The New Normal and Altered States

One day I’m going to write a story about how a Canadian media platform, an obscure cult, a Silicon Valley billionaire, pro-Trump media, and a bunch of fascist evangelizers got together and tried to bring about total societal anomie so they could construct your new reality.

Caroline Orr

Caroline Orr is a first rate propaganda analyst, and probably the rightful successor to Noam Chomsky in that respect. I’m sure that this would make for a very interesting read. Nonetheless, I don’t think we can blame the current “societal anomie” entirely on bad faith actors, who strike me more as being symptoms and effects rather than causes. They aren’t entirely the authors of “the New Normal”.

“Societal anomie” is, however, a very good description of the New Normal as being what we also might call an “altered state” (and much like a very bad trip presently). And since we’ve just come off a short series of posts on Sheldrake’s ideas about “Morphic Fields”, we can describe such an altered state as a disturbance of the Morphic Field, which would make it somewhat equivalent to what Gebser calls “a structure of consciousness”. In our case, this is the structure of consciousness Gebser calls “the mental-rational” or “perspectival” or simply what we refer to as “the Modern Mind”.

As we examined somewhat in the previous post, the “New Normal”, which we may also call “the crisis of the individual”, has been in formation since at least the end of the 19th fin de siecle (and anticipated by William Blake even earlier). There were already signs of a disturbance in the functioning of Modern consciousness in the late 19th century that led to the “discovery of the unconscious” in what were described as “the psychopathology of everyday life”. We already see this “crisis of the individual” foreshadowed in the work of Robert Louis Stevenson (Jekyll and Hyde), in Nietzsche, and in Yeats, and in the peculiar fact that, according to Dr. Iain McGilchrist, the mental malady of schizophrenia was unknown before the Industrial Revolution. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy traces it back even further, to its origins in Cartesian metaphysical dualism and the “mind-body” dichotomy.

There was, as we’ve noted, even an entire series of essays on the problem of “the crisis of the individual” published in Commentary Magazine just after the Second World War, too, where twelve leading thinkers of the day were invited to comment on the crisis (one of the most outstanding being Waldo Frank’s “The Central Problem of Modern Man”). So, this is a crisis that has been brewing and festering for some few generations already and which has now come to a head as “the New Normal” of what also has been called “21st century schizoid man”.

An essential aspect of the crisis, then, lies in the radical dichotomisation of the individual and the collective, as Gebser remarks in the opening pages of his great work The Ever-Present Origin, that is characteristic of dualistic logic (and his opening chapter entitled “Fundamental Considerations” is fortunately posted online). Gebser’s remarks on this condition were written up coincident with Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s own thoughts on the crisis published in an essay entitled “Farewell to Descartes” (also available online), and I would dare say that reading these two essays (and perhaps Frank’s as well) will provide you with a pretty good understanding of the precursor conditions for the present irruption of “the New Normal” and to the drivers behind this “societal anomie” that has now become a full-scale crisis of the Age and the civilisation, also manifesting as Bronowski’s “crisis of paradox” or in the dynamics of what Jean Gebser calls “the double-movement” — a metamorphosis.

As I’ve posted earlier, we can describe this “New Normal” in many ways, but for me the chief features of it are four: Double-Think, Double-Talk, Double-Standard, Double-Bind, all four being described by the word “duplicity”, “cognitive dissonance”, “hypocrisy”, “self-contradiction”, and so on which attests to the disintegration and decoherence of the personality and character structure of the Modern Mind that is precisely what is meant by “21st century schizoid man” or as Lasch’s “culture of narcissism”.

For convenience of understanding, then, we’ll describe the “New Normal” as an “Altered State”, producing a condition of “societal anomie”, which is very equivalent to what Charles Taylor has described as “The Malaise of Modernity” and the crisis of the modern “Self” (also broadcast as “The Massey Lectures” on the CBC Ideas series.)

The term “malaise” is pretty much equivalent to Durkheim’s term “anomie, and is also equivalent to the Buddhist word “dukkha“. So Buddhist sociologist David Loy’s works, especially his essay “The Suffering System” is another way of approaching exactly this same issue of “societal anomie”.

This New Normal as “altered state” has also been called The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh.

We have also, in The Chrysalis, associated this New Normal with the “return of the repressed”, which, like the “death of God”, is also very much implicated in the crisis of the individual, so that what we call “New Normal” is strongly associated with the irruption of the Jungian “Shadow” and Shadow psychology. The theme of the whole of the last century was, in my judgement, “the return of the repressed”, and that includes “the Black Sun” or what Gary Lachman has called “the Dark Star” in his bookDark Star Rising. So, all this really hangs together despite the appearance of “chaos” or “chaotic emotion” and the pandaemonium of the affects.

I’ve compared this “altered state” then to the Nigredo phase of the Hermetic transmutation or metamorphosis, that Nigredo phase being symbolised by the Black Sun — putrefaction, decay, disintegration that symbolises death and chaos. And God knows we are in it right now as also Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism”.

Alchemical Black Sun

But, as also pointed out, the Nigredo phase in the transmutation of the base metal into gold is a necessary stage towards this….. the Rebis or the “completion” which is the ideal of the Hermetic transmutation. This is an image of the reintegrated “Self”, which might be said to be the Western ideal of the Tao and the reconciliation of the contraries beyond dualism. So the Nigredo phase is the phase called “passage through the crucible”, the crucible being the site of the effective transmutation or mutation. This is also symbolised by the chrysalis stage of the caterpillar in its process of changing into a butterfly.

