Issue #3 · 2021-11-29

Ethics and the Trauma of Creation

by Josh Neal

While we have always been concerned with the character of our creations and the ethical consequences of our use of them, in our present age of hyperpolarization the hysteria surrounding the character of the internet and our ethical responsibility in using it is noteworthy. Due to this hyperpolarization, all matters (significant or otherwise), have become lightning rods for embittered discourse. With the lifeworld1 having fallen into a state of disarray, what we may call the hyperworld2 (drawing from Baudrillard's concept of hyperreality) has become a site of refuge against the impossibility of life in the Real. Forums, comment sections, various social media platforms (among others) grew in popularity and quickly became the home for unfettered speech. Naturally, this reaction has grown unacceptable to the regime, and we have observed as all those digital spaces where such conversations took place have fallen prey, one by one, to its terrible might. This tightening of the regime's control has occurred in all the various hyperrealities, as progressive reformers have hunted down the various hyperreal ghettos and ethicized them as they saw fit. The ethical question of "free speech" vs. "hate speech" here is however a red herring.

The dispute over the ethical use of a given creation, beyond being a matter of political antagonism, is in fact a gesture which may guide us to the deeper problem at hand. Rather than concerning ourselves with the ethical use of a given technology, we should be concerning ourselves with its ethos and the condition of the psyche which created it. Ethics, as the old saying goes, is downstream from ethos. Said another way, the conduct befitting a particular creation is secondary to its essential character. And its character, given that the creations we speak of are inorganic, are bestowed upon them as a set of possibilities by their creator. It is true that what the creation actually is – what its functions are – instruct the behaviors derived from it, but the attitude present at its conception can either expand or delimit how it is used and conceived by those who follow in the creator's wake.

The ethos of the internet is invariably bound up with the intentions of both those who developed it, as well as those responsible for further innovations which developed over time. At present, its ethos can be understood in terms of its challenging-forthness (in Heideggerian terms, the reductive and instrumentalized effect it has on us) and also its overdeterminedness. This overdeterminedness originates within the psyche, within the intentions behind the creation of the internet – the desires to control and to expand. Whatever other desires or hopes may have informed the invention and subsequent development of the internet, they are sorely underrepresented in terms of how we relate to it at present.

Through control (of information flows, of neurochemical processes induced by online interaction, of merchants as well as consumers) and expansion (of possibilities both conceptual and experiential, of supposed knowledge, of political power), who we are in the lifeworld as well as in the hyperworld is tightly constrained and diminished by these dual intentions.

Naturally this is not unique to the internet, as there is always a traumatic conflict at the heart of technological innovation. The more awesome the power of our creation, the more intensely we fear it. We stand before the creative act in a state of Lovecraftian horror; terrified of the consequences that creation may bring upon us. This takes the form of a sublime awe at the unyielding and imperceptibly endless horizon of possibilities which fundamentally alters our future in such a way that it transforms the meaning of the past and present. We cannot be sure what demands our creation shall make of us, nor can we grasp the myriad ways in which our existence, as we have come to know it, may be utterly thrashed in its wake. This trauma persists across every subsequent generation of beneficiaries to that creation, as by its nature trauma is generally repressed. Even in the full throated embrace of the trauma, it is multiplied many times over by the multitudinous reactions and counter-reactions to its integration.

Creation is relational. It is a meeting between a set of forces and factors which may complement or challenge the manner in which we conceive of and organize the social order (usually both at once). Psychologically, everything that we interact with is meaning-charged and subject to (and capable of objecting against) this set of relations. The problems of meaning and relatedness are fundamental to the creative act, and as such, demand our careful consideration. This is not to say that there is no room for spontaneity and improvisation, as these too are fundamental to creativity. Rather, we must be certain to avoid denial of the teleological dimension of creation. The proper creative act is one which has purged its telos of the will to subjugate, for it is this desire which diminishes technology, and in doing so diminishes man himself3.

Defenestrated by the lifeworld

Whilst the challenges posed to the denizens of the lifeworld do affect all its occupants, young men are particularly beset by crises of expulsion and conformity resulting from the automation and bureaucratization of daily life. Critical domains of the lifeworld are continually subjected to lumpenproletarianization4, whilst those who retain a sense of the lifeworld's esteem are increasingly preoccupied with innovating and expanding the reach of the internationalist bourgeois morality5. The degeneration of aesthetic, ethical, and institutional forms serves to reinforce the security of those well-seated members of society. A slackened educational standard produces two valuable outcomes for the ruling class: a far greater percentage of the underclass will be conditioned by hegemonic ideas, and the lives and careers of would-be dissenters are made that much more difficult.

The only response to such a situation is conformity or expulsion. Tragically, both produce the same result: a loss of humanity. In the case of the former, one may either choose to sacrifice their humanity so as to retain, or perhaps, improve their material and social standing amongst their peers. Conforming to the increasingly irrational and psychotic demands of the corporate or academic worlds demands that the individual self-amputate; he must ritually and repetitiously partition his own consciousness. In effect, he may hollow out his soul or he may die. Regardless of whether the individual seeks to maintain or improve his position, all the same he makes a slave of himself to punitive and undeserving authorities who are mostly interested in humiliating and instrumentalizing their underlings. Expulsion forces a humiliation and instrumentalization of a differing kind (though for differing reasons). Thrust into the ghetto of parallel realities (the streets or the internet), man finds that the depravity of social exteriority insists upon the soul. The abject need for survival pushes the individual into self-compromise, as the environments themselves more deftly and nakedly play on base human instincts. On Twitter and OnlyFans we find the pimp, the pusher, and the prostitute, just as we find them on the street corner and in the crack house.

