The “New Normal:” Everything Acting Strangely

by Scott Preston Chrysalis  and O Society Feb 26, 2019

You’ve probably all encountered the phrase “the New Normal” at one time or another. It’s a belated recognition we’ve entered into some strange, unfamiliar world age once only anticipated in science fiction.

Human beings acting strangely. Climate and weather acting strangely. Some will even tell you the plants and animals are also acting strangely. Perhaps even you sense you are acting strangely, too.

And in connection with all this strangeness some call “New Normal,” you probably also heard the phrase “tipping point,” or similar phrases like “Omega Point” or “Singularity” and so on. This was the thing earlier anticipated, too, by Marshall Berman: “everything is pregnant with its opposite.”

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Dao De Jing 2

When all under heaven know beauty as beauty,
There is then ugliness;
When all know the good good,
There is then the not good.
Therefore being and non-being give rise to each other,
The difficult and easy complement each other,
The long and short shape each other,
The high and low lean on each other,
Voices and instruments harmonize with one another,
The front and rear follow upon each other.
Therefore the sage manages affairs without action,
Carries out teaching without speech.
Ten thousand things arise and he does not initiate them,
They come to be and he claims no possession of them,
He works without holding on,
Accomplishes without claiming merit.
Because he does not claim merit,
His merit does not go away.

(translation Ellen Chen)

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Depending whether you are an optimist or a pessimist or (a “meliorist”), this “New Normal” (and its anticipated culmination in the Great Event or “Singularity”) is a bad thing, a good thing, or both a bad thing and a good thing (what Jean Gebser calls “the double-movement” or, others, “the crisis of paradox”).

You can certainly find plenty of disagreement over why it has come about and what it all means, including in Adam Curtis’ term (and documentary film) Hypernormalisation.

Some of you are no doubt already familiar with this film.

Of course, all this strangeness that characterises the “New Normal,” which often also looks like madness and insanity, is called by other terms: “chaotic transition” or “collapse of reality,”,and so on.

Most essentially, though, a phrase like “New Normal” acknowledges something changed radically in the once familiar “structure of things,” of what we call “order” or “reality,” and no one is quite certain what it is. As a result of this change in our old familiar structures, we are presently disoriented, perplexed, and confused about where we really are in spacetime, and in what we mean by “reality.”

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Blind monks examining an elephant by Hanabusa Itchō

Things acting strangely: and, as you are probably aware by now, very little in the way of agreement about the why, what, and how of it all, or even the “big picture view” or overview, and perhaps even little in the way also of truthful and honest efforts to come to terms with it. It’s much like the old parable of the blind scholars and the elephant.

This parable is, in effect, a description of what Gebser calls “the deficient mode” of the perspectival (or “mental-rational”) consciousness, no longer capable of transcending its narrowing “point-of-view” to a true holistic, integral, or “universal way of looking at things,” ie, the “overview.”

Well, things acting strangely (or “weirdness”) are called “anomalies,” and if you saw the movie The Matrix, they point to a glitch in the structure called “the Matrix,” or a restructuration of the Matrix. That’s an apt modern parable in itself.

The New Normal – A Short by Spike Jonze

The philosopher and historian Thomas Kuhn became famous for his investigation of the role of such “anomalies” in the history of scientific revolutions, through his book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The anomaly is the sudden intrusion into our reality and awareness of the strange, the weird, the unexpected, the unfamiliar, which portends the breakdown and dysfunctionality of an old structure (or theory) but also a re-structuring.

In other words, if you are interested in Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy, you pretty much will find it also reflected in Kuhn’s history of the scientific revolutions. Much of Gebser’s insightful history of human consciousness structures is corroborated in Kuhn’s book, and you can learn a great deal about the meaning of “chaotic transition” and Gebser’s “double-movement” from studying Kuhn’s history of the scientific revolutions.

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Milky Way ASAP Science

The thing about “the New Normal,” though, is the sheer scale of it, and Gebser thought of it as nothing less than a total transformation of the structure of reality itself, which would, of course, be the same as a “New Age,” as William Blake once also foresaw it. And Blake’s Prophetic Books, too, are full of descriptions of the apocalyptic chaos and turbulence he foresaw as part of that total restructuration of reality and the birth of a new consciousness structure and corresponding reality — “fourfold vision.”

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Fourfold Visions of William Blake

It seems rather uncanny, too, that things like “gender dsyphoria” should so closely resemble the condition of Gebser’s “double-movement” and “the crisis of paradox”, doesn’t it? Or that gender dysphoria should so uncannily resemble the archetype of the primordial “hermaphrodite” or Androgyne. It’s certainly an interesting phenomenon when one considers it within that context, perhaps considered as a symptom of something far more fundamental about the restructuration of reality.

