Chapter 3. About culture, worldviews, civilizations
3. Culture, worldviews, civilizations
I started book 1 of this series with a presentation about the most important concepts that frame my personal thought process. Chief among them is societal evolution that is deeply ingrained in cultural change and more particularly in the elements of cultural change that make it into the worldview of society.
I have furthermore dedicated some chapters of book 1 to the history of worldviews 1 & 2 and civilizations 1, 2, & 3. My intention in this chapter 3 is not to rehash the content of these earlier posts. I want now to address how these concepts interrelate and more particularly I want to address how culture acts as the catalyst of the evolution of worldviews, and of societies at large, in ways similar to genes that succeed to implant their mutations in the human genome.
Worldviews are the glue that binds the citizens in a shared understanding of what reality is all about and this is what keeps societies cohesive which, in the last instance, is what allows them to reproduce over the generations.
Graph 1: worldviews
Along these last decades the gluing of Western countries has steadily dissolved and in consequence (1):
- societies have been implementing restructuring policies placing their “institutions of force” at the helm of state power while the process of decision-making itself has been lowered to practices which can only be described as being manipulative and deceptive. State statistics departments have been forced to adjust their presentations or interpretations of facts as well as their figures. All this was done, and continues to be done, in order to make believe that state propaganda reflects the facts on the ground. In the process the mainstream media has also been converted to act as the mouthpiece of state power and as a consequence daily propaganda and disinformation now pass for news. But nobody is dupe and, as a result, a deep disbelief has taken over the minds of Western citizens who observe a growing divergence between their daily life conditions and the message delivered by politicians and other societal elites. The gap between the people and societal elites has become so large today that “state institutions of force” feel obliged to devise all kinds of approaches to contain what is expected will be an ensuing tidal wave of discontent that could threaten to break the machinery of power. Such approaches take multiple forms. Among the most visible is the enforcement of the role of diffuser of state propaganda and the manipulation of ideas by the cultural industry, chief among them: TV and newspapers, film and gaming, web search, video and news portals, etc… Other approaches are less subtle. Nobody can miss the complete impunity of the daily killing of citizens by US police agents. And what about the militarization of the police services, the systematic spying on citizens activities? More radical approaches are still on the books and their early implementation augurs of no good. For example a ban on cash would impose the payment of all transactions through digital form which will necessarily give the state a visualization of the complete range of activities of all individuals (2).
- societies have fragmented along the lines of special interests and their differentiated beliefs. Over the last 20 years the web has amplified this fragmentation into a tidal wave of individual and anonymous beliefs that mix elements of state propaganda with conspiracy theories. As a result the West has attained a stage of societal atomization whereby the individuals have forged an iron clad faith in their own personal illusion of knowing it all. This has reinforced peoples' distrust for the elites and has completed the process of rejection of the men of knowledge that had started in the 2nd half of the 19th century. As a result the level playing field of ideas has been inundated under an avalanche of sects and dark narratives loaded with extreme negativity that are competing for the attention of eyeballs with scientists and thinkers,… as a result the mind of the individual is being bombarded with constant noise! YouTube is the poster-boy of this kind of dumbing down level playing field and it adds another level to the deception: it analyses what people watch and then serves them with selections adapted to the results of its analysis. In other words it reinforces the individual's bias while hides from his view what in normal circumstances is called real information.
This new societal reality in the West is one of the first stages of development within the framework of Late-Modernity. It indicates the slipping of Modernity in an inexorable process of extinction (3) and this forces us to address the question of societal change and how change operates. In other words old Modernity is decaying and giving way to the emergence of something new that will only materialize for our eyes to see in future decades. In that sense addressing the characteristics of that new worldview paradigm is a risky venture. This is why I feel that those who wish to engage in such an exercise have first and foremost to address the mechanisms through which change operates in order to devise some guiding principles to understand what really matters in the present that shapes the process of emergence of our future societal reality which, in the present context, is the only sensical task the real man of knowledge, as well as the real artist, should dedicate his life to. And if history is any guide this is how present knowledge formation and art productions will be judged in the future.
3.1. The concepts through history
The 3 past determinant moments in human societal evolution were unmistakably:
- the emergence of tribal life (4)
- the emergence of empires with religions
- the emergence of Modernity
A 4th such determinant moment will soon be added to this list with the demise of Modernity and the emergence of what comes after Modernity.
The earlier forms of group organization, before tribal emergence, were family centered and counted very few heads which made survival a difficult task that left very few free moments for anything cultural. Tribes expanded the head count of human groupings and that is what succeeded to foster economic abundance and freed time for other activities. Knowledge formation was put in the hands of a man of knowledge who answered the various needs for answers of his fellow tribesmen. And so over some 100,000 years knowledge grew incrementally based on an apprenticeship of the man of knowledge's craft which was later expanded by further observation of the rhythms of nature. And in an unspoken pact the men of knowledge communicated their knowledge (worldview) to the members of their tribe through the arts. The sharing by all of a common worldview quietened the minds of the members of the tribe and strengthened societal cohesion. The emergence of tribal societies is thus where we have to look for the origin of visual art, music and dance.
