How Deflection Works

by Scott Preston The Chrysalis Feb 18, 2019

….spiritual reality in its intensified form is also becoming effectual and real. This new spiritual reality is without question our only security that the threat of material destruction can be averted. Its realization alone seems able to guarantee man’s continuing existence in the face of powers of technology, rationality, and chaotic emotion. If our consciousness, that is, the individual person’s awareness, vigilance, and clarity of vision, cannot master the new reality and make possible its realization, then the prophets of doom will have been correct. Other alternatives are an illusion; consequently, great demands are placed on us, and each one of us have been given a grave responsibility, not merely to survey but to actually traverse the path opening before us.” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin.

Gebser once wrote that man’s sense of responsibility had not kept pace with the power and possibilities of technology. It might be said that herein lies the gist of the whole matter of the “Anthropocene”. There are many reasons for this deficit of a sense of responsibility, but it is also true that restoring a sense of responsibility is probably the essential feature even of Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy and grammatical method.Respondeo, etsi mutabor — “I respond, although I will be changed” — is his formula to replace the already shop-worn Cartesian one — cogito ergo sum.

With this formula, respondeo etsi mutabor, and its complement, audi ne moriamur (“Listen, lest we die!”) introduces his quadrilateral pattern logic or “grammatical method”. The emphasis, here, shifts from thinking to speaking, from homo sapiens to homo grammaticus, as it were. Correspondingly, there is a shift in emphasis from dialectics to dialogics, and from “the first person” centrality of the thinking subject to the mutual social relation between speakers and listeners, like an alternating current. In other words, the emphasis shifts to the “field.”

The potentiality for abstract reason and thought was never the universal defining feature of human beings it was presumed to be. Homo sapiens was an idealisation that didn’t actually correspond to the reality. Homo grammaticus — the human as “symbol-using, symbol-abusing animal” — was truer of our nature. Our capacity for symbolic thought always precedes our capacities for abstract thinking or dialectic. “Man the Thinker” was always a false yardstick and standard for assessing the value of “human”. While it is not entirely wrong, it’s not entirely true either. Effective thinking, abstraction, or cognition is valuable. But it’s just one aspect of the human form, and it could hardly proceed at all without the tacit, underlying and sustaining support of the symbolising power. This is the essential message, too, of Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamics and the “two modes of attention” described in The Master and His Emissary. It might be said, too, that while the “Emissary” (the cogito or res cogitans) is principally concerns with signs, the Master is principally concerned with symbol. The antithesis of the “symbolic” is the “diabolic.”


William Blake (British, 1757-1827) The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun (Rev. 12: 1-4), ca. 1803-1805

Chew on the meaning and significance of that for a while. While “sym-bolon” means to heal, mend, integrate, bring together, unify, dia-bolon is the contrary force that works to segregate, disintegrate, divide, hinder, partition. Literally, it means to “throw obstacles in the way”. This is what Gebser means by “the demonic.” And that’s another way of interpreting and understanding the meaning of the paradox of “the double-movement” — as a contest between the symbolic and the diabolic or demonic.

Now, it’s for this reason that, in the Book of Revelation, the tongue of Christ is depicted as a “two-edged sword”, while the tongue of the deceiver — the serpent — is depicted as forked from the root. Superficially, these symbols could be confused with one another, although one refers to the paradox and the other to dualism, one to the symbolic power and another to the diabolic force. The tongue of Christ symbolises the coincidence of the opposites or essential unity of the contraries while the serpent’s tongue represents their separation. Yet, paradoxically too, the New Testament calls the serpent “the wisest of all creatures.”

Not exactly what you were taught to think in Sunday School, is it? Perhaps what was meant by “wisest” was “most cunning.” But it reflects the very meaning of the paradox symbolised by the tongue of Christ as “two-edged sword”, and this is also what informs Nietzsche’s views in Beyond Good and Evil.


Bamberg Apocalypse The Son of Man among the seven lampstands.

I have briefly revisited these themes from earlier posts because of something I read in today’s Guardian about the currrent epidemic of conspiracy theories and the central role of shadowy groups or figures like QAnon in propagating them. There were quite similar epidemics during the barbarous years of the breakdown and decline of the Late Middle Ages and the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire. It is, however, an example of “deflection”, one meant to disguise the fact QAnon is, itself, a conspiracy that poses as the opposite of what it is. It is an illusionist and con-man’s trick sometimes referred to as “direction by indirection” or “sleight-of-hand.” It’s quite devious. It’s often quite possible to interpret the real motives of some people by what they accuse others of plotting or doing. That’s the essence of “deflection,” or of what is also called “projection.”


Mr. Trump is very practiced in this, but many politicians are. One of the most egregious examples was one I raised in an earlier post after reading a book called The Nazi Germany Sourcebook. You’ve probably all heard of the hoax called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is thought to have been a black ops or false flag operation of the Tsarist secret police in pre-revolutionary Russia, which purported to be the minutes of a meeting of Jewish leaders with a plan for world domination. Whether the Nazis actually believed in its authenticity or not, they certainly used it as evidence and justification for their hostility to the Jews, seeing Jewish conspiracies everywhere. Ironically, though, Hitler was so enamoured of The Protocolsthat he used it as a blueprint in his own bid for world domination, and what better way of disguising that than to deflect attention by accusing others of the very thing you intend to do yourself?

In all likelihood, the Tsar’s secret police in pre-revolutionary Russia had need of diverting attention from very serious problems with Tsarism and the systemic failures of Russian society by inventing a cause — a conspiracy — to protect the Tsar and Tsarism from blame for the state of Russian society, which was really quite deplorable — and to effectively divert potential revolutionary zeals into other channels — a pogrom against the Jews. Jews were always held suspect of being insufficiently loyal or insufficiently nationalistic, their allegiances ostensibly elsewhere — to something called “Zion”. So, it was relatively easy to disenfranchise and scapegoat the Jews as a group for being insufficiently “loyal”, “patriotic”, “nationalistic”, or nativist. These days, other social groups also serve as convenient diversions and deflections.


Wrestling with an Angel by Louis Leloir

“Unfortunately there is no doubt about the fact that man is, as a whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Every one carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one has always a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is steadily subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected. It is, moreover, liable to burst forth in a moment of unawareness. At all events, it forms an unconscious snag, blocking the most recent attempts.”

~ Carl Jung

To my mind, deflection is the most serious problem we face today and it meets the meanings of the words “diabolical” or “demonic” because it is intended to hinder or to throw obstacles in the way of insight or truth. Some of this is clearly deliberate, while much of it is just ignorance or unconscious habit of mendacity.

Seeing deflection for what it is is definitely part of what Gebser means by “the transparency of the world”. The Parsifal legend is a good example, actually. Parsifal was pretty much immune to the spell-casting of the sorcerer Klingsor because he saw them as attempts to divert and deflect him from his quest and his destiny.

Keep in mind that a whole lot of these “conspiracy theories” are, in fact, conspiracies themselves, designed to divert attention and to prevent you from insight into the truth. And this is the meaning of the word “diabolical.”

(header image: Shadow Dancing by Diet Wiegman)

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