Infertility as a Metaphor Heralding Global Collapse
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 2 Apr 2018
Essential Impotence Disguised by Performance and “Being Great Again”
Erectile dysfunction? An increasingly prominent feature of national politics and identity is the promise of “being great again”, as variously evident. This is most notable in the nation already esteemed as the most powerful on the planet (Jacob S. Hacker, Making America Great Again, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016; Phillip Lohaus, Make Foreign Policy Great Again, US News, 9 February 2017; How Donald Trump came up with ‘Make America Great Again’, Stuff, 19 January 2017). This slogan has also been taken up in Great Britain, France, and elsewhere. Its use is naturally reinforced by the fear that other countries may also seek to become “great again” — as with Russia and China. The possibility has been evoked with respect to the United Nations and to Europe (Scott Monje, Making the UN Great Again? Foreign Policy Association, 1 March 2018; Aamna Mohdin, Far-right European politicians are talking about “making Europe great again”, Quartz, 26 January 2017).
In Freudian terms, this aspiration, together with the enthusiasm it engenders, readily lends itself to comparison with widespread preoccupation with male erectile dysfunction and the challenge of “getting it up”. This has resulted in the quest for aphrodisiacs, whether supplied by the pharmaceutical industry or through acquisition of portions of the anatomy of endangerd wild animals — considered essentially vigorous and esteemed as symbols of potency.
However the concern with “being great again” plays out even more evidently in the acquisition of ever more powerful weaponry — and hence the widespread manufacture, sale and purchase of armaments as a major proportion of national GDP. More personally, in some cultures, this takes the form of acquisition of “guns” or, failing that, “knives” of some kind. This may well be framed in terms of traditional cultural values. Much is made of the proportion of weapons owned by citizens of the USA, for example — together with a belief in the “right-to-carry” (whether visibly or not) and upholding “standing-your-ground” as a right.
Another manifestation of “being great again” is the competitive construction of ever taller buildings — with the tallest readily framed and appreciated as the embodiment of national prestige, as with the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and the like (List of tallest buildings in the world). Perceived architecturally as “important”, they echo the appreciation of taller people — even to be understood in terms of “standing tall”, if not “being tall again”. Height is readily associated with success. National leaders may follow the practice of many women by using high-heeled shoes to enhance that impression. Shortness may be subtly deprecated.
An associated manifestation is evident in the competitive efforts to “get into orbit”, to “land on the moon”, or to establish a colony on Mars — if not transporting humanity to exoplanets of other solar systems. These exercises in techno-optimism are readily to be recognized as exercises in mass distraction (Challenges More Difficult for Science than Going to Mars, 2014; Destructive Weapons of Mass Distraction Versus Distractive Weapons of Mass Destruction, 2003).
Impotence and infertility? These physical preoccupations disguise a more subtle dimension of impotence, namely that of infertility — and its implications as a more fundamental metaphor in its own right. An obvious example is provided by the capacity to “win wars” through the domination of others, whilst being essentially dysfunctional with respect to “peace building”, as so tragically illustrated in the case of the incapacity of the Coalition of the Willing in relation to Iraq. Despite the manifestation of “will”, fruitful follow-through has been demonstrably ineffectual in the Middle East. As with “fucking capacity”, potency is clearly no guarantee of fertility. The issue is well illustrated by James Hillman and Michael Ventura (We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy — And the World’s Getting Worse, 1992).
It is in this sense that human biological infertility merits exploration as a metaphor of psychosocial infertility, thereby offering insight into some form of civilizational collapse. In communication terms, is the decreasing “quality of sperm” (for example) resulting in an increasingly constrained capacity for psychosocial reproduction — disguised by population growth and the phenomena noted above? Most evidently, this can be explored in terms of the contrast between the explosion of information exchange and the relatively unfruitful “global” uptake of the remarkable “local” generation of creative insight worldwide. This is most evident in the case of governance, whether at the global, national or community level — not to mention any equivalent to the challenges of individual self-governance.
Curiously it can be argued that the promotion of contraception and abortion is echoed by dependence on a form of “conceptual contraception” and “cognitive abortion” in an unexamined quest for individual freedom — and thereby condemned to a strange form of sterility.
In terms of viable psychosocial reproduction, there is therefore a case for recognizing a fatal perversity to the insight of Gregory Bateson in concluding a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation: We are our own metaphor (Catherine Bateson, Our Own Metaphor, 1972, p. 304).
Fading sense of hope? Especially relevant to this argument is the complex of studies of the movie interpretation of a dystopian novel by P. D. James (The Children of Men, 1992) exploring the implications of a global sterility crisis. The movie of that title (Children of Men, 2006) was directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Commentary focuses on his inspiration that the premise of infertility in the book could serve as a metaphor of global significance for the “fading sense of hope that humanity has today” (Alfonso Cuarón… searches for hope in “Children of Men”, The Seattle Times, 22 December 2006). The DVD edition of the movie also includes a documentary (Alfonso Cuarón, The Possibility of Hope, 2007). This features a commentary by Slavoj Zizek who sees it as the best diagnosis of the ideological despair of a society without history, as he has otherwise argued (Living in the End Times, 2011). Zizek’s analysis of the movie, there and elsewhere, has itself evoked further commentary (Gregory Wolmart, On Anamorphic Adaptations and the Children of Men, International Journal of Zizek Studies, 11, 2017, 2).
Both the novel and the movie are part of the Dying Earth subgenre of science fiction which has occasionally explored implications of the “last child” born in a context of global infertility. Written in the aftermath of the Reign of Terror of the French revolution and the violence of the Napoleonic wars, the earliest example of the theme is held to have initiated speculative fiction depicting the end of the world (Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville, Le Dernier Homme, 1805, as translated by I. F. Clarke, The Last Man, 2003)..
Renaissance? Understood otherwise, is the current cognitive preoccupation with “global” to be usefully compared with the attraction of the sperm for the ovum towards which it desperately and competitively strives? Is society now incapable of renewing itself, as variously framed by the optimistic possibility of a new Renaissance? (Challenges of Renaissance: suggestive pattern of concerns in the light of the birth metaphor, 2003; Missing the New Renaissance? 2010; David Lorimer and Oliver Robinson (Eds.), A New Renaissance: transforming science, spirit and society, 2010).
If global society is increasingly incapable of “global conception” — psychosocially understood — how might the “last insight” of fruitfully transformative global significance be explored? Perhaps inspired by the tradition of haiku death poems of Zen monks — or in song (Songs of the Dying Earth, 2009) ?
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