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

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STANDING BEFORE A GOD: OUR SYSTEM-SUBJECT PARADOX

pro818_hand Our relationship with the spiritual is also paradoxical. Whilst we seem to be destined to be searching for some kind of relationship with the without, the other that is without is incapable of satisfactorily confirming itself to us. The only thing that seems capable of solving this paradox is the concept of faith, which boils down to a belief in that which is impossible to confirm. Yet this is not just a spiritual problem. It also describes our political and social condition. The Other can be a God, can be the Universe, can be the World, or it can be the politico-economic System that we are immersed in. It is the big Other from our perspective but it is also the Subject with a capital S, which is the subject that is always there even when we are no longer around. Each one of us is a small subject, subjected to the Subject, but what must our subjection entail, especially if what the Subject claims to offer is freedom for the individual. The Subject must be freedom loving because that is the only way that we subjects could really feel comfortable with it. But in the idea of freedom within the Subject/System there resides another paradox: the individual can only become free by subjecting oneself to the discipline of the System. And, of course, subjection is the opposite of freedom. So, how can this be? The Subject/System liberates by providing the liberating infrastructures that satisfy needs. Thus God or the Universe has given us the World. As for the social Subject/System, that provides protection from the hostile elements in the world that the Subject-God-Universe failed to eradicate for us. The individual in the System therefore can free him or herself of a need for shelter by obtaining a dwelling made possible by the System’s infrastructure. But, in order to earn that entitlement one must make sacrifices. In order to obtain things from the System we must subject ourselves to the System’s mechanism of reward (money) obtained through the sacrifice of production (work). The simple idea of rewards given according to sacrifice is the basis (the basic contracted form) of the System. What is expected of the individual subject is his or her subjection to this contract. The governance of the System is therefore expected to design a relationship in which the interchange of reward and sacrifice is ensured and perpetuated. Governance falls down when it is unable to satisfy this expectation. Democracy should ensure an equitable relationship or an equilibrium in the design of this relationship so that anyone who is prepared to sacrifice for the System will be rewarded accordingly. But when this relationship breaks down, or is not attainable or simply dysfunctional, who is to blame? The System-Governance-Subject or the individual-subjected-subject? From the subject’s point of view the result is either self-criticism (a masochistic guilt complex) or a critical condemnation of Governance (rebellion). In either case the individual/subject finds him or herself unable to grasp the Subject/System which has become absurd through its dysfunction. The result is a feeling of alienation and absurdity caused by a fundamental disconnection with the System it lives and breathes in, that comes about because the subject is not allowed to sacrifice itself to the master in a truly productive way. The rewards that are necessary for the individual’s survival are either given reluctantly or withheld completely. Confusion sets in: “What does the Subject/System want of me?”; “Why has it forsaken me?”; “What can I do to win back its love?” Freud tells us that the ego will rebel when the demand of the master becomes too much to bear. Nevertheless, the ideology inherent in identity not only keeps us in our place through the sense of belonging or being part of the group, it helps make the unbearable bearable by making the alternative to belonging seem even more unbearable. The Subject has given us the World, and we cannot survive without it. It is through Identity that the individual is dominated by the Master-ideology. Submerged in Identity the individual is pulled away from that which her or she is not. In this way Identity has a double-edged gravity that draws us into a reality and pulls us away at the same time. Drawing us into a reality we are pulled away from the reality. By creating sense for us, identity also makes nonsense of our true relationship to the world.

