A Thermodynamic Interpretation of History, Div. Two
An Archaeology of the American Feminist Intraworldly Messianism

EPILOGUE 1: The background of the feminist ethic: Speculum Americanae

2. The Consumerization of Culture and Mind
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Copyright © 2005 - 6 by Lawrence C. Chin. All rights reserved.


As deChant focuses on the objective aspect of the consumerist order we shall now turn to its subjective aspect: the consumerization of mind. Let’s take stock of what we have said. The Reason of History is the growth of supraorganism with respect to its integration and metabolism. This supraorganismic growth however can only occur at the expense of the individuality of its constituents (i.e. human beings), i.e. through the destruction of their independent mind and its harmonization with the process of collectivity (group homophone). There have been two approaches to accomplishing this destruction: one as in traditional, continental totalitarianism (fascism and communism) where the mind of a citizen is, by some violent means of the centralized state, wrenched away from its otherwise natural tendency to connect with reality and forcibly re-modeled to think as the Party says. (George Orwell’s 1984.) This approach has become extinct (the conclusion of the Cold War). The other is the consumerist way invented by the Anglo-Americans, where the mind is reduced, through consumerist seduction, from an instrument for reception of and reflection on reality to a mere intestine of the noosphere level that dissipates away meaningless sense-impressions and eventually itself. Without consciousness the body is then naturally mechanized as a mere cog in the metabolic machinery of the supraorganism (group homophone). The conclusion of the Cold War has proven this approach (the consumerization of mind) to be the way to go.

The noo-intestine thus constituted differs in one essential respect from the digestive tract of the biospheric level: whereas the digestive tract, in turning ordered food into waste matter, sends part of the nutrients derived therefrom up to the brain for the performance of a higher function (reflection), the noospheric intestine to which postmodernity has reduced the mind digests sense-information without any pretense to support a “higher function.” It digests for the mere sake of digestion – or for the profit margin of corporations. The sense-information meant here encompasses not only pure (meaningless) information such as junk movies, junk music, and junk news, but also the pleasing (subjective) sensations derived from the acquisition, consumption, and disposal of some nice looking consumer product. (It is the latter which is especially detrimental to the environment.) One might then say that the mind digests for the sake of a certain pleasure of digestion (consumption) but this pleasure is ephemeral, exists only during the process of acquisition, consumption, and defecation, and so merely motivates the mind to initiate the next round of digestion, as deChant has shown: rather like using drugs. (Hedonism, below.) Although bad for the mind, this “digestion” is good for the economy (the metabolism of the supraorganism). Ironically, the natural end-point of the evolution of the noosphere is the destruction of nous as understood traditionally. And quite un-expected by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

That a human individual is socialized into a mere cog in the metabolic machinery (economy) of the supraorganism (society) just means that the mind of this person becomes a dissipative cell dissipating for no other reason than that of dissipation and which with all the other such cells makes up the metabolic supraorganism which also dissipates for no other reason than that of dissipation. The strange absurdity of this "modern economy" -- dissipation for the sake of dissipation, and at whatever price (e.g. the destruction of its very foundation, the earth-environment) -- in fact underlies the negative perception a certain Ivan Illich has once made about the contemporary society:

Our society resembles the ultimate machine which I once saw in a New York toy shop. It was a metal casket which, when you touched a switch, snapped open to reveal a mechanical hand. Chromed fingers reached out for the lid, pulled it down, and locked it from the inside. It was a box; you expected to be able to take something out of it; yet all it contained was a mechanism for closing the cover. This contraption is the opposite of Pandora's "box." (Deschooling Society, Marion Boyars, 1970; p. 105.)

This is what happens when the machine humans have invented to encompass themselves becomes independent of its inventors.

This consumerist approach to the destruction of human mind has permeated every aspect of our postmodern culture; even higher education has been transformed into a second-order noospheric consumer market: university as a digestive tract for trivial, petit, and fragmented information rather than as a site where intelligence, knowledge, or even wisdom are cultivated and produced.

The consumerization of academia and higher culture

The invasion of universities by consumerism mentality has the effect of the transformation of university education into a process of the destruction of human mind – making it incapable of perceiving, and thinking for itself in accordance with, reality – instead of the education of it: the elimination, when consumerism cannot turn it into a market, of the last territory not part of the economic cosmos. (Looked at another way, it seems to be part of the process of the economic substructure determining the cultural superstructure including academic discourse.)

This trend of consumerization is most pronounced in the humanities – especially in art, philosophy, and religious studies, that is, those "useless" disciplines – and less so in applied sciences and business, etc. Is it because art, philosophy, and religion, or any of the useless fields in humanities, pose some special threat to power? Certainly so, as these three invite the mind to “really think” and “feel”, hence to operate outside the cycle of production, consumption, and defecation. In the case of philosophy and religious studies, it is also because of the natural human tendency toward amnesia of past achievements, of the past perspectives. Together: power does not want us, nor is it natural for us, to remember that we used to look at the world differently, that the way we look at the world today (especially consumerism) is not the only possible way. The result:

The destruction of religion and philosophy in Western academia is manifested in the fact that well over 90% of the people who study philosophy there have never understood what it is about and never know that they don't, and just about all the students and professors in religious studies don't understand religions at all and are not aware that they don't understand them. The reasons for this are: (1) The modern perspective in which they grew up and of which they can't rid themselves precludes the understanding of past wisdom in philosophy and religions, and so they misunderstand these and don't know they have misunderstood. (2) Academia has replicated in itself the structure of the business world outside, with the specialization of fields and professionalization. (3) The intellectual trends in academia (like "postmodernism") are geared more toward reinforcing the dominant economic mode and relations of production and consumption outside in the real world than toward truth. Reason (1) is the problem of "amnesia" mentioned earlier, with which we will not deal here (see Scientific Enlightenment), while (2) and (3) are for our concern: the problem of the consumerization of academia, or of substructure determining superstructure. This (the latter two reasons) means that the "philosophy" or "religious studies" (and more and more the other fields of humanities such as linguistics as well) people find in school is just a specialized, contentless, self-referential and self-enclosed discourse system that aims to brain-wash them to accept the economic world outside and to bar them from truth -- on top of being useless.

Let’s here focus on the methods of consumerization of academia in more detail. First, the problem of replication, the conversion of academic discourse (or the world of art: below) into the same structure as that of the consumerist market: a flat, decentralized field made up of disjointed and unrelated fragments (“specialized fields”). The academic process is henceforth characterized by fragmentation, mechanization, “making things ever easier,” acceleration of “production” (production for the sake of production; all these being parts of the process of “specialization”). This is also related to the second aspect, that of the contemporary intellectual trend itself, which is permeated with nihilism. Specialization means fragmentation in that each discipline is cut into smaller and smaller “specialized” fields that lose contact with one another1. It means mechanization in that creativity, thinking, and reflection are replaced by “research” – whose process follows “rules” or “procedures” set down before the initiation of the “study” – following specialization, i.e. isolation, of the field. Fragmentation and mechanization together make the academic process (“research”) easier and easier to perform in that the scope of attention shrinks (it’s “easier,” requires less brain-capacity, to focus on just one tree in the forest than to take account of the whole forest: more below) and that one needs from now on simply to robotically follow pre-determined rules of research rather than actually exercise one’s mind creatively to come up with something original. As the academic process (research) becomes ever easier to perform, the “researchers” can “produce” monographs and articles at an ever faster pace whose limited scope and non-ingenuity furthermore imply that they can be “consumed” (read) by other researchers in the field at an ever faster rate. Academia then becomes inundated with endless streams of petit, trivial and moreover boring monographs that nobody outside the “field” cares about and which furthermore clog up the channel of communication, preventing genuine studies (those that say something about reality out there) from being noticed – academic life and higher education are now just consumption and defecation of “paper stuff” and imaginary and trivial “ideas,” at best giving business to lumber and computer industries and at worst closing off all alternatives to consumption by reducing the mind from originally an organ for reflection and creativity to an intestine of the noo-spheric level, i.e. through which trivial and imaginary ideas pass, getting consumed and defecated (forgotten): academia as a second-order dissipative machine (a pure noospheric “economy”) next to the primary one of the consumer market (the “real world”). Then, nihilism, which strips the object of the study, and thus the study itself, of any purpose and meaning, both follows from and further reinforces academic specialization, this in addition to its intentional ordination by ideologies such as feminism as mentioned already. For example, it is through a comparative study, i.e. it is when a particular sacrificial ritual of an isolated tribe somewhere is seen appearing with minor variations elsewhere all over the globe, that its otherwise confused meaning (as when the participants in it each give a different reason as to why they are performing it), which is about to lead the anthropologist to conclude that there is inherently no meaning to this ritual, may crystallize into a definitive meaning validated universally. A specialist, such as of some African tribe, but who knows nothing else, is necessarily deprived of knowledge of its place in the world system.2

