When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors (and later my supervisor) steered me in the direction of propaganda analysis. He had been a resistance fighter in Belgium during the Second World War and had been mightily impressed by the power of propaganda to mobilise the energies of the nations for collective mass suicide. Having lived through that period, he came to see the propaganda weapon as the chief danger and threat to the realisation of any kind of human or humane social order.
So, I dived right into the question of propaganda with a sense of mission, both here in Canada and in Germany, where I eventually went to continue my studies and most especially to research the social legacy of the Nazi propaganda system in terms of its current impacts on the German language.
Somehow — fantastically, improbably, impossibly — we’ve passed through the looking-glass and have become the topsy-turvey, inverted mirror images of ourselves — a kind of negative of the photograph, even a parody of ourselves. It’s Alice through the looking-glass. That’s the only way to begin to understand how the present period has suddenly come to seem so surreal, so bizarre, and so absurd. It occurs to me that this is the only way to also understand Lewis Mumford’s observation that everything once considered vice has now been revalued as virtue, or what was once considered unworthy of us is now considered worthy and desirable; or, for that matter, Sheldon Wolin’s diagnosis of our “inverted totalitarianism“. This is not describable in terms of reversion or of conversion, but only as inversion. The White Knight is talking backwards. We are being seduced by, and assimilated as, our own mirror image — like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
I can describe the dynamics of that in terms of enantiodromia, or “ironic reversal” and the paradox of the coincidence of opposites. In those terms, everything presently strange, forbidding and ominous begins to make a kind of sense. I can describe it in terms of the self-contradictions of Late Modernity beginning to assert themselves, and thus the self-negation of the Modern Era of itself — as Nietzsche’s forecast “two centuries of nihilism” and his “Last Man” as this parody. What I can’t tell you right now is what it means in psychological or spiritual terms, but it is quite evidently connected also with confusion about what is “real” today.
I can account for some of the how and the what of it. I can’t account completely, yet, for the why and the when of it. I can assemble a good deal of evidence, and put together a pretty good argument, I think, that this inversion is occurring to us whether we notice it or not. But I have the dreadful feeling that this inversion also has something to do with Gebser’s ominous reference to “the law of the Earth” and to its “automatic” fulfillment.
I was reading in yesterday’s Guardian opinions from some noted conservatives, both pro or con, on the Trump administration. Opinions are divided, but it does show that “conservatism” is as fractious and factional as is “progressivism”. But I noted their often frequently expressed anguish to maintain conservative “orthodoxy”, or whether Trump was following or not following conservative “orthodoxy”.
Now, that’s really ironic given the conservative’s often loud and noisy denunciations of dogmatic “political correctness” in others, with the apparent failure to recognise the same dogmatism in themselves as this cherished “orthodoxy”. Reminds me of a children’s nursery rhyme:
- Tweedledum and Tweedledee
- Agreed to have a battle;
- For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
- Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
I know some Buddhists who are almost always at some retreat or another. They’re always retreating, retreating, retreating. I know what they’re retreating from. Themselves. More specifically from the Shadow. Unless these retreats are fortifying them for eventually facing and confronting the Shadow, whose name is the demon Mara, those retreats are a waste of time and money. Much money. They will never be successful Buddhists until they do come face-to-face with the Shadow as Buddha did under the Bodhi Tree, or as Jesus did in the desert.
The Shadow is real. It has valid psychic or spiritual reality. I’ve witnessed it. It’s just as real as you are because it is you, although that’s something of a paradox. The Shadow is also called “Prince of Lies” and is implicated in this current epidemic of fake news and false memory, of post-truth and post-reason, and those who warn that the Shadow is irrupting in our times are not just speaking metaphorically. So, the time has come to tell you of my vision of the Shadow, which I’ve kept long to myself.
I’m fascinated by “post-historic man”. I’m obsessed with discovering the secret of this type — the man of the “New Normal” who Francis Fukuyama celebrated even as the new normal in his essay (and later book) on “The End of History“. You can learn quite a bit about post-historic man by simply reading between the lines of Fukuyama’s book or earlier essay. You can learn even more about the type through reading Nietzsche’s musings on “the Last Man” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra — the “Last Man” who Nietzsche thought of as being only a caricature of man, as “the ape of his ideals”; an historically exhausted type that had already exceeded its shelf-life and sell-by date.
There are plenty of indications in “post-modernity” that what we call “the Modern Mind” has reached the limits of its possibilities, and has even overreached those limits. This “overreach” — just another term for hubris — is what Jean Gebser describes as a consciousness structure functioning in “deficient” mode. A consciousness structure in deficient mode has ceased to be adequate to its circumstances and the existential challenges it faces. To persist in it invites Nemesis, goddess of vengeance and retribution. That is now the case for Leonardo’s “Vetruvian Man”, icon of the Renaissance and the ideal of the Modern Age.
When I was an undergraduate student at university, one of my professors tried to interest me in the work of the Polish eco-philosopher Henryk Skolimowski. While I found his approach intriguing, I was pursuing other matters and interests at the time and never followed up on that recommendation. It is perhaps time to rectify that, since I have come to appreciate eco-philosophy and eco-logic as the corrective to Mumford’s “Megamachine” and the threat of totalitarian capitalism.
So, the other day, I received in the mail a copy of Skolimowski’s book Let There Be Light: The Mysterious Journey of Cosmic Creativity, and it took me by surprise. Skolimowski, akin to other eco-philosophers like Rudolf Bahro, has moved from an eco-logical outlook to what can only be described perhaps as “mysticism”.
(Rudolf Bahro and I have an old relationship, in fact. Bahro was a dissident Marxist and a political prisoner in East Germany when I was a student in Germany. His “crime” was to try to reconcile Marxism with ecological thinking. I helped smuggle his books, which were drawing a lot of attention among young Germans in West Germany, back into East Germany. After I left Germany, Bahro was released to the West, where he co-founded what was probably the first Green Party. Bahro’s thinking also took a more mystical or spiritual turn later on).