Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fantasies Have Consequences: Egoic Expansion and Presidential Shrinkage

So, yesterday Newt Gingrich suggested that Obama is “not a real president.”

 Rather, he's a fantasy figure playing a fantasy role, in an age in which people have difficulty distinguishing between television and reality. If we can have reality shows on TV, why can't we have a TV president in reality?

We all understand what Gingrich means, but I think he has it slightly wrong. That is to say, Obama is all too real. Instead, it's his reality that isn't real. Which wouldn't be a problem if we weren't a part of said reality, i.e., bit players in his malignant fantasy.

And no, I'm not just trying to be insultaining. Rather, this occurred to me -- actually, it forced itself upon me -- while reading an essay by Voegelin called The Eclipse of Reality in volume 28 of the CW, What is History?

Excuse me, Bob -- just what is history, anyway?

No, we're not talking about that today. We're talking about something else.

Oh, alright. It is "the movement of being in the tension of time and eternity."

Back to our subject. You often hear traditionalists decrying modernity for its egoism and narcissism, but they're only half-correct about this, because they ignore the critical distinction between a healthy and unhealthy ego. In so doing, they go way too far in condemning most everything about the modern world.

Without a doubt, something about human identity changed between the medieval and modern periods. A modern man does not think of himself in the same way as did premodern man. We've discussed this subject in a number of posts, and different thinkers conceptualize it in different ways.

For Voegelin, it becomes recognizable as a process in which "man begins to to refer to himself, not as Man, but as a Self, an Ego, an I, an Individual, a Subject, a Transcendental Subject, a Transcendental Consciousness, and so forth..."

In a way, it mimics whatever it was that caused life to emerge from matter and mind to emerge from life: the collective mind is a kind of matrix out of which emerges personal identity. We all recapitulate this process as we discover and articulate our selves, and can see it take place before our eyes in raising our children.

However -- as we have also discussed in the past -- each level in the cosmic hierarchy is accompanied by potential pathologies at that level. For example, in the realm of matter there can be no "sickness." As mentioned in the book, nothing can go wrong because nothing has to go right. But the moment life emerges there is the possibility of disease. (We're leaving aside the question of why matter is so ideally suited for the emergence of life.)

Likewise, the moment human collectivities emerge, there is the possibility of sick societies. And the moment the modern self emerges -- well, we have this thing called the DSM which catalogues the many things that can go wrong on the way to fully functioning personhood. Yeah, a psychologist is like a parasite on the mind parasites, but I like to think of myself as "healthy bacteria" -- like those in your gut.

Having said that, the DSM is ultimately incoherent, as it is completely silent on the question of what a fully functioning person is supposed to look like. It mostly speaks in terms of "adaptation" or freedom from conflict. But that could describe a sociopath as well as a saint. Thus, the DSM itself is a symptom of the very world it presumes to diagnose and treat, as it has no center and no top.

For Voegelin, we begin to see clear evidence of these new human problems in the eighteenth century, culminating in the florid pathologies of the twentieth century, when pathology became the norm in many places. When it does become the norm, that society is foredoomed. At the moment, the US is on the knife edge. Based on my rough estimate, about 47% of us have crossed over to the other side.

Much of what we call modern "philosophy" is really just a pathological response to the new conditions of modernity, e.g., Marxism, existentialism, obligatory atheism, etc. Indeed, existentialism itself is nothing but a long-winded confession of personal failure.

Voegelin: "The contraction of his humanity to a self imprisoned in its selfhood is the characteristic of so-called modern man." This contraction results in an existential shrinkage in which man is "condemned to be free" (Sartre, I think).

Thus, the left is always deeply ambivalent, at best, about freedom, as we have seen in recent weeks with the groveling before Islam and the harassment of the lousy filmmaker. Shrunken organs such as the NY Times, LA Times, Slate, and others have all called for cracking down on free speech. But this kind of suppression has been going on for decades in academia, as leftism and freedom are like oil and water.

