Thursday, December 8, 2016

Transcend and Exclude: the Postmodern U-Turn

Ken Wilber has argued, and I completely agree with him, that humanity’s current task is the extension and maturing of the orange, modern, individualistic wave of consciousness.  Globally, only around 20% of us have our “center of gravity” in orange, although the contributions of those at orange have radically altered all of us for the better in the past 200 years.  And, as I have explored previously, we have yet to fully integrate the earlier waves so that even our current occupation of/by orange has a long way to go to operational maturity among a critical mass of us.

This challenge is complicated by the emergence of green in a very immature and reactionary version he calls, appropriately, “Boomeritis.”  The mass appearance of green as a wave distinct from orange can be dated to the 1960s, even as we can see expressions of it showing up in the mid-nineteenth century.

The discontinuity from orange that green has generated is that individual identity (the gift of orange) is the birthright of every human being, no exceptions, and thus no one person or group can be privileged over another.  In the long run, for green to mature into a separate and superior wave with probabilistic characteristics that transcend and include all the inferior waves, it will have to demonstrate and express this embrace consistently.

To date, the Boomeritis version of green which appears to predominate in Europe and the United States does not yet transcend and include, much less integrate, the earlier stages.  Indeed, in its left-wing postmodernist expression, it explicitly rejects the rational domain which, as a necessary condition for individual identity, was a categorical advance over amber.  This transcend-and-exclude dynamic has all kinds of impacts on our current situation, most of them (apparently) leading away from the expansion of consciousness.

Since they both showed up at about the same time, we cannot say with certainty which came first, left-wing postmodernism or Boomeritis green.  We can say that, for most of its history since the French Revolution, leftist political-economic perspectives have been a reaction to modernity, not a leap beyond it. 

Some of these expressions have accepted the advances of modernity—particularly in their political and economic structures—and have sought to ameliorate what its practitioners see as negative impacts on humanity.  But the Boomeritis green perspectives, with their emphasis on deconstruction and “multiculturalism,” not only reject modernity but seek to return to a simpler world of squabbling tribes dominated by an unelected oligarchy, this time not comprising a hereditary aristocracy but a group of “experts,” who, they aver, can be counted on (like the speakers of Asimov’s Second Foundation) to guide humanity past our defects into utopia.

The development of this oligarchy of experts has been long in the making, tied initially to the nineteenth century enthusiasm for scientific knowledge as a method for understanding and manipulating everything in the cosmos.  Thus the analogies implied by Newton and Descartes that the universe as a clockwork mechanism whose workings and metrics could all be discovered and their lessons assimilated by human reason; perhaps this could be applied to humanity as a whole!

However, as Deirdre McCloskey points out in Bourgeois Equality, the third volume of her Bourgeois Era trilogy, the revolutions of 1848 resulted in a split between those political expressions that championed the emerging industrial revolution with its underlying shift from tribal to individual identity (orange) and those who joined the reaction against it.  Thus by mid-century there were many who sought to use their notions of “science” to bolster their rejection of the advances wrought by the discovery and widespread application of the scientific method, grounded as it was in Reason.  These included both the socialist and progressive movements. 

Noting how, after the first decades of the nineteenth century when orange ascendancy seemed to carry all before it in England and northwestern Europe, the clerisy—the intellectuals and other opinion leaders—soured on the transformations it was driving, McCloskey writes,
Something strange has happened in the minds of the clerisy since the Great Conversion, something worth understanding.  As a Marxian might put it, the cultural superstructure since 1848 has contradicted the material base.  Whether an inevitable tendency to contradict itself or some less neat explanation is appropriate, the loss of faith in the bourgeoisie at its hour of triumph had grave consequences in politics beyond the economy. 
. . . But anticapitalism came in part also because trade-testing disturbed the society without at first enriching ordinary people greatly.  It did enrich them eventually, and spectacularly, but too late in the nineteenth century to scotch the feeling in the clerisy that laissez-faire individualism in politics had failed.  When trade unionism, the Bismarckian welfare state, Progressivism, and socialism arrived, they corresponded with the big rise in real wages, and gave the impression of causing it—when it was in fact caused by rising productivity from trade-tested betterment.  To this day progressives believe that without minimum wages and trade unions our wages would fall to $2 an hour.  Their bit of anti-economic illogic is that without state-enforced minimums there would occur “a race to the bottom.”  The argument ignores the competition among bosses that yields wages equal to what employees produce at the margins.
But she keys on to the unfortunate point, that the mass enrichment that resulted in spectacular increases in real wages, living conditions, literacy, and leisure time lagged by about two generations, and thus provided the counterrevolutionaries impelling arguments against the Great Conversion from the amber to the orange political economies.

