One, Two and Many: The Movement of Philosophy
A perennial question of philosophy has concerned itself with the number of realities rather than the nature of reality. Three general answers have been theorized centering around the numerical ideas of one, two and many.
The idea of one reality finds expression in the philosophy of monism and the belief reality is one impenetrable unity. It emphasizes the sameness of the world rather than its separateness and diversity.The idea of two realities is expressed in the philosophy of dualism and its belief in two realities. While a number of possibilities have been suggested for these two realities most have centered around the duality between material and spiritual reality and the division of the world into objective and subjective realities.The idea of many realities finds expression in the philosophy of pluralism and the belief in many realities. Pluralism emphasizes diversity rather than homogeneity, multiplicity rather than unity, difference rather than sameness.
It is useful to view these three philosophical questions as essentially symbolic ones. The traditional definition of a symbol is something that refers to something else. One needs to extend this definition though and say that a symbol is something created by culture that refers to something outside of culture. The only something outside of culture is nature. Therefore, one can say that philosophy is a creation of culture which produces a system of symbols referring to nature.
In this sense, the philosophy of monism refers to the original unity of mankind with nature in a general state of unconsciousness. It is the early stages of civilization as well as the early part of an individuals life. It is the original, given context containment of the world.
The philosophy of dualism refers to the growth of consciousness out of unconsciousness. It refers to the separation of child from mother. The symbolism of dualism posits a world consisting of opposites and oppositions. The key opposition is between unconsciousness and consciousness, death and life. The key opposite of dualism is monism.
And finally, one can say that the philosophy of pluralism refers to the productions of mankind throughout life after that initial "production" of consciousness from unconsciousness. It is the produced content of culture in the original context of nature.
But it is also the produced content of the human mind and its accumulated memory of information and experience through life moving from those few simple mass images of youth (filled with little content) to the segmented information of age.
The grand three philosophies surface here and there throughout history burning bright for a period of time under the light of a particular philosopher "star" and then fading into the darkness of the mental universe to be revived again in a new way, at a new time. Their appearance and disappearance apparently subject to little more than fractal theory or the serendipity of coincidence.
Yet one can also locate them as stages of American culture and its citizens. Is there one philosophy to account for this great change in America from mass culture to postmodern culture? Or might there be a succession of philosophies in the same way that there are a succession of stages in ones life?
One suggests that there was a dominating symbol of monism for American mass culture in the first part of the 20th century, a monism that ended some time in the 50s. There was the dualism of a world divided between communist and free nations in the 50s and 60s, as well as a nation divided by war in southeast Asia. Beginning in the 70s, there was the break-up of mass culture and the dualistic global scenario. The end of monism and dualism paved the way for the pluralism of postmodernity.
In a very real sense, the philosophy and symbolism of monism, dualism and pluralism are much more than artificial inventions of old, forgotten philosophers. Rather they represent in a very clear manner the passage of American culture from the unity of mass culture to the plurality of postmodern. Importantly, they also represent stages of psychic growth of Americans who have lived through this cycle.
Few cultural "survivors" would dispute the contention that the break-up of American mass culture has brought with it the production of more products and more information. The monistic symbolism of the first grand image becomes the pluralistic symbolism of words and all of their differences and distinctions. The break-up is hastened by that grand contemporary archetype of pluralism called the Internet.
At the zenith noon of mass culture in the 50s, there were only three television networks. Today there are hundreds of cable stations and numerous television networks. Not to mention the new universe of over a billion Web pages on the Internet. In the 50s there were no more than a few great brands pulling together millions into the gravity and the benevolent warmth of their common symbolism. Now there are thousands of brand symbols all fighting each other in a great battle of differentiation to stand out from the others.
In a similar manner, the psychological growth of all the baby-boomer and mature generation "survivors" has produced more mental information taking up more and more "bytes" of mental memory. The common cyclic tendency to acquire more mental content with age has been met with an unprecedented production of information in culture to be acquired.
American culture and its citizens have moved from the monism of mass culture, that state of little information and the grand over-riding ideologies of youth, to the "stuffed attic" of saved information and the over-production of pluralism in old age. In a period of stuffed attics it is little wonder that a company like Ebay, providing an Internet exchange of attic junk, becomes a modern success story.
One can say that production is the challenge of youth. It's ally is the brief flash of insight and intuition. And one can also say that reduction is the challenge of age. Its ally is reflection and synthesis.