Now, "the man who engages in deforming himself" does not cease being a man, nor does reality stop being reality. As a result, "frictions between the shrunken self and reality are bound to develop."

You don't say?

Yes, and not only. For "the man who suffers from the disease of contraction... is not inclined" -- to put it mildly -- "to leave the prison of his selfhood, in order to remove the frictions."

Rather, he "will put his imagination to further work and surround the imaginary self with an imaginary reality apt to confirm the self in its pretense of reality. He will create a Second Reality... in order to screen the First Reality."

Yes, this is the precise moment when I whacked my forehead and muttered "O... ba... ma."

Let's pause here for a moment. When you or I have an image of ourselves that collides with an unyielding reality, we have two choices: we can adjust to reality, or dig in our heels and go on as if the collision never happened.

There is also a third option, but few of us have the power to carry it off. That is to say, we may try to bend reality to our desires, or to make our fantasy appear true. And this maneuver is even easier if we are surrounded by co-conspirators such as the Rodeo Clown Media, who share in Obama's fantasy.

Yesterday Hugh Hewitt played some especially delusional excerpts of Obama's speech before the UN, which reminded me of the following passage by Voegelin. It describes the man who

"will deny that anybody could have a fuller perception of reality than he allows his self; in brief, he will set the contracted self as a model for himself as well as for everybody else. Moreover, his insistence on conformity will be aggressive..."

Thus, Obama's obnoxious insistence that "the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam." This is not just a dream, it's a threat.

As Dennis Prager says, "the larger the state, the smaller the citizen." Just so, as the president's ego expands, reality contracts, so to speak.

But looked at in another way, the more Obama distorts reality, the more unmanageable reality becomes. Imagine Mr. Magoo, who gets into all sorts of troubles because he can't see what's going on around him. Likewise,

"When imaginators of Second Realities proceed to act on their imaginative assumptions and try to make the world of common experience conform to their respective dreams, the areas of friction with reality will rapidly increase in size."

What, you mean like the Middle East?

Obama famously outlined his fantasies about the Middle East in his Cairo speech three years ago. Today it would be far too dangerous for him to speak in Cairo.

Fantasies have consequences.


mushroom said...

First, I have to say, this is a really good post.

I read Obama’s remarks yesterday and thought, at first, that he was being misquoted or paraphrased or something. I could not believe that an American president would say anything so utterly surreal out-loud in a public speech. Yes, it’s the UN so it may not count as reality anyway, but still …

It’s an increasingly strange world we live it. It seems like the RCM really has gotten things so distorted that I wonder if I’m the one that “tetched”.

mushroom said...

I’m not sure if this is related, but it is interesting.

A game bot has passed the Turing Test. Sorry about the link. Blogger doesn't want to take the http in my html.

Notice how they got the bot to “evolve”:

Networks that thrive in a given environment are kept, and the less fit are thrown away. The holes in the population are filled by copies of the fit ones and by their "offspring," which are created by randomly modifying (mutating) the survivors. The simulation is run for as many generations as are necessary for networks to emerge that have evolved the desired behavior.

"In the case of the BotPrize," said Schrum, "a great deal of the challenge is in defining what 'human-like' is, and then setting constraints upon the neural networks so that they evolve toward that behavior.

Don Gilbert said...

The idea of a man imprisoned within his own ego is greatly expanded in C.S. Lewis' work The Great Divorce. He calls it Hell.

Hell is a state of mind. Ye never spoke a truer word. . . Heaven is reality itself . . . nothing is so nearly nothing as a damned soul.

Chris said...

Modern man represents the first civilization in history (as far as we know) to put second things first, and first things in the closet.

In a related vein, why did the West's medieval synthesis crumble so easily before the nominalist and reductionist attack?

Couldn't the scientific revolution still have occurred without the jettisoning of Aristotelian final and formal causes?

Gagdad Bob said...

--why did the West's medieval synthesis crumble so easily before the nominalist and reductionist attack?

I think because an imbalance within it had become hardened and crystalized. It had certain scotomas of its own, involving defective understandings of politics, science, economics, psychology, and open systems more generally.