World War I seemed to justify the unleashing of the demons of rage against modernity, even as most could not foresee that the war was the first of many subsequent bloody struggles by amber to knock out orange.  The driving force of the war, German imperial ambitions to rival if not prevail against the British Empire, was amber in origin, the German industrial revolution notwithstanding.  While Bismarck may have understood and adapted to modernity, Wilhelm II and his Junker cabinet did not.  Contrarily, while the British aristocracy was in the main hostile to the industrial order, it had long since accommodated itself to its blessings and riches. 

Thus World War I was essentially an amber attack (the Central Powers) against a perceived orange political and economic threat (the Allied Powers). 

The fallout of that war, with its unprecedented and unforeseeable violence and bloodshed, undermined bourgeois confidence in the dynamics of modernity and bolstered the counterrevolutionaries on both the Left and the Right.  Even as the United States turned its back on Woodrow Wilson’s longing for a “living Constitution” that would suppress the detested individual sovereignty that was the basis of American founding principles, Europe never fully recovered its confidence in its part as a co-creator of the Great Enrichment.

And of course, the Great Depression of the 1930s opened the floodgates of popular demands for “experts” to be hired to “fix the problems of capitalism” which were presumed to be the causes of such widespread misery. 

All of the extremist political revolutions of the time, from the Bolsheviks and Mussolini’s fascists, through Hitler and all the vicious copycat offshoots that sprang up across Europe, were iterations of the amber counterrevolution against modernity. 

Unlike the institutions of the modern political economy, which tended to be far more practical, non-ideological, and market-tested, those of the Left were permanently seized by enthusiasm for the post-capitalist utopia, which they believed was made possible by the orange scientific revolution that also enabled the detested bourgeoisie.

With God being declared dead among the clerisy of Europe, the new faith in the perfectibility of man through expert redesign became the unofficial creed of the Left and of many in the corridors of its rent-seeking financial aristocratic allies.

It was also in the 30s that Antonio Gramsci developed his theory of cultural hegemony, and that Max Horkheimer propelled the Institute for Social Research of the Frankfurt School (and soon to infest Columbia University in New York) into the business of guiding “the long march through the institutions.”  Gramsci and Horkheimer rescued Marxism from its utter failure to overthrow the capitalist order politically by agitating to do so culturally.  This perspective soon inveigled itself into leftist movements around the world, and we are living with the fruits of its investment today.

What’s Happenin’ Here Ain’t Exactly Clear

These events occurred before the invention of post-structuralism and the mass emergence of green in the 1960s, and so it is difficult for Americans and Europeans to assess them in modern terms.  The first part of the 20th century was dominated by the bloody wars against the institutions and products of modernity, but for the most part the theoretical struggle was conducted in the language of orange, not amber.  Indeed, Marx believed he was offering a “scientific” analysis of what he called “capitalism,” and thus presented his mix of reaction, romanticism, and revolution in modernist language.  In fact, Marx would not have been possible without the emergence of the four quadrants with its validation of scientific inquiry separated from religious and mythic dominion. 

Yet even though what he produced didn’t really stand up to any actually scientific analysis—and was thoroughly debunked by the facts on the ground by the time of the Bolshevik Revolution—thousands hungry for relief from the disruptions of modern industrialization signed up for his program anyway.  That Marxism (in all its various permutations) operated as a mythic belief system rather than as a useful and accurate analysis of current events is evidence of its role as a counterrevolution against modernity, rather than—as its mythology affirmed—as a harbinger of a second-tier, transpersonal political economic program.

(Those having difficulty grasping this essential truth need only let their eyes wander southward toward the socialist paradises of Cuba or Venezuela.)

It is a stubborn fact about the scientific method that neither opinion, longing, denial, nor violence can eliminate the truth—although postmodernists will assail this assertion with great conviction.  This willful denial notwithstanding, for green to mature into a viable and therefore transcendable stage, it will have to embrace reason rather than reject it, and in order to get there, it will have to discover the impulse that led to its rejection in the first place.

As Wilber puts it,
Although each wave is holistic and integrative, each succeeding wave transcends and includes its essentials (in a prehensive unification—which we reconstruct as tetra-hension), and thus each is more holistic, more inclusive, more encompassing.
In short, in healthy unfolding, each wave is holistic, each succeeding wave is more holistic. Preceding waves are not thereby rendered useless or wrong or illusory, but continue to contribute their enduring truths, holons, enactments, and expressions, which are now enfolded in the ongoing spiral of unfoldment—just as atoms and molecules continue to function in healthy cells.
The difficulty is that, as a first tier wave, green nonetheless suffers from the conviction that it alone is the fountain of truth, and that all opposition is heresy and must be opposed if not destroyed—aurantia delenda est.  On the other hand, green’s actual distinction from orange provides the basis for an eventual settling down into a discernible structure that transcends, includes, and integrates the earlier waves.  This will require the rejection of the main premises of leftwing postmodernism, the assertion that all truths are relative, context-dependent, and malleable.

