2005/11/25

Societal atomization


Here is an article that comes somehow to the same conclusions that I express in this blog and also in my book Artsense (see top left and click on the coverpage).
Late modernity ends in atomization. The individuals believe that they have the truth about everything and real knowledge is thus relativized. In other words that better reflect my own presentation the views and visions of the men of knowledge being not any longer privileged by the men of power they don't any longer secure the diffusion of the ideas of the men of knowledge at the attention of all and the men of knowledge thus find themselves in competition with all sorts of charlatans...
I share this vision with the authors of the article that follows but we diverge on two fundamental points.
- One on the "human way". I do not consider indeed that religion is the only historical, nor valid, form of societal cohesion building (worldview). I also do not consider that the glueing of the individuals into a societal form has anything to do with believing in objective truths. It is all dependant on the knowledge available at any given time.
- Two on the evolution of human knowledge leading to the emergence of new worldviews. This aspect of societal reality is totally absent from the presentation of those authors and religion is thus the only belief system that they can imagine about... people are lost into atomization because religion has been relegated to the dustbin of history by liberalism and in consequence fundamentalism is rising as a militant reaction against liberalism. But what about the possibility that the relegation of religion to the dustbin of history could eventually be followed by the emergence of a new worldview? No sign of this possibility in this article...
Notwithstanding those short-comings I suggest you read the following article, for, it is one of the best presentations I have had the chance to read on:
- the linkage between religion and the formation and conservation of state power...
- the rejection of the existing religious worldview and the following relativization of knowledge that led Western societies to atomize.
Writing one is sometimes led to doubt but when discovering that others share some of your thoughts you are somehow encouraged... that's exactly what happened for me with this article.

in the IHT by Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst :
""" Confined to the personal sphere, religion is deprived of civic engagement that would mitigate fanaticism and foster moderation, and faith answers to no authority other than subjective inner conscience.
- The trouble is that once liberalism has surrendered any belief in objective truths, all personal subjective beliefs become true. Once all things are equally valid, the only way to attain supremacy is through war and power. Thus does liberalism make fundamentalists out of us all.
- By denying religion any public import, this hitherto shared realm became drained of any objective moral beliefs. Society was atomized and culture surrendered to relativism. """

URL: The twisted religion of Blair and Bush


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2005/11/22

The road of humanity, worldviews and visual arts


Before jumping to the description of civilizations and culture, I guess that a summary of the thoughts presented earlier would be usefull.


1. The road of humanity.
























This model is based on the "Wave theory" by Dr. Chaim H. Tejman


2. Worldviews.
We know from history that humanity went through 3 successive worldviews:
- animism: it lasted for tens of thousands and perhaps as long as hundred of thousands of years and ended with agriculture that developed as an indirect consequence of the last climate cahnge some 11,000 B.C.
- religions: were used and imposed as psychic glues to unify the individuals within the territory of the early kingdoms and empires starting approximately 3,000 B.C.
- modernity: is the system of thought based on individualism and private property that grew in Western European Christian lands as an direct consequence of the discovery of luxuries during the crusades and later discoveries.
- post-modernity: the sheer speed of scientific discoveries around the year 2000 and globalization that develops in parallel, plus the side-effects of modernity, those 3 factors are shaping a radically new approach towards reality from which a new post-modern worldview is emerging that will eventually be shared in the future by all on this earth.


3. Visual arts.
Worldviews glued the individuals within the boundaries of their societies. They were shaped in the minds of the "men of knowledge": shaman under animism, priests and monks under religions and aristocracy and new rich under early modernity. Visual sight having developed since tens of thousands of years, as humans' first and foremost sense, visual images were the best vehicle for transmitting the worldviews of the men of knowledge at the attention of their contemporaries. The production of such visual images is what has been referred to as art since the Renaissance (early modernity).
With a mature modernity the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day, the scientists, disconnected gradually from "the road of humanity". One of the direct consequences of this disconnect was for artists to be freed from the representation of imposed signs and they thus gained the freedom to represent what they want on their canvasses but by late modernity they had lost themselves in "whatever" is art...

In my next post about civilizations I'll try to sketch how the disconnect between knowledge and society at large occured.



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2005/11/21

About non-determination.


The future is not given.
The future is non-determined.

The future can't possibly result out of a straight line projection from a limited and subjective reading of the present... there are ups and downs, order is followed by chaos and out of chaos emerges a new form of order that we just should not have the pretension to define for the good reason that at the point of bifurcation or at the crosspoint leading out of chaos an infinity of possibilities arise... but only one will materialize into our future. What I mean to point here is that at the bifurcation point out of chaos the possibility that imposes itself as the future reality is not chosen by god playing dice. It is not as if the emerging reality were following a path of randomness. Our input, yes ours of we humans, can eventually (not necessarily) act as the drop of water that forces the balance in this or that direction.

We should be conscient about one fact: our input is the result of our dream about the future (ideals) what I mean is that the way we wish our future to be determines our present ideas and actions... if we don't have any ideal we simply are speechless and actless now.

At this point let's come back to the idea of art.
But first let's define what is art, for, without a commonly agreed upon definition if I speak about apples you could be thinking that I'm talking about pears. My understanding is that as far as we can look down our human history art has always been an instrument for letting the atoms (individuals) that form the corpus (society) share a common understanding about reality, about life, about what we are and about whatever bla bla bla. Societies need cohesion to survive and art acted as an instrument of communication to let the individuals share the wisdom of the men of knowledge. Images and visual signs are indeed understandable by all but we can't unfortunately say the same of the words expressed by the men of knowledge. (shaman under animism, priest under religions, philosophers under early modernity). What I mean to say is that artists were in reality no more than image technicians who were in charge of executing visual signs or illustrations about the wisdom, the worldview of the men of knowledge of their days.

