New Strange Things, Part 3 (further notes, ramblings & ruminations)

“For there are strange objects in the great abyss, and the seeker of dreams must take care not to stir up tor meet the wrong ones.” 

“And then to the sound of obscure harmonies there floated into that room from the deep all the dreams and memories of earth’s sunken Mighty Ones.”

—H.P. Lovecraft, “The Strange High House in the Mist”

“They are warming up the old horrors,” wrote the poet Robinson Jeffers on the eve of WWII, “and all that they say is echoes of echoes.” Those words came from a time when the world was, as now, seemed on the verge of vast transformations, when strange old ideas and urges seemed to well up from unexplainable depths, and when at the same time the long-trusted sources of stability and rationality were becoming depleted and powerless.

Yet although our present situation bears certain warning echoes of the 1930s, it also of course is its own unique circumstance. So instead of drawing misleadingly exact historical parallels, it may be best to consider the general features that suggest the Old Gods, the archetypes, these repressed Dionysian and collective urges. What are the forces at hand this time around? What shapes do they take? What are the best ways to name them? What do we see right now?

The most obvious resonances of this at present are probably, of course, the tide of conservative nationalist populism, the rise of tribal umbrage in the face of the globalist and multiculturalist project of human interchangeability. We already see Brexit, the ascension of right-wing parties in Europe such as the Front National and Alternative For Germany (AfD), and of course the rise of Trump, as well as the recent elevation of Erdogan to near-dictatorial status in the recent constitutional referendum in Turkey, along with a host of other illiberal trends around the world. More and more we see the nation not through the liberal conception of a rational, enlightened organization of human beings for just ends, but in the much older and perhaps more honest garb of blood and soil, of Volk versus Volk, of ressentiment writ large.

Returning again to Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious and the strange mass madness whereby it can well up within a people—unbeknownst to the blandly unsuspecting individuals that make it up—and also to Ernest Becker’s contention that human beings require, in order to avoid the extreme discomfort of contemplating their own death, a form of symbolic, socially-mediated immortality project, whereby that discomfort is transmuted or, more likely, submerged into unconsciousness: these two go together here not only because of that continuing unconscious presence of mortal anxiety, but because many of the scarier facets of the collective unconscious have to do with certain untidy facts of the human condition, of which the challenge of living with the foreknowledge of death, in turn, is one of the most powerful. Therefore, if the slow implosion of the Faustian-Progress immortality-myth and the ebb of its diversionary post-WWII rain of plenitude both continue as they have, more and more societies will face an upwelling of unconscious existential terror into conscious life, with a simultaneous thirst for any and all possible remedies—from magic to megalomaniacs.

There are already strong indications that such an upwelling of mortality-angst (and other unassuaged unconscious contents) tends to give momentum to classically authoritarian measures and to the exclusion of outsiders. Even the most resolute bleeding-heart progressives become measurably more authoritarian when so much as contemplating a deadly threat. Hence we might say that one of those archetypal figures bound to wake up is The Father, or The Leader, who in such cases functions like the carrier of authoritarianism: the one who shepherds and protects the tribe, the one who sternly wields and guards its laws and customs. This is a singular figure, if not heroic then at least supremely unintimidated, onto whom we can project the Everyman from the threat of existential peril, whom we can all admire however grudgingly, and whose influence almost supernatually reduces our anxiety. (Most of these retro-converted societies will then try to re-inflate models that cannot be sustained under today’s conditions of ecological and resource strain, which will feed further into crisis and delusion.)

Yet what is striking is that even on the other side—among the people who would stand against the uprising of the father-tribal-leader, those who beseech unification and equality of all humanity and so forth, there has been a peculiar change in register. Here, there is a feeling that the project of liberalism has somehow re-incarnated itself outside of the individual, and relocated itself in the guise of a kind of supra-personal entity, a global thrust towards organization for organization’s sake, to which ideological trappings and personal identities are only a local signature or a mere commodity, but certainly not the essential thing. In short, by running from one super-entity of the mind-world, we seem to inadvertently wind up in the arms of another.