The Gifts of Postmodernity
v. Leftwing Postmodernism

This challenges integralites to make the very important distinction between “postmodernity” as a descriptor of the realm that transcends modernity, and “postmodernism” as a leftwing doctrine that arises from the amber counterrevolution against modernity.  Wilber tackles this in several of his important and rather neglected works, The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998), and the web-published (and tentatively titled) Kosmic Karma and Creativity (2002).   In the latter work, which is an extensive analysis of this distinction, he writes,
The result of the postmodern slide was famously stated by Bret Easton Ellis as, “Surface, surface, surface was all that anyone found . . . , which one reviewer summarized as, “Everything reduced to the flattest surface . . . There is no within.” The nihilism and narcissism of extreme postmodernism, pluralism, and poststructuralism, especially in their deconstructive forms, increasingly came to the fore, eventually dominating academic discourse and ironically marginalizing alternative modes of discourse (ironic in that the postmodernist pluralists ended up exemplifying the marginalizing activity that they attacked). The postmodern poststructuralists all started sounding the same, as out of their mouths came the green meme, a vast anonymous system without a subject.
Although Wilber asserts that the principal architect of postmodernism, Michel Foucault, soon grasped the nature of the issue and offered a corrective, he also notes that Foucault never completed his reconsiderations of his initial errors.
Still, it is easy to see the direction in which he was headed. The whole point . . . is that, indeed, human action cannot be adequately accounted for by any combination of “mental intentionality” (UL), “physical causality” (UR), or “social causality” (LR), but must be supplemented with an understanding of the fields and networks of intersubjectivity (LL). That necessity bids us stay close to the intersubjective interiors that are being elucidated . . .

Foucault came to see [the importance of] interpretive analytics. “This new method,” comment Dreyfus and Rabinow, “combines a type of archaeological analysis which preserves the distancing effect of structuralism [the exterior, objectifying, component], and an interpretive dimension which develops the hermeneutic insight that the investigator is always situated and must understand the meaning of his cultural practices from within them [the interior, intersubjective component . . . ].”

And so it came about, in this wonderfully fractured fairy tale, that Foucault himself, after having led the wild goose chase of postmodern poststructuralism, circled back again to the enduring contributions of an adequate structuralism, which means, a third-person approach to first-person realities that actually honors both the third person and the first person, both of whom are, in the last analysis, sentient beings to be trusted.
Thus the postmodernist contribution, as heralded by Foucault, was the rejection of premodern or modern givens, and the realization that we are all constructing our reality moment-by-moment; its major error was the rejection of the accumulative trajectory of history as a facilitator and source of the activity of constructing reality.

Into this breach stepped the leftwing postmodernists, who in their utter rejection of the gifts of modernity employed poststructuralism with its deconstruction paradigm in its critique of the orange project.  They stopped studying Foucault when his insights undermined their political aims.  It’s too bad, although not surprising given the unconscious amber perspectives that were using these new weapons in an old fight.

The British conservative Roger Scruton, in his chapter on Foucault in Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, also notes the shift in Foucault’s later work.  In his analyses beginning with the first volume of History of Sexuality (1976), Scruton writes,
Foucault was suffering from AIDS, and had begun to shake off his former persona as an enfant terrible.  The Solidarity movement in Poland had a deep impression on him: not only as the first genuine working-class revolution in history, but as one directed against communism and in favour of a national identity.  Foucault spoke out in favor of Solidarity, in vain, to influence the government of François Mitterrand to take punitive measures against the communist authorities in Poland. And in volumes 2 and 3 of the History of Sexuality he began to write in a new way, giving careful accounts of the ancient texts that interested him, and referring at every point to the work of other scholars.
. . . The impression created by these later works is of a Foucault who has been “normalized.”  His command of the French language, his fascination with ancient texts and the by-ways of history, his flamboyant imagination and beautiful style—all have been put, at last, to a proper use, in order to describe the human condition respectfully, and to cease to look for the secret “structures” beneath its smile.  . . . And, reading these later works, I was constantly drawn to the thought that Foucault’s belligerent leftism was not a criticism of reality, but a defence against it, a refusal to recognize that, for all its defects, normality is all we have.
One might say that the leftwing postmodernists, steeped as they are in a Boomeritis green that refuses to enjoy and appreciate the gifts of the earlier stages, seek in their first tier way to force the establishment of a new “normal”—one which they believe, in the way of the mythic/membership world of amber, they can impose on the rest of us.

Many integralites have yet to grasp the distinction that Wilber has so meticulously established between postmodernity and its unfortunate offspring postmodernism.  It is too early to tell if this mass version of green is a U-turn or a necessary if messy experiment on the way to a genuine transcendence of orange.  As the left in America and abroad comes to terms with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, whom they see as the symbol of all that they disdain about modernity and particularly its rambunctious American expression, we might begin to see the answer to this question.

No comments: