Madness and Civilization

There have been many versions and nuances of the idea that there may in fact be an in­timate relationship between madness and civilization; that civ­ilization itself is bound to growing exi­sten­tial challenges and an escala­ting inner chaos: Marx’s alienation; Durkheim’s anomie; Weber’s iron cage and disenchantment; Fr­eud’s idea that civilization forces us to lock up sexual and aggr­essive urges, which leads us to lives of per­petual neurosis and dis­content; Fro­mm’s idea that technological pro­gress makes the sane soc­iety increa­singly difficult to achi­e­ve, which results in an escape from free­dom; Foucault’s idea that “madness” is itself an inven­tion of the mod­ern mind, the purpose of which is to sweep its own dark side under the rug (hence his 1964 book title Mad­ness and Civili­zation); Habermas’ fragmen­tation of life and coloni­zat­ion of the life­world by the “system”; Deleuze and Guatt­ari’s deterritorial­iz­ation; Sennett’s cor­rosion of charac­ter—and many others.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. 

In recent years it has become abun­dantly clear that there is a rising problem of mental health issues among adole­scents and young adults in the most advanced econom­ies of the world—even as crime and alcohol use generally have de­creased. We become civilized and we subtly go batshit crazy.

Of course, there are many aspects of this intimate connection be­tween madness and civilization. I would suggest that the role of Existential Poli­tics is to grapple this complex relationship, not only as a matter of “psych­iatric care” and “mental health”, but as a fundamental issue involving all of us—so as to curb the lingering madness of everyday life itself. And what a daun­ting task that is.

We’re not look­ing only at the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, but at the entirety of a mostly subsumed mountain of ice. Our relatively innocent little neuroses, our innocuous inner grueling, our bitter silent compari­sons with the for­tunes of others—all of these realities are continuous not only with the pre­valence of serious psychiatric illness and cases of social drud­gery, but also with the games of everyday life and the workings of the economy and politics.

What is it that puts more and more of us, and increasingly often, face to face with madness? On a more general level of analysis, I would argue, it is not so much “civilization” or “modernity”, as the classics suggest, nor “the post­mod­ern condition” or a variety thereof, as the analysts of today assert. Rather, it is the staggering increase of complexity itself. As society becomes so much more complex, so quickly, it simply becomes more diff­icult for the mind to reach a some­what stable “local maximum” or “equili­bri­um”. It’s just more difficult to know who I am, what’s right and wrong, and what’s really real in the first place. Even as we are richer and more secure than earlier generations, there are also countless social and psy­ch­ological adapt­ations that have to be made, and the problems we do have are less tangible and direct. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We’re not built for this kind of complexity. The rewards are too great, the im­mediate gratifications too readily avail­able, the threats too nebulous, the world and its horizons too vast. The mysterious relationship between mad­ness and civiliza­tion has a name: increasing com­plexity. Late at night we wake up and face the creep­ing horror: that life itself as we know it is a social con­struction, one that ultimately cannot be real, only a fragment on top of an infinite abyss.

And handling greater complexity in the world requires not only new ideas; it requires a kind of spiritual development of the average person. It should hence be a societal goal to develop not only higher subjective states in each of us, but also to help more of us dev­elop and integrate greater inner depths, and—if possible—to develop our abil­ity to think more abs­tract thoughts, to cognitively grasp and relate to more complex realities. This can be described in the following graph:

Graph: Effective value meme versus psychological health. High value meme people often have less stable mental health and functionality, as they are more often in “far from equilibrium states”.

The graph may need some further explanation. It is a summary of the develop­mental traits of a general population, with higher value meme (the inter­section of cognitive complexity, code, state and depth) on the vertical axis and “better psychological health” on the horizontal axis. “Psycholo­gical health” can here be understood not only as the absence of psych­iatric diag­noses and mental illness but also one’s general wellbeing and the fresh­ness and integrity of one’s mind overall. If you like, you can imagine one axis as one’s “stage” and the other as an agglomerate of how well you have man­aged to pass through the Eriksonian life phases you have thus far been through (did your mother treat you kindly, did you make friends as a six-year-old, did you form an identity as a teenager and so forth).

As you can see, in this admittedly sche­matic graph, many or most chil­dren have low effective value meme but relatively “good” psychological health. Of cour­se, children also have mental health problems, but at least infants have less of them and young children have much lower rates than e.g. young adults. In childhood, there’s often that directness or freshness of experience that in some primary sense is “healthy”.

Be­tween the two grey lines on the graph you find most adults. The great­est number of people develop to “con­ventional adulthood”, which means some loss in mental health as com­pared to the aliveness and sim­plicity of childhood, but the achievement of an average value meme and stage of dev­elopment (e.g. the Modern value meme). A minority have their dev­elopment stun­ted and remain at low value memes while their men­tal health det­eriorates—and that’s where you find many or most dys­func­tional and criminal people. Up until the development of conven­tional sta­ges, people’s value memes seem to largely follow the psycho­logical health and func­tionality of a person: it’s just difficult to become a reason­able per­son who internalizes the norms of society if you feel too bitter, confused or miser­able and your social relations and habits are a mess.

High value meme is to some extent also tied to mental imbalance and dysfunctionality. A minority of adults develop to higher value memes (e.g. Post­modern and Metamodern) but must thereby also face greater inner obst­acles. Many of those who develop exceptionally high com­plexity and great depth have minds oscillating in “far from equilibrium states”. I don’t have the data to prove it, but just by looking around my own circle and the people who respond to metamodernism, there is a striking pat­tern: very high intel­ligence, Mensa-level is standard, very high preva­lence of ADD and ADHD, some autism (especially among the most gifted), dys­lexia, very high pre­valence of depression, some people who have very extreme pers­on­alities if not necessarily diagnosable, high preva­lence of strong spiritual exper­i­ences, high prevalence of psychedelic expe­riences, high prevalence of psychotic break­downs and so forth. In my own family, there is schizop­hrenia, epil­epsy, depression, anxiety and chronic pain due to nerve diseases just as there are highly intelli­gent and creative people. And among post-conventional thinkers you find lots of gay people and folks with non-binary gender identities and polyamorous lifestyles, how­ever that fits in.

You get the point, right? There seems to be a patt­ern here: exceptio­nally high value meme seems to correlate with a lower level of mental health and stability, and in some sense “unusual minds” or atypical neuro­log­ical structures. If you look at the bio­graphies of spirit­ual mas­ters, like Jiddu Krishna­murti and Eckhart Tolle, a similar pattern appears. Before their “awaken­ings” to recurring higher states, these people went through ex­tre­me inner turmoil—the edge of madness.

As my friend Nick Duffell has argued in his studies of British elite board­ing schools, each society and subgroup have their own “psy­cho­history”, a collection of social conditions that affect the psychological deve­lop­ment and personalities of the group.[1] In sociology, similar argu­ments have been made, not least in the study of generations (from Karl Mannheim and on­wards) and “cultural trauma” (Jeffrey C. Alexander).[2]

Different demographics seem to have specific psychohistories, and the generative conditions for people’s life-shaping events can be affected. There appear to be social and gen­etic factors that cause the high value meme folks to also have greater mental vulnerability. I don’t pretend to understand the in­tricacies of this relation­ship, but I do believe the rela­tion­ship is factual. The “most civil­ized” people, in a sense, tend to be sligh­tly bonkers.

If this is correct, the conclusion should be clear: We need a society that helps more of us to marry high effective value meme to inner peace and stability, to mental health. In some few select people, you have the marr­iage of exceptional development with childlike purity of experience, mind and emotions. This, of course, is what society can and should strive to support, knowing fully well this is a tricky ride: A more complex civiliza­tion re­quires higher effective value memes, which seem to require greater inner obstacles to be surmounted, which is married to a greater propen­sity for losing grip on reality.

The only hope for civilization is found, thus, on the brink of madness. Think about it: informed naivety, magical realism, the crossroads between fact and fiction, the transpersonal perspective, the hall of mirrors, sincere irony—doesn’t it all reflect the madness of a psychotic episode? When we open up reality to be co-created in a transpersonal space, is this not an act of enlightened madness?

What kind of person can dive into madness and come out a deeper and more complex thinker? The kind of person we need. The metamodern mind, ideally speaking. Applied Existential Politics should support the spon­taneous em­er­­gence of high­­er subjective states and greater existen­tial depths in the population as well as a greater psychological robust­ness.

The acceleration of the developing world-system is a dizzying ride. As new and increasingly phantasmagoric and bizarre and sub­tle and compli­cated and mind-blowing phenomena press themselves upon us, life be­com­es a rollercoaster of greater heights—even touching the stars—and deeper valleys as nightmares crawl through the television screens and enter our living rooms. Not to mention social media and smart­phones hi­jacking our limited attention spans. Subtler and more multidi­men­­sional games are played for higher spiritual stakes. More of us try to surf the waves of this madness, in the service of higher ideals. Those of us who try psyche­delic drugs less often do so in the context of Dionysian “partying” and more often as serious Apoll­onian “soul-sear­ch­ing”.

Something lurks at the back of our minds. And we wake up at night. And the ground shakes and our heads spin and the skies crack open. Utter and profound confusion. Even a scent of madness; but also an opportuni­ty to change our socially constructed universe, to shift our maps of mean­ing.

The question is not—as Fromm and many other humanist Marx­ists believed—how to create “a sane society” once and for all. That’s just not going to happen. Because madness is civilization’s shadow. And now as we’re crashing into a whole new level of civilizational complexity, we’ll get a whole new level of crazy to go with it. Hey, I told you it’s a tragic uni­verse.

The question is, rather, how to create a society where a suffi­cient num­ber of us dev­elop the resilience to hold on during this crazy ride. That’s why we need an ongoing process that supports the development of higher states and the succ­essful integration of greater inner depths. This process serves to cult­ivate an awakened public.

Messieurs dames—let’s give a warm welcoming hand for Existential Pol­itics.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[1]. Duffell, N., 2014. Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion – A Psychohistory. London: Low Arrow Press.

[2]. Alexander, J., C., 2003. “On the Social Construction of Moral Universals: The ‘Holocaust’ from War Crime to Trauma Drama”, in The Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 27–84.

Can You Handle the Truth about the Truth?

Just as the value of money can be deflated[i] in the material eco­nomy, so can the honest search for truth in the public domain of ideas and morals. The truth, or the signaled truth-seek­ing of people, can be viewed as increasingly hollow and cheap when their claims aren’t matched by ac­tual be­haviors and sacrifices made. In a society where people use ideal­istic claims and truth-seeking to boost their own identities, idealism always appears to reek of hypocrisy.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. 

If we don’t deal with our deeper existential issues and our underlying fear of death, we tend to invest more emotions in, and cling more eagerly to, our “ego”; our sense of being a separate and right­eous “self”. Because a lot of our ego identity is built on having the right opin­ions, being on the right side of moral struggles and being righteous, we thus have profound inner stakes set against any proposition that could seriously challenge our moral or poli­tical standpoints.

It has been shown by students of the psychology of death that even a subtle reminder of our mortality can make us more selective and prone to confirmation biases and less receptive to informa­tion which would disprove the positions we currently iden­tify with.[ii] In other words: Our underlying fear of death makes us clasp to our ego, which in turn makes us resistant to truth and to honest conversations about central topics.

I should mention that there are empirical findings suggesting that peo­ple who devel­op higher “emotional complexity” (a personality measure closely rela­ted to higher stages of self-develop­ment) tend to have much lesser anx­ieties in relation to death and aging.[iii] This suggests we can sup­port inner peace by supporting personal develop­ment, and that this in turn supports truth in society—or rather, its truth­fulness.

Hence, the inner insecurities we all bear with us deflate the per­cei­ved value of truth-seeking on a massive scale. Given that society is be­com­ing more complex and people are re­quired to have more coor­di­nated, ab­stract and correct opinions about more matters than ever, this is nothing short of catastrophic for the self-organization of society. The discourse becomes poisoned as we are all limited by our own identifi­cations and hopes.

Of course, we can’t just “get rid of the ego” and be done with it. Every­body needs to have a sense of self and maintain a reasonably positive self-image to feel okay as they go about their day. But we are staring at a very crucial correlation here, one that is possibly instrumental to the very sur­vival of our civilization. It goes something like this:

  • The average underlying fear of death in society is proportional to the identification with the ego.
  • The identification with the ego is propor­tional to our tendency to identify with certain moral and political conclusions, which curtails any attempts to challenge these notions.
  • Forms of inner work that let us deal with the fear of death and help us to disidentify with the ego, such as serious meditation prac­tice, will—on average, over time and as a collective—help us maintain a more funct­ional and sane discourse in which people more honestly seek to know the truth.[iv]

Can you see it, dear reader? It’s the deflation of truth.

Can you see how cheap the truth has be­come since we all pre­fer being right over being wrong (and enjoy proving others wrong, never giving them space to save face) just a little too much? Can you see how this is lin­ked to an underlying insecurity we all share? Can you see that this defla­tion of the truth is a deeply transpersonal phenomenon (mean­ing that it resides both deep inside each of us and in our relations), as any conver­sation you will ever be in can and will have its very para­meters set by the willingness of all parties involved to entertain the pos­sibility that they’re wrong about something? Can you see how “the ego” has hijacked truth-seek­ing in all aspects of politics and society, even within yourself?

Again, the point isn’t to “transcend the ego” so that we “can all see the truth”. That would be silly. The point is that society—and its members—can be more or less emotionally and existentially mature, more or less in­vested in identities, political or otherwise.

This hijacking of our strivings, this massive devaluation of all the most precious gems of existence, does not stop at the search for truth. Take any other of the central human endeavors: mo­ral struggle, the creation and exp­ression of beauty, spiritual attainment, the cultivation of love—all of these are hijacked in a corresponding manner. You see a bunch of kids struggling against injustice, and you just know deep down and instinct­ively that their moral outrage is likely to be more about self-inflating iden­tity-seeking than about genuine moral concerns; their less-than-exempla­ry behaviors, intell­ectual inconsistencies and eagerness to accept simple and judgmental ideas all belie that morality is being remote-controlled by the ego and its struggle to place itself at the center of the universe and above others. Beauty be­co­mes pretentious “artsy art” or the impulse to possess and display the beaut­iful as something indicative of our own splendor. Spiritual seeking becomes a smokescreen for the dis­play of the superiority of our pure soul—a claim that conveniently enough cannot be disproven and takes no effort on our behalf. Even love becomes reduced to a grim game of ex­change and power rela­tions.

And what a loss all of this is; what a ubiquitous tragedy! The deflation of truth and of all the greatest values in life.

The cynics of the world are proven right again and again: don’t trust idealism to save the environment and moral conviction in the face of in­justi­ce (it’s “virtue signaling”), don’t believe the sensitive heart of the artist (it’s all posturing), don’t believe the people who claim that spiritual goals are more important than worldly ones (it’s just a strategy to score points without making an effort), and don’t even live for love. All of it always turns out to be a lie, at least in part. And as things stand, the cynics, for all their crudeness and stupidity, often turn out to be right.

But the point is that—even as these things are indeed often based on lies, even if they are conceited and steeped in falsehood—they are still the great­est values of existence: the true, the good and the beautiful. Due to our coll­ective existential immaturity, however, we perpetuate a situati­on in which peo­ple’s strivings for these noble ends cannot be trusted. This exist­ential imm­atur­ity is not an eternal or necessary quality, how­ever; it is some­thing that can and must be challenged and outgrown. And it’s not binary; thr­ough contemplative practice, self-knowledge and self-accep­tan­ce we can reduce the grip that ego identification has on all of us. It’s a scale— and to­gether we can climb the scale towards higher collec­tive freed­om.

That’s the ultimate goal of Existential Politics: to see that ego identifica­tion can be rolled back, that the fear of death can be eased at the deepest level. Thus the genuine striving for the good, the true and the beauti­ful can be unleashed in our lives and beyond—to see that truth and idea­lism can be sought with the metamodern rebel wisdom we have called infor­med naivety.

Many can handle the truth, but how many of us can handle the truth about the truth?

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. The technical term for which is, ironically, inflation.

[ii]. Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., 2015. The Worm at The Core. On the Role of Death in Life. London: Penguin Press.

[iii]. Bodner, E., et al, 2015. Anxieties about Aging and Death and Psychological Distress: The Protective Role of Emotional Complexity. Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 83, pp. 91-96.

[iv]. And yet, the issue is not that straightforward. It has even been shown that practices of yoga and meditation can have the reverse effect—i.e. an increased identification with the ego, simply because people feel self-important for having taken part in these practices. This should not lead us to despair, however; it merely suggests that, again, there are many layers to these kinds of practices and that the mind is really good at turning things around for purposes of ego-boosting. See:

Gebauer, J. E., et al, 2018. Mind-Body Practices and the Self: Yoga and Meditation Do Not Quiet the Ego but Instead Boost Self-Enhancement. Psychological Science, vol. 29, 8, pp. 1299-1308.

Secular Monasteries for an Awakened Public

“I want to live,
I want to give
I’ve been a miner
For a heart of gold.
It’s these expressions
I never give
That keep me searching
For a heart of gold
And I’m getting old.”[i]

—Neil Young

It is as though civilization itself is getting too old. And with age foll­ows either decay, dementia and despair—or wisdom and self-knowledge. Can then modernity, the present world-system, begin to know itself? This would be the *meta*-modern mission: to create a deeply self-reflective modernity; a modernity operating not only upon nature and the environ­ment, but one that reexamines its own perspective, its own choi­ces—if you will—its own soul. Modernity did peer into the soul of individual human beings, under the auspices of psychiatry. But it never developed a full process for look­ing into its own existential foundations and to treat the maladies of civili­zation. Modern society has, as Foucault famously argued, been profoundly mar­ked by “the birth of the clinic”. Metamodern society and its existential civ­ilization must usher in “the rebirth of the monastery”, echoing and care­fully re­cycling some of the finest aspects of medieval society.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. 

In The Listening Society I wrote that “Everybody should get a year off once in a lifetime to go look for new purpose in life and make tough life decisions under professional care and support—in a kind of secular monastery.” The pur­pose of metamodern monasteries would be to offer all citizens nec­essary periods of seclusion (and/or community) and con­cen­trated ho­ning of inner skills, such as heal­ing from trauma, mak­ing large life decis­ions or transitions, learning new life philo­sophies, pract­icing meditation and tak­ing care of the body, forgiving people who hurt us, sorting out ethical dil­emmas, and other transformational practices.

It would make sense to create a great network of secular monasteries, properly equipped with teachers, coaches, therapists, libraries, gardens, gyms and simple accommodation. People would be trained in one or more wisdom traditions, be supported in making nec­ess­ary changes of habits, face their traumas and so on. Instead of an authoritative priest­hood like in traditional religions, the main agent would be a professional group of “exist­ential social workers”, trained to deal with people’s diffe­rent life crises and to act as advisors. They should be highly skilled in one or more mind­fulness and meditation techniques, in turn scrutinized by scien­tific studies.

An important aspect of such a neo-monastic societal infrastructure would be to include different kinds of bodywork and “subtle body pract­ices”, refining the skills of dealing with direct bodily experiences and sen­sations and developing the general wellness of our bodies. Such develop­ment is not only of great value for its own sake, but also a necessary tool for strengthening our overall body-mind systems so we can handle the difficulties inherent to life’s crises and the stage transitions of per­sonal dev­elopment.

So we’re looking at a major project of the listening society, one that is indeed comparable to the construction of the welfare state. You need new facilities, new infrastructure, new groups of professionals, new educatio­nal and career paths (which can generate quite a few new and very cool jobs by the way), and new institutions to govern, evaluate and devel­op the whole endeavor. It’s going to take decades to build and/or culti­vate, and yet it will produce few tangible, manifest things. But it will pro­duce a more listening society, and an existentially mature civilization. Millions of people will untie subtle knots in their inner worlds and manage their lives more com­passionately and skillfully. If the listening society is to fulfill its pro­mise—a society where everyone is genuinely seen and heard—it must rest upon a foun­dation of inwards listening.

All of these services should be backed up on a collective level so that people are guaranteed a year off from work and be guaranteed a basic live­lihood during the per­iod. Hope­fully, it could be possible even for parents of children to attend such periods of seclusion, just switching their day-time work for monastic life.

“What’s the point of all this? And, again, can we afford it? Should we really be sucking our thumbs and navel-gazing when there are so many issues to attend and so much suffering in the world?”

Still not following, modernist mind? Sigh.

The point is that it is only by seriously helping people to get what they really need and want from life—by supp­orting serious adult devel­op­ment, development of the mind and the per­sonality as a whole—that we can raise the level of behavi­oral functioning through­out soc­iety and the level of mental health through­out all social groups. It is in this man­ner we can raise the average “eff­ective value meme” of the popul­ation above the modern stage.

And, just to remind you of the stakes: With­out a deep and lasting chan­ge towards higher effective value meme, we’re pretty much all going to die in a horrible car crash as we enter this age of super-tech­nologies without a corresponding shift of psychological and cultural devel­op­ment.

So it’s not that we can’t afford to do it, it’s that we can’t afford not to. “Can’t afford” a medicine that will save your life from an aggressive dis­ease? Well, then, too bad, you’ll just have to suffer and die.

Existential Politics isn’t navel-gazing. Things are only navel-gazing if they are not conducive to growth and social change. If something does prevent oceans of human suffering, improves lives in so many ways, and saves soc­iety from collapse because it spurs human growth into deeper mat­urity—then it’s not navel-gazing.

As things stand today, many of those who belong to the social groups I have called the Yoga Bourgeoisie, the Triple-H Population (Hacker, Hippies and Hipsters) and the Inte­gralists already find ways of getting support for growth during trans­itional periods: they go to workshops and retreats, do shadow-work (busting your own bullshit with a therapist) and whatnot.

But there are several pro­blems with this privatized and individualized app­roach of present-day spiritual seeking. One thing is that it’s only really available to these privileged seg­ments of the population. So it’s miss­ing where it’s needed the most. Another problem is that the norms of soc­iety aren’t really up to speed: Most people think it’s a waste of time, too idle and boring. Society as a whole should make sure more people see the pro­found value of prolonged, serious inner work. And a third pro­blem is that there is no concerted effort on society’s behalf to guarantee the quality, reliability and safety of such practices, which enables all kinds of swindlers and quacks to prey upon the Astrology Precariat. Making this a priority of Existential Politics would work to remedy many of these issues.

A neo-monastic institution, offering its support to the wider popula­tion, should of course also be linked to activities such as crim­inal reh­ab­­ilitation, psychiatry, social work, palliative care (of the termin­ally ill), the development of more customized and meaningful funeral cere­mon­ies—and of course to education, where the opp­ort­unities for psy­ch­ological and existential support should not only be a back­ground struc­ture as it is to­day, but a central and prioritized feature of life in schools and univer­sities. Not to mention healthcare more generally; most present-day healthcare systems are bogged down with people seeking medical attention when they in fact have social, emotional and existential problems—as any gene­ral practitioner can attest to. So often will people come in with a headache or stomachache but soon start crying about their life problems.

It should be a societal goal that 18-year-olds enter adult life with a sen­se of inner responsibility and self-love, which sadly is far from the case in today’s educational system. As argued in The Listening Society, all children can and should be offered thera­peutic talks with a trusted adult professi­onal throughout their years in school. How many life courses could that change; and how pro­foundly? Very many, and quite profoundly indeed—seeing as you get a cumul­ative, collective effect as the children and youth interact with one another.

If we are to turn the tide of spiritual poverty and alienation inherent to modern life, we must begin to nourish the souls of millions. Only then can we develop a metamodern society, a society that takes its own develop­ment—interior and exterior—into its own hands. If there is one thing that char­acterizes the emerging meta-ideology I call the Nordic ideo­logy, it is this: a systematic and deliberate nourishing of the human soul through­out the life course; a clarion call for adult development.

How to get there is far from obvious, but without an explicitly formula­ted and manifested Existential Politics, and without pro­per societal proce­sses to address these concerns, we are unlike­ly to achieve any such goals.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, 1971.

Hanzi’s Private Notes: The 5 Metamemes Before Metamodernism

The following is work-in-progress and based on a few loose notes from Hanzi Freinacht’s work on his upcoming book ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’. This is the third book in Hanzi’s metamodern guides series. It takes on a developmental approach to world history and does so through the lens of six overarching developmentally derived patterns that Hanzi refers to as “metamemes”.

Thanks to our monthly donators Hanzi can buy time to work on the book, so if you have a couple of bucks to spare each month, we would be very grateful if you could donate to Hanzi: https://donorbox.org/metamoderna.

1) The Animistic Metameme:

  • Self: Body-self, that you are your body, no differentiated conception of soul, no differentiated role identity, family and profession are one, rituals that define life stages, sex is ritualized and some cultures are permissive, no conception of individual. Note. This is not an “African” theme, but has to do with metamemes, ancestral worship, spirits.
  • Ideology: Name for insiders synonymous with humans, totem (animals and nature given social and symbolic significance—we are the bear, etc.) and taboo (incest, but also touching the shaman’s tools, charged with mana etc.), ethics towards natural world, no formalized ethics about “society”.
  • Ontology: Spirit world, animism, anthropomorphization/non-differentiation, enchantization, magic, short narratives about the world, no coordination of different paragraphs (paragraph-length creation myths etc. corresponding to MHC stage 8 Primary), no differentiation of semiotics and nature (Levi-Strauss accounts of ethnomedicine: find example in Levi-Strauss: signifier and signified undifferentiated). This also explains belief in spirits: speaking something and being something is the same.
  • The universal: Not only this world, but also the spirit realm.

 

2) The Faustian Metameme:

  • Self: The self is part of a larger idea-world, related to gods and a generalized society. The self must find its destiny, i.e. which place the self has in the hierarchy. Actions reveal destiny, striving towards power in society and heroism, or finding gods to serve. Human self not same as nature. Part of larger clan, imagined community, but can ascend above normality. Sexuality procreation defined in relation to a wider clan structure. No longer spirits and ancestors, but death realm, Valhalla etc.
  • Ideology: The power and interests of the clan is the ethical basis: honor identity, to keep an abstracted identity of power visible to a larger group. To survive, you need to appease (or intimidate and control) other people rather than nature (humanized environment), hence gods over spirits. Spirits kept as residual, demoted to ghosts and trolls (superstition). Progressive: eye for an eye.
  • Ontology: MHC stage 9 Concrete; this means that you have stories or narratives of gods, monsters and heroes—and that these stories connect many paragraphs and coordinate themes: the earliest paragraphs of the Bible don’t do this, later on they do. When it comes to Homer, you have an epic, but there are no abstract principles spelled out. Humans can defy the gods. Life is a social struggle: slavery, rulership, clans, family feuds. Afterlife: in Norse Paganism, i.e. no consequential death realm.
  • The universal: Not just spirits, but more powerful gods tied to rulers, conquerors and differentiated social roles (god of war, of fertility, wine etc.).

 

3) The Postfaustian Metameme:

  • Self: The immortal soul is a prototypical form of the individual. Gilgamesh is a good example of transition from Faustian to Postfaustian: He becomes a hero but must submit to the gods and ultimately gains immortality through his relation to an abstracted society. The soul is a formalized theory. The soul has an ethical essence.
  • Ideology: Serve the ultimate truth, defeat the inner demons, purify the soul, purify the souls of others, convert heathens and destroy heretics, create a fair and ordered society ruled by eternal truth. Power is not okay without truth/God on your side. Turn the other cheek. Intentions, not power or results, matter. The social order is sanctified by an eternal truth, but may be overthrown if not in line with universality.
  • Ontology: This world is second to the eternal world of God or spirit. It should be ordered in relation to the eternal world. Humanity is imperfect but can approach the perfect or Absolute. Our connection to the universal goes not via the body, but by the abstracted soul and its ethical essence. The ultimate existence of God is the abstraction upon which all mythology rests—hence you can study theology, reason about it: What is the abstraction (MHC stage 10 Abstract) behind the (MHC stage 9 Concrete) narratives? How can general insights be gleaned about the nature of God, nirvana, etc.
  • The universal: Not just powerful gods, but the ultimate truth about life and existence, an ultimate god above all gods (transcend and include explicitly in Buddhism, and implicitly in Christianity). Foreign powergods demoted to demons, consider Satan, critique of the faustian deal, no longer Kosher to pray for power (black magic, burrrrrrn). From heroism to sainthood. Not in Valhalla anymore, Toto! Jews, old Testament deal with God, is proto-post: The god still chooses one people. Zoroastrism: Satan and God equals.

 

4) The Modern Metameme:

  • Self: The individual has the right to move within the social order in this life. Free will, civil liberties, endowed with “reason”. Slippery slope that includes non-privileged group, but still anthropocentric. Rationality found in humans, hence humanity is the center. Descartes behind the curtain. God in the closet. Covenant with “god” through surrender but reason, i.e. with universal truth.
  • Ideology: Death to all myths. No kings, but democracy. Humans are citizens—an extremely powerful idea, used by all dictatorships, even Hitler. Satisfaction of all human needs by use of scientific perspective on the material world, creation of economic growth, fair distribution of spoils among equal and deserving citizens. To greatest possible extent, use science to organize society. Meritocracy, sports, life is a game—you need to know the rules and win. The best individual is whoever knows the truth the best.
  • Ontology: The universe consists of its material constituents and the space between them. They present an absolute truth and people can know this truth by reason and science, but that depends on intersubjective verification.
  • The universal: Intersubjective verification, a.k.a. objective truth. But it is an illusion, just like God. Only a question of degree.

 

5) The Postmodern Metameme:

  • Self: The individual can question the categories of modern society and is defined in opposition to these, how she becomes a unique individual, how she is different, an irregularity, an exception. No longer humanity in creative opposition to nature, but rather, in creative opposition to culture. You cannot be an individual unless you somehow oppose society—Fromm and others have written about how people are “robots” or “automatons”. Authenticity, Walter Benjamin argues that there is an authenticity in art, one that is not thought to be found in mainstream modern society. You have the same notion in Heidegger’s “das Man”.
  • Ideology: Modern society has gone terribly wrong. Grandes histoires are totalitarian. Emphasize multiplicity, detail, nuance, exception, resistance, critique. Cultural relativism, to avoid the oppression of minority cultures. Try to include the excluded. Fight power structures. There is something real and authentic beyond the structures of modern society. All sentient beings in all times must ultimately be included and their interests taken into account. Light pomos don’t necessarily share all of this, but they share in postmaterialism, relativism, solidarity with all sentients, environmentalism, praise of authenticity (primarily of emotions) and the striving to being inclusive.
  • Ontology: Symbols, structure and culture are, for all practical purposes, the ultimate reality—beyond that, we really don’t know. Even phenomenology is steeped in symbolic meaning-making. The universe is social and interactive. All knowledge is contextual. Even natural science is just another perspective and is based upon scientific communities, cultures, practices. We cannot access an ultimate reality.
  • The universal: Perspectivalism, only a perspective can verify (or falsify, Popper’s proto-pomo), intersubjectivity is always context dependent and always uses shared perspective.

So, what are the self, ideology, ontology and the universal of the Metamodern Metameme? Hanzi’s take on the subject will be revealed in his upcoming book The 6 Hidden Patterns of History. In the meantime, if you’re a member, you can make you proposal, or read others’ contributions, on Metamoderna’s forum here: https://forum.metamoderna.org/. The forum thread is called “Cocreative competition: Who can come up with the best continuation of Hanzi’s theory on metamemes”.

If you’re not a member, you can apply for a membership by sending an email with a presentation of yourself and why you’d like to become a member to emil@metamoderna.org.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

We Must Reintroduce the Via Contemplativa

Existential Politics should organize investments into new support struct­ures for personal growth. I would like to suggest that we reintroduce—on a wide, socie­tal level—the medieval notion of the via contemplativa, the contempla­tive life path. The term vita contemplativa (vita, with a “t”) is more comm­only used —most famously in Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition from 1958—and means “the contemplative life”. But here I’d like to stay with discus­sing the contemplative path and how it could be made part and parcel of day-to-day society and politics. The issue is not that society needs us to become monks and nuns, but that more of us are supported through the inner journeys of life.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. 

First of all, let’s not get carried away by nostalgia. I am not claiming medieval times were “better” than modern times, or that everyone walked around being super-spiritual back then, concerning themselves with high-minded things like life’s inner journey all the time. And I am not claiming every­thing from early modernity—the Renaissance and its via activa (or vita activa) which broke off with the medieval scholastic and monastic tradition—and onwards repre­sents a mistake.[i]

As you probably know from my books and other writings, Hanzi Frei­nacht is a dev­elopmentalist. I don’t think present society has “fallen from grace”, from any primordial state of innocence, wisdom or bliss—but that modern soc­iety directly follows from the principles of traditional soc­iety: Once people have agreed to the idea that one highest principle of truth should guide society (“God” or any other highest prin­ciple in trad­itional or what I call “post­faustian” societies), sooner or later people will also ha­ve to agree that this abso­lute truth must be subject to open inquiry and to inter­subjective veri­fica­tion—which is the essence of modernity. Modern life is born from the dialectics inherent to post­faust­ian society. Develop­ment sometimes runs into dead ends, tying knots on itself, like in Nazi Germany. But it would be a mistake to think that mod­ernity itself is such a dead end.

And yet, it would be conceited to believe nothing could ever be lear­ned from earlier stages of society, from the rich varieties of historical exper­ience. Even if modernity is an “attractor point” towards which postfaust­ian society ultimately points, that there is always a price to be paid for development; there are always “beau­ties lost”.

The via contemplativa may be such a beauty lost. The medieval system was basic­ally de­signed to produce good monks (and, to a lesser extent, nuns). To be a learn­ed person was to be versed in biblical studies, theo­logy, phil­osophy, con­templative practice and prayer, and some practical skills per­taining to mon­astic life, such as being a good scribe. Theoretical subjects were highly estee­med. In the medieval scholastic system, people entered education and were taught the first three liberal arts, trivium (grammar, logic and rhet­oric), then advancing to the four “higher” liberal arts, quad­rivium (arith­metic, geometry, music and astronomy). Only after versing oneself in these seven arts could one partake in lectures on philo­sophy and theo­logy. This created an impressive pan-European network of Latin-speaking scholars who could converse about the nature of God and reality.

As the intellectual mission of the late Middle Ages was all about trying to find the highest principle of truth and align society with it, its educati­onal system aimed to produce people who could refine their hearts and minds so as to find God and to serve Him. In short: The system of learn­ing and teaching prepared people for the via con­templativa.

The Renai­ssance—the period of cultural blossoming that heralded mo­dernity—changed the me­di­eval edu­cat­ional system around considerably. Casting an eye on the proto-modern societies of high antiquity (Hellenic and Rom­an), and building on vital Islamic influences, the few thousand peo­ple who made the Renai­ssance happen re­designed edu­cation to better fit a via activa. It pre­pared people for be­com­ing politicians, merch­ants, mil­itary leaders and—to some extent—artists and engineers.[ii] Rhet­orics, politics and history be­came important, and trivium was seen as much more “trivial” (from which we have derived the word “trivial”). Since that time, as mod­ernity has pro­gressed and disclosed its radically trans­form­ative pow­ers, accelera­ting over the centuries, greater portions of the popu­lation have been edu­cat­ed for longer periods of time, and more of us have been offered a via activa as citizens, entrepreneurs, scientists and so forth.

Religion, reflection, self-knowledge and contemplation have—even if they still exist—undeni­ably taken a back seat in modern society as a who­le. Via contemplativa is thought of as something exceptional, some­thing for the few rather than the many. Sky­scrapers have dwarfed the once do­minant cathedrals in their taller sha­dows. Skiing resorts, exotic safaris and wet summer fuck­fests on Ibiza have replaced pil­gri­mages and periods of mon­astic seclusion. People such as myself, who like spending time alone walking in the Alps for no other reason than to contemplate existence, are often seen as ecce­ntric, dis­connected or even frivolous.

During the emergence of modern­ity, this “life-affirming” attitude may very well have made sense: With so much to do, so much to be achieved, and yet no major risks of systemic and civi­lizational collapse on the hori­zon, it may be a good thing that people primarily focus on creating world­ly things. Useful things. And then you may just as well savor the hedonic, Dionysian richness of what modern life has to offer while you’re at it. After all, what good is staring at a wall (to come to terms with the blissful but terrifying mean­inglessness of Emptiness) when you could be out there making sure more kids get polio vaccine, or take part in any other of the seemingly infinite growth potentials of the modern world?

We are, however, now reaching a point in history where our very sur­vival depends upon our collective inner development. In today’s late mod­ern society, in which the pot­entials of our tech­no­logies are so incompre­hensively vast, the con­sump­tion of one single human so stagger­ingly im­pactful, the con­sequen­ces of our actions so global, the possibility of ecolo­gical collapse so present, the acc­eleration of our chan­ging life con­ditions so dizzying—we may need to reintroduce the via con­tem­pla­tiva, an updat­ed and recyc­led version of monastic practices. On a very serious, collecti­ve—yet deeply personal—level we may have to stop and think.

And breathe. And reflect.

Consider. Reconsider. Doubt.

Rest. Concentrate. Heal. Suffer. Digest. Grow.

Rise.

We may have to take the issue of life as a contemplative path very seri­ously, meaning that we, as a society, should be prepared to expend con­siderable time and economic resources on inner growth.

Inner growth. Being with oneself. Introspection. These act­ivities may come off as less manifest, tangible or visible than “going to work”, “play­ing foot­ball” or “winning”. But they are verbs nonethe­less: breathe, reflect and so on—they are actions, flows, processes and events. The inner jour­ney is some­thing that really happens, something that counts for some­thing, a difference that makes a difference. Tectonic shifts of our lives may occur, shifts of our perspect­ives, of our beings, aspirations, motives and life-goals. Such inner shifts of the heart reverberate across the larger patt­erns of our life-spans, and thus they affect the world in a thousand subtle ways.

This way of thinking is not only counterintuitive to the modern mind. It is downright offensive:

“Should people spend more time in idle solitu­de? But what about the growth of the economy! What about climate chan­ge, an issue that requires action, now! What about all the social pro­blems! And you want people to meditate and contemplate in the stillness of their minds? And how could we afford such a thing!”

But it is a simple fact—despite the pervading sense that we are bu­sier than ever—that many or most of our daily activities and life goals are quite poor­­ly thought-out, rather shallow, and often quite unneces­sary. We pur­sue shall­ow life goals, because we get stuck on relati­vely sim­ple and basic inner needs that still “have us by the balls”.[iii] The goals of our actions are themselves “ineffective” (transrationally speaking), our motivations and drives hardly con­ducive to sustainable human flourish­ing, development, love and last­ing happi­ness. And in these days of expo­nentially growing human power, the failure to pursue deeply worthwhile goals in as many people’s lives as poss­ible, can and will be nothing short of catastrophic. And the only way to get many more of us to develop much more global and worth­while goals is to support our genuine inner development. Global scale calamities are likely to follow pretty soon, un­less we start looking inwards.

In other words, it may be a very sound investment—in terms of “the eco­nomy of happiness”—to put much, much more of society’s time, ef­f­ort, resources and attention to people’s inner worlds, to the existen­tial journey of each of us.

Take a moment to consider this: All that really “is” and all that we genuinely care about revolves around the conscious, inner experience of humans—and ani­mals for that matter. What is a theme park without the ability to have fun? What is ice cream without the ability to enjoy? What is music with­out the bewon­dered list­ener? What, indeed, are family and friendship without love? What is even truth and enlightenment without the pro­found recog­nition of the observing mind?

The vast inner landscapes of subjective experience are not a fringe issue, not a small detail.

They are everything.

They are all that we will ever have. Inner experience is all that society ultimately produces and all it ultimately relies upon. It’s what all of it ulti­mately is about.

What madness, then, to build a civilization that does not work actively and seriously with the development of inner experience! Whatever else we change or build or create or develop, it all has zero value without the eye, the mind, the heart and the soul of the observer, of the experiencer, of the participating co-creator. We’re always-already here, cast into being, meet­ing the universe half-way.

Nothing explains more about what humanity creates than her inner­­most relatedness to existence. Will we create prisons, conflicts and collap­se, or will we manage to respond productively to the great challen­ges ahead of us—a struggle reborn as play?

Contemporary commentators like to point out that this is an exist­ential quest­ion: “Will we fall on our own sword, or rise to the challenge?” What they generally fail to mention, however, is that this exist­ential quest­ion itself depends upon how the inner path of each human being is supp­orted and scaff­olded—or thwarted and undermined—by the struct­ures of soci­ety. They fail to see the political and transpersonal nature of the exist­ential questions, and they fail to offer bids for a renewed via contem­pla­tiva.

A metamodern politics would need to reintegrate key aspects of all the former value memes, which means that even some aspects of post­faustian society and its traditional religions should be re-examined and judiciously reinvented. We may need to co-create a more existential civi­lization, one that values inner growth and earnest spiritual exploration considerably higher than today’s late modern society.

Life Crisis and Development

How, then, could a via contemplativa be properly reintroduced in a meta­modern context, in the context of an advanced welfare system we call the “listening society”?

One way to go about this is to endow all citizens with the “right” or “posi­tive freedom” to, once or twice in a lifetime, take a longer time off from work (or whatever they’re doing)—for half a year, maybe a year—in order to go through a supported period of prac­tice, learn­ing, contempla­tion and self-scrutiny.

It is safe to assume there is much to be won, in a myriad of non-linear ways, if a large part of the pop­ulation successfully and productively mana­ges to deal with one or more of the different “crises” that pertain to a nor­mal life course: the existential crisis of early adulthood (which has been growing in recent years), the major stress breakdowns many of us suffer during our professionally active years, or the crises of death, ill­ness and ber­ea­vement that all of us must face to­wards the end of our lives.[iv]

Add to this the fact that people can have all sorts of other crises that don’t pertain directly to one of the Eriksonian life phase tran­sitions: there are family crises, fail­ures in life, crises due to unemployment and other struc­tural shifts in society. Then add the fact that we coll­ectively respond to crises at a societal level in more or less composed and productive (ver­sus reactive and destructive) manners. Each of all these mentioned instan­ces of crisis can either lead to tragic collapse, painful stagnation, or to higher stages of dev­elopment and flou­r­ish­ing.

We all have such turning points in our lives, and our ability to manage them largely determine our adult personal develop­ment, which in turn collectively determines how our lead­ers govern socie­ty and how society collectively responds to challenges.

As things currently stand, most of us respond only so-so to the crises that inevitably show up in our lives. And then we walk on, wounded, hurt, numbed and stunted in our growth as adult human beings. And that sha­pes all of our lives, the lives of those around us, our children, and society at large.

The word “crisis”—as so many like to point out these days—is both a mom­ent of great difficulty and an opportunity for “purification”, for re­solv­ing long-standing issues or tensions, or for transitioning to new stages of development. In scientific terms, crisis only ever shows up in “complex systems”, never in non-complex ones; so you have an “economic crisis” or an “identity crisis”, but never a “crisis of the car engine”. Etymologi­cally, the word goes back to the ancient Greek word for “decision”. The crisis is the moment of decision. It’s when the shit hits the fan—and the whole thing either collapses or pays the painful price to reorganize and grow.

When it comes to existential issues such as handling the deep crises of life, it is common to think in terms of moral purity and innate character. Some people, we like to tell ourselves, are the ones who really have the courage and heart to muddle through, the composure and self-con­trol to see clearly in stormy weather, the faith in our… blah, blah, blah. And then we like to assume that we are those people and people we don’t parti­cularly like or who don’t share our values are weaker and less wo­rthy at the innermost level. We must recognize this line of reason­ing for what it is—namely moralism: i.e. the judgmental and self-congratula­tory bullshit of our habitual minds.

Truly metamodern Existential Politics departs from a very diffe­rent start­ing point: Whether or not a person pulls through during a mo­ment of crisis is not a matter of God-given moral character, but simply a question of behavioral psychology and the extent to which she has the nec­essary resources available.

So the issue becomes, not to judge or congratulate, but to soberly and effectively strengthen those inner resour­ces and societal support structu­res available through­out the popula­tion.

Just as a society will have a certain GDP growth over a period of years, and just as every society repro­duces its murder and suicide rates with frightening precision from year to year—so must every society have a spe­c­ific number of shattered dreams, a number of broken hearts, a percen­tage of lifetime spent in subtle self-doubt, a number of crises suc­cess­fully passed (or not), a num­ber of psychological stage transitions that occur harmon­i­ously or in wren­ching agony. Is it unreasonable to ask how each of these num­bers can be studied and improved upon?

That’s Existential Politics: reducing the number of shattered minds and broken souls while increasing the number of inner phoenixes rising.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Such nostalg­ic arguments have been made by “integral tradition­alists”, such as Frithjof Schuon and Réné Gué­non, and they are not entirely without merit. They point out that, in the med­ieval period, the Church was at the center of society, and the greatest crystall­ization of human activity was cathed­ral build­ing: a spi­ritual endeav­or. God was at the pinn­acle of everything, and reli­gion was an important and unavoid­able aspect of everyone’s life; the church and temple spires tower­ing at the highest points of all settle­ments for centu­ries.

[ii]. Of course, artists at this point in time were still not out on the “free market”, first producing their art and then finding the highest bidder, or turning to a “general audience” with their personal expression. That happened only at the end of the 1700s with Mozart’s revolt against the court-based structure of art benefactors, as discussed in Norbert Elias’ book Mozart: Sociological Portrait of a Genius. But still, the Renaissance did produce a class of people who were supported by rich people and who had considerable artistic freedom, Leonardo da Vinci perhaps being the emblematic example.

[iii]. Excuse the male-centric expression, “by the balls”, and feel free to invent a gender neutral one.

[iv]. At least until human enhancement reaches a point where the biological process of aging can be reversed, but that’s another story.

What Is Existential Politics?

“To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face, one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my dev­otion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that reli­gion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means”.[i]

—Gandhi

To base a political ideology or program on an entirely “rational” or “sec­ular” foundation is and remains a fool’s errand. Pure rationality can never answer what politics ultimately should be about, only how we’re most likely to achieve what we set out to do. The means of politics can be more or less rat­ional; yes, there are ways of orga­nizing society which are more well-reasoned than others, but it remains utterly beyond the scope of rationality to determine which goals are worth striving for in the first place.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to the idea of Existential Politics, one of six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

Credit goes to the talented Berlin-based artist Sina Goge for the artwork used in the thumbnail picture.

What we cherish most in life determines the goals we set for society. Poli­tics is thus deeply subjective. I dare to say that it is inherently existen­tial, since how we relate to the world, one another and ourselves determine what we believe to be just and ethical. The political thus cannot be red­u­ced to a purely secular and objective affair.

Reason is forever destined to be the slave of passion, as David Hume once famously argued. So as rational creatures, we’re stuck with serving the will of the political animal.

We are emotional creatures, first and foremost, and what we feel deter­mines what’s rational to do. We are also ideological creatures, whose ideas about society are always dependent upon that same society and our posi­tion within it. And we are religious creat­ures, who always adhere to some overarching narrative about reality, some kind of religion in the most gen­eral sense of the word. And, we are existential creatures; beings that can only be by some­how relating to “what is”.

That the aim of politics, then, should be to find rational objectives, in-and-of-themselves, free of any beliefs and assumptions about what’s just and beautiful, must remain a fairytale.

Rationality can only be applied to factual truths claims; it can establish how well-reasoned a particular line of action is in regards to the objective it is to address. How well-reasoned the objective itself may or may not be, however, can only be established by:

  1. Weighing the subjective truth claims about its perceived value with
  2. the intersubjective truth claims about its justness.

Hence, what’s rational to do is simply senseless to ask without first hav­ing established what’s beautiful and just. And in turn, what’s beautiful and just depends on our narratives about the world, which in turn are the res­ult of how we relate to existence as such.

Politics is thus a deeply existential affair. It is and will always remain utterly impossible to detach the political from the huge diversity of differ­ent personal experiences of being-in-the-world and the ways in which we relate to existence accordingly.

As such, if the political is already undeniably existential, does it then make sense to lea­ve the existential permanently beyond the political; confi­ned to the per­sonal or “private” realm? Doesn’t that leave the whole realm of the pol­it­ical—the arena of human self-organization into a soci­ety—completely sub­jected to the inner processes and deep psycholo­gies that determine why we act as we do, why we want what we want? Should we really shut down all processes of openly discuss­ing how we can support one another to reach, in a deep sense, more productive funda­men­tal rela­tions to ourselves and our place in the universe?

Such questions drive us beyond conventional, instrumental rationality and into the realm of a deeper, second layer of shared, spiritual ration­ality; if you like, into the realm of transrationality. What we are looking for, then, is to create a society that is, yes, more rational and secular, but also—and perhaps primarily—more transrational and secular in a deeper sense. This second secularism, which I described in The Listening Society, does not take the modern rationality and its gods for granted.

Schopenhauer once wrote that “Man can do what he wills. But he can­not will what he wills.”[ii] But that is true only on an individual level of ana­lysis. There is crushing and conclusive evidence that our wills, hopes and desires are shaped by sociological circumstances—and these circumstan­ces, in turn, can be affected by deliberate human agency. Wouldn’t it make sen­se, then, to try to collect­ively develop what “man wills” in the first place?

Doesn’t the future of life and civilization depend upon what wants and hopes guide human activity? Jeremy Rifkin has made a similar case in his 2010 work The Empathic Civiliza­tion. I feel Rifkin is on to an important trail, but he doesn’t quite see the distinct features of Gemein­schaft Politics and Exist­en­tial Politics. He misses the mark: an exist­ential civilization.

Is and Is Not

Existential Politics is the practice of making the foundational existent­ial relationship that all of us have to reality itself into a political quest­ion, into an issue that can be openly discuss­ed, so that measures can be taken to develop it. To develop the subjective states of human experien­ce, to clear the depths of the human soul.

This in­visible depth is always-already there in all of us. We relate to our “self”, and the self is always defined in terms set by society. Existential Politics is about cre­ating a framework, and a language, for tackling these issues.

Before I go on to explore this topic, I’d like to point out what Existen­tial Politics is not. It isn’t reading “existentialists” as in philosophers com­monly considered representatives of the “existentialist school” (from Kier­ke­gaard to Schopenhauer to Heidegger and Sartre) and to somehow try to base one’s political ideology on these. That would be silly, and not very pro­ductive.

Nor is Existential Politics the practice of being “deep and existential” when talking about political issues. It’s not about turning politicians into quietly smiling Buddha statues. It’s not about “being profound” while en­gaging in politics. It’s not about making all of politics about spirituality or New Age stuff. Please note the negation, dear reader.

The point is that the politics of the future must grasp greater complex­ity and depth. If we are to rise as an existentially mature civilization, we must find ways of engaging the inner depths of human beings.

Existential Politics is about creating better structures to support pe­o­ple in the long, treacherous inner journey that is life. In the last instan­ce, we are all alone on this path and we have to make our own choices; we have to relate to ourselves and to “what is”, to existence itself. But some ways of relating may be less productive and beneficial to our­selves and so­ciety than others—and hence nothing is more political than your inner­most rel­ation to existence.

Supporting Inner Growth

Yes, we are all alone.

In the discussion about inner subjective states in The Listening Society, we noted that each self-organizing conscious being is always in some kind of inner state or subjective experience. I am, I feel. Existence.

These inner states constitute some kind of unity-of-experience, some kind of integrated whole that is the experience horizon of each creat­ure, and this vast inner landscape is never entirely indifferent; it flows, soars and falls, rejoices and suffers.

In this inner world, we are alone. If there is a terrible infection eating away at our nervous system in a manner that causes sheer madness and hell, no amount of happ­iness of others will console us. This subjective world, this universe of mine, is still pure anguish and pain. My experience and all I know is still an un­fathomably great darkness and terror. It’s just me, all alone, with what appears to be inescapable and never-ending suf­fering itself.

This predicament creates an irreducible fundamental relation in reality: the relationship of the self to the self. Or if we dig deeper yet: the relation between the universe experiencing itself and the quality or content of that same experience viewed as an entirety. Being relating to being itself in 1st person.

The eye of the I.

No matter how thoroughly we kill off “the individual” as a political idea, and no matter how well we recognize the co-created nature of reali­ty—the transpersonal nature of all of society’s ail­ments—reality always splices off into a multiplicity of singular experien­ces, into you and me and every­one else.

It is true, that my experience this moment may have more in comm­on—more connections and more ways of inter­acting and shar­ing experi­ences—with yours, than it does with my own four-year-old former self. But unless we find a way of physically connecting our nervous systems, we are still sep­­arate. If I truly suffer, no expanse of heavenly bliss in your world will help me.

And yet—it is also true that these inner horizons are structured by soci­ety, by circumstance, by nature itself. Society can create preconditions for strong, healthy psyches that can deal with the adversities of life, who can act with wisdom[iii] and composure in confusing and pressing life situati­ons. It can work to create bodies and minds that ring with harmony, with mat­urity and contentment of old age. Or it can churn out armies of woun­d­ed, stunted and confused souls who lack the support to make it through diffi­cult transitions.

Society can be designed so as to support what Joseph Campbell famou­sly called “the hero’s journey”, the trans­itions between life phases; the dif­ficult times we all know are com­ing for us. Structures, norms and institu­tions can help us grow and turn our painful misfortunes into mean­ingful lessons learned and an awakened awareness of the suffering of the world, and they can help us rise to a capacity to act upon such a sense of tragedy. Or society can be designed with so many trapdoors and impos­sible para­doxes that life itself seems to turn into a cruel joke at our expense.

In the last instance, we are all alone in this mysterious journey. We are the sole seers with these eyes, the sole feelers of these worlds of emotions, the sole cosmic address of this inner spaciousness within which thoughts flow and all things arise. In the last instance, life is up to “me”. I am here alone, writing a book. I will never read it with your eyes, never hear your thoughts—my work is necessarily cast across time, space and per­spec­tive, intersecting another universe.

Alone. But only in the last instance. There is hardly a word in this book I have come up with myself. Everything I do rings with something lar­ger, something beyond me. Up until that last instance, up until the hour of death, I am thus not-alone. My existential predicament is set by the gods, yes. But my ability to respond is granted by you and your treatment of me from my first day onwards, by society, by the comfort of this great wood­en chalet, its jacuzzi and the majesty of the mountains—or the relative dep­rivation of such support structures.

Will I rise to the challenge or will I fold over a thousand times and lace the steel-hard truth with velvet lies and excuses? Will you? Will we retreat into fear and hide in the crowd, turn away from our life’s greatest miss­ion?

The answers to these questions depend upon our existential strength, health and development. Will society consist of people following profo­und dreams, ideals and moral aspirations—or will it consist of excuses for lives unlived, for creators dead-born?

These are the fundamental questions of Existential Politics.

We need to support the inner growth of human beings.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Gandhi, M. K., 1948. Autobiography. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House. p. 615.

[ii]. Schopenhauer, A., 1839. On the Freedom of the Will (1839/1945), as translated in The Philosophy of American History: The Historical Field Theory (1945) by Morris Zucker, p. 531.

[iii]. Yes, I just used the word “wisdom” even as I said it’s a poor variable in The Listening Society. Get over it.

The Patriachy Isn’t the Enemy, Gender Antagonism Is

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to the idea of gender antagonism and the painful paradoxes of love. This is a central part of Gemeinschaft politics, one of the six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

At the very heart of the gender-sexuality-family-formation complex (see my previous article What Is Post-Feminism?) lies something I like to call “gender antagonism”. This term was initially dis­cussed by the anthropologist (of a feminist structuralist brand) Sherry Ort­ner in her studies of gender relations of indigenous groups in Papua New Guinea back in the 1970s. I, however, use the term in a slightly different manner:

  • “Gender antagonism” denotes a measure of the prevalence and inten­sity of resentment that people within a certain population feel towards any generalized ideas of gender categories.