The motors of this consumerization are: (1) Ideologies forcing us to worship fragmentation of reality and nihilism (feminism, postmodernism, monolangualism, multiculturalism, etc.). We have commented on feminism and postmodernism in this respect. Monolangualism means that, instead of the multilangual scholars of ecumenic scope prevalent in the Western world during the pre-WWII era (who need to know, minimally, the standard five languages of English, French, German, Greek, and Latin), “academic researchers” today in the Anglophonic world more and more have dispensed with the learning of any foreign languages at all and know only their native language of English. Monolangualism, or the decline of philological expertise, is a universal phenomenon in the global age of consumerism. In the Western world, European academics more and more know only their respective native language and English in addition to it. In the Eastern world, it used to be required of Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese scholars to be fluent in classical Chinese (the Latin or lingua franca of the Eastern Ecumene) in addition to their respective mother tongue. Nowadays the academics in Asia all over know only their respective native language and possibly English in addition to that. This follows from the Anglicization of the global communication channel, an integral part of the story of globalization. The limitation of the academic process to one’s own vernacular language in the Anglophonic world or to that and just English in everywhere else again makes it much “easier” and so “faster,” facilitating the flow of trivial ideas into oblivion (their production, consumption, and defecation): consumerization. Multiculturalism is just the flip side of monolangualism and the reflection of that flat, fragmented decentralized world. We have already commented on the need of power (supraorganismic integration and metabolism) for multiculturalism; now we need to lay out its experiential or ideological content. It presupposes that every culture is irremediably and randomly different from every other, that the complete randomness of cultural differences entails equal validity (or really invalidity) between all these cultures (hence the “respect” we need to pay to other, supposedly incomprehensible and incommensurable culture), furthermore that it’s an arduous, virtually impossible task, for someone of one culture with one language to become acculturated in another and to learn another language, and finally that, therefore, given this incommensurability and yet equal validity between cultures and this impossibility of acculturation, different cultures, into which peoples are objectified, should be kept separate from each other with minimal flow of value and judgment from one to the other (the real meaning of “respect for other cultures”). The result is the same old meaningless (since all differences are just random), fragmented, and decentralized world of the postmodern era. The anathema to the postmodern world-view is that cultures may differ from one another in a non-random, but systematic manner – such as the old European project, from Herder through Hegel to Voegelin, of ordering all different cultures on a single continuum or in a holistic hierarchy as different stages or aspects of the development or unfolding (Entfaltung) of the same humanity: the traditional Grand Narrative (more below) which must now disintegrate. That worldview reflected well the formative phase of capitalism when the standardized infrastructures of the market were constructed across continents and encompassing entire societies: systematic, centralized, standardized, hierarchical; hence at this time systematic, standardized, hierarchical, and "object" thinking was favored. But now the global consumerist economy leaves the realm of the big and expands into the small and the personal (it has nowhere else to go) to sell petit micro-things: personal gadgets and home entertainment systems; it thus requires the image of fragmentation, decentralization, and flatness, hence postmodernism creates multiculturalism. (The curious thing remains that the moral development of a culture toward the postconventional stage, which also would entail “respect for cultural differences,” always tends to match, just in time, with the exigency of the economic substructure.) Ironically, the increasing fragmentation of the postmodern world which underlies multiculturalism also engenders more ethnic conflicts, as people more and more come to think of themselves as belonging to their respective “small chunk” (their tribe or clan: tribalism) than as making up together with others a holistic totality. Hence Michael Ignatieff wonders, in his Blood and Belonging (1995), why nationalism and ethnic warfare actually intensify as we become progressively “global” in the post-Cold War era. Simple: the collapse of hierarchy (like the USSR) and the fragmentation and decentralization of the world afterwards. Multiculturalism facilitates rapid production and consumption also in the sense that the limitation of one to his or her own “culture” makes consumption easier and so faster (companies create a product with the instructional manual “in your own [vernacular] language” – saving much brain work in linguistic expertise on your part – in order to help you consume it faster). Academia – and so feminists, as agents of consumerization – promotes multiculturalism in order to socialize consumers and producers to the priority of quantity over quality. The correlative of this dispositif of rapid consumption is the shrinkage and atrophy of brain capacity due to its non-usage. Multiculturalism also underlies academic specialization. In the previous examples of the anthropologist specialized in a particular tribe and the linguist in a particular language, underlying their hatred for the comparison of their beloved tribe or language with others possibly related to it is that multiculturalist “respect” which really just means that this small band of people or language is absolutely – thus randomly! – distinct from all others and needs to be respected “in its own right”: the postmodern worldview of reality as random, fragmented, and meaningless. They are also, in fact, in their attitude, motivated by a certain laziness, the wish to make study “easy”: the consumerist attitude; and reinforced by the shrinkage of their brain capacity, as the restriction of attention to the “respect” for one culture requires less brain work than would “transculturalism” (below).3 (2) The natural course of differentiation: Human beings have the natural tendency of dividing up further what are already divided, but not putting together again what are thus divided up more and more. Hence the appearance of specialized fields in academia outpaces the establishment of interdisciplinary efforts. (3) Democratization, with the concomitant specialization and growing preference for the “easy” over the “hard.” As more and more mediocre minds enter universities and “pass through” – thanks to the continuous decline of academic standards especially in the Anglophonic world – they contribute to this fragmentation process because the limited scope of their capacity can only allow them to do work in a very limited domain spatially and temporally. It is after all much easier to concentrate on one native American language for all one's life than to compare all of them all at once and then relate them all to languages of north Asia (comparative linguistics); much easier to specialize in one tiny segment of the human history of religion, say, the Great Awakening, than to try to extract the general principles of human religions from the studies of all of them; etc. (4) The growing academic professionalism and materialism, converting studies into a “career” insurable only by measurable accomplishment (the demand of empiricism), i.e. the amount of writings published, and resulting in publication for the sake of publication (acceleration of production). Fragmentation of the sense of reality, differentiation, democratization, professionalism all reinforce one another in this overall process of “specialization” of fields and mechanization and acceleration of “research.”

In other words, to conclude with the exemplary instances of philosophy and religious studies, universities are in a way the traps that consumerism sets up for those who are naturally disinclined toward a life reduced to production, consumption, and defecation, who want to learn about reality and think, who want to find “spiritual meanings” in life. Those who have spent a lot of time in graduate school have probably noticed that academia contains a much higher proportion of "subhumans" than in the "world outside". You know these introverted, unsocial, petty-minded, book-possessive, and unattractive nerds, who can't or have no desire to socialize with real people, have lots of fun, and find meaning in relationships, who can't or don't want to find a place in the business world, and who therefore come to universities to find meaning and satisfaction in the order and fullness inside, in their mind, and a career in reading books and acquiring wisdom and knowledge. Hence the more useless the discipline -- the more extreme in the humanities -- the more "subhumans" you find there. So, while 50 or so percent of the teachers and students in history, linguistic, or anthropology departments are unsocial introverted subhumans, in philosophy this can be as high as 70 percent. So far so good; if they actually did find inner order and richness, if they did find wisdom and knowledge, at least that's compensation for opting out of all the pleasure, happiness, and power in the real world. The sad thing is that they don't. (It's not even that Plato's argument in the Republic about the superior happiness of the just man thought to be unjust in comparison with the unjust man thought to be just is rendered invalid today; the interiorized subhumans bent on contemplation are not automatically "just".) As they enter the department of philosophy and religions and so on to get away from the consumerist economy and to seek refuge and find compensation, unaware that the “field” is already transformed into a different consumer market of papers and trivial ideas about an imaginary reality wherein the comprehension of philosophy and religions is completely destroyed, where art is reduced to trash, and where the understanding of the human world in the humanities in general evaporates through over-fragmentation, they end up having their mind destroyed and their life sucked into the production and consumption cycle of this alternative market place (into their “specialization”). Intellectual activity has always been a sign of inferiority, even in ancient times, and that's why charismatic individuals throughout history -- the "superhumans", who are most skilled in forming relationships with others, in influencing others and becoming effective with others (including attracting the opposite sex and achieving evolutionary success): all characteristics opposite to those of "subhumans" -- are usually not intellectuals, but warriors, politicians, leaders, and, today, uneducated rock stars and movie stars. But in the past, un-charismatic subhumans could have seriously important intellectual accomplishments and become admired by society, their depressing solitude and evolutionary failure notwithstanding (think about Issac Newton), or they could acquire tremendous power, even though they had no social skills or were nasty to be around (think about the many monkish characters that worked their way up in the Church). But today, in the consumerized world, the petty personalities that populate academia engage themselves in ferocious turf battle in their fields that have become so specialized, so reduced in scope and consequently in importance as to signify nothing to the outside world, and compete for superiority in the mastery of the useless intellectual junk which no one outside in the real world cares about: kind of like a bunch of nerds fighting more ferociously over dog shit than the attractive people outside fighting over gold, in order to sustain their delusion about the importance of their work and about their "intellectual superiority". The only thing that this "dog shit" does is to align those that are otherwise outside consumerism to consumerism, as said. (Hence today the strangest thing about the academics in the humanities, or sciences humaines, is their "unconscious love for a society that has abandoned them", seen in their attempt to replicate society's metabolic structure in their intellectual, imaginary edifice, rather than seeking the truth that society rejects.) All this is because the “human individual,” formerly maximized by the pursuit of the spiritual meaning of life, is by-gone, now an impossibility, so that what in the past was sacrifice of society for a nobler purpose (which was then compensation for sacrifice: as when an upper class male forfeited his royalty and joined the Mendicant friars: solitude, poverty, and celibacy for the greatest, eschatological Good) becomes today just sacrifice of society to attain an imaginary, unpleasant society, or true garbage (which is then further punishment for sacrifice: absolute masochism). At least the many unsocial geeks that also populate the applied sciences and computer engineering are competing over something that has some use in the economic cosmos, something which society values in some way, and which therefore brings some reward (some wealth, power, and respect from others). 4