The following graph sketches the evolution of human worldviews since their origins till today. It tries to reconcile these changes in worldview with the ground breaking facts that changed the context humanity had to live through which inevitably fostered changes in the form of their societies.
Graph 2. The concepts through history
Animism is the worldview that was shared by tribes all around the world. The following graph represents the conception of reality by “primitive men” or tribesmen. I give it as a reference to help understand the changes that future worldviews will impact on their societies...
Primitive men did not know about the Milky Way nor about other galaxies but their observations of the sky gave them a sense that their natural environment was but one set and that it was contained in a vaster set. What is remarkable is that they also pointed to a “whole” or a “one” that contains all there is which is also called a “universe” in set theory. In that sense animism has to be considered as a systemic approach of reality that foreshadowed Modern set theory.
General principles of animism
- the whole is foundational.
- the whole universe, or the one, is the ontological ultimate. It is aware of itself and its consciousness is omnipresent.
- the whole of the universe is prior to its parts and so the parts derive from the whole.
Pragmatism as a way of life
- relative knowledge, or knowledge about the systemic working of one's set, derives from observing the rhythms of nature and universal absolute knowledge and consciousness are being poured in the mind of the man of knowledge by the spirit of the universe or its representative.
- all parts in the contextual setting are interrelated and interdependent which fosters respect between each other
- the spirit of the universe shares its consciousness with all living species and their individual particles are thus gratified by an earthly spirit
- tribal societies stabilize at a headcount of approximatively 150 (120-180)
- economies of abundance storing reserves for the bad days
- the ego was rejected in favor of devoting the self to the group (gift-economy)
- no power structures; the decisions were being taken at the unanimity
- the arts were being used by the men of knowledge to share knowledge and their worldview
The tribal form of societal organization evolved very slowly along its span of over 100,000 years. Long periods of stability were interrupted by climate movements that required the tribesmen to find adequate answers in order to survive. It's in the necessity for such answers that tribes, time after time, devised new behavioral forms and so moved a step up on the ladder of societal evolution. It's also such a climatic change that eventually put them on the path to agriculture and power societies. As a side-note let's observe that such a climate change could also be what closes the era of Modernity...
Civilizations gave “their philosophic constitution” or their axioms to power societies (5). The West stumbled upon dualism, a conception of opposites in fight for dominance, while China favored an approach centered on the dance of polarities. Dualism resulted in a Western rupture with the past that took the form of a violent liquidation of the knowledge base of animism. China favored continuity and co-opted animism from which it inherited the concept of polarities.
The worldview of empire in the West stabilized in the form of a religion more particularly Christianity. China incrementally built add-ons on top of animism and in this sense its imperial worldview has to be seen as a kind of animism+ (6).
Christianity co-opted Aristotle's notion of opposites and the ultimate cause that is god while dressing these principles into a popular narrative centered on the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. After making Christianity the religion of their empire the romans codified the Christian creed and imposed it to all. To contrast its vision from the communalism of animism Christianity, along the next centuries, pushed a vision of the individual's place in reality that affirmed his ego. During the crusades this vision then merged with the desire of the Aristocracy to possess such luxury goods as discovered in the Middle-East. To answer that desire long distance trade suddenly emerged that soon covered the merchants with richness. They immediately satisfied their ego by building castles and mansions which resulted in the envy of all. Modernity was born unleashing desire, all around the place, for possessing the same material signs that were distinguishing the new rich. This is what pushed Western European societies to emulate the methods at the core of the success of long distance trade and so, after a few centuries, the reason at work within capital morphed into rationalism and entrepreneurial capitalism.
General principles of empires
China is an exception to this rule since it expands on animism. So what follows concerns Middle-Eastern and Western power societies only:
- the whole is god
- god, or the one, is the ontological ultimate and its consciousness is omnipresent.
- god is prior to its parts and so the parts derive from god's creation (creationism).
Ideology as a way of life
- the whole of nature is there for the exclusive benefit of humanity (anthropocentrism)
- the knowledge gained by man is considered helping him to gain control over nature (7).
- god's love embraces humanity
- empires have no limit in term of headcount
- imperial economies are characterized by a deep inequality. Those in the circles of power live in profusion by subtraction from peoples' productions and this leaves the people with a permanent shortfall that has been responsible for much social misery.
- those in the circles of power cultivate their ego, a belief in their exceptionalism, as a kind of justification for their grab on power while the people are subjugated by religion that acts as an instrument to eliminate any challenge to power.
