Sunday, December 11, 2011


All living systems show two opposing tendencies: the tendency to creative discovery, and the tendency to conservative rigidity. Every living system exhibits both tendencies but in widely differing proportions. Moreover, the relation between the two tendencies is not symmetrical: it's fair to say that while creativity requires a modicum of conservatism, too much of the latter can and often does stifle the former completely.

There is, clearly, a difference between making a living and having a life.
Human life is, indeed all sentient life is, to a very great extent about making a living. But if that's all it is about, then such a life is seriously impoverished, however successful the living. Making a living implies, as it does in the natural world, specialisation. For better or for worse, one becomes to a great extent what one does. We become some identifiable type of human function in the course of making our living. We are urged, as children to be something. We do this with greater or lesser degrees of coherence. We become doctors, lawyers, factory-workers, toilet-cleaners, musicians, artists, astronauts, beggars, tycoons, thieves and so on. Each of these functions implies a degree of specialisation and normally, the more complete the specialisation, the more successfully the function is performed. But if this success is the reward of specialisation, the price paid is very often the loss of plasticity, the loss of adaptability, the loss of creative formlessness, creative infinity. We all know of people who are so completely formed (or deformed) by their professional activity that they cannot stop performing that particular function. The lawyer adopts litigious attitudes in his relations with his family and friends. The teacher remains a pedagogue, even between the sheets. The doctor cannot stop diagnosing illness and so on. To a greater or lesser extent, we all become a function of our role in life. To a greater or lesser extent, our minds are structured by our function. Our function turns into a mental carapace.

We think of knowledge as liberating, but it can turn into quite the reverse. While learning expands the mind, knowledge can frequently limit it. To a greater or lesser extent, we become a function of our knowledge and see the world through the spectacles that our knowledge imposes upon our minds. This sort of functionalisation happens not only with respect to specialised, professional knowledge, it also happens with respect to beliefs of all kinds as well. The mind operates according to the categories set by the beliefs and functions and may be unable to stand outside of them. Often such functionalisation of the mind – though necessary to making a living – results in rigidity of attitude, all kinds of orthodoxy, dogmatism and occasionally, bigotry. The efficient and successful performance of a function often correlates with the degree to which the mind in question is ‘orthodox’, ‘dogmatic’ or ‘bigoted’. Less than whole-minded commitment diminishes efficiency. The result of all of these limitations on the human mind is a diminution of both the world inhabited and of the self that inhabits such a world. When it goes too far, functionalisation is a matter of living as a part self in a part world, living as a fragment in a collection of fragments. Such functionalisation, when yoked to the paranoid emotions of the ego can become a negative, damaging state in which each specialised individual pursues individual goals to the detriment of others. When belief in the thing-ideology and the fragmentation it engenders intervene to reinforce this negative development, the individual becomes the famous cog in the machine and the result is quite simply catastrophic. Dehumanised units interact mechanically with each other according to the forces generated by the immediate tensions to which they are subject and humanity disappears.

