THE CAVE OF FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS VI of IX

Posted by on April 17th, 2010 at 9:00 AM

My land, the power of training!  Of influence!  Of education!
It can bring a body up to believe anything.
—Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee

Moderns live in a society so alienated from its own withered patrimony of concepts, principles and values that they cannot recognize how profoundly it has ceased to qualify as a true societas, a “community of friends [socii], comrades or compatriots” and based in their common conscience.  Moderns are unaccountably surprised by the generally submerged or masked forms of vicious hostility that underlie even the most innocuous, trivial or mundane issues; but the problem is not the irremediable differences of perspective but rather the entirely misconceived or suppositious impression of congeniality.  In a “culture” that has hardly any contents at all other than manipulable and kitschy rhetoric, our antagonisms and schisms are buried from view beneath a veneer of that polluting rhetoric, a psychic balm of feel-good sentimentalisms, phony pietisms and schmaltzy jingoisms that guarantees hardly any would-be independent minds can grow to their full stature and self-understanding.  It is the whole and ultimate purpose of pseudo-democratism to discredit a priori every contrarian perspective  that deviates from the mass-controlled majoritarian climate.  The more acute and disciplined the point of view, the more “radical” and “elitist” and effete it will “obviously” appear to be, necessarily falling wide of the range of cartoonish popular banalities.

The very existence of “modern order” is merely an elaborated genius for ideological obscurantism and pseudo-orthodoxy, a system interpreting for the culturally and intellectually incompetent what it is that they need to believe they “think.” The subtle and nimble congruity between form and content, between expression and existence—the paradigm and criterion of aristic eloquence and culture, of classical “truth” and simplicity, the laconic self-mastery about which the ancient Greeks rightly prided themselves–is grossly lacking from the modern noosphere:  everywhere in daily life and the media (and most acutely in politics, religion, and “education”), oxymorons both naïve and Orwellian, and wholly self-obtuse incoherences that symptomatize the stupefactions of relativism and subjectivism and egocentrism, proliferate without any impediment of critical self-consciousness.  How else could a “Democratic” Party bereft of democratic culture and a “Republican” Party bereft of republican values prevail across an entire modern superstate?  –What the British call “bulls” (self-imperceptive howlers, obtuse and lunatic self-contradictions) pepper the public domain in a land where “Christian” terrorist militias threaten public officials and moguls of “free enterprise” have installed direct shunts to Pentagon budgets.  The list of forces and powers that have overpowered or trumped feeble rationality and consciousness in the US particularly would not be a finite one.

Modern existence is a normalized state of moral Babel or “civil war” (anarchicalism, class war, subjectivism) that has defeated not just the basal principles of social order and individual autonomy but also, and most profoundly, the value-“patrimonies” of Athens and Jerusalem, which have ceased indeed to count as any sort of actual or living “inheritance”:  paranoiac, mendacious, viciously competitive and idiotizingly self-interested, and everywhere riven by acidic forces of abstraction or alienativity that it cannot begin to fathom, modernity is a form of dyssociation in which it has become obligatory not just to be deceptive toward others but furthermore delusive toward one’s own self.  Even a glancing exposure to our politics and economics is sufficient to show massified tectonic plates of organized and mobilized false consciousness threatening to smother the protective structures of constitutional rights, the primordial practical possibility of any evidentiary “common sense” any longer.  This profoundly lying and radically truthless self-intoxication—this coast-to-coast, partly formal and partly informal totalitarian program of true-believing, materialist self-glorification (“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”)—is the successful lobotomy, the abortion of all fundamental a priori criteria that make truth, justice, value-intelligence and value–rationality nominally possible among a species fatally bound and organized for pseudophilia (see my Otherwise, numbers 38 and 53).  For, historically and pandemically, humans have perennially been at risk of hating truth:  in a polluted modern noosphere where the fundamental syntax of speech and thinking has been established by “commercial culture” and scientized Orwellianisms, moderns are more than ever before violently allergic to criticism of their frauds and fallacies, and love to have their biases incestuously invigorated (“rhetoric,” “ideology,” “entertainment,” “gospel,” etc.).  To compare “debate” in the castrated US House or Senate, where it is presently contrary to parliamentary tenor to disparage another member’s covert motives and intentions, with the freewheeling and incisively iconoclastic polemics of Britain’s representative chambers, is to observe a great advance in mendacity or engineered untruth in the American case (and note if you will the double standard by which the GOP itself scarcely feels bound by the rules of constraint it expects its opponents to respect).