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Zhuangzi: the story of the zookeeper and his monkeys and his “double walk” (Liangxing 兩行)

But to wear out your brain trying to make things into one without realizing that they are all the same – this is called “three in the morning.” What do I mean by “three in the morning”? When the monkey trainer was handing out acorns, he said, “You get three in the morning and four at night.” This made all the monkeys furious. “Well, then,” he said, “you get four in the morning and three at night.” The monkeys were all delighted. There was no change in the reality behind the words, and yet the monkeys responded with joy and anger. Let them, if they want to. So the sage harmonizes with both right and wrong and rests in Heaven the Equalizer. This is called walking two roads.

There’s reason to believe this is the case —  “something unknown is doing we know not what,” as Eddington once phrased it, but it is also a complete and total restructuration of what we call “reality,” in which we are all implicated.

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Chuang Chou 2 Discussion on Making All Things Equal

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

(translation Watson)

Such a mutation of metamorphosis of “reality” (not just our mental picture of it) would be quite incomprehensible to us, since it would implicate everything — effectively “a new Heaven and a new Earth.” Blake certainly felt that what we presently call “reality” wasn’t real at all, but was only camouflage for the real. He called it “Ulro” or “Vala” or a “cloak.” (Oddly enough the words “cloak” and “clock” are related — the idea of “time” or the clockwork universe). Of course, Eastern philosophies have also long used terms like “samsara” or “Maya” or “Lila” for the same understanding, and some Christian mystics called “reality” our “Cloud of Unknowing.”

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We do sense that the Modern Mind is losing its bearings, and that this loss of bearings manifests in sometimes aberrant ways in the “New Normal” — the multiple duplicities of Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind, as I’ve termed those. But how much of this might actually be a symptom of the complete restructuration of reality which has not yet become fully conscious of itself? An underlying movement or mutation of the “real” of which we are not yet fully conscious, and to which we are responding very badly, in fact.

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The Japanese term Mushin is comprised of two characters (kanji),“Mu” (left) meaning negation and “Shin” (right)  meaning heart, mind, spirit, or feeling.

I tend to think this is so. But it also presents enormous difficulties for what we call “mind” and language, (which may be one reason why Buddhists say, “just drop it”: no-mind, because “mind” is just part of the illusion — at least in the way we understand “mind.” That could even have survival value in such circumstances, since you can’t lose your mind if you don’t have one to lose. In Buddhism, Mind and Mara are pretty much the same thing.

mara

 Shakyamuni Buddha: the attack of Mara (मार) and his daughters Himalayan Art

Blake, of course, called mind “Urizen,” and Urizen he also called “Noboddady” — no one, nothing, empty. Blake dropped Mind and acquired “fourfold vision.” Most people thought he was actually insane for that, although those who knew Blake considered him the sanest man they had ever met.

It’s quite the paradox itself.

(header image: Monkey Wrench Gang by HR Crumb)

6 thoughts on “The “New Normal:” Everything Acting Strangely

  1. Thank you for the kind words. This piece is a collaboration between O Society and The Chrysalis. There is enough in this single piece upon which to spend an entire lifetime of study. We try to make most essays accessible to the general public at O Society. However, sometimes there is no choice but to go completely off the deep end, and The New Normal is an example.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed. Asked Scott at Chrysalis if he would collaborate again with us here at O Society. He’s agreed to do so. Any topics in particular you would like to see us cover?

        Like

      2. I enjoy Scott’s work. Suggestions?

        Maybe do a piece on Ian McGilchrist. That is a fascinating topic. I’m a bigger fan of the related theorist Julian Jaynes. But Scott is more familiar with McGilchrist and writes about him regularly. Of the interviews with Jordan Peterson I’ve seen, the only one that I found interesting was done with McGilchrist. Both McGilchrist and Jaynes have written about consciousness and brain functioning in relationship to society and history. There is much great material to be worked into all kinds of pieces.

        One area of Jaynes’ work that is worthy of being explored is voice-hearing. Many theorists and researchers have taken up that topic, including the anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann who was inspired to go into that field of study because of her reading Jaynes when younger. Luhrmann has a great book about her anthropological study of voice-hearing in an evangelical church. She also has a paper comparing voice-hearing in the United States and Ghana.

        There are many other suggestions I could make, no doubt. But the above touches upon some of my favorite topics.

        Liked by 1 person

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