Double-Bind and “21st Century Schizoid Man”

The circumstances of life in Late Modernity, and the transition between Ages, place everyone in a situation of double-bind. It is this double-bind situation that manifests as extremes of cognitive dissonance and of self-contradiction, which are symptomatic of the breakdown and disintegration of the consciousness structure and, consequently too, of the personality and character structure of the modern “Self”.

It is not difficult to understand the double-bind situation. The old demands our loyalty and obedience, while the new demands our transformation and metamorphosis. These are conflicting demands and, as Scripture put it, no man can serve two masters. In effect, then, consciousness itself becomes a house divided against itself, and the result is “21st Century Schizoid Man”.

In the same personality structure, old and new vie for dominance, then, and people’s responses to this situation vary. In Rosenstock-Huessy’s terms, those who are oriented towards the old and the past are called “trajective”, while those in whom the new and the future have become active are called “prejective”. These terms were coined by Rosenstock-Huessy to complete what he saw as the space-bias of modern consciousness that only thought in terms of subjects and objects.

Subjective, objective, trajective, prejective form his fourfold “cross of reality”, but also of ourselves. We are an admixture, or a confluence, of these four aspects in which one or another may be dominant. We must give equal regard to all four in order to overcome the problem of the “one-sided attitude” or Single Vision and monomanias of all kinds.

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”

In times of accelerated change, the emphasis shifts from the spatial axis (subject-object relations) to the temporal axis (trajective-prejective or past-future relations). In consequence, the spatialised mind (perspective consciousness) is blind-sided and caught flat-footed by this shift to the times.

Peoples responses to this situation are, in first instance, to insist on obedience and loyalty to the old, and to attack the emerging new that demands change. Nonetheless, the new gnaws at the old structure so that the trajective personality develops fissures. The old is still very dominant, but the new has made inroads, and this leads to extremities of cognitive dissonance and the blind reactionary attitudes we see everywhere today. In any case, it lashes out blindly.

The other response is to rebel against the double-bind situation. In the prejective type, the new is becoming dominant while the old is in abeyance, like the receding tide. This is typically why the young are often at the forefront of social change movements, for they have been formed and informed by a reality quite different from the one that shaped and informed the older generations, so they are asked to live a double life, as it were, which is an intolerable demand for creatures that aspire to be whole and entire. Some are more aware of this awful double-bind than others. They want their day in the sun, but the overgrowth denies it to them. There is even a slang expression that has emerged in this respect: “throwing shade”. This is also the import of the slogan, “I can’t breathe”.

There is a third response, and that is complacency and what Nietzsche calls “miserable ease”. This is what characterises the denizens of Orwell’s dystopia — they adapt and conform to the double-bind instead of rebel, and develop this schizoid personality. These are the types that say one thing one minute and another the next without the slightest consciousness of the fact they have done so. Gebser refers to this as “compartmentalisation” of the psyche or the personality, and this is what is meant by “left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing”. They don’t rock the boat, and this is what Krishnamurti means in saying “”It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

(Here we hit yet again upon another of those ironies of Nietzsche — the decadent “Last Man”. Nietzsche’s “Last Man” is what Jesus described in saying “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth”). This is the “Nowhere Man” of the Beatles’ song.

In times of extreme social stress, of course, the trajective and prejective types polarise into extremities of reactionary and revolutionary, and so the die are cast. It’s in vain that one insists on “dialogue” because, by this time, the two poles no longer even speak the same language. An earlier attempt at so-called “Encounter Groups” actually ended up as a social disaster, doing more harm than healing, for example. There has to be some goodwill, but I doubt that, given recent developments, there is much in the way of such goodwill left to give. There is an impasse.

So, here’s the situation — a decadent and corrupt past now become violently reactionary, and yet demanding and exacting obedience and loyalty to itself, is confronted by a new wave representing a future that demands its day in the sun and to escape the double-bind, and is being denied it. So, this cannot end well.

(And if there are any doubts about just how tormenting and anguishing this double-bind situation is, and the personal costs of rebelling against it, read Ed Snowden’s Permanent Record).

It is because of the double-bind (and we know from psychiatry how this takes a toll on the personality and on mental health) that Gebser feels we have a double responsibility and a double task — one being the essential work on ourselves to achieve wholeness, and the other on the socio-cultural milieu if we are to successfully serve as ushers for the new integral consciousness. Retreating into quietism is a misstep, and conversely, throwing oneself into the social fray without also the necessary work on ourselves is a misstep. Consciousness and culture are conjoined, and they must be approached as conjoined.

“Truth to the friend. Lies to the foe” is hardly the sanest formula for achieving a new social concord or the promise of a “more perfect union”. That is just an example of the cognitive dissonance that afflicts the Late Modern mind and of just how schizoid the personality has become. There is nothing meritorious about loyalty to a system that has become a lie. That is a demand for people to conform to a double-bind and therefore deform themselves, which many people actually do.

Still, if it were not for the discomfort and crisis of the double-bind, few would turn their attention to integralism — the problem of making whole. The cure for the disease is in the disease, as Rumi put it. If it were not for dualism, the double-bind would simply dissolve and reveal itself for what it is — the paradox, which Rosenstock-Huessy has made the centrepiece of his new quadrilateral logic and “time-thinking” (or “speech-thinking”). But this is for a future that is still emerging and for the future generations who must learn to handle paradox and time creatively.

That time has not yet arrived. It is our task to prepare it — to “carry the fire” as McCarthy put it in The Road.

We need to fix the problem of the double-bind. But that means getting over dualism. When we learn to get over dualism, we’ll also know how to fix the problems in society. All the new logics overcome dualism. But it will still take some time for them to percolate through the general culture sufficiently to transform it.

So it goes.


9 responses to “Double-Bind and “21st Century Schizoid Man””

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Nope. nope. This doesn’t make sense. 836 views of The Chrysalis today but still only 61 visitors? That don’t compute.

  2. Steve says :

    This quote is from a book called, ” Walt Whitman’s Guide To Manly Health and Training. ”

    With perfect health, (and regular agreeable occupation), there are no low spirits, and cannot be. A man realizes the old myth of the poets; he is a god walking the earth. He not only feels new powers in himself-he sees new beauties everywhere. His faculties, his eyesight, his hearing, all acquire superior capacity to give him pleasure; the play of the limbs in motion is enough. To breathe, to eat and drink the simplest food, out-vie the most costly of previous enjoyments.

  3. InfiniteWarrior says :

    “The new is already here. The old is just making a lot of noise dying.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

  4. Yeffen Ray says :

    How do large corporate for profit entities also create 501 (c) (3) status,
    set up from the beginning as both for profit corporation and nonprofit
    foundation? Thank you.

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