The Unforeseen

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.

7 responses to “The Unforeseen”

  1. Steve says :

    “The death of the spirit is the price of progress. Nietzsche revealed this mystery of the Western apocalypse when he announced that God was dead and that He had been murdered. This Gnostic murder is constantly committed by the men who sacrificed God to civilization. The more fervently all human energies are thrown into the great enterprise of salvation through world–immanent action, the farther the human beings who engage in this enterprise move away from the life of the spirit. And since the life the spirit is the source of order in man and society, the very success of a Gnostic civilization is the cause of its decline.
    A civilization can, indeed, advance and decline at the same time—but not forever. There is a limit toward which this ambiguous process moves; the limit is reached when an activist sect which represents the Gnostic truth organizes the civilization into an empire under its rule. Totalitarianism, defined as the existential rule of Gnostic activists, is the end form of progressive civilization.”
    ― Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: An Introduction

  2. Steve says :

    Oxford Don, Raghavan Iyer noted that the world is a fortunate place when there are two people alive — at the same time — who understand Plato.

  3. TheOakofNormal says :

    “We are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not pinched in a corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but redeemers, and benefactors, pious aspirants to be noble clay plastic under the Almighty effort, let us advance on Chaos and the Dark.” RWE

  4. TheOakofNormal says :

    “The best way to predict the future is create it.” Lincoln
    It all boils down to lack of Vision for me. The same way a person who adopts a clear vision for their life, a clear goal in the future, an “imaginal net” cast out around a future “object” to attain, that they can walk confidently and wide eyed into the unknown. That goal is nowhere to be found anywhere these days. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” has never rang more true. An abstract Green New Deal is nice, but it lacks any concrete plan to get there. It needs to be like the ’69 moon shot, clear vision and objective. Wow was that exciting what happened with Perseverance, amazing, we needed a win like that right now. Science is incredible when done right.

  5. InfiniteWarrior says :

    Are you still in Twitter jail? Shall we start a petition for you? 🙂

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. But at this stage, couldn’t care less. I feel like Yosarian in Catch-22 when dealing with Twitter support.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Would you believe I lost three accounts to the Twitter lack-of-responsive-human-centered-support mumbo-jumbo? (It seems Twitter accounts are irretrievable if one no longer has access to the email address used to sign them up, regardless of any other info one might be able to provide to prove one’s identity.)

        Over-automation is the rule of the day with tech firms and (as I learned recently), that includes even major suppliers of computers, components and peripherals. :/

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