Or, simply put, how bitter women are with men and how hateful men are towards women. But of course, people can hate their own gender, or any other gender category: “those lifeless and bland feminist bitches”, “tho­se slimy, toxic macho men”, “those wet noodle excuses for hipster gay men”, “those filthy, power-hungry, deceptive sluts” and so forth. It’s not just bitterness and resentment, but also contempt, frustration and collec­tive or generalized blame.

We need to understand that gender antagonism corresponds more or less to racism and ethnic conflict, except that it is an antagonism between real or imagined categories of genders. Naturally, gender antagonism grows as an emergent pattern of the whole gender-sexuality-family-forma­tion com­plex.

Here’s an example. So if a girl has a bad dad (who because of his insec­urities treats her and her mother poorly), and then gets a lousy boyfriend who just uses her for sex (because he wasn’t really in love with her, just really pressured to get rid of his stig­ma­tized virginity and desperate to gain sexual experience and she was all he could catch), then she’s quite likely to not like men in general very much. And then she’ll reject approa­ching guys at bars very contempt­uo­usly, hence feeding into the bitterness of these trembling souls who had been trying to work up the courage to go and talk to someone like her for over a year…

And so on, and so forth. Gender antagonism breeds gender antago­nism. It causes shitloads of harm to people’s softest inner places, and it mutilates our inner devel­op­ments, stunting us in our growth as human beings. And it mixes with issues of everything from economic and politi­cal stability, to ethnic conflicts, class relations, and pretty much any issue you can think of. It sucks.

The level of gender antagonism can be reduced only by changing the games of everyday life, by developing people’s abilities to give them­selves and one another what they need. If our anti-heroine above met a really sweet guy, who deeply satisfied her needs, after a few years perhaps her shields might go down and she might feel less bitter about men. And then she will stop feeding into this slugfest of resentment between the sexes.

Or imagine if the first guy she dated would have been much better trai­n­ed at seducing women, so that he wouldn’t have had to “settle” for her, because he wasn’t in a scarcity mindset about sexual validation, and if he were less pressured to get sexual experience at any cost. If he had a rich smorgasbord of women to choose from, he would have gone for some­one else for whom he had more authentic positive emotions. And per­haps he would have had more healthy and secure attachment patterns in the first place, more easily falling in love. And she would have had more satisfying experiences with the other guys she dated, and she would have ended up with a guy who really loved her. And their relation would have been better. Everyone would have saved lots of time and effort, everyone would have been spared a load of misery, and the beasts of resentment would not have been fed with the fresh blood of young hearts.

Gender antagonism not only under­mines other relations, such as eth­nic or professional ones—it also, quite sneakily, poisons emancipatory move­ments. Feminism becomes a mindless carrier of gender antagonism. Wo­men who deeply hate men and feel bitter resentment towards them as a group find outlets in feminist groups and ideologies. Men who despise women become “Men’s Rights Activists” and gather around obviously viru­lent female-bashing gurus. And so forth. Gen­der antagonism and other forms of group hatred such as racism—while understandable and expli­cable—tend to dress up as your only friend in this dark world. But of course, they aren’t your friends. Gender antagonism breeds “bad” femi­nism (or mas­culism), a fight for gender equality that chronically leaves out rel­evant dynamics or perspectives, and hence only serves to wor­sen the situation.

I’m not saying that anger is never good. I’m just saying that gen­der antagonism sneaks in and ruins whatever emancipatory pot­ential femi­nism and masculism might have. Being bitter and resentful makes peo­ple stupid.[i]

Want real, effective feminism? Then find ways to reduce gender anta­gonism. Want to reduce sexual violence against women? Reduce gender anta­gonism. Want to reduce male suicide? Reduce gender antagonism. Want to create freer gender roles in professional life? Reduce gender anta­gonism. Want to improve the quality and stability of family relations? You get the pic­ture.

THE PAINFUL PARADOXES OF LOVE

A certain degree of gender antagonism is unavoidable in any society since the very territory of love and desire is inherently wrought with paradoxes, mean­ing that our hearts and minds always put ourselves and the people around us in impossible dilemmas of various nasty sorts. And these are often fru­st­rating, sometimes infuriating—at times even fatal.

For now, let’s stay with only analyzing some properties of what some of our friends like to call “the heterosexual matrix” (i.e. not gay rel­a­tions, etc.).[ii] If we look at desire and the search for love between men and wo­men, there are quite a few nasty paradoxes bound to mess people up.

First of all, consider the fact that men get nervous around women they genuinely desire and would like to invest in long-term, and that women are attracted to confident men. This means that men very seldom get the wom­en they have the strongest and most sincere attraction towards. This leads them to often being less happy in their relations, still being haunted by tho­se strange ghosts of desire, which means they are more likely to stray or try to “upgrade” (dump their wife) given the opportunity. Resent­ment mass produced. Ouch.

Here’s another one. Both men and women will generally want to catch a mate slightly above their own self-perceived status in the mating hier­archy. This will lead them to invest time and effort in folks they cannot get or cannot keep, which sets them up for repeated failures, which sets them up for bitterness and distrust, which sabotages their relationships.

Another one. Women like men who are assertive and have great social prestige, and men dramatically increase their seductiveness if they dis­play these qualities. Consequently, men need to take social risks in order to gain the attention of women. If they are not sufficiently seductive and they are rejected in public, they risk that others (men and women alike) will perceive them with contempt. And if they are too sexually assertive, they risk that their approaches spill over into boundary breaching and sexual harass­ment. Women feel angry for having been put in a situation where they have to either impolitely turn someone down, or quietly shut up and feel used and manipulated. Men feel that women are insincere about what they want: They don’t give you a chance if you’re a “nice guy” and they accuse you of being predatorial if you make advances, or being fake macho if you try to show your tough side. Resentment grows.

Another one. Species who live in groups are generally divided into “tour­nament species” where one alpha male gets all the punani after violen­tly de­throning the former leader, and “pair-bonding species”, where males and females pair up in families and males compete by being good providers and caretakers. This pattern has repeatedly been found, from birds to primates. The males are bigger than the females in all tourn­ament spe­cies. Among primates, gorillas are tourn­ament and the bonobo chimps are pair-bond­ing. If you look at the physio­logy and behavior of humans, we are some­where in between, perhaps a bit more on the pair-bonding side. Accordingly, both of these deeply ingrained behav­ioral patt­erns exist simultaneously in humans, competing with each other. So even if you happ­en to find happy, stable love, a part of you will often want rough sex with an attractive stranger. And even if you’re Elvis and can get all the ladies you want, you will still feel a bit empty inside for lack of authentic connec­tion and com­panionship. We’re coded to be slightly dissatisfied. And this breeds—are you ahead of me?—frustration, which in turn breeds gen­der antagon­ism.

Or how about this one. Women learn they’re too slutty if they have sex with many men in too fun ways. They always stand to lose their status if they fuck the wrong guy under the wrong circumstances.[iii] But—if they don’t let loose and get really slutty with their men, the men are likely to feel frus­t­rated and not wanting to stay around, which puts women back on the slutty single market where they started. And even if a woman does “every­thing he wants” and really lets loose, she might find that he loses interest and moves on. Or if the relationship breaks down, his bitterness towards women may cause him to post revenge porn online. And hell ensues for the woman.

Or here’s another one for the ladies. All your life has been about being pretty. Pretty, pretty, pretty, hot, hot, beautiful, beautiful, feminine, femi­nine. It’s everywhere: clothing, makeup, commercials, how you’re treated by strangers, if guys fall in love with you and “woo” you or not, your stan­ding in the local girls’ group, your career chances—even starting with Barbie dolls when you’re a kid. If you fail to present a beautiful appear­ance acc­ording to increasingly impossible standards, you pay an enor­mous price. But, dear ladies, if you do manage to be pretty, it suddenly takes all the att­ention from everything else that you do, and everyone around you insists on responding only to this one part of yourself: your looks. Your new boss says he can’t listen to you because you’re too hot, all your guy friends and colleagues have secret agendas, women are bitchy and competitive, quietly holding you back. If you go on TV and say some­thing important, or even win a gold medal, people talk about your hair and your cleavage. And if you lose your beauty, you stand to lose every­thing, including the man who pledged to be by your side. If that doesn’t breed resentment, I don’t know what would.

And one last favorite. Men and women have different patterns of sex­ual lust. When a man and a woman enter a serious monogamous relation­ship, at first both want to have a lot of sex, but after a short while—on aver­age, according to research—the woman’s sexual desire drops to a much lower level, and the man’s stays elevated for a much longer period.[iv] As such, many a man is in for lots of rejection and dis­app­ointment at the very point in his life when he has just committed to not going after other women, which in itself is a high price to pay. There is even a growing sex­ual deficit in males that can be observed at a global scale: guys simply don’t get as much as they’d like.[v] This of course leads to resentment and spurs infidelity. Likewise, men seem to have a much low­er “cuddle-bonding” impulse after sexual intercourse than women, which means that sex can often leave women feeling emotionally vulnerable and abandoned, which then of course undermines the sense of trust in the relationship. And then there’s always the whole thing about women wanting reliable men but still having a secret garden of more ferocious fantasies (searching for online porn such as “extreme brutal gangbang” and “rape” more fre­quently than guys, as com­pared to their overall porn searches, and about 62% having at least some sexy thoughts about forced sex, according to one study[vi]). Mix this with the fact that men really want to be seen as tough but still need someone to take care of their scared inner little boy and that this boy just isn’t part of the female sexual fantasies—all of which results in confusion and disapp­oint­­ment for all parties involved. All of it breeds gender anta­gonism.

I could name many more. But let’s get back on track.

Ah, the paradoxes of sex, love and gender! What a relentless produc­tion plant of human angst and desolation! How elusive that inner peace, that simple sense of aliveness and safety, that sensual and embodied full­ness of being alive! If you’re not very clear-sighted and well-informed on this one, you will tend towards a sim­ple expla­nation for all the suffering you’ve been through: “it’s pat­ri­archy” or “it’s those rabid bitches”.

But it’s not those rabid bitches. It’s a complex host of emergent pro­per­ties of the games of everyday life. We are mutilated not by an evil patri­ar­chal structure, but by a blind and meaningless chaos engine, which is inci­d­entally also the source of all goodness and beauty of life.

And we can hardly do ourselves a greater dis­service than denying the ex­istence of these games (crime 1: game denial) or accepting them in their current, cruel forms (crime 2: game acceptance). These paradoxes of love indeed constitute a vast killing ground of the human spirit. But it is also on these fields of battle and suff­ering that we grow the most as human beings—it is here we find the most fertile ground for inner transforma­tions. Could soc­iety be geared to­wards making us much better equip­ped for man­aging these paradoxes and relating to them more pro­duc­tively? The answer is yes.

These paradoxes and problems cannot really be “solved”. They will be around whether we like it or not, at least until we change the very behavi­oral bio­logy of humans. What we can do, however, is to change how well they are understood and productively related to, and thus how patholo­gi­cally they play out in society at large.

Erich Fromm once wrote that for society to prosper, we need not more distant intellect, but “men and women who are in love with life”. But to be in love with life, we must also succe­ssfully fall in love with one ano­ther.

How many of us will get to have genuinely happy love in our lives? I mean really? There are few greater tragedies in life than our inability to aw­aken deep positive emotions in others, our inability to have our trem­bling hearts and aching bodies met with genuine love and desire. And how cruel is not the opposite, to be loved and included but that our hearts respond only with coldness and inertia—when we are unable to genuinely love and resp­ond to others’ emo­tions?

How import­ant are not these issues to soci­ety, how central to human mis­ery and happiness? How fundamental to any qualitatively rich notion of freedom and equality? How many souls are we unnecessarily condemn­ing to lonely life­times of cold and darkness? How many broken hearts are we generating? How many failed attempts at BDSM?

Can we really afford to keep this issue outside of politics, outside the on­going discussing about the conscious self-organization of society?

We must, as a society, cultivate higher likelihoods for better relation­ships, developing people’s sexual faculties and reducing gender antagon­ism. That’s what a metamodern post-feminist Gemeinschaft Politics would aim to do.

Let us evolve the game of love. Let us shift the landscapes of desire.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. In terms of MHC (the Model of Hierarchical Complexity, by Commons, as dis­cussed in Book One), people tend to go down two stages when they are very upset about something, very invested in a belief, or something is a very touchy spot. Two stages are the difference between a ten-year-old and an average adult.

[ii]. Butler, J. 1990/2006. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.

[iii]. Armstrong, E. A., Hamilton, L. T., Armstrong, E. M., 2014. “Good Girls”: Gender, Social Class, and Slut Discourse on Campus. Social Psychology Quarterly. Vol: 77(2).

[iv]. Baumeister, R. F., Reynolds T., Winegard, B., Vohs, K. D. 2017. Competing for love: Applying sexual economics theory to mating contests. Journal of Economic Psychology, vol. 63, pp. 230-41.

[v]. Hakim, C. 2015. The male sex deficit: A social fact of the 21st century. Inter­national Sociology, vol. 30, pp. 314-35.

[vi]. Bivona, J. M., Critelli, J. W., Clark, M. J., 2012. Women’s Rape Fantasies: An Empirical Evaluation of the Major Explanations. Archive of Sexual Behavior, vol. 41(5) pp. 1107–1119.

What Is Post-Feminism?

There’s just no limit to how central gender relations are to society. It’s just that important. I mean, if you miss this perspective, and gender rela­tions get screwed up, you seriously screw over every other aspect of soci­ety.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to post-feminism and how we shift the landscapes of desire. This is a central part of Gemeinschaft politics, one of the six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

Consider the following:

  • Sexuality is ever-present in our psyches, affecting our moods, feel­ings, decisions, behaviors and relations in every moment.
  • We stay within our gender identities at all times, and these also affect a very significant part of our economic and political behaviors. A very large part of all things we do are somehow related to having, keeping or managing spouses, partners or just the possibilities of these.
  • Gender relations and roles are at the center of sexual and romantic rela­tions, which are the deepest and strongest relations in most people’s lives and the foundation for family formation.
  • As the sociologist Francesco Alberoni famously observed, falling in love is central to the transformations of our personalities, and thus to our developmental psychologies. Falling in love connects our carnal lust and animal body to our highest spiritual strivings—it’s an “all-level affair”. And falling in love, and how this plays out, has everything to do with the interactions between the genders.
  • As the classical psychologist Erik Erikson observed, erotic and romantic relations are at the center of certain universal life phases, and are thus either conducive to our mental health or our ruin.
  • Family formations, in turn, are the basis of secure attachment patterns and good upbringing, which are instrumental to all human growth and flourishing.
  • When people are sexually and romantically rejected, dissatisfied and hum­iliated, this translates into a profound bitterness that easily combines with destructive ethnic or political identities, as well as criminality and delinquency.
  • By far most psychological issues that people have are about relations to other people, and the largest category of related problems have to do with love, eroticism and sexuality.
  • If people are less satisfied and more insecure in their gender identities and love lives, this undermines trust between people. They will simply be much more prepared to betray one another to satisfy their sad, aching hearts.
  • If people have gender identities which are not acknowledged by their sur­roundings, this causes immense suffering and confusion. Trans­gender people, for instance, frequently display mental health issues and have high suicide rates.
  • In many contemplative traditions—not only tantric and yogic ones—sexuality is used as a transformative practice, as there are always strong currents of sexual and sensual impulses flowing through us.
  • Gender inequalities are interlinked with gender roles and identities and with the games of love and family relations, and they underpin many of the most destructive inequalities in the world. Discrimination of wo­men is a major hindrance to economic growth in poor countries and a major source to gendered and sexualized violence.
  • Men are also discriminated against, being seen as more expendable than women, and more pressured to “be a success”, which often makes them unable to be honest and vulnerable.
  • During good sex, some people experience their “highest” moments in life, meaning the highest subjective states, as discussed in Book One. This means it is here they breach their boundaries for what they know is possible in life and existence.
  • The first thing anthropologists study when they try to describe how a certain foreign society works is how the system of marriage, sexual reprod­uction and inheritance works—as this is the basis of a society’s social logic and its self-preservation.
  • Most sad songs and poems are about love.

Right, so if you think you can create a good and healthy society without dealing with what I will here call “the gender-sexuality-family-formation complex”, (to catch all of these interrelated issues under one banner) you are just not being realistic.

Gender and sex issues are at the very heart of society. If you mess them up, you mess up society in very profound and far-reaching ways. Any Ge­mein­schaft Politics worth its salt should actively and deliberately seek to heal and develop the gender relations of society.

At this point I will refrain from giving the whole list (from a tradition­alist gender politics, to a modern one, to a postmodern one) and just jump right to the metamodern perspective.

A smart Gemeinschaft Politics would work from a post-feminist per­spective, applying a developmental-beha­vioral understanding, evolving the very landscapes of desire, and seeking to re­duce gender antagonism in society. A very important contributor to the appar­ent ubiquity of socie­tal problems in the realm of sex, love and repro­duction are the paradoxes of love and desire which seem built into the human psyche.

POST-FEMINISM

Basically, the post-feminist position is one that accepts the “queer femi­nist” idea that gen­der roles change with historical circumstances and cul­ture, and that ideas about genders and their interactions can and should con­tinuously be crit­ic­ally reconstructed to optimize for new circumstan­ces—but doesn’t buy the feminist idea that there is one “toxic” main­stream ideal of masculinity (which is pitted against the feminine under­dog), and that if “patriarchy is crushed” then peo­ple will become free from gender roles and their oppression.

Post-feminism gets its name by transcending and including feminism: Once we have accepted the basic feminist tenets, then what? What comes after? Post-feminism is a both-and position: both feminism and masc­ul­ism. Both women’s issues (sexual harassment, lower wages, lesser pol­itical pow­er, pressures to conform to body ideals, slut-shaming, etc.) and men’s issues (expendability, having dangerous jobs, easily being conside­red losers when asking for help, home­­lessness, higher suicide rates, crime and incar­ceration, more physical violence, etc.). Both anti-dis­crimination of sexual min­orities, and the facilitation of positive heterosexual rela­tions and se­cure attachment patterns for family formation. Both teaching men how to become more succ­essful at dating and picking up sexual partners, and to respect sexual boundaries and not sexually objectify women. Both defending the right to be a hipster beta-male, and to be a tough masc­uline guy; both a butch, and a pink girlie-girl.

There is a scale from classically masculine to feminine values, demea­nors and behaviors. Post-feminism defends the whole scale: the right for people to move freely and explore across all of it. It doesn’t defend the andro­gyn­ous at the expense of sexual polarities, or vice versa. It defends all points of the scale; the entire richness of human gender and sexual expression. This means, some people will settle for traditional gender roles while others will be queer shape-shifters. All should be defended.

SHIFTING THE LANDSCAPES OF DESIRE

This defense of “the whole scale of genders and sexualities”, and all dim­ensions of it, is made possible by taking a developmental view of the gender-sexuality-family-formation complex. Post-feminists recognize that the pro­blems is not—as class­ical feminists and queer feminists believe— “that evil patriarchal oppression”, assuming that peo­ple would be free to express their sexualities openly and fairly if it went away.

It’s that people are insufficiently developed to tackle these sensitive issu­es productively. It’s that we are too poor at taking the perspecti­ves of one another across genders and sexualities; it’s that we are too insecure about our own positive gender identities; it’s that we have lacking social skills to entertain and seduce one another in playful and respectful ways; it’s that we know too little about the social dynamics between the sexes; it’s that we carry too much subtle dissatisfaction and bitterness; it’s that we simply have had too few and insufficiently instructive sexual experien­ces; it’s that we feel good romantic and sexual relations are scarce rather than abund­ant in our lives; it’s that we have too few reli­able friends with whom we can really talk about these issues; it’s that we don’t feel safe and comfort­able enough to express our needs and insecurities to one another; that we are unable to listen and take it in when others talk about intimate and sen­sitive matters; that we’re not good enough in setting and main­taining healthy social boundaries; that we don’t manage to show suf­ficient respect for one an­other’s boundaries; that we have insuffi­cient self-knowledge about our inner­most needs in the first place; that we don’t feel we can afford brutal and direct honesty—the list goes on.

Do you see it? It’s not some evil structure out there. It’s our own lack­ing development. We—as human beings, as biological, behavioral org­anisms—lack the right properties to interact in good enough ways. And we all suffer for it. Men are left with that strange hunger and those somber thoughts at the outer rims of our minds, things that rumble deep inside and seldom give us peace. Women are left with a sense of funda­mental unsafety and resentment, a subtle sense of betrayal. It goes on everywhere, all the time. It affects all aspects of society.

If a smart Gemeinschaft Politics was in place, it would actively and deli­berately deal with all of these issues on a long-term demographic level. People would be supported through the educational system and through­out life in a wide variety of ways to grow in sexual, emotional, romantic and relational skill and self-knowledge. If the average personal develop­ment of a population shifts—if we all act less insecurely, greedily, imma­turely and defensively—then the whole game of life changes.

Game change. Not game denial. Not game acceptance. But game chan­ge. Sexual game change. Gender game change. Think about it: How many fewer broken hearts would there be? How many more people would grow up with secure psychological attachment patterns, thereby being better partners and lovers once they grow up? How many of us would stop taking advan­tage of professional relations? How many false prom­ises would be made to procure sex or consolation? How much more relaxed and functional would our bodies and minds be?

Socially constructed gender and biological sex do saturate each other to a large extent, so it is more or less impossible to divide them into two distinct categories. Humans are sexual and gendered beings, yes, but this is both a cultural and a biological fact. If ideas about masculinity have us pumping iron at the gym, this of course affects our biology, which affects our mind and others’ bodily responses to us. The point is that both the cultural and the biological basis of gender/sex can and should be develop­ed and optimi­zed in ways that generate conditions for human happi­ness and thrivability. An effective Gemeinschaft Politics would develop peo­ple’s “gen­der abilities” to create and uphold healthy identities, relation­ships and sexual practices both through culture, psychology and bio­logy.

All of this is a matter of shifting the landscapes of desire. Even if we seldom talk about it, some lingering aspects of sexual desire are always present in everyday life. Even as we just walk down the street, and even if we have been married for years, we still tend to casually assess the attract­ive­ness of random pedestrians. The landscapes of desire, the realms of sexuality, are vastly greater and more pervasive than actual sexual en­counters and act­ivities. Drives, innuendos, fantasies, stray thoughts, erotic ten­sions, dreams, “energies” felt throughout the body and mind, sexual inter­plays that re­quire polite distance to be balanced with taking social risks, scenarios of possible futures, of what could have been—these are all present in so many moments and sit­uations of life. Invisible worlds, ever present, nagging at the fringes of the mind, at the core of our hearts and bellies. In our lives we always travel across an inti­mate inner landscape of vulnera­bility, of secrets—one that underpins many or most of our every­day inter­actions.

