Saturday, March 5, 2016

Choose Your Trances Carefully - 6

About that civilization virus
I. The Stage

Academics know that the word "civilization" has been "doublespoken" by violent propaganda (Life under the Chief Doublespeak Officer, cf. The New Doublespeak: Why No OneKnows What Anyone's Saying Anymore, New White Trash: Doublewide Doublespeak).

Way too many American English words also have been doublespoken, which is a deadly phenomenon (Good Nomenclature: A Matter of Life and Death).

Honest language is an essential essence to alleviate shadowy notions that have been injected into the word "civilization."

Yes, like with a "coffee" cup that we can pour many liquids besides coffee into, some poisonous some not, we can doublespeak words until they also become poisonous.

II. "Worse Than Previously Thought"

If you think that "civilization" has only one meaning, and that one meaning equates to nothing but good, to the point that nothing cataclysmic can go wrong, then please explain what the once upon a time most-often-quoted historian had to say about the subject:
"In other words, a society does not ever die 'from natural causes', but always dies from suicide or murder --- and nearly always from the former, as this chapter has shown."
(A Study of History, by Arnold J. Toynbee). May I ask: "if murder and suicide are the common thread of civilizations past, what pray tell does "civilization" mean then?

It is true that the word has meant different things to different people, such as one celebrated American, Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Emerson’s later work, such as The Conduct of Life (1860), favored a more moderate balance between individual nonconformity and broader societal concerns. He advocated for the abolition of slavery and continued to lecture across the country throughout the 1860s.

By the 1870s the aging Emerson was known as “the sage of Concord.” Despite his failing health, he continued to write, publishing Society and Solitude in 1870 and a poetry collection titled Parnassus in 1874.

Emerson died on April 27, 1882, in Concord. His beliefs and his idealism were strong influences on the work of his protégé Henry David Thoreau and his contemporary Walt Whitman, as well as numerous others. His writings are considered major documents of 19th-century American literature, religion and thought.
(Bio). Emerson influenced Thoreau, Whitman, and other respected academics and non-academics alike.

So, why did Emerson say:
The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson). In the 19th Century he perceived something, discovered something, or observed something that gave him a disconcerting understanding of the future of "civilization."

It was no light matter to him, because he came to the point of seeing "civilization" as the destroyer of the human species.

Scientists of the day had access to the same evidence that Emerson analyzed, but like scientists and poets today, they did not have a unified understanding of the essential meaning of "civilization":
"Darwin relied on much the same evidence for evolution that Lamarck did ..." - Understanding Evolution

One would say that [man] is destined to exterminate himself after having rendered the globe uninhabitable.” - Lamarck (1817)

(See Genesis: The Evolution of Biology, by Jan Sapp, p. 274, fn. 14; quoting from Lamark's writings)

"Lastly, I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilisation than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risks nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago, of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is! The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races [Chuck was a tad-bit racist eh?] will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world." - Charles Darwin (1881)
(emphasis added). So, those who studied biology came to different conclusions about the meaning of "civilization" (e.g. Lamarck essentially agreeing with Emerson, but not so much so with Darwin).

Darwin thought that social evolution would purify "civilization" by exterminating the "inferior, less evolved" races.

As to mystics, Gandhi implied that "civilization" is a good idea if ever attained: "What do I think of Western civilization? I think it would be a very good idea" (Mahatma Gandhi).

Yet, Gandhi did not base his observation of "civilization" on a militaristic dominance: "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated" (Mahatma Gandhi).

The doublespeak concerning "civilization" seems to be both an ancient as well as a modern phenomenon.

III. Civilization Is a Group

The double-mindedness concerning the meaning of the word "civilization" may have been based on, and still may be based on, observations of group dynamics.

For example, “Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Evidently "the father of Psychoanalysis" came to see that there is something to Nietzsche's observation:
"If the evolution of civilization has such a far-reaching similarity with the development of an individual, and if the same methods are employed in both, would not the diagnosis be justified that many systems of civilization—or epochs of it—possibly even the whole of humanity—have become neurotic under the pressure of the civilizing trends? To analytic dissection of these neuroses, therapeutic recommendations might follow which could claim a great practical interest. I would not say that such an attempt to apply psychoanalysis to civilized society would be fanciful or doomed to fruitlessness. But it behooves us to be very careful, not to forget that after all we are dealing only with analogies, and that it is dangerous, not only with men but also with concepts, to drag them out of the region where they originated and have matured. The diagnosis of collective neuroses, moreover, will be confronted by a special difficulty. In the neurosis of an individual we can use as a starting-point the contrast presented to us between the patient and his environment which we assume to be normal. No such background as this would be available for any society similarly affected; it would have to be supplied in some other way. And with regard to any therapeutic application of our knowledge, what would be the use of the most acute analysis of social neuroses, since no one possesses power to compel the community to adopt the therapy? In spite of all these difficulties, we may expect that one day someone will venture upon this research into the pathology of civilized communities.
Men have brought their powers of subduing the forces of nature to such a pitch that by using them they could now very easily exterminate one another to the last man. They know this——hence arises a great part of their current unrest, their dejection, their mood of apprehension."
(Civilization And Its Discontents, p. 39-40, PDF, emphasis added). Senator Lindsey Graham recently broke the ice and diagnosed his group as "batshit crazy" (US News).