As these observations relate to the truth of the hyperworld, it is not difficult to see that the social image of the internet obscures this uglier reality. In truth, it is a parallel existence, a simulated realm – or perhaps more cynically – an escape hatch for those people who can no longer tolerate what is required to persevere in the lifeworld6. While the credentialism, nepotism, and general corruption of the former world is obvious enough as to present a strong discrediting argument, the absence of any formal measure (the proverbial low barrier to entry) guarantees a lower pool of applicants within the hyperworld. Taking into consideration the fact that success is based, again, on an image or representation of something desired, the pathway to success is itself even more corrupted (or corruptible). Elaborating on this notion of representation, verbosity gets mistaken for intelligence, extravagance for depth, narrow-mindedness for profundity, superficial expansivity for erudition, and so on. The regime imposes a deeply felt insecurity upon its subjects which disables their capacity for accurate discrimination. The hyperworld facilitates not only intense overexaggeration of the lifeworld's events that it represents, but frequent duplicitousness.

The problem of despair then, is even more pronounced within the hyperworld. Despair of the deepest kind (in the Kierkegaardian sense, the despair which arises from the refusal to be true to oneself) creeps around every digital corner, lurks behind each post and beneath every video. Compelled to ward off the responsibility of moral courage, denizens of the hyperworld sardonically assail all who dare to inspire honesty and forthrightness. For some individuals, the indignation which they experience in the face of lifeworld's new edict propels them into the hyperworld. This too is a manifestation of the despair of which I am detailing: it is the refusal to confront the challenge, to become the man or woman that potentiality insists they become. Conformity and self-deception are antidotes to despair, as they safeguard the individual against the perils of bravery. It should be said however, that they are only temporary antidotes; should these individuals detect even the slightest hint that their tenuously secured consensus is in jeopardy, they will reveal the depth of their despair through the volume of their hysterical outbursts.

Our vanities play a more immediate role in the selection process; by and large the relationship between producer and consumer naturally falls into a vanity feedback loop, mutually reinforcing and reconciling the one with the other. Disruption of the pleasure cycle, then, becomes the only real prohibition. Should two individuals focus on the same digitized hyperobject (a meme, a video or piece of news, an audience) with differing intentions (say, for example, integrity versus admiration), this naturally generates an endlessly self-propagating mimetic rivalry which can decimate whole communities.

I use the word 'community' loosely. As I have explained elsewhere, the hyperworld knows not the meaning of the word7. Absent some mediation with the lifeworld, it can only know simulation. Thus, these mimetic rivalries will only persist. There can be no reconciliation. The victimary mechanism can persist ad infinitum as there is virtually no agency to be found within a simulated community and thus no capacity for sacrifice and renewal. Rivalries foment without end in sight, causing the simulation to degenerate and incite the production of splinter groups which themselves break up and splinter again. Some may become defectors, but this only allows resentment to deepen on all sides.

Returning to the question of formality, there is a misguided notion that the decentralized and (supposedly) apolitical nature of the hyperworld entirely resolves the problem of corruption and degeneration found in the lifeworld. This line of argumentation is itself an extension of the belief in the predominance of rational individuals, a kind of union of egoists capable of self-interestedly creating something good and lasting. The absence of a formalized disciplinary culture with a rigor of practice and self-overcoming, and of constructive critique and mentorship, leads to stagnation and self-aggrandizement8. The hyperworld is a double (in the Girardian sense) of the lifeworld, and thus contains within itself almost all of the problems associated with its supposed rival. The major distinction between the two is the hyperworld's intensification of the lifeworld's characteristic problems.

Lack and parasociality within the hyperworld

The essential point of this essay is that we face an existential problem which, while not unique to the hyperworld, is magnified by it to such a degree that it enables our making it explicit. Parasociality was always a subtle aspect of the lifeworld, but rarely rose to the level of intelligible discourse. The hyperworld illustrates for us the psychological riddle of the veil we must conceal ourselves behind to find ourselves within the social. The critical problem posed to us when we allow the screen and the image to mediate our social experience is that once we are caught within their gaze, we necessarily fall into parasociality. Physical interactions that occur within the lifeworld offer us far more comprehsive information than is possible from a merely image-mediated interaction. The depth of investment is stronger and more honest in the lifeworld's more dynamic exposure and vulnerability. Parasociality then is the great plague of the digital spectacle, an innovation of the worst kind.

The parasocial relation never achieves any kind of wholism, or even proper demarcation. It can only hope to achieve the status of sycophancy. The lower man submits to the strength of the stronger, producing what Girard called metaphysical desire, while its resultant affects (obsession and resentment) spread, contaminating the whole of the space9. The problem of parasociality is brought to the forefront thanks to the cult of the screen. It is for this reason, chiefly, that the internet and internet culture cannot properly usurp the lifeworld's centrality to the eusocial order. In hypermodernity, sociality recedes even further into the Lacanian Real; though it increasingly stands just outside of our grasp, it nonetheless remains as our foundation. What we may now identify as the__virtual principle only encroaches on the lifeworld as the lifeworld recedes into itself, shrinks into the dirt, leaving exposed ground for the hyperworld to colonize.

If Freud was correct in identifying a dimension of the psyche which socializes the libido into conformity (the reality principle of the Ego), then we can correctly identify the virtual principle as its Giradian double within the hyperworld. However, the virtual principle does not socialize the individual. Or it may be more correct to say that it socializes the individual within a space which valorizes the Id and the pleasure principle. The violence and aggression of the lifeworld (violence which threatens the individual psychically and physically, threatening him into conformity) does not exist in the same way within the hyperworld. There are quantitatively fewer repercussions for transgression, so the virtual principle operates in a fundamentally inverted way as compared to Freud's reality principle. But the virtual principle is more than just a phenomenon of drives and pleasures; it is more fundamentally about distance and intimacy. The virtual principle is perhaps defined preeminently by its paradoxical imagistic nearness contrasted with the distance of intimacy, the combination of which is essential for the development of parasociality. Virtual orders impress themselves upon the individual, but their poverty of relational meaning – the absence of an intermediated encounter – causes the individual to collapse into solipsism. All relations become unidirectional and narcissistically charged, an objectification of the highest order.

