= the energetic contact between humanity's polarities: societies <--> individuals
Historical studies are about the historical hard facts, I mean economic, social, religious and political realities. How these hard facts are coming about under the impact of soft facts, changing ideologies, values. ideas and ideals is an approach that is far less common. This should not come as a surprise for the same can be said of essays at understanding our contemporary world. Furthermore, history's soft facts are simply gone and generally not registered which renders the task doubly difficult.
It makes nevertheless no doubt that social and societal changes are in great part the result of changes in our worldview, in our "Weltanschauung" and this is something very difficult to apprehend.
To make things simple, let's summarize how the build-up of our worldviews operates.
We should always remember that life is nothing more than what emerges when a set of circumstances combine. More particularly, organic compounds present in the universe assemble into more complex molecular systems that evolve some basic properties leading to the emergence of life. In "The chemistry of life is an integral part of the process that births stars"(0) Alan Hall writes: "Precursors to terrestrial life's distinctive chemistry apparently abound in the churning clouds of dust and gas in distant space. ... The vast interstellar clouds that spawn new generations of galaxies, stars and planets are also the incubators of life. The prebiotic compounds that they produce sift down in a cosmic rain, not just on Earth but on any hospitable planet in the cosmos. The stuff of life is stardust and we are born of it--and, yes, we are probably not alone."
All living organisms are driven by their physical properties. We have indeed to start from that very basic fact that we are physical bodies that are genetically programmed to search for more complexity.
The principle of life on earth started with the spontaneous emergence of unicellular forms some 4 billion years ago. The sciences of complexity indicate a general strategic principle governing life and that is that life always strives for higher levels of complexity while simultaneously auto-regulating its present forms. This principle seems programmed in all particles, in all cells. This means that unicellular forms of life strive to assemble to reach a superior level of multicellular life forms (around 3 billion years ago) and the same process continues from marine multicellular forms to more advanced forms that gradually will leave their wet environment for dry ground (around 2 billion years ago). Around 540 million years ago, a revolution swept the evolutionary process: species developed visual vision systems or eyes. The same principle of evolution further led to our humanoid form some 2-300,000 years ago and finally, some 100,000 years ago, to the human form with its brain developed as we know it today.
From that point on, our human history is the story of the complexification of our individual thinking combining with the auto-regulation of our collective organization and their controversial but stimulating relation. In one word, individuals succeeding for whatever reason to reach higher levels of thinking are "contained" by the resistance of conservative collective organizational forms.
Complexification of individual thinking leads to changes in ideas, values, archetypal images and the individuals carrying those changes will not rest till those are fully integrated by their collective organizations. But collective organizational forms seem to perceive change as a source of disorganization and are resisting it in order to protect the group. The disorganization is very seldom purely individual it rather assumes a group character. Only by relying for social response and recognition on a smaller community with congenial interests can the individual emancipate himself from the dependence upon the larger community.
Primitive societies were fiercely collectivist, denying individual search of complexity. The group was considered more important than the individual and the mechanisms of auto-regulation centered on the idea of the unity of the group and its environment (animism). Disunity with one's peers or with his environment was thought to be a sin and to bring salvation and protect the unity of the group, men practiced sacrifices. But situations of disunity were generating a conscience of the self !
The gradual strengthening over time of the conscience of self drove humanity to a turning point in its history. What follows as a consequence of this turning point is one of the biggest steps on the chart of human organizational evolution. Religious and philosophic answers (gods and wisdoms) now act as the mechanisms of collective auto-regulation. As I understand it, this starts to take place some 10,000 years ago going from China to Mesopotamia. Everywhere on earth, philosophies and religions acted as the protectors of collective organizations in order to assure the common good. This turning point in history took place at different times for the different people of our earth and some are still practicing animism presently.
Let's note at this point that all religions and wisdoms have focused their attention on the same ideas and values wherever on earth and one of their central tenets has always been the search for personal "liberation" through freeing of the self from the need for material possessions.
It seems to me as if the process of growing individual thinking and conscience was opening the individuals to the winds of desire, envy and greed. Liberation of the chains binding men to desire material possessions was then presented as the solution to reach "contentment".
The consequence of human permeation to those winds of desire unleashed men's growing separation from each other leading ultimately to destructive relationships that were a direct menace for their collective organization.
Philosophical wisdoms and religions acted as an antidote to desire, envy and greed that were perceived as unleashing an unstoppable growth of individualism. Discouraging greed and lust for material possessions became a necessity for all collective organizations. And so philosophies and religions were given the role of collective instruments of preservation of the common good. In the exercise of that role, religions and wisdoms were recognized as the authorities over the knowledge of the collectivity.