But things changed with a maturing modernity. (approximative dating: 1900-1950) This is when the men of wisdom were indeed left to compete with all kinds of charlatans for the ears of their contemporaries... and artists thus were freed of the obligation to illustrate their wisdom. By the end of the twentieth century this experience had unfortunately landed everyone into the deepest of confusions.... here we are now reading that art is dead or that the only reality is the market.

Our present day predicament is that the freeing of the artists of their past obligation to illustrate the wisdom of the men of knowleldge of their day has plunged them into an unknown territory where the question becomes: what do I now have to represent, what do I now have to illustrate.... animism and religions are worldviews of the past and the visual signs that illustrate them are thus of no help, any longer, in our days. Early modern signs representing individualism, private property and so on, I mean portraits and landscapes have also lost the power to say anything about our times. We are thus left to search for meaning and sense about what we are living through societally and this is something radical, for, visual artists have not been prepared for something like that. Remember the remark of Duchamp who was saying that he was "tired of being called dumb as an artist"... he was targeting what I try to speak about here, I mean the need for the "late moderm" or "early postmodern" artist to accumulate knowledge about what is going on in order for him to have the material to work with in his visual signs.

The problem is that there are so many knowings today, I mean scientific knowings, but where is the knowledge of our times?

Ok, I give it to you... the knowledge of our times is not available yet, it is bound to emerge later out of the confrontation of science and culture. You understand science for sure, but culture? By that word I mean the encounter of all the cultures of this world leading to a whole new cultural paradigm. I believe indeed that our Western culture will have to give way to the wisdoms of the East and of the other people on this earth.

It is my firm belief that the role of the present day artist is to try to give visual signs of that coming worldview.

We artists have to reapropriate the societal functionality of visual arts so as to participate in our limited capacity in helping the presently forming society of the globalizing village to stabilize, to gain cohesion. This is the only way that I know about to help shape into reality my dream of a better tomorrow....

By the way this is also the best way to keep intellectual sanity in our very confused times.



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2005/11/20

Wordviews


Worldviews are transmitted from one generation to another over the long haul.

A worldview, as its name implies, is a view of the world a shared understanding of reality. When we speak about reality what we mean is nothing more than our perception, our understanding, our consciousness about our environment from infinitesimal to infinity and our place inside that environment.

Reality is inaccessible to us we are indeed only tiny specks of dust within its vastness so the best we can hope for is to gain a perception, an interpretation, a conscienceness that would be as near as possible from the real thing. Our understanding fluctuates along the lines of our knowledge base and force is to admit that knowledge evolves... prompting fluctuations in our interpretation, our consciousness, about what reality is all about. This in turn further up the societal level is gradually shaping our worldviews.

Knowledge is the fact of thinkers, and other adventurers on the slopes of reality, they constitute only a tiny minority within their societies while worldviews are the result of a shared knowledge by all members of a society.

In the contradictions that unfold between the minority that creates new knowledge and society at large that tries to protect itself from change lies the energetic substance that will bring societal change. This is what I call "the road of humanity". It is a process that can take centuries if not millenia to mature and it fluctuates and changes along the lines of the polarities of the ensemble "humanity". What do I mean? We are trying to understand how worldviews evolve and change. I posit that worldviews change as a result of the dynamics inside the ensemble "humanity" and what powers those dynamics are the polarities that are shaping the ensemble itself: societies versus individuals.

Individual innovating visions are not readily accepted they need to undergo a process of sociatal acceptance. Societies, in whatever form, try to protect what is established against change. Change is indeed considered as destabilizing and eventually dangerous that's why societies made the sharing by all of the worldview of the moment as the ultimate glue that would keep the societal building from falling apart.

Historic evolution is like a quantum wave made of energetic (societal) and magnetic (individuals) swirls that are pulling societies forward. In the following graph I borrow the substance of the "Wave theory" by Dr. Chaim H. Tejman to illustrate the mechanics of societal change.



























Historical facts do by no means confirm the primary role of one or another of those factors in the formation of societal change: arts, culture, knowledge and the economy. On the contrary history does indicate that at times one of those factors can be preponderantly influential while being totally absent of the equation at other times.

There is simply no beginning and no end in this swirling cycle of change there is only a beginning and an end for each specific moment in time corresponding to a snapshot of change. It should be noted here that historians, economists and other specialists have all too often fallen into a one-sided absolutist vision of change and universities are thus filled with chair-holders behaving more as faithfull clergymen spreading their gospel and arguing between themselves than as true scientists.

For what we know history witnessed 3 epochal worldviews: animism, religion and modernity.

A fourth is starting to shape nowadays that should bring us a radically transformed view of the world in the future. I argue in my book ARTSENSE that the interaction between science and technology on the one hand and on the other globalization that will spread the cultures worldviews and civilizational axioms of the future economically dominant countries through the windows of each and everyone; this interaction is starting to shape for all of us a radically new worldview that for the first time in history promizes to be a globally shared worldview over all the earth.