By this point it should be evident that there is a lack at the heart of the hyperworld. The fundamental absence of intimacy owes much of its cause for being to the larger hypermodern trends of abstraction and undifferentiation. An essential feature of the hyperworld (and thus of the virtual principle itself) is this undifferentiatedness, a contamination of the same which corrupts all particularity. Undifferentiation contains its own repetition compulsion particularly in the hypermodern period, as the hypersubject denies the fact that it is a complete recapitulation of that which came before, but with only the slimmest and most superficial dimension of change. Only on a surface, ideophilic (ideologically fixated) level, can repetition stake its claim to the new. Yet this fact must be insisted upon, as the creative legitimacy of the hypersubject hinges upon the notion that something meaningful is being advanced. In actuality however, the same formula has merely been reintroduced10. The hyperworld lacks an essential humanity.

Having said all this, the hyperworld is not without its virtues. Earlier we spoke of the potentiality innate to a new creation. We also spoke of the decrepitude of the lifeworld. Of course, what is available in the hyperworld is the capacity to transgress upon the borders of the morally and creatively sclerotic liberal totalitarianism. It allows us to resuscitate older knowledge forms as well as repurpose contemporary hegemonic knowledge forms beyond the limitations of ideological orthodoxy. In the hands of progressive academia, this knowledge resists new and meaningful interpretation. This is true across most disciplines – business, art, literature, music, and so on.

This tremendous capacity for renewal, the very promise of the hyperworld itself, is still very much alive despite the hegemonic forces of the lifeworld's attempts at regulating it. Nevertheless, the capacity for deception threatens to undermine the virtues of the internet and shatter its gifts. Deception takes several forms here: firstly, one of self-presentation (inaccurately presenting myself to others), secondly as self-representation (inaccurately presenting myself to myself), and in its final conclusion, one of parasociality (inaccurately believing in a real and meaningful exchange of intimacy due to the fundamentally deceptive grounding of the dynamic).

A new potentiality emerges, one which assuredly was not part of the intention of its creation, but which nevertheless avails itself to us whenever a new creation is birthed. The hyperworld is itself a mirror to the lifeworld, revealing its flaws in a new way such that we may re-enter and potentially correct it with a new perspective. With this mentality, we may engage its bringing-forthness and find its true purpose and place in our lives. As it stands, the hyperworld remains a sophomoric retreat whose most lasting contributions to the lifeworld are a slew of phantasy identities and pre-egoic ideophilias which have further poisoned the lifeworld.

There is an additional relation between the lifeworld and hyperworld here, which is the inverse of the very promise we just described. In Lacanian terms the creative process as it relates to technology (in particular the internet), traverses from the Real to the Imaginary back again into the Real, now transformed. Of course, we must always bear in mind the imperceptibility of the Real; the creative energies which birth new technological forms (as much as such a thing can be said without wandering needlessly into error), proceed from a phantasy of the Real into the Imaginary, and then back into the phantasy. They emerge transformed, mutated, and even more detached than they were prior to the alchemical process which generated them. The poison of hyperreality then is an ever-present social potential which has been technologically liberated to more fully unleash its feedback loop upon the lifeworld.

The reality principle, in its fullest expression at least, is not merely a mediating force of the psyche. It is not simply something we must contend with so that, here and there, we may indulge our twisted desires and fulfill our pathological complexes in a less odious manner. Exercised properly, it is the will or necessity to submit oneself to a transcendent force as embodied within the social order, so that we may pursue lasting happiness and justice. Freud's model of consciousness leaves no possibility of reprieve from man's alleged existential ugliness. Though his image of man was incomplete, that does not mean we are incapable of appropriating his concepts and developing them further than he would have imagined. The true reality principle does not merely shelter man from the aggression of others, rather it unifies him with a higher principle that elevates him to a state of greater beauty, truth, and fulfillment than he would otherwise experience. Replacing the reality principle with that of the virtual further disempowers man, enslaving him to vice and subjugating him to the principles of more chthonic deities.

Rejoinders from the lifeworld

Commonly we will hear defenses of the hyperworld which extoll its virtues and denigrate the decrepit and necrotized lifeworld. As we have already admitted, they are not without merit. However the same is true in the inverse. The habits and institutions of the lifeworld, even in their compromised condition, are themselves worthy of consideration. Formal mentorship, rigorous education and training, the humility that comes through subjecting oneself to an existing hierarchal structure – these are but a few of the developments of the lifeworld which the hyperworld has not yet managed to simulate.

When denizens of the hyperworld, in their typically bellicose manner, tell us of the lifeworld's expiry date (and how it has already passed), they neglect the fact of the symbiotic relationship between the hyperworld and the lifeworld. This is but a microcosm of the larger chasm between technological developments and their 'organic' genesis. The two only compete with one another insofar as the two misunderstand and threaten one another. In fact we can think of instances where the two strike a balance, however imperfect, between one another (the emergence of cryptocurrencies, remote labor, etc) even after a period of intense and uncertain contestation. At least, in as far as commerce is concerned, the two wrestle with one another. Even if the result is undesirable, this process highlights the fact that neither realm can indefinitely ignore the developments occurring within its companion space.

The hyperworld, engaged in a pattern of generational dispute common to all innovations and developments, situates its excellence and patent superiority over the lifeworld by eulogizing it while the body still draws breath. The lifeworld mounts its defense by proclaiming the transience of novelty and denigrating the hyperworld for not sufficiently developing a dogma of its own – for not having an immediately apprehensible telos. Such arguments are, when compared to the true distinction to be made between the two, inconsequential. The superiority of the lifeworld is found in the fact that its lack is capable of being filled. Desire's supposed insatiability can be quenched, ordered, and given meaningful purpose. Organisms of the lifeworld are capable of this by participating in a transcendent ideal, a psychospiritual unity which binds them to Eulerian circles of the social, fused together by commonality, duty and devotion11.