Now culture: the consumerization of art and religion. Scholars of the dominant trend in the study of religion today tend to define “religion” as simply a world-view system so that “religion” becomes synonymous with “culture” (recall Robert Bellah’s and Peter Berger’s definition, and also Hervieu-Léger’s below). In this way they can easily identify the contemporary secular culture as just as much religious as the thoroughly religious cultures of the past. (Dell deChant has however done well with this, as seen.) Although such definition is shallow, for now we may go along with it and consider, beyond the religiosity of consumption and disposal (noospheric defecation) examined already, other “religious aspects” of the postmodern culture as reflections of consumerism.

G. Ménard has celebrated many aspects of the postmodern culture as forms of a hedonistic and consumptive religiosity in his Petit traité de la vraie religion (1999, esp. Ch. 9, “La religion dans la postmodernité”), which notes specifically the congruence between the economic substructure of the postmodern era (“flatness,” etc.) and this era’s “religious” situation. In every culture, Ménard writes, there are certain “vectors” around which the sacred such as defined by Otto may erupt (hierophany);5 but such vectors (the “incarnation of the sacred”) can be anything (34: “à peu près tout, en effet, a pu cristalliser cette expérience de la rencontre du sacré,” 35), even if every culture tends to limit the actual number of such vectors, sometimes even to one. As the communal experience of the sacred, however, can shift, through time, from one vector to another within the same culture, what has happened in Western society since the commencement of secularization is the displacement of the communal experience of the sacred from the vector of the assortments of the Christian church onto a vast number of new, and often mutually incompatible, cultural and social phenomena serving as the new vectors: the postmodern age as the era of pluralism, decentralization, and horizontal diffusion.

Contrairement à d’autres cultures et à d’autres époques, en effet, les sociétés occidentales contemporaines s’organiseraient de plus en plus elles-mêmes autour d’un très grand nombre d’expériences du sacré, à partir de hiérophanies très différentes les unes des autres… souvent très imperméables les unes aux autres. (36)

(Contrary to other cultures and other epochs, the contemporary Western societies organize themselves more and more around a very large number of the experiences of the sacred, on the basis of hierophanies very different one from the other… and often impermeable one to the other.)

This postmodernity, he notes, although merely the maturation of modernity (aboutissement de la modernité, 148; certainly just as consumerism that constitutes the substructure of postmodernity is the matured stage of capitalism which was the substructure of modernity), has broken with the paradigm (worldview and values) of the latter. The shift of the sacred onto other vectors is noted by some as the “re-enchantment of the world.” Even though the new (postmodern) vectors of the sacred look in many way like a retrogression to those of pre-modernity as many of the latter are re-taken up – e.g. the recycling by New Age spirituality of many of the Eastern and tribal religious elements; the recast, in light of these, of the Christian religious symbolism of the West such as angels and astrology; Neo-Paganism (such as Wecca); the cult of extraterrestrials; and re-investment in all sorts of superstitions – postmodernity differs from pre-modernity in significant ways. Ménard lists: the crumbling of the Grand Narratives (l’effritement des “grands récits,” following François Lyotard, e.g. his La condition postmoderne) – the comprehensive explanation of everything in terms of a single, holistic framework or principle – which characterize not only the worldview of modernity, or the “modern myths” (e.g. Jacques Ellul: Reason, Progress, Science, the Universality of Man; 152) but also those of pre-modernity (the Old Testament and other Books of historiogenesis from other civilizations, and the creation and cosmogonic myths of tribal cultures) – “in favour of new narratives with an amplitude generally much more modest (in terms of duration if not in terms of impact), more shattered, and fragmented, in a generally composite culture” (151 – 2). Even if the traditional Grand Narratives are still being told (the Bible, the Koran, Democracy or Progress; ibid.) “these myths have largely lost their capacity to mobilize the beliefs of the masses and to galvanize them to action. In the supermarket [the consumer market!] of worldviews which our pluralistic culture has for the most part become, we search less and less after ‘the’ truth – unique and exclusive, eclipsing all others – and more and more just ‘one’ way of expressing the meaning (of the world, of life), one way among many others, compatible and… combinable with these others” (ibid.). In other words, as we have already noted the same phenomena in academia carried out by feminist and postmodern ideologies there, in clearly the Marxist manner, the economic mode of production and consumption of consumerism (the bewildering proliferation -- through microlization and ever intensified segmentation -- of consumer products along both the temporal and the spatial scale and the “religious” pressure for us to consume and dispose of them as fast as possible for the sake of corporations’ profit margin) has similarly determined the manner in which we shall express our natural instinct for the sacred: “Think only, for example, about the prodigious emotion which, in the beginning of the autumn of 1997, has consecrated just about everywhere in the world the tragic myth of Lady Di…” However much this event may have constituted “a formidable source of meaning and communion, even of ‘pontification’ in the sense proposed above [i.e. a bridge between the sacred and the profane]” it was completely forgotten in just a few weeks (153). The expression of our feeling for the sacred (“religiosity”) has not only expanded and proliferated horizontally into an immense decentralized, disorganized, and fragmented field of endless varieties like the super-malls, but each small chunk of these is of extremely short life-span like those consumer gossip magazines and novels and pop-culture movies that we read and see today and forget about and throw away tomorrow: a life of discontinuous series of meaningless flashes even when it comes to the “sacred,” supposedly extra-ordinary experiences. In other words, as the ideas, sensations, and emotions – even for something supposedly sacred – though consumed, are never retained in the mind for long – they just flush through – the mind has in effect been reconstituted as simply an intestine for these rather than remaining as an organ of reflection based on these: traditionally, we may say, the mind is something that receives sense-impressions, reflects on these to find a coherent theme running through them, and then remembers them, thus constituting a meaningful content for itself; now it just dissipates them and so, having no longer any content, dissipates itself also. The mind was still in existence during pre-modernity and even during modernity (Enlightenment and Romanticism), so that it believed in, and looked for, a Grand Narrative. Now that the mind has been dissipated away after being transformed into an intestine, it neither wants, nor can handle, with its limited space and diminished capacity, a Grand Narrative. (Understand now the essence of the cultural feminist and the postmodernist ideal for small narratives.) Although Ménard does not see the postmodern religiosity in this negative light, its consumerization in fact constitutes the essence of the second of the postmodern peculiarities he notes: the proliferation of “micromythologies,” especially of pop-music, that privileged vector of the sacred in postmodernity, such as those of James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Elvis, Bob Marley, and Kurt Cobain around whom countless youths gather as their cult figure. For these children of the postmodern age, these musicians, just like the semi-divine actors in traditional myths, constitute the recipe for a formulation of a “histoire sacrée d’origines fondatrices” and offer themselves as the models and directions for action (156), providing a reason to live – and hence also a reason to die (e.g. those following Kurt Cobain to death; 155). But the “micro-lization” of narratives and episodes of the eruption of the sacred in the postmodern age not just across the spatial but also along the temporal axis (short-lived) prompts Ménard to take issue with Hervieu-Léger’s definition of religion:

Tout dispositif – tout à la fois idéologique, pratique, et symbolique – par lequel est constituée, entretenue, développée et contrôlée la conscience individuelle et collective de l’appartenance à une lignée croyante particulière (154).

(All dispositives – ideological, practical, and symbolic all at the same time – by which is constituted, maintained, developed, and controlled the individual and collective consciousness of belonging to a particular line or system of belief.)