--Couldn't the scientific revolution still have occurred without the jettisoning of Aristotelian final and formal causes?

Theoretically yes, but a kind of break was needed to disentangle science from the metaphysic that had dominated it and suppressed investigation of the natural world. Man can rarely follow the middle path of the Raccoon, so the pendulum swings back and forth.

EbonyRaptor said...

Obama's UN speech (in part)

"The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied."

Here we find Obama defining his non-credibility because he has not condemned those things. The very week Serrano's exhibit opens in NY featuring desecration of a Christian image, hailed by the NYTimes as iconic, Obama is silent on it. Holocaust denial is standard rhetoric by the leaders of Iran and yet Obama offers no condemnation. But dare to exercise freedom of expression that offends Muslims and that's over the line and receives a quick and repeated condemnations from Obama.

Who does Obama think he's kidding with this transparent hypocrisy? Actually, he thinks he's fooling just about everyone and he's not half wrong.

julie said...

Not half, more like 47%...

The Anchoress today tried to make a defense of that speech by putting it in context. Frankly though, even in context I don't think it works, because every other example he gives of those to whom the future "must not belong" is qualitatively different from the class of "those who slander Islam"; further, as discussed yesterday even the parts he gets right are in service to a greater lie, the lie of who he is and how he is trying to shape reality.

Gagdad Bob said...

Agreed. Taranto speaks for me.

julie said...

Yes, what he said.

Also, the Atlantic article he mentions at the bottom of today's entry seems to be another good example of someone attempting to shape the world to her small and wretched reality. Anyone who gets that worked up over a lightbulb is living in a diffent sort of darkness altogether...

Gagdad Bob said...

More free speech, liberal style.

Gagdad Bob said...

And yes to the dim lightbulb lady -- the bigger the feminist, the smaller the woman.

julie said...

Re. Free speech, she puts a new spin on "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"

Jason T. said...

Which candidate do you suppose offers me the best chance at being able to legally cultivate and consume magic mushrooms in the privacy of my home? Better yet, which candidate would be more likely to eat 4 dried grams with me and lay down in the dark, closing their eyes opening to the energetic and imaginary vistas above and within, therebye seeing that imagination, when in touch with the Absolute, becomes a function creative Will?

Gagdad Bob said...

No doubt. Roseanne Barr.

Gagdad Bob said...

Then again...

Gagdad Bob said...

No time for a new post today.

Carry on.

Rick said...

"Which candidate do you suppose offers me the best chance at being able to legally cultivate and consume magic mushrooms in the privacy of my home?"

It's all fun and games until someone loses an I or you run out of other people's mushrooms; whichever comes first.

Rick said...

What to Make of These Damn Polls Dept:

Here in southeastern CT, the number of bumper stickers are way, way, WAY down, and lesser still are the Obama 2012 stickers. At gunpoint I'd say I've seen 6 over as many months.
Further, my guess is the ones that still sport the 2008 stickers, if approached, would say "oh, that was on there when I bought the car" or something similar.
Romney stickers = non existent.

Just a theory. Which is mine.

Gagdad Bob said...

I still confidently predict landslide for Romney. Sure, people are stupid and people are crazy, but independents are not about to sacrifice reality for ideology.

Gagdad Bob said...

There just aren't enough of these for Obama to prevail, although he's making them as fast as he can.

Rick said...

Cooncur. I just haven't used the "L" word cause I don't wanna jinx it.
I think the non-existent Romney stickers phenomenon is similar to the non-existent Obama stickers (new or old).
Mug me once...

Rick said...

Or, don't blame me, I voted for none of your business.

Gagdad Bob said...

Every referendum on Obama since 2008 -- Scott Brown, Scott Walker, 2010 midterms, etc. -- has resulted in a righteous smackdown, so this one should be no different.

Cond0011 said...