The hyperworld insufficiently simulates this ordinal structuring in large part because of its narcissistic drive toward differentiation for difference's sake. It is too preoccupied, too bound up within the logic of hypermodern marketing, which does not seek to show how one thing may be better than the other, but rather how it is distinct from the other. This endless cycle of differentiation achieves nothing of profundity, but merely cycles through the established spectrum of positions, beliefs, icons and rhetoric. The essential sameness of hyperreality ushers in the pointless desire for differentiation – difference for differences sake. We must indulge in the fantasy of dissimilarity to obfuscate the essential repetitiousness of all culture. This necessarily is the consequence of obliterating actual differences where they truly exist. The hyperworld collapses all being into a form of homogenous androgyny and then overestimating (if not entirely fabricating) the difference in products, commodities, and social movements which do not in fact exist. If at this point I have ventured into repetition, it is only in the hopes of emphasizing the significance (and falseness) of this rivalry. Attempts at such differentiation can only reveal their similarity, and instead of intensifying the rivalry, denizens of each realm ought to seek reconciliation.

Reconciliation can only come through a mutual recognition of the shared similarity, a similarity which does not neglect particularity, but rather, situates them justly in accordance with their type, place and need. Critique from one realm to the other, rather than perceived as a kind of existential arms race, has escalated toward the destruction of both. We ought to be seeking a means for achieving unity between the hyperworld and the lifeworld, between episteme and techne, and with the ultimate aim of rupturing the pre-egoic phantasy.

This notion of the 'phantasy' has been used vigorously throughout and deserves some elucidating of its own before we continue. Integral to Klein's theory of early infancy, the phantasy (innate to the paranoid-schizoid position of the neonatal child) being predominantly concerned with annihilation (we may dispense with the unconscious motivation attributed by Klein, as the weakness of the infant is a material reality and not a psychological phenomenon), is undifferentiated, pre-egoic, and prone to splitting. As such, the individual enraptured by phantasy marshals his creative energies in precisely the way one might expect: fearfully and short-sighted, making enemies where none need be made. The harshness of life, the natural tendency of the powerful to exploit the weak drive the propensity for individuals to partake in creative acts (such as childbirth) for narcissistic and maladapted compensatory reasons. This projection of one's own lack into the object of creation, as well as the very mystery of consciousness itself are typically the reasons behind the phenomenon we are discussing here.

Fears of death and destruction, of self-overcoming, of uncertainty and alienation are the undercurrents of the Kleinian phantasy. These projections, which always emphasize a lack and seek to punitively satisfy an unrealized desire through totalitarianism, create the capacity for both overestimations and underestimations of character and ability. We see now the origin of the problem of disintegration between psyche and reality, between man and creation, and between the lifeworld and the hyperworld.

Primary virtuality in the pre-egoic individual

The parasociality of the hyperworld is secondary to the parasociality found within the lifeworld. This is so because the virtual principle active in the hyperworld is presaged by its phantastical and pre-egoic counterpart in the lifeworld. Now to clarify, for Klein the paranoid-schizoid position is a normative phase in the very early stages of human development. It is to be progressed beyond as the individual becomes less inner-focused and more capable of interacting with the external world as a discrete phenomenon from itself. For Klein there is often a periodic return to this phase throughout the course of one's life. It is my contention (and I am stretching the boundaries of this concept here), that many people never meaningfully exit this stage. Or rather that it is a relatively safer psychic space for many to operate within and so they either regress to it in times of stress (potentially forever) or, in some sense of the word, choose to occupy it. When we refer to someone as 'pre-egoic', we are referring to an individual who is fundamentally fragmented (only receiving a 'form' through engagement with the other), image-focused, death-fearing, and vulnerable to rivalries of metaphysical desire. The phantasy is endemic to this period of an individual's life, and so when we assume one of these psychological phenomenon, the others follow in tandem. Therefore virtuality is another way of describing this Kleinian phenomenon; the virtual principle is the law that governs phantastical subjectivity.

Parasociality, in the lifeworld as in the hyperworld, results from projection and phantasy, from the disregulated flow of desires and ambivalences which contort the minds of those afflicted by it. We can only expect creation to yield parasociality when its creator holds such a one-sided image of man himself in his mind. Man is something to detest or something to worship, and as such he is an object, an abstraction. Man the idea overtakes man as he exists. For the layman (as well as the morally profligate), those visionary images and flashes of the future produced by phantastical subjectivity are impossible to discern from higher forms of creativity. The outside viewer, in being so enamored by the brilliance of creativity, hardly proposes any strong criticism and as such fails to rebuke the antisocial fruit of phantastical creativity.

Phantastical subjectivity enters into a dramatized engagement of the paranoid-schizoid position, constantly seeing threats of annihilation where they do not exist, or reacting with inappropriate strength and frenzy at the possibility (or even mere suggestion) of their existence. I am not speaking of mere theatricality or of some performative dimension of human behavior, but rather a real phenomenon which reorganizes man's entire nervous system. His responses are real and lasting, regardless of the falsities which generated them. It is a melodrama with serious consequences for man's health and happiness, as the creative act in techne is subjugated to the malevolent deities who inhabit this undifferentiated, pre-egoic paranoid state.

It follows quite clearly then, that the hyperreality of the internet and social media is second to the innate or embodied hyperreality nascent to the phantasy. Hyperreality is an ever realizable mode of being, as the eyes are the first screen. Phantasy brings to the fore a certain imagined experience, a particular construct of man and society; the antisocial tendency derived from this produces the distance which alienates man from his environment and his loved ones. The virtual principle is already at work within the phantasy, and it is for this precise reason why the individual struggles with demarcation, discernment, and differentiation. An example of this is transhumanism as a phantasy-derived antisocial tendency: the apologist struggles to see the qualitative difference in meaning between wearing a pair of eyeglasses and mechanically replacing (or merely enhancing) the body, instead choosing to insist on the mere quantitative chain of events which ontologically equalizes the two12. It is the virtual principle already operational behind the phantasy which loses sight of the difference between man and woman, between profit and exploitation, between criticism and deconstruction, between compassion and manipulation. These are all special cases of the essential loss of the distinction between truth and falsehood.