- power structures impose their decisions on all under the threat of force
- the arts were being used by the men of power to share the religious worldview of their men of knowledge and the artist was suddenly being transformed into an image maker of the lowest social standing
Modernity was built over the individualism cultivated by Christianity in the minds of their followers (8) and the success, of long distance trade investments, was perceived to originate in the mechanics at works within the reason of capital. As a result a growing belief in the reason of capital rapidly spread to the whole of the higher societal strata.
General principles of Modernity
- reason as in the reason of capital, and its philosophic derivation rationality, are believed to give access to the truth
- societal reason is being ensured by democracy (referee system of the interrelations between the 3 estates represented by - those who pray (the clergy) -those who govern and fight (the nobility) - those who make money (the burghers or 'bourgeois')
- philosophic rationality and science consecrate materialism and atomism as the exclusive approach to truth.
Ideology as a way of life
Much of the ideation of Modernity is inherited from religious times:
- the knowledge gained by man is considered helping him to gain control over nature.
- the whole of nature is like a machine that is there for the exclusive benefit of humanity
- reason and democracy are the optimal conditions of humanity
- nations-states have no limit in term of headcount
- the economies of nations-states are characterized by a deep inequality. Those in the circles of power live in profusion by subtraction of peoples' productions (taxation) and this leaves the people with a permanent shortfall responsible for much social misery.
- those in the circles of power cultivate their ego as a kind of justification for their grab on power while the people are subjugated by societal reason (law + specialized silo knowledge like economics) that acts as a means to eliminate any challenge to power.
- the decisions of power structures are being imposed on all under the threat of force.
- the arts were being used by the men of power to affirm and share their individualistic worldview. To quit their religious masters in order to work for the new rich artists were offered a higher pay that gained them some social standing. This is when and how the word art was initially coined in Early-Modernity and how it acquired its 'exceptionalist' character.
In book 1, Late-Modernity, I dwell at length on the reasons why Modernity is doomed and bound to be taken over by a new historical era (3). What comes after Modernity will be unfolding in the future and as such it is unknown in the present. As I wrote at the start of this chapter my interest is to devise some “guiding principles to understand what really matters in the present that shapes the process of emergence of our future societal reality ”.
3.2. societal change: culture and the evolution of worldviews
Culture is the sum of all behaviors and beliefs adhered to in the present by the citizens of a society and so it is better called societal culture. Culture changes and evolves eventually under the impact of the behavior of groups of interests. What I mean by this is that a group of individuals, for whatever reason, can launch a new idea or a new behavior that eventually catches the attention of others and starts a craze. It may also be that a group of interest invests some money to “manipulate” peoples' opinions or consumerist desires. Such a manipulation is generally executed by advertisers or public relation companies. In both cases, craze or manipulation, a new fashion is launched that will eventually expand or wither away. What is meant here by fashion is the rallying behind a behavior or idea that differentiates with yesterday's behaviors and ideas.
Nowadays a fashion is often called a meme following Richard Dawkins' idea that a meme is to culture what a gene is to biology. The idea is that a fashion or meme is a mutation of past ideas or behaviors. If the mutation of a gene is replicated, in the reproduction of the individuals, then this mutation is called successful which means that it is firmly inscribed in the DNA. For a fashion or meme to be successful it would have to be inscribed in the worldview shared by the citizens. But how does that work?
I have shown in earlier posts how societal cohesion helps a society to reproduce over the generations. Basically the citizens share a common worldview about what reality is all about. Such a worldview functions as a glue that binds the citizens and it is this binding that allows for the societal set-up to reproduce. In other words fashions or memes have to be replicated by the worldview of their societies in order to become a part of future generations' present. Biological mutations of genes are numerous but very few succeed to be replicated in human DNA. The same goes in culture. Many fashions, or memes, erupt on the cultural scene but very few end up being replicated in the societal worldview.
The replication of a cultural meme or fashion presupposes it expands its attraction to the whole of society which is a rare feat. A fashion starts indeed among a select few within a given generation and it needs to expand to most in both sexes within that generation. This already eliminates the further chances of a good percentage of any fashion. But then those memes that succeed to attract a whole generation have also simultaneously to attract the near unanimity of the following generations and this is a whole lot harder to achieve. In other words to last to the next generation a fashion or meme has to attract the following of the near totality of its society's citizens. And once a fashion lasts to the next generation it has to continue to last to the following generations. Its replication by the worldview means indeed that a fashion is being adopted, generation after generation, by the great majority of citizens. How and when a fashion finally sticks in the worldview is still a mystery. I don't know of any study that gives a complete description of the concepts and the theory and a fortiori there is still no valid methodology to calculate and forecast memetic success. (9).