* * *

This other essential thing, the concept of which has lately been approximated by a host of such colorful names as “the Human Colossus”, the “Technosphere”, and of course, “the Singularity”, has without much remark accreted around itself a distinct flavor of the mystical. There is increasing, and startlingly irony-free, talk about an AI takeover, or a literal fusion of man and machine, possibly as a new paradise or even as a dire necessity. One might not even exaggerate in suggesting that this urge represents another collective “God” or archetype-like force, and that although it garlands itself today in the sparkling luminosities and the eerie, hereafter-redolent whiteness that is the trope of a thousand Internet commercials and Apple stores, we would be wise to question the much-assumed novelty of it. (In this last article, it is said of Kurzweil, the original exponent of the Singularity mythos, that “…He has such an urge to merge that he sometimes uses the word ‘we’ when talking about super-intelligent future beings”.)

Indeed, that this talk of a new digital or AI universe is undertaken in such a millennarian earnestness, or that it wraps itself in the magic cloth of the (not-so-)latest technology (“With the era of mass communication upon us, the collective human organism—the Human Colossus—rose into existence”), does not mean it is not drenched in subconscious god-yearning, with all its hallmarks. There is the dissolving of the self in a being infinitely greater; the transcending of mortal limitations and perhaps mortality itself; the satisfactions of certainty and shared sentiment. In concert with this, the image of human beings as but components in this vast supra-entity—not something so parochial as a country, or a religion, or even necessarily “humanity”, but a world information economy—has taken on increasing power in policy and common parlance, so that even the remarkable forces of reaction unleashed across the world of late seem almost to come to heel when faced off against it.

With its corollary of the supra-personal emergence born of human interchangeabilty, the purification of data and light, then, we seem to be confronted, in the very heart of the rationalists’ playground, with another Lovecraftian Old God of sorts. This being stands in opposition to e.g. the traditional god of Western religion, the overbearing Yahweh or Allah, which one might call “God of conservatism”; for that god is conceived as something hard and essential and integral, like a singular individual, a lone Father or a Godhead which might inflame the world of nature and the human heart but could never be dissolved within it. By contrast in this strange data-cloaked figure we seem to have a god of solubility, a self-organizing yearning for the erosion of individuality forms into a great, ecstatic mass of quickening thought—into a truly collective form of consciousness.

One is tempted to say that in the rise of this oceanic quality of digital communion and futurism or “singularity” we witness the “Ancient One of Liberalism”, a kind of Dionysian immersion, a melting of boundaries and categories. It is limitlessly inclusive, concerned purely with abstract forms of increasing organization flowing out of their own unquestioned justifications; it sanctifies progression above all else, that is until such time as its own mysticised apotheosis is reached; and on the other hand it is relentless in its dismissal of the parochial, the individual, the idiosyncratic, and in general those non-systematizable natural and human barbarisms that stand against its absolute and unquestioned development. All this takes shape under the auspices of rationality, of supreme objectivity, of algorithms and the driest utilitarian humanism. The often-cited contradiction between the economic and the cultural arms of the liberal is illusory, for in fact converge on the same point: whether in the economic dream of globalization and consolidation through competitive individualism, or in the cultural dream of an absolute equivocation and interpenetration of beliefs and histories, the goal of this god is always homogeneity in the name of heterogeneity.

Psychologically, akin to such contradictions in the liberal-progressive advance itself, this god promises the ecstasy of a great communion at some unspecified but impending future time, a shared purpose that is so great that it would grow to embrace the universe. Yet it becomes simultaneously somehow horrible in its anonymizing reduction of the individual to data—or, in its more glowingly humanistic mode, to an “asset” that must be grown exponentially to increase “human capital”. To those hearing it from the ideological inside, such language is the promise of certitude, communion and redemption, the brass ring to immortal heroism-through-consumption-production. To those hearing from the outside, in a world with over 7.5 billion people and rising, dogged by snowballing inequality and environmental depletion, such language could hardly fail to be seen as a sign of neurosis and fixation, of a profound irrationality concealed in rational trappings. The conversion of the individual to “asset” is one tentacle of an idea that spreads itself over all nature and thought, delivering it over to that vast and tragic homogeneity that Heidegger called “standing-reserve”—into resources for measurement, standardization and exploitation for the sake of a single unexamined drive to expansion.

* * *

Yet if nothing else, the path of the Ancient One of Liberality seemed to bring great plenitude and opportunity to whosoever followed it—a stability and a confidence of living, as embodied in the pervasive, emergent imperative of growth. Its boons and novelties were many, and appeared almost as if on schedule—dramatic new medicines, unheard-of computational powers, stupendous entertainments, ever-accelerating rates of travel (for a time), terrifying new kinds of energy and force. It was an acceleration of the kind that seemingly could dispel the primal darkness of man’s condition, perhaps indefinitely. The hoary old promises of religion, the “vast moth-eaten musical brocade” in Larkin’s poem, would be replaced by a sleek and exhilarating expansion into a veritable immortality.

