2016/05/06

From Modernity to After-Modernity (22)

Part 2. Theoretical considerations 
Chapter 5. About the arts


5.2.3. From biological evolution to societal evolution

What I propose here is that biological evolution has been a first mover in the process of the evolution of life. It has bestowed on us our biological characteristics in a process of natural selection that operated over hundreds of millions of years. Furthermore the near infinite chain of its successful mutations have imprinted patterns in our biological code that act as a predisposition of the individual to prefer beauty over ugliness, love over hate, cooperation over competition, winning over losing and so on.

At a certain threshold of biological evolution groups of individuals start to be animated and push the emergence of societal evolution. By this I mean that the group’s structure, or the societal structure, takes over some evolutionary functions that till then had been assumed by biological evolution exclusively.
Over the last 10,000 years we have furthermore been observing the fact that societal evolution moves a lot faster than biological evolution. If I had to select one graph that visualizes this phenomenon in the most smashing fashion I would assuredly chose the world population graph. By the best estimates available (1) homo sapients had an approximative headcount of:
  • 5 million 10,000 years ago
  • 240,000,000 in 1 AD         (X 48 in 8000 years)
  • 480,000,000 in 1500        (X 2 in 1500 years)
  • 909,000,000 in 1800        (X nearly 2 in 300 years)
  • 2,579,500,000 in 1950     (X over 3 in 150 years)
  • 6,088,000,000 in 2000   (X 2.4 in 50 years)
map from Scott Manning’s blog “Historian on the war path

Ten thousands years ago the agricultural revolution had just started and the destabilization of the tribal societal structure was unleashed which later, almost anywhere on earth, paved the way for power societies. As we have seen in, “Chapter 4. About Societal Governance. 4.7. About the institutions of governance (Part 2)“, the agricultural economic revolution was the determinant factor in fostering increasing population levels which broke the magic spell of the Dunbar number and urged for the set-up of power societies to ensured an ordered reproduction.

A second economic revolution shook human societies approximately 10,000 years later. I’m talking about the advent of Modernity. In its first phase of merchant capitalism Modernity impose the recognition of the reason that is at work within capital. Its second phase consecrated the reason of capital by expanding it to all fields of human thinking which gave way to philosophic rationalism. The owners of the capital base accumulated along the first phase of merchant capitalism (primitive accumulation) realized that they could use philosophic rationalism to contribute the necessary technical developments to beat the Indian cotton spinners and weavers. Thus started science and technology as a tool to create functional knowledge for the profit of capital holders. This resulted in the launch of industrial productions and the mass market. The process that I just sketched started in the second part of the 18th century in Britain and soon expanded to the whole of Western Europe.

The industrial revolution had even more dramatic results than agriculture. The population went from less than 1 billion in 1800 to over 6 billion by the year 2000! And the societal organization went from an aristocratic power elite that was assisted by religious men of knowledge to an oligarchy of big capital holders. With the help of their captive state institutions the oligarchy replaced the men of knowledge with docile scientific servants who manipulated the populace into mass produced hedonism. The result arrived at in Late-Modernity is for all to see. 
America 1956 vs. America 2016” by Michael Snyder in “End of the American Dream”. 

This picture is a good illustration of how societal evolution pushes biological evolution nowadays. I could have added a third part to the right of the picture... but it would have diluted the impact of the illustration of what already took place.

The problem with the picture of Modernity that I paint here above is that it is the picture of Western Europe that later expanded to the territories conquered, and settled in one way or another, by the British empire. This is not because I’m driven intellectually by an Eurocentrist a priori; the fact is simply that to understand what other countries experience today we have to understand how Modernity and capitalism emerged and developed in Europe and how it was later imposed to the whole world.

The evolution of the art world in the West (EU - US) offers an extremely accurate illustration, albeit in a caricaturist form, of this societal evolution as a whole. To correct the impression that it is all about Europe, in point 5.3.2, I’ll compare the situation of the arts in Europe with the situation in China. The present point 5.2.3 relates to the evolution of life from the biological to the societal and more particularly how the arts emerge at the service of life after societal evolution set in.