In essence we are highlighting the degree to which fiction is the most essential commonality between the phantasy, the virtual principle, and hyperreality. Hyperreality in the Baudrillardian sense is understood as a lack of emotional engagement with reality. Fictions predominate as the reality principle falls to the wayside. This is especially true when we consider the Real as the shadow of the Virtual; the Real is split away and condemned as evil and incapable of integration. The fiction necessarily swells with power, annexing more psychic space for itself. On a long enough timeline this sets the stage for tragedy, but let us not concern ourselves with that at the moment. Phantasy, which by now has already absorbed nearly all potential and actual affect, leaves only the residue of a weakened and agency-less remainder. It acts as a social toxin, poisoning the larger Eulerian circles of social organization surrounding it, reproducing itself at every step along the way.

This remainder shrivels and decays as the psychic bloat of phantastical subjectivity is catalyzed by its incongruous nature, as it is emboldened by failure and pain (or even misapprehended pleasure). It exerts a catastrophically transformative influence on creativity, mimetically reproducing itself because of the intensity with which it is felt by others. It is seen as 'more real' in large part because of its inherently transgressive dimension. Fear of annihilation allows the death drive (since we are now speaking of an adult and no longer a child, we may reintroduce the unconscious hypothesis of Freud and Klein) to manifest in the various forms of transhumanism which are now on the horizon.

Pathology as a parallel dimension

It is perhaps necessary to further elucidate the nature and definition of the phantasy, beyond mere psychopathological language, beyond an appeal to drives, instincts, and impulses. It is indistinct, non-discrete, fear-oriented, and pain-sensitive. It is inordinately preoccupied with its own sense of power, of its own Godlike capacity to imagine and control. We recognize this as pure fiction, though we must also recognize this to be a profound understatement. It is an alternative reality, an unimaginable and almost imperceptible parallel consciousness. It is Schrödinger's soul. Moreover, it is a thoroughly elaborated tragedy. The God of the phantasy is Dionysus, due to its proximity to madness, ecstasy, theatricality, and its desire to abstain from suffering and misery. It is a lower state of development, thus subterranean, completely hidden, inaccessible, and thus properly chthonic.

Phantastical subjectivity conjures up an utterly alien social universe, complete with its own gravity and particles, its own anthropology, and as such, its own impenetrable system of logic and rule-making. It has fixed psychological characteristics as we have discussed, such as the dual phenomenon of splitting and death-fixedness. One dimension of splitting – fragmentation – finds its realization in particular through the continual process of neurotic delineation. This reflects its co-dependency with the external by continually self-dividing and drawing up new interior boundaries, transgressing against them, and then redrawing them, ad infinitum. As I illustrated earlier, for many individuals it is the baseline, the mean, of individual subjectivity that one always regresses to. This is in part due to the continually evolving process of alienation which has unfolded across the technological age. But it is also a result of the rigidity of form, the need to reduce self-identification and consciousness to only a handful of possibilities by partitioning the natural polytheism of the mind to but a few acceptable, over-articulated concepts.

The limitation of possibility is the consequence of the rejection of the absolute, of the Total Man and all his richness. The developing person's desire is stifled by those closest to him just as those around him suffer the ever constricting effects of the modern world. The psychic split is not primary, but a consequence of the unfolding of history. Why does splitting occur? Its origin is not contingent upon the dynamics of a singular individual or a localized set of relations, but a profound counterwill, a will against life, against fullness and against complexity. It is a consequence of the imitation of man through techne, the ways in which man is made redundant by techne, and in particular the way in which we reflect techne back on to man via metaphor, reducing the mind to the products and effects of the mind. The psychic split causes man to lose his enantiodromic capacity, and instead, the good and the bad merely intensify rather than extend into their opposite (and in transforming, realize their mutual compatibility).

Let us pause to take further note on this idea of the Total Man, before we continue along our way. The two essential components to this equation of pathology and parallelity may reduce, as we have already noted, to the disregulated flow of desires and the non-specular, undifferentiated ego. As regards the latter, we are at an impasse; either the individual lacks a total image of man, or else the image that he does possess is one of craven horror. It is possible that he managed to capture a mere glimpse of the Total Man and grew stupefied at the sight of him. Regardless of the causality (which is not to say that it is insignificant), all possibilities lead us to the same psychological position. Because of the fragmented self's absence of ego, the individual is torn ambivalently between the pull of mimetic desire and the push of sub-threshold biological necessities. The one gets confused for the other, with the decisive narrative influence coming from the paranoiac imperative local to this stage of development. It need not be elaborated any further how this combustible subjectivity can and does adapt poorly to environmental and technological developments, and in particular to the digital panopticon of the internet.

Now, the Real can seep into the Imaginary, just as much as the inverse is true. Put more bluntly, it is possible to achieve a measure of authenticity through a sufficiently narrow but intense focusing of desire which can puncture through the Imaginary, granting the individual a limited but serviceable access to the Real, and as such, the Social. Such a process is not unlike the adolescent who learns to ride their bicycle with the aid of training wheels; they are not capable of navigating the wide open road of the Real. They therefore must patrol a tightly regimented path with tremendous assistance, or else they would totally lose their equilibrium and injure themselves. It is possible to go further than the boundaries we are presently aware of. History is certainly replete with examples to this very point. But we are still not yet ready to discuss this, only hint at it as we just have.

Gods in the mind

In discussing these matters we find that we are merely being confronted, once again, with millennia old social problems. However, the alienated state of modern society amplifies the difficulty of intersubjectively mediating experiences of the Real. Intensifying objectification of other people, destruction of the family, the omnipresence of screens and images, the overemphasis placed on autonomy, the simultaneous public expulsion and private militarization of responsibility, the constricting of social organization, and the absolute decimation of social trust has created a new cultural paradigm. Our contemporary social environment produces this intense schizoidal neurosis, preventing people from genuinely interacting with one another, let alone entering into a jointly mediated confrontation with the Real. There is no unifying principle, no transcendent God which oversees and formalizes all, but rather a pantheon of antisocial gods, each responsible for its own realm (or subset of realms) which are unrevealed and thus unknowable. The only exceptions are the more psychologically durable or masochistic individuals who elect to naively and misguidedly enter into the phantasy of another. It is essential to understand that there is always a set of principles which appear divine operating within consciousness (as Hillman has argued), and so we must ultimately concern ourselves with the nature of the gods which govern the subjectivity of the individual13.