3.2.1. Clarification about sets and their concepts
I think that the biggest problem when we speak about societal evolution remains a lack of clarification of the concepts. Memes are presented as mutations in culture but both of these concepts are not shared in a uniform way by all and this leads to a great confusion in our understanding.
I started book 1 with an exposition of the meaning of the most important concepts that characterize my personal approach of reality. Culture is one of these concepts. In my view culture is the total of individual actions and beliefs at a given time in the present of a given society. In such an understanding culture fluctuates from one moment in time to the next because of fashions or memes and such cultural variations over the span of time can be extremely significant to the point that present culture can eventually become entirely alien to its past forms. It is difficult, for example, to find any correspondence between the cultural forms of Early-Modernity, that were superposed to Christianity in the late European Dark Ages, and the cultural forms that emerge today in Late-Modernity.
Nevertheless at any given time in any society there is an underlaying substrate of meaning, shared by all citizens most generally unconsciously, that unifies their understanding and vision of reality. Whatever the divergence in their present cultural forms they nevertheless share profound roots and these roots are what unifies their understanding and vision of reality over the long haul. Such a deeper layer of meaning is what I call a worldview. A worldview gives a set of general principles about what reality is all about and how humans fit in it and also how they best organize themselves. As I have indicated earlier, as of today, humanity has known 3 worldviews:
- animism under tribal societies lasted some 100,000 years.
- power societies then consecrated religions that lasted some 2-3000 years. China adopted animism while incrementally adding new knowings to it and thus developing it into an animism+.
- and lastly some 5-700 years ago Modernity emerged in Western Europe that recently spread to the whole world. But Modernity did not eliminate past worldviews it functioned in parallel and as such it has been engulfed in non-stop conflicts with those past worldviews.
Worldviews are being shared unconditionally by all citizens of a given society and there is no contest about its tenets; everyone accepts them without discussion. That means that to succeed to reproduce memes or “new cultural expressions” have to satisfy the tenets of the worldview shared by all. A fashion or new cultural expression may emerge in an individual's mind but to be accepted and integrated in the memory of other individuals it has to touch the nerve of some tenets of the commonly shared worldview that are more particularly touching the sensitivity of these individuals. This means that to increase the number of individuals who accept that new cultural expression it is necessary to satisfy an increasing number of tenets within the worldview. So a new cultural expression has to maximize the chances to touch the sensitivity of ever more individuals by adhering with the principles at play within the worldview.
The analogy of memes to genes should also gain to be understood as a mutation. Gene mutation is a modification within the composition and working of a gene. Biological mutations don't add new genes to the genome; they merely modify existing genes. A meme is the mutation of an existing idea or behavior but it can also be the expression of a new attitude or idea emerging as a signifier of a newly emerging economic, social, or natural phenomenon. As such a gene is not a good analogy for a meme. A meme can indeed be:
- or a mutation of an existing idea or behavior
- or the emergence of a new idea or behavior as a significant of impacts to society generated from within or from without.
For this reason, instead of the expression meme, I prefer the appellation mutation or fashion or better even “new cultural expression”.
New cultural expressions are thus behaviors or ideas that emerge in the present that still have to earn their recognition by society. They emerge and last eventually no more than the time of the present. To last further than the present, that means to last in the future, these expressions have necessarily to compose with the worldview of their society. What I mean by this is that a new cultural expression has to adapt to the tenets of the worldview that address the manifestation of this particular expression. The worldview is indeed the “cultural” set containing the absolute values and tenets of this society and as long as some of these values or tenets are in direct conflict with a new cultural expression this new cultural expression will not succeed to gain the acceptance of a sufficiently large segment of the population. In consequence it will fail to be replicated in the worldview.
What is implied here is that to survive a new cultural expression has simultaneously:
- to gain acceptance in the minds of a sufficient number of individuals so that opposition vanishes
- to gain correspondence with the values and tenets of the worldview that regulate its acceptance
Let's take as an example of new cultural expression the societal recognition of gay rights. The 2 rules that I just exposed, which need simultaneous satisfaction, are being answered differently by different societies. How is that?
Take the following examples:
- in the US a large segment of the population still opposes societal recognition of gay rights but the federal authorities nevertheless impose such a recognition
- in Russia a large segment of the population also opposes societal recognition of gay rights and the state obliges
The segment of the population that opposes societal recognition of gay rights is larger in Russia than in the US but this is not a sufficient reason why the US federal authorities impose something that is opposed so viscerally by so many. Something else is at play here that reeks political opportunism.
The West is addicted to its belief in its own exceptionalism and has been using this as a political weapon to demonise its enemies who act differently than themselves. Democracy, human rights, the propagation of the New York art school and so on... all these come to mind and they have been exploited to interfere in other countries affairs often violently. In this case the recognition of gay rights is being used by the West as a political weapon against its self declared enemies like Russia. What interests me here is not the political exploitation that takes place but the impact that both political answers are having on their societies.