The mind is always in danger of becoming no more than a function of its beliefs and when the ego is in control of those beliefs, its craving for power is such that, to talk mythically for a moment, it ousts God by assuming his role. There are only these two possibilities, given the propensity of the mind to become functionalised by its beliefs: either the ego fuses with the self and the self recognises its dependence upon an overarching meaning to which it is subservient, or the ego sees itself as sole authority, the sole origin of meaning in the universe and abolishes God in order to take his place. By ‘God’ here is meant no more than a meaning to the universe that is not simply that of the ego. God’s place is taken by the ego’s claim to godlike knowledge and what goes with it, god-like control. The scientific ego is the last refuge of anthropomorphic religion; here the ego has fused with the anthropomorphic god. The ego as quasi-divine lawgiver arrogates to itself the omniscience and the omnipotence of the monotheistic deity. Its mechanistic universe is ruled by laws that it has itself created. These laws are forced upon the rest of mankind by so-called ‘proof’, a form of violence that is generated by nothing more authoritative that what appears self-evident to the ego and that thus frequently means no more than ‘true because I say so’. What is self-evident to the ego is what it makes itself, namely its machines, either the literal machines of technology or the intellectual machines of theory. So the whole business of ego-authority goes around in a circle and the authority of ego-based intellection is simply the mechanical propensity of the ego. This is as close as the ego gets to the status of ens causa sui. It is an indication of the vacuous nature of an attitude that declares that parts are more important than wholes: the ego as part imagines that it is entitled to legislate for the whole and for no good reason than that it both desires to do so and lacks the ability to conceive of any power above itself. Since the ego can only work with machines and since the machine is necessarily a demonstration of its own validity, the ego imagines that the mere appeal to machine models will be exclusively authoritative.  The functionalisation of the intellect makes every thus functionalised ego infallible in its own eyes. The result is both a cacophony of little tin gods shouting at each other and a leaden knee-jerk consensus that is the essence of orthodoxy. Daily human life is analysed in terms of a range of mechanical problems. These problems are provided with mechanical ‘solutions’ by a variety of tin-pot deities. The result is that daily life becomes, increasingly, a perpetuation of the very problems that the solutions were intended to solve. The reason for this is that the root of the problem lies within the ego and its reductive, mechanical methods: the rationalistic ego is, in the words of Karl Kraus, “the disease of which it thinks itself the cure.”
Just as the ideology of mechanism imposes a mechanical conception of the processes of nature and just as the thing-ideology imposes a fragmentary view of reality, so the functionalisation of the person succeeds in rendering all human beings mechanical and fragmentary as well. It must be said that the success of the ideology is as notable here as it is in the scientific sphere. It must also be said that the catastrophic effects of functionalisation on the human self are as extensive and profound as the effects of mechanical modes of understanding on the environment. The two go together and complement each other perfectly: the practical policies that result from mechanical models cooked up by a myopic, hidebound science are implemented with robotic efficiency and soulless disregard for the fine balances of nature by the truncated ego- and persona-dominated beings to whom they appeal. The greatest danger in the human realm today is the possibility that this combination of mechanistic ideology, mechanised society and mechanised personalities will supplant, by virtue of their very simplistic efficiency, all other ways of viewing our world.   If this happened and if centralised political power on this planet were of this cast, it would be time to bid good-bye to all those vague but precious notions, such as ‘environmental ethics’, ‘human rights’, ‘the freedom of the individual’, ‘the sanctity of life’, ‘the mind’, ‘the creative imagination’, ‘the human spirit’ and so on, which make the functionalised ego sneer, but without which we humans would be a lot nastier and certainly less creative than we are. These concepts already have a difficult time of it, but they survive because decent, unprejudiced people know they are valuable, even though there is no room for them in the officially scientific view of things. The day this language goes on the wane and begins to disappear from public discourse in favour of the efficient language of function and technique, that is the day humanity will begin the first stage of its congealment into a stagnating or self-destructive species.
It may well be that the human species will split into two, the one continuing to grow and develop, the other, like the coelacanth settling down to long-term stability. It may be that that process has already begun. Whatever the case, the functionalisation of the human person strangles creativity, reduces the range of the personality to that of a routine-ridden calculator and chokes off that indeterminate, unpredictable, innovatory input into the world that is the essence of our interaction with our environment. How then does the wholly functionalised mind operate? It operates, primarily, by adhering with almost evangelical fervour to the implementation of a certain procedure, a certain method, a certain algorithm: it computes. The specific nature of the functionalisation is given by the role, the persona. The energy for the sometimes almost fanatical zeal for method is provided by that would-be divinity, the ego. The combination of functional efficiency and ego-ambition is one of the most potent in the human world today; and it is this combination that could result in the imposition of the universal totalitarian machine portrayed in literature and film from Plato’s Republic to Skinner’s Walden2, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to the ghastly visions of the Matrix films and of all those other popular stories of ultimate societal mechanisation. The extent to which such scenarios are viewed positively or negatively depends upon the degree of mechanisation of the personality doing the viewing. The point of view adopted here is the following: far from representing a positive view of the future, such nightmares are wholly negative since they represent attempts to achieve, for whatever agency or ideology it may be, a control over humanity that will lift it out of the creative mainstream of evolution and consign it to the class of no-longer-developing creatures. And that – at least for humanity as we know it – would be a very bad thing indeed.