Ménard objects that such definition

a pour effet de restreindre le domaine du religieux à ces ‘dispositifs’ qui enracinent dans une mémoire le sens d’une appartenance à une ‘lignée croyante.’… Dans la mesure où, comme l’ont bien mis en lumière plusieurs penseurs de la postmodernité, cette dernière se caractérise aussi par une accentuation du présent (au détriment de la mémoire du passé et de la prospective de l’avenir), il ne répugne donc pas à l’intelligence de considérer des cristallisation beaucoup plus éphémères comme vecteurs d’une authentique religiosité, fût-elle orpheline d’une ‘mémoire’ qui rendrait possible l’existence de ‘lignées croyantes’, tout entière vouée à l’émotion fugace de présent (ibid.).

(has the effect of restricting the domain of the religious to those dispositives which plant the sense of belonging to a particular line of belief in memory… To the extent that, as many postmodern thinkers have already shown, this line of belief is also characterized by an accentuation on the present (to the detriment of the memory of the past and the prospective of a future), it therefore should not repulse the mind to consider [as well] those far more ephemeral crystallizations as the vectors of an authentic religiosity, be this the orphan of a “memory” that would make possible the existence of a system of beliefs, devoted entirely to the fleeting emotion of the present.)

He apparently does not consider that constant exposure to such “vectors of authentic religiosity” devoured entirely in “the fleeting emotion of the present” at the expense of all memories of the past and any prospects of a future, i.e. with only enough mind-space in one’s head for the instantaneous shallow flash of the moment (the mode of Zerstreuung or Uneigentlichkeit of Dasein with Heidegger – the intestinal mode: the essence of Kathryn Rabuzzi's "stasis" earlier), is precisely what is destroying the mind of the contemporary youths, making them at best illiterate thoughtless robots like Beavis and Butthead and at worse attracted to gratuitous violence in a gang environment where the meaning of life is reduced to the “thrill” of the moment (hence the increase of violent tendencies among the younger generation). The postmodern generation: a dissipative machine in a double-sense: both noospherically and biospherically.

The other characteristics of the postmodern religiosity follow from this consumerization: “la religion à la carte” (a menu of religions, as he adopts the phrase from Reginald Bibby’s Fragmented Gods) where traditional religious elements, taken out of their traditional institutional context, are inserted into the framework of what can only be called the random menu of consumerist pop culture (that supermarket, that consumerist market) and, with this, instead of being imposed by authorities as before, are chosen as one likes them today and discarded tomorrow as one gets tired of them. Then there is the inversion of the relationship between myth and ritual, but also the re-figuration of tribalism: small cliques formed on the basis of identical affinity rather than on the basis of pre-established identity and rationality and with ephemeral and constantly shifting membership: the increasingly fragmented postmodern society both temporally and spatially. And finally, “light religiosity”: Ménard notes that postmodern religiosity follows the “lightness” of many consumer products like light cigarettes, 2% milk, diet drinks… The postmodern people no longer take religiosity with the sort of gravity that characterizes pre-modern people’s subscription to their religions (e.g. Christianity) or even modern people’s to their ideology (like Marxism) (164). This in fact fits with the present-oriented hedonism of postmodern people (“Dance, eat, drink, because tomorrow…”; ibid; might we add, “Spend today – put on the credit card”). The postmodern rupture consists in “no longer accepting sacrificing the pleasure of the present for the sake of the promises of some extra-worldly paradise or some radiant future” (165; “… qui n’accepte plus de sacrifier la jouissance du présent aux promesses de quelque paradis extramondain ou de quelque avenir radieux”). Ménard in his celebratory mood however has failed to discern the cause for this in consumerization: The rapidity of consumption that comes with the increasing temporal and spatial fragmentation of the consumption process – for the sake of the profit of corporations – results in the limitation of the mind to an extraordinary short time-span and to extremely petit things spatially, i.e. the flash of the meaningless present. And “light products” also increase consumption (and so profit) by cutting reality into lighter chunks – we then need to buy more to attain the same satisfaction. As the mind becomes so conditioned, it can do no more than pursue “light” and “now” also with regard to religious beliefs and expressions.

Life of the postmodern age – an “intestinal life” – thus becomes characterized by randomness, just as is academic "consciousness": a series of disconnected, short-lived and never-remembered meaningless petit and light things without any coherence running through them, as ingeniously illustrated in such movies and plays as Pulp Fiction of Quentin Tarantino and La cantatrice chauve of Eugène Ionesco. Randomness of that of which consciousness is conscious, the shortening of the duration of any interest, the "lightness" of experiences, the loss of coherence and continuity of experiences (of the Grand Narrative!), and the general shrinkage of the capacity of the mind, so we hear of the educators' complaint about the short attention-span of the postmodern generation of youths who spend an average of 5 seconds on each web-page, and about how T.V. ads, whether commercial or political, have to be limited to 30 seconds in duration -- and their message reduced to a stereotypical one-line slogan -- in order to "capture the attention of the audience." It's interesting to note here the parallel between this reduction of the mind in the postmodern consumerist mode and the same result accomplished by the simplification of language within the framework of continental totalitarianism as noted by George Orwell in 1984.6 This illustrates how the two competing modes of supraorganismic formation use different techniques -- one planned force and the other, free-market seduction -- to accomplish the same objective. It's also interesting to realize that the contemporary "intellectuals", such as the feminists or the (left-wing) postmodernists, in celebrating and standardizing randomness and fragmentation of the content of the mind (such as in their standard of academic discourse and hatred for the Grand Theme in anything, as noted), have in fact devoted themselves, without knowing so, to accomplishing the project of ever-shortening the attention-span of the mind of those they are educating, to, that is, destroying the "intellect" as such.

With this we can now understand modern art as a reflection of this “intestinal life.” The history of Western art leading up to “modern art” is characterized by decline and degeneration, ever since Impressionism. This may offend those that value great works of modern art, such as of Picasso or Pollock. But we do not discount the greatness of these pioneers of modern art. In Heideggerian manner, we define art as great if it embodies in some extraordinarily succinct fashion the spirit of the age, and Picasso, Warhol and Pollock did this well. The age their works reflect, however, is the age of consumer junk – and of spiritual deprivation, the disintegration of consciousness through excessive analyticism and differentiation, and finally the mechanization of mind as an intestine. It's inevitable then that the works of these “great artists” first seem like the disintegration and deprivation of art itself (Picasso and his cubist company, the Dadaists who bring to artistic representation the utter meaninglessness, randomness, nihilism and atheism of modern life, and the surrealists, some of whom, such as Dali, however, depict the deprivation and disintegration of consciousness with great skill) and then simply become consumer junk themselves (Pollock and Warhol). Great art is not necessarily good art. Let’s first discuss the degeneration of Western art in terms of the “natural” tendency within it (or within any thing) to degenerate, leaving aside the operation of power (the Marxist “substructure determining superstructure”). The history of Western art works much like the history of Western philosophy: first there is the period of ascendancy, when Reality is grasped in its immediate essence. Then follows the climax, when the structure of Reality is made explicit by means of analyses and categories that are imposed on Reality to dissect it. This is, in art history, the period from Renaissance to the end of Neoclassicism and Romanticism (1450 - 1850), including the academic style, one can say. The dissection and analyzation of reality helps the artist to ever better represent reality, and the effort involved becomes ever more massive: David spent four years painting “Napoleon Crowning Josephine.” Grandeur and glory are the main characteristics of the climax. At this point, humans are still in contact with, and have in fact brought to fruition, their natural instinct, their natural value-system (conditioned by the thermodynamic structure of the Universe, as said): calepa ta kala, “Beautiful things are hard.” Finally, these categories become dissociated from Reality and artists and philosophers dwell in these pure categories as a world of their own, playing in them as if they were real by themselves, and shut off henceforth from the richness of Reality: excessive analyticism: the course of the evolution of a culture now becomes a whirlpool sucking itself in instead of progressing to the next level. (In daily life of the individuals, i.e. on the level of ontogeny, one finds an analogous phenomenon in a person who over-analyzes every detail of his or her interpersonal relationships, becomes paranoid about others’ intentions, and finally ends up insane, paranoid schizophrenic. Or the instance Sartre has spoken about in Being and Nothingness: staring at the doorknob for so long that it becomes just a present-at-hand “thing,” its original equipmental meaning having dissolved. Or a highly educated professor with a wealth of knowledge in his head which is organized into a coherent system, but whose mind has become so rigid that anything the student says which differs from the content already present in his head, he does not hear; he can only repeat the content of his system, only capable of the repetition of monologues. Or, more commonly, a person whose prejudices are so entrenched already (like one who has already decided that reality is a circle and no more and no other) that s/he interprets anyone s/he encounters as just the stereotype of his or her prejudices (if s/he sees a square, s/he would still believe s/he only sees a circle). The mind starts out as a clean slate, a tabula rasa, then fills itself with the content of external reality (learning), and becomes intelligent, but then its content becomes fixed, the mind closes itself up, and it no longer pays attention to the external reality from which it has originally obtained its content.) In art history this tendency of degeneration begins with Impressionism and consummates itself in the various formalist, abstract movements in the mid-twentieth century, from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism.