From what is going on today in the world we see that our model "the road of humanity" is kind of riding on 3 wheels only as if the tire of the wheel carrying arts was flat. In late modernity the wave of humanity has been interrupted, stucked as it is within the economic polarities of societies (knowledge versus economy) that are themselves nothing more than one of the polarities of the road of humanity (societies verus individuals). Societies are no ends in themselves they are only instruments in the hands of humanity on its evolutionary road.

The economy nowadays imposes on all individuals the illusion of their freedom through the offer of merchandises to be consumed. Knowledge is then generated quasi-exclusively to produce always more alienating merchandises. But in this process, force is to recognize that, knowledge has been reduced to "pre-knowledge" or one could also say that it has been reduced to scientific or rational "knowings" that are of interest to the economy for sure but offer very little substance to societies and individuals in their dance along the road of humanity.

Is this sounding paradoxical to you? I guess yes so let me try to shed some light on this phenomenon from another angle. The economy is being driven by the "logic of capital" and the logic of capital has muted ideologically into rationalism that has become the hegemonic model of thought imposed on all of us from kindergarten to university. Shocking isn't it? How could it be that we have been thaught to reason but ever been forbidden to question reason? Reason is no more than the transfer to the process of thinking of the rules that were imposed by the "logic of capital" on those who were holding capital; in contravention with the edicts of the church I have to add. So we start to understand that capital holders had a very strong incentive to finance the expansion of the "logic of capital" into an ideology for all to follow. The acceptence of the ideology of rationalism would indeed increase the "playing field" of the logic of capital making it possible to generate always more surplusses (benefits) . Globalization has to be understood in the same light, for, when national bases offered no more or only little potential to expand the "playing field" the continuing increase of surpluses could only come from outside the national boundaries where those surplusses had been generated hitherto.

The use of the ideology of rationalism was not limited to the expansion of the "playing field" of the "logic of capital" (demand) it also became instrumental in the development of always more merchandises (offer). The application of knowledge, derived from the use of rationalism, into solving technical problems of production allowed indeed for the "massification" of the market and later for the incessant offer of different merchandises. Knowledge to solve technical problems is technoscience which is a major misappropriation of knowledge that hitherto had always been conceived as the way we understand reality or to say this otherwise the way we understand our environment from infinitesimal to infinite and our place into that environment. How did we come to replace knowledge with technoscience? The interest of capital holders and researchers is to perfect and diffuse innovations that can occupy market shares and this explains the mutation of knowledge into technoscience. Technoscience is applied science which is built upon existing general knowledge but it fast appeared that our general knowledge base had also to be expanded to allow further developments in technoscience that's how financing was then diverted to "fundamental science" meant to expand our general knowledge base.

Being derived out of the reductionist ideology of rationalism fundamental science is just not capable of generating real knowledge that gives meaning to people's lives and then this blind following of rationalism that sings about better tomorrows extinguishes breathless... Scientific knowledge, applied or fundamental, is thus not real knowledge at best can we speak of "knowings"; a multitude of knowings or of little pieces that await to be inter-woven with a more globally encompassing philosophic vision into a new paradigm of reality.

The complete corruption of "the road of humanity" that started with "the logic of capital" destroyed art and knowledge that are absent now in the dance between individuals and societies and humanity fell sick, very sick as well as mother earth that sustains us all.

Hope is on the way, for, the speed and the sheer size of our accumulation of "knowings" are giving us to see signs of hope. Humanity seems indeed to dispose of the technical solutions or is very near of finding those technical solutions that could eliminate all the scourges that afflict us todat: poverty, environmental degradation, diminishing fossil fuels and other raw materials, etc.
But humanity just can't put its act together it seems, for, having the technical solutions to its problems is not enough it should implement the application of those technical solutions and initiate the process of change out of its problems and into a liveable post-modern world. Here is undoubtedly the weak link in this process of change, for, bringing all the people on earth to share a same understanding of the urgency of humanity's problems is still a far-away possibility it seems.

I nevertheless see encouraging signs. First on a macro-level force is to recognize that with globalization the worldview of the whiteman that has shaped the modern world until now will soon come under the assault of the worldviews of some of the countries that are emerging as the soon to be economic powers of the world. I'm speaking about China and India principally. The axiomatic foundations of their civilizations being so far apart from the Western axiomatic foundations changes in humanity's behaviors are necessarily on the horizon. I shall write more extensively about that point in my next post titled "civilizations". The second encouraging sign is the frenetic search for answers to fill the void of sense or of meaning about life that is so prevalently felt nowadays by most citizens in Western or better in advanced industrialized countries. Knowledge encompassing the present realities has still not matured and shall in all evidence not stabilize as a result only of internal elements of those countries, for, the energizing of the world now comes from other skies.

According to the traditional vue of the function of art in societies the artist role is to give visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge at the attention of his fellow citizens. The knowledge of our days having still not yet maturated the artists are left without a message to illustrate and not surprisingly most of them landed into confusion-land believing that "whatever" is now a good enough subject for their craft. But they are flat wrong the only thing they attain is total insignificance making Marcel Duchamp's words "being dumb as a painter" look premonitory. Considering that the only possible thing that truly can be considered as art are the visual works realized today that will make sense in the eyes of the people 50 or 100 years from now we can but conclude that "whatever" is not art for it will not reflect the worldview of those people no more than the works reflecting past worldviews as religious works, landscapes or portraits . The unmistaken conclusion we arrive at is thus that the only escape for artists today is to build up their knowledge base in terms of scientific knowings and in terms of other civilizations' foundational axioms, for, out of the interaction between those two will emerge the post-modern worldview of tomorrow.


