phrase “masters and possessors of Nature” belongs to Rene Descartes. There is a strange ambiguity to the meaning of this phrase, but it did nonetheless serve as the marching orders for the European Enlightenment. The ambiguity of the phrase lies in whether you hold that Nature is living, or merely a soulless machinery. And it’s this ambiguity about the meaning of “Nature” that is represented in the Flammarion woodcut entitled Urbi et Orbi (which I’ve discussed in earlier posts in The Chrysalis). It could be said that the woodcut illustrates the ambiguity about the phrase “masters and possessors of Nature”.
The social philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy spent much of his life working towards what he described as “universal history”, which he believed was quite necessary as a basis for a new planetary civilisation. Quite obviously, this project comes up against the problem of what Lewis Mumford and Roderick Seidenberg both refer to as “post-historic man”, who is, in effect, Nietzsche’s “Last Man” too.
Rosenstock-Huessy conceived of his universal history as a way to get over or beyond the implications of Nietzsche’s philosophy (he once described his own social philosophy as “post-Nietzsche”). It must be said, though, that Nietzsche’s maxim “Be true to the Earth!” already implies something of a universal history in vitro anyway — the potential of a meta-history, as it were, of the full human experience of the Earth.
Liberal democracy will not survive the current crisis, so it’s best if we start thinking about what will outrun and outlast the present crisis.
Nietzsche knew that. It’s implicated in his forecast for “two centuries of nihilism”. The triumph of liberal institutions would be simultaneously their downfall, hoist by liberalism’s own inherent self-contradictions. That triumphalism, along with its inherent self-contradictions, came with neo-liberalism and with Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Francis Fukuyama. Neo-liberalism is liberal democracy’s self-contradiction, although few really understand that or why it is so.
Not a great deal of attention has been paid to how this New Testament promise and prophecy — “the meek shall inherit the Earth” — has underwritten much of modern history, and continues to do so in the various flavours of populism, ie, the idea that the “meek” are entitled to the Earth as against the “elites”. That the meek shall inherit the Earth has even come to be seen as an entitlement or as an historical inevitability, both of left-wing and right-wing populisms, as God’s promise to those who labour and suffer under tyrannies.
Nietzsche mocked the whole idea that “the meek shall inherit the Earth”. He dismissed it as being vile herd sentiment or “slave mentality”, rooted in the psychology of resentment. He is somewhat right about that. But Nietzsche was also a philologist, and must surely have known that the meaning of “meek” had (like the words “value” and “virtue”) had undergone an inversion from the original meanings. Words have biographies as people have biographies, and also undergo “mutations”. “Meek” doesn’t mean what most people merely think it means. But a lot of people still invest almost all their hopes for the future in it.
“What Cambridge Analytica has tried to sell is magic.” — Aleksandr Kogan in The Guardian.
Carleton University in Ottawa is recruiting for a “resident magician”, someone with deep and practical knowledge of “perception and deception” or illusionism.
Rationalists, of course, would scoff at this. But it’s the great vulnerability of the mental-rational consciousness that it denies the efficacy of magic as mere superstition, even when we acknowledge matters like placebo and nocebo effects as real. “Perception management” implies magic. Even the words “fascism” and “grammar” have ancient meanings associated with spell-casting or web-spinning (“fascination” and “glamour” are related words respectively). The Latin word “fascinum”, besides referring to binds or the binding power, also meant an “enchantment” or “spell”. Kogan’s error here is assuming that magic is ineffective or superstition, and that Cambridge Analytica was peddling snake oil, when the only real question is whether perception management is effective.
Renewable energy has reached something of a milestone lately. In some jurisdictions, it has become competitive with, or even cheaper than, fossil fuels. It is anticipated that in a short couple of years, renewable energy will become even cheaper.
With the decline of the centrality of fossil fuels will go certain ways of life that depended upon fossil fuel consumption — those ways of life being collectively covered by the term “culture”. In fact, a lot of people, explicitly or implicitly, even seem to treat the term “civilisation” as being synonymous with a fossil fuel dependent culture, so the waning of that fossil fuel dependent culture and its associated ways of life becomes a cause for high anxiety. Even their “identity” as such is bound up with that fossil fuel culture, and their sense of “power”, as such, connected with a sense of having control of those resources.
Last evening I began reading in Hans Christian von Baeyer’s book Information: The New Language of Science, which had been sitting unread on my bookshelf since it’s publication in 2003. (It was also reviewed at that time in The Guardian). Given the crisis of information/disinformation today, it seemed especially timely to delve into it. (And I might recommend in connection with that, Paul Watzlawick’s How Real is Real?: Confusion, Disinformation, Communication (1977) as a prescient, and today extremely relevant, text in information science).
Since this is the “Information Age” (which is, ironically, turning out to be the Disinformation Age as well) it’s worth taking a look at what people are thinking about this. So, along with von Baeyer’s and Watzlwick’s books, I would also include Theodore Roszak’s “neo-luddite” book The Cult of Information. Each has its strengths, and each has its weaknesses.