Like their inhabitants, young cultures work by insight while old ones work by reflection. Outwardly, America appears as a young culture producing more and more symbols. Yet reflection seems to dominate leading genres and brands in a constant re-staging of retro ideas as well as and riffs and extensions of past successes.
Within the sequential linear, historic progression of the philosophy and symbolism in recent American culture, there also exists a perpetual back-and-forth synchronicity between nature and culture, context and content.
Cultural cycles may move in a long linear cycle from the feminine context of mass culture to masculine content of a segmented and pluralistic culture. In essence, a movement from the feminine image to the masculine alphabet.
But context and content also do battle with each other on a daily basis. In this process, the symbols of cultural content refer to the context of nature. At the same time, the context of nature expresses itself through symbols of cultural content.
This dualism is at the heart of the paradox of America. It is a paradox symbolized by the duality of the feminine contextual idea of equality in opposition to the masculine contentual idea of freedom.
We should know the outlines of this battle well. It has been institutionalized in the symbolism of our Democratic party which symbolizes equality and mass culture. And it has been institutionalized in the symbolism of our Republican Party which symbolizes freedom and growth.
Beyond politics, if this is possible, Freud suggested a basis for this cultural duality in the basic drives of Libido and Thanatos life and death. It was most eloquently expressed by Freuds leading disciple Otto Rank in Will Therapy where the two symbols are seen as twin fears in perpetual battle throughout the life of the individual.
The twin fears are the fear of life and the fear of death. Rank eloquently gives expression to the dynamics of these fears in the following observation.
"The fear in birth, which we have designated as fear of life, seems to me actually the fear of having to live as an isolated individual, and not the reverse, the fear of loss of individuality (death fear). That would mean, however, that primary fear corresponds to a fear of separation from the whole, therefore a fear of individuation, on account of which I would like to call it fear of life, although it may appear later as fear of the loss of this dearly bought individuality as fear of death, of being dissolved again into the whole. Between these two fear possibilities, these poles of fear, the individual is thrown back and forth all his life
It suggests that in the general movement from that first stage in the cycle, the context of unconsciousness, to the separation and growth of consciousness, there is a back and forth battle between the forces of light and darkness. Not outside forces of nature but inside forces of culture and its inhabitants.
Context can also be viewed as that background setting of a movie, McLuhan's "medium," the medium of the director influencing the "messages" of content within it, of the loud actors and brands on center stage. It is the "mystique of context" but it is difficult to see in the general "trance of content" today. Magic in part a matter of the loud distraction of content over the quiet winds of context.Much of the underlying dynamics of America's change from a unified mass culture to segmented postmodern culture can be understood in terms of this sequential change of background context. And much insight can also be gained into the nature of our confusing contemporary postmodern culture.If the cyclic thesis we propose is true, the pluralism of postmodern culture will die in reduction of content and then be reborn into the image of a new context.
And those symbols of postmodern pluralistic content buzzing around us each day as advertisements and products will move from differentiation to a new alignment. The American economy will reward connection rather than separation.
And a new mass culture will once again emerge. Not from the subliminal coercion from government and the symbolic leaders it fosters on the population, but rather from the citizens of the culture returning to an understanding of the cycles of philosophy and symbolism and then making honest attempts at aligning themselves with these contextual symbols. In many ways it is an understanding and acceptance of the coming return to the feminine of the image and a new beginning in a new type of philosophy and symbolism privileging a philosophy of monism over pluralism.
If we are willing to try and pull ourselves from the "trance of content" great promises of America just might be realized.
New leaders and heroes will emerge from the space context of a new ocean and discover the place content of a new land.
For practitioners of a new symbolism of popular culture, many wondrous things might be possible. The casting of cultural predictions as accurate as weather forecasts. Creation of new corporations based on symbolic alignment with cultural content rather than differentiation from other content. New and powerful forms of contemporary narratives that bring back a renewed sense of drama to life.
Even the creation of a new communist type "master villain" so there might again emerge a new John Wayne. The new American heroes of this new mass culture will "Gallup" into culture, guns blazing. Theyll have little similarity with all of those poll chameleons we now have. They will gallup into life rather than interpret Gallup Polls about it.
What is this strange context that expresses itself in the zeitgeist of the times? That goes under the various "aliases" of equality, feminine, death, nature, mass culture and the Democratic Party? To name just a few. And just where might it be right now in its historic cycle?
It should be our first prey.
Shes an elusive goddess though.