Saturday, March 28, 2009

Reflecting of the "gravitational power of collective hysteria, the mob phenomenon" - The spiral in which we are falling into

The spiritual, psychological, and increasingly ontological predicament in which many – especially the young – are today living has been disturbingly captured by Kenneth Gergen and made all the more distressing by his effort to remain sanguine in the face of it. Like Freud, however, Gergen and a few of his postmodern contemporaries, provide an inestimable service by insightfully surveying social and psychological phenomena they have nevertheless analyzed so inadequately. The lived experience of the postmodern self, Gergen seems happy to announce, is multiphrenia. He writes:
As one casts out to sea in the contemporary world, modernist moorings are slowly left behind. It becomes increasingly difficult to recall precisely to what core essence one must remain true. The ideal of authenticity frays about the edges; the meaning of sincerity slowly lapses into indeterminacy. And with this sea change, the guilt of self-violation also recedes. As the guilt and sense of superficiality recede from view, one is simultaneously readied for the emergence of a pastiche personality. The pastiche personality is a social chameleon, constantly borrowing bits and pieces of identity from whatever sources are available and constructing them as useful or desirable in a given situation.
Like so many postmodern apologists, Mr. Gergen – having diagnosed a self-dissolution that coincides with the loss of Christian sources of hope – must try as best he can to remain cheerful. Now perfectly unencumbered by the modern quest for what de Lubac termed “static sincerity,” the postmodern accommodates to his life as a de-centered “social chameleon,” taking bits and pieces at random from the incessant parade of mimetic models to which he is exposed. “If one’s identity is properly managed, the rewards can be substantial,” Gergen strains to assure his readers: “the devotion of one’s intimates, happy children, professional success, the achievement of community goals, personal popularity, and so on.” All this is possible, he imagines, “if one avoids looking back to locate a true and enduring self, and simply acts to full potential in the moment at hand.” Avoiding this glance backward – the glance that might awaken that blissfully dormant “guilt of self-violation” and its accompanying “sense of superficiality” – is what another postmodern apologist, the indefatigable Norman O. Brown, calls “improvising a raft after shipwreck,” the shoring up of fragments against one’s ruin...

... all that professor Brown can do with this immensely fruitful insight is to turn it into just another rough beast slouching toward the local mall or web browser to be fed and famished. Brown writes:

“…It is by means of a series of identifications that the personality is constituted and specified.” Trying to stay alive: it is always an emergency operation; “emergency after emergency of swift transformations.”


The postmodern self is adrift on a roiling ocean of mimetic stimulation vastly more mesmerizing than anything humans have ever known in the past, an incessant mimetic bombardment which fractures the subject’s psychological poise and diffuses his “ontological density.” This amounts to a spiritual invasion, against which the individual has little immunity. “From the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away” (Luke 8:18).

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