THE CIVILISING PROCESS

 

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In his book, Symbolic Exchange and Death, Jean Baudrillard examines the psychological consequences of the civilising process and concludes that while civilisation has pulled us from the primitive condition that revolved around the ideas of GIVING-RETURNING-EXCHANGING, it has sunk us into a much grimmer reality of KILLING-POSSESSING-DEVOURING.[i]

The irony that this observation reveals is that our so-called progression into the civilised beings we are, now must be seen as a bestialising process for humanity. Which means that civilisation is actually the exact opposite of what it pretends to be.

Once Baudrillard’s analysis is accepted civilisation is stripped of its pretentions to be what it says it is. The horrific consequences of civilisation have been seen over and over again throughout history, without diminishing civilisation’s own blind faith in its own existence: from the tremendous brutality of Rome with its perverse emperors; to the slave trading and war hungry empires of the modern era; to the epitome of civilised barbarity in the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin, of Mao and Pol Pot. In fact, humanity has paid an enormous price for the so-called comforts and pleasures that civilisation has brought us.

Perhaps it’s wrong to put all the blame on the civilisation process (and Baudrillard only implies the repression of civilisations without naming them), but the evolution from giving into taking (even by killing); returning into keeping and possessing; and exchanging into devouring, seems to flow with the same gravitational force that constructed the first great cities and their monuments.

In looking at the system’s death-drive instinct, Baudrillard says: “Freud installs the process of repetition at the core of objective determinations, at the very moment when the general system of production passes into pure and simple reproduction.”[ii]  For Baudrillard the radical nature of the death-drive is “simply the radical nature of the system itself.”[iii]

[i] Jean Baudrillard, SYMBOLIC EXCHANGE AND DEATH, SAGE, 1993, p. 139)

[ii] Ibid, p. 148

[iii] Ibid

THE HOLY GRAIL IN THE MINOTAUR’S LAIR

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We have been driving a juggernaut along a road leading directly to a cliff edge. If we continue going straight, we will topple into an abyss. Obviously, we cannot continue the way we are going. To avoid annihilation, we have one of two choices: we can either turn left toward a Utopia, or right into a Dystopia. It seems obvious to us which decision is the best one. And yet … most of those on board started screaming to the driver to turn right … and he has. Why? Why did we choose to go in the direction of a Dystopia before a Utopia?

Part of the problem rests in the common perception that Utopia is an impossible space. That it is no-place and therefore must be dismissed straight away. Dystopia, on the other hand, is an inevitability and therefore linked to reality. If reality and pragmatism tells us that we cannot make the world a better place, then at least we can try and protect ourselves against the evil mess that surrounds us.

In truth, our present reality is limited. But limited only by the labyrinth built around us that we call Civilisation. This maze has always been a way for managing the limitlessness of potentials in order to control them for a central cause: The cause being, the accumulation of Wealth and the protection of the wealthy classes. However, existence in the labyrinth has become precarious. The world around it is being devoured by the Minotaur that we feed at the centre of the labyrinth itself. But soon there will be nothing left for any of us to eat, and storms will come and wash us away. If we don’t get out of here, we are doomed. In order to escape we need a map, and we have to tread carefully. But how can we manage a labyrinth from within?

First, one must get a mental overview of it. It requires an intellectual transcendence through reason and the abstract; through mapping and synthesis: and this is a philosophical process.

Secondly, one has to have an anchoring in order to move confidently and lucidly within the maze. An Ariadne’s thread that will enable the hero to retrace his/her steps. With the anchoring one can creep into the unlimited enclosure and look for a way out into the limitlessness beyond its walls without feeling lost; always in touch with the overview, the mental map which provides the hero with an understanding of the maze.

The maze of our Civilisation is infinitely complex and the way out is too far away for any individual to find it in a single lifetime. In fact, it has required tens of thousands of years of intellectual mapping to get to this point we are at now. But that does not mean that a way out is impossible. There is a parallel between the labyrinth and the Grail myth.

The Grail, which cannot be reached, is the goal. It is the learning made on the journey which makes the Grail. So, in reality the Grail does not exist now, but will exist, created out of our endeavours to reach it. The goal/Grail is only holy and spiritual until we see the physical reasons for finding it. Once the physical purpose of the Grail is believed in, then authentic purpose becomes manifest.

Psychologically, the Big Other is resolved. The Big Other doesn’t exist but will exist, through rational, human endeavour.

