Identity Politics and History

For the last few posts, we’ve been probing for the meaning of the phrase “the collapse of reality”, and how this “collapse of reality” might also relate to Rolf Jensen’s influential bestseller The Dream Society: How The Coming Shift From Information to Imagination Will Transform Your Business, (and to an apparent spin-off of that called “marketing 3.0” or “spiritual branding”). We’ve also made note of the paradox and ambiguity in the phrase “collapse of reality” (and attendant “chaos” or “chaotic transition”), for in many respects it could be equally said of what is happening in quantum physics and even history.

So before I continue with my critique of The Dream Society and its contribution to the collapse of reality, I want to speak to this other aspect of the collapse of reality, as also being an aspect of what Jean Gebser called the paradoxical “double-movement” of our times — a time of disintegration coincident with a new integration. Therein lies the paradox and the double-meaning of the phrase “collapse of reality” or the irony and ambiguity resident in Karl Marx’s observation (explored by Marshall Berman in a book by that title available online) that “all that is solid melts into air”.

I was reminded of this ambiguity upon reading an interview with historian James Loewen on American National Public Radio about his book Lies My Teacher Told Me, about the “weaponisation of history”, or the fraudulent representation of history which I will refer to as “mytho-history”. This also has some bearing on Jensen’s “dream society” in terms of the commodification and marketing of myth, magic, fantasy and fairy-tale. In some respects, Mr. Jordan Peterson also appears to be a “dream society” agent in respect of peddling mytho-history as well. Steven Pinker has also been accused of doing the same with his Enlightenment Now.

By the phrase “mytho-history” I do not mean to denigrate the truths of myth or of history. The phrase “mytho-history” is meant to highlight what Gebser often describes as the mutual corruption of distinct modes of consciousness through a deficient synthesis, whereby both become deficient where myth is the artifact of the mythical structure of consciousness, and history is the artifact of the mental-rational or perspectival structure of consciousness. And the same may be said of any mere “synthesis” of the magical and the mental-rational as well whereby both are corrupted. It needs to be re-iterated that integral consciousness is not a synthesis.

Almost every nation has its “mytho-history” that supports its national identity, and that mytho-history is usually a product of bad faith and bad conscience — velation rather than revelation. For example, Canada recently has had to undergo a rather painful taking stock of its own “mytho-history” as regards relations with indigenous peoples, as a result of revelations about the real history of matters like the residential school system –, shown to be more destructive than instructive — and the real history of settler-indigenous relations. This is something I was involved with personally as a consultant to the Aboriginal Healing Project a while ago, and which contributed to my interest in different “consciousness structures”.

There was definitely a nationalistic and quite ethnocentric backlash to the exposure of the mytho-history as fraudulent, since it was also threw into doubt the sincerity and authenticity of what we call “the national identity”, which is something that the sociologist David Loy refers to as “the Wego”, and connected with what Owen Barfield calls “the collective representations”. With mytho-history, the collective representations are really fraudulent or what Loewen calls lies. Even the denial that such reactionary “nationalism” has anything to do with “identity politics” or “political correctness” is itself fraudulent. If you begin scrutinising or calling into question the collective mytho-history, you’re also calling into question the authenticity of the national identity. So any deconstruction of the mytho-history in order to liberate identity from all “amalgamate false natures”, as Rosenstock-Huessy once put it, is probably going to be accompanied by a lot of “shooting the messenger”.

The “truth that sets free” always comes like an apocalypse — as a “shattering truth” or revelation, so it can often be quite painful or anxiety provoking. To be made aware that you really aren’t who you thought you were — and have to accept that honestly — can be very traumatic and disorienting, but also a potential movement towards authentic and real self-discovery and realisation. A lot of denialism and what is called “symbolic belief” (or “double-think”) is simply the refusal to scrutinise the roots of our identity and test them for their authenticity and veracity.

In those terms, a lot of what today is dismissed as “identity politics” is actually a recovery and reclamation of the truth of history from its falsification as mytho-history, especially as regards minorities or women’s history.  Loewen gives a pretty good example of his shock at realising how his young black students had appropriated the mytho-history as their own identity, and of course, the reaction to his attempts to help liberate their awareness from that mytho-history and “amalgamate false natures”. Not surprising that a very similar mytho-history was taught indigenous children in the Indian Residential Schools.

So this dissolution of the spell of mytho-history (it belongs, after all, to the phenomenon of “perception management”) can be liberating, but that also comes with some attendent dangers of its own — that your now clear-eyed perception of the truth of history will become itself a mytho-history, and just another narrow “point-of-view” dissociated from the “big picture view”, as they say. That is, how your particular stream of history also feeds the story of universal human or even life’s history as well. Or, put another way, how your personal identity relates to that greater identity of which it is an individualised expression. No one’s identity is ever fixed once and for all time. Identity is always fluid, malleable, changeable, contingent, conditional, transient, and needs to be so. “‘The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.” (Blake). Reptiles of the mind is not only a pretty good description of “chaotic emotion”, but of the alter-ego of Athena, too — the Gorgon. Perhaps also of the so-called “Lizard Brain”.

A major part of our contemporary crisis is that in our pursuit of our narrow “identities” we’ve lost the capacity to identify with life as a whole. It’s true isn’t it? The Modern Mind, having become mechanical, robotic, machine-like, its thinking is no longer identified with life and the life-process — which is what we call “alienation” or “dissociation”. This is the great concern of people like Mumford, Gebser, Rosenstock-Huessy and others. It’s also the reason for Nietzsche’s “Dionysian” and his appeal “become what you are” and “be true to the Earth”. It’s also the meaning of the Emissary’s “usurpation” in McGilchrist’s neurodynamic model. Identity which has become dissociated and alienated from the life process as a whole becomes destructive of that life process. That’s quite evident in matters like “sixth extinction event”, or climate change, or environmental devastation.

The phrase “collapse of reality” can also have this connotation of a revelation, and therewith too a loss of identity, which can be preparatory to the discovery of new potentialities of consciousness and for the “identity” — in fact the greater identity as the conscious integration of thinking with the life-process.

We must remain cognisant of the ambiguities and paradoxes of the double-movement, particularly as regards ‘the collapse of reality’ too, and part of that — an important part of that — is the reclamation of the truths of the past from “amalgamate false natures” or “mytho-history”. This is, after all, also the meaning of Gebser’s work in The Ever-Present Origin, isn’t it? You can’t read his book with understanding without having your “identity” changed by it, can you? You are far more than your personal identity, far more than your gender identity, far more than your ethnic identity, far more than your national identity, far more than even your animal nature or your human identity.

Why settle for so little?



2 responses to “Identity Politics and History”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    The way to think about identity is Lennon’s metaphor of the glass onion. That’s a great metaphor, actually, for Gebser’s symbol of the sphere and for diaphaneity or “the transparency of the world”, too.

    Each layer of the glass onion can be considered an identity, as described in the post. You see the whole shebang represented in the glass onion. But then comes the great mystery — who is it who is seeing the whole shebang, the entirety of the glass onion?

  2. Scott Preston says :

    This is quite an interesting take on the history of neo-liberalism in the US, and of interest to me, too, because of the penchant for Canadian Conservatives to ape and mimic the politics of the GOP (in fact, they seem to collaborate)

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