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Escaping "Social" Reality:

Principles of a Higher Civilization

Henry Flynt

(c) 1996 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.

An explanation expressed in the old terminology

Until now, modes of life have been based on the material servitude of the mass of people. Intellectual exploration, intellectual creativity, and the substance of personal freedom have been limited to minorities of the population. Intellectual exploration as a paid job has been limited to accredited social élites.

The priesthood of ancient Egypt already anticipated the role of élites in subsequent civilizations. In consigning the mass of the population to material servitude, advanced capitalism shows no essential difference from ancient Egypt.[1] Intellectual creativity is pursued in a minority of the population (ranging from bohemia to academia, with the latter as the accredited élite).

One might understandably predict that no matter how much "social change" occurs in the future, the pattern--in which the mass of people are occupied in material servitude, and substantive freedom and creativity are limited to minorities--will continue indefinitely.[2]

What I offer here amounts to a science-fiction speculation about a civilization "far beyond Communism." In this civilization, the collective could freely change the laws of nature. That depends on my claims, made previously and elsewhere, that scientific reality can be superseded.[3] Let me provide a glimpse of what I mean. There is a dispelling of deceit and gullibility, concomitantly with the awakening of faculties, and with emotional sensitization: yielding intellectual techniques which supersede the compartmentation of faculties characterizing the present culture. Thereby, new mental abilities are invented. The community is open to avenues of metamorphosis of the life-world.[4] The comprehensively assembled "meta-technology" would be self-conscious about the inherited view of factual reality, going beyond it in an operative way. Again, my perspective is that of a novel arena which outruns what was formerly considered factual reality. (My meta-technological writings, etc., are a prerequisite for understanding the terminology of the requirements to follow.[5] See the Appendix for a bibliography.)

Emotional sensitization and personal faculties are culturally correlated. Referring to past, achieved cultures, we find that the dispelling of gullibility, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the awakening of faculties, or emotional sensitivity, may not correspond. The historical record suggests that democracy and rationalism may be accompanied by all-pervading commercialism, and thus by crassness and banality; and that nobility may accompany despotism, superstition, and squalor. The envisioned mode of life invokes dimensions of human potentiality which hitherto were supported only by different cultures. I'm seeking a unitary experience which transmits many dimensions of potentiality.

My interest here is with the [implications] of these claims for interpersonal life. If meta-technology could be implemented collectively, we would accede to an uncanny life-world. To express the matter from a present-day standpoint, the new mode of life would be a waking-dream reality or enchanted reality.

What is most original here is the argument that: in order for a collective to be able freely to change the laws of nature, all persons would have to have parity of "station in life" and parity of authority in the culture. Moreover, the total of menial and routine labor would have to decrease to the vanishing point.

That, in fact, is why I insist on speculating about a mode of life which does not consign the mass of people to material servitude. And this premise cuts the other way also. It means that I cannot admire modes of life based on the material servitude of the masses: no matter whether they achieve the "spiritual wealth" of Egypt, India, or Islam--or the consumer abundance of advanced capitalism. (This is why I refuse to admire the traditional societies in which the good serfs know their place and toil away, etc. etc.)

One intellectually unavoidable outcome would be that the realism of history would be placed in suspension. The higher civilization would consign history to a lesser grade of realism. There would be reasons why the supposed edifying effect of history could be foregone.[6]

* * *

The following principles are not claimed to be self-explanatory. Again, the rest of my work is necessary for full explanations (cf. the Appendix).

The statements are requirements--expressed as if from within the new mode of life, in the new terminology. Parenthesized numbers refer to comments on each statement, collected in the following section.

The life-world (lived experience) is understood as an integration of:

The commentary is expressed in the old terminology.

  1. Self-subsistent objectivities, and affirmative consistent theories, would no longer be sought as foundations of reality. As far as the physical world is concerned, a fragment of what I envision is provided by my "Superseding Scientific Apprehension of the Inanimate World: The Phenomenological Basis of Physics" (1990).

    The higher civilization presupposes an intellectual defeat for physics; for Marx's materialism; and for all the doctrines which hold that capitalism is necessitated by physico-biological nature itself. For the latter, see the Afterward.

  2. The new mode of life is not compatible with a social order in which most people are consigned to material servitude. Not only would the sought-for inspiration not appear; the uncanny instrumental activity or meta-technology would not appear.

    So it's not like Pakistan and the atomic bomb (or the priesthood in ancient Egypt)--advanced technology coexisting with a population of paupers or slaves.

  3. Here uncanniness and ecstasis are positioned as notions reactive to everyday banality. In the new mode of life such counterposition would no longer be necessary.

  4. This is much stranger than those uninitiated in economics may realize. It requires a complete rewriting of the economics of preference. Rejection of the Axiom of Pure Greed and the Axiom of Nonsatiation. Sharp distinctions between consuming and hoarding, between substitution and compensation.

  5. This statement on satisfaction of needs is pertinent so long as a separate sphere of material requisites of life can be distinguished.

