Posted by on July 14th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Self-obscure “inferiors” and self-anointed “superiors”— each group distinctively myopic or self-interested, so abstracted by the money-metric of Quantity that they are for all intents and purposes “worldless” or “other-worldly” — orient themselves within a modernly “hierarchic” world-scheme or organized pattern of subordinations that makes even the most powerful of them into witless “useful idiots.”  As such they are each the “fools” of a universe of delusions and deceptions, a matrix of mendacity of which they are the incurable, ineducable fools:  they are doomed, certainly, never to sit at the ultimate and strategic point of view of the Archimedean fulcrum of power and authority, never even to be clarified and competent to perceive the resolving “truth” about any of the situations in which they are embroiled (“employed”/”used”).  No wonder moderns can only joke pathetically about the futility of trying to grasp the actual or absolute “why” of the way things go in life and society.  A form of culture and intelligence oriented toward mastery of teleological order and the governing purposes of human beings is unknown as such (“philosophy”) in stupefying modern dysculture; all that we know and can conceive of is the willful and artificial imposition of other idiots’ uses on even more pathetic and defenseless idiots.

At the same time, this world-order tacitly prescribes the same placebo to the entire lot of moderns, the opiate of delusionary self-adequacy (“practicality,” “functionality,” the “good enough to get by” slacker-ethos laughably known as “worldly wise”).   That moderns en masse are shaped or “massaged” to put no value whatsoever on their minds is demonstrated by their mindless accommodation to an ideological fog (stupor mundi as the ancients called such a thing) that, the longer they are subjected to it, all that much more perfectly cancers their intuitive perceptiveness and their “soul,” their conscience and competence to understand alternative forms of order (normative culture, wisdom-traditions, spirituality, human wholeness—the bygone-moral regimes of the now withered “arts and humanities”).

So misfortunate, so ever-compoundingly catastrophic it is that moderns, Americans most especially, nest all complacently in the miasmal slurry of their not just know-nothing but outright self-benighting “culture.”  This matrix is in truth a dysculture functionally indiscriminable from a nearly universalized state of delusion.  There have been corrupt and vice-riddled social regimes, gluttonous and merciless empires, and barbarous castes with far more power than lucidity and far more self-righteousness than rationality.  But no other society has so keenly and preeminently illustrated the full-spectrum pathologies—organized and stabilized into a tweakable, institutionalized system — against which traditional cultures and contrarian thinkers struggled to achieve clarity and cogency:  modernity’s castes, higher/lower and middle, have bedded down quite comfortably with the viruses of individual and social vices, subliminal compulsions that vitiate or eviscerate the health/sanity of mind, spirit, soul, and community.  In the midst of moderns’ self-supposed “sophistication,” they are abysmally and primitively naïve about all matters of psychic and rational hygiene, i.e. “values” and “culture”; they eagerly cultivate burgeoning and mutating crops of amoral microbia, biases and addictions that consume their acuity, clarity, and critical intelligence by the tanker-load.  And then, as the school system and political culture and economic institutions sink into toxic waste-dumps, they wonder where all the virulent irrationalisms can possibly have come from.  By organized and programmatic determination, sane and sober intelligence has been reduced by the cultural solvents of modernity to a far slenderer minority today than it was in epochs when the ancient Greeks bemoaned the wrong-headedness of hoi polloi and when St. Thomas insisted that the ratio of salvageable to damned souls was proportional to the number in Noah’s family over against the remainder of worthless sinners in the antediluvian world.  Ultimately, it is the fatuity and narcissism of democratism that most massively obstructs moderns from perceiving how grossly inept most people have become for the stringencies of self-rule and self-cultivation.

Moderns care only about what the pathologies of their epoch train and oblige and reward them to care about, in the terms those pathologies have taught them to care about—about predatory health-care, predatory politics, predatory finance, etc.—and therefore they care only when these diseases have already become so irremediably oppressive or monstrous they can no longer be afforded, i.e. have created blatant conflicts within the framework of capital and its money-metric:  it is not for the sake of human values or natural goods that moderns grow alarmed, but only for their ever-shriveling trickle of the great cataract of cash, the weekly or monthly river of the most artificial and the most manipulable game-tokens ever fabricated.  Precisely to the extent moderns have been successfully and primordially abstractivized or weaned away from all concrete and intuitive intelligence, money becomes to them not just the means or “staff of life” that bread once was but indeed “life” itself, i.e. vitality, potency, the authority of “counting for something” in the eyes of oneself and others.  Money-logic is the crypto-authority choosing for moderns what their preferred career will be, where they will live and where their children will go to school and college:  financial wherewithal is the true “city-planner” and “career counselor” and “father confessor” and “psychoanalyst” of the age.

The money-system has its own logic of tides and currents, and according to this logic money flows toward the blessed, the ever-aggrandized “affluent,” and away from the cursed or blighted, the ever-more-diminished “effluent.”  To be financially impoverished is thus to be socially and politically annihilated, “rational” society’s negligibilia:  money, wealth, assets, are “substance” (weight or heft, gravity, formidability or “considerability”) and to be evacuated of them is to be rendered disenfranchised by the whole world of modern priorities.   — To be countered and contained, the vices of a social and economic and political and cultural order have to be identified and checked preemptively, long before they become epidemic or gross enough to be read in that society’s mass-budgetary stream, not after they have successfully ensconced themselves in a coast-to-coast machinery of rackets and rhetorics.  –-But of course, to react in a more timely way would require philosophical foresight, acutely sensitive values, nimble and penetrating understanding of the potentialities of human nature, both eudaimonic (spiritually/rationally healthy) and dysdaimonic (psychically and intellectually self-deformative):  all of which are to moderns markedly and famously effete, useless and unprofitable concerns, always the very quintessence of “impracticality” to those pathetically sunk in the “pit of Babel” Kafka said we were digging for ourselves, in the immediate and eternal  present of our slavish and hapless myopia.  In the abstracted way that moderns make their futures calculable, all of their “self-concern” and providential “planning” can only serve to survey, frame up and realize an ever-more highly developed scheme of concentration camps:  not a natural “wasteland” at all but a designed and deliberate theme-park for the blighting and benighting of the spirit, the fruit of a sociopathic Apollonianism.

