Fantasies Have Consequences: Egoic Expansion and Presidential Shrinkage
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.
"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?
Fantasies have consequences.