Saturday, 11 December 2010

Cultural Seismology

Not The New World Order I Cultural Seismology

The surface layer of the human biosphere is a congealed ideological-institutional superstructure. Like the earth’s crust, this ideological structure, or outer shell, consists of various plate-like power groupings competing for dominance – it is inherently unstable.

Hate Tectonics (Cultural Fault-Lines)

Beneath the outer ideological layer lies a subsurface region called the ‘mantle’ or cultural interior: a complex yet unstable force field of primal values imposed through structural violence. This structural violence is the immediate cause of surface instability leading to shifts and displacements of the cultural landscape. The institutional world is the sphere of religion, which is based on, and derived from, morality. The widespread ideas that morality is preceded by religion, or that morality has a transcendental source, are misinterpretations.
Elaborated through metaphysics and theology, formalised in laws and legal systems, morality derives its specific character from an established repertoire of primal values. These values are derived from the primitive dialectic of punishment and reward. It also incorporates the ascetic ideals of purity, sacrifice and renunciation. However the basis of morality – and the driving force of all repression – is misogyny, an authoritarian form of phallocentric biological determinism. Morality is the consolidation of all values and ideals derived from resentment: resentment of existence, resentment of suffering – resentment transmuted into self-loathing and hatred of ‘others’.
Solidarity, the basis of social cohesion, forms a toxic, fractured, inner core situated beyond or beneath the mantle. Cohesion helps – but cannot guarantee – the survival of hordes, herds and groups.
Like the entire human biosphere, the inner core is inherently unstable generating anxiety (angst) or dread: the all-pervasive fear of normality malfunction. As a transposition, echo, or reflection of the uncertainty of existence and the intrinsic fragility of being, this instability is inescapable. The pitiless, inexorable nature of instability and uncertainty, together with the futility of all enquiries into ultimate causation and intent, gives rise to resentment and hostility. From this perspective all beliefs and ideologies appear as symptoms, by-products or side effects of a primitive, anxiety condition concentrated and amplified by the pressure-cooker of solidarity, and by the relentless and repetitious regulatory practices of ‘identity’.
Both the mantle and the subsurface institutional-cultural sphere are characterised by elasticity just as the subsurface rock of the earth has similar elastic and permeable properties. Culture, the substrate of religion and all institutions, is the force field of heritage, the hothouse domain of social myths, legends, sacred symbols, primeval rituals and traditions. All traditions are retarded culture, an attempt to halt the flow of time. These ubiquitous symbolic elements are expressed through culturally diverse modes of representation including beliefs, rites, ceremonies, linguistic codes and modes of dress. These modes of representation are part of a matrix of power maintained by the constant repetition of ‘eternal truths’ enshrined in moralistic, logical propositions. However cultural diversity is just ‘window dressing’, mere surface show – everywhere morality provides a cloak of respectability for the same repressive practice. This is the case because everywhere the human condition is determined by precisely the same existential factors – characteristics that exactly define the ‘condition’ itself.
Appearing at the margins, boundaries or frontiers of mobile ideological plate formations, rifts and transformational fault-lines pervade the entire social structure, from the pressurised inner core of acculturated solidarity to the topmost, institutional layer. These rifts and faults derive from the fundamental instability of the inner core (solidarity), which is both brittle and fissile but also exerts a powerful centripetal, attractive force generated partly by the incessant repetition of dogmatic logic.
The ideological terrain is a reflected mirror image of the actual geo-physical landscape, comprising level plains, ridges, trenches and other discontinuities both internal and external.