"Forms", "shapes", "color", "mood", the contrast of these, "composition" etc., are categories used by earlier generations to better understand the amazing sight of Reality, the éclat. They are isolated from Reality in the course of history by the mind that invented them, and in modern, non-representational art they assume independent existence of their own. This degeneration is made noble by the slogan "Art for Art's Sake." This process of isolation first began with the impressionists, who isolated light and color out of the Whole to represent the supposed essence.

In consequence, the content of art becomes irrelevant in modern art. It used to be the most important, as in the 1600s when the French Royal Academy put paintings about history at the top of the scale, and still life at the bottom. Nicolas Pousin wrote: "The magnificent manner consists of four things: subject or topic, concept, structure and style. This first requirement, which is the basis for all the others, is that the subject or topic should be great, such as battles, heroic actions and divine matters... Those who choose vile topics take refuge in them on account of their own lack of ingenuity. Faintheartedness is therefore to be despised, as is baseness of subject matter for which any amount of artifice is useless." (From Janson's History of Art .)

In modern art, vile topics aside, there is often no topic at all, but simply the formalism of the interplay of free-floating, empty aesthetic categories. On the worst occasions, there is only a random canvas propped up by formalistic rhetoric as supposedly a work of art. The situation then degenerates into something like the king's new dress: while the "educated" adults are able to make something magnificent out of the king who is really naked, the laymen, the children, un-initiated into the abstract world of adults, could not see what the fuss is about, but usually keep quiet, admitting an inferiority -- that they don't know something.

This is something like a "formalist degeneration", which then is really the normal course of the maturation of consciousness. Over-analyzation resulting in nihilism, meaninglessness (like the doorknob), and the increase of content, in the closing-up of the system into a self-referential system without relationship with the external reality: hence modern art converges with the general postmodernist and feminist climate. But this brings us to the second side of the story, the operation of power: great art works are those that most succinctly prophesize the spirit of the coming age, or the mode of production and consumption of the new era. Each phase of modern art, then, becomes very intelligible against this background of social change. Impressionism and the general trend of the disappearance of content (such as history) from art foretell the coming mass societies of the western world of the 1920s; Pollock's works inaugurate the beginning of consumerism that U.S. initiates after W.W. II; and Warhol's warn of what this consumerism is about to send us into. Though these pioneering works of the post war era seem so much junk (to the innocent eyes), there is much message in their junkiness, hence they are admired and revered (by the expert eyes). But in this way, also, through our “appreciation” of the works of Pollock and Warhol or the likes of them, our mind is gradually socialized, conditioned, to the consumerist order of meaningless, disjointed, and fragmented objects and impressions passing through our head without staying and with ever increasing rapidity: our mind has been reduced to an intestine.

The human “natural” value-system (i.e. based on nature) -- calepa ta kala -- is thus destroyed and reversed under this double onslaught (the natural course of degeneration and the operation of power). Easy things, not hard things, become the goal of human “striving” in the postmodern world of consumerism. Power (supraorganismic metabolism) has an interest in humans striving after “easy things” because this can increase production and consumption (quantity at the expense of quality). Not only are works of modern art easy to appreciate and so more of them can be “consumed” in less time (one typically does not spend more than two seconds in front of a piece of abstract art depicting two red dots and one line) – the advantage of contentlessness and non-representationality: compared with art-appreciation in the old time when one needs to spend years in front of a Neo-classicist or Renaissance painting trying to understand the subject matter and unearthing all the hidden content – but the ease of their production means that any person without any talent can be an artist producing 10 to 20 pieces of “art” a day which can be “appreciated”, of course, in just two minutes. Elephants and chimpanzees have produced “modern art” and sold them. The mobilization of the masses even in art! Ironically, this was initiated by such an elite and talent of great skill as Matisse, who became increasingly obsessed with spending his time on creating paintings of children’s level, and even framed his 8 year-old daughter’s doodles as great art. Like an aristocrat who, getting bored with his daily thousand-dollar meal, starts collecting dung on the street as hitherto undiscovered delicious nourishment. Why would a person be so self-destructive and stupid? Because the spirit of the age is acting in him: the avant-guard. As art is reduced to consumer product in this way, and its appreciation to intestinal digestion and dissipation (“passing through one’s head,” being constantly flashed with meaningless images) facilitating the faster circulation of money, art is effectively destroyed: no one left with the skill to produce real art – in fact, the identity “artist” means nothing nowadays, since an “artist” can be a super-talented David or just someone who does paintings that even an elephant can paint – and no one left with the mind capacity to appreciate real art, the human mind having been desensitized by random and boring images and lost all interest in “art.”7

Though formalist degeneration is the normal course of consciousness, perhaps "progress" was still possible after the representational height of neo-classicism in the first half of nineteenth century. There were the obscure figures who carried on the tradition, like Cabanel, Bougereau, Lord Leighton, etc. At this point one can probably consider as "progress" just the opposite of the anti-representational trend initiated by impressionism: greater accuracy in representation and in subject matter, increased sensitivity to and awareness of the underlying structure of representation.

The feminist ethic and the spirit of consumerism

The previous examination of the cultural feminist epistemology (“Problem of Cultural Feminism”) would seem to have employed a Marxist perspective in seeing the “female mode,” i.e. the feminist ethic (the reputably female way of thinking and seeing of reality as a non-hierarchical, decentralized relationship network without subject-object distinction or with “agency” diffused throughout), as just an ideological superstructure of the substructure of the mode of production and consumption of the new consumerist world-order which has “flattened” the classical capitalist world-order characterized by locally concentrated hierarchies. But in fact with regard to the pioneer cultural feminists what we have adopted is the Heideggerian notion of the function of the artist and the philosopher in a given culture. It is only the second generation of cultural feminists onward whose "thoughts" are entirely conditioned by the substructure of the consumerist mode of production and consumption. A really obvious example is (as mentioned) Mary Ann McClure's "Chaos and Feminism -- A Complex Dynamic: Parallels Between Feminist Philosophy of Science and Chaos Theory", in the conclusion of which she makes the exact jump predicted earlier of taking the flattened-out business world of global consumerism as indicating a certain triumph of the "female mode":

Concurrently, modern society was undergoing a social revolution marked by the emergence of increasing numbers of women in the workplace and their growth in social and political power. Chaos theory emerges in the context of the rise of modern feminism and reflects a shift in the gendered nature of knowledge. Chaos theory appears at the same time that feminist discourse is valorizing certain modes of reasoning stereotypically associated with the feminine. Women tend to use language that stresses agreement, connection and mutuality. They reason in a style that demands communicative skills, attends to individuals in their particularity, and is narrative and contextual. Such a pattern of reasoning resists categorical formulation and remains open-ended and flexible.

I am not saying feminist discourse "caused" chaos theory; I am suggesting that chaos theory is part of a larger cultural context [i.e. consumerism] , one partially constituted by feminist discourse, in which it is now possible to move beyond the Newtonian paradigm. Chaos theory originates in a cultural context where it is now possible to think about knowing in ways that emphasize connectedness, conversation, and cooperation, instead of separation, domination and control.

This feminine style of reason -- that values cooperation over domination and control, attends to particulars instead of abstractions, follows narratives over time, and resists categorical formulation -- characterizes much of the application of chaos theory to business and public management. Margaret Wheatley stresses that good management recognizes the particularity of individuals and gives up the need to regiment or supervise. She also advocates a narrative cognitive style, explaining that we should follow the narrative of an organization because "it takes time to see if a meaning-rich organization really works" (Wheatley, [Leadership and the New Science,] 1992, p. 137).

A similar movement away from regimentation and control is found in L. Douglas Kiel's application of chaos theory to public management. In Managing Chaos and Complexity in Government, he analyzes public agencies as self-organizing entities. For Kiel, good management means developing systems and processes that support the agency's capacity for self-renewal and self-organization. The effective leader relinquishes control so that employees are freed up to use all of their skills; tight management control may actually inhibit the potential for change in the organization.

Self-organizing government agencies function best in conditions of bounded instability, instead of a state of equilibrium, as advocated by the more traditional system theorists. It follows that managers must accept uncertainty and risk and learn to see crises as opportunities that allow for innovation and a new responsiveness. They must learn not only to be comfortable with instability, but also to create disorder when the organization becomes too stable.