But to get there, we have to start believing in the possibility of Utopia. In order to get the perspective needed to map the labyrinth properly and see the potential of Utopian limitlessness, a revolutionary thread is needed that will anchor humanity in partnership with the Universe as a vital element in the Universe itself. Only be flying above the maze into the ever-expanding space outside can we find a way out of our doomed enclosure. The enemy to this anchoring-in-the-absolutely-unlimited, is Wealth, which is the force maintaining the labyrinth that we call Civilisation. Utopia is an antithetical concept for Wealth, which thrives on models of Dystopia. Our Wealth-Civilisation is the enemy of Utopia, maintained by an anti-human historical narrative that it itself has created.

Nevertheless, once the lethal aspects of Dystopia are recognised, the Utopia becomes a necessary driving force; a Utopia which is itself envisaged out of necessity.

THE WOEFULNESS OF WEALTH AND THE LOTTERY OF LIFE

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Wealth has always been a reactive and cynically pessimistic force, for it essentially raises and protects itself by stimulating and encouraging whilst at the same time destroying or negating the great hopes of humanity. In fact, through its manipulation of all the agents of power, it replaces humanity with fantasies of the national spirit, of religious crusades or jihads, of the glory of Empire, or, in the case of capitalism, with the illusion of individual freedom and the achievements such phantasmagorical freedoms can bring.

All of these fantasies have a common cause – to dehumanise the human and diffuse any common aims through separation and segregation. Wealth is about disconnection, the establishment of differences. The stance of Wealth is of Us against Them; of Master and Slave; of our Gain against their Loss.

The result of the accumulation in Wealth of the Few is an intensifying of the Poverty of the Many. Capitalism has long been successful in creating the mirage of satisfaction through the seeming great progress toward the technological man. But the price paid by Wealth in the mechanisation and digitalisation of society is one of an unveiling of its own trickery. As civilisation falls deeper into an unauthenticity, society becomes more and more scarred by the false, virtual reality imposed on them; a reality lacking in true potentials; where everyone has an opportunity to be successful, whether talented or not, but success depends on it being an elitist concept. Only a small few can be truly successful, even though anyone and everyone has a chance. Life therefore becomes a lottery, and as more players come into the game, the prize swells but the chances of winning it are less and less.

But the mirror of the simulated reality of false potentials that we are facing has formed fissures and cracks. The distortions caused by these cracks allows us to look past the false image in order to discover that everything is mounted on an empty blackboard. Below the fragile surface of the mirror there is … nothing.

Anti-Fanaticism

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The world today needs great ideas. Human society needs inspiration. However, these very needs imply another necessity for extreme caution.

Our anti-human historical process teaches us that great ideas are embraced by Wealth through the apparatus of Civilisation and converts inspiration and creativity into ideology and dogma. For this reason, all good ideas have to be handled with protective gloves, not to protect our hands but in order to safeguard them from our own society’s greed.

We can use terms like Fascism or Stalinism to represent the idea of a total immersion in ideology, but likewise we could talk of Opus Deism or Mormonism, or we can unify all of these dogmas under the umbrella of Fanaticism.

The 21st century has arrived with its own peculiar narratives: the dialectic between Fanaticism and Anti-fanaticism is one of these; but this dialectic is itself swamped by a far more powerful squabble between the fanatics themselves. The seemingly age-old bickering between religious fanatics has made a comeback, in a brutal, violent way, and this is also fostered and favoured by a political ideology fanaticism, which is in truth an economic ideology. This creates a powerful and destructive dynamic that mitigates human progress and creativity whilst inflating Wealth.

Civilisation today is driven by an internecine struggle of alliances and enemies. On the one hand there are the champions of the spirit and on the other the upholders of the material. Both of these fanatical movements promise great rewards for their followers, and both of these streams create currents of wealth creating power that flow through and nurture each other.

Neither option keeps everyone happy, but together they offer a great alternative to each other: if you don’t want to be subject to one side of civilisation’s fanaticisms’ coin, then you can join the other side without needing to denounce civilisation at all. Only the fanatics are trying to escape now.

Of course this seems to be anti-intuitive: isn’t fanaticism a threat to Civilisation? Aren’t the fanatics Barbarians? This is what Civilisation would have us believe: but the real answer is “no” and “no”; Civilisation feeds its fanatics for its own benefit.

As for the Anti-fanatics: all people who are not fanatics are, potentially, anti-fanatics. However, the anti-human historical process has always shown us how easily the mechanisms of Civilisation can be used to turn non-fanatics into absolute “believers” in an historical blink of an eye. As for the anti-fanatical purist, they also have the fanatic in them: the fanaticism of the anti-fanatic. And in this sense the looming scenario is dismally pessimistic: one can only combat fanaticism fanatically. A new paradox emerges, and with each paradox a new challenge to overcome it. How do we overcome Fanaticism without being fanatical?