Now, as a succession of bubbles and faddish false-progress gradually replaces this feeling of acceleration with the strangely sickening calm of forcelessness, of the zero-gravity unreality of our Trumpian moment, what ought we to expect in the future, given this disintegration of the faith in progress and the awakening of the primal unconscious powers embodied by the Ancient Ones, in such strangely antithetical forms, all while bandying the still-dear if faded watchwords of “reason” and “progress”? And moreover, how might we head it off or moderate the development? Returning to “Psychology and Religion”, Jung writes:

“The change of character that is brought about by the uprush of collective forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast […] As a matter of fact, we are always living upon a volcano and there is, as far as we know, no human means of protection against a possible outburst which will destroy everybody within its reach” (16).

So we see that our metaphors must grow in intensity and ominousness. The dissolved psychic pressure now becomes a volcano, its lava laced with hydrogen. The barrier between the inner world and outside reality blurs and percolates, creating a kind of demonic possession, and out of this murk the archetypal Ancient Ones arise and assume power within human psyches to wreak great changes, and more often than not, havoc. The god-drunkenness of the conservative becomes a madness for conquest, persecution and purity of the kind that history knows all too well already and that figures in many a humanist tirade; the god-drunkenness of the progressive reveals itself as an anonymizing, nihilistic drive to mass dissolution that pleads its own objective inevitability even as it sends out its tentacles for still more to consume.

In the mass entertainments, too, there is an unmistakably growing fascination with horrific battles, with new levels of gore and depersonalization, an obsession with rendering the end of the world in not just greater detail, but violence and grotesquerie. Most of all, there is a return to the past, a looking-backwards that almost proposes to become a looking-homewards—not just Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the gleefully murderous verisimilitude of Game of Thrones. On the other hand, our “futuristic” mass visions, though seldom less grotesque than these, have ironically come to consist entirely sentimental comfort food, almost wholly dominated by re-boots of re-boots of superhero and sci-fi creations—Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Star Trek, Star Wars—that often date back 50 years or more. The very vitality of our ability to project into the future some kind of novelty or renewal seems to have ebbed.

The paradox of this is that the attempt to recover genuine feeling through these methods in itself ends up deepening the numbness and anomie, as well as the yearnings for the Old Gods. To take an extreme case of this, arguably itself an especially drastic form of “entertainment”, consider the US opiates crisis, which has surpassed automotive accidents to become the largest cause of death among the under-50 (NYT); here, too appears another example of this numbing inability to feel, this yearning for extreme measures simply to make life endurable.

Yet these visions and obsessions, too, all suggest strange collective longings and resurgent passions, which the moving image or the drug tries to supplicate and then charm back to its unconscious prison before the resurgence becomes a Jungian eruption. The great heroes and terrible warriors are inexplicably satisfying to watch, but of course we should never aspire to be like them; the magic and wonders of other worlds, the potency of the spoken word to open up new realities and make contact with new beings certainly are fun, but of course we would never pretend such things have power in the real world. The lights come up; the trip ends; and the machine is still in place. The questions and torments of humanity when faced to death or purpose are not to be quelled.

And so this attempt at supplication itself becomes must more and more demanding, more and more violent, so long as the deeper issues it is meant to placate go on unaddressed, until the entertainments merge seamlessly with a great civic chaos and a state of dangerous unfocused potentials. This, surely, is a development that has became all too evident of late, with the rise of a television reality star with no detectable qualifications to the leadership of (what remains of) the free world, by way of a campaign cycle that broke all previous bounds of made-for-TV, adrenaline-milking sordidness.

Yet if Trump really was the first major monster birthed by the rousing Ancient Ones out of the global unconscious, he is likely yet to be far surpassed—although good arguments can be made that his resolute denial of global warming imperils the world more than any prior leader has managed to do, he does not yet match the great human capacity for symbol-drunken madness and savagery by a long shot. This capacity has manifested in countless ways through history, too many to count—from the singular monstrosities of the world wars, Taiping, Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia, Stalinism, ISIS (another new monster), to countless more local travails of cults, group suicides, pogroms and witch-hunts—and its manifestations will surely grow extremely complex; the aforementioned emergence of racial bullying and alt-right white supremacy in the US, and the chaos produced by Islamist attacks and right-wing rage in Europe, augur to be but the tip of the iceberg.