Feminist epistemologists would identify this acceptance of ambiguity and uncertainty as a distinctively feminine style of knowing and coping with the world. For example, boys at play are characterized by a drive for certainty: they argue for hours over how the rules of the game are to be applied. In contrast, girls at play quickly agree to amend the rules to resolve conflicts, maintain relationships and allow the game to move forward. Mothers also, argues Sara Ruddick, tend to distrust the clear-cut and the unambiguous. She describes maternal thinking as favoring innovation over permanence and disclosure and responsiveness over clarity (Ruddick, [Maternal Thinking,] 1989).

Kiel also advises managers to give up reliance on both the certainty of long-term forecasts and the certainty of overarching theory. He argues that there will never be a grand theory of public management, instead we will have to be satisfied with rules of thumb. Again, a similar move away from universally established principles can be found in the distinctive moral judgment of women. Women frequently find traditional ethics to be too bound by the rigid strictures of principles and lacking in sensitivity to the complexity of particular situations. Rather than reasoning from abstract principles, Carol Gilligan maintains that women tend to rely on rules of thumb that preserve relationships and accommodate the unique needs of individual persons (Gilligan, 1982).

Equally important, management guided by chaos theory not only favors a feminine style of reasoning, it also reenforces values central to the feminist project, like diversity and democracy. Kiel finds a diverse work force to be an important source of creative disorder. He is also committed to open-ended agencies that let communication flourish and advises managers to relinquish direction and control. For Kiel, good management liberates the energies of individuals and facilitates communication by leveling bureaucratic hierarchies, bringing staff and citizens into the decision-making process (Kiel, 1994). It would appear that a growing number of corporations have been moving in this interactive direction, with the result that they have earned more profits (Alcaly, [Reinventing the Corporation,] 1997).

The author here doesn't even try to hide the congruence between "feminism" and business-doing in global consumerism. In as much as women are "beings of consumption," above the shopaholic ordinary women the "intellectual élite" of postmodern womankind intellectualize consumerism mentality (with regard to both consumption and production: the Age of Consumerism as the Age of Woman) just as the élite of mankind (Leo Strauss, Georges Bataille, Francis Fukuyama) intellectualize the hypermasculine gratuitous aggression which postmodern ordinary males practice on the street. (The feminine and masculine side of our postmodern age, respectively, ah! This on top of Shadia Drury's distinction between the "right" and the "left" side of postmodernism: "Alexandre Kojève: The Roots of Postmodern Politics".) Although the feminists would like to celebrate the contemporary flattened world of consumerism, ordinary people find it harder and harder to survive and prosper within it. Within the flat world of globalization business competition has become far more fierce than before, the old stability gone in the case of both individuals and corporations alike. One day the company prospers, the next day it gets knocked out by a competitor from the other side of the planet. The individual workers of the company follow the fate of the latter: job seemingly stable, pay good, the workers prosper together with the company during the good days; but the next day, they are out of job as the company fails to compete in the flattened, increasingly more complex global business environment. Before “the world goes flat” the old hierarchical organizations provide for their workers safety nets (health insurance, pension plan, etc.) against the vicissitudes of economic swings because in the relatively simple business environment of classical capitalism organizations can count on long-term stability and so have an interest in employing workers life-long. After the “disintegration of hierarchies” companies have to do away with these in order to compete within the increasingly complex global jungle where prosperity today is no insurance against bankruptcy tomorrow. Hence, especially in the center place of globalization such as the U.S. from which the flattened net of the global division of labour diffuses outward, workers of all type, from blue collar to white collar professionals, are increasingly trapped in a double jeopardy of job becoming less stable and the cushion against joblessness and disability shrinking away. They deal with this by working longer hours and – the “liberation of women” becoming a necessity – by having both partners in a marriage work. (Added to their burden is their increasing consumption which indebts them further to the credit card companies.) The Republican credo of “ownership society” and the feminist ideal of a “decentralized flat world” are good for the overall system of global economy but bad news for ordinary people. We must hence take note of the fact that the historical interest of American feminism is global and not regional, in that it aims to benefit the creation of a global economy even if at the expense of the livelihood of the people of its home country.

A concluding comment about feminism is in order. Throughout our thermodynamic interpretation of history we have attempted to analyze American feminism as a dispositif in the latest phase of the thermodynamic formation of human society as a noospheric open dissipative structure. And we have also analyzed its consequences to be the destruction of the planet and -- where it participates in the consumerization of academia with all the other factors just named -- the reduction of the human mind to a noospheric intestine. Coming to more details, we must note in addition that, firstly, cultural feminism of the second wave emerges specifically to cover up the negative effect that the mobilization of women as more producers and consumers which liberal feminism espouses might engender. This can be easily understood with an analogy: as China is rising up as a great economic powerhouse with many of its people extricating themselves thusly from poverty, those that like the Chinese might feel happy for them; but at the same time, the destruction of the atmosphere and the increase of Global Warming that this “liberation” would lead to – still fossil fuel-based the Chinese economy will be – worries many; imagine now how handy an ideology might come in which tries to fool people to believe in the opposite of reality, that the “liberation” of the Chinese people would “save the earth.” Any objection toward Chinese rising based on environmental reasons (the most just of all) would be dissipated. In the same way, as the capitalists attempt to mobilize women to work and consume by calling this their “liberation,” people might feel hesitant about this liberation in worry of its environmental cost – since women need to drive to work, doubling societal carbon emission “for the sake of their liberation” for instance; then cultural feminism comes in just in time as a dispositif benefiting the capitalists, covering up this environmental cost by proclaiming the opposite: making women work (and consume) will “save the earth.” We note, secondly, that insofar as the metamorphosis of American capitalism into consumerism since the 1960s is intimately linked to the rise of Asian economies which have found that the quickest way to enrich themselves, raise the living standard of their populus, and rise up in the world is to dump cheap and mass consumer products on the American population – and such has been the beginning of Globalization --, American feminism then forms an integral parcel together with the domestic import corporations and Asian capitalists in this process of global consumerism. During the first phase of this process, when the “liberation of women” in America served as the dispositif to raise the consumption rate of the American populus so as to suck in these excessive products dumped on them (as if into a black-hole), the principal foreign beneficiaries of American feminism are those Asian nations around the Pacific Rim: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong. In this regard we have noted the intimate connection, or rather curious congruence, between the feminists’ exhortation of women to join higher level service industries -- for they do not regard women’s working in MacDonald or making shoes and toys as “liberation” (the case of Betty Friedan) – and the de-manufacturization of America in favor of Asian manufactured imports. During the second phase (after the Cold War), when American cultural feminists are celebrating in earnest through the ideology of “female culture” the flattened, non-hierarchical, diffused, and decentralized New World Order, the principal foreign beneficiary is China: now that it has become a rule that single mothers work and that both partners in a marriage work, the raised consumption rate per person thus being maintained as the new permanent base-line,8 the historical duty of feminists such as McClure above consists mainly in cheer-leading for further export of American domestic industries to China (and, less often, elsewhere) – which is what world-flattening really amounts to – and in cloaking the process with fantasized cultural terminologies (of female “epistemology”) so as to divert attention and nullify whatever indignation might otherwise arise among the American middle- and lower-class. Our study of the “American feminist intraworldly messianism” thus seems to end in the strange conclusion that American feminism in all its facets – cultural feminism, vulgar feminism, women’s movement, and the “emancipation of women” – is an Asian capitalist conspiracy (just as Wal-Mart seems like a Chinese capitalist conspiracy). Of course one probably would not find, among the financial sources for the National Organization of Women for example, donations from Toyota, Sony, Korean and Taiwanese manufacturers of household products and clothing. Rather, simply, the Reason of History – always pushing for the formation of ever larger open dissipative structures, now supraorganismic and noospheric – has since World-War II been on the side of Asians.

The problem of the congruence of contemporary scientific discourse with the mode of production and consumption

McClure's notice of a "parallel" between cultural feminism and the latest trend of science -- complexity, self-organization, and chaos theory -- which is vastly amplified by Fritjof Capra in his The Web of Life (1996), however, leaves the question to be answered, of whether science is really just a "superstructure" of economy in Marxist terms, or an expression of the character, Geist, of a culture in Spengler's words, having no objective truth value, i.e. no relation with an independent objective reality. For, clearly, the science of complexity, etc., embodies, just like feminism, so well the "spirit of consumerism," and feminist discourse, as we attempt to demonstrate here, is just so much fable about nothing real in particular.