"Having said that, the DSM is ultimately incoherent, as it is completely silent on the question of what a fully functioning person is supposed to look like. "

I would like to stay, those whom are the most fruitful and multiply, but then Ghengis Khan comes to mind... :-\

" It mostly speaks in terms of "adaptation" or freedom from conflict. But that could describe a sociopath as well as a saint. "

heh. You have it covered. :)

"Thus, Obama's obnoxious insistence that "the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam."

Either Obama is a Shallow Man, of he is a Muslim with an agenda. if you looked at this statement as a limit equation, logically (or should I say loci-ally) speaking, if you take this statement to infinity, it will run into conflict with anyone who disagrees with the 'Profit' of Islam. That anyone who disagrees with the Prophet must have no future. That statement (taken to infinite) precipitates out as a Battle Cry for the Jihadi's out there - something that they would utter in one of their mob frenzies - and they do.

mushroom said...

I don't know. What I do know is that to win, Obama would have to win with fewer states and a lower percentage than last time. That's never happened. Either the incumbent does better or he loses.

Obama won't carry Indiana or North Carolina. I don't think he will carry Wisconsin. He may lose Iowa. He could win without any of those, but it would be, as he likes to say, "historic".

If the polls are wrong, and they could be, it may not be the D/R/I split so much as the male/female, rural/urban split. Would Obama even carry California if the women all stayed home?

julie said...

Rick @ 9:22, yep. My brother tried mushrooms precisely once. Apparently it was sufficiently terrifying that he never dared repeat the experience.

Re. bumper stickers, I've only seen one, for Obama, since I've been here. There are some pretty prominent Romney billboards though.

I hope it does turn out to be a Romney landslide; if it's not close the cheating won't help them any.

Gagdad Bob said...

Besides, if you really want to grow mushrooms in your closet, it isn't hard to do. Terence McKenna published a how-to back in the day. A friend of mine successfully cultivated them back in the '80s. One night he sat there tripping in a beach chair on his roof, watching the planes overhead descend into LAX, and was surprised by a visitation from my recently deceased father.

Jason T. said...

Gagdad, if it took electing Roseanne for me to be able ingest the Mushroom without fear of persecution, I would be ok with that. Maybe while she was in the Oval Office she would go off her meds and give the House and Senate a glimpse in the mirror so they could see what they look like on day to day basis.

Joesph Smith--turning one man's partially true psychedelic hallucination into a a religion for the masses since the early 1800's. I need to get into that business; it's where all the money and woman are.

NoMo said...

I agree with GB that there's a landslide a comin' that'll really catch the dreamers by surprise. Slap! Reality! Ouch! We aren't so far down the rabbit hole that we can't still see our way back.

I also believe we will look back on the Obama regime with some degree of thanks that the heat was turned up so far so fast that the little froggie couldn't help but notice and jump has ass out of the pot.

julie said...

"...and woman..."

That's an apt typo, given how people like that tend not to see women as individuals with the same human dignity as they themselves have...

Gagdad Bob said...

Somehow I don't think Jason's difficulty attracting money and women has to do with insufficient drugs.

julie said...

Agreed. Isn't this the same guy who went on and on about getting it on, over the holidays about three years back?

Jason T. said...

Sorry Julie, just being psilly.

And what I meant to say was the LIBERALS in the House and Senate. The liberals.....

julie said...

No need to apologize, Jason. And if I'm wrong about your identity, the apology is mine. Drugs are a lot like dreams or inside jokes...

The idea of leftists seeing their reflections in Roseanne's face is pretty funny; I almost wouldn't want to wish that sort of grotesquerie on them. Almost.

ge said...

-What a loathsome trendy Dem-onized phrase he starts his lie with: “Let’s be clear, these protests were in reaction to a video that had spread to the region,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on September 14.
...."Let's be clear, I am a Cherokee squaw"...."Let's be clear, Mitt Romney wants to take away my slutty birth control"...

mushroom said...

I got my nickname from the way I looked, but one thing led to another. I don't remember (and that could be important) psilocybin or acid doing much to me. I thought everything was funny -- but that was the case anyway. Maybe it was profoundly funny.

Roseanne versus Obama. If she picks John Goodman as her V-P, I'm in.