• • •

Alongside all of this are the reverberations of the global financial crisis, which though now a decade past surely has its part to play in the collective unease. The deeper question surrounding the events of 2007-2008 has been scrupulously avoided by the mainstream, but its reflections that stretch forward and backward through time like a financial Big Bang. Why did our economy come to the point where it had to depend on something so flagrantly ridiculous as people buying houses with money that didn’t exist? Or, more abstractly and fundamentally: how it is that a civilization that so defined itself by enlightened progress and by its triumphant march on infinity and immortality would come to depend so desperately on sheer graft and illusion?

The answer to the first, more innocuous part of the question is sometimes packaged in bland terms such as “secular stagnation”, but these all amount to the basic notion that mechanisms of normal growth had already checked out, leaving the economy to search for an ever more absurd and precarious sequence of substitutes. The answer to the second aspect is in turn that, by 2007, the arch-narrative of progress and the march on immortality had already become largely illusory.

Now, economically, the questions of 2017 seem even more insistent. Ten years on, our economy is still fueled on the illusion of progress, on the immortality-substitute of limitless growth—yet with growth and profits sputtering, inequality still increasing, life expectancies flattening or falling. The separation between the markets’ unlimited buoyancy and the actual conditions of life have only deepened the consternation and cognitive dissonance in the collective imagination. The vast majority of the stock market’s rise, meanwhile, seems to owe to two dubious expedients: one, the election of a corrupt oligarchic TV star to the presidency, which fills the investor class with hopes of abject plunder free of any remnant of regulation; two, corporations’ practice of inflating stock values by borrowing immense sums at low interest rates to bid up their own shares.

Similarly to how one cannot really address our current world problems without considering the underlying motives of growth, energy use, and population—including the Faustian “march on infinity” so penetratingly described by Spengler—we will not be able to understand, much less contain, the wild paranoiac tendencies embodied by Trumpism and its offspring until we look at it with a recognition of a) the unconscious archaic powers, resentments and even gods that we have lost touch with, and which the fruits of our folly have begun to nudge awake and b) the need for new ways of acknowledging and mediating such forces to steer them away from further destructive “outbursts”. There is hardly room to accomplish all this properly here, and the process itself is still in embryo; but one can at least set out to sketch it in very broad strokes.

• • •

In brief, here are a few other “creatures of the deep” that have been suppressed, ostensibly for ever and ever, by the combined progressivism of the Enlightenment and post-WWII technocracy, but that seem likely to resurface as that progressivism comes up more and more empty-handed. Ranked approximately from the most local and personal to the most universal and fundamental, they include:

Basic discomfort as an inevitable aspect of human existence, to be eluded only temporarily, through luck or at the expense of others. In the age of postwar globalization, these “others” could very often be sequestered away in third-world nations oceans away, and to this was owed a tremendous expansion of comforts and luxuries in the daily life of first-world citizenry. But this comfort, too s nicely expressed here:

“The affirmation of basic human freedoms could become widespread moral concerns only because modern humans were increasingly comfortable at a material level – in large part thanks to the economic benefits afforded by the conquest, colonisation and enslavement of others”; and “the thing calling itself ‘humanity’ is better seen as a hiatus and an intensification of an essential and transcendental fragility.” This fragility, this discomfort, goes hand and hand with mortality, while in complement to this transcendental fragility stands the transcendental and frightening power of the Old Ones. For the powerlessness man feels he soon accrues to the power of his gods.

Increasing tribalism. Sebastian Junger wrote in his “Of Homecoming and Belonging” of a deep lack of belonging and good old-fashioned tribal identity in today’s society. Now there is talk about the dangers of a single national (or any other kind of) identity, with David Brooks admitting that “Rebinding the nation means finding shared identities, not just contrasting ones. ” On the other wing of the growing cultural divide, in a recent interview, Jon Stewart, describing what makes America special, explained that America is “not normal”, because “what’s normal… is tribal”.

