For the duration of my life, since I was a small child, I have lived in dread and fear because I recognized early on that adults had gone mad with something that they could not identify. As a result, it pervaded everything they did, and made them do madness in turn.
Later on, it became clear to me that this was typical late stage civilization, where we had given up on having goals and instead were sitting around bickering over how to split up the wealth of the past while avoiding “offending” each other by mentioning the reality that they feared and dreaded but I craved.
In an early society, people agree on what must be done, who they are, and what they want to achieve. Usually this means beating back the ice giants, slaying the wolves, and setting up a functional civilization with social order, hygiene, positive reward systems, hierarchy, and a sense of aspiration toward the good, beautiful, realistic, and excellent (arete).
As a society ages, it loses two things, a sense of unity and the perception of a need for continuity. Unity means that civilization exists to strive together toward something; continuity means consistency between past and future, between our ideals, throughout our daily lives.
This disassociation of individuals from society flowers through a series of movements, one of which will be like our middle class revolt of a thousand years ago, another like The Enlightenment™ of half a millennium ago, and finally, something like postmodernism, which is just over a century old.
In each of these, the proposition will be advanced that the individual exists outside of the order of civilization and that, therefore, civilization must serve the individual instead of the individual having a role (paired duties and privileges) in society. Our manic focus on “rights” and private property is part of this separation.
We can in fact draw a line of continuity through these events. The middle classes argued that if they had money, they should have the same rights as kings, because after all kings are only rich, not better than ordinary shopkeepers, artisans, priests, and military men. Then, our intellectuals in The Enlightenment™ argued that the human form should be the measure of all things; that is, individuals were more important than the context in which they existed, because implicitly all people were roughly the same. This shows us a social feeling taking over from social order; instead of being part of an order, people were the order, and this ultimately culminated in the mob rule of democracy.
Postmodernism showed us the furthest extension of what we probably should call the “Enlightenment™ theory” since The Enlightenment™ was its clearest expression. It is too broad a topic for this essay, but postmodernism is best seen in the work of Pablo Picasso or James Joyce, a notion that there was no single universal, absolute, and objective order but only a series of perspectives; the best postmodernists took them in parallel and tried to accept them as facets of truth, and the simplistic mass culture postmodernists tried to insist that they were all true.
Nevertheless, postmodernism has reached its furthest extension and begun to slide backward into history with the forward passage of time:
The contemporary period – starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and gathering momentum throughout the 1990s and beyond – is often said to have a distinct intensity, and thus feels like a moment in which, in the words of the narrator in Ben Lerner’s novel 10.04, we find “the world rearranging itself”.
Taken together, postmodernism seems essentially to involve a questioning of the real, both in terms of the actual world, and in the representational efficacy and fidelity of fiction.
The forces that once drove postmodernism seem now to be depleted, however. Postmodernism rejected grand narratives, including those of religion, the concept of progress and of history itself…In contrast, in today’s cultural climate there appears to be a renewed engagement with history and a revival of mythic meaning-making that the arch-postmodernists would have abhorred.
If postmodernism had a fatal flaw, it was that it was still linear/categorical thinking despite wanting to escape that same approach. We might argue that the same was true of movements which attempted to reverse modernity, such as National Socialism or Fascism, which attempted to escape modernity by using modern methods, which not surprisingly simply affirmed modernity as the dominant method.
We can say, for example, that there are multiple views of reality; Nietzsche kicked off postmodernism, in my view, with his “On Truth and Lies in A Non-Moral Sense” which he later complemented with his famous statement, “There are no truths, only interpretations” (to avoid the inevitable community college rhetorical rejoinder, simply add, “including this statement”). However, that recognized that people saw different versions of reality and that some of these metaphorical heuristic approximations were more accurate than others; postmodernism self-destructed because it tried to see all points of view as equally true, which naturally led it into collision with itself (“All things are true” fails as soon as someone says “This statement is not true” because either that statement is false, and not all things are true, or all things are true including falsity, at which point “true” reduces to the arbitrary).
The linear and categorical nature of our thinking ultimately defeated us. We had no words for something that could be true, but only part of the whole picture, or something that was in degrees true and in degrees part of the whole picture. Instead of thinking as the ancients did, and emphasizing context in which each speaker was seen as knowing reality only relative to his position, we had to see each individual as autonomous and correct in order for our doctrine of “equality” to work, and we needed equality in order to believe that society did not need some context (such as purpose) in order to function. We were caught in a logical trap.
