by Scott Preston
Neo-liberal economics and the so-called “New Normal” are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing processes. Not too many people actually appreciate this, which is one reason we are having a devil of a time with both. The “New Normal”, as we have discussed previously, is characterised by an epidemic of the “four d’s” of duplicity — Double-Think, Double-Talk, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind. Much of this situation and condition we owe also to the pernicious self-contradictions and blowback effects of neo-liberalism.
Margaret Thatcher, herself a disciple of the neo-liberal economic theorists (Hayek and Friedman), expressed the essence of the neo-liberal creed when she announced “there is no such thing as society”, along with her now infamous TINA principle (“There is No Alternative”). Thatcher recognised only “individuals and families” as being real and substantial.
With Thatcher’s background as a chemist, it’s not difficult to see how she arrived at such a reductionistic view of society as a mere assemblage of “individuals and families” — as atoms and molecules of atoms — and in those terms, too, revealed herself as being a “market fundamentalist”.
It’s testimony to the myopia of the Late Modern Mind (the deficient mode of the mental/rational) that few seemed to appreciate this as nihilism. On the contrary, in an incredible act of self-negation, even “New Labour” under Tony Blair adopted the Thatcherite formula, seemingly blind to the implications and consequences.
Neo-liberalism (along with neo-conservatism and New Labour as side-kicks) began the radical project of rending the social fabric by dissolving all erstwhile remnants of whatever social bonds of community, empathy, and fellow-feeling that still might have existed between and among human beings. This left nothing but naked self-interest and egoism as the “new normal” — fragments of society now dissolved into “individuals and families” thrown into direct competition with one another for scarce resources and for survival within the framework of the “universal market”. The only bond that was recognised as real was economic exchange and the law of contract. The utopian ideal of neo-liberalism is “every man or woman an entrepreneur!” That was, basically, neo-liberalism’s war-cry against “society”.
The sacrifice of “society” was the price of “liberty”. So went (and goes) the logic of this. But basically this programme of liberty from “society” generated a state of war of all against all in the name of “survival of the fittest” in the competitive marketplace. Under the circumstances of mutual competition for resources and survival in the “free market”, “honesty is the best policy” became null and void. To survive in the universal market, you had to practice deceit, fraud, misrepresentation, dissembling, lying, the construction of masks, “the Me Brand”. Neo-liberalism did not encourage liberty. It encouraged corruption.
Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salvador Dalí (1937)
And so we have arrived in “the New Normal”. Not liberty but libertinism and “the culture of narcissism” was the outcome, and atomisation, fragmentation, and social chaos.
So, now we are in the position where we have to overthrow neo-liberalism and rebuild society. We evidently need to restore bonds of fellow-feeling and a sense of shared life, overcome the “empathy deficit”, and pretty much reconstruct “society” again from the ground up. This isn’t going to happen, though, unless we collectively repudiate the Thatcherite/ Reaganite screed and recognise it for what it was — a species of nihilism, even if it was necessary to pave the way for a reconstruction of society on a sounder and healthier basis.
In that sense, we might even be grateful for neo-liberalism and its revealing of our own inherent self-contradictions and cognitive dissonance. For certainly, Thatcher could not have gotten away with her reductionist formula if we had been at all sane anyway. She was simply a symptom of the latent contradictions that have now matured and come to a head as “the New Normal”.
It suits the neo-liberal (dis)order just fine if people fail to understand how “the New Normal” developed and evolved out of neo-liberal theory and praxis. As Heraclitus noted, the Gorgon is the alter ego of Athena, and Hades the alter ego of Dionysus, and so is the New Normal the alter ego of neo-liberalism — the sour fruit and poisoned apple that grew on its tree. “New Normal” and “Collapse of Reality” are essentially the same thing.
Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man Salvador Dalí (1943)
It’s one of the perverse ironies of the New Normal that the architects of this deplorable condition now cry out for “unity”, though they bear most of the responsibility for the disunity to begin with. Apparently they see no option but to resort to a coercive authoritarian solution — the strong man who “will make the trains run on time”.
We could avoid that. It’s one of the reasons I promote Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy, not only as an effective diagnostic tool for assessing “social diseases” such as those of the New Normal, but a way of rebuilding a society or civilisation that has broken down and has entered into crisis. But, of course, you can’t have social peace without an effective concept and understanding of society and a coherent social philosophy, and this is what neo-liberalism denied even existed.
