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The Well-Rounded Against the Well-Adjusted

I awoke the other morning with an insight. It was one of those forehead-slapping moments when you realise you’ve been seeing the truth of something all along but never really recognised it until that moment. After years of pouring through books and essays on the riddle of the technological system, the role of propaganda within that system, and the meaning of the technocrat (and of “technocratic shamanism”), I suddenly realised that it all boiled down to a simple contradiction between the machine-world’s requirement for the “well-adjusted individual”, but life’s and the culture’s drive for the “well-rounded personality”, by which is meant the fulfilled, the complete, the whole.

It became quite clear to me, in that moment of revelation, that when I thought back over all the critiques of the technological system or the “Megamachine”, that this was the essential issue and tension in society — the well-rounded against the merely well-adjusted. Let’s unwrap that a bit further.

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A Sense for the Tragic: The Heart-Rending, The Soul-Crushing

“All work, the genuine work which we must achieve, is that which is most difficult and painful: the work on ourselves. If we do not freely take upon ourselves this pre-acceptance of the pain and torment, they will be visited upon us in an otherwise necessary individual and universal collapse. Anyone disassociated from his origin and his spiritually sensed task acts against origin. Anyone who acts against it has neither a today nor a tomorrow.” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin

There is a very heart-rending video making the news of a starving polar bear on Baffin Island. It is in its final moments of life. The film crew spoke of their “soul-crushing” anguish at the spectacle of the starving bear, fighting through their tears to film the poor creature’s slow, agonising death. As one of the film-makers states, it haunts him still, with a warning that this is just a foretaste of things to come.

There is a profound lesson in this tragedy, and it brought to my mind that quote from Gebser about taking upon ourselves, too, the pain and torment of a dying world.  What Gebser means by that quote is also the meaning of the compassionate, for compassion is also pain and anguish and a deep sense for the tragical aspect of life. Our hedonistic/consumerist times, on the other hand, aim to dodge this sense of the tragic and the painful which must necessarily also be a suppression of compassion. In the death of the polar bear by starvation, we see the first of the Buddha’s noble truths as well, which is the awakening to the sense of the tragic. Life is dukkha.

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Daniel Bell and Jean Gebser: Reason and Revelation in Post-Modernity

Reading Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism is a very rewarding experience. It is more rewarding, though, if one also knows something of the cultural philosophy of Jean Gebser. It’s a peculiar experience to read and compare them. Bell and Gebser see the exact same malignancies and pathologies in the culture of Late Modernity — many of which we’ve discussed here in The Chrysalis — but they seem them in entirely different ways reminiscent of the paradox of the half-full or half-empty glass that recalls also Gebser’s notion of “the double-movement” of our times.

In some respects, the relation between Daniel Bell and Jean Gebser is an example of the emissary and master relationship of the “divided brain” described by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Not a dualism or a dialectic, but a polarity of Reason and Revelation. Bell and Gebser are so similar. Bell and Gebser are so different. And the only way I can think of what finally distinguishes them is this polarity of Reason and Revelation which they represent. I think it was Bell’s commitment to “cultural conservatism” that inhibited him finally from making that “leap” or “mutation” that Gebser felt was necessary to overcome the now manifest malignancies and pathologies of Late Modernity by a metamorphosis: embracing a new consciousness structure — the aperspectival, arational, or integral.

So, let’s explore that polarity here. Let’s explore Daniel Bell as representative of Reason, and Jean Gebser as representative of Revelation, and in so doing I think we’ll get a relatively good idea of the difference between perspectival and aperspectival modes of consciousness.

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Modernity and Perspectivity

As an undergraduate at university, my chief area of interest was the history of propaganda. I was particularly interested in how propaganda affected, or interfered with, consciousness and perception such that “false consciousness” (ie delusion) could become a social problem.

Even after I graduated, I continued in my studies of propaganda. Around 1999, though, I began to feel I had taken my studies about as far as I could and felt I wasn’t making any further progress in my understanding. I came to the conclusion that I needed to expand my horizons and deepen my understanding of the matter by situating the phenomenon of propaganda, as a technology of social and psychological manipulation and control, within the broader historical context of the history and philosophy of science and technology. So, in 2000, I returned to university to further my studies in the history and philosophy of science and technology as these pertained to culture and consciousness.

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Daniel Bell: The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

“We stand, I believe, with a clearing ahead of us. The exhaustion of Modernism, the aridity of Communist life, the tedium of the unrestrained self, and the meaninglessness of the monolithic political chants, all indicate that a long era is coming to a slow close. The impulse of Modernism was to leap beyond: beyond nature, beyond culture, beyond tragedy — to explore the apeiron, the boundless, driven by the self-infinitizing spirit of the radical self.
We are groping for a new vocabulary whose keyword seems to be limits: a limit to growth, a limit to the spoilation of the environment, a limit to arms, a limit to the tampering with biological nature. Yet, if we seek to establish a set of limits in the economy and technology, will we also set a limit to the exploration of those cultural experiences which go beyond moral norms and embrace the demonic in the delusion that all experience is ‘creative’? Can we set a limit to hubris? ” (Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Foreword 1978, p. xxix)

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Paradox and Paranoia

Man is a paradoxical creature. Ultimately, it is what distinguishes the human from the machine. The machine cannot handle paradox. It is paralysed by paradox. That is why the Mechanical Philosophy and its logic had to deny and suppress the paradox in favour of “clear and distinct ideas” (as Descartes put it). But in doing so, it also had to deny and suppress Man in everything but Man’s mechanical aspects. In fact, dialectics and dialectical rationality breakdown in the face of paradox, which is connected, in logic, with what is called “the ears of the wolf dilemma”. When thesis and antithesis become one and the same, thinking dialectically collapses into perplexity, bewilderment, and confusion. The dialectic becomes a self-devouring, self-negating, self-contradictory process.

In earlier posts, I suggested that paradox and paranoia were intimately connected. Today, I want to explore that further as it pertains to the meaning of “chaotic transition”, and how paradox and paranoia can be transcended in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “metanoia“, or Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness”.

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The Inquisition has become symbolic of the irrationalities, disproportionalities, and reactionary paranoias of decaying regimes. The Inquisition was the form of that self-negating, self-devouring logic of the Age of the Church that is revisiting our time as well. It is the shape of the so-called “New Normal”.

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