Let us assume, as Joseph Campbell and Adolf Bastian did, the existence of an essential and contingent folk mythos, itself a divine expression of a particularistic ethnic consciousness. Ensconced within what Bastian called 'the societal soul', pockets of collectives exist as distinct, self-contained ontological spheres. This essential alienness of man creates a barrier of unintelligibility, existentially segregating the various tribes of man. The only force capable of rupturing this ontoethnological divide is the genocidal scrutiny of a willful and vigorous analysis (a violence which is displaced, as men of previous eras would no doubt have found more practical applications of such hostility). The essential unintelligibility of man to man is an a priori fact. This is however far from the most troubling aspect of the whole affair.

Conditions worsen once we begin to consider the confused religiousness of our time, the degraded ideals and false gods which presently dictate consciousness. This essential unintelligibility is not interminable; however these additional psychical layers create a further level of unintelligibility to the social order which make joint mediation, empathy, and intersubjectivity increasingly difficult. The virtual principle reigns supreme in our time, rendering love and intimacy, respect and authority, dignity and integrity nearly inaccessible to most people. Within the phantasy the other becomes the Big Other; the self-serving fictitiousness of the virtual artificially extends the distance between man to man, and also man to God. Speaking in archetypal terms, this form of consciousness is related to the rivalrous brother, the jealous demigod, the borderline mistress, and so on. It is the 'that' which refuses to be what it is.

The virtual extends this 'ethos of what it is not' through a melodrama which banishes the interplay of consciousnesses to hell. This throttles intersubjective mediation in favor of an infantile mode of being, preoccupied with falsehoods and harm-avoidance. It is the triumph of non-differentiation and, if we are to take Freud and Klein at face value, the triumph of a simultaneously naïve and omnipotent self-destructiveness. The psychological importance of gods, and their self-evident plurality, is demonstrated in the mind's analog status in relation to the given world14. The psychological is a reflection of the theological. In the work of James Hillman, concepts and ideas are divine. The 'polytheism' of the mind is a reflection of the polytheism of Being. However, even in polytheistic religions there is a hierarchal order, with a most supreme god sitting atop a pantheon of lesser gods. Platonists and Christians attempt to resolve this through the One and the Many, preserving the fact of radical difference despite sublating it to an absolute unity.

But we can sidestep the metaphysical conundrum posed by such ideas by speaking of the competing images of God as opposed to the existence of real entities. Regardless of the position one elects to take, we invariably arrive upon the problem of existential gaps or chasms and the irreconcilability of Being (which in an ever centralizing technocratic and mercantile order, forms a consensus which poses problems for the issue of creativity and the relation of the individual to the social order). We may say that if the Man-as-Creator actually worships a particular god or merely conceives a different image of God than those around him, that the fruits of his creation may prove disastrous to the entire social order. His conception (or practice) may be more correct or even less correct, but in both cases, the fundamental irreconcilability and difference between his cognitive process and those around him constitutes an existential and cataclysmic threat to the fruitful development of his civilization. Ethos precedes ethics, and so the character of what one worships (whether imagistic or actual) naturally informs the instantiation of its core principle(s). Hedonistic consequentialism does not provide us the firm grounding with which to approach innovation and guide it appropriately. We must look to the divination of first principles, to the revelation of one's most deeply held beliefs, if we are to assess the fruitfulness of their creative instinct.

Before we move forward with the analysis, let us briefly summarize the arguments which have thus far been made:

  • The virtual, then (as is true with the phantasy), is a denial of consciousness just as much as it is a lapse, a recession, or even a stagnation of consciousness.
  • The internet is virtuality par excellence and represents a dystopic paradiso, a simulacra which seeks to invade the Real. Should this argument prove correct, we may, at least partially, dismiss the Baudrillardian account of the simulacra for it always has an original. The inspiration of the simulacra merely resides within the phantasy.
  • Its invasion will not so much be repelled as it will simply collapse into its own impossibility. However, it constructs ex postfacto an ethic ignorant of the originary ethos. Thismakes an authentic reformation of the internet seemingly impossible. Only a reconciliation with (and overcoming of the distance within) consciousness, can enable us to reconstruct our creations and situate them justly.

Theatre and suffering

It is with this view in mind that we must also reevaluate psychopathology. In a way we are returning to the very beginnings of psychoanalysis and yet at the same time we are exorcising it of its drab and cumbersome naturalization. We may view personality disorders, neuroses and psychotic conditions not merely as genetic phenomena or social constructions, but as enactments of a divinatory drama operating far beneath the awareness of the individual. We call such individuals insane and fear them for their unintelligible and chaotic behavior. However, we fear even more intensely the conscious individual, the actor who intimately and preternaturally understands the god which directs his tragedy. Whereas a psychotic rambling schizoid nonsense on the street-corner points seemingly to nowhere, causing us to regard him as a lost soul abandoned by the world (and as a consequence, beneath us). The vitality of the conscious individual, his teeming coherence, and the abundance of moral gifts in his possession troubles us all the more for the conscious actor always points in the same direction with the fervor of a zealot. Even if he does not invite us to follow him along his divine path, the fact that we can recognize the divinity of his course terrifies us.

Psyche is animated by a divine force. That divine force flows through the genetic, environmental, political, and historical contingencies which give rise to the phenomenon we know as psychopathologies. Hillman viewed psychopathology as an essential challenge to Being, an unending process of meaning-development capable of producing great fulfillment and wisdom. Rather than a phenomenon to be naturalized, psychopathology is to be experienced, to be enacted. Pain is play. Pain is a play.