The Russian society is unmistakably very cohesive and the political decision not to recognize gay rights plays out reinforcing that cohesiveness. On the other side the US is a deeply fragmented society that reaches atomization so their society is unmistakably not cohesive any longer and as a result it is a fragile construct that is being reinforced by authoritarian means to resist the pressure of the street. Democrat and Conservative administrations practice interchangeable policies on many fronts: force, economy, finance, foreign relations... But these parties diverge on cultural matters which reinforces the fragmentation of their society. It is in this context that gay rights were brought to the fore. For the Obama administration this has the following advantages:
- affirming gay rights, in the eyes of the left, gives the Obama administration a pass on its socially disastrous right wing economic policies
- it gives the US administration a propaganda lever that it can use principally against Russia. Note that this lever is not being used against docile states…
There is an interesting question arising with this example. First it indicates that the 2 rules indicated here above can be circumvented by fiat political decision. Secondly it begs the question of the sustainability of a fiat political decision in such a highly divisive matter. What are the consequences of such a decision. I'll pass over the immediate deepening of societal fragmentation. There is a deeper concern here that by inducing further fragmentation the US society could reach a breaking point when popular anger becomes un-manageable. In this case the gay community would be among the first communities to feel the blow-back of a violent reaction.
This example begs the question if political voluntarism is, or is not, a valid working proposition in atomized societies. This question concerns more particularly the authoritarian answers set in place in Western societies. Do such answers have any chance to keep these societies from imploding? This is a rhetorical question that addresses the governance of societies so I'll answer it in chapter 4 devoted to societal governance and evolution.
The observation that Western societies have fallen in a state of atomization begs another question. Societal atomization is the opposite of societal cohesion so what is to be expected is that these societies will eventually cease to reproduce over the next generations. But how are we so sure that this is inescapable?
In book 1, Late-Modernity (3), I concluded that the convergence, of the numerous side-effects of Modernity, was creating its own set of feedback loops that is accelerating the demise of Modernity. Let me give an example of what I mean by addressing one, among the many, crisis that confronts us in Late-Modernity.
Handling climate change is not an unsolvable problem by and on itself. Climate sciences indicate that this problem can be solved by reducing the concentration levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and to realize this humanity would have to stop using fossil fuels by replacing them with non-carbon forms of energy. But the fact is that:
- financial crisis: over the last decades the world has engaged itself so far in debts that it is now suffocating under the weight of the annual charges to service that debt. In other words the world economies are like paralyzed and unable to inject the kind of volumes of capital that are necessary to develop the alternative sources of energy that could compensate for abandoning fossil fuels. In consequence the world will continue to increase its emissions of CO2 until... a re-balancing of human excesses has been forced on humanity by natural selection.
- population crisis: according to demographic projections the world population is going to stabilize by the end of the 21st century around 12-14 billion heads. An increasing population increases the total demand for goods and services and this requires a corresponding increase in the offer of energy and raw materials. Being unable to eliminate the use of fossil fuels because of the financial crisis humanity is stuck in the quandary that to supply more raw materials and energy it has to use increasing quantities of fossil fuels!
- resources crisis: planet earth has a finite body but humanity is asking always more from her. The "United States Geological Survey (USGS), Mineral commodity summaries 2008" indicates that most minerals and metals are going to peak within the next 1 to 3 decades at most. This implies that the production of goods is going to be limited by limited availability of raw materials. But this will definitely have a positive impact on climate change by forcing a limit or reduction of the quantities of energy being used.
- Water and food crisis: same conclusion as 3.
- Atmospheric pollution: the emission of CO2 is accompanied by emissions of metal and other particles that are dimming the atmosphere which deflects solar rays. A dimming atmosphere is thus having a cooling effect on the earth that compensates for some of the increase in temperatures provoked by increasing levels of CO2. What this implies is that policies to reduce CO2 emissions also reduce atmospheric dimming while particles already in the atmosphere continue to fall back on earth… and scientists have calculated that if we were, for example, to cancel new CO2 emissions atmospheric dimming would fall and as a result temperatures would increase by as much as 3 degrees C within the very short span of days or months!
These are not the only feedback loops impacting human action again climate change. I just wanted to indicate, through this presentation, that feedback loops between climate change and other crises are interfering with humanity's capacity to handle climate change in a valid way. 1 and 2 shows the impossibility to stop using fossil fuels which promises ever more emissions, at least, till 3 and 4 are setting in over the next decades and, whatever humans might be thinking, will be imposing a drastic economic contraction with all the attached human suffering and 5 indicates a contradiction that seems impossible to solve.