But we do not accept the nihilistic and relativist position that science gives no truth about the external reality. If the evolution of science is examined in its own terms, then classical mechanics can clearly be expected to evolve – linearly – first of all into quantum mechanics and relativity – as mechanics is applied to objects on ever smaller scale and the logical inconsistencies in the classical conception of space and time are finally resolved – and then into the study of complexity, self-organization, and “chaos” – as the mathematical representational tools progressively enlarge their scope and can comprehend “systems” of an ever larger number of objects moving and colliding with one another: up til the complexity and “chaos” so called, where order can be found in patterns so complex as to defy any immediate intuition of what order is like and thus to appear chaotic.9 This is thus an upward movement in science. The convergence between the image of this object of science (complex patterns and chaos) and that of the contemporary mode of production just signifies that the latter – the market, the economic cosmos – is itself evolving from the simpler pattern of formative capitalism to the more complex pattern of today. We’ll understand better the (linear!) evolution of science in Scientific Enlightenment (Div. Two). There we will also learn that each new stage of the evolution of consciousness (such as today’s new science) consists of both an upward and a downward movement. The use of new physics and the new science of complexity to justify mass-society and consumerism represents the downward, degenerative direction of the new human “consciousness.”

Finale

We end our analytical journey through the postmodern condition of fragmentation and horizontal diffusion with the words of such a contemporary master as David Bohm, in his “Fragmentation and Wholeness” (in Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Routledge, 1980):

It is especially important to consider this question today, for fragmentation is now very widespread, not only throughout society, but also in each individual; and this is leading to a kind of general confusion of the mind, which creates an endless series of problems and interferes with our clarity of perception so seriously as to prevent us from being able to solve most of them.

[With regard to academic specialization:] Thus art, science, technology, and human work in general, are divided up into specialties, each considered to be separate in essence from the others. Becoming dissatisfied with this state of affairs, men have set up further interdisciplinary subjects, which were intended to unite these specialties, but these new subjects have ultimately served mainly to add further separate fragments. [With regard to “multiculturalism”:] Then, society as a whole has developed in such a way that it is broken up into separate nations and different religious, political, economic, racial groups, etc... Similarly, each individual human being has been fragmented into a large number of separate and conflicting compartments, according to his different desires, aims, ambitions, loyalties, psychological characteristics, etc., to such an extent that it is generally accepted that some degree of neurosis is inevitable, while many individuals going beyond the ‘normal’ limits of fragmentation are classified as paranoid, schizoid, psychotic, etc.

The notion that all these fragments are separately existent is evidently an illusion…

Indeed, to some extent, it has always been both necessary and proper for man, in his thinking, to divide things up, and to separate them, so as to reduce his problems to manageable proportions… Nevertheless, this sort of ability of man to separate himself from his environment and to divide and apportion things ultimately led to a wide range of negative and destructive results, because man lost awareness of what he was doing and thus extended the process of division beyond the limits within which it works properly. In essence, the process of division is a way of thinking about things that is convenient and useful mainly in the domain of practical, technical and functional activities (e.g. to divide up an area of land into different fields where various crops are to be grown). However, when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man’s notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives (i.e. to his self-world view), then man ceases to regard the resulting divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and experience himself and his world as actually constituted of separately existent fragments…

Bohm here only mentions synchronic fragmentation. To exalt as cultural feminists do (e.g. the example of Morgan earlier) reality as dynamically constantly self-transforming (“resistance to categorical formulation”) amounts to the prescription to see reality as also diachronically fragmented (succession of unrelated chunks). We have similarly as Bohm commented on the destructive effect for the human mind of the application of this technical fragmentation (both spatial and temporal) to non-practical understanding.

It is instructive to consider that the word ‘health’ in English is based on an Anglo-Saxon word ‘hale’ meaning ‘whole’: that is, to be healthy is to be whole, which is, I think, roughly the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘shalem’. Likewise, the English ‘holy’ is based on the same root as ‘whole’. All of this indicates that man has sensed always that wholeness or integrity is an absolute necessity to make life worth living. Yet, over the ages [or rather, especially today], he has generally lived in fragmentation (p. 1- 4).

Bohm proceeds to focus on “the subtle but crucial role of our general forms of thinking in sustaining fragmentation and in defeating our deepest urges toward wholeness or integrity” (ibid.). We have instead focused on the role in all this of the cultural climate and ideologies dictated by consumerism’s need for faster dissipation and “intestinalization of life.” Some such more intelligent postmodern thinker as Ken Wilber has tried, contra feminist and postmodern ideologues, to restore wholeness and health to our consciousness by constructing a new hierarchical and holistic representation of reality (a synchronic Grand Narrative: a “system”) that matches the hierarchy and holism found in nature. We’ll construct a different such thing (and hopefully better: a diachronic Grand Narrative) in Scientific Enlightenment.

Footnotes:

1. Consider David Bohm’s comment below. Even Fritjof Capra himself, in The Web of Life, has commented on the negative effect on the mind of the division of labor in academia:

Academic specialization really just means in the end that “education” becomes like the “training” of a “technocrat” or an engineer; and that one goes to school to “learn a skill.” This is swell for such field as engineering or public administration. But because the “knowledge” on which the humanities curriculum is based is not “applicable” to production or management in the “real world,” such training amounts to just dissipation of information. Consider the example of linguistics below.

2. Schiller called the specialist “whose ambition is to become as narrow a specialist as possible and go on knowing more and more about less and less” (Collingwood, The Idea of History, revised ed., p. 105) Brotgelehrte, “daily-bread scholar”; he constrasts with “the philosophical historian who takes all history for his province and makes it his business to see the connections between the facts and detect the large-scale rhythms of the historical processes” (ibid.). A fascist at heart such as Alan Bloom always discerns the same problem of how specialization in knowledge actually prevents the specialist from truly understanding what s/he is specialized in understanding (in order to turn learning into consumption), even if we always disagree with his cure: “A specialist cuts off an aspect of the whole of things man faces, orders it, and becomes competent at dealing with it. The doctor or the engineer appeals to us on the basis of what might be called the charm of competence.” The most unfortunate thing is of course that pure learning – such as in humanities, pure sciences, and mathematics – has been modeled on these applied learnings. Specialists “can make claims to rational demonstration that those who want to face the whole cannot rival. They are good at reasoning except about the whole and their own place in it. This abstraction of a part from the whole provides intelligibility, but at the sacrifice of the erotic aspiration for completeness and self-discovery. The specialist lacks or suppresses such longing.” In other words, true learning – about everything or the whole as much as possible – not only helps one better understand reality as a whole and any particular part of it, it even helps one grow “spiritually” – develop an understanding of one’s relationship with everything else, one’s place in the whole of things, and thus transform one’s sense of self. Specialization does just the opposite. Hence a true learner, a philosopher such as Socrates, “prefers his own condition of openness to the whole to an almost perfect clarity about a part bought at the expense of forgetting the whole.” (“The Ladder of Love”, in S. Benardete’s translation of Symposium, p. 96 – 7.) The old-fashioned European “system builders” such as Hegel who strive to know the whole are now condemned as imperialists. This may be true, but it’s only because they were imperialists, not because they sought the whole. The whole-seekers, the “lumpers”, are today equally condemned as “unprofessional” or “untechnical”.

The example from historical linguistics:

3. Robert Locke (“The Realm Problem with Multiculturalism”) has made an equally insightful description of multiculturalism in the arena of the general masses which differs from ours but which converges with ours in its eventual effect in the reduction of human beings to intestinal consumers. “First used in its present sense by philosopher Immanuel Kant, Kultur in the German is ultimately derived from the same root as the English agriculture. In its original meaning, it meant what we would now call self-cultivation, i.e. the cultivation of the individual consciousness through exposure to the arts. It presumes the idea that the consciousness is just as worthy of cultivation and perfection as the body. This is why we insist on a hierarchy of culture, as higher forms of art impart a greater refinement to the consciousness and give it objects of higher quality on which to form itself. 'Shaping taste' is an extremely superficial way of describing it, but not misguided. The concept of taste is the tip of a far more important iceberg, the question what objects this consciousness has formed itself on and come to be moved by. What attracts it? Garbage, or things of real quality? This is all motivated, ultimately, by a sense that what a man’s consciousness amounts to is an essential component of what he amounts to as a human being, what he is worth.” So consumerism wants individual human beings to amount to no more than an walking (noospheric as well biospheric) intestine. “That this cultivation requires culture, i.e. the property of a community and not just an individual, is caused by the fact that individuals on their own cannot sustain culture, one of whose essential attributes is communication. Therefore culture tends to be the property of groups of people who communicate with each other, i.e. societies… Multiculturalism… produces what we can call the default to the lowest common denominator…. If everyone is encouraged to embrace wildly different cultures, the common conversation of culture, that conversation in which people experience the highest elements of their common humanity through their common experience of the highest products of human creativity, is broken. People share nothing but pop-cultural junk. There can be no community of experience, no shared critical standards, no common memory, no common aspiration. There are just dozens, if not hundreds, of ghettoes… How many more are just consumers, equally at home in any of the world’s identical malls?... Multiculturalism is the perfect excuse for cultural consumerism, the trivializing nightmare that even intelligent leftists, like Herbert Marcuse in One Dimensional Man, feared. It is the perfect ideological rationalization for commercial interests that want people to move through life in a haze of trivial novelty, never giving their minds to any act deeper than the act of consumption [the intestinal life]. It is culture cut up into small pieces too small to threaten anybody. It is an endless cultural buffet with never a dinner. Multiculturalism leads to people who are forever condemned to the lower rungs of culture, to a permanent condition of the aesthetic neophyte, of the stunting of their soul’s capacity for experience. It is thus hostile to high culture as such and contains a covert agenda of not just equality between cultures but a leveling within cultures. It is just as hostile to serious Brahminism or Mandarinism as it is to their Western analogues… Multiculturalism cannot stand to see anything remain that is a possible reproach to its sad self, like a viable and coherent single culture that is confident of itself and does not aspire to dissolve into bits and pieces…. the cultural fast-food court of multiculturalism… ”