Too many people, today, are the unwitting pawns of a false ideology, and are lashing out in all the wrong directions. That suits the architects just fine, and they even encourage (and finance) these diversions and deflections and the functional utility of the scapegoat and “symbolic gestures” and the empty pageantry of the cultural spectacle such as was nearly perfected by the decadent Roman ruling class in its time.
But the charade cannot last much longer.
Temptation of Saint Anthony by Salvador Dalí (1946)
This morning I read through Oliver Burkeman’s essay in The Guardian, “How the News Took Over Reality“. It follows a theme once explored, too, by Neal Gabler in his fine book Life The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality. In many respects, both Burkeman and Gabler speak to what is now referred to as “the collapse of reality”. This “collapse of reality” is, in turn, what Rosenstock-Huessy describes as the disintegration of the “cross of reality”, and one of the descriptive terms for that is “pandaemonium”
“Everything, all the time” is pretty much the very definition of pandaemonium. This is the basic matter that Burkeman addresses in his article. “Everything, all the time” and “the collapse of reality” (and the resulting pandaemonium) is basically a description of the post-modern condition.
Elephants by Salvador Dalí (1948)
What this means is that the basic signposts and familiar landmarks by which we orient ourselves in “reality” disappear. “Everything, all the time” implies a loss of discernment between the inner and outer, and the past and future. Our familiar and conventional ways of dimensioning our reality and organising our experience of the real breaks down. But that is also a description of “psychosis”. So, the “collapse of reality” and the disintegration of a consciousness structure (Gebser) are pretty much the same issue.
As you may recall, a “consciousness structure”, as described by Jean Gebser, is a particular way of dimensioning our reality or experience of the real in terms of space and time. There is, as such, always an affinity between our cosmic picture and our particular consciousness structure, and dimensioning is discernment by which we relegate things and events to past or future, or to the inner and outer domains. We call this “a logic”. A consciousness structure is a particular spatio-temporal logic of discernment or dimensioning for organising (or patterning) our experience of physical reality.
“Everything, all the time”, such as we experience in today’s internet and media milieu, implies the breakdown of that dimensioning or a loss of discernment between what belongs to the past or the future, or to the subjective or objective dimensions. This might be described as the “decoherence” of the “cross of reality”, and corresponds to the disintegration of a consciousness structure. In our case, the mental-rational or “perspectival”. Perplexity is the experience of this disruption in the cross of reality.
Now, as you might well imagine, “everything, all the time” presents an acute and critical problem for a perspectivist and perspectivising consciousness and logic which, at any one time, is intensely focussed, almost telescopically, in one direction or dimension of reality. This is what we refer to as a “bias” — a tendency to over-exaggerate, even in a hyper-partisan way, the subjective or the objective front, or the past (“trajective” or traditionalism) or the future (“prejective” or progressivism) fronts. This is also what we refer to as “myopia” or “tunnel vision” or “point-of-view” consciousness and also “identity”. Our received or conventional logic is simply not capable of handling complexity or “everything, all the time”.
“Everything, all the time” therefore seems like chaos to the perspectivising ego-consciousness, or what Dr. McGilchrist calls “the Emissary” mode of attention. “Everything, all the time” overwhelms the capacities and capabilities of the ego/emissary mode, which is why we see now a turn towards new field or matrix logics or interest in the holistic or “overview” (as against mere “point-of-view”) and, of course, Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness”.
In these terms, the civilisational crisis is also a crisis of consciousness — a loss of that consciousness structure’s coherence or integrity, and which appears as “corruption” and duplicity (which it is) and as “the New Normal”.
“Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”, as W.B. Yeats put it in “The Second Coming”. That should be entirely understandable in terms of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” model as a disintegration and decoherence of its form and structure.
“Disconcerting” is the name for the resulting pandaemonium. It’s an interesting word — the opposite of a “concert” which, as you know, is composed of multiple voices and instruments that should be anything but a dissonant cacophony and pandaemonium. A “concert” would not be such a bad metaphor for thinking about what we mean by “society” either– at least, a healthy one. Better than Clockwork or Megamachine or automaton.
(header image: Swans Reflecting Elephants by Salvador Dali)