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“A Government of Death”

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.

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The Symbol-Using, Symbol-Misusing Animal

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.

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The Myth of the Machine

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).

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Transhumanism: A Theology of the Megamachine

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”.

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Calling Time on Neo-Liberalism

Quite a few social observers are now calling time on neo-liberalism, particularly after the market meltdown of 2008. I’ve noted a few: Wolfgang Streeck’s How Will Capitalism End?, Yanis Varoufakis’s The Global Minotaur, Peter Pogany’s Rethinking the World, Jennifer Welsh’s The Return of History, as well as quite a few I’ve yet to catch up on in my reading. All suggest that the financial crisis of 2008 represents an unrecoverable system failure for neo-liberalism. However, the apparent demise of neo-liberalism (or Thatcherism, Reaganism and so on) isn’t necessarily true also of the Megamachine.

They say one shouldn’t kick one’s foe when he’s on the ground, but I can’t resist getting in a couple of swift ones against a foe, neo-liberalism, that has irritated and annoyed me most of my adult life. It’s cathartic. I might be accused of whipping a dead horse, here, but it’s also true that a whole lot of people are still under the spell of neo-liberalism — ready even to sacrifice themselves for it’s sake — which is why some people speak of “zombie logic”, “voodoo economics” and such. It’s only the ghost of neo-liberalism — or the ghost of Maggie Thatcher — that wanders like a lost soul over the face of the Earth.

So, let’s see how this malignancy developed in the first place so we can be rid of it — exorcise the ghost — once and for all.

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The Politics of Streetfighting

There is a widespread belief — the virtual “common sense” — that politics is war, and war by other means. I hold that belief to be only a symptom of the degeneracy of the intellect and of the disintegration — the “deficiency” and decadence — of the modern mind, the mental-rational consciousness structure, as Gebser describes it. The irresponsibility of our politicians (and not just our politicians) lies in this fact, that when you believe that politics is war by other means, you should not be surprised, or feign disgust, when streetfighting becomes the norm of politics. It’s the karmic law. It’s only a decadent politics that thinks of itself as “warfare”.  But once you travel down that path, you have to live with the consequences as a fate.

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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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