  6. This implies an intellectual defeat, again, for doctrines which hold that capitalism is dictated by physico-biological nature. It requires an intellectual defeat for the Austrian school's "inarticulate knowledge" argument against central planning. It requires a defeat for Milton Friedman's argument that totalitarianism is inevitable in a planned economy.

  7. To the present civilization, the new mode of life would seem a waking-dream-reality or enchanted reality.

* * *

Appendix. Henry Flynt, selected publications

Blueprint for a Higher Civilization (Milan, 1975)

"Vorschlag für ein Geniebefreiungs-Projekt," in Ausgabe Nr. 1 (Berlin, May 1976)

Voorstel voor een Genieën-Bevrijdings-Project, pamphlet (Amsterdam, `A' Publicatie, 1977)

"Extracts from Personhood's Self-Cancellation," in Art Journal, Summer 1982, pp. 119-121

"The Radicalism of Unbelief," in Ikon, Second Series, #1, New York, Fall-Winter 1982-3, pp. 112-118

"Gespräch Über 'Modalities and Languages for Algorithms' von Christer Hennix," in Ausgabe Nr. 7 (periodical), Köln, October 1983, pp. 116-123

"The Apprehension of Plurality: An instruction manual for 1987 concept art," in Io #41: Being = Space X Action (Berkeley, North Atlantic Books, 1989)

"Challenge to Conceptual Artists: Early Returns," in Lightworks magazine, No. 20/21 (Detroit, 1990), pp. 11-14

"Exercise Awareness-States," in Ikon #11: The Sixties (New York, 1990)

"Meta-Technology: An Analytical Sketch," in Perforations 5, Spring 1994 (Public Domain, Atlanta)



statement on revolution

drafted September 1981; retypeset 1996

Marxism proves more decisively and relentlessly than any other ideology that we are robots. It then goes on to say that those of us who are in bondage should be freed. But at the level of the cogency of the ideology, if the slaves are robots, then why in the world must they be freed? (So that there can be an exponential expansion of production? But to what end?) What difference does it make to a robot? (Let me hasten to reassure the reader that I am not really shocked that Marxism is incoherent as an idea.)

Marx wanted "revolution" to transform the economic class structure while remaining relentlessly loyal to the scientific world-view. Ironically, this program may be self-frustrating. It may not be possible for a movement which preaches loyalty to the scientific world-view to gain support in late capitalist society for an insulated overturn of the economic class structure. Capitalism may be able to assimilate to its own fabric any scheme of economic liberation which proclaims the equality of people as robots and commodities. My investigations have led me to conclude that what is at stake is not an isolable pathology in economic class structure, but an entire civilization and what it knows as "reality." My investigations lead me to treat the question of (the determination of) reality and the question of social reorganization not as independent questions but as the same question.

The whole Marxist-Leftist tradition is too crippled by the presuppositions of the modern Western culture of which it is a late variant: blind faith in natural science, dogmatic materialism, the assumption that natural science and dogmatic materialism are allies of revolution, socio-idolatry. It is my forecast that no tendency or movement which takes "proletarian revolution" as its program or slogan will be able to make a proletarian revolution -- so that the Marxist conception of the revolutionary project gives a direction to consciousness and action which defeats the pretended revolutionary purpose. What is paramount is the struggle for a post-Western culture (civilization), characterized by 1) a technology-beyond-technology which can overwhelm scientific technology, and 2) a way of coping with "the world" which devolves entirely from [the person-world premise].[7] Communism can only be a byproduct, almost an afterthought.

I indulged Marx's historical materialism as a plausible explanation of the moral codes of past epoches. But even this plausible contribution of Marxism may have to be extensively reinterpreted. Perhaps the succession of stages in history was necessary. But our understanding of what those stages embraced [realized choice alongside external conditions of the moment, realized choice and external conditions as equal constituents of a single "world"], and of what constituted their necessity, may have to alter if it is not to be belied by the person-world premise.


Afterward. Economics and natural science



[1] Although the worker, unlike the Egyptian slave, is a free agent juridically.

[2] It could not be otherwise as long as capitalism lasts; and academic economics holds that capitalism is dictated by physico-biological nature itself. See the Afterward.

[3] Apart from myself, the only person I can cite in support of this position is C.C. Hennix.

[4] The psychedelic experience is a specific avenue which will be known to the reader. I deplore the way psychedelic experimentation was overwhelmed by degraded public life in the West in the Sixties.

[5] E.g., without having my "Introduction to the Logic of Contradictions," one might imagine that the "logically impossible states of the world" I speak about could be quantum complementarity and indeterminacy.

[6] Whereas today we need to preserve traditional culture as a bulwark against dehumanization by the current culture, the higher civilization would mean a revival of personalistic and hallowed expression, on a new level: "soul" would not longer reside only in old languages, old buildings, old statues, old texts. From another angle, the motive for people to keep score as to their ancestral status (or lack of it) would disappear. "Consciousness" could break free of its material antecedents/circumstances.

[*] This is a departure from Blueprint for a Higher Civilization, especially "Instructions for the Flyntian Modality," p. 25, which I am still pondering.

[7] Note my phrase "emotional gratification at the level of reciprocity of pesonhood" -- but (2) is not limited to this.