Rebis. The hieros gamos.

So, in one way or another, the writers we have explored in The Chrysalis — Blake, Nietzsche, Gebser, Rosenstock-Huessy, Jung — all knew this Nigredo phase and were quite concerned that we come to understand it as well as a mutative phase and a transitional phase. It is fully the equivalent of Nietzsche’s own “stare into the abyss”, which he anticipated would be our own entire collective experience as his “two centuries of nihilism” by which the consciousness structure of Modern Man would fall apart from its own inherent self-contradictions, yet also on its way to the new entity called “transhuman”, very much the equivalent of Blake’s “Albion” or Aurobindo’s “supramental consciousness”, which is represented in “The Rebis” symbol.

In the circumstances, then, I think Sheldrake’s idea of “morphic fields” and “altered states” or Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” and their history and evolution are very helpful indeed for also understanding Blake’s “four Zoas” of the human being divided fourfold. And it can be quite beneficial to know that we can get through this horrible time without losing our marbles by knowing what it is and how it develops and what are its roots and its dynamics. We are definitely moving now towards this more holistic and integral possibility symbolised by The Rebis, but it comes with risk of failure too.

“The point of no return” is paradoxical one. Our disintegration may be total, in which case the Earth and all life upon it will perish. On the other hand, it may mean a complete transformation, or what is called “a new heaven and a new Earth”, and that also is a point of no return. The Buddhists have a lovely parable about this: the dharma is a raft, the raft is to carry you across of the river of samsara and samsaric existence. Once you cross over, why would you carry around the heavy raft on your back?

And if you understand that parable, you’ll also understand the meaning of Blake’s “One Law for the Lion & the Ox is Oppression”.

5 responses to “The New Normal and Altered States”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    By the way, it is precisely in this state of the crucilbe, and the Nigredo, that Gebser’s remark is most poignant, that everything depends on “knowing when to let happen, and knowing when to make happen” to ensure an effective metamorphosis or transmutation. One has to submit to the passage through the nigredo without submission, if that makes any sense, without abandoning oneself to it. Fascism is basically abandoning oneself to the nigredo — the Black Sun. It means, really, loss of faith, because its faith that pulls us through the “stare into the abyss” or the nigredo.

    It’s all a matter of timing — of doing and saying things at the right time, which is the crucial time. That already requires something akin to David Bohm’s “proprioception” or Gebser’s “aperspectival” or intuitive consciousness. This matter of timing was very crucial, too, to Rosenstock-Huessy’s thoughts on social transformation.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    I found this story in The Guardian to be quite interesting: “Being Human” as presented by the Wellcome Collection gallery, which has divided the exhibition into four themes — a not insignificant detail in my view.

    Plus the “astronaut refugee” at the centre of it.

  3. O Society says :

    What I find fascinating is different people coming to similar conclusions from different starting points. For instance, Scott and I never heard of each other until a year ago or whatnot, he’s reading this Gebser stuff and I am reading Zhuangzi, and when we compare notes, we end up with similar conclusions about authoritarianism being the main issue of the day and there being some sort of rather monumentally significant cultural change (Anthropocene, etc not really sure what to call it just yet but it is certainly a transformation of some sort) going on right now as we speak.

    In other words, we’re in an Eastern Western movie… and we’re somewhere in the bit where all the gunfighters are in Dodge City… and no one quite knows who’s going to start the gunfire and who’s going to be left standing or what Dodge City will look like after, but you’d have to be the Village Idiot drunk in the saloon not to notice The New Normal is come to town.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Blake, mainly. My main pursuit in life has been Blake — understanding the meaning of “fourfold vision”, and that’s also what I found articulated well in Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy.

      I prefer the term “metanomics” to “metaphysics”, and I think this is the direction we must go. I would describe Blake’s vision as “metanomical” and as a sound foundation for replacing Cartesian metaphysics — dualism. So I prefer not to speak of “metaphysics” so much as “metanomics” — a term coined by Rosenstock-Huessy for this.

      I was just looking up how Rosenstock-Huessy defined this, and came across this passage in his “Farewell to Descartes” which I think explains the difference well,

      “Never did mankind acquire a common knowledge by storing it away in libraries. Tell me, however, that you are willing to experience your life as a sentense in humankind’s autobiography, tell me how far you share responsibility with the blunderers of the past, and when you have shown me to what extent you are capable of identification with the rest of mankind, I shall know whether your knowledge is survival knowledge, “metanomics” of society as a whole, or merely your private metaphysics.” — (p. 19 of I Am An Impure Thinker).

      in the previous page, Rosenstock-Huessy describes his “metanomics” as fulfilling Nietzsche’s requirement for “gay science”. So there’s the connection between Nietzsche and Rosenstock-Huessy, despite the latter describing his own social philosophy as “post-Nietzschean”.

      So, fairly clear distinction here between metanomics and metaphysics, and between the fourfold and the dualistic.

      • Steve says :

        Scott… Thomas Merton wrote his Masters Thesis on William Blake. Google Merton and William Blake and you will find much.

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