Moderns’ “education” is ultimately no kind of true or authentic education at all but a more and more naked power-play on the part of a tribal utilitarianism that leaves them only the illusion of “free choice.”  Likewise their streamlined “culture” of productive and consumptive efficiency is, above all other frauds and delusions and deceptions, definitely no kind of culture or matrix of norms and values.  Another way to express the strategic framework of this mass-purgation of values is in terms of “technocracy,” an uncomprehended and uncriticized mania for proliferating and refining systems of means, instrumentalities, methods, techniques, schemes, organizations, Pavlovian-Machiavellian manipulative mechanisms or apparatuses, and of course also the technical-obedient mentalities and personalities (“professionals,” “officials”) indispensable to making such a regime feasible (for the invaluable services of such technocrats to the amoral implementation of Nazi rule, see Gotz Aly and Susanne Heim’s Architects of Annihilation).  And yet another way to conceptualize this technocracy is in terms of an empire of materialism or blindly self-justifying economism, a system in which the onetime-subordinated or -auxiliary domain of economic life and power has grown into a monstrosity asphyxiating all extraeconomic and higher-order dimensions of life such as culture, education, politics, religion, philosophy.

It is less of a fortuitous happenstance than moderns may imagine that the forms of “livelihood” among them have triumphed over the forms of life, of meaning, purpose, and value (see Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, and Philip Rieff’s Triumph of the Therapeutic, as well as Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844).  The issue of “philistinism” and “mechanism”—the plight of complacency or mechanized naivete among types that C. Wright Mills termed “cheerful robots,” but now have evolved more abysmally into “clueless sophistication”—may involve “massified superficialism” but it itself is nothing superficial, in its psycho-enginering.  The poverty of values, principles, scruples, and higher-order self-culturing is a perennial if not genetic character-trait of a certain personality marked by vacuous formalisms, verbalisms, susceptibility to and aptitude at rhetorical manipulation:  this is an abstractively fated species of structurally or modally constricted, leftbrained personality—called banausoi by the ancients, “mechanicals” by the Elizabethans, and bourgeoisie or “techies” by moderns—that has always been stony ground for the seeding of values and culture.  Too clever to permit themselves to be enslaved alongside ineducably puerile douloi, daedalean banausoi unfortunately are abysmally lacking in the value-principles and intuitive culture of individuality, critical intelligence and autonomy that ultimately make both philosophy and democratic responsibility co-feasible.  Modernity has succumbed more and more pathetically to a regime of such clever-but-myopic, psycho-intellectually one-sided banausoi.

Impenetrability to all matters of intrinsic significance makes these “bourgeois” or technocratic creatures only conformizing and duplicitous mock-individuals, Hollywood-false-front simulacra of a now-extinct full or true humanity.  Banausoi are in every historical era conscienceless and impious apparatchiki available for organization into amoral loyalty-structures, whether in corporate/bureaucratic/military/academic or in ecclesiastical machine-orders.  What has happened everywhere to “the humanities” in so-called “higher education” has necessarily happened to humanity as well—the extermination of humans’ millennial resources of natural-intuitive or immanent self-comprehension and self-evaluation, replaced now by rigoristic abstractivist formulas and alienated codes of dysindividualized conduct:  the economy, both in contemporary capitalism and in its “diametrical antagonist” of communism, has reduced humanity and society utterly to functions of its detached yet cultic, self-validating proceduralisms.  Just as in the specific domains of education, law, religion, the arts, etc., so the society overall takes it for granted that neither justice nor wisdom nor culture nor insight nor any other substantive good or value will truly result from its grinding gears.  “Law is what we have because we cannot have justice.”  Humans in toto have lost their orienting, transcendent and sobering gestalten of values:  man, as Kafka perceived, is just a hapless vermin in the alleyways among modernity’s great Molochs.  Babel is the name of this barbarized “human” condition, and a plague of organized mendacity is the halitosis by which you may know it.