So how does functionalisation of the person work? It works by developing, to the detriment of the self as a whole, the rational, methodical aspects of the intellect – the left-brain aspects, in the language of brain-mythology – and by linking these so firmly with a certain role within a certain organisation or a certain type of organisation, that the person concerned is entrapped and enslaved - bought, body and soul. It becomes incapable of thinking outside of a certain box or outside of certain boxes. This role is defined as a series of procedures for which the person has responsibility. This sense of responsibility is cemented by many types of reward, financial gain, status, power, influence and the like, that are craved by the self-worshipping ego. The old animal passions that stoke the ego –  territoriality, aggressivity towards any competition, self-importance, self-regard, vengefulness, greed, and the like, on the one hand – and the distortions that result from the truncation of the self from its own depths – paranoia and schizoid dissociation of intellect from emotions, on the other – create an extremely efficient, intense but dangerously unstable state of mind that is a diminution of the human. It is a diminution of the human because it constitutes a loss of that distance and ‘beyondness’, a loss of the finite-infinite tension, that always characterises the relation of the self to its own products: the infinite self externalising itself in finite productions. The functionalised personality is pure persona, pure ego and the robotic attitudes that go along with this are deeply pathological, however ‘normal’ they may be considered in our western industrialised societies. The instability of a functionalised personality depends upon the strength of those creative forces of renewal that are part of the birth-right of the self, and on the degree to which the function has conquered or subjugated them or otherwise keeps them in check. In certain functionalised personalities, the function cannot keep the transformatory forces in a state of repression and they break out (often in a ‘mid-life crisis’) either in positive or in negative form, either as creative innovation and departure, or as destructive illness. Both of these latter types of dissolution of the function are relatively rare. The functionalised person usually has too much to lose by allowing cracks in the persona to appear. Those who do allow such slippage either achieve something radically different from their functional prowess or else they suffer some kind of breakdown and consequent demotion or disgrace. 
The functionalised person in short is a mechanised mind. Small wonder, then that it tends to develop conceptions of the mind that are mechanical. Its first level of programming is that of the theory of three-dimensional space, one-dimensional time, and reality as a collection of three-dimensional solid, persisting objects. This basic operating system of the mechanised intellect, laid down in early childhood, is then reinforced by the acquisition of language and becomes the basic set of assumptions used to approach the world of experience. The next level of programming comes from education and depends upon the degree to which the personality concerned adopts mechanised attitudes and mechanised thought-patterns from the milieu in which it grows to maturity. Those persons possessing a facility for procedural matters, algorithmic thought-patterns, convergent, rule-governed thinking of all types will tend to flourish in an educational milieu where such things are valued and where proficiency in them is rewarded. Educational success, throughout, will have been measured in terms of the efficiency with which the person convinces the educational authorities of its ability to conform to received standards of excellence. The ‘passing’ of examinations, generally no more than the reproduction of rote-learned factual information or the manipulation of procedural technique, will further reinforce the sense of achievement of the already deeply functionalised intellect. The next layer of programming, however, is probably the most vital, and it is this level that completes the process of functionalisation: it is the level that is laid upon the person by professional activity. The need to achieve economic independence and the ego’s desire for status, drive the already functionalised personality towards social roles that it can fill with the aid of the mental procedures and ideological assumptions thus far internalised. The personality is drawn into a net of forces that provide all manner of feedback loops, which further functionalise the mind: daily routine, reward, fear of demotion, economic necessity, social pressure, reputation, authority, deadlines, competition and so on. The person becomes entirely bound up in the routine of such an existence, entirely dominated mentally by it and entirely devoted to its partial values. The result is often either a hard-nosed and ruthless personality who sees only the achievement of those immediate goals that are imposed by the role played, or else a stressed and harried personality whose perpetually stimulated fight or flight mechanisms operate internally and inappropriately to burn up the body itself. 
