When The Theory Hits The Fan, Immanentize the Eschaton

March 21, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Cambridge educated economist and futurist Robert Theobald once wrote “A person with great power gets no valid information at all.”

He also wrote how no group or class should be free from the toil of their society, and how too many people have no idea how much “unpleasant, tedious and repetitive work is required to support their ‘high-level’ activities, and how ineffective they would be without the effort of those they all too often disdain.”

He’s dead and vindicated, the B side title from Stone Temple Pilots landmark album Core.

The man also advocated for a guaranteed basic income long before the times of Andrew Yang and pandemic UBI’s, but that’s neither here nor there.

Israeli diplomat and politician Abba Eban coined a phrase he adored so much that he used it during multiple displays of what we can safely assume were stirring oratory, and it went along the lines of “Men and nations will behave wisely once they’ve exhausted all other options.”

That phrase has been misappropriated and recalibrated ad infinitum over the last 40 years, and you might find a quote attributed to Winston Churchill reading “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they’ve tried everything else.”

Excruciatingly topical.

Churchill encumbered himself with laconic quips to the point of future generations lending the gravity well of his name to words he never uttered. May history persevere to be so kind to current leaders.

Have you ever heard the handy little acronym SNAFU? Maybe you’ve used it in your day to day life. It’s the default setting for our modern world, stemming from a bit of old army slang. Situation normal, all fucked up.

[Imagine fudged or fouled up in the place of fucked if you possess delicate sensibilities, or you’re a fan of bowdlerization and minced oaths. This is no time for euphemism, and the spring of lexical couth has run dry.]

If you’ve never been a card carrying member of the Church of Discordianism, you’re far from alone. If you have been, well you might’ve made a few Popes and whether you're aware of it or not you’re aware of the mind of Robert Anton Wilson. You may also have witnessed that handy term SNAFU utilized in a way far grander than it’s architects could have imagined. Wilson made a principle out of it. He wrote about how communication in hierarchical structures will always have an inherent degree of distortion. You see, ideal communication can only take place between equals. Imagine telling your least favorite person what you really feel about them while they have a gun to your head if you'd like an illustration.

In addition to this bit of communication theory, Mr. Wilson and his friend Robert Shea wrote in their Illuminatus! trilogy that people cling to an inalienable and largely unarticulated right in contemporary society, the right to infantile and self-sabotaging ignorance. Over the last few weeks we’ve witnessed this right to ignore embraced and defended as though it was the child of the American God himself. The two Robert’s created two more concepts, termed the burdens of nescience and omniscience. The unknowing and all-knowing. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

What do these concepts have to do with anything? See, we‘ve recently been made painfully aware that the people on the roof aren’t listening to the people on the ground-floor, and the ramifications are going to end at the morgue.

British-Ghanaian philosopher, theorist, and professor Kwame Anthony Appiah is an advocate of a notion he calls ‘the social scriptorium’. It’s built upon the psychological idea of identity scripts, defined as “social expectations regarding how members of a particular group behave and communicate as a part of their social identity.” This social scriptorium provides “loose norms or models, which play a role in shaping our plans in life — including their plans for their own lives and their conceptions of the good life — by reference to labels and available identities.”

Imagine the social scriptorium as the Spotify for identity scripts. What identities have been available in our social scriptorium in regards to the current global pandemic? What scripts are the authoritative screenwriters we call our leaders providing the public at large? When it comes to choosing how to act, what’s on the socially acceptable playlist?

Wilson claimed that every citizen has what we could metaphorically call a radio built into his or her brain. He writes “This radio is the little voice that asks, each time a desire is formed, “Is it safe? Will my wife (my husband/my boss/my church/my community) approve? Will people ridicule and mock me? Will the police come and arrest me?” This little voice the Freudians call “the superego,” which Freud himself vividly characterized as “the ego’s harsh master.” Peris, Hefferline and Goodman describe this process as “a set of conditioned verbal habits”. Wilson liked to call that set of conditioned verbal habits the logogram. He wrote “Every authoritarian logogram divides society, as it divides the individual, into alienated halves. Those at the bottom suffer what I shall call the burden of nescience. What the person sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels, and, above all, what the organism as a whole, or as a potential whole, wants — is always irrelevant and immaterial. The authoritarian logogram, not the field of sensed experience, determines what is relevant and material.”

You see, Wilson is explaining that quite often what we experience has little bearing on how we act when it contradicts the scripts handed down to us by who we consider to be an authority. If the scripts aren’t in line with reality, our reality bears the consequences.

He continues “The person acts, not on personal experience and the evaluations of the nervous system, but on the orders from above. Thus, personal experience and personal judgment being non-operational, these functions become also less “real.” They exist, if at all, only in that fantasy land which Freud called the Unconscious. Since nobody has found a way to prove that the Freudian Unconscious really exists, it can be doubted that personal experience and personal judgment exist; it is an act of faith to assume they do. The organism has become, as Marx said, “a tool, a machine, a robot.”

Where has all the toilet paper gone? It’s in the hands of the tools, the machines, and the robots with a bit of discretionary income of course. What about those people on the roof? What about our leaders, our authority figures, the people who are supposed to have their hands on the wheel?

Wilson explains: “Those at the top of the authoritarian pyramid, however, suffer an equal and opposite burden of omniscience. All that is forbidden to the servile class — the web of perception, evaluation and participation in the sensed universe — is demanded of the members of the master class. They must attempt to do the seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling and decision-making for the whole society.

But a man with a gun is told only that which people assume will not provoke him to pull the trigger. Since all authority and government are based on force, the master class, with its burden of omniscience, faces the servile class, with its burden of nescience, precisely as a highwayman faces his victim. Communication is possible only between equals. The master class never abstracts enough information from the servile class to know what is actually going on in the world where the actual productivity of society occurs. Furthermore, the logogram of any authoritarian society remains fairly inflexible as time passes, but everything else in the universe constantly changes. The result can only be progressive disorientation among the rulers. The end is debacle.

The schizophrenia of authoritarianism exists both in the individual and in the whole society.

I call this the Snafu Principle.”

We’re all watching the Snafu Principle, in real time. As Gil Scott Heron didn’t say, it is being televised. Immanuel Kant wrote that “Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play”, and we are living through a smorgasbord of circumstance where theory and experience are having head on collisions at every corner. We’ve witnessed an administration commit a complete about face in response to what the eye of history will view as the defining events of their time in office, and we’re now watching as this administration employs strategies pulled from the playbooks of their avowed enemies. The folly and foibles will fall away in respect to what plays out in the coming months. What good is theory when there is no food on the table (or when there is no paper left on the roll)? What do nebulous categorical headers like capitalism, socialism and partisan posturings amount to in the face of true terror? William F. Buckley with his typical smirk would say “idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.”, well, we’re learning the costs of his sort of idealism are decidedly more prohibitive when society as a whole lays in the balance. What do we do?

When your shit theory hits the fan, immanentize the eschaton.

 


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