Life Inside the Global Brain: Nationalism and Transnationalism
In a faux pas now become somewhat infamous, a hapless Flat Earther once boasted that they had “members all around the globe”. A good many people were entertained and bemused by this overt expression of cognitive dissonance and seeming stupor.
This kind of cognitive dissonance and self-contradiction is far from rare these days. It’s not only a feature of the so-called “New Normal”, but a symptom of the disintegration of the personality and character structure of Modern Man. But while it is that, too, it is also anecdotal of what Gebser calls “the double-movement” of the times or what Jacob Bronowski described as “the crisis of paradox”
In effect, though, a Flat Earther declaring a fellowship of believers “all around the globe” isn’t much different than the equally infamous remark by a US marine officer that became iconic of the futility of the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it, sir”. It’s been pretty much downhill ever since.
A great deal of the current pandaemonium and of the mayhem of the affects (or “chaotic emotion”, as Gebser calls it) is just these self-contradictions and cognitive dissonances now intensifying and working themselves out, where they begin to manifest as symptoms of “the New Normal” — that is, what I also call our own “four riders of the apocalypse” named Double-Think, Double-Talk, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind. That’s another mysterious tetrad.
I began musing again on this — and on issues of anxiety and nostalgia as symptoms of our malaise — upon reading an article in The Guardian by Elif Shafak about some of the implicit ironies of the right-wing intellectuals. This is not surprising. Irony, ironic reversal, and crisis are very frequently (if not always) soulmates, since irony and ironic reversal is this very matter of self-contradiction and cognitive dissonance. A couple of books have been written about this association of irony and crisis, but I have not found them all-too insightful about why ironic ages arise in the first place.
If, as Marshal Berman also declares, in his excellent book All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, that today “everything is pregnant with its opposite”, that is also just another statement about the New Normal and about cognitive dissonance and self-contradiction.
This same malaise of cognitive dissonance is also charcteristic of fascistic and neo-fascistic movements, and part of that is the nature of our current milieu — life inside the Global Brain, also a feature of the Anthropocene. The Global Brain constitutes a transnational space — called “cyberspace” — which is not only the manifested form of Einstein’s original spacetime unification, but as something even alien and antithetical to nationalism.
What the Global Brain has also facilitated is this — that people who share certain soulful affinities for one another, yet are from quite different cultures, creeds, nationalities, religions, ethnicities, can now find each other through the World Wide Web who then found their own “cybernations”, as it were — transnational communities of common interest or communities of shared affinities. Contemporary ultranationalist and neo-fascistic movements do the same — decrying “globalism” or “universalism” as its antithesis and enemy even while forming their own transnationalist communities within the Global Brain. So, ironically, Hindu ultranationalists, and Buddhist ultranationalists and Christian ultranationalists can meet up with each other in these global transnationalist communities within the shared cyberspaces of the Global Brain.
There is nothing more self-contradictory and ultimately self-defeating than the idea of a “Universal Fascism”. This same cognitive dissonance afflicts also the right-wing intellectuals mentioned by Shafak. There is quite a bit of pretense and cognitive dissonance involved here, and no one likes that their diseased pudenda are exposed behind a fig-leaf of moral virtue and rectitude. But that’s what’s happening. These supposed self-appointed guardians and upholders of “Enlightenment” values and principles are also quite adept at, at the same time, denying their validity.
Mostly, what is involved in this self-contradiction are the twin devils of anxiety and nostalgia — anxiety as regards the future and nostalgia for a supposed past simpler and more innocent Golden Era. In other words, these describe what Rosenstock-Huessy calls “trajective” and “prejective” moods correspondingly, and they are, indeed, symptoms of a culture in deep crisis.
Nostaligism, though, is quite typical of the old. It can be, then, an indication of civilisational decadence and debilitation — a sense of the exhaustion of its vigour and youth and capacity for any further real creativity. In that sense, both anxiety and nostalgia are deficient responses to crisis.
Of course, just saying so won’t alleviate the conditions of life in “the New Normal”. Nostalgia and anxiety are quite irrational forces and usually don’t respond to reasoning in any case, so the hideous things usually have to play themselves out and finally succumb to their own self-contradictions and cognitive dissonance, or find a way to transcend themselves. This is where we touch on the real meaning of “faith” as the power to endure and transcend. The faith of “a grain of mustard seed” or of “the lilies of the valley” has very little to do with belief, does it?
The popularity of these right-wing intellectuals is due to the fact that they have tapped into these moods of both anxiety and nostalgia, which can be a quite deadly combination of affects, which can also prevent and inhibit the necessary future from arriving at all.
But the fact that, in the Anthropocene, we have one foot in the nation-state and another in cyberspace and in transnational communities within the “Global Brain” is probably certainly a key element of our present cognitive dissonance.
But that means, too, that in many ways present self-contradiction, cognitive dissonance, and matters like “symbolic belief” may also point to the crisis of consciousness posed by the re-emergence of what McGilchrist calls “the Master” mode of attention, also coincident with the crisis and disintegration of the “Emissary” mode. This new conception of human nature has also risen to prominence with the Global Brain and the Anthropocene, to my mind, illustrating the meaning of that remark by the German poet Hölderlin, that “where the danger is greatest, there lies the saving power also”.
Which is why I think we should pay more attention to what Iain McGilchrist is saying than to what Jordan Peterson and the like are saying. If we are not to fall totally to pieces, as we currently seem to be doing, we’ll have to rely more and more on new inspirations arising from the more holistic vision of “the Master”. Any resolution of our current malaise must come from the Emissary’s admission that it is quite impotent and incompetent alone to resolve the dilemmas, crises and impasses of the “New Normal”, and that no “12 rules of life” are going to restore it’s coherence or it’s hegemony over what is to be considered “human nature”.
As to what “human nature” is, well… McGilchrist’s “Master” has other ideas about that.