by Scott Preston Chrysalis edited by O Society June 7, 2019
There is a certain formal structure to society that is distinct from society itself, and is usually quite invisible. Any good sociology — of which there is very little — attempts to investigate and make visible this structure to our consciousness. Too much of mainstream sociology is otherwise narrowly focused on relations within the structure rather than the structure itself.
We might call that structure the “meta-structure” of society, but I’m going to use the (capitalised) term “the Structure” to mean this “meta-structure” which, in very many respects, corresponds to what Timothy Morton describes as a “hyper-object”.
Most people live out their lives within the Structure without ever knowing that there is anything “outside” the Structure. This Structure is what Lewis Mumford calls “the Megamachine”, although it also has other names (including, now, “Anthropocene”). In many respects, the movie The Matrix (the first one, not the other two) is better sociology than much of what passes for sociology. So all-encompassing is the Structure most people even doubt anyone can ever achieve a “transcendental view” or the “meta-view” of the Structure.
Editor’s note: such a “meta-view” necessarily means stepping outside Hollywood’s commercial representations such as The Matrix. For example, the story narrative of The Matrix involves a protagonist (Neo) who is a computer programmer and a “Matrix,” which is a computer simulation made by The Architect:
However, the Structure we are interested in existed long before humans invented computers; hence, “The Matrix” cannot be identical with The Structure.
Descartes is often called the father of modern Western philosophy because he employed a methodology of which he writes:
“Throughout my writings I have made it clear that my method imitates that of the architect. When an architect wants to build a house which is stable on ground where there is a sandy topsoil over underlying rock, or clay, or some other firm base, he begins by digging out a set of trenches from which he removes the sand, and anything resting on or mixed in with the sand, so that he can lay his foundations on firm soil. In the same way, I began by taking everything that was doubtful and throwing it out, like sand …” (Replies 7, AT 7:536f, CSM 2:366)
That said, Descartes was not able to toss out all his personal assumptions and opinions, some of which are ingrained in the very language he used to form his so-called “first principle.” Whether Descartes is the Architect of a matrix or a philosophical proof, he writes in language: computer language, Latin, French, or Keanu Reeves’ surfer dude.
I have convinced myself there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist? No: if I convinced myself of something then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind. (AT 7:25, CSM 2:16f)
Most people confuse what are merely the visible incidental and secondary aspects and features the Structure with the Structure itself, which means they never really penetrate to the heart or crux of the matter. They might refer to it in vaguely understood terms like “the System”, or “the Establishment” or “the State” or “Society” or even “the natural order of things”, like Mr. Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism. Allen Ginsberg, on the other hand, called it “Moloch” in his poem Howl.
The Flight of Moloch by William Blake
Generations come and go and yet the Structure more or less abides. One generation succeeds another like grist for the mill. Even revolutions may come and go with all their hoopla but without altering much about the Structure. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, as The Who once sang.
“Megamachine” or “the Matrix” come as close as anything to describing the Structure. It’s also what Rosenstock-Huessy once referred to as “our new within”. Blake called it “the dark Satanic Mill”, “Ulro” or “Urizen” and his book of Iron Laws. At least one sociologist, the American Theodore Roszak, realised how much profound sociology was also in Blake.
What Edmund Burke called “the natural order of things” was for Blake, contrariwise, a “dark Satanic Mill”, or, for Ginsberg, the old god “Moloch”. Such divergent estimations of the Structure seem impossible to reconcile, for what one calls “good”, another calls “evil”. Our esteem (or lack of esteem) for the Structure, and for the Structure itself, seems to completely hinge on and to pivot upon what we understand by the term “human nature”, and even on the meaning of “nature” and “natural” itself.
If you saw the movie The Matrix, you may also recall that the structure of the Matrix was reflection or mirror image of what the artificial intelligence construed as being “human nature”, which was the matter in dispute. For his part, Blake thought of what we are calling “the Structure” as a giant man, which he named “Urizen” — the Anthropos as Urizen. Urizen, one of the four Zoas of Blake’s “Albion divided fourfold” — is, in effect, what Morton calls a “hyper-object”. But since we live, move, and have our being within this “hyper-object” as the mind of Urizen, it is also, in some sense, a “hyper-subject” at the same time.
The Ancient of Days by William Blake
If the Structure evolved as a constant reflection of our interpretation of what constitutes “human nature”, it also prescribes what that “human nature” is to be — largely a reflection or extension of itself. It also prescribes the kinds of relations that are to exist in society, including the occupations necessary to sustain and preserve it. Some types of occupations that once served real human needs — cobblers, crafts and so on — have disappeared as being inessential, and what has emerged instead are those which serve to sustain the Structure. This is what we are referring to as “technocracy”. And if the “technocratic shaman” (as Algis Mikunas calls him or her) has now emerged as a social type, it is because the Structure now requires just this type to continue to function effectively.