We are now deep in self-examination about the overreach of identity politics, the coddling atmosphere which has slowly grown from assuring personal safety and legal protections for minorities to encouraging nearly everyone to cultivate their their own fashionable minority status, with an accompanying sense of grievance at others’ exercise of free speech. Yet, our retreat into what the National Review perfectly characterized as “extraordinarily precise and insulated subcultures” has continued apace. It is not enough to embrace, as David Brooks says, a “conglomeration of identities”, for this leads to no identity at all. Identity is meaningless without some kind of touchstone outside of the self.

Tribalism is already oozing out in the very places and forms that claim most loudly to reject it, for instance in the strange, inchoate self-segregation of universities under the very banners of “inclusion, safety and diversity”. Accusations of “cultural appropriation” that fly when outsiders wear the wrong articles of clothing or costumes or write about subjects too far outside their own tribal experiences, too, suggest an emergent yearning for exclusivity and the belonging it can engender. Much as the project of interchangeability may engender anomie and resentment, this “Old One” of tribal yearning can be no less appalling.

Increased class-based division, and at its extreme, caste systems and peonage. This is related to tribalism but concerned with more abstract flows of material and labor. Emergence of a new system reminiscent of feudalism as automation along with the hollow men who become the courtiers. Money is the symbol of an billionaire’s power, not the source of it. They will not be destroyed by a collapse in the economic system, nor even by faith in money; rather, the affairs are increasingly contrived in such a way that they will be the only ones standing, likely with new, startling powers.

Religious reawakenings. Standing on the crux between the personal and the collective scales. A return to religious fervor as a force in everyday politics and life with a form and intensity difficult to conceive Essentially, this would be the “Second Religiosity” described by Spengler. A rush back into old “Judeo-Christian values” as the proper glue of the nation, as espoused by Bannon and others such as Michael Flynn.

• Increased legitimacy of political positions once considered extreme; the right wing becoming admissible, quietly legitimated or too large to ignore, and also in some cases the far left. Recent examples include Bannon’s referencing of Fascist thinkers such as Julius Evola, or Trump’s alleged readings of “Mein Kampf” and the emergence of the once-unthinkable Marine Le Pen to the last round of the French presidential election.

Autocracy as vitality, with democracy coming to be seen as decadent (with attendant revolts against decadence which, in keeping with the principle of inverse reform, only worsen it), increasingly unpopular, and even passé. Democracy seen not an eternal apotheosis for human affairs, but subject to change and decline, dependent on biophysical bounties and limitations like any other historical phase, and now entering its autumn. In its place, the ancient, archetypal longing for monarchs and strongmen—the perceived simplicity and clarity of mass submission (and transference) before a single, pseudo-heroic champion. This longing is of a piece with tribalism; for this single leader, to be successful, must strive to personify the tribe itself.

The failure of Data, on an epic scale: resoundingly a refutation of the new data-rich approach to polling and campaigning, as recently in the cases of Trump, Sanders, Brexit, and Jeremy Corbyn, but also everywhere else. People are more inscrutable than the modelers, with their abundance of clock-cycles and terabytes of stored minutia, had assumed. We see the world deviating more and more from the Enlightenment ideal of a clockwork mechanism, or a statistically tame-able manifold of information, even as this idea is hawked more and more obsessively by the luminaries of our time. The notion of the world as computation, of reality as simulation, and ultimately as information in sufficiently vast quantities as interchangeable with vision or thought was an Enlightenment-style project, but the world, it turns out, is as opaque and spirit-laden as ever.

We are submerged in data, and our lives increasingly managed by it in minute details, with or without our approval. Yet they fail to convince; for all that they catalogue our wants, they are blind to our yearnings.

In this way, technology seems detached from what’s happening, not integral or in the driver’s seat, as is commonly claimed. The retreat from reality into Data has, unsurprisingly, done little to change reality. While computation and data will continue in great abundance, they will more and more take on the quality of a lovable shibboleth, or an ironic pastime.

* * *

But probably the greatest change of all, in both scale and scope, is the gradual loosening if not overthrow of objective truth. The Greco-Enlightenment conviction in of some knowable “objective” reality, as a manifold completely outside of and indifferent to our personal wishes and needs, had the effect of compelling upon man a kind of puritanism of the mind, a stern abjuring of the juiciest of beliefs and experiences and indeed of the Old Ones themselves. And just as with puritanism, the vow of objectivity that binds too tightly would eventually snap itself, or else gradually loosen into its opposite, much as tribalism now sneaks into our civic life under the guise of inclusion. So, too, the devotion of truth is wont to be sidestepped by even the well-meaning, in their quest for more colorful, comfortable, fun, or easy-to-grasp habits of thought, or to sustain the appurtenances that mark out objectivity as a source of prestige and praise.