This dysculture can be railed against, to little effect, but nonetheless it is what prevails, what is as blindly taken for granted as the habituated forms of the English language or the mindless reaction-codes of traffic signals:  it is an artificialism, a work of dysculture that has been normalized and passed off as utterly natural or virtually fated (“human nature” as Nietzsche termed it, the meatheaded slavish simianism of the “human-all-too-human”) and also as the only conceivable “metaphysics” of idiotism or privatism to which moderns are subhumanly doomed.  There no longer exists any free play or latitude for human imagination and searching self-understanding; it has everywhere become what the world-machine requires of it.  Another decade and the “mundane fascism” of the modern universe will become even more abysmally unrecognizable for what it is, as it grows more radically convergent with its own hellishly dystopian concept.  The dysculture saturates the mentalities even of most of its would-be critics, who grasp its dysfunctionalities only in limited aspects like the blind men feeling only a selected part of the unencompassable, incomprehensible elephant’s whole organism.  The entire propagating universe of myopic and slavish acquiescence, of creatures dysformed to overlook their dynamo of cancers and fatuities and ideological fallacies, functions like a never-sleeping iron lung pumping pollution upon pollution into their defenseless lungs.

(1) People too obtuse to recognize their own naivete cannot wrap their minds around the possibility that, by their own lifelong acquiescence and compliance, they long ago fated themselves to become unfit to be free without courting disaster for themselves and others (what else does the massive public/private fiscal deficit of the US ultimately signify, and the inexorable decline in substance and quality of our “educational” system?—it is not our institutions that are “failing” us but rather our demented anomic systems of “norms,” our hedonist-consumerism and our nihilist-materialism, that have succeeded all too well in formatting the wasteland of our modern provincialism, our asphyxiating normality).  The wisdom of the ancients reached its consummate expression in the gnomic sayings of Heraclitus, whose lightning-profundities still strike amidst our long power-failured night of the soul:  “It would not be better for men if they got what they wanted,” namely, the world-ruining fulfillment of witless wish-world fantasies stoked by rootless and appetite-driven egos.

And (2) people who regard themselves as demonstrably sharper, more farsighted or more sophisticated (moreso than the moronic multitudes) likewise can virtually never grasp that all their acuity or agility at “thinking” may be no more than the facile familiarity with the obvious that grows out of constantly reiterating the same presuppositions and methods (the “second nature” of a specific circle or tribe).  Their egos are so complacently nested in the habituated banalities of organized power and systematized wealth as never to have raised any truly essential, rational, critical, reflective, fundamental, or philosophical self-questions:  totalitarianism like this modus vivendi has been concisely described as “an inside with no outside,” that is, an all-controlling monopoly on perspectives that is ferociously intolerant of independent ways of understanding and of evaluating itself.

But all of modernity, for all its putative permissiveness, is, just as such, a totalitarian regime; moderns manifest this imprisonment in every impoverished, insular attempt to grasp the significance of life, individuality, will, society, nature, and values.  In any form or mode of existence where life has been systematically rendered toxically meaningless, the ineptness of most people to raise the very issue of its significance or purpose is truly a species of denial, a defense-mechanism subservient to the delusionality of the whole:  this is a function of dysculture vital to the pathos of all whose lives are getting devoured by the anaconda of that “world-order.”  The rise of “philistine” or mechanistic banauseia and its gross obliviousness to culture, values and philosophy is, all together, the way a barbarizing species of organization masks itself by anesthetizing its patients.  For such a viciously composed dysorder, there are no norms, principles or values making “consciousness” actually possible, any more than making “truth” possible:  human subjectivity is so much detritus captured in a great shepherding meteor-belt, far indeed from manifesting the principles of intimate self-significance that actual cultures once made feasible for “humans” under a regime of nomos.

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