Madness and Civilization

Globalization can perhaps be explained in one concept or term: the condensation of the social mass due to technology. And evidently, that is what is occurring in this day and age. In turn, the political and social consequences or implications of a global ‘condensation’ of the social mass is the emergence of novel social hierarches which many people who have become accustomed to the status quo are very much uncomfortable with, hence the turbulence and the upheaval in many places. Add to this the two basic characteristics of human culture – namely, repression and sabotage – and the madness in ‘civilized society’ is explained even further. 

Madness in a civilized society, as manifested by certain artistic or intellectual figures in a society, is a subconscious response to the “non-sense” of a civilized and modern society, as Foucault subtly noted. Madness is a “dissolution of thought” which then “opens out into the modern world.” Psychiatry, psychology, and psychoanalysis all seek to “justify” themselves in the face of such madness but end up knowing either little or nothing about the ultimate cause and the ultimate source of the madness. 

Moreover, madness very much fits with a day and age where social turbulence and upheaval resulting from a ‘condensation of the social mass’ is occurring. As Foucault wrote: “Madness partakes of the necessity of passion and at the same time of the anarchy that passion brings, which although triggered by passion moves far beyond it, and goes so far as to challenge all that passion supposes.” There are also “sexual currents” which underlie the madness of our time and thus the turbulence and upheaval of our time, as Freud was keen on highlighting. 

Madness also stems from the fact that our current global situation is actually a crisis situation. And in a crisis situation, authorities and leaders are faced with making decisions regarding the “unprecedented” to borrow from Hannah Arendt. Although the past might help in serving as a guide regarding how to move forward, the past alone is not sufficient in guiding the decisions needed to overcome the current global crisis which is ‘unprecedented’ in its nature. 

As Augusto Del Noce noted, another major factor in the current crisis is the failure to resolve the opposition between ‘repression’ and ‘permissiveness.’ Repression follows from the continuation or revival of what the society deems to be its “traditions” and its “values,” whereas the “permissiveness” needed to overcome the repression that is at the heart of the current crisis requires a reevaluation and transformation of such traditions and values. Yet, Del Noce insisted that a reversion to medieval traditions and values was the only way out of the crisis of modernity, and that ‘permissiveness’ and a transformation of traditions and values would only “presuppose atheism” and would be ‘totalitarian’ in nature. 

The expansion of “narcissism” through technology and the diffusion of narcissism through technology is yet another factor in our current crisis. Hence, the crisis is not something which can easily be overcome through structural changes and reforms, nor by the notion wielded by the traditionalists such as Del Noce that a reversion to traditional values would be the cure or panacea for the crisis. How does one compel a reversion to tradition and values in a narcissistic age? And when all the aforementioned is considered, it follows that the crisis stems in large part from the fact that we face “a fundamentally unstable social and political order in which old concepts and categories no longer hold firm” to borrow from Pankaj Mishra. The instability of the social and political order is in turn explained by the fact that the overwhelming majority of people in the world believe that the current class-based order is built upon “force and fraud” and as a result, the order is now unstable due to a lack of credibility and legitimacy which results from this belief. What is then required to overcome the instability of the social and political order and thus the ‘crisis of modernity’ is “transformative thinking about both the self and the world” to borrow from Mishra. The more one asks questions, the better one gets at asking questions, and in turn, the transformative thinking might eventually bear some fruit. 

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