5.2.3.1. Social brain hypothesis and Dunbar number

What follows is not a vindication of anthropocentrism. It’s just that biological evolution accelerated the development of the human brain faster than its development in any other species. The principle of life’s increased complexity is indeed not distributed on an egalitarian base. All stages of life’s evolution are being represented simultaneously. More complexity is thought to represent a qualitative advance of the principle of life but what is more complex is not necessarily superior. What is superior is definitely a more advanced stage of complexity that succeeds to reproduce over time.But it appears that the more advanced a species’ stage of complexity the more it is fragile and prone to go extinct. In conclusion the principle of increased complexity is prone to extinction which means that it is also prone to end up in pure ugliness. I say this because humans often mistake their present so called “advanced stage of development” for a sign of Homo Sapients’ superiority over all other species. But as astute observers of Late-Modernity can attest the specie Homo-Sapient could very well be wiped from the face of the earth in the short future ultimately gaining our species the qualification of loser and ugly species. All this to say that the more complexity is involved in a living species the more that species has to compensate the fragility resulting from such complexity with higher levels of consciousness. And most important of all that species has to be able to balance its consciousness with systemic reality. I’m afraid that humanity is lacking in both of these counts.

In “5.2.1.2. a societal thirst for comfortable social interrelations” we learned from Ellen Dissanayake that when our ape ancestors came down from their trees to walk upright a rapid evolutionary process was set in motion that ushered in major mutations; societal and biological:
  1. coming down from the trees to walk upright in the savanna was without any doubt a major societal mutation.
  2. But to ensure an upright position the body had to adapt and among other things the pelvis narrowed. The narrowing of the pelvis was a major biological mutation that matured over the long haul and had decisive implications for women giving birth.
    A downside of the evolution of efficient bipedalism in humans is that it resulted in changes in the pelvis which unfortunately included a narrower birth canal in females. As a consequence, giving birth is a more difficult and riskier process for us than for most other mammal species. During delivery, human babies must partially rotate laterally twice during their passage through the oval birth canal in order for their comparatively large heads and then their broad shoulders to make it through. This is usually a long, tiring, and painful process for the mother as well as a risky one for her baby. Because of this, human mothers generally seek help from a "midwife" for the delivery. Other primates give birth without assistance. A partial evolutionary solution to this birth difficulty for humans was fetuses being born at a less mature stage, when their heads and torsos are smaller. The trade off is that human infants are more vulnerable. By comparison, chimpanzees at birth are neurologically and cognitively ahead of human babies of the same age, but the chimps begin to fall behind by about six months old because of the more rapid continued development of the human brain following birth” (2).
  3. to compensate for the biological mutation of the pelvis babies had to be born at a less mature stage which necessitated a societal adaptation in the form of a more intensive carefor the new born. As a result the attachment between the human baby-care giver and the baby grew stronger which is expressed among other through baby-talk. This ingrains in the mind of the baby a habit, or a need, for comfortable social interactions at the image of the relation she/he experienced with her/his caretaker. Baby-talk is a communication that relies on warmth and is expressed along the lines of the aesthetic patterns that are stored in our biological memory. But more than comfort baby-talk also fosters a process of rapid learning.In other words comfort, warmth, and aesthetic patterns align and push a fast learning process.
  4. humans and chimpanzees have been on a different evolutionary path for 6 to 7 million years.Our ancestors had different natural selection pressures than their cousins the chimps and this resulted not only in upright walking but also in the development of a much larger brain. The human brain is 3 times larger in volume than that of the chimp and it contains a much more developed frontal cortex which has attained its present level of development some 200-250,000 years ago approximately.
    The intensity of baby-talk and the relation between the baby and her caretaker spans over a few years resulting in a rapid neurological and cognitive development. Practiced over hundreds of thousands of years this mechanism accentuated and accelerated the rhythm of growth of the brain that had been initiated a lot earlier.
  5. experimentations led by Robin Dunbar and his team verified that the size of the brain among primates is indicative of the size of the societal group. His argument starts with the followingobservation: “Brains are exceedingly expensive both to evolve and to maintain. The adult human brain weighs about 2% of body weight but consumes about 20% of total energy intake. In the light of this, it is difficult to justify the claim that primates, and especially humans, need larger brains than other species merely to do the same ecological job. … An alternative hypothesis offered during the late 1980s was that primates’ large brains reflect the computational demands of the complex social systems that characterize the order” (3). 
    Tests have demonstrated that there is a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can have stable relations. This cognitive limit is given by the number of relations that can be processed by the individuals. In other words it takes time to process a relation till trust ensues. Trust is based in the fact that individuals know each other and know also how theyrelate to each others in the group.
    An average number of 150 participants appears in many human group distributions. Military groups, for example, have always  averaged around 150 participants. The same average has also been shown at work by studies about people’s interactions on social networking websites.
    Each individual in a group entertains a close contact with the other members. Initially this took place through grooming which is a time consuming activity. Apes groom physically one on one which greatly limits their reach and so the group is restrained to 20-30 individuals thatis called a clan. Humans lived in clans for millions of years before adopting the tribal organization.
The neo-cortex allowed the mind to process language and abstractions. While grooming was a one on one physical interaction the expansion of the brain to the neo-cortex allowed for the sharing of a common group identity through different means than physical one on one grooming which resulted in increased group sizes.

