I woke up this morning thinking about neo-liberal economics, Jean Gebser, Adam Smith and his “Invisible Hand”, and how this metaphor (or simile) of the “Invisible Hand” morphed into “mechanism” in the term “market mechanism” — and, in those terms, whether in the form of “Invisible Hand” or “mechanism” (Mumford’s “Megamachine”), we aren’t dealing with a superstition masquerading as “science” or ideology.
There is, actually, an ancient antecedent and precursor to this benevolent “invisible hand” — it is the tribal “genius” (“genie”), or tutelary deity. And this relationship between Smith’s “invisible hand” and the tribal “genius” reveals something very significant about Jean Gebser’s philosophy of “consciousness structures” as well.
It strikes me that the word “frenzy” best describes the current situation — frenzy being the marker of our “chaotic transition”, or of Jean Gebser’s “maelstrom of blind anxiety”, or of Peter Pogany’s “havoc”, or of Nietzsche’s anticipation of the “madness” that would attend his anticipated “two centuries of nihilism”. The contemporary terms being used for this frenzy are, of course, “irrational exuberance” or “animal spirits”.
It’s in respect of this “frenzy” (which some describe as “the Crazies”) that I want to return to something I posted some time back, and entitled “The Most Haunting Words in All Literature”, because for me the words were, and remain, daunting and haunting.
Globalisation. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” It was always a lie — a propagandistic slogan only — from the outset, for even its proponents described it in terms of “creative destruction”. There would be “winners” and “losers”. But in public, they overplayed the “creative” and downplayed the “destruction” bit, and they did so in the context of an “age of diminishing expectations” as Christopher Lasch called the period.
“Neo-liberal globalisation” isn’t, actually, the most accurate term for this process. “Globalised neo-liberalism” is the more accurate term. “Globalisation” is actually the creative aspect of this process. Neo-liberalism is the destructive aspect. But these two processes — one creative and integrative, one destructive and nihilistic — have become conflated as the meaning of “globalism” itself.
Trapped in the Mirror was the title of a book on narcissism by Elan Golomb. It’s a very good title. Unfortunately, as I recall it, the book never really fulfilled the potential suggested by its title, largely because of its limited clinical and psychological focus on the individual where it could have broadened into the historical, sociological, or cultural context. Christopher Lasch attempted to do this with The Culture of Narcissism. Even then, I think, Lasch, despite the excellence of his sociological insights, erred in thinking that this, too narrowly, was a problem peculiar to “American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations”, as the subtitle has it.
Narcissism is the state of being “trapped in the mirror” and is the human, all-too-human condition. It has been that since human beings became self-conscious. It was just what was formerly called “idolatry”, which is the same state of being “trapped in the mirror”. If it were not the human condition, the ancient myth of Narcissus and Echo would not have been composed, and an event like the “Axial Age” of the prophets would never have occurred. It is narcissism that lies behind the legendary “Fall of Man”, and the Fall of Man was to become trapped in the mirror. This is also referred to as “the Fall into Time”, or “The Kali Yuga“.
I was recently re-reading an old mimeographed essay (yes, from back in the Stone Age of my university days when we said “mimeograph”) by Kenneth Burke — the formulator of “Dramatism” — called “Definition of Man“. It came to mind after I posted the last essay on “the myth of the machine”. Burke was a highly intelligent (and witty) writer and thinker, and I regret I have not spent more time on him in the pages of The Chrysalis because his work is also very relevant to its themes.
It’s Burke’s audacious “definition of man” that I want to address here as it bears on Mumford and the Myth of the Machine, and I will present it exactly as it appears in his essay in The Hudson Review, circa 1963-64.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees
If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.
Folly is the cloak of knavery. — William Blake, The Proverbs of Hell
Following close upon Meghan O’Gieblyn’s article on “transhumanism” as a contemporary theology of the Megamachine (“God in the machine“), yet another article — this one by Andrew Anthony — appeared in today’s Guardian also in a quite similar vein. “What if we’re living in a computer simulation?” describes what we might call, after Lewis Mumford, the contemporary “Myth of the Machine”, or the mysticism (or mystique) of megatechnics.
This is, indeed, an Age of Irony, because this new “myth of the machine” is also an example of the “return of the repressed” — for it is, in fact, the resurrection of the old doctrines of the Gnostics. Even students of Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy must find this contemporary insurgency (or “irruption”) of the “irrational” factors of magic, myth, and mysticism within the “logical” mental-rational structure of consciousness to be quite unnerving (and a most appropriate word that is, too. The meaning of “unnerving” is worth a post in itself).
Meghan O’Gieblyn, in today’s Guardian, has written a pretty fascinating semi-autobiographical account of her “deconversion” from Christianity, her deep despair and Angst that followed that loss of faith and identity, and the temptations that “transhumanism” held for her as a surrogate faith and substitute theology. “God in the machine: my strange journey into transhumanism” describes what can only be called a theology for Lewis Mumford’s “Megamachine”.
It’s strange kismet, because last night I was obsessing, for some reason, over an early Pink Floyd song called “See Emily Play“, playing it over and over again trying to discover the meaning of who and what was “Emily”. The surrealistic Emily, I was convinced, bore some resemblance to the mood of Lily Allen’s song “The Fear” (as I discussed that earlier in “The Concretion of the Spiritual“). And it was in Meghan O’Gieblyn’s article that the two themes came together. There is something very profound about the human condition struggling to emerge into consciousness in “See Emily Play”, in “The Fear” and in O’Gieblyn’s “strange journey into transhumanism”.