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2005/11/18

Worldviews, civilizations and culture

I concluded my last post with the following words: "The European and by extension the Western civilization finds its roots in Christianity. In contrast the Chinese civilization seems to have been built directly out of its Animist societal experience". The ground where both civilizations sprouted and the roots they grew could thus not be further apart.

It is generally accepted that humans' present day form and fully grown brain potential were reached some 100,000 years ago. We have thus to assume that the earliest cultural development of humanity starts at least at that time. But recent scientific descoveries about animal societies conclude that animals have languages, societal organizations and their own cultures. Force is thus to assume that human culture goes back far earlier than the last 100,000 years.

The point here is not to engage in a scholastic debate about the time span covered by human culture. The point is simply to recognize that for well over 100,000 years humans were observing the earth and the sky and their cycles. Those observations then led them into thinking about their place in what they saw. The perception they so developed helped them to set up and adjust their early societal organization and thus emerged human culture.

I started this post writing about civilization and here I'm writing about culture and those who read me regularly know for a fact that I'm very often referrring to worldviews. But what are the differences between those concepts? Many writers use them as if they were interchangeable as if they were meaning the same thing but nothing could be further apart from the reality of their meaning. If we want to understand the evolution of human thinking, the evolution of human societal organizations, we better clarify the differences between those 3 concepts and how they relate to one another.

I'll try to clarify this question in my next 3 post.


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2005/11/16

Western versus Chinese civilization



In Western eyes, the traditional model of societal development that has been teached for ages goes something like this. (The timeline goes from left towards right.)










We should be aware that this is somehow an Eurocentrist model and it should thus not be generalized to the rest of the world. But let's nevertheless see what its application returns from a comparison between the developments of Europe and China.











































From those images everyone will rapidly come to the same 3 conclusions:
- animism has decidedly been, at least in terms of its timespan, the overwhelming stage of the human theater of societal evolution and this stage of development was similar in Europe and in China.
- on the right side of the graph a stark differentiation appears between the European and Chinese societal developments.
- religion seems to have been a uniquely European reality.
Let's now zoom on the developments that are nearest to us.


Europe.


















China.




















For sure these visualizations are crude "impressionistic style" generalizations but they are nevertheless exact reflections of the reality of societal evolution and those images undoubtedly leave us with a very strong visual impression of the differences between the roads taken by Europe and China.

So let's examine what are the strongest differentiations.

1. In Europe the passage from Animism to Christianity seems to have been a rather gradual experience. But while Christianity borrowed some Animist traits it remains nevertheless that in the end it eradicated with a vengence the last vestiges of its competitor for the control of people's minds. Books were burnt, statues were destroyed, temples were demolished, public signs were eradicated and feasts and festivals were converted to the new creed. The natural consequence of such a barbarity has been the irremediable loss of the observations and knowledge that had been gathered by earlier generations along the preceding tens of thousands of years.
In contrast China kept that heritage intact.

2. European and by extension Western civilization finds thus its roots in Christianity. In contrast the Chinese civilization seems to have been built out of its Animist societal experience.


Graphs Copyright Laodan

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2005/11/14

About worldviews and visual arts.

Abstract


1. All religions are worldviews but all worldviews are not religions.

2. A worldview is the general set of elements that characterizes one's understanding of reality or more generally one's view of the world. In other words a worldview gives its adherents a view about reality, the world, themselves... and, that we wish it or not, the fact is that we all adhere to one or another worldview be it conscientiously or unconscientiously.
Worldviews have always acted as the glue binding atoms (individuals) together in their corpus (society), as such we can affirm that, worldviews are a function of the evolution of humanity.

3. The principle of "humanity" is formed by the interactions between its opposites poles: its corpus (society) and its constitutive atoms (the individuals). That means that all changes in the human condition are powered by the energy emanating from those interactions and this implies that both poles are equally important. Any excess of preponderance of one or the other pole indicates a disruption in the organic mode of human evolution and the observation of any such disruption gives the diagnostic of a malady, of an illness, in the developmental process of the human specie in general.

4. Visual arts, and more particularly painting, were assigned the task to "illustrate", at the attention of all members of society, the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day. The human evolutionary process selected vision as the primary tool of survival... and so humans came naturaly to use visual signs as their preferred tools for sharing, among themselves the worldview of the men of knowledge of their times.

5. The assembling of humans in groups was always very fragile and to assure its survival it was in need of a binding glue that took the form of belief systems accepted by all individuals. Over time those belief systems translated into coherent sets of axioms gaining their societies a unified interpretation of the principle of reality. Such unquestioned axioms form, the roots, the foundations of all civilizations.



Worldviews and visual arts.


The evolution from great apes to the human race is a scientific hypothesis that has received ample verification. This hard fact is confirmed by hard discoveries but what is more difficult to pinpoint is the process setting humans on the road of visual representations of their cultural values and ideas.

We now know that animals communicate between themselves, they have cultures that unify all the individuals in one group to behave according to the values of their culture. But what brought the human animal to draw, paint and sculpt? I think that the answer to that question has to be derived out of the act of representation itself.