THE WILL TO NECESSITY IS STRONGER THAN THE WILL TO SURVIVAL

For Nietzsche the human brain evolves in a way that ensures our preservation. Knowledge, he said, works as a tool for power, and the increase in the will to power is the measure that determines our desire for acquiring knowledge. [1] Nevertheless, it is the very application of a very Nietzschean, will to power driven ideology that threatens rather than ensures our survival in the world. What Nietzsche failed to recognise was the eventual internecine clash of conflicts between an egotistical power based on accumulation of wealth and the life-threatening consequences arising from the ecological degradation generated by that power won via profit. Basically, as Cioran observed, the human brain and its very malleable intellect is not a particularly good tool for species survival at all. In the animal world, with all of its natural drives and instincts, only the human intellect is capable of wanting all or nothing. Only humanity is capable of desiring anything like an Apocalypse or dreaming up a Mutually Assured Destruction by thermo-nuclear attacks. Nature can be cruel, it can hurl itself over cliffs like swarms of lemmings, or spawn thousands of babies of which 9 out of ten will be devoured before a day has past, but it is not stupid. It does not deliberately provoke unsustainable conditions on itself and extinction is usually caused by factors beyond the species’ control.

But if the intellect is not the result of the will for survival, what is it the result of? What kind of will could be so strong that it could create anything as incredibly complex as the human brain and its intellect? Could there be something stronger even than the will to survive or the will to power?

We know that even the ultimate sacrifice can be made if there is a pressing need which is stronger than personal survival. These needs may be for the survival or even for the simple benefit of a loved one; it may be for the survival or benefit of a larger group; it may be for ideological reasons, that a belief may be supported or enabled to flourish through the sacrifice. There are countless examples of lovers, saints, martyrs and heroes who have all been able to overcome their own will to survive in order to sacrifice themselves to a more pressing need. But what is the will behind such a powerful drive? The will to power? No, it is something that is more important than power. It is necessity itself. If there is a will stronger than the survival instinct it is the Will to Necessity. The will to do what truly needs to be done.

But where does this will to necessity come from? If we can accept the Freudian idea that psychic energy is generated by the biological and psychological needs of our libido (Eros), what if we amplify this source and go beyond Eros, as Jung did, to include the death drive, Thanatos, embraced within the completion of the Great Earth Mother, represented by the Uroboros? This Uroboric, Eros/Thanatos drive situates us in the world and, at the same time, lusts after a complete union with the world through the power of actually knowing the world. Once the spark of knowing – ignited by a conscious discovery of the power of language – gives the Uroboric will a taste of what thinking can bring to Uroboric being, then thought itself becomes paramount in the evolution of the Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

If Julian Jaynes[2] is right, real consciousness was developed after speech and even after writing and that the truly conscious creature that humanity now is is really only some four millennia old. So it is probably only in this relatively short time that the Uroboric instinct has been shoved down into the subconscious, victim to the tremendous awe that our primary, historical ancestors felt when they started to truly consciously act and began to think and decipher the world around them; when they began to suspect they could actually know and understand the world around them, and when through this understanding they began to evolve a sense of what needed to be done in the world.

Will, as we understand it, is therefore part intellect and part instinct. The Will to Necessity in particular emerges out of knowledge whilst being driven by a deeper Uroboric instinct.

From a Sapines’ point of view, Nietzsche’s “Knowledge and Becoming exclude one another,”[3] is the most anti-human of statements: Knowledge IS Becoming. Nietzsche’s greatest fault was to believe in falsification as a virtue for the Übermensch; that Truth is a mastering of sensations, rather than the ability to see the falsity  of that mastery. For the truth is not that the sensations are false, but that the mastery of those sensations has created an intricate mesh designed to favour and at the same time mask a certain class of individuals at the cost of the spiritual being of most Sapiens. Money is one enormous example of the mastery of reality in order to create a profitable illusion of reality. Real Knowledge must be able to perceive this illusion, but Knowledge can only be real when humanity is able to envisage itself properly as Sapiens and understand that Knowledge is Becoming and Becoming IS the fulfilment of Knowing.


[1] See Friedrich Nietzsche, THE WILL TO POWER, #480.

[2] See Julian Jaynes, THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, THE WILL TO POWER, #517.

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THE WILL TO NECESSITY IS STRONGER THAN THE WILL TO SURVIVAL by Paul David Adkin is licensed under a Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-SinObraDerivada 3.0 Unported License.