Our grand ecocidal momentum and our constrictive financial sclerosis are not exotic, exogenous dysorders that happened to descend upon us from the outer reaches of the galaxy (although moderns would certainly prefer to search there for the causes rather than within their own selves); these dysorders are crystallizations and elaborations of moderns’ own self-unconcern, their concentrated designer-drug of idiotia with its inevitable self-negligence and self-obscurity—the self-forgetting and self-oblivion which is abstractivity, what Hegel called “the awesome power of the Negative” in human subjectivity—all forming an ever-more-deliberately organized and homogenized-uniformitarian collectivity.  All this is the symptomatology of our self-infatuation with the narrowest possible (egologizing or self-infatuated) mode of “self-control” or “self-relation,” with science/mathematics/money as a fetishism for seeking skeletalized solutions, authority and cures in empty geometrized formalisms like productivity statistics and profits:  a fetishism only for things that are measurable, palpable, finite, and manipulable.   Either eagerly or inadvertently, all moderns who have not sought out critical and radical alternatives for a saner, more authentic way to live and see have effectively ratified the toxic logic of the corporate and massified glaciers of our no-longer-anthropocratic planet (as Marx so starkly saw).  Forces and perspectives rule modernity that can only be diagnosed as inhuman, as abstracted and alien to all that is sane, good, healthy, providential, moral, etc. for not just humans but also all living species; and these powers have conscripted to their own purposes almost all the sciences, the shared bodies of understanding, education, communication, laws, technology, etc. that humans once generated to make fragile civilizations possible (and that now verge on making them psychically impossible, culturally anorexic and self-asphyxiating).

To speak of “false consciousness” is merely to recognize that, in the vast majority of lives and societies, humans’ own personal, subjective or “rational” resources betray them treacherously and utterly, again and again:  “A man saw a stick he mistook for a snake; he reached for a snake he mistook for a stick.”  According to a self-congratulatory popular myth, the modern age announced itself when Rene Descartes made the issue of “self-certainty” the central theme of his all-doubting worldview; but today, precisely when moderns attempt to take their most profound bearings on what is true and valid, that is exactly when the “dark satanic mills” of modernity go into overdrive to fumigate all the clarity, truth, sanity, and sobriety out of the organized mentalities that today take themselves for human “minds.”  Moderns can think in very limited circumstances moderately sanely about many particulars, some consequences, even some means and inferences, etc.; but about principles or fundamentals, they are generally rabid imbeciles besotted with their own emotional muck, with psychedelic-rhetorical fogs and insultingly mendacious generalizations.  On every question vital to civilized norms and rational principles, modernization produces artificial, prolonged and intractable puerility, a bifurcation of the population into an emotionalist and a reptilian caste, an Aesopian caricature that is about as close to the philosophical truth of douleia and banauseia as moderns can clear a path.

If, to vast masses of moderns, “materialism” is still tacitly the name of an inspiring ethos or a benign code for achieving happiness and justice via technocratic “progress,” it is only because the competence to see and think philosophically has expired centuries ago among such conditioned mentalities.  “Materialism” is the modernly prevailing strategy for inculcating motivations that have nothing, of course, in common with true or actual values or obligations, but are mere Machiavellian-Pavlovian schemes for controlling and directing humans en masse in ways contrary to their natural, social and individual goods (i.e. alienatively, delusively, or under the coercion of self-falsifying forms of consciousness, specifically, contortionary delusions that slave away in bondage to all that is in principle unthinkable to them).    — There is no dispute that we are the paradigm, the hypertrophy thus far of the pathos, psycho-diseases and delusive vices against which Old Testament prophets railed and classical philosophers and tragedians leveled their withering criticisms:  we have normalized usury and mass-destructive armamentaria, made mendacity politically obligatory, and punished and suppressed critical intelligence, and now we wonder idly why justice, peace and prosperity have been exiled from our world like illegal immigrants.  About the savage transcendent or contrarian accusations of classical prophets and thinkers we do not care in the least:  for us it is as if Jeremiah and Amos had never existed, as if Plato and Aristotle had never opened their mouths, as if every genius in the history of the world had been preemptively and decisively aborted.  But it is indeed our own clarity and acuity, our own authentic “consciousness”—our fitness or competence for the truth—that has thereby been aborted.

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  1. Caro says:

    This is not a dramatically different thesis from the one made by Frank Kermode in his 2006 Guardian interview, although that would make Kermode “non-modern” which is an odd way to characterize him.

    Calling the subjects of this abortion of consciousness “moderns” gives a sense of scooping up Pound and Picasso into the same box with cable news and Joel Osteen, which, while it may be apt from the perspective of Plato and the Enlightenment Ancients, is somewhat excessively Baroque and perhaps of limited illustrative or persuasive value. Something like Huyssen’s After the Great Divide or the first chapter of Jameson’s Postmodernism (in which he grounds the cultural malaise you describe in our inability to “think historically”) may be of some use to you in framing this argument around one of several more well-historicized conceptions of “modernity.”

  2. I think he’s using ‘modern’ in the way it’s used in ‘modern philosophy.’ Like Heidegger. As in everything was great until that fucking Enlightenment came along. The moderns are the deluded ones who don’t realize how much better it was way back when, as Waylon said, “times were more than hard.” Great political movements always come out of this idea, of course.