It is not only everyday citizens who are abandoning Truth, or politicians who have always treated it gingerly like a beaker of acid, nor think-tankers who have learned the old sophistic art of tailoring arguments to the measure of their patrons; it is also scientists and journalists, the erstwhile guardians of Ideas. For the downfall of truth (or its diminution into a value which must be be “defended”, which is much the same thing save with special pleading) is not accomplished simply in the name of laziness or tendentiousness, but out of a gathering frustration with the limitations that go along with an objective reality that is, by its very nature, finite and bound by unflinching laws.

Both the enabler and the sign of all the rest is the declining clout of that supreme Enlightenment usufruct, science. Over recent years, the scientific enterprise has brandished its catalogue of past discoveries and revolutions, or repackaged them to seem new, like talismans, all to keep its authority and prestige intact, and to drive the Ancient Ones back into their subconscious lairs. These talismans now encompass hundreds of billions a year in national budgets, and tens of thousands of massive institutes filled with complex instrumentation. Yet in fact systemic setbacks have become more and more evident to those who look closely or are familiar with scientific culture. Entire fields have increasingly become entranced by bizarre speculations, untethered by actual empirical evidence or accountability, yet which are expressed with an expectation of semi-religious amazement (roughly, what I have elsewhere called “nihilistic awe”).

In physics, palpable tension has built as notions such as multiverses, string theory, the world-as-simulation, and black hole information have failed to find a whit of experimental confirmation, increasingly bringing up discussions not of objective physical reality but of social dynamics among scientists themselves, a much more uncomfortable subject. The enormous LHC, at a cost of $15 billion or so, has so far failed to discover any exciting new physics beyond the Higgs boson, which was postulated in the early 1960s, while the BICEP2 debacle is well-known by now. Most recent developmens, such as the much-trumpeted results of the multi-billion dollar LIGO experiment regarding gravitational waves, remain unsettlingly unconvincing compared to the expansive claims made long after victory was declared and one and only one interpretation deemed possible. (We are now hearing that there are strange correlations in the noise in the LIGO data that “should not be there”, and call into question the whole assumption that the two multi-billion dollar LIGO detectors truly were gathering data independently of each other.)

In the biomedical, neuroscience, and psychology fields, too, there has been quiet panic as the investigations of John Ioannidis and others has implied that vast sections of the scientific literature in these fields are simply false or non-reproducible, products of an ethic of publication for its own sake. Choked with the incalculable complexity and heterogeneity of human health and of living things in general, the gears of Progress have slowed to a craw.

In medicine, the appearance of solid progress and rational development of treatments seems to be hastily dissolving, as drugs that win FDA approval with heavy backing by flush pharmaceutical companies and even become widely popular, often stop working or must be withdrawn after the placebo effect offered by novelty wears out. Even on the innocuous question of what is healthy, the appearance of a scientific consensus has faced growing fatigue and skepticism from the public as scientific studies have turned fat from good to bad to good again, to name just one example.

* * *

Nicolas Taleb recently encapsulated the growing mood of contempt and mistrust on the part of the general population at the increasing unreliability and brittleness of the scientific, economic and technocratic clerisy:

“With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3 of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers (or Montaigne and such filtered classical knowledge) with a better track record than these policymaking goons.”

To sum up his contempt, Taleb proposes the humorous shorthand “IYI” (“Intellectual Yet Idiot”) to describe this layer of hapless intelligentsia. Yet the problem is hardly confined to the IYIs. For the IYIs once were not IYIs at all, but truly powerful figures, the initiates and oracles of the scientific and technological mysteries—acolytes of Truth, in a non-ironic sense that is hard to grasp today.

In their place, we see personality and will supplanting truth. The condition of truth ceases to be the intrinsic and inviolable state of some observer-independent Reality, but instead becomes a measure of one’s force of belief and dynamism of personality. Conversely, lying becomes what Trump has called “truthful hyperbole”; one does not “tell a lie”, but instead uses speech to express and rejoice in one’s sheer will—yet another of the satisfactions of the authoritarian.

The IYI may yet serve as Master of Ceremonies, the perfect useful idiot, helping to conjure forth the Ancient Ones in the name of a forgotten truth, just as the Jungian volcano prepares to erupt.


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