Zak’s mention of McLuhan was particularly revelatory. It made me think of the loss/gain character of any new medium. New media extend us, but they also cut us off—like the car replacing the foot. Social media extends communication, but it also replaces the important, sensemaking embodiment of voice and presence.
…And so, when we open our mouths, we Tweet. We Facebook Status (as verb). We project a virtual world to side with. To text, to tweet, is to have a prosthetic voice. What other options are there? Zak analogizes this to smoking even when we know it’s bad for us. In this case, to speak, to reach out and in turn be received, we must inhale the toxic fumes of memetic polarization. And this is by design.
But I think Zak offers some helpful ways to “seeing through” the media and orienting it toward “down to Earth” sensemaking ground, which may require use to get offline to rediscover. Voice, connection, communication, love.
I share Daniel’s frustration with meta-narrative discussions and framing—which, looking back, I think I partly expressed in our Emerge conversation over a year ago now (concerning meta thinking and metamodernism in general, which I’ve since come to appreciate in a more complex way):
Daniel might also appreciate the essay I contributed to @TheSideViewCo on this subject of going meta as participatory and phenomenological; not needing to climb higher heights of abstraction but rather to work at becoming more present to the felt-sense of what is happening to us and our involvement in the changes this world is undergoing. I would add today that the felt-sense of this planetary crisis (which the social media issue is but one, if not predominant concern), this structure of feeling, can itself become deeply instructive and re-orienting. The crisis is teaching us what has the potential to emerge. But as Zak and Daniel express so well in their podcast episode, it requires a turning toward uncertainty and liminality; Le Guin’s “nusuth” 1 in The Left Hand of Darkness.
Certainties don’t seem to be yielding themselves— but that would merely be information, as Daniel mentions at the beginning of the episode. When we move beyond knowing or unknowing I think we can begin the process of mutual learning2 with the crisis, and so our certainties become replaced by transparencies, which invite us not to know but to participate.
Recently I was asked by a reader and colleague to comment on a letter written by Dr. Don Beck, “Looking Beyond the Midterm Elections In Quest for Humanity’s Master Code.”
It was written in 2018, and now, halfway through 2020, it holds a certain prescience worth commenting on and responding to at some length.
Dr. Beck refers to the critical importance of the younger generations to take hold of the structures of a society—superseding previously given left/right distinctions—and moving the United States towards some superordinate goal.
“The definition of a super-ordinate goal is one that both sides to a conflict desire to achieve but cannot do so on their own and must enroll the help of the other. It is working together to avert disastrous outcomes that neither side desires.
… The solution to our predicament does not lie in whom we elect in the upcoming midterms. It has more to do with a political system that needs to be informed by a new superordinate goal that speaks to the future.”
Don Beck, “Looking Beyond the Midterm Elections In Quest for Humanity’s Master Code”
Perhaps Latour’s “Gaia regime” (which I referred to in my livestream below) is just such a goal. But first, something that Dr. Beck refers to implicitly I believe needs to be highlighted explicitly: today’s polarization doesn’t end with the traditional Left/Right, there is also an unprecedented generational bifurcation.
The recent US presidential primary reflects this stark divide (see here or here for recent discussions). It’s a fairly cogent argument to make that the superordinate goal of the next generation is already present. From economic populism (and more importantly, economic progressivism) to universal healthcare, to the Black Lives Matter movement, to MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) and The Green New Deal. For an increasing number of citizens, growing up through the post-9/11 era, now two Great Recessions, and the COVID-19 pandemic—still barreling towards a climate disaster—many of these ideas are not perceived as radical. They’re the new center.
There are a lot of new ideas on the table and a growing majority of disenfranchised people—young and old.
Problem is, institutional pathways for this emergent populism have been resisted from nearly every angle but the neoliberal—the capacity of our legislative process has ossified and frozen, unable to adapt or respond quickly enough to a cascade of broken systems. Dr. Cornel West has spoken to this “reckoning” eloquently in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests and riots:
“I say this in all honesty and deep sadness… I think we are witnessing America as a failed social experiment… this perfect storm of all of these multiple failures, at these different levels of the American empire… it looks as if the system cannot reform itself,” Dr. West states.
Similarly Maggie Astor, in the above-linked NYT article, speaks to millennial frustration: “just when millennial and Gen Z voters have the most power to choose their leaders, many feel no one is speaking to them.” Voter disenfranchisement, in other words, and rampant voter suppression.
Dr. Beck wrote to this effect in his letter, “the voices of our politically ambitious youth are muffled. The minute they declare their desire to change the system, they’re thrown into the dark rigid confines of the two political parties.”
What can the New Left, let alone an integral left do in the face of this totalizing resistance to enact much needed revolutionary— evolutionary—transformation?
A New Middle
As Latour suggests in Down to Earth, our civilization’s core “telos”—the globalization project—animated by the engine of late capitalism, and on which the traditional Global/Local or Left/Right oscillation has been traditionally situated, is over.
Stated another way: modernity’s one-sided fixation on the ultimate perspectival ideal, the “Globe”, where neoliberal growth may continue on unabated in endlessly sublimated new markets, is incompatible with the planet Earth, the “Terrestrial.” As an abstraction, a u-topia (non-place), the Globe has never been real. A mere hungry ghost, but one that threatens to devour the world.