Nature and the process of evolution do not generate unnecessary functions in a specie. Everything that is there is there for a good reason, it is there to answer an existing necessity. So the functionality of visual representations has to be seen as an evolutionary answer of the human specie to a necessity it was confronted with. We know for a sure fact that human societies were producing visual representations since early on. We know this for the archaeological discoveries of a few of those representations. What we also know is that the societies that produced those early representations had belief systems that have come to be known under the term "animism", a worldview, that had common traits anywhere and at any time around the world. The question that now arises is what did an animist worldview fulfill as function for the societies where it was in practice?

That worldview was one view of the world, one vision of reality, among many possible views. Nonetheless it had similar traits anywhere and at any time for it was based on the realities of human life: nourishing the body (reproducing the individual), sexual pleasure (reproducing the specie), harmonizing in one's environment (ecology) and respecting the power of the sun that creates the days and the seasons. The visual representations of those traits can be observed in the "art" productions of any animist society. (primitive art)

So what was the role of those representations? Again I come back to this idea that if something takes place in nature the reason why it takes place has to be found in the function that it exercises. The only plausible function that I can see is that the shaman who was the man of knowledge of his group, of his tribe, used visual signs to share his vision of reality with his fellow tribesmen. The survival of the individuals was dependent on the survival of the group and this could only be guaranteed through a unity of views shared by all members of the group. Disunity of views would have destabilized the group and impeached its fulfilling of the necessary tasks to assure the survival of its members.

Tribes were sometimes affiliated with other tribes in some sort of loose confederacy sharing some particular values that allowed for a smooth coexistence among them at least in times of plenty.

For reasons that still have not been fully understood, at a given time, one tribe could go on a rampage and by force of arms unify all the other tribes around it within what then came to be called later on as a nation. (a modern concept) For exemple Tsongstan Gambo unified militarily the Tibetan Tribes in the 8th century and introduced Buddhism as the unifying worldview of his newfound kingdom. Over the next centuries Buddhism will compete with "Bonism", local animist worldview, for acceptance by the "Tibetans". Buddhism will finally be imposed as the official religion in the 13th century by the conquering Mongols.

In the end of the 12th century Genghis Khan had been on a rampage finally unifying the various Mongolian clans in 1206. His rampage extended then to the adjacent lands and thus Tibet conquered by Khubilai Khan, Genghis' grandson, came under the umbrella of the Chinese empire that Khubilai had conquered and was leading as its emperor.

The unification of the Chinese tribes had taken place much earlier, sometime, BC 3000.

This process of unification can be seen at work in all parts of the world. Local tribes, clans, sharing a similar animist worldview were unified by the force of arms. Some will never be unified and continue to live to this day under an animist worldview except that our modern worldview is making us to steal from them their natural habitat.

The unification of local groupings into kingdoms and empires has generally coincided with the adoption of:
- a religion (gods)
- a central authority (politics and military)
- the idea of being the center of the world
- a written language

All those elements somehow combined to give the newly grouped nations a new worldview where religion generally took center stage. Competition was now between nations and turned out to take variable forms. If the general traits of animism were globally shared by local groups anywhere around the world things took a new turn with the birth of nations. These were times of differentiation and the observed differences helped to solidify the bonds between "nationals".

The process of change from animism to religions that I try to describe here is inscribed in the long haul history. The worldviews did not change overnight. It was more as a hundreds of years long competitive process where religions borrowed much of animist practices to gain acceptance. The same went for the structures of power. Nations that succeeded to survive over the long haul were affirming and deepening the content of their proper set of views about reality and thus differentiating even further with the other surviving nations. This describes basically the formation of civilizations.

A civilization is somehow like a house. Foundations are laid in the ground upon which the house is then being build and once the house is built the foundations become invisible like hidden in the ground. We live in houses and forget about their foundations and, when a house has structural problems, only building technicians remember about those foundations and go check what has gone wrong with them.

Societies are vastly more complex than houses but basically the analogy stands the test. Their foundations are unknown to most of the individuals who have no clue at all that what they think and how they think is founded in those unknowns. Only a few thinkers are conscientious about the civilizational foundations that formed the ideas and belief systems of our societies and how they continue to shape the formation of our ideas in the present.

If we can understand that foundations are hidden we do nonetheless not necessarily know what our civilizations are all about . Everyone can see a house but a civilization remains largely invisible, indeed, it's not a material construct. We all can observe some of the components of its branches in the form of our cultures but most of us fail to see the tree. For example we all can see that Chinese, Japanese, Indian, African or Muslim paintings do not belong to the sphere of the Western civilization and we all, kind of instinctively, know that the works of Leonardo, Rubens, Van Gogh and Picasso are part of the Western civilization. But what is a civilization, and what is the difference between culture and civilization, remain questions whose answers are largely unknown and ignored. We can abstractly understand the principle of our civilizations having foundations but we have difficulties to describe the house of our civilizations for the good reason that our civilizational house is never completely built. Generation after generation we build add-ons to it and what we are conscientious about as individuals, who are part of a generation, is the cultural add-on we are participating in and not the civilization as a whole. What we all, in various degrees, know something about are the ideas and values that shape our present day culture but how our culture participates in the building of our civilization remains largely a mystery.

A civilization is the building, over its original foundations, of snapshots of the cultural behaviors of the different human generations throughout its history. It is the addition of the successive cultural moments of societies sharing the same foundations. In that sense, the civilization of a given society can encompass a very large variety of cultural values and behaviors. It can even encompass what appears as opposite values: one extreme pole on the ladder of behavioral possibilities at a given time and the other extreme pole at another given time.