All religions on our earth seem to have had this same imperative of downplaying the need for material possessions, emphasizing instead the extreme happiness experienced through one's liberation, through contentment.
- HinduDharma: "Religion In General". The Purpose of Religion: (1)
"There are two types of happiness: the first is ephemeral; and the second is everlasting and not subject to diminution. Kama or in barn is ephemeral happiness and denotes worldly pleasure, worldly desires. Moksa or vidu is everlasting happiness, not transient pleasure. It is because people are ignorant about such happiness, how elevated and enduring it is, that they hanker after the trivial and momentary joys of kama."
- A Jain Study Guide. (2)
"Jainism believes that the more a person possesses in worldly wealth the more he may be unhappy and the more likely he is to commit sin, both physically and mentally."
- Tao Te Ching. Lao Tze. Interpolation by Peter Merel (3)
Health or reputation: which is held dearer?
Health or possessions: which has more worth?
Profit or loss: which is more troublesome?
Great love incurs great expense,
And great riches incur great fear,
But contentment comes at no cost;
Who knows when to stop
Does not continue into danger,
And so may long endure.
- Christianity: Timothy (4)
6.6. But godliness with contentment is great gain.
6.7. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
6.8. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
6.9. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
6.10. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
The principle of liberation from desires for material possessions is still counseled by all religions presently with more or less success. But it makes no doubt that Judaism and Christianity stepped through the gates of hell. What I mean here is that social and economic changes in Europe during the medieval times opened the gates of hell or to put it otherwise opened the bottle from where the genie of desires would escape. Those changes and the actions of the genie on its followers imposed themselves upon the church of Rome which resulted in its reformation through schisms and splits and ultimately its demise in the eyes of growing numbers of individuals.
Something of the same nature, it seems, was going on in Jesus' time in the world of Judaism. Could it be that Jesus' message was preached against the opening of the gates of hell by the Jews?
As we have seen earlier, medieval merchants gradually started long distance trade over the borders of their regional market areas with other merchants from afar. General insecurity imposed the use of paper instruments of exchange, banking deposit techniques and double entry accountancy, all techniques borrowed from Arab merchants during the crusades. But the church was opposed to the use of those "diabolical" techniques:
" If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor's cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor's only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate." (5)
"Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of anything that is lent upon usury."(6)
"If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked."(7)
Those extracts should leave no doubt at all. The Christian church in the middle ages had indeed a position that was very similar to that of Islam today.
See here what the Koran says about the subject: "Oh you who believe! Have fear of Allah and give up what remains of what is due (to you) of Usury. If you do not, then take notice of war (against you) from Allah and His Messenger." "It is not permitted to pay a loan by asking the lender to receive payment from a third person who owes money to the lender...." (8)
See the following commentary by Umar Ibrahim Vadilloby on money and banking:
"The use of paper money by any institution is contrary to the nature of Islam. In the case of the bank however there is an added element to this contradiction -- namely the capacity of the bank to freely create paper money by means of credit -- which is independent of whether this paper-money is used for honest business or usurious loans. The use of credit to artificially expand the monetary resources is emphatically forbidden in the Shari'a." (8)
Similar debates were going on in the Christian Middle Ages in Europe, albeit with a less modern language but it gives us a fairly good idea about how money "managers" and merchants had to use subterfuges to turn around the religious interdictions. Let's go back for an instant to the arguments of Umar Ibrahim Vadilloby speaking about the subterfuges of modern day Muslim reformers:
"The so-called 'Islamic bank' is a usurious institution contrary to Islam. The 'Islamic bank" is an absurd attempt to resolve, as was done in the case of Christianity, the unswerving opposition of Islam to usury for fourteen centuries.
Since its origin, the 'Islamic bank' has been patronized and promoted by usurers. Their only intention was to incorporate the thousand million Muslims of the world--who in general would scornfully avoid using any banking or usurious institution--into the international financial and monetary system. The artificial creation by the colonial powers of the so called 'Islamic states', itself a contradiction in terms, whose character is markedly anti-lslamic, was the historical result of the end of territorial colonization and the beginning of the financial neo-colonialism." (8)
Medieval and later Renaissance banking was limited to a few great houses offering merchant banking services (particularly long-distance money transfer and the provision of loans). The first such organization was that of the Knights Templars, who by 1200 were in effect the bankers of the kings of England and of France. Their fortress-like monasteries, known as Temples, arose in every European land, and by the end of the thirteenth century sheltered the chief banking-system of Europe; the knights were trusted by popes and kings and by persons of wealth because their solid credit based on the countless estates of the order and its widespread financial relations.