Perhaps we need more of that type of analysis, because, for example The Romney's personal diagnosis of the election success of The Donald results in blaming the votes of a multitude of voters on an individual, i.e., on The Donald.

The notion of "group analysis" that Freud advocated would come to a different diagnosis.

It would likely diagnose the group of voters as neurotic, the same group that Senator Graham diagnosed as "batshit crazy" (cf. The Donald University vs. The Lord GOP University).

IV. Culture Is A Group Phenomenon

The essence of "culture" can be dealt with effectively in the same manner because it is a group characteristic and dynamic too:
That paper should now be seriously considered because it seeks to analyze some of the behavior in the terms that Dredd Blog has advocated for a few years now.

We have been arguing that such analysis would be more likely to lead to revelations of systemic dysfunction, then hopefully lead to remedies:
In this theoretically informed study I explore the broader cultural changes that created the conditions for the credit crisis of 2008. Drawing on psychoanalysis and its application to organizational and social dynamics, I develop a theoretical framework around the notion of a manic culture, comprised of four aspects: denial; omnipotence; triumphalism; and over-activity. I then apply this to the credit crisis and argue that the events of 2008 were preceded by an incubation period lasting for over two decades during which a culture of mania developed. Then, focusing especially on the Japanese and South East Asia/LTCM crises, I argue that a series of major ruptures in capitalism during this incubation period served not as warnings, but as opportunities for a manic response, thereby dramatically increasing the risks involved. I also argue that this mania was triggered and strengthened by triumphant feelings in the West over the collapse of communism. I suggest therefore that this manic culture played a significant role in creating the conditions for the problems that led to the credit crisis.
(A Culture of Mania, by Dr. Mark Stein, 2011, emphasis added). A free PDF of the entire paper is available for download.

Dr. Stein goes through the structural components of mania sequentially applying those components to the cognition and behavior of professionals in a group, an organization, which qualifies as a meme complex.
(When You Are Governed By Psychopaths - 2). Senator Graham boiled it down, while Dr. Stein elaborated at length.

Both psychoanalysts were quite effective.

V. Conclusion

I think I have made the point by using the words that have been seriously given to us by observers down through time.

And upon occasion, I have also used words of a more recent, but equally availing nature:
People'd call, say,"Beware doll, you're bound to fall."
You thought they were all kiddin' you
(Like A Rolling Stone). The study of the foggy concept of "civilization" ends up revealing a trance or two, which are hopefully useful to ponder.

So, from now on: Choose Your Trances Carefully !

The next post in this series is here, the previous post in this series is here.


  1. Great class today Dredd! A nice change from being in the lab. Just sitting outside the physical science building, pulling on the grass, hearing the sounds of the city and commerce while taking in your lecture is exactly what many of us need. So many have tried to crack the code of existence and what civilization is all about: Kant, Hegel, Camus, Fuller, Freud etc, and no one ( it seems) has worked out what we should be doing.

    I've kept copies from that 3000 level American Lit class years back-of this address by Wm Faulkner to the UNESCO in 1959: Most love to read his words and the usual response is "ain't that the truth."
    I'll put one in your pigeon hole.

    "Mr. Khrushchev says that Communism, the police state, will bury the free ones. He is a smart gentleman, he knows that this is nonsense since freedom, man's dim concept of and belief in the human spirit is the cause of all his troubles in his own country. But if he means that Communism will bury capitalism, he is correct. That funeral will occur about ten minutes after the police bury gambling. Because simple man, the human race, will bury both of them. That will be when we have expended the last grain, dram, and iota of our natural resources. But man himself will not be in that grave. The last sound on the worthless earth will be two human beings trying to launch a homemade spaceship and already quarrelling about where they are going next."

  2. It's the doing that got us into this mess, Mark!

    Powerful essay today Dredd.


  3. Great series Dredd, looking at the situation we find ourselves in now maybe the following:
    “The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.”
    Should read :"civilization will eventually die of the human race." ,or some such variation. Looking forward to months of great reading and thinking here at your blog!