Culture is the result of the ways of behaving and of doing by societies and individuals at a given time. For example, present day culture is our present day way of life: the goods and services that feed our consumerism through mass marketization, the merchandization of all that touches human life and our dependence on salary and debt. This implies that culture is kind of a historic snapshot of the way of a society at a given time.

In the past, multiple generations were sharing roughly the same culture over the long haul. A good example of this state of affairs is found in Western Europe where culture, in the form of Christian ideas and values imposed by Rome, was transmitted largely unchallenged and thus unchanged, generation after generation, from the 4th-5th century till around the 15th century. A turning point is reached with the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries) that establishes ideas and values celebrating private ownership, individualism and the rationality emerging out of the logic of capital. Cultural change will then go accelerating in parallel with scientific, technological and economic changes and the founding values of the Renaissance will be spreading around the world giving hegemony to the rationality of the logic of capital.

Observing China's history one finds identical patterns of cultural change at work. The age of the hundred schools of thoughts (AD500-200) were succeeded by the re-unification of the warring kingdoms under an imperial dynasty and the imposition of Confucianism upon the Chinese society which itself imposed one particular version of Chinese culture on generation after generation of individuals from BC 200 to AD 1900. A turn is reached around 1900 after China's cultural certainties had been weakening for two centuries at the contact of more advanced Western rifles and canons. The idea that generally was adopted by all Chinese intellectuals at the time was to integrate Western scientific prowess with Chinese traditions. Another turn is reached with the import by the communists into the country of the concept of capital and the ensuing decision to industrialize the country (1960-1990) that will culminate with Deng Xiao ping's "reform and opening" policies.

It appears thus that cultural change is not following a regular clock-like mechanism. Seismic cultural ruptures seem indeed to have been followed by long periods of "relative cultural stability". Those seismic cultural ruptures correspond to a shift in the worldview of the individuals within a civilization. The term worldview was coined from the German word Weltanschaung (look onto the world) which denotes a comprehensive set of opinions about what reality is all about. Worldviews were only achieving wide and unquestioning support very slowly over time.

The foundations of our present day civilizations were established in pre-history times, by this I mean that, their emergence has not been acted in written accounts and in consequence we remain largely in the dark about their formation. But notwithstanding this gap we can clearly identify their founding axioms. I give a relatively detailed account of those axioms for the Western and Chinese civilizations in my post "THE AXIOMS OF CIVILIZATIONS = the founding building blocks upon which societies build their future".
It seems that civilizations start somehow with the political unification of local groups and with "the invention of the gods" or with the waning of animism. The transition from animism to the creation of the gods takes place historically at different times for each center of civilization. China and Sumer invent their first gods sometime 5-6,000 years ago or earlier. Other centers will follow up later on and some ethnic groups are still living in animist cultures today. What all this shows us is a deep differentiation between the people of this earth in their levels of societal development. This reality does not imply, in any way, a judgment about the people who live in different stages of societal development.

Animism corresponds to an early worldview giving humans to glorify the elements that visually appeared to them as commanding the phenomena that directly impacted on their survival: the sun, the moon, the animals and plants that nourished them and sex and their reproduction. Because they were not or did not cut themselves from their environment they could directly experience and hear the song of the earth, the song of life and feel being one with their environment. That this worldview was the result of conscientious thinking or not does not matter. What matters is the result or the consequence of this conscientious or unconscientious behavior: a deep respect for everything in nature, a limitation of the species' take from nature that was limited to the satisfaction of the primary needs of its members to reproduce their existence.

Visual arts were not perceived in the age of animism nor in the age of the gods in the same light as they are nowadays. They were indeed not considered as art, those productions had a direct functionality, they were illustrations of the ideas and values of the men of knowledge of their day: the shaman in animism and the priest under the gods. The artists were simply image makers, illustrators, publicists of the ideas of others.

The worldviews of the men of knowledge were imposed by the men of power and the artist's job was to illustrate those worldviews. The freedom of the artists was limited to form, content was imposed on him.

Things will start to change with the Renaissance. Towns and cities were developing at the non-controlled and wild intersections between manors generating demographic growth and the need for more craft productions and trade. On this particular West-European reality will be superposed the consequences of a brutal and primitive urge to impose the Christian creed upon the Middle East:

- . . advanced Arab sciences and the long lost Greek classics made their entry in the rooms of the literate, I mean the clergy, all others were indeed illiterate including the laymen painters. Clergymen being the buyers of images their reading the classics and the Arab university publications will unleash their demand for change in the rendering of the form of their new image orders.
- . . the aristocracy had a taste for the luxuries of more advanced lands and long distance trade took root to satisfy their needs and desires. Walls that had been left bare until then will now be decorated with mirrors, tapestries and paintings. Interior decoration was born to satisfy the desire of the aristocracy for luxuries and their ideas about life: individualism, private ownership,...


Here is the turning point between the age of the gods and the modern times. Increased trade combines with the newly discovered desire by the aristocracy and then the new rich for luxuries.
The values and ideas of the aristocracy and the new rich merchants have mutated. They now search to establish as rights what their newly found material wealth can buy and individual ownership becomes the center of their discourse. Owning a richly decorated mansion gives them the sense of being different from the masses and this newly found perception of a differentiation infuses their minds with the illusion of their particularism, of the importance of their individualities. The aristocracy and the new rich merchants are driving the new fashion of the day and individualism and private ownership will ultimately take center stage in the European social game.