We imagine pockets of anti-fanatics, swimming lonely and anonymously within the great schools of ideologies; immersed because they have to be, but following the rules without conforming to the fanaticism. We think these anti-fanatics have to exist, because without them the dialectics of society would be self-contained between “spirit” and “material” and between each sections own inner squabbles; and this would have provoked a rapid collapse of civilisation itself.

Or, in other words, civilisation still exists today because of the true anti-fanatic current that flows within it.

The Anti-fanatics are cynics and scientists. They are sceptics and visionaries. They visualise Utopias and deconstruct the Heterotopias that dominate and disfigure our reality. They seem to be a tiny minority, but this may be an illusion created by complexity. Lines seem straight until we magnify them. Closer inspection always reveals an inner chaos, a deeper yearning for a more creative fabric forming existence.

THE PARANOID WORLD

What is more delusional: the paranoiac or the delusion forming civilisation that he/she is paranoid about?

To understand how enslaved we are by the system it is necessary to understand how vulnerable the human psyche is and how effectively Civilisation is able to manipulate this vulnerability in order to inhibit the natural, human instincts of progress.

Civilisation is, in effect, a monopolising of progress for itself. Only Civilisation has the resources to make progress happen. It not only decides to what extent it will happen, it also determines the speed at which the progress will unfold. Through the structure of Civilisation, a carefully controlled unravelling is carried out in a way that maximises the profit that those powers that drive Civilisation can make.

The combined creative potential in humanity is immense, and, if it were unleashed, societies would advance with incredible leaps and bounds. Nevertheless, Civilisation is designed to restrain this creative power in order to assimilate it for itself. Where progress appears cautious, it is because Civilisation hasn’t yet taken control of the innovations.

In this sense, Civilisation is paranoid about human progress. It is deeply concerned that creativity and know-how will develop societies in such a way that the profit from progress will no longer be guaranteed. Such an idea makes Civilisation extremely nervous. The accumulation of wealth is the basis of Civilisation, and it has grown addicted to it. It is time for it to go to rehab., but it says, no, no, no!

Our Lack of Humanity

What Civilisation lacks above all else is precisely the one thing we all share; our humanity.

Without the binding force that humanity possesses, societies feel fragmented; there is a sense that things are not properly put together; that everything is a mess. There is a feeling that the System enveloping society has no feeling for the society itself. Many parts of civilisation seem to be unnecessary or purposeless. The relationship that the individual parts have to the whole is not palpable and things just seem to be there, ad hoc, for no significant reason at all.

The result of this lack is that society becomes a neurotic collective of neuroses, and it becomes incapable of seeing the inherent contradictions in many of the values it upholds. In fact, it is a society that cherishes opposing sets of conscious values, but fails to appreciate the absurdity of the contradiction. It will worship freedom, but champion the needs for ever stricter controls. It will strive for peace, but does so by warring against its enemies at the slightest excuse. It will harken to the need for more human rights and social justice whilst enforcing economies that ensure the flow of money in a continual stream upward to the most privileged classes.

Civilisation desperately needs a psychiatric cure from the terrible neuroses that afflict it. Someone needs to lie our System down on the couch and explain to it once and for all what it is lacking and what it needs to concentrate on and recuperate. The cure is not so hard once the patient accepts the facts and looks for the lack within itself; for the cure is there, and always has been. In fact, it is the material that constitutes the very basis of civilisation itself. We call it “humanity”.

NEUROTIC PRIDE AND THE LOSS OF AUTHENTICITY

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In our post On Neurosis[i] we looked at how neurosis seeps into the very fabric of society and how the System itself encourages the illusionary reality of the neurotic. But, to what extent is our Civilisation itself neurotic?

At the macro-psychological level, we live in an economic system driven by neurotic pride and fear. Vindictive triumph runs rich in the veins of the brutally competitive, consumer-driven system. If we look at Horney’s thesis on neurosis as vindictive triumph, neurosis is described as “a regular ingredient in the search for glory.” A system that advocates competitiveness as a virtue would, therefore, contain neurotic elements. Horney also warns that “If it is the dominant motivating force in life, it sets going a vicious circle that is most difficult to disentangle. The determination then to rise above others in every possible way is so gigantic that it reinforces the whole need for glory, and with that the neurotic pride.”[ii] Hence, the virtue of striving to be an achiever contains a neurotic pathology that must make the system itself questionable.

Yet, it is not all capitalism’s fault: the vicious circle that Horney mentions has been running incessantly through the entire anti-human historical process since the dawn of civilisation.