Dunbar proposed that language was that extension to grooming which had allowed the clanto increase the number of its participants. But this idea has been criticized on the grounds that “the very efficiency of ‘vocal grooming’ — the fact that words are so cheap — would have undermined its capacity to signal honest commitment” (4). I agree with the criticism and will argue why I do in 5.2.3.2.

5.2.3.2Worldviews, rituals, and the arts

The criticism of language as substitute for physical grooming, in Dunbar’s theory, is correct I sense. Language is indeed a tool to communicate a narrative or a vision. But it is the narrative that binds people around a shared vision of reality and this, in turn, is what glues them into a united group. The language complexities that are necessary to narrate a sensical story were not possibly available at the time of its emergence. Let’s not lose sight of the historical pathway here. We are looking at what was the cause for the transition from clan society to tribal society which means that the cause for that transition was necessarily present in the late stage of clan society. This definitely excludes language as the reason for that societal transformation.

The complexities of language necessary to conduct a sophisticated narrative appeared a lot laterindeed. Some argue that this kind of complexity appeared only with written languages that emergedat the time power societies were taking over as societal organizations from tribes. In this optic it was the subordination of knowledge to the discipline imposed by power that supplied language the necessary rigor to be put in writing. Such was perhaps the case with empires in the TriContinental Area but, as I have argued in “Chapter 4. Governance and societal evolution4.7. About theinstitutions of governance”, the same was not observed in China where the written language was formalized in the era when the sage-sovereign personified the symbol of unity which is well before the empire stabilized into its dynastic transmission.

But whatever was the specific process that brought about written languages the fact is that something else than language must have been acting as a substitute to the one on one physical grooming. What united clans in trust was definitely such a one on one physical grooming but for reasons of time constraint 20-30 individuals was the maximum number of clan members that each individual could possibly come to groom. So transiting from clans of 20-30 individuals to tribes that regrouped on average 150 individuals, as indicated in 5.2.3.1, necessitated a whole new mechanism of trust formation between the individuals. But if language was excluded as the substitute for physical grooming what was the substitute that emerged during the late stage of clan organization?

Tribes resulted from the substitution of the one on one physical grooming by some more productive process. Since the man of knowledge was an integral part of the process giving way to the emergence of the tribal societal organization it has to be assumed that he was somehow the cause that displaced the one on one physical grooming. But what was the mechanism that provoked the emergence of the men of knowledge?

As we have seen, in “Chapter 2. About Consciousness. 2.2.1. The primitive instinct. Discovering ourselves in a mirrorthe man of knowledge emerged as the group’s answer to satisfy the desire tomaximize individual pleasure while minimizing pain. In summary a mature neo-cortex allowed for abstract reasoning to take form and not surprisingly one of the first abstractions our ancestors thought about was how to maximize their individual pleasure while minimizing their pain. Knowledge formation appeared to be the magical answer.

The neo-cortex achieved its growth while our ancestors were still living in clans so the idea to recourse to knowledge formation must have emerged in the clan. But a group of 20-30 people was extremely constrained by time. The individuals were indeed foraging and hunting full time. So they had no latitude to subtract time for knowledge formation from their “working” routine. In other words their survival depended on their full time work… This leads me to the conclusion that they must have sensed intuitively that cost benefit wise the idea to detach one of the tribesmen, the weakest perhaps, from the obligation to work in order to specialize in knowledge formation was the only viable compromise possible. It was without any doubt the least costly proposition in terms of lost time while providing the necessary knowledge bang that was hoped for. Our ancestors living in clans had to be highly pragmatic in order to survive and so they could only settle for a solution that minimized the cost in term of their group’s working capacity. This explains why they settled universally for a specialized man of knowledge whom they absolved from the obligation to toil.