At this turning point in history the Christian church that has been hegemonic for over 1000 years is still the dominating force and it will take another few centuries for its dominance to wane. The sacred images hanging on the walls of the churches continue to illustrate the Christian creed. In this environment of social and cultural change interior decoration luxuries will try to catch up with the sacred character of the images hanging on the walls of the churches. Paintings on the walls of the manors of the aristocracy and the new rich will posit the sacrality of their newly discovered values of individuality and private ownership. Their portraits and environing landscapes act as a stamp of sacrality adorning their walls. Here is the point when art in Western Europe takes its sacred character. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witness the assembling of large collections of paintings. Mansions, castles and palaces are filled with the sacred character of the visual representations of the shaping worldview. Those investments are not typically capitalistic they are more of the nature of procuring prestige. Only later will the acqired ustensils of prestige be exchanged on the market for money and then be converted into capital to finance the production of canons and socks.

In the meanwhile the flow of money increases and the surpluses are invested in trading ventures and later in production. In this process something goes largely unnoticed by all the participants. Everything seems to be normal but something absolutely stunning is nevertheless happening: the logic of their invested capital is starting to dictate the actions of capital owners. They are not acting out of their own will any longer, the generation of profits, of surpluses is now what dictates their conduct. One could argue that they freely accept and even search for the consequences of the logic of capital that in last instance is engulfing them into always more opportunities of luxuries. The rationality of the logic of capital is then presented as what is good, desirable and what should be encouraged by societies. And why not will you ask. Well I think that when one accepts to abdicate blindly his own right at free examination of what is to be done for the chimera of a quick buck guaranteed by a mechanical logic, well then one decides to abdicate not only the short term but also everything that comes in the future engendered by the rationality of that logic of the invested capital. I guess that I don't need to make a drawing about what kind of consequences one exposes oneself by following such a flawed logic. But what is more fundamental even is that by abdicating your free will to the rationality of the logic of capital you not only expose yourself to consequences, you expose the whole of your society.

Here we are today with poisoned waters, poisoned air, deforestation, climate change, the most brutal of species extinctions that ever happened, and the steadying possibility of our human extinction... and all this has been dictatorially imposed on all of us by a tiny minority of capital owners who are totally unconscientious about the consequences of their actions.

Till when will humanity as a whole continue to accept such a paltry state of affairs?


Modernism concludes nowadays not only with this real possibility of our own provoking human mass extinction but also with the real possibility of a new found control of our actions that could be leading to a radically better future for every citizen on this earth. What will make the balance tilt towards one side or the other? I think ourselves and nothing else. What do I mean by that? Well we sure have ended the 20th century in the most glaring confusion in art no doubt about that and more generally in our cultural behavior but this is not in any way implying that we can't reach out for sense anymore.

Whatever the outcome for humanity, it makes no doubt that we have entered an area of change unparalleled in human history. If we succeed to glide around the obstacles before us the future could be very interesting. Never has humanity seen such an extensive range of fundamental changes interacting upon one another. This is a systemic exception for sure or is it some form of conclusion

Other posts relating to the same subject can be found here.
If interested in a more thorough presentation of those ideas, read my book ARTSENSE that dwells along 310 pages on those ideas.


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2005/11/11

Art is a trial at answering the question "what is reality?".

I guess that if we spend our time and energy crafting sentences with words it is not only for the sake of spending our time it is, I believe, to express some thought in the hope to shed some light on our understanding of reality. We should thus expect coherence in the verbal expression of our thoughts; is it not.

It seems to me that we are somehow permanently dancing around a question without ever admitting that this question really exists. This question is "What is reality?". This question is at the heart of artistic creation and out of it there simply is no art, it is also at the heart of philosophies and religions and let us be very clear this question has nothing to do with marketing nor with anything that relates to money nor capital.

Dark matter, dark energy, empty space are concepts derived by scientists (astrophysicists) out of their visions at the end of their "tunnel enquiries". In the case of dark matter and dark energy the "tunnel enquiry" is in the direction of the outer limits of our macro-universe. In this particular form they start their "tunnel enquiries" at the eye of a telescope zooming always further in the search for new "images". Another widely popular form is for scientists to focus their attention on the microcosm, zooming always deeper into the infinitely small with the help of microscopes. The form of their approach looks different but essentially they are doing the same thing they are "tunnel enquiring" towards infinitely small details with the hope that the workings of those details will reveal to them the workings of reality as a whole.

The most serious problem with such an approach is that the collected images are invariably describing a detail only of a near infinite macrocosm or of a near infinite micrososm. The epistemic question that thus arises from such scientific studies is "How could the study of such a small detail give us a clue about the working of the whole?". There is indeed a "whole" inside which we are only infinitesimal particles and it is the working of that very whole that constitutes the reality in which our lives unfold.

Scientists are peering always further from the "here and now" of their position as observers but this gives them no more than images of far away details that make no sense of the working of the global reality...