Processes and Pressures

The process of maintaining the penumbra of social cohesion causes tension to accumulate in the toxic core. Tension arises as a natural consequence of internal repressive action. Such action is necessarily dedicated to the elimination, or control, of all forms of innovation, unconstrained desire, free expression and deviance (otherness) because such anti-social factors are likely to undermine solidarity. The function of this control is to maintain the hierarchic dominance of a phallocentric caste that regards any female (the primal ‘other’), as the main threat to social cohesion. Hypothetically this gender power-relationship can be reversed, although such a transformation is unlikely to happen before other evolutionary (technological) factors, redefine or reconfigure the ontology of identity and gender.
Repression is imposed through a power matrix of institutions functioning as conduits of concealed structural violence. The ruling high caste is regarded as the incarnation of values derived from ineffable, superior powers and is thereby legitimised. The caste therefore acquires the prestige and character armour needed to promulgate obligatory interdictions and observances. This is the source of authority needed to maintain order and enforce the naturalisation of collective identity. Customs and religious laws enforce these obligatory normative observances which project an aura of naturalness, ontological reality and historical inevitability. The tensions generated by this regulatory repression often find an outlet in xenophobic campaigns of dogmatic violence against external threats. In fact, a continuous sense of threat (‘the enemy at the gates’) is usually necessary in the overall process of repression. However the main focus of repressive action is internal deviance (‘the enemy within’) and structural violence is directed against demonised evils and impurities embodied in outcasts, untouchables, scapegoats, pariahs, outsiders, misfits, and minority groups.
The competing power structures of the ideological matrix are subjected to external and internal pressure. Internal pressures and tensions are generated by the violence deployed in the social dynamics of repression, leading to the ceaseless ebb and flow of revolution and reaction. Inevitable external stress is exerted by morphological factors. These are factors such as population fluctuations, territorial expansion, environmental changes, technological developments, economic factors, cultural erosion, wear-and-tear, entropy and energy depletion – sheer pressure of events and the passing of time itself sap vitality from the engine of repetition, leading to exhaustion and weakening of collective identity.

Currents and Changes

Cultural changes happen at various points on a continuum of intensity from minor to major degrees of magnitude – from imperceptible tremors, to catastrophic, explosive cultural eruptions. New fault-lines appear as ideologies continuously change size and shape. Ideological formations grow along constructive margins when convection currents eject new material from the toxic core. Destructive plate margins – subduction zones – are ideological ‘trouble spots’ or points of friction, regions of contention where adjoining formations collide, giving rise to destructive outbursts of acute hostility or prolonged phases of chronic enmity.
Wayward cultural currents of representational possibility pervade the social climate, inducing atmospheric changes and fluctuations. These convection currents of collective thinking are in a constant state of emergence and conflict with the rigid, entrenched, tendencies of tradition and established ideological formations. Social movements, crusades, manias, fads, fancies, aesthetic styles and fashions seem to emerge from nowhere. They dissipate almost as soon as they appear, but such transient phenomena, if they disclose subversive possibilities of mutation and realignment, can inflame sensibilities at the margins, becoming catalysts for change while inducing aggressive neophobic reactions.
When tension builds up and accumulates within the structural irregularities generated by random patterns of social interaction across the entire field of social forces, vibrations are experienced as tremors in the superstructure and across the entire biosphere. As a result seismic waves are propagated through the elastic cultural phenomena of the cohesive field, displacing and disturbing the accident-prone causal network with ephemeral, effervescent currents of thought. There may be gradual or sudden shifts of perspective along fractures and faults of adjacent or competing world-views. Tension may be relieved by snapping or rebounding along lines of weakness in the force field of cohesion, causing various forms of normality malfunction: outbursts of mass hysteria, epidemics of moral panic and in many cases, open warfare.
These types of unstable behavioural phenomena can and will operate as part of the repressive regime, being the natural consequences of structural and dogmatic violence used to maintain the toxic core of solidarity. Indeed, the ruling elite can – at times – benefit from a continuing state of nervous excitation among subordinate subaltern groups in order to facilitate mass mobilisation, or to maintain docility, fatalism and siege mentality. However the forces involved may exceed the controlling capacity, threatening the normative ontological stability and moral ascendancy of the ruling caste. In this case destabilisation and displacement can lead to unforeseen cultural mutations or to new paradigmatic, ideological formations arising from subversive zones of convergence, breakdown or re-signification.
Bibliographical Note: the term ‘cultural seismology’ is derived from an essay ‘The Name and Nature of Modernism’ (1976) by Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane. This essay is included in Malcolm Bradbury & James McFarlane (Eds.) Modernism 1890-1930, Penguin Books, 1981, where the term is defined as ‘the attempt to record the shifts and displacements of sensibility that regularly occur in the history of art and literature and thought’. The purpose of the present outline is to sketch out a primal (provisional) field structure of ‘culture’ and its causal network, to help elucidate such ‘shifts’ and ‘displacements’.

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