Hypernormalisation and “The New Normal”

Duplicity is the currency of the day

Pope Francis

If you have ever watched Adam Curtis’s documentary film “Hypernormalisation” (2016), you’ll have a pretty good idea of what is meant, too, by the phrase “New Normal” and why many think of it as a near global pandemic of “the Crazies”. It drives many people to despair because the “New Normal” does seem like the overture or prelude to a global disaster. It almost certainly is that. It is part and pracel of Nietzsche’s earlier forecast of “two centuries of nihilism”.

The phrase “the New Normal” also arose coincident with terms like “post-truth” or “post-rational” (and pretty much “post-everything-else”). I have frequently cited Pope Francis’s accurate assessment of the “New Normal” — duplicity normalised — as the four diseases of Double-Think, Double-Talk, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind. These are the symptoms we identify with what Jean Gebser describes as the “double-movement” and chaotic transition.

(This is definitely NOT how the editors of “Fast Company” understand it).

Although the term “New Normal” only came into vogue after the turn of the millennium, it was long in preparation. There was a growing uneasiness with the course of events as far back as the late 19th century (as we’ve explored in earlier posts on the history of the New Normal). The pre-conditions were long in development before anyone came along to recognise and to announce that we were now denizens of a different Era — of something called “the New Normal”.

In other words, the phrase “New Normal” is a really the equivalent of what Jean Gebser also anticipated as the “perspectival” or “mental-rational consciousness structure” decaying or disintegrating into its “deficient mode” of functioning. That means, basically, that this particular structure of consciousness we refer to as “the Modern Mind” is succumbing to its own (till now) latent or suppressed self-contradictions which now irrupt as “cognitive dissonance”, “symbolic belief”, or “duplicity” and which leave the impression that civilised society is collapsing in a epidemic of hypocrisy, or the reign of “the Shadow” and a new Dark Age.

The Wikipedia entry for “New Normal” states that the term came into use after the 2007-2008 market meltdown, which is quite untrue. I first came across it in a speech given to the Republican Governors Association by then US Vice-President Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney in October 2001

Homeland security is not a temporary measure just to meet one crisis. Many of the steps we have now been forced to take will become permanent in American life. They represent an understanding of the world as it is, and dangers we must guard against perhaps for decades to come. I think of it as the new normalcy.

Then again, in 2003, Robert Cooper published a very influential foreign policy book entitled The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century which specifically advocated for a “normalisation of the double-standard”, apparently oblivious to the self-contradiction that such “normalisation” of duplicity would induce the very chaos it was intended to alleviate. (Then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was, for one, very much influenced by Sir Robert Cooper’s book, and neo-conservative historian Niall Ferguson quickly followed suit with his own rationalisations for the normalisation of the double-standard, as did Robert Kaplan in his 2003 book Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Requires a Pagan Ethos, which was explicitly fascistic).

For my part, I tend to see the beginnings of the “New Normal” with neo-liberalism and especially in Margaret Thatcher’s early 70s pronouncement that “there is no such thing as society” and “there is no alternative”. Few seem to appreciate, still, the depth of nihilism that is encapsulated in those statements. It is not, I think, coincidence that the two nations today most in the throes of decoherence — Britain and the United States — are the lands of Thatcherism and Reaganomics, and of neo-liberal economic theorists like Friedrich Hayek in the case of Thatcher, or Milton Friedman and “the Chicago School” in the case of Reaganomics. This is not simply coincidence. This is blowback.

If society is a webwork of mutual responsibilities and mutual obligations, Thatcher’s denial of “society” began the work of unraveling that webwork of mutual responsibilities. That was even explicit in Milton Friedman’s work, in which corporations had no social responsibilities, only obligations to its shareholders. The market meltdown of 2007-8 would appear to be a inevitable consequence of such a faulty and narrow-minded logic. And it is sufficient to account for why neo-liberalism is shot through with self-contradictions that are now working their way to the surface.

Without an appreciation of society as a network of mutual responsibilities, you have only naked self-interest as political principle and guide, and a descent of society into a kind of war of all against all. Since society cannot cohere or survive such conditions, it will necessarily revert to an authoritarian or totalitarian system of surveillance and control. That’s the most grievous self-contradiction of neo-liberal economics. That, which we have called “ironic reversal”, is the process also described by Jung as “enantiodromia” or reversal of polarities at the extremity. This is also what was described in Marshall Berman’s 1980 book All That is Solid Melts Into Air, where he observed, even in his time, that “everything is pregnant with its opposite”, or that Daniel Bell noted in his 1976 book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, or Christopher Lasch in his 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism. There are many other books from this period in the 70s that observed the earliest overt manifestations of that which we today call “the New Normal”.

It’s not as though we weren’t forewarned about all this. But when Francis Fukuyama published his “End of History” thesis in 1990, I was quite shaken by that. Not only did it simply seem to ignore all those forewarnings, but sealed our fate, and slammed shut the window of opportunity we needed to take to alter course. We had become trapped in and by the consequences of our own deficient logic of development.

Or, as Agent Smith declared to Neo in The Matrix — it had the sound of “inevitability”

The “New Normal” means, that our civilisation has been overtaken by its own, till now, latent or repressed self-contradictions, which are returning with the “return of the repressed” as the basic theme of the twentieth century.