The thing-ideology and the philosophy of mechanism drive the procedures and values of the major educational institutions. These, in turn, foster the functionalised personality. These personalities achieve eminence both in the educational institutions and in the other organisations to which they apply their abilities. The mechanised, functionalised values and the ambitious, energetic ego are highly prized in industry and commerce because they maximise growth and profit. Governments perceive this maximisation of profit as the highest good of a country and therefore foster all the values, procedures and abilities that conduce to its further maximisation. Educational policy, economic policy and all other sorts of planning then become dominated by the mechanical outlook and the immediate goals of the functionalised ego. The result is a drive towards the mechanisation of society from its roots to its most authoritative institutions, from parenting to governing, from manufacturing to entertaining, every activity is governed by procedure, by method, by algorithm; and the intrinsic, indeterminate creativity of the human mind that is responsible for every positive cultural acquisition is lost.
This tendency of western societies to foster the training of more and more functionalised persons generates a conception of human identity that equates it entirely with the persona, with the social role. The successful person is ‘something’ in society, i.e. a recognisable definable thing. Personalities are regarded as achieving a state in which they are ‘finished’, ‘formed’, ‘rounded off’. The implication seems to be that once a recognisable social role has been achieved and filled efficiently, then the person has, as it were, peaked and can go nowhere else. The person thus functionalised is entirely identified with the brain with which it is associated and this brain is considered as a sort of computing device that has been programmed to operate in a certain way. The functionalised person and the mechanised mind see only mechanism and function; they are self-confirming theories. Inevitably, when the efficiency of this computing device begins to wane, the person is regarded as waning along with it and hence judged to be of little use, little worth and, like a clapped-out  machine, suitable for the scrap-heap. The person is regarded as diminishing along with its diminishing efficiency. The value of such a functionalised person is precisely the extent to which it can fulfil its function efficiently. Once this goes, the person has no further value. Thus the old, the sick, the handicapped, the diminished have no value in terms of functionalised personalities. How long such diminished persons will continue to be tolerated in a given society depends upon the extent to which non-functionalised persons and non-functional conceptions of personal value are maintained. It requires very little for a society to be so devoted to mechanical values that it begins a process of reification, objectification or depersonalisation of the persons it regards as somehow inappropriate to its aims. Thus totalitarianisms of all kinds have systematically persecuted those they considered inappropriate in this sense, i.e. not susceptible to being functionalised in the approved manner. Behind all of these totalitarianisms has always stood some rigid, orthodoxy, mechanically applied, some mechanistic, algorithmic conception of human life and of the most efficient manner in which to live it. The mechanistic-deterministic-materialistic ideology that still governs the west and the thing-ideology that now constitutes its only authoritative view of the world, are steadily creating a functionalised population that not only cares nothing for the indeterminate core of the human self, but also fails to understand that it is the origin of all that is positive in human culture: purpose, value, creativity, meaning, and all those forces that foster the constant achievement of complexity in diversity that has characterised the history of human culture. The victory of the functionalised personality would perhaps spell the end of that history; it might spell the ‘end of history’ altogether, in Francis Fukuyama’s phrase.
