Fragile World

Most of this was written in a mild heat-induced delirium at the tail-end of a gruelling heatwave.  I’ve been thinking about authoritarianism and fascism on the rise from the US to Europe and beyond.

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Life is really very fragile.  There shouldn’t be much more to say than that as a general observation of our reality but there’s so many self-obsessed fools hell-bent on running this world and everyone in it into an early grave.  They’re waving great banners of stupidity and cruelty at each other in dark festivals of greed and vainglorious pride and when the old clichés and generalisations which adorn those banners fade, when the cloth greys and eventually disintegrates into dust – they start beating each other bloody with the flagpoles.  Meanwhile, everyone is standing around recording it for TV news and on their mobile phones, swept away by the spectacle of it all.

The rapid rise of the extreme right and it’s co-evolving fascism and the viral strains of authoritarianist psychosis across the world are indicative of the insecurity, instability and volatility of the current global information ecology.   Of course, the anger and angular psychological simplicities of emerging right-wing agendas are not new nor are they unprecedented – it has just happened to pass that for any number of complex probabilities and facts of historical contingency that they are in assumption at the present moment.

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Not entirely dissimilar to the eternal dichotomy of democracy’s pendulous swing from one pole to the other, fascism and its associated bleakly authoritarian regimes rise and then – after a time (and ample opportunity to more or less incoherently disassemble and hack away at a perceived threat in the existing antithetical World Order) they will go into decline – this is an observation of the inevitabilities and symmetries of complex social, cultural and political systems.  The opposite of authoritarian parochialism, or perhaps whatever Synthesis emerges from the great Spiral of history (and with this we can be as specific and precise with about as much teleological certainty or predictability as a long-range weather forecast), will roll out with just as much relentless energy as the next breakthrough technology, financial crisis or global pandemic.  The oceans of rippling information and patterned trends or emergent movements and ideological or politically inversions – these are unstoppable.  The best someone could ever do is to try to influence the path of change, like nudging the path of an asteroid or comet but accepting that it is locked into a trajectory that is only ever moderately effected by volitional acts.

Handing over and giving up control to the authoritarian ideal is a paradoxical situation.  If in my own need and seeking for certitude, closure, completeness, security and direction, I willfully absorb or otherwise ingest the notion of the superiority and authority of an idea or person or movement external to myself, I am concretely and freely giving up the personal control and freedom that it is actually the main selling point of an authoritarian system.  “We will make each of you significant and powerful but only by taking that power from you and for ourselves”.  Handing over control to a demagogue who weaves promises of greatness and certainty (and who uses little more than a limited and repetitive vocabulary as a qualification for their ideological assertions) is a losing bet.  The one thing that the infantile fantasy of control embodied by authoritarianism (in fascism, socialism or any other ideology) can not control is the inevitability of it’s own eventual evolution and change, and this on ever-indeterminate time-scales.  Earth’s magnetic field undergoes periodic inversions and it appears that political systems undergo similar polar reversals.  Ideological self-seduction and myths of perpetuity usually end in failure when the world and its many, many minds move on to a new idea or interpretation of reality.

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Left or Right-Wing authoritarianism: a place for every thing and every thing in it’s place.  The world does not actually function that way.

Part of the rich vibrance of holistically-considered political systems is their ability to simultaneously co-exist with contrary assertions and ideologies.  The elemental psychological fact of one mind (or idea) as existing in a gestalt figure/ground relationship to it’s antithesis illustrates this symmetry.  One thing requires its opposite to be defined, to be definable through its difference and distance from that Other thing.  An irony of this is that the greater and stronger the one idea or movement appears, the more insecure and paranoiac it is bound to become; when self-definition is intrinsically performed as in opposition that which the self is not – a seeking for constancy and armouring of the boundaries of the definition create anxiety and hysteria.