4. "It is one of the most remarkable phenomena in the whole of history that in the high middle ages . . . many members of the highest and wealthiest or at least prosperous strata of society, who had the best chances of enjoying earthly pleasures to the full, renounced them. . . The flow of new candidates was particularly impressive in those places where the rules of monastic life had been restored to their ancient strictness, imposed more rigorously or even redefined more severely. . . We must assume that the main motive for the choice of a monastic life was always the eschatological ideal of monasticism... " During the 13th century, the mendicant friars were typically recruited from the aristocracy, the landed gentry, and other affluent families, and their parents often disapproved of their decision because, like most parents, they didn't want their sons to become evolutionary dead ends. "It was a nightmare for well-to-do families that their children might become friars." (Tellenbach, G. The Church in Western Europe From the Tenth to the Early Twelfth Century, p. 103, 105.)

There other reasons for the decline of humanities in the modern world that are unrelated to the formation of supraorganismic metabolism but are the necessary consequences of the evolution of consciousness are related to the problem of amnesia due to the change in perspective ("paradigm shift"). Notably, the rise of science; and the decline of philosophy, as will be shown in The Scientific Enlightenment, is in effect to make room for science. It is as if when one gains something new (science), one will necessarily have to lose something (philosophy) one already has to maintain the equilibrium. It will also be shown that intraworld religions are lost as salvational religions and philosophy are gained.

5. In opposition to the secularization thesis, and even to Weber’s “de-magification of the world,” in this book Ménard proposes exploring along the path laid down by Roger Bastide’s “displacement of the sacred”: “According to this theory, the experience of the sacred does not disappear forcefully with the advancement of the process of secularization (of institutions and cultures); it simply has the tendency to displace onto other objects and into spheres of existence different from the religious institutions where it was incarnated traditionally.” (28) In other words, the human experience of the sacred which engenders the external forms, doctrines, and institutions of traditional religions is to be extracted from these latter, and only then can we see how this experience has been incarnated in new forms among the contemporary social phenomena, in order to better understand the postmodern society and culture we live in: i.e. as “religious” just as before. As for this experience of the sacred, he adopts Rudolf Otto’s definition, that of something terrifying and fascinating at the same time, which moreover appears as absolute Other.

6. So Syme, the philologist working at the Research Department, explained to Winston the principles of the new language -- Newspeak -- the Big Brother is inventing for the next generation (1984, Part 1, Chapter 5): "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn't only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take 'good', for instance. If you have a word like 'good', what need is there for a word like 'bad'? 'Ungood' will do just as well -- better, because it's an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of 'good', what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like 'excellent' and 'splendid' and all the rest of them? 'Plusgood' covers the meaning, or 'doubleplusgood' if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already. but in the final version of Newspeak there'll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words -- in reality, only one word. Don't you see the beauty of that, Winston? It was B.B.'s idea originally, of course.... Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year.... Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition [of the Newspeak Dictionary], we're not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there's no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It's merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won't be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak.... Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?... By 2050 earlier, probably -- all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron -- they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like 'freedom is slavery' when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking -- not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." To reduce the ability to think, to make speaking "duckspeak" ("Ultimately it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centers at all", p. 254), the Research Department thus reduces the amount of vocabulary to a minimum, regularizes grammar ("speedful" for "rapid", "uncold" for "warm", "doublepluscold" for "very cold", "thinked" for "thought", "goodest" for "best"), uses mechanically constructed compounds ("goodthink" for "orthodoxy"), etc. In any case, "duckspeak" means mechanization of thought and speech. ("The Principles of Newspeak", p. 246 - 256.)

Herbert Marcuse of course has already pointed out in his One Dimensional Men that the doublethink technique of continental totalitarianism is also in widespread use in the political discourse of the Anglo-American developmental free-market type of supraorganism. (See, for example, Douglas Kellner, From 1984 to One-Dimensional Man: Critical Reflections on Orwell and Marcuse: "'Doublethink' for Orwell was the mental activity of simultaneously knowing and not knowing, denoting an ability to be conscious of the truth while telling lies, so that one could hold two contradictory views at once and manipulate language to meet the exigencies of the moment.") However, when Kellner argues that Orwell's description of the totalitarian power techniques in general does not hold entirely within continental totalitarianism and not at all appropriately within the power bureaucracy of the developed nations of the West, he is noting what we have noted: first, whereas the two competing modes of supraorganismic formation aim at the same goal -- eliminating individual consciousness -- they use different techniques which however appear similar because of their identical goal. The randomization of the content of consciousness in the consumerist world achieves the same goal as that of Newspeak in continental totalitarianism. Newspeak and Doublethink are also used, but in a different, less coercive and more seductive form, to destroy consciousness and its connection to truth by the marketings prevalent in a consumer culture in order to socialize docile consumers (to increase consumption or dissipation). Secondly, even the continental approach to supraorganismic formation has to employ seduction in conjunction with coercion, and not just coercion by itself: "But in view of the collapse of the most repressive twentieth century totalitarian states, one might conclude that excessively brutal bureaucracies generate their own opposition and that therefore a repressive state apparatus which functions by terror alone is inherently unstable and doomed to collapse. Surely the continued existence of the neo-Stalinist bureaucracy, for example, in the Soviet Union does not only owe its longevity to pure repression and state terror but also must provide goods and services and engage in ideological indoctrination and not just brute force. A boot-in-the-face is surely one form of social control that repressive bureaucracies utilize, but whether it is the only or most certain to provide continuous stability for its regime is doubtful. In any case, for Orwell bureaucracy becomes the fate of the modern world in a very different sense from Weber. Weber's instrumental rationality and iron cage becomes a prison camp utilizing constant surveillance, force, torture, and brutality in Orwell's nightmare. Indeed, many such regimes have existed and do continue to exist after the publication of 1984, so Orwell's vision continues to be relevant. But it is not clear that even totalitarian societies rely solely on terror and coercion to the extent suggested in 1984, nor have communist regimes monopolized techniques of state terror, repression, and violence...." (Ibid.)

It is in this connection also that we justify our frequent use of long and complex sentences in our discourse here, as if we talk in traditional German. The English teachers' frequent insistence on their students to use "short sentences" in fact constitutes a technique of the simplification of language to diminish the capacity of the students' consciousness, just like Newspeak. Our refusal to follow this imperative of "making it easier for readers to understand" therefore constitutes resistance against the consumerization of mind by consumerism.

7. Poetry follows the same evolutionary (degenerative) path: as poems no longer need to rhyme, anyone can babble in some random fashion and be considered a “poet.”

8. In this respect, see especially the recent study by Elizabeth Warren (et al.): The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke (Basic Books, 2003). Really, a second car for the working mother, the concomitant baby-sitting or child-care cost, and higher cut in their income by mortgage and credit card companies constitute those by which the base-line of consumption has been much raised from before.

9. The paradigm shift from that of the formative or production phase capitalism to that of the mature or consumption phase capitalism Capra in The Web of Life characterizes as one from the analytic or reductionist approach where the whole is understood through decomposition to its parts, to the systems approach where these parts cannot be understood apart from their relationships with one another within the whole, or apart from the whole itself -- the transition consists, in other words, in a reversal of the relationship between the parts and the whole. He traces this development from physics (quantum physics) through psychology (Gestalt psychology) to biology and ecology, where his primary focus lies in this book. Clearly, when one examines the roots of the systems approach in biology which he summarizes: network thinking (vernetztes Denkens: Heisenberg, Geoffrey Chew), process thinking (Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Whitehead, Alexander Bogdanov), and cybernetics (Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Gregory Bateson), one can see that the pioneers were merely trying to apply the tools (mathematics and concepts) already developed in the "reductionist past" to comprehend the more complex objects of study ("systems", especially those in the biosphere) than those in classical mechanics (Ch. 3 - 4).




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