An insufficiently religious individual cannot pierce the veil of the phantasy to share in jointly mediated intersubjectivity. In some ways, the inverse is true as well. As Jung once said, "Religion is a defense against the religious experience". Overly cynical, and not a sentiment I wholeheartedly endorse, but in a sense it is true insofar as a tyrannically hostile and repressive religious order closes down the psychospiritual space between members of opposing religious orders. Just as often within a given religious order, too. Suo quisque fitu sacrificial faciat – the dictum of a soft religious tolerance is thus made impossible. Perhaps we can never truly share a God amongst differing peoples, but a shared image of God is another matter entirely. With a proper image, the creator may reconcile himself and his creation with the social order more broadly, insulating us against the horrific vindictiveness of our own demiurgic potential.

The impossibility of a left-wing revolution

All this talk of reformation and revolution, of transforming the world and rescuing creativity but thus far, we have spoken little about which sector of the social order this energy will originate from. With great confidence I can say that it will not come from the biotypalleft-wing. Mark Fisher famously announced the age of Capitalist Realism; with that announcement came the supposed triumph of the merchant class and the impossibility of imagining a future beyond accumulation, exploitation, and alienation. Sadly for Fisher and his many acolytes, this proclamation was not a truth statement about the condition of the world, but rather an unconscious projection out onto the world regarding the viability of a left-wing revolt against the capitalist order. The mass proliferation of pathological consciousness among self-identified left-wing individuals is not just a testament to the high neuroticism associated with being left-wing, but is more directly a consequence of the libidinal capture of the Left by Capital. Their energies are repressed, confused, stagnated. They have no movement. No depth. Cruel as it may be to say, we should not long ponder the reasons why Fisher took his own life. We merely need to consider what the true meaning of his magnum opus actually pointed towards.

The rigidity of the French intellectual movement of the twentieth century also said more about its own thinkers than the actual conditions of the world. Accurate as a great many works from that era were, the future became a slave to their language – a seductive language which gave a kind of fatalistic order and predictability to an increasingly destabilizing world. Of course, this is to say nothing of the well established fact of the American Intelligence community's unique interest in the post-Marxist thought developing across continental Europe. There is a certain bleak comedy to an intellectual and artistic milieu so intently focused on the question of revolution, and yet so utterly incapable of it. Liberation movements were in reality, the great anti-power of the preceding century. This served as both a geopolitical bludgeon against the USSR during the Cold War, and also as a demoralization of politics which could challenge the establishment within the West.

It was during this period that the left-wing lost its revolutionary capacity. And while we may look at the internet today and see it as the fertile ground which spawned the various leftist ideophilias which reterritorialized the lifeworld, their essential depravity and life-denying character all but ensures an expiry date. Far from being incapable of imagining a future, those with the true revolutionary character are only now emerging from their inferiority complex. Having consciously encountered the dominating, intelligence community-aided might of a tyrannical system of language, it is possible for biotypal rightists, or perhaps even another as-of-yet unknown type, to rupture the phantasy and restore authentic creativity. Of all the varying forms of the innovative instinct, it is the realm of the political that is in particular need of such a rejuvenation.

The Overman-as-Avatar

The hyperworld's predominant function is that of a playground, and the freedom of play enables its occupants to get lost in what often amount to trivial pursuits. Trivial in the sense that the types of projects participated in are of secondary importance, essentially vain curiosities lacking in truly divine first principles. The challenges which confront the lifeworld find themselves multiplying and deepening, all while the treats of the hyperworld detain and delay valuable psychic energy.

An extension of the free flowing sea of desire, the hyperworld is a space perfectly suited to assuaging the failures of the lifeworld. It heals the absence of physical communities by replacing them with the semi-presence of digital communities. The hyperworld offers its hostages a sense of connectivity and social integration decreasingly available to the denizens of the lifeworld. As we have already detailed however, the distance of the hyperworld robs this relationality of any lasting impact. The fruits of the hyperworld are only truly available to those who can bridge the gap between the Real and the Virtual. They will be available first to the Overman endowed with glorious purpose; like Prometheus stealing the power of the Gods and turning it over to man, he will share the possibility of this new mode of being with all mankind. Only the man with an eye to the future, who possesses the keenest sense of the present and the fullest understanding of the past, has the capacity to shatter the collective phantasy and truly create. His creation differs in that it would not entrap man and his order within a psychic dystopia, but instead allows for a furthering, deepening existence capable of tremendous beauty and profundity. This Overman is an avatar, and his creativity would reflect that of the greatest divine power.

The psychological and spiritual challenges of the lifeworld are mirrored in the hyperworld such that, what one must learn to overcome them both in the truly social environment and the digital one, for the two are doubles. Even if the one is the lesser of the two, their essential structures and demands are quite similar. The veneer of competition between the two worlds (just as with the veneer of competition between man and his many creations) is illusory, little more than a product of his own psychic split. And this split of course, first took place between man and the Divine. Man's divine split occurred because his conception of God shrunk, and as such was antagonized by developing successes in other domains. The stolen fire of the gods, given to man, tricked man into thinking he could be God. Only now, this new Promethean Overman is not a thief, but a participant. He does not take from the divine, but is instead the recipient of its beneficence.

The Overman who bridges the hyperworld and the lifeworld, who subsumes the fruit of creation to the health of the social order, is not an Overman-as-God, but an Overman-as-Avatar. He is a representation of the Divine, or more accurately an embodiment. If he is first among men it is only because he is second before the divine principle. Both in the hyperworld and in the lifeworld, he restores ambition and authenticity to man; freeing him of resentment, fear, and vanity. In lieu of these values, intellect does advance, but it also cannibalizes itself. We can vicariously enjoy ourselves as voyeurs to the development of a distant other, but we once again fall victim to the screen, to the Virtual. We come to desire the alienated small-scale success of the man on the fringe. Without the Divine, all that can truly persist are mimetic and metaphysical rivalries. Unlike in the lifeworld however, the Virtual can only offer a partial-sacrifice (mockery, disgust, objectification, etc). Its relief comes in the form of an immediate and alienated satisfaction that never truly saves the community, for once again, there is truly no community to save. The Overman-as-Avatar has a steep hill to climb in this regard. His duty is to overcome the inavailability of radical thought to conventional wisdom. An unenviable challenge to be sure, as the pure otherness of radical consciousness is not merely unavailable to the status quo, like a grocery store temporarily starved of green apples, but it is completely outside of and inaccessible to it. Radical thought is deliberately marginalized by the power structure, but then, it is also deliberately ostracized by the denizens of the status quo. The man who preaches a denial of all the pleasures offered by the distorted lifeworld is a man destined to have few friends and fewer comrades. History has shown us however, that he can prevail and so the present challenge demands he resuscitate and resituate this alterity within our present context.