Naturally, causality eliminates everything except the human actor. The human intends something, finds a tool, and then makes it happen. The subtler, ecosystemic view of the past — which involves the creation of intricate patterns and indirect influences — gave way to the idea of man with a tool, bashing the world into submission. Our thinking became one of control, or direct manipulation of method in order to change essence, instead of the traditional outlook which focused on patterning the essence of the human so that it matched that of nature, and then the two would merge; this lives on through modern formulations like “the law of attraction.”
As it turns out, our technology had just reached the phase where we could almost indulge our fantasy of linear causality and categorical control. Our bulldozers could level mountains, and our computers could run through possibilities to find the “objective” answer very quickly. It seemed like nothing would stand in the way of man, the new god. Except that, as time went on, humankind found that its new god status did not allow it to make gods. It did not understand consciousness, and without that, found itself helpless to truly disprove and remove the old gods.
Luckily, the fall of linear causality offered new possibilities, as we discovered a series of events pointing to polycausal or Platonic/pattern-based cognition, offering us the perspective that not just our own minds, but that of the world, operated through patterns and not linear commands:
Scientists have also known, however, that when many neurons fire together they generate weak electric fields that can be recorded with the electroencephalogram (EEG). But these fields were thought to be too small to contribute to neural activity.
These new experiments in the Durand’s laboratory, however have shown that not only can these fields excite cells, but that they can produce electric fields of their own and generate a self-propagating wave of activity.
That surprise peaked during a series of experiments in which Durand and his team observed a wave “leap” across a cut they had made in brain tissue slice—a phenomenon they conclude could only be explained by the electric field coupling.
Electrons firing together form patterns, and these take on a life of their own, behaving less like particles than like waves existing across space and time. They could “leap” or in other words, transfer between similar patterns rendered in different materials.
This showed us an end to the paradox created by wave-particle duality and its implications for the nature of our universe. With this new research, we have set ourselves free of the need for linear, or human-command-like, organization to the universe.
With that falls the idea of modernity, which is that we can create absolute categories in which every object is equal and behaves according to its category identifier, instead of its context (including the indefinable inner context in which human souls exist). We had set ourselves free first from context, but now, have set ourselves free from freedom from context.
As the postmodernists realized, history moves in cycles. We start with sanity, move to variations of it, and then lesser degrees of it, finally reaching a nadir, at which point we start to build our way back toward sanity again. Behold the turning of the tide: humankind is liberating itself from itself, and now, may discover the world out there again, and within it, a goodness to existence.
We have lived in such dark times for so long. We have hated ourselves, at the same time feeling wrong about criticizing ourselves, since our technology and wealth appeared so beyond criticism. We saw no future but more of the same, infinite human expansion, even as quality gave way to quantity and made us miserable and insane.
Along with this shift toward the individual, we moved into the necrotic ages of individualism, in which we assumed that every individual had the same claim to reason, wisdom, and leadership. We failed to notice that individualism essentially consists of “if someone else has something, I want ‘my’ share” and therefore, that it made us into creatures like yeast which would consume all nutrition and then die.
Individualism found philosophical expression in egalitarianism, or the notion that all individualists are equal, because only in that way could the demands of the individual to have his share be treated seriously. Otherwise, context determined who got what, and those who had the best ability to understand the metaphorical heuristic approximations of reality that we call “thoughts” and “perceptions” were given the power to lead, the social prestige to influence standards of behavior, and the stewardship of wealth.
Leftism took the philosophy of egalitarianism and made it into a series of political systems. Since egalitarianism is conjectural, Utopian, messianic, and to a large degree apocalyptic, these took on a “do or die” nature, such that dissent was quashed. From this came our greatest insanity, which was a need to perpetuate an illusion or become the target of the angry mob descending with pitchforks, torches, tar, feathers, guillotines, gulags, and ostracism in order to destroy the non-conformists.
The world shifted Leftward after WW2. The last holdouts against liberal democracy, the Nazis and Fascists, were defeated. This made us even more Leftist, but we were held back by fear of becoming like the remaining totalitarian regime, our former allies the Soviets. When the Soviet Union fell, the last fear of “going too far Left” was gone, and so we indulged what herds of people always do, which is give away stuff today and ignore the needs of tomorrow. We justified all of this with egalitarianism.
At the end of the day however, egalitarianism relies on linear causality. We have to assume that these equal agents called humans are in fact the source of change, but that denies patterns. We forget that we live in social orders, each contributing unequally and being rewarded unequally, much as in military formations or business hierarchies. By our reliance on individualism, we denied the need for social order, much as we suppressed green nature and our inner natures through the insistence that all be equal.
Finally, we may be free of ourselves. Categories are human impositions, designed to allow every person to manipulate ideas that most will not understand; linear causality is a projection of our desire for individualism and the notion that we are in control. These have fallen, and now, finally, we can allow in reality and begin to find a goodness in it again.