The feedback loops resulting from the convergence of the different side-effects of Modernity show us that difficult times are just ahead. How will atomized Western countries adjust to the ensuing suffering? Anger toward the decision makers, political and corporate, will boil over and manifest itself in the street. What will be the outcome of the confrontation of “we the people” with authoritarian state institutions? Nobody knows the answer to that question and furthermore the answer could be different from one place to another. But what is already known is that societies will enter a phase of chaos. Chaos is a natural state that eventually reaches a conclusion. In other words chaos will give way to order eventually later on. This later order corresponds to what I call After-Modernity; a new historical era when people will adjust to the new context by regrouping in new societal forms and to strengthen the cohesion of these new groups they'll devise new narratives, about what reality is all about, that are adapted to their new context.
The demise of Modernity in the coming chaos will impose on humanity to go back to pre-modern ways of life… and so non Western societies will definitely benefit from the advantage of not having destroyed the entirety of their traditional pre-modern ways of life.
3.2.2. Civilization: the Constitution of power societies
I exposed how civilizations emerged while submitting the formation of knowledge by their societies to something akin to a constitution that acts as a guide at the attention of imperial power to ensure its reproduction over the generations. See the following:
- From Modernity to After-Modernity. The axioms of civilizations (1). Here I expose the mechanism at work in the transition period between tribal societies and empires.
- From Modernity to After-Modernity. The axioms of civilizations (2). Here I expose why Western societies and China ended up following such different paths.
- From Modernity to After-Modernity. The axioms of civilizations (3). Here I expose how the knowledge differentiation between the West and China unfolded and operated.
In these past chapters I exposed how the build-up of a civilization categorizes the domain of culture and knowledge as a 3 levels edifice:
- the axioms of civilization (a non written constitution of civilization) or the foundations of the cultural edifice
- the worldview, or the rules of the game in societies that have to submit to the precedence of their civilizational axioms, or the walls and roofs of the edifice
- culture (present behaviors and beliefs are shaped along the lines of the rules of the game) or the sum of all ways of doing and thinking of a given society in the present
18.104.22.168. Feedback loop between culture and worldviews
In 3.2.1 we have seen that the values and tenets of the worldview shape the form of the present ways of doing and thinking within any given society. A good indication of how this principle applies, on the ground, is found in the current state of the dance between the polarities represented by the behaviors of individual and species' (conservation < ---- > change). That means that the impact of worldviews is not necessarily uniform. In some cases, as under Animism for example, conservation was nearly absolute while change was rejected at the exception of some rare cases when nature imposed the change. In other cases, as in Western Late-Modernity, change has become the norm and conservation is being reviled.
The extremely rare cases of change under animism were imposed from the outside of society in the form of climatic variations, weather events, contact with other tribes, etc… Such change was thus most often imposed by survival necessity and as such it was being absorbed by all tribesmen and was thus replicated in the worldview.
In Late-Modernity change is being imposed from within society by the individuals. Modernity freed the genie of individualism from the bottle where it had been kept captive since the dawn of time. But after thriving during a short few centuries individualism ended up atomizing Western societies and as a consequence the cohesion of these societies melted away.
By definition the in-existence of societal cohesion means that such societies will eventually stop to reproduce which excludes the possibility that the changes wrought by individualism could ever be replicated in any future worldview. In other words that means that individualism pushed vast quantities of cultural mutations but, in the end, none will be replicated in future worldviews. As I mentioned earlier atomization is something new in societal history but the conclusion of the evolution of such a societal reality is already a done deal. Without any cohesion left these societies are gradually disintegrating and are bound to collapse sooner rather than later.
That's when to survive the individuals, by necessity, will form new groupings adapted to the new context. This is something I plan to address next winter in a part 3 of “From Modernity to After-Modernity” titled “Scenarios for After-Modernity”.
22.214.171.124. Feedback loop between worldviews and axioms of civilization
It is a well-known fact that changing the constitution of a nation is a lot more difficult than changing its laws. I posit that the same applies to the feedback loop between worldview and axiom of civilization. But the question is if it is at all feasible? I personally do not know of any single example that this ever took place in history. Could reason and logic offer us a possible path to an induced answer?
A. Again we need to clarify concepts
The axioms of civilization are dualism in the West versus polarity-plays in China. But again language is playing tricks and sowing confusion. The 2 concepts have been mixed up over time and in most peoples' minds they now represent an identical phenomenon. It is thus imperative to clarify the differentiation in their meaning before attempting to proceed further.
In “2.3.1. Societies and systems of knowledge formation” I wrote that the animist “process of observation and abstraction spread over tens of thousands of years and the observations addressed identical natural phenomena all over the world: day-night, female-male, earth-sky, weak-strong, hard-soft, black-white, sunshine-rain, fire-water, far-near, after-before, behind-ahead, brave-cowardly, bright-dull, cold-hot, cool-warm, fast-slow, fat-thin, good-bad, happy-sad, warm-cold, heavy-light, here-there, huge-small, live-dead, long-short, lost-found, never-always, old-new, old-young, open-close, past-present, push-pull, quiet-noisy, quick-slow, rise-fall, true-false, under-over, useless-useful, full-empty, part-whole, etc...”.