It is possible to abolish the reign of the Virtual and to resituate it back in the position of a developmental fragment. A piece of the whole with no independent significance from the part it plays in progressing the individual and the collective along the course of their maturation. All of this to simply say: the ethic of the internet (as with all creations) must go beyond the present attitude. All future technologies must be made with that 'aftermath of the aftermath' mentality, to abuse a phrase first uttered by Jean Baudrillard. He spoke of life as 'an orgy', which for him was synonymous with the process of libidinal liberation. It gave way to the period 'after the orgy', a period of profound indifference to particularity, culminating in a self-erasure which we are still grappling with. Our hyperreal condition, having emerged 'after the orgy' is the attempt, in some sense, to escape from the mundane hell-of-the-permanent-present known as liberated desire. The 'aftermath of the aftermath' will once again reintroduce a formal structure (one that is eusocial and eugenic) to our psyche by reuniting us with transcendent principles, assisting us in once again occupying that pre-conscious unity of being which we have increasingly strayed from. Whether we grant more credence to the polytheistic theory of consciousness or to the theory of the image of God depends on whether we prefer psychological explanations or metaphysical ones. It is likely that there is in fact a through line connecting these two trains of thought, though I have not yet discovered it. What remains significant here is that we have uncovered the origins of hyperreality. We have also granted tremendous clarity to the virtual principle, and have chartered a course for the Overman back to the Divine.

14 Jaynes, Julian. "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind", Houghton Mifflin, Mariner Books, 1976.

  1. We come to understand the 'lifeworld' through the work of mathematician and phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, who described it in The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology as:

    In whatever way we may be conscious of the world as universal horizon, as coherent universe of existing objects, we, each "I-the-man" and all of us together, belong to the world as living with one another in the world; and the world is our world, valid for our consciousness as existing precisely through this 'living together.' We, as living in wakeful world-consciousness, are constantly active on the basis of our passive having of the world... Obviously this is true not only for me, the individual ego; rather we, in living together, have the world pre-given in this together, belong, the world as world for all, pre-given with this ontic meaning... The we-subjectivity... [is] constantly functioning. (pp. 108-109).

    Husserl's lifeworld encompasses the domains of the individual, the social, the practical, the perceptual, and the geographical. It contains the primary facts of Being which inform our psychosocial conduct. For our purposes here, we are emphasizing the shared and pre-given aspects of the lifeworld. The critical dimension which we are building upon is the primordially social and contingent feature of the lifeworld, for without it we may not begin to understand, much less define, humanity itself. Moreover, Husserl's notion of the lifeworld makes possible what Julian Jaynes called the 'analog-I', for in this view, consciousness is a reflection or analog of the world as such, therefore enabling the creative power of psyche.

  2. In contradistinction to the lifeworld, we have the hyperworld, a term used to describe the emergence of (and intended usurpation by) screen-mediated simulations of the lifeworld. The hyperworld's rise to prominence results from the domination of the mind by what Lacan called 'the Imaginary', a fundamental narcissism preoccupied with fantastical images of the self and its desire. For Lacan, entrance into the Imaginary announces the beginnings of differentiation, loss-induced anxiety, insatiable demands, and thus, existential horror. What, ideally, ought to be a temporal period of development instead lingers and stagnates, locking the individual into a psychologically anachronistic state of being. Use of the term 'hyperworld' blends insights made by Husserl with those of Jean Baudrillard, in particular his notion of 'hyperreality' – a mode of existence indicative of an epochal shift characterized by narcissism, the prominence of sign values and signifiers, and a fatal detachment from primary sources of intimacy.

  3. The 'will to subjugate' always embeds within the subjugated object a counter-will or resistance, such that a bloody revolt (however temporally distant) is always in the cards. Harmony (the kind one may find in a paternalistic arrangement, or in the meeting of true peers) is preferable to the discord fomented by resentment and envy. Wisdom, not power, must be the driving impetus behind creation.

  4. What, in some circles, has been termed 'bioleninism', and by others (most notably, Dr. Edward Dutton) 'spiteful mutants'.

  5. Said another way, there is a belief that the lifeworld can only be redeemed by a select few commandeering it, steering it into a new direction and thus violating its nature as a shared, contiguous experience.

  6. It should not go unnoticed that this is hardly a fault to be laid solely at the feet of the average person, and in many cases, should be seen as a marker of great dignity and foresight.

  7. Neal, Josh. "American Extremist: The Psychology of Political Extremism", Imperium Press, 2021.

  8. Put more succinctly, what we are lamenting is the loss of an adversarial discursive culture.

  9. Here, 'affect' has a social meaning distinct from its typical usage (synonymous with 'emotion')

  10. Ideophilia, as defined in my previous work, refers to the fetishization of a singular notion, concept, or affect, which is then expanded beyond any reasonable justification. It loses all explanatory power and collapses into solipsistic phantasy.

  11. Eulerian diagrams, as opposed to Venn diagrams, illustrate the actually existing relationships of a given set.

  12. This example is not a mere thought experiment, but rather a near word for word restatement of an argument I've had with several different people on the subject of technology and transhumanism.

  13. Hillman, James. "Re-Visioning Psychology", William Morrow Publications, 1975