I have described that in terms of the four diseases of Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind — our own “four riders of the apocalypse”. As four aspects or facets of duplicity (or of what has also been termed “21st century schizoid man”), they have a peculiar relationship to one another, and for a good reason. They map to Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral logic as illustrated in his “cross of reality”, which describes as society’s space-time configuration, or arrangement of the times and spaces.

Rosenstock-Huessy’s new grammatical paradigm

Double-Think and Double-Talk relate to one another as inner and outer or subjective and objective spaces, while Double-Standard and Double-Bind relate to one another as past and future, or “trajective” and “prejective” times. Taken together as four facets of “the New Normal”, they describe the near total decoherence, decay, and disintegration of society’s “cross of reality” — the dissolution of the bonds between these four spacetime fronts.

Those bonds between the four fronts of space and time are what is described by the “network” or “web” of mutual responsibilities.

The ideal human being is the one who embodies all four and who is, in effect, a mandala in those terms. That’s, basically, what is meant by the “fourfold Atman” or Blake’s “fourfold vision” or Rosenstock-Huessy’s “multiformity of man”. Some describe this as the ability to “switch perspectives”, but it is more than that. My indigenous friends say that the ideal man or woman is he or she who “speaks from the centre of the voice”. That’s a lovely phrase. It’s the centre of the Sacred Hoop or the “Cross of Reality”, which are quite similar. That’s the integral and integrating centre. To “speak from the centre of the voice” is the antithesis of duplicity. It is to articulate and integrate, and to restore the integrity or wholeness of the world.

Sacred Hoop /Medicine Wheel

There is a great deal we can learn about the fourfold from Sacred Hoop teachings. The “centre of the voice” is the centre of this cruciform structure, which is also coincident with Gebser’s “ever-present origin” and which is equivalent to Rosenstock-Huessy’s conception of the origin of grammatical speech, also. “The cistern contains. The Fountain overflows” (Blake). In these terms, the “cistern” is the quadrilateral structure or form, while the “Fountain” is origin, and is the centre of this structure. This centre is what Gebser calls “the diaphainon“. And in those terms, the arms of the cross of reality or cruciform structure, as mandala form, would also be the articulations of the diaphainon as the four realised civilisational types or “consciousness structures” as well — archaic, magical, mythical, mental-rational. Equally, either as Blake’s “four Zoas” of “Albion divided fourfold” or as the Buddha and his “Guardians of the Four Directions”, or Christ on the Cross as the tetramorph, surrounded by the four Evangelists — Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

But, we’ve discussed all that before.

To sum up, then, the “New Normal” has been described in many different ways, as “crisis”; as “the double-movement” of disintegration and integration; as “chaotic transition”, as an epidemic of mass madness; as the normalisation of duplicity, and so on. What it amounts to is the breakdown and potential collapse of the bonds between inner and outer, past and future that form the “cross of reality” or the Sacred Hoop — a breakdown of the time and space fronts that make for what we call a “social order” or a “consciousness structure”. There is also a dissonance in the human fourfold — a loss of integrity between mind, body, soul, and spirit.

But it is also true that, under such circumstances, there is also an intensification and marshalling of the creative forces to counteract the diabolical and destructive tendencies.

4 responses to “Hypernormalisation and “The New Normal””

  1. O Society says :

    Thanks Scott. The person who is agitated about this issue at the moment describes himself as autistic savant or Asperger… something on this spectrum.

    Anyway, he states he’s read thousands of books, but I do not know whether or not he watches YouTube videos. So here’s a reading list to go with the HyperNormalization video for folks who prefer reading.


  2. Scott Preston says :

    Time and tech — an interesting talk given by Venkatesh Rao about what technology (old and new) is doing to our sense of time, and basically how this relates to what I wrote earlier about the post-modern condition being very much the demise of the Clockwork paradigm. This talk by Rao might be helpful in appreciating how this is transpiring.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Besides invoking Heraclitus with his talk here, there are two books I might recommend to help make sense of what Rao is alluding to here about tech, time, chaos, and death. Of course, much of this was anticipated by Marshall McLuhan earlier, and McLuhan’s work on media is very worthwhile reading to gauge what is happening to our consciousness in the age of digital tech.

      But the two books that leap to mind are Aurobindo’s *The Human Cycle*, in which Aurobindo also writes about an “Age of Subjectivism*, as we see it in Rao’s talk about subjective ‘stream of consciousness’ time, and the potential here for chaos as “objective time” of “hard synchronisation” is displaced by “subjective time” or “soft synchronisation”. The go-to book to appreciate this is Ilya Prigogine’s *Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature*, which I consider one of the most important books published in the last century.

      Both books would be helpful in getting at what Rao is saying here about time.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Not sure atemporality is quite the right to word to describe the “chaotic” aspect. Irtemporality, perchance? “Reality” unfurls (or unfolds) in time and space, but its origins are atemporal or “eternal,” as many of us know the “atemporal.”

        Would you agree?

        PS Is “aspacial” a word yet? “Home is,” after all, “where the heart is,” as they say. Ergo, anywhere we are is home.

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