France was in great debt to the Templars' organization, and its king, Philip Le Bel, upon the death of Pope Clement V, in 1307, brought many charges against the knights, including heresy. Friday 13th came to be known as an unlucky day, for it was the day that Philip arrested all the Templars in France (Friday 13th, October of 1307).
After 1307, in order to avoid to enter into conflict with their church, Christians largely left all banking activities into the hands of the Jews who took over from the Templars and became the bankers of the European kings.
Let's remember that gold, silver and precious stones were the basic instrument of exchange in the Middle Ages and thus it should not come as a surprise to see the Jews also controlling the jewelry (9) sector.
Rationality, through calculations and other machinations in order to increase the mass of money at hand and accumulate surpluses, established itself as the banking culture. And over the next centuries, the Jewish bankers imposed this culture of rationality to all who treated with them.
The period of "discoveries" has to be seen as one step in this economic rationalization process. Discoverers' "voyages" were in fact gigantic commercial enterprises. In general, a company was created with the king's and other aristocrat's installed capital. The target of the enterprise was to come back loaded with gold, silver and other richnesses stolen from unsuspecting folks in foreign lands. Queen Isabel and King Fernando of Castille had agreed to finance Columbus' first voyage. They benefited from a miraculous return-multiplication of their initial investment. Later voyages put Spain at the hart of Europe's financial and military might. But this was not going without much envy. The financial and commercial might of Spain and Portugal seemed limitless in the eyes of English merchants. "Condemned to smell in the distance the catholic rulers' feast, remained only one hope. If the British rulers dared not cut with formidable Spain, ... the English merchants had no reason to respect agreements which excluded them from the richest regions on earth. ... 'English piracy was famous in the 15th century; in the 16th century it will take patriotic proportions'. Between piratry and commerce the limit was ill defined". (10)
Francis Drake is the most famous of the English pirates of the 16th century. His expeditions were financed by merchants and aristocrats, Queen Elizabeth was part of them and she made a 5000% return on her investment in the "Golden Hind" expedition. Drake's feat enraged the Spaniards who prepared a fleet to attack England. Flemish canons ordered by Elizabeth, with the proceeds of her surplus from the "Golden Hind" operation, were mounted on the English ships and due to their longer shooting range destroyed hundred of the hundred and fifty warships that Spain had engaged in the battle. Half of the thirty thousand soldiers who handled the vessels died. Spain had lost its superiority on the seas.
Here we see how the proceeds of piracy allowed the English merchants to accumulate the necessary cash to finance England's superiority on the seas.
Around the end of the 16th century, merchants adventurers and members of the aristocracy who had invested in privateering and piracy expeditions started to invest the proceeds of these activities in stock companies. And the State gave the monopoly of commerce in specific areas to each of these companies. When the East India Company was created in 1600, it received "the monopoly of commerce with the isles and ports of Asia, of Africa and of America starting with the Strait of Good Hope to the Magellan Strait". (10) The instrument of English colonialism was born that 2-3 centuries later would control the world economy.
Lets now look at how industrialization really established itself. But first a general remark: approaching industrialization can't be done satisfactorily by simply affirming "ex-cathedra" (11) that it was British scientific genius that unleashed technological innovations that brought about a revolution in the process of production. Such an approach is only an intellectual shortcut which impeaches reasoned understanding. What has been determinant is that an important increase in liquidity coming from piracy plus monopoly trade with the colonies and drug traffic combined with mercantilist (12) policies to create the need for import substitutes. The ingredient for the technological innovations of the 18th century that ignited growth was indeed the perception of "mercantilist necessity" and only large scale capital investments permitted to put in production those first mass consumption goods that had already been invented earlier.
In short the story goes something likes this. Mercantilism created the necessity for "import substitute" woven cotton cloth and enclosures combined with factories to throw farm workers and small farmers in developing townships. Automatically ensued a weakening of self consumption and a higher demand for merchandise goods. Metallurgical innovations, financed by the state for the production of the cannons its wars were asking for, helped the textile craftsmen devise new equipment that would be powered by a new source of energy that had to solve the wood energy crises that had been perceived around 1700. Cheap socks and other cotton clothes became available to most and a better hygiene ensued that reduced drastically child mortality rates and the population entered in a growth spiral....