Such polarities are the expression of how the physical world works. Polarities are not opposing each other. They are pairs representing the two energetic sides of any entity. In other words they are complementary forces that collaborate in shaping the reality of an entity one moment after the other. In music, for example, notes complement one another. A low pitch note contrasts and complements another high pitch note and vice versa. The whole music composition is then like a tapestry of interwoven complementary and contrasting notes.
Many scientists refer to polarities as a “duality” and Asoke Mitra suggests such a meaning of 'duality' in the context of the physical sciences since Newton: “… though duality in an extended sense conveys different meanings in different situations, it has recurrently played a key role in the understanding of a vast complex of phenomena in widely different contexts ranging from the physical to the biological sciences and even the dimensions of abstract thought. This it has achieved by evincing an underlying unity between the “dual partners”, one which has often been described as a sort of symmetry principle governing the connection. … A very similar message comes from the Chinese symbolism of the archetypal poles Yin and Yang, two extremes which are not static opposites, but are constantly engaged in a dynamic interplay which brings about their unity (TAO) on a higher plane.” (10)
So the appellation “duality” should not be confused with dualism; it is the equivalent of polarities. Confusing is it not?
Dualism is not at all the expression of how the physical world works. It is a creation of the mind that does not have a counterpart in the realm of reality. Dualism is a two-dimensional belief system that posits that any entity is driven by opposing forces that conflict with each other. Good - bad for example are the opposites that are in conflict to take control over a moral position. The minds that believe in dualism, unconsciously for most, feel that they are naturally on the side of “good” which implies that the holder of that mind must be “better” than the other who can only be “bad”. Dualism is thus an ideological construct that values the ego while diminishing the other. In the end this whole ideological construct acts like a justification of one's aggressive behavior against 'the other'. Christianity, for example, posited that Christians are better than any others and it was this kind of reasoning that justified intellectually the horrors that European Christian nations have been inflicting upon the rest of the world over the past millennium. The literature of the missionaries accompanying the early 'discoverers' leaves no doubt about this kind of intellectual justification for killing and maiming native people. American Indians, for example, were categorized as “non-humans”. And as non-human life they were understood to be there for the satisfaction of Europeans. So the lynching of native Americans was excused as an act of god's will. Because of such an attitude, and the exceptionalist psychology that accompanies such an attitude, it is no surprise that the rest of the world remains suspicious of the behavior of Westerners to this very day.
B. A scientific awakening
Something is happening presently in the field of science that should retain all our attention. One silo of specialization after the other comes indeed to the conclusion that polarities are at the core not only of elementary particles but also of all complexification processes. This new scientific paradigm, in the making, is illustrated in the following 2 examples:
1. Light (11)
“Light behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Since the days of Einstein, scientists have been trying to directly observe both of these aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at EPFL have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior.”
"Energy-space photography of light confined on a nanowire, simultaneously shows both spatial interference and energy quantization."
Credit: Fabrizio Carbone/EPFL (via ScienceDaily)
2. The human genome (12)
“Hoehe and her team have developed molecular genetic and bioinformatic methods that make it possible to sequence the two sets of chromosomes in a human separately. The researchers decoded the maternal and paternal parts of the genome in 14 people and supplemented their analysis with the genetic material of 372 Europeans from the 1000 Genomes Project. …
'We need to fundamentally rethink the view of genes that every schoolchild has learned since Gregor Mendel's time. Moreover, the conventional view of individual mutations is no longer adequate. Instead, we have to consider the two gene forms and their combination of variants' Hoehe explains. When analysing genomes, scientists should therefore examine each parental gene form separately, as well as the effects of both forms as a pair.”
“Every human being possesses a cis and trans mutations in a 60:40 ratio. In the cis configuration two mutations occur in one and the same genetic copy. The corresponding protein becomes incapacitated, but the second copy and the protein remain unaffected. In the trans configuration, however, both copies of the gene are mutated and produce two -damaged proteins." Credit: © Art 4 Science”
I could go on listing other examples of polarities that have been observed lately by science to be at the core of the working of reality like string theory in Quantum Mechanics for example. But this would not add more credibility to the idea that science experiences the birth of a new paradigm. What still keeps some scientists to recognize the emergence of this new paradigm is that it narrows the gap with the spiritual wisdom of ancient Eastern sages. And that is bothersome in the minds of hardcore rationalists.
C. Is the axiom founding Western civilization collapsing?
The recent scientific awakening to the notion of polarities, and the active role they play in the changes and movements of the entities they represent, is definitely weakening the Aristotelian concept of dualism that Christianity had integrated in its canon under the Roman unification of its creed as I exposed this in From Modernity to After-Modernity (9). “The religious worldview” and in From Modernity to After-Modernity (10). “Modernity”.