The giant man that Blake once saw as the Structure became the face of Big Brother, who bears some resemblance even to what Freud termed “the superego”, which often seems to be misconstrued as being a “transcendental ego”, but which is, in fact, the Buddhist demon “Mara”, also called “the Architect” (and who also appears in The Matrix as such). Mara is Blake’s Urizen.
Mara is also what Christians call “the Prince of Lies” and who Buddha referred to as “Lord of my own ego”, and even appears in Castaneda’s writings as “the foreign installation”. Nietzsche also called this “the conscience”, but one has to be very, very careful about how one understands that, because much evil has been done — much irresponsibility excused — through failure to understand what Nietzsche meant by “the conscience”. What Nietzsche meant by “the conscience” is what Blake also means by “Urizen”.
A lot of very destructive and damaging error could be avoided if it were understood that what Nietzsche means by “the conscience” is the same meaning as Blake’s “Urizen” or Buddha’s “Mara”. Blake also calls this conscience “the Accuser”, and is what polices and enforces the Structure’s conception or ideal of what is valid “human nature”. The Accuser, for Blake, is the oppressor, the inhibitor, and the tormentor, an inner tyrant that keeps us confined within the very narrow limits of “human nature”. But for Blake, anyone who lives from the “vital centre” (as Gebser calls it) has no need of something called “conscience”, for they will speak and act in ways that are always a blessing to life and to those around them.
This is what my indigenous friends call “speaking from the centre of the voice”.
So, the “death of God” is a very ambiguous event for Nietzsche, since it is also liberation from the “conscience” or “the foreign installation” — from the Accuser who can no longer be justified. In consequence, our “Mr. Hyde” (the Jungian Shadow) is unleashed from its confinement in the outer darkness, as it were. If Dr. Jekyll is all conscience, Mr. Hyde is none. But if the chaotic Mr. Hyde exists at all, who is “the ancient force”, it is because of Jekyll’s conscience itself, which cast Mr. Hyde into “the outer darkness” to begin with, disorganised, chaotic, and unintegrated with consciousness. So, here you see also facets of what Gebser calls the “irruption” and “the double-movement”.
This is deeply ambiguous, then. Mr. Hyde represents those “vital energies” that the “conscience” — the Accuser — had suppressed and cast into the outer darkness, and their irruption is chaotic, destructive, and nihilistic. At the same time, though, it is compelling a restructuration of “human nature” — forcing a more expansive appreciation for what we mean by “human nature”.
So, in the opening pages of his Zarathustra you find Nietzsche pleading, through his “prophet” — for channeling and focusing these raw energies to deliberately intend this new being called the “overman”, who signifies a near complete restructuration of what we mean by “human nature”. For as we see, a lot of today’s confusion, turmoil, and turbulence is precisely about this very matter of what is to be considered “human nature”. And the contest has even been dubbed “the battle for your mind”.
Zarathustra (Persia/ Iran)
“The battle for your mind” was the subtitle of a marketing book called Positioning, by Ries and Trout. That’s pretty much the issue in play. “Mind” or “human nature” have all become contested territory, with various interest groups attempting to “own” them, or to convert mind and attention into “property”. Such terms are used. But it also indicates that these things are in flux. We’re not so certain any longer that we know what things like “mind” or “human nature” are. And it’s essentially this “flux” that features in what we call “chaotic transition”.
I sometimes watch old science fiction movies from the ’50s and ’60s. There’s always something musty and ridiculous about them. They were quite certain what “human nature” was, and it was quite clownish. And I think, “Really? People are nostalgic for that!” Something of that cookie-cutter, formulaic conception of “human nature” comes through, too, in retrospective movies like Revolutionary Road. But it strikes me that it is because we now realise “human nature” is much more fluid, flexible, and multi-form than we previously allowed for it to be, so there always seems something ridiculous and absurd about these old movies, or even some current ones.
If it were not so, a book like Rosenstock-Huessy’s The Multiformity of Man would have been simply redundant — like carrying coals to Newcastle. It’s novelty resides in the fact that few acknowledged this multiformity, and to some still today such multiformity looks like “chaos”. “I am large, I contain multitudes”, as Walt Whitman put it. This is a very interesting statement, since it is, in another form, the paradox of the One and the Many, and Whitman is saying here, that he is this paradox of the One and the Many — both a unity and a multiformity.
I may be wrong, but I can’t help but see in the issue of “multi-tasking” a belated recognition of the Megamachine of this multiformity, but perversely co-opting it and turning it into its own asset. Such constant divided attention just leads to mental health problems, which is probably why “mindfulness” has been taken on as an attempted correction. If you google up “mindfulness” and “multitasking” you’ll see what I mean.
The interesting question today is, how does the Structure preserve itself despite the exacting toll it takes, and the “sacrifices” it demands, on human mental and physical health, not to mention the life-world more generally? One thing that is for certain, the Structure is not an expression of “the natural order of things”, and all attempts to depict it as such are just propaganda.