It could be a typical characteristic in the waning decades of a civilisation that it continuously draws the wrong conclusions from evidence, particularly as regards crucial issues of continuity and survival. That too — drawing the wrong conclusions from the evidence — is an aspect of what Gebser calls “the deficient mode of the mental-rational consciousness structure”. A consciousness structure that has entered into its deficient mode does not respond at all well or adequately to the unforeseen.
If the future is anything, it is the arrival of the unexpected, the surprising, and the unforeseen, for otherwise it would just be the recurrence of the past. This is why the conception of time as a linear process — that time moves from past through present into the future like an arrow — is quite wrong. Future is irruptive and consequently disruptive. When Christopher Lasch subtitled his book on the culture of narcissism “the Age of Diminishing Expectations”, this was basically a recognition that the future ain’t what it used to be.
It is a timely topic currently, this irruption of the unforeseen, the unpredictable and the uncertain. And our habits of mind and thought tempt us to apply old familiar solutions that may have worked in one set of circumstances to the new unfamiliar circumstances for which they are no longer fit or appropriate. When they don’t work, we become anxiety-ridden. Evolution, though, is like that.
These are times, therefore, that call for a radical openness and not for leaping to conclusions. The actions we take from these premature conclusions may, in fact, exacerbate and intensify the very crisis we are trying to resolve. The result, of course, is the problem of unintended consequence, perverse outcome, ironic reversal, blowback, revenge effect, etc — indications that something is wrong with our belief systems and mental processes. They are no longer commensurate with our lived reality.
And need it be said that these are rampant today? We do hear that lament on occasion. “I don’t understand. We did everything right but it didn’t work”. You’re at a loss. The term for that is “impasse”. But this is also where the “leap” becomes necessary, as Gebser describes it.
Likewise, Rosenstock-Huessy defines “metanoia” or “new mind” as simply “an unwillingness to continue”. That is to say, an unwillingness to continue is old habits and routines of belief, thought, and expectations which no longer seem to produce satisfactory outcomes — an unwillingness to continue is ways known and forwarded from the past. That can be very uncomfortable at first. Nietzsche experienced that as his own “stare into the abyss”. Yet it was also from that abyss (or chaos) that his own psychopomp emerged in the form of Zarathustra with his radical revaluation of values. Zarathustra very likely saved Nietzsche from committing suicide. It brings to mind, of course, a line from Hölderlin I’ve cited on occasion: “where the peril is greatest, there lies the saving power also”, a state often described as “the dark night of the soul”. Zarathustra was, in effect, Nietzsche’s bodhisattva.
Pascal fled from the Great Nothingness. “The silence of the Infinite Void terrifies me” he exclaimed and fled into a particularly austere form of Christianity (which Nietzsche thought ruined him for any true philosophy). Nietzsche suffered it and braved it, however and was transformed by it. He became what he was, and what he was became Nietzsche-Zarathustra.
“Identity crisis” arises, of course, when the model and picture we carry around in our heads, and which governs our expectations of how reality should be, no longer seem to function, leading to disorientation and perplexity, anxiety and anger. In the American cultural context, this is anxiety about the continued validity of the “American Dream” which now seems to be dissolving into nightmare as expectations are thwarted, while conclusions and predictions drawn from the model are frustrated and blind-sided by unforeseen circumstances and become impotent to solve the problems. All very familiar, now, in many different societies. All very characteristic of ages in transition. Everything from neo-liberalism to the internet as a commonwealth of shared information has produced the exact opposite outcomes from what was expected.
It’s a good time to learn something about Chaos Theory, in fact.