But we have to be realist. This awakening concerns merely a tiny minority among the scientific community. We are still very far indeed from a turning point in Western society as a whole. But the turning of researchers in basic, or pure science, is definitely a shift that is going to strengthen the wave of Eastern spirituality that, over the last decades, has been capturing Western minds.
As I see it the next decades will be unfolding in the West primarily around the following considerations:
- with the deepening impact of 'the great convergence' atomized individuals will feel an ever bigger and urgent need to “religare” with others (13).
- a deepening economic misery, one would think, will push more and more individuals towards ways of doing that work for them and so pragmatism will gain a lot of traction to the detriment of ideology.
- from a geo-political perspective two parallel trends are becoming firmly established that foreshadow a brand new world. Such a new geo-political reality has been emerging over the last decade and over the next decades it will intensify the divergent trend between - China + its silk road extensions on one side - the West on the other side. So, through ups and downs, I think that the Chinese axiom of civilization is going to shine ever more brightly in the eyes of the citizens of the world and will thus unmistakably act as a magnet on Western minds…
Now taking these 3 factors into consideration, and forgetting for an instant about the impact of the great convergence, it is difficult to miss how this game will play out by 2050. A brave new world indeed with China having affirmed economic, military, and cultural dominance and by then the entire world shall definitely pay its respect to the new hegemon...
But lets awake from this exercise in futility. We are no longer in normal capitalist growth times. When looking into the future we have to integrate the impact of 'the great convergence' into the calculus. But then how 2050 shall look like becomes highly problematic. I feel that 2050 will be seen in the future as the bifurcation point between the chaos of Modernity and the order of After-Modernity. At that bifurcation point there will be a set of scenarios about possible future paths. Which one of them shall be selected to unfold as the future is something that shall only become a certainty at the last second before that selection. We should always remember the butterfly effect of chaos theory (14) to avoid appearing as a bragging frog (15).
As I wrote here above I plan to address such scenarios next winter in “From Modernity to After-Modernity. Part 3: Scenarios for After-Modernity”._____________
1. Dissolving Western societal cohesion: see “A Coming Era of Civil Disobedience?” by Patrick Buchanan. July 10 2015, in The Unz Review
“If a family disagreed as broadly as we Americans do on issues so fundamental as right and wrong, good and evil, the family would fall apart, the couple would divorce, and the children would go their separate ways. Something like that is happening in the country.”
2. Sweden's Cash-Free Future Looms -- and Not Everyone Is Happy About It. In Slashdot, December 27, 2015, by Timothy
3. See “Late-Modernity” Book 1: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18
4. About animism and tribal societies. See:
- Book 1: Animism
- Book 2: 1.2. non-power societies = tribes & animism
1.3.4. The civilization of China = animism+
5. The axioms of civilization. See book 1:
- 06. The axioms of civilizations (1).
- 07. The axioms of civilizations (2).
- 08. The axioms of civilizations (3).
6. Book 2. “1.3.4. The civilization of China = animism+”
7. About the formation of consciousness
8. Modernity. See book 1:
- Modernity 10.
- Early-Modernity 11.
- High Modernity 12.
- Late-Modernity: see note 2 here above.
9. meme replication: the analogy to genes
- “What makes a meme successful? Selection criteria for cultural evolution” by Francis Heylighen in 16th Int. Congress on Cybernetics (Association Internat. de Cybernétique, Namur), p. 423-418.
- “Meme replication: the memetic life-cycle” by Francis Heylighen in Principia Cybernetica.
- “Introduction to Memetics: What is a Meme?” by Dan Zarrella.
10. Duality is not synonymous with dualism. See:
“Duality in physical sciences and beyond” by Asoke Mitra in ResearchGate.net
11. Light. See:
- First ever photograph of light as a particle and a wave in ScienceDaily.com
- Simultaneous observation of the quantization and the interference pattern of a plasmonic near-field in Nature.com
12. The human genome. See:
“Duality in the human genome”, November 28 2014, in http://medicalxpress.com
13. dictionary.com gives the following definition of religare: “the interpretation of many modern writers connects it (religion) with religare "to bind fast", via notion of "place an obligation on," or "bond between humans and gods." In that case, the re- would be intensive”.
This definition has the advantage to explain the role played by religion in society: binding people in a common belief system to increase societal cohesion.
14. The butterfly effect in Wikipedia is described as follows: “In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The name, coined by Edward Lorenz for the effect which had been known long before, is derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a hurricane (exact time of formation, exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier.”
15. The bull and the frog in The Baby's Own Aesop (verse fables by W.J. Linton), 1887. Illustrations by Walter Crane Available online at International Children's Digital Library