Thursday 28 October 2021

Owen Barfield and the incoherence of modernity

Yesterday I was re-reading Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances; which was published in 1957, more than 60 years ago. This book is not an easy read (and most readers seem not to have understood it - including most Barfield scholars), but it is tremendously rigorous and incisive to the point of being life-changing. 

Barfield reaches the conclusion - which I cannot fault - that the way of thinking and reasoning, the mainstream philosophy and ideology, of the 'modern world' of the 1950s, is utterly incoherent. In his analysis, I think Barfield goes deeper than almost anyone else I have encountered. 

[I will not engage in the futile attempt to 'summarize' StP - the 'point' of the book is to work-though the argument. But, anyway, the purpose here is simply to accept the main thrust of the book's reasoning and conclusions, and consider the implications.]

This is my first point: that by the 1950s it was already clear to any thoughtful person that mainstream and ruling ideas in the major areas of culture did not make sense. Barfield analyzed this fundamental incoherence better than anyone perhaps; but the insight was pretty general. 

At any rate, I am sure he was correct - and he was correct that the set of ideas that are foundational to the whole functioning of the modern world as it was in the 1950s was so absolutely, fundamentally, self-contradictory that... Well what? 

In 1957 Barfield assumed that such a degree and depth of incoherence could not possibly survive, and that therefore it must change. Barfield, at points, warned what kind of consequences there must be if the world view did Not change; but he clearly assumed that things would change - and that the prevailing philosophy-ideology would move decisively in the direction of recognizing the primary of the spiritual over (and before, in terms of existence in time) the material; the guideingness of 'evolution' of consciousness in the history of reality; the way that reality is necessarily co-created and shaped by the presence and interpreting consciousness... and so forth. 

But it did not happen. Although there have been intermittent recognitions of the unsatisfactory nature of mainstream 'reality', these have taken the form of attempts to return to the instinctive and unconscious; as with the 1960s counter-culture, or the 1980s New Age - both of which have remained culturally-active; in private subjectivity and in mass culture. Or else less influential attempts to return the world to the lesser, but still fundamental, incoherences of 'the past'. 

[Barfield, following Steiner, was guilty of this; insofar as both attempted to fight the incoherences of system with alternative - somewhat less-incoherent - systems; a venture that began with Goethe's attempt to make biology into a differently-systematic science incorporating a systematized version of imagination. Steiner's ideas for agriculture, education, medicine, threefold societies etc, and Barfield's advocacy (in StA) of a new 'system of imagination', are both examples of laying this false trail. Imagination just is Not systematic, and a new world view based on intuitive direct-knowing or heart-thinking cannot be systematized. Cannot means can not.)   

The incoherent world-view of public discourse did Not change; but, necessarily, continued to worsen since it developed from the same incoherent assumptions.

What happened was that instead of becoming coherent; over the past decades more-and-more cultural ways evolved (and were successfully imposed) to make that incoherence not-apparent, or to deny its significance. 

Until we reach The World Now - where incoherence is extreme, global and mandatory - but is almost completely occult; hidden by the universality of bureaucracy, micro-specialization and dishonesty - fueled by mass emotional manipulation via the mass/ social media. 

We now experience a world of astonishingly vast and increasing chaos of incoherence; in which the monolithic nature of global totalitarianism is itself regarded as The Objective Reality (objective because there is nothing else in official public discourse, and only this reality is 'shared'); and where any individuals who recognize its incoherence and strategic evil are already and increasingly labelled as merely isolated instances of cut-off (insane, idiotic and/or wicked) pure-subjectivity.

[The official consensus of world experts versus... just your personal opinion.] 

Steiner and Barfield did indeed foresee these consequences - and wrote prophetically of the nature of our current world 'if' we failed to awaken to their insights. A Steiner lecture of 1918 and remarks by Barfield in StA and his (1984 published) novella Night Operation, are instances. 

But neither Steiner nor Barfield emphasized such 'if not, then...' prophecies; because both expected that culture would correct itself - because the problems were so obvious, and were getting worse.  

I think the actual state of the world now was (and is) missed, because modern people focus upon abstract and specialized matters such as politics, science and philosophy - and the impulses which drives these; whereas the dominant impulse throughout has been purposive evil - the agenda of the devil/ Satan and the demonic spirits. Steiner and Barfield were both guilty of this - seldom discussing God and never (I think) framing their arguments in terms of God and his creative aims. 

When we are up-against supernatural evil; no amount of reform within the domains of politics/ science/ philosophy - nor any other social system such as law, education, medicine, the military or churches - can effectively oppose it. Any local improvement in a specific area of discourse is quickly outflanked by continued degeneration in many or most others. 

It is akin to trying to correct the dishonesty of the global establishment. If an official statement or line-of-argument is revealed as a gross and deliberate lie (that is a lie-rooted discourse such as the birdemic-peck, climate change, antiracism, feminism or the trans-agenda - or any of the multiple sublies within these discourses); then the lie is still operating and indeed accelerating in all the other social systems - media, corporate, legal and so forth. 

The societal assumption is that any number of proven Establishment lies are specific and encapsulated; while the validity of the total system is unchallenged because assumed. 

In other words, the actual root and motivation of that expanding incoherence which Steiner and Barfield exposed was undying evil spirits operating across many human generations; whose agenda is the destruction of God, the good and divine creation. 

The problem of incoherence was Not based in philosophical error, nor the limitations of science; nor the aims of politicians, bureaucrats or judges. 

We have - all along - been dealing-with the war between, on the one hand, God and Jesus Christ - with their aim of saving mortal Men to a resurrected life of growing more divine; and on the other hand, the many-fold powers of evil that oppose all this.

Evil is not trying to sustain any particular alternative evil reality; but to oppose The Good by whatever means seem to be effective at any particular time or place. Hence evil is protean, mutating, and cannot positively be defined in terms of what it 'wants'. 

For evil, incoherence is a feature, not a bug; and the more that actually-existing incoherence is accepted, embraced, and defended as real, true, necessary and Good - the greater is the triumph of evil. 

So here we are Now! The most extreme adverse prophecies of Steiner and Barfield have come true; evil is globally officially endorsed and imposed - and yet so extreme and pervasive is Man's corruption that he (mostly) does not even notice (and strenuously denies) that ruling-evil, and its explicit and implicit tendency.

And/but insofar as Modern Man can perceive evils - he sees No Alternative. 

After so many decades; Modern Man has incoherence baked-into his world view - which is a measure of his evil nature; and therefore sustains the only 'unity' and possibility of public that he can believe-in - which is that ever-shifting consensus of demonically-controlled, monolithic global totalitarianism.