Neurosis, or at least neurosis according to Horney’s definition[iii], is a loss of authenticity. The neurotic individual becomes so lost in the ‘shoulds’ of society that he or she loses touch with her own authentic wants and needs. Likewise, the neurotic system itself has lost sense of its primary human condition and has drowned itself in a sea of non-authentic identities based on separation: identities that create vindictive pride, and are reinforced as identities by that same vindictive pride.

But, like the neurotic, the vindictive pride that motivates the system is twisted by its authentic self; in the macro-psychological self, by humanity. Humanity is also behind the man-made system, but more as an omnipresent stranger than as a recognisable member of the system itself. Humanity is more like a spectre, haunting our System-run lives, than any real motivator of them. Nevertheless, it is omnipresently critical, working like a subconscious superego that gnaws at us and makes us feel fraudulent, unsatisfied, or even displaced in the societies we live in.

As an anti-human creation, the System suffers from a massive, ingrained inauthenticity, which in turn has a retarding effect on the System’s own desires for progress. No matter how hard it tries to push forward, it keeps circling around within itself. Without an ability to embrace its authenticity, the System is doomed to crash into the problem of self-hate. Civilisation itself is torn by a deep rift of conflict between its despised, authentic self (its humanity) and its idealised creation of itself (personified in its many different forms of identities).

Civilisation’s condition is as Horney said of the neurotic: “there is a war on. And this is the essential character of every neurotic: he is at war with himself.”[iv] Every war throughout human history has been Civilisation’s neurotic battle with itself.

 

[i] See https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/on-neurosis/

[ii] K. Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth, p. 104.

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid, p. 112

FEAR AND FREEDOM

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Our global, capitalist civilisation is starting to feel like a training ground in fear and freedom that could be conceived as a deliberately engineered, vicious circle of social manic-depression.

Tests carried out in the 1990s showed that there was a link between depression and compulsive buying. Fear makes us neurotic and depressed, which is good for the consumer-based economy. In this way, bad news is profitable in the long run, especially if the bad news is propagated to as many potential consumers as possible.

Living in a city policed by heavily armed guards, is depressing; but at least it protects the way out of that depression, guarding the way to the ever-open doors of our next shopping spree.

And so, Civilisation tells us: “Fear the worst, but rejoice in your freedom to shop!”

The Tragedy of Authentic Christianity

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The saddest thing about the story of Christ, is not the horrific suffering of the Crucifixion, but the utter destruction of Christ’s teachings by Roman civilisation.

There is a fundamental question which needs to be asked by any Christian: If Christ taught the Truth, why did those teachings need to be ‘civilised’?

The saddest thing is that, if Christianity had triumphed over Roman Civilisation in an authentically Christian way, instead of being absorbed by it, there would have emerged a far more human historical process than the anti-human historical process we are suffering the consequences of now. A triumphant Authentic Christianity would have been a triumph of pacifism, seeing the end of wars – and such an achievement would also have meant a triumph of human will. Christ would have truly been the Ecce Homo, the First Man after the authentic revolution towards a truly human global society based on true respect of other human beings.

Society would have been community orientated, without the divisions of segregating identities; without our family-centrism; without tribes or nationalities. It would be a society that would abolish money and would have developed a more holistic and purposeful system for developing incentives for creativity.

Christ was not a dogmatist, otherwise he would have written his dogma down. When Roman Civilisation made Christianity its own creed, it knew this and with a total cynicism for the Truth it was expropriating for itself, it created its own Roman Christianity that became the civilising model for all other civilising Christianities. In the process perverting the great revolutionary spirit of the Word and turning it into something profoundly conservative.

ON WILL

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Will works within both the unconscious and conscious realms. It drives and is driven: for that reason it is hard for us to claim ownership of it. It is driven by the big Other, the Big Brother, the Moloch civilisation and the Wall Street Whale. It is stamped on us by the symbolic order that creates our norms and language, which gives us the slogans and axioms that are the foundations of our beliefs. It is Oedipal and despotic, even fascistic. Its blood is money.

On the more conscious level, it lies in the “causes” that we come to identify with and act along with. Causes that may either conform or non-conform to the big Other’s symbolic stamping and the money-blood sanguinary system that runs through society’s veins. But unless it can vanquish that big Other, the system will survive and absorb all revolution into its perpetual oedipal fascism.

Civilisation survives through its power of creating and maintaining the walls of separation between us and the great diversity of separating identities. Separating and amalgamating humanity into sub-groups of humanity with no real consciousness of being truly human. The real Identity – the species identity – is completely undermined by interests of wealth, which can only be sustained by maintaining an idea of us against them. For a real revolution to occur, in which the big oedipal Other can be made obsolete, we need to revaluate our identity in terms of the species. We need to confront the truly big picture of existence – the great panoramic mural of humanity.