By 1800 Britain was entering the realm of mass production of cotton socks for a rapidly expanding mass market. The next 150 years will basically expand on that trend, integrating always newer mass marketed goods. The US will eventually take the lead under the combined effect of its market size and its early introduction of mass marketing of cars. The 2nd world war will expand drastically the demand for American weapons which production was financed largely through money creation that Europe will take years to repay with real surpluses. That's in summary how America took the economic lead of the world in the 20th century.
Mass market consumption was reached sometimes after the 2nd world war. 50-60 in the US and 60-70 in Europe. That's when the power of the illusionist genie of desires that had been allowed to leave its bottle during the middle-ages entered it's full swing. Let me explain.
We saw how religions and philosophical wisdoms, all over the world, had rejected the lore of material possessions and the use of techniques that would favor their expansion: money, interest, banking,... The mass consumption stage of our economic development is the moment when it can be said that the lore of material possessions is totally possessing all of us. And this has been made a reality by the use of the techniques that favor the expansion of material possessions: money, interests, banking...
We have entered a time of extremes, the polarity represented by the individuals on the road of humanity, like a stunami. is overwhelming all the societal spheres. Being possessed by a materialistic lore, our communities are atomizing and our societies are like dissolving before our eyes. Such a situation can't last for ever. Or our societies will break down and we'll enter anew into dark ages or a turn of events will unleash upon us a societal reaction in one form or another of authoritarianism that will fimally rebalance the polarities of humanity.
What to make about all that?
Well it makes absolutely no doubt to me that we have been playing apprentice sorcerers. But understand me well. The atrocious centuries leading to mass consumption are not all negative. For sure white men have driven the world for centuries through primitive brutality and the destruction of countless people. For sure we enter what scientists are calling the "6th extinction period" in the history of the earth. For sure the illusionist genie that had been liberated from the philosophical bottle blinded men to the consequences of their weapons. For sure four fifth of humanity is excluded from this "heavenly" consumerism. For sure, we helped our climate to change so fast that we could soon regret it. For sure in this consumerism paradise, men have lost their compass (the race of men, of humans, that clearly includes women, I mean I use the word men as a generic for humans... ).
All those are facts for sure.
But at the same time it seems to me that men's scientific reason is going to bring them back to their senses and to lead them back to the roots of their traditional wisdoms, be it religious or philosophic, that they will adapt to their present knowings and images and enhance into a far superior knowledge.
But at the same time it seems to me that this superior knowledge could well pull men together into a true world community where all will have a chance to eat and live happily.
But at the same time it seems to me that men could also be lost irremediably... who knows the future.
Ultimately men will eventually understand their vanity and they will then try to re-imprison the illusionist genie of desires in his bottle. But that is another story and its outcome is not a given. We are indeed somehow in the position of dogs who have bitten and have had much of a taste of blood. Dog trainers know how difficult it can be to unlearn such dogs not to bite anymore!
Whatever the conclusion one arrives at, I think that we can all agree on the fact that we are in a dire need of integration of present day mature scientific knowings with traditional wisdoms in order to be able to offer a superior knowledge to humanity. I believe, perhaps naively, that artists, thinkers and scientists are the ones who will gradually come up with the elements making such an integration feasible in the future in the meantime they are starting to shape the contours of a future worldview and I don't believe that reactionary populist movements calling for a return to an idealized past have any chance to derail the new worldview in the shaping.
(0) "The chemistry of life is an integral part of the process that births stars" by Alan Hall in Scientific American, March 22, 1999.
(3) Tao Te Qing
(5) Exodus, The Second Book of Moses, chapter 22 verse 25, from the Christian Bible or Hebrew Torah.
(6) Deut. Xxiii. 19.
(7) Luke 6:34-35
(8) THE FALLACY OF THE 'ISLAMIC BANK' by Umar Ibrahim Vadillo
(9) Jewelry: does not come from Jew but from "jouel", 13th century French word meaning "joyau" in modern French of "jewel" in English.
(10) Merchants adventurers: Morton.
(11) From WIKIPEDIA: "In Roman Catholic dogma, the Latin phrase Ex Cathedra, literally meaning "from the throne (of St Peter)" is applied in Catholic theology to statements made by the pope in his capacity as infallible guide and teacher of the faithful. The dogma was promulgated in 1870, in the closing days of the Italian Risorgimento. A papal statement made ex cathedra is said to be protected by the Holy Spirit from all error."
(12) From WIKIPEDIA: "Mercantilism is the economic theory that a nation's prosperity depended upon its supply of gold and silver, that the total volume of trade is unchangeable. This theory suggests that the government should play an active role in the economy by encouraging exports and discouraging imports, especially through the use of tariffs. Mercantilism is the economic policy that flourished in early modernity, often referred to as mercantilism or as the mercantile system."