The antidote to functionalisation is not to be found in its demonisation or in any set of measures designed to achieve its abolition. Functionalisation produces many benefits. It focuses the intellect with the intensity of a laser-beam and this intensity of vision permits an attention to detail and an unsurpassed analytical ability that are both of great value in the solving of all manner of ancient human problems – disease, hunger, ignorance, privation, and suchlike. On the other hand, it is clear that unchecked functionalisation produces its own set of problems – intolerance, insensitivity, short-termism, myopia of all kinds, diminution of the person and so on. The solution therefore would seem to be some means of maintaining the benefits of functionalisation while reducing its deleterious effects. This can only be done, it seems, by fostering two mutually opposing manners of thought. The self has to be seen as potentially governed by contradictory sets of principles. Once again, the solution to a fundamental conflict in human life is not the stressing of one side to the exclusion of the other, but rather the balanced maintenance of both elements of the tension. The procedure-obsessed, methodical, algorithmic aspects of the personality have to be counterbalanced by its informal, indeterminate, unpredictable aspects and the two have to be seen as one.
In circumstances where functionalised thought-patterns rule the roost – as in contemporary western civilisation – individuals will tend to see method as the essence of thought. When you have no creative ideas, you fall back on a method. The logical procedure, the mathematical procedure, the organisational principle, the managerial method, the recipe, the formula, the formalism, the routine – all of these will be seen as ends in themselves and not as provisional thought-patterns, essentially subject to review and modification. In addition formal patterns of thought will be regarded as somehow complete and in themselves completely authoritative. Formal thought will be considered to generate its own internal principles from its own formal structure. The form will be accorded absolute status. No attention will be paid to the status of the self as always above and beyond its own formal thought, as the indeterminate and indefinable origin and creator of all formality and as the authoritative user and manipulator of such formalism rather than merely its slavish operator. It is therefore only in the affirmation of the self’s intrinsic indefinability that such a viewpoint can be achieved. The finite, limited aspects of the mind have to be seen as dependent upon an infinite and unlimited background. The essentially extra-systemic nature of the self has to be affirmed. Once the self is seen as dominated by particular procedures, particular formalisms rather than as being essentially above them, the self is on the road to mechanisation and functionalisation. Where thought is largely driven by repeatable formulae, intelligence has to be seen as the intrinsically indefinable essence of the self and the indeterminate source of the determined structures it creates. Intelligence has to be regarded as the unformalisable origin of all formality. Intelligence is only formalised when it manipulates a formalism. As the origin of all formalisms, it is intrinsically superior to them. This is not mystification, it is simply good mental hygiene. Though they are among our most intimate experiences, we have no clear idea how the innovations of the human intellect take place. We have no formal procedure for the achievement of creative advance. We have no way of formalising the production of new structure by the human mind. Thus we have to accept the gifts of our own creativity on trust. It is in that sense that the essential nature of the self has to be considered to be indefinable and indeterminate. Thus any fostering of the functionalisation of the intellect – and such is vital if the intellect is to achieve and to master any field – has to be offset by an inculcation of the essential inviolability of the self, the essential ‘beyondness’ or infinity of the self, the essential, indefinable value of the self. It is perhaps in the use of the traditional language of ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ that such a view had been and is currently maintained in our society. But such language is on the wane and its vocabulary lacks resonance. We have to find an equally powerful language that renders the same service as the traditional but now discredited concepts. The language of physics is perhaps now in a position to do this for us, particularly where it points up the spurious nature of the distinction between parts and wholes.   If there is no ultimate separation between the sub-atomic particle as a local manifestation of energy and the entire energy-field of the entire universe, then a similar lack of separation can be assumed to obtain in respect to the human being. If the universal energy-field is imbued with its own universal meaning and ultimately governed by an indeterminate source of all creativity, then our connectedness to this source must surely be the antidote to the deleterious effects of our own tendency to functionalisation. But we have to choose this connectedness.
The functionalised human being is the fragmented human being, the part human being, the human being who is, by virtue of the loss of wholeness, cut off from the world as a whole, from the self as a whole and from humanity as a whole. Such a fragmented human being is responsible for all the ills of the human world today. Such human beings are doubly dangerous in that not only are they alienated and intrinsically distorted, they are also in ignorance or even in denial of the fact. This combination of mental distortion and refusal to understand the distortion is at the root of the cultural malaise of the west and at the origin of its disastrous collective behaviour.

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