That’s the bad news. The perspectival world is closing down. The good news? The aperspectival turn is here, and there’s still plenty an integral left, or really any integralist (which, I argue, is still self-evidently aligned with the New Left’s transformational praxis) can be doing. Rather than assuming our location as mediators between the Left and the Right polarities on this exhausted trajectory of globalization, we find ourselves as midwives and mediators in a more profound context. We are on a new fulcrum, between the culture that has long outlived itself (neoliberal capitalism/globalization) and a nascent planetary culture that still needs to be born (a post-capitalist and commons-centric society/planetization).
Globalization must be superseded by planetization, as I understand the term.
The middle is still necessary, and so is mediation, but it has a different locus. A different fulcrum. It is a sidereal turn, a surrender from abstraction to embodiment. A move that takes us “Down to Earth,” towards the relational dynamics of the whole, is the very definition of Gebser’s aperspectival world. This world isn’t really new—it has always been here, an originary state:
With the onset of the pandemic, observers have noted a host of spontaneous resurgences of commoning – from neighbourhood networks volunteering to do shopping for the elderly to tailors shifting production to face masks and giving them away to the community for free. As Bollier observes, these behaviours are more than momentaneous bouts of altruisms. They rather represent the care for community, which is a spontaneous driver in human behaviour.
The “meta-crisis” keeps showing us that we need to help each other transition to an ecocentric and regenerative culture with mutual aid as a principle at its core—and help humans societies transition from collapse to emergence. And what are our alternatives? This is the reality we grip with now. Paraphrasing Gebser, either we outlive this crisis our it outlives us.
We are only now recognizing that the stakes are existential, and the “superordinate” goal, not only of the youth in the United States but truly for our species, is being awakened to. (See this interesting clip of Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, referencing Dr. Beck’s Spiral Dynamics)
In this context, Capitalist Realism yields to a kind of Gaian Realism—one that the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of. This is our new ground.
The “Integral” Superordinate Goal
For the new generations it is clear we already have a superordinate goal, despite there being plenty of obstacles and resistance to it—the call for a transformed polis and regenerative cultures more integral to the complex dynamics of the biosphere.
This is just the first of the pedagogical catastrophes that will force the necessary transformations to a new stable system that lives within the confines of nature and realizes its interdependence with all other life forms. It will need to escape the historical cycle of pulsation between extractive regimes leading to ecological crisis, and the regenerative responses that human societies have always brought. Instead, we will need to move to a steady-state economic and social regime that can last many centuries and millennia.
An integral culture is the realization of an integral consciousness, in that it has overcome its own one-sided fixation of perspectivalism. That takes both inner and outer work—that is our Great Work, so to speak. The work that speaks in the voice of the future. This voice speaks of a turn from abstract, industrial growth models of production and capital to a commons-centric, polymorphic economy in mutual transformation with the rest of the living planet. A “poetics of the Anthropocene.” A sympoiesis (Haraway), the “making with” of nature and culture. Such distinctions are overcome in this voice from tomorrow. This voice is your own.
For the integralist, this is our superordinate goal.
We’re moving a sidereal way, a Gebserian mutation—leap!—into a new orientation.
Next Thursday, June 18th, I have the honor of presenting a paper at the Media Ecology Association’s annual conference. This year the theme is “Communication Choices and Challenges,” and my paper is entitled: “Media Ecology as Remediation: Marshall McLuhan and Jean Gebser in Dialogue”.
My abstract is shared below:
In this essay, I draw from the work of Swiss phenomenologist of consciousness Jean Gebser, and his magnum opus of cultural phenomenology, The Ever-Present Origin (1949) to reflect on some of the more enigmatic insights that Marshall McLuhan provided us with on the characteristics of electronic culture. Although there is little historical evidence that Gebser and McLuhan corresponded directly with one another, Gebser’s publication of Ever-Present Origin anticipates McLuhan’s emphasis on considering the media as environment. It also highlights potential comparisons between McLuhan’s electronic culture and Gebser’s integral-aperspectivity (see Ever-Present Origin, by Jean Gebser, xxix). Like McLuhan, Gebser posited a series of cultural transformations across human history. Gebser’s structures of consciousness, William Irwin Thompson writes, are “isomorphic to McLuhan’s,” and that, “like McLuhan, Gebser holds out a visionary possibility for a transformation of consciousness” (see Coming into Being by William Irwin Thompson, 14). In addressing the question of “Communication Choices and Challenges,” our era of hyper-mediated communication technologies presents us with the Herculean task of overcoming the fragmented culture wars, the so-called “post-truth” world, and ecological devastation. I will explore how our media ecologies might work to engender a form of remedial electronic culture that McLuhan suggests is “the means of living simultaneously in all cultural modes while quite conscious” (see The Gutenberg Galaxy, by Marshall McLuhan, 75), or as Gebser describes as: “a consciousness of man’s distant past and his approaching future as a living present” (Ever-Present Origin by Jean Gebser, 6).
If you’d like an early look at the paper, I’m publishing it to Patreon next week as we kick off the Teilhard book club (incidentally, McLuhan was deeply influenced by Teilhard’s cosmological vision). Become a patron here, and thank you.
Welcome to the Mutations podcast. Why a blog? you ask.
I’m admittedly nostalgic for having a dedicated blog page to write from. These, I think, were a much bigger deal about a decade ago. There’s something to be said for finding eddies in the stream; a complement to the transient flux of social media.
Plus, often enough, so many of the notes I take for podcast episodes don’t make it into the actual audio. They’d go on too long. It’s a good excuse to write; thinking, talking, walking, writingthrough ideas is what I do.
So, yes, a blog.
With this year winding down, and the Mutations anthology coming out in 2020, I’m aiming to ramp up podcast production and get more authors and writers into the mix.