Cultural worlds positively buzz and hum with the vibrant harmonies and dissonance of this irony – the strength of one assertion or position relies in an essential way on the existence and constant maintenance of the constructed fantasy around that thing, or things, which embody the threat and possibility of self-extinction to the ideology, political theory, social movement.  One system of thought needs an opposite, an enemy or threat and if it does not actually have one, it will eventually materialise it through the certainty it itself requires.  We unwittingly construct the monsters of our world – the narratives and resonant fields of culture and information (or energy) flows which create by inversion and psychological projection those things we fear and which threaten us, psychologically or materially.

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Authoritarianism and extreme right-wing ideologies are a response to insecurity, instability and uncertainty.  They seek to provide certainty, continuity and control; or at least to provide political power through simulating the appearance of these ideals.  The worlds that extreme right-wing agendas create are fundamentally unstable and tend to reflexively create (through displacement) the uncertainty and instability that they have attempted to supplant.  Extreme left-wing agendas fare little better and for similar reasons.  The only real takeaway is that a middle-path of flexible, adaptive and responsive ideology more closely approximates to the actual way the world works and before human beings attempt to control through projecting self-serving ideologies upon it.  Systems which are unable to adapt and change are bound to failure, so it follows clearly that adaptation and change are a sound conceptual basis upon which to construct the approximate stability, predictability and continuity of large-scale ideological solutions but, even then, these should be fundamentally adaptive and open to internal and external change.

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On the Uses of Myth

Caveat: Mythology is not purely a matter of historical fictions and partial-truths or parables told to instruct in moral or ethical ideals.  Mythology is also the overall cultural narrative which attaches to, or emerges from, any system or set of concepts or ideas – generally of an influential or persuasive scale and of indefinite complexity: ideologies, political theories, religions and historical constructs.  These thoughts below are brief and primarily in response to some reflections which appear here: We Are Not Safe and Never Will Be.

The myths we create, or accept and absorb, around our heroes (or heroic narratives and ideologies) and their antagonists are so very often far from truthful representations. It seems that human beings prefer a fairly simple narrative and caricatured portrayals of both the Good and the Bad – this likely aligns closely to the widespread use (and overuse) of generalisations; generalisations which, regardless of their inaccuracy, may be necessary  for, and implicit within, large-scale social communication systems and their successful function. This allows us to insert our own contexts, to decorate and embellish the mythology with our own ideas and concepts – often to the point of such significant departure from the original idea that it is unrecognisable: religion, politics, moral philosophies, various -isms and -ologies on a spectrum of translation and interpretation from attempted faithful adherence through to rampantly corruption of the original concept, person or narrative for purely selfish purposes. To some extent we psychologically require the anchor of a caricatured narrative (in whose reflection the Self is reflected, although perhaps more as in the fairground trick mirror of biased perception which warps and twists the image in response to our needs and desires).

If a literary or intellectual hero does not meet the mythic perfection we have attributed to them or their ideas, we shouldn’t be surprised. The greatest myths and mythic figures are those that have just enough credibility and just enough pure fiction to give us something solid to hang our own beliefs and interpretations upon. The extent of fiction or uncertainty allows for a simpler acts of retrospective denial of stated beliefs and political or ideological positions if we discover something unsavoury or unpleasant in a hero or something noble or heart-warming in a villain.  There is very likely something deeper going on here.

An ideological investment in heroic figures at least partially represents the externalisation or projection of an ideal self, tainted by the biased interpretations of enlightened self-interest or other potential narrative corruption Industries of interpretation and translation of mythic texts inevitably arise and the role of the interpreter assumes the hallowed saintliness of the hero, as though by cultural osmosis or narrative associationA high-priest of interpretative narrative analysis usually ends up in politics or academia.  Academia is generally a less harmful source for creative reinterpretation of mythic narratives.  Politics is a self-perpetuating social meta-system which professes to be concerned with the society from which it emerges as a priority but in essence is more concerned with its own self-perpetuation.  Reinventing and recycling the mythic heroic narratives of favourite ideologues and intellectual figures rapidly becomes a game of Chinese Whispers in which the preferred interpretation, translation or other narrative corruption is more closely aligned to the translator’s goals than the original narrative and myth.

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Dr. Manhattan is Atlas, revisited ?