Today, in liberal societies, we see that people in general can be viewed as interesting and attractive in a wider variety of ways than in the past. Scandinavian men are to a lesser degree held to macho ideals and stan­dards of profess­ional success than was earlier the case (and is still the case in most other societies) and have a wider range of positive mascul­inities available which can still be viewed as attractive. People can be gay, have metro­sexual styles, be more childlike, more androgynous and so forth. Peop­le can hook up around weirder fetishes than before. And people can form a wider variety of love relationships and family constellations. And people who were too shy to pick one another up at night clubs can write an email. People can even share racy fantasies over the web. The landsca­pes of desire have shifted, which is part good, part bad (part really, really bad).

Shifting the landscapes of desire is not only about changing people’s skills, perspectives and behaviors, but also about evolving our openness to a wider range of potential part­ners, lifestyles and erotic or emotional ex­changes. Desire is not only a vulner­abil­ity; it is also a strange and po­tent faculty. As such it can be developed. We can transform not only the inter­play of need and desire, but also the quality of the object of desire and the gaze of desire itself.

I’m not saying people should be brainwashed to be bisexual and more sexually active—as Georg Lukács infamously tried to make happen in Hun­gary when he was Minister of Culture during the brief anti-Stalinist communist regime of 1956. But just as people can become better at per­spective taking and con­flict resolution, so can they be more or less narr­owminded about whom to have sex with and which relationships to form. To sum up, we can work for game change in the realm of sex and gender by:

  • Raising the abilities of men and women to be seductive and sexually competent, thus increasing the level of abundance and satisfaction in their lives.
  • And that in itself means there will be many more satisfying men and women around for all parties, which makes underlying tensions and games of competition less fierce and desperate, just as it will put less pressure on new relationships, as there will be more good potential part­ners or liaisons available.
  • And this will create more fair games of love and sex, which means people are generally treated better, and that people act from a great­er inner space of safety, affecting all aspects of their lives.
  • And this will reduce the number of strange repressed desires, thoughts, drives and dreams, clearing people’s inner emotional lives for more productive engagements with existence.
  • And this will let people become freer in their sexual and gender experimentation, which means they will consider partnerships and liaisons across more social and cultural boundaries and identities.
  • And this will create a more profound integration of all walks of life and more stable family relations, which improves the socialization of all children in society.
  • And this will lead to higher mental and physical health, not least as the sexual undercurrents of everyday life shift and harmonize, relatively speaking.

Sex is transformative. Gender is creative. The landscapes of desire can be made safer, easier to traverse; their many peaks and valleys better con­ne­cted. If we are more skilled, secure and satisfied—and we can expect the average other person to be so too—we can trust one another more, and the entire inner secret land­scape can be dev­eloped; everyday life can be trans­formed at a deep, visceral level.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

Exit Multiculturalism, Enter Trans-Culturalism

Inter-culturalism (or multiculturalism as it is commonly referred to) comes in different forms. You have multicultural state ideologies, which emphasize the importance of in­clusion and diversity, claiming that the more diverse cultures you have, the better. You have corresponding anti-discrimination and pro-diversity poli­cies in companies. You have “inter-faith dialogue” movements, which seek to find common ground and mutual respect among believers of diffe­rent faiths. You have “affirmative act­ion” programs, international child­ren’s summer camps, the peace move­ment, political correctness seeking to ban whatever words have become racist slurs—and so forth. Among theo­rists you find such think­ers as the philosopher Charles Taylor, who em­phasizes the importance of ethnic minority groups having “rights” to the preservation of their culture.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to the idea of Trans-culturalism which is a key component of Gemeinschaft politics, one of six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

The general idea here is that ethnic tensions are to be resolved through a high degree of exposure of ethnic groups to each other, and that more diversity is al­most always preferable to less.

The problem with multiculturalism is of course that it does not qualify which kinds of diversity are good, in what quantities, and under what circumstances. It’s just that diversity is good in-and-of-itself, which is then taken as a dogma, and it is often seen as unethical to even question this assumption: multiculturalism is good, period. This naturally leaves the field open to all sorts of dysfunctional social and cultural practices to be defended in the name of ethnic or cultural diversity, be it forced mar­riages, brainwash­ing and scaring children with de facto ghost stories, or female circumcision.

Inter-cultural­ism has important roots in anthropology and ethnology. What anthro­pologists­ have found time and again is that the modern pro­ject—its bur­eaucracy, market and “civilization”—has oppressed and des­troyed the life­-worlds of smaller societies, disrespecting their ways of seeing the world and ruining their societal dyna­mics. In our days, this view is perhaps most fam­ously represented by the anthropologist James C. Scott, who has argued in Seeing Like a State (1998) and Against the Grain (2017) that all develop­ment from agriculture and onwards may be a mis­take. Anthropologists hang out with animist cultures and notice that life there isn’t so bad. They notice there are many “beauties lost”, and that there is a profound richness and diversity which is tragically effaced by modern civilization. So the stance gen­erally becomes to defend the mino­rity cult­ures against discrimination and oppression from the majority. A defen­se of understanding, multiplicity, div­­er­sity—and a critical distance to one’s own culture.

On a strictly logical level, the inter-culturalist idea doesn’t really work. It emphasizes that all cultures are equal, and that each of them has a right to exist, but it is still somehow preferable with more different cult­ures rather than fewer. This leads to self-contradictions: a) If all cult­ures are equal, this means that cultures which work against multicult­ural­ism and seek to retain isolation and purity should also be seen as equal; b) if all cultures have a right to be preserved, they must also be allowed to defend themselves from subcultures splitting off, which then works aga­inst a greater diversity; and c) if all cultures should be exposed to one another, this leads to mono­culture, which often effaces cultural differences in the first place.

TRANS-CULTURALISM

Trans-culturalism is a multi-perspectival and developmental view of cul­t­ures and ethnicities; it sees all of these as being in constant flux. In a way, it is the synthesis of the three former perspectives.

Cultures and ethnic identities can always be trans­formed, and they should be transformed to be the best ver­sions of them­selves, whenever this is possible without destabilizing people’s lives too much. Even if hum­ans do need cultures, shared imaginaries, narratives, histories, cus­toms, traditions and other vital aspects of Gemeinschaft—this does not mean that all current cult­ural forms and expressions are necessarily good and conducive to sustainable human flourishing, or that all combinations of cultures are mutually en­riching under all circumstances.

It is an empirical matter of when cultures spur development and ex­change with each other, or when they create pathological dissonances that breed conflict, confusion, insec­urity and resentment. The answer, natur­ally, differs from case to case. And it is a matter of cultural discourse and ex­change to determine which values should—in the long run—trump which other values. Is freedom better than chastity? Under the circum­stan­ces of modern life, yes! Are human rights better than respecting the logic of caste systems? Yes. Is equality better than slavery? Yes. Is peace-loving better than war? Yes. Is gender equality better than patriarchy? Yes. Are animal rights (or some other version of caring for all sentient beings) better than anthropocentrism? Yes. This does not mean that these values should be defended at all costs, that they should be forced upon all people under all circum­stan­ces. It is simply not worth the rapid break­down of someone else’s world, or an ethnic cleansing, or an inquisition, or a Thought Police. But given the choice, given the chance, we can and should evolve cultures.

Cultures have a right to exist, but it is not an absolute right. And in the last instance, all cultures will change and evolve either way, so we might as well have some ideas regarding in which direction they should develop.

But that does not mean certain cultures have infinite rights to im­pose their values upon others; it just means the more universal and functional values should be allowed to win in a longer Darwinian struggle, and that such victories should be sec­ured in the least painful and detri­mental way possible. Cult­ures generally have something to learn from one another—and the aim of trans-culturalism is to make sure that this ex­change is gen­uinely enriching, sustainable and conducive to human flour­ishing.

Trans-culturalism corresponds to a more metamodern take on ethni­city. In academia you can find early beginnings of a trans-culturalist per­spective among sociologists, such as Michael O. Em­erson’s and George Yancey’s 2010 book, Transcending Racial Barriers: Toward a Mutual Obli­ga­tions App­roach.

The best example I know of trans-culturalism in action is in the Belgian town of Mechelen, under the ingenious mayor Bart Somers, who also received a “World Mayor Prize 2016” for his efforts. Belgium was the European country with the largest per capita outflow of ISIS fighters. But Mechelen, with a population of some 85,000, has had no such regi­stered cases. A couple of decades ago, the town had plenty of ethnic ten­sions, a large group of alienated immigrant inhabitants and grow­ing nation­alist and racist sentiments. All of this was turned around by a number of poli­cies and practices under the leadership of Somers. Initially, the city estab­lished a much stronger police presence on the streets so that people could feel safe. Hence, housing prices stopped falling in “unsafe areas” and segregation was curbed. Then, they had forceful information campaigns against dis­crimi­nation and racism, urging tole­rance and open­ness as civic obli­gations of all citizens, creating a common civic identity around such values. Then the mun­icipality officials talked the white middle-class fami­lies into putt­ing their kids back into the schools with many children of immi­grants, family by family—hun­dreds of them—by giving them speci­fic guarantees of how the quality of their kids’ education would be preser­ved. Then they put higher pressure on dysfunctional immigrant families to fulfill their social obligations and live up to their increased status in society, offering to supp­ort the civic actors who played important parts in this. And then—this is where it gets really radical—they sent Muslim kids on special study trips to Córdoba, Spain, where they learned about the era when Islam was a digni­fied Euro­pean power and Córdoba was a center of science and tolerance, a multi­­cultural society ahead of its time. The kids were thereby presented with a positive narr­ative of what it means to be Muslim: to be a pinnacle of enlightened civ­ilization, as the Caliphate of Córdoba was in the 10th century AD.

You see what they did there? Mayor Somers and his crew took a major­ity culture and pushed it towards tolerance, and they took a minority cul­ture and gently pushed for its transformation in a progressive direct­ion. That’s trans-culturalism in action, and it is also the beginnings of meta­modern Ge­meinschaft Politics—and the beginnings of the listening socie­ty. How cool is that? [i]

Mayor Bart Somers with his city Mechelen in the background.

All of this is an example of what smart Gemeinschaft Politics might look like. Imagine if what Mayor Somers is doing was already part and parcel of how societies diffuse ethnic tensions. And could it be further deve­loped? Maybe there could be meeting places and settings that provide facilitated exchanges between different ethnicities? Wouldn’t that drama­tically improve society, lessen ethnic tensions and create a firmer basis for a transnational global community?

Yes, it’s an increased level of the inti­macy of control. But is it oppre­s­sive and mani­pulative? Or is it just con­structive and liberating? Should socio­logical, cult­ural and ethnic issues really be beyond the scope of the political realm?

Stupid forms of Gemeinschaft Politics will be nationalist, non-nation­alist, or inter-cultur­alist. Smart Gemeinschaft Politics will be trans-cult­ur­alist.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Bart Somers did write a book about it all, but it’s in Dutch.

See: Somers, B., 2016. Samen Leven. Een hoopvolle strayegie tegen IS. Belgium: Houtekiet.