Philosophies have generally taken an opposite path searching for sense in "the whole" wherein we live while neglecting the parts-like machinery. To summarise (outrageously I'm afraid):
- on one side are the founding philosophies of the religions of the word which posit that the observed infinite chain of causalities has to be interrupted for the sake of human sanity. Their argument then goes that there is an "ultimate mover" who starts the chain of causality. Aristotle appears to give the most extensive presentation of such a thesis. What follows in the next historic bubble is no more than folk stories (religions) that will be used as social glues to keep kingdoms and empires together.
- on the other side are the philosophies derived out of "animism" a system of thought that humanity unanimously shared for tens of thousands of years and perhaps even for as long as hundreds of thousands of years. At the turn of their establishing and enforcing power the religions of the word brutally destroyed any remnant of animism in their geographic areas of control. In all other areas animism survived or was integrated in "superior" philosophical systems. Everywhere animism posited that humans, animals and plants are particles of "the whole", "the one"... and that they are somehow bound or linked all together which implies a code of morality obliging humans to respect animals and plants and the working of their environment.

With the start of agriculture that followed the last period of climate change some 11,000 years ago greater concentrations of people could survive on a same territory... this is what led gradually to the assembling of different tribes under political and military leadership. This is also the crosspoint in history when philosophies and religions took root and were then imposed on all by the men of power.

It should be noted that capitalism and its ideology of rationality took root where one of "the religions of the word", christianity, had established a firm grip on the beliefs of the people under its control... and that appears to be in Europe and subsequently in all the territorial extensions where Europeans established themselves and imposed their worldview to the natives.

I'd like to suggest that scientific rationality let on its own will most probably lead humanity to an early extinction. Our choice, if we have one, is to recognize and accept the limitations of capitalistic and scientific rationality... and our vital need for an interaction between rationality and philosophy. For sure this is the opinion of an artist, of a thinker, some will argue that, as such, it is not even worth the listening. But I have the weakness to believe that the artist's role has mutated over the last century. Visual artists have been along all the time-span of our cultural history no more than image technicians; craftsmen polishing the visual lines of the stories told by the men of knowledge of their times. But this changed sometime around 1900 when the men of knowledge lost the support of the men of power who were on their way to transforming into state-machinery technicians, in other words, who were transforming into bureaucrats whose vision was limited to the internal working of the newly built institutional system. That is when visual artists were freed of the imposition to represent the worldview of the men of knowledge.

Picasso who had some good friends in the mathematical circles, and the cubists, related to the buss-words "en vogue" in their time with mathematicians to explain reality: the fourth dimension, relativity and so on. The surrealists were more attuned with the new "psychology" theories developped by Freud, Jung and other students of the psyche.

Without to understand this very clearly, after the turn of the 19th century, visual artists started to reject the image that projects on the retina. In other words visual artists were rejecting the realism that the mechanics of our eye's sensors were giving us to see...

What is that visual mechanic of human eyes good for after all?
Nothing more than to let us know what is moving around us so that we could possibly do what it takes to preserve our existence. In other words our eyes are no more than functional sensors that our evolution gratified us with in order to help us assure our preservation... In a sense, yes, our eyes reflect in our brains images of reality but in another sense we also understand that these images that our eyes are giving us to see are very limitative giving us to see only a very narrow segment of what could be possible to see. So our brains were naturally frustrated and with the development of scientific approaches towards all the fields of reality our brains somehow encouraged us to develop visual images of what we started to understand but that our eyes could not apprehend.

Visual imagings have been for so many tens of thousands of years at the centre of the mechanics of the human animal's survival that they have established themselves as our leading sense. Other animals developped other sensors based on the application of other principles: infra-red, sound and so many other that are still unknown.

So here we are now trying to answer the same old question "What is reality?".

Scientists go to it through the road of that particular logic of rationality without understanding that rationality is no more than the ideology of the "logic of capital" that, applied for some seven to eight centuries (in Europe at least), imposed itself as being the ultimate truth teller within the industrial societies. But the negativities for the human race should, by now, start to sink into our minds. The application of that rationality, along such a short time-span of only a few centuries, has already succeeded to rapidly and surely conduct to the extinction of our species. Rationality can no longer be left on its own to direct the evolution of the human species. But understand me well, rationality should not be rejected per se it remains indeed a very powerfull tool to help create a better tomorrow for all the children of our earth: humans animals and plants alike. Specializing in the understanding of the particles of the whole scientific rationality needs now to be confronted to an all encompassing system of thought akin to animism, a philosophy, that would be accepted and shared, if not by all then, at least by most of the citizens on our earth. This will be seen as a dream and will surely be portrayed as the vision of an idealist but I'm absolutely sure that I'm the only one that is utterly realist here. I do not one moment believe that such a move or such a convergence between science and philosophy will come about through the conscient exercise of human decision-makers. No. Decision-makers will resist that move but in the end they will be overwhelmed by what the historian Toynbee called "necessity". We already can see the first signs of such a necessity and the first answers coming from the decision-makers. Look only at climate change. But when I speak about necessity I have in mind something all-together a lot more world-changing. I'm not divining here but for the sake of understanding just try for a moment to imagine what it could be like in a situation like the one described in the movie "The day after tomorrow", or for the sake of realism just look at the answers coming after New-Orleans or the South-East Asia Tsunami... and imagine what comes next.

Painters have been discharged of the obligation to represent visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge of their times but let's be honest most painters and most other visual artists are mostly lost nowadays not knowing what to illustrate nor what ideas to express in their creations. My own take on this whole story is that visual artists, if they want to make sense out of what they are doing, have no escape but to accumulate scientific and philosophic knowledge that eventually could help them to regurgitate a plausible vision of the worldview that a surviving humanity will come to share within the next decades.

If interested by what I wrote here, read my book ARTSENSE that dwells along 310 pages on those ideas.


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