The knowledge acquired by men of knowledge or shaman resulted from:
  • the observation of the rhythms of nature
  • the informations gleaned from the spirit occupying his mind. Terrence Mc Kenna called the spirit our unconscious. But, spirit or unconscious, this changes nothing to the difficult nature of the process of extraction of informations.
It has been observed that the abstract reasoning about these observations and informations resulteduniversally in a similar vision of reality in the minds of the shaman. How could that be?

The rhythms of nature are similar everywhere and the informations from the spirit were gleaned through the same hallucinogenic practices so the resulting general worldview was built along similar lines that can be summed up as follows in our contemporary understanding:
  • the whole, the one, is a conscious universe whose spirit is in touch with all its components.The universe was conceived of as the set that contains all the other sets or U in set theory.
  • the universe and its sub-sets are all complex systems constituted by an infinity of interacting components. Such an arrangement is similar to what we nowadays call set theory and system theory. Each set is not only behaving like a very complex system of interacting components on its own it is also participating as a component in its own super-set.
  • the earth is a ‘sub-sub-…-set’ of the whole. The earth is also a very complex system in its own right that is auto-regulating along the lines of the interactions between its components. The shaman conceived of the earth as the mother of all living species and he sensed that the mother was alive so he thought that human groups had to celebrate their mother for giving life to humanity and for helping them to sustain the lives of the individuals.
  • all parts are powered by the energy that flows throughout the whole. This means that each individual of any species was understood to be powered by the energy of the universe. It is in this sense that animism thought that all individual particles from all living species are interconnected. Now this had a determinant impact on behaviors, on inter-species behaviors, and on the behaviors of the groups and of the individuals of the human species towards the individuals of the other species. We know, for example, that before a kill the hunters felt obligated to communicate with the spirit of the animal that was going to be killed in order to negotiate his acceptance of their action. What this entailed was that killing had to be rare and the killed individual had to be treated with the utmost respect which was necessarily forbidding any waste. This does not frame very well with some anthropological theories that present our ancestors as the cause of the extinction of large mammal species. But these theories first have never been proven and secondly they were conceived as ideological justifications to minimize the perceptual consequences of the actions humanity had undertaken under power societies and more particularly the actions of whitemen under Modernity.
  • spirits, or “parcels of the universal spirit”, occupy the minds of the men of knowledge and advise them in their quest for knowledge. Later the memory of such a spirit’s occupation of the mind was adopted by Christianity which even did not care to change the word since it simply called the 3rd part of the godly trinity the spirit.
    The animist universal spirit should not be confused with later power societies’ beliefs in earthly spirits, or the spirits of other species (totemism), or the spirits of ancestors (ancestor worship). Animist men of knowledge were able to communicate with the other species and with human ancestors so there was no reason for their minds to be possessed  by earthly spirits. In the later stories of power societies some individuals were thought to be possessed by an ancestor spirit or an animal spirit. Some of them were considered able to cope and to live with these spirits but others were not and it was considered that they had to be treated for deliverance from the ‘malefic’ possession. Christianity categorized such malefic possessions as the work of the devil and this allowed for the integration of its dualistic vision at the core of traditional animistic systems. But by doing so it radically changed the nature of these animistic systems as we have seen happened unfortunately with Voodoo.

The shamanic worldview was the result of a process that built up over tens of thousands of years of continuity with oral transmission from generation to generation through a secret apprenticeship. The resulting vision pictured a very complex and subtle reality that finds some correspondence in the latest studies in physics, biology and other sciences. The description traditionally given about animism by the West, till very recently, was a pure ideological construct without any correspondence to the facts on the ground. Anthropologists started to amend their views in the sixties and seventies and in the following decades a near consensus was attained that recognized the non-violent nature of tribal societies. But notwithstanding this near total consensus ideological resurgences regularly surface sparkling newer debates. Such a resurgence surfaced recently see note 6 here under.

Knowledge emerged in Late clan societies as an answer to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Its acquisition was one of the terms of the knowledge equation but once