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Mumford’s Megamachine and the Disposable Human

Lewis Mumford’s “Megamachine” is quite real in one sense (and quite unreal in another) — a semi-autonomous system that strives towards its ideal of full autonomous functioning, and, with the tech-revolution and artificial intelligence, is on the cusp of realising itself as such. It has no lack of “handmaidens” (Varoufakis’s phrase in The Global Minotaur) or “courtiers” (Chomsky’s description) to help it realise itself as such either.

The Megamachine has a long developmental history, and we could easily trace its maturation following Mumford’s four stages of realisation or maturation of an idea — from Formulation, through Incarnation, through Incorporation, to its mature phase “Embodiment“. But to the Megamachine (and its handmaidens) living beings are simply an irrelevancy, and human beings are as disposable and dispensible as BIC pens are And if you read contemporary economics schemes it’s as though human beings are not just irrelevant to the purposes of “economy”, but are practically considered inconvenient parasites on the body and the functioning of the perfect machine.

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Convivium: A Global Commonwealth

I’ld like to return, today, to an earlier theme of The Chrysalis and develop it further — and that is the idea of the Convivium, which should be the real end and aim of the process we call “globalisation” and the meaning of “globalism”. We would be better off talking about the Convivium and convivialism rather than globalism and globalisation. The choice of the right name for things makes all the difference, and the difference here, again, bears on our seeming inability to distinguish between higher and lower things, and our continuing confusion of the Whole with the mere Totality (which is but the shadow of the Whole) — therefore, the fatal confusion of the processes which belong to life with those processes which belong to death.

It is my contention, as you may know, that the confusion of the totality with the whole lies at root of our decadence and our nihilism, for it is a prime example of how “all higher values devalue themselves” — Nietzsche’s succinct definition of nihilism (and particularly that form of nihilism called “decadence”). Therefore, I want to speak to convivialism as life process and of the Convivium as the Community of the Whole Living Earth, for that is what the word means.

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The Dream Society and The Global Brain

Earlier, I asked you to imagine yourself as being suddenly thrown into a Kafka novel, a Dali painting, or an Escher print, as though these mind-bending scenarios had suddenly become the context of your life — the absurd and the surreal, like Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy in Oz.  Aporia, a sense of bewilderment, perplexity, or sense of chaos, is most likely the feeling you would have within those contexts.

And this is, ironically, not far from the truth of things, already partially realised in and as “the Anthropocene”, and in connected themes like Rolf Jensen’s The Dream Society and Howard Bloom’s The Global Brain. The dreamy quality in Kafka, Dali, and Escher were anticipations of the imagined world made “real”, of the breakdown of the subject-object differentiation that underlies themes like “New Normal” and related issues of “post-rational” or “post-truth” society. Bloom’s “Global Brain” and Jensen’s “Dream Society” are corresponding issues which, together, make for “the Anthropocene”. Accordingly, as William Blake put it, we do not see things as they are, but as we are, for, in effect, the “global brain” corresponds to Blake’s “Urizen” and “the Dream Society” to Blake’s “Ulro”.

We now live inside the matrix of this “global brain” — the thick network of global information and trade flows — and that matrix is the “dream society”. This “new within” is the essence of the New Normal, of “the Anthropocene”, or what Adam Curtis also describes as “hypernormalisation“.

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Not With a Bang But a Whimper

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. — T.S. Eliot “The Hollow Men

I’ve been absent from The Chrysalis for a while, in and out of medical clinics and hospitals as my doctors attend to my distressed kidneys (my condition remains stable, and I wouldn’t even know I had kidney disease otherwise).

I also took the time to catch up on some reading, including a recent publication by Wolfgang Streeck entitled How Will Capitalism End? (The answer is, not well). Those of you who are familiar with the economic writings of Peter Pogany on “chaotic transition” (Rethinking the World and Havoc Thy Name is Twenty-First Century in particular) will find that Streeck’s reflections on the fate of neo-liberal global economy runs very parallel to Pogany’s, with the exception that, where Pogany sees the present mayhem as a transition to a new global order, Streeck sees a slow withering away into an extended “Dark Age”. In fact, reading Streeck’s analysis of the situation is what brought to mind the mood of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”.

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The Global Brain and the Collective Representations

While we are on the topic of “the collective representations” (that is, images) and how this plays out in relation to Howard Bloom’s “Global Brain” theme, I’ld like to revisit an earlier posting (pre-Trump) on that and build upon it further. That posting was called “The Image and the Spirit of Place” and addressed some of the missing information that always attends the image as a “genuine imitation” reality. Images are abstractions from the real, and often only have a tenuous relation to the reality which they supposedly mirror or represent. The Anthropocene. as the “built-environment”,  is, amongst other things, a vast ecosystem (or technosystem) of images and image complexes, or “collective representations”. So, in a sense, we live inside this collective hallucination of the “Global Brain” within a system of mental abstractions called “the images” or the “representations”, which is a kind of schizophrenia.

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The Planetary Mind and the Global Soul

“Global Brain” or “Planetary Mind”. There is a precedent for the World Wide Web — the network of Roman roads that enabled Rome to extend its empire. Rome and its network of world straddling roads were the “global brain” of its day. As was said then and now, “all roads lead to Rome” for that network of roads was the global nervous system of its day.

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The Global Brain and the Anthropocene

Harold Bloom is the author of a book, published in 2000, called The Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. It’s been some years since I first read it (and even then I notice that I bookmarked it only half-way through), so I will have to take it up again in light of Iain McGilchrist’s insights into neurodynamics in his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Bloom doesn’t use the term “Anthropocene” in connection with the Global Brain, but for all intents and purposes, that’s what the Anthropocene really is — the built-environment, the “genuine imitation”.

It’s here in terms the “Anthropocene” and “Global Brain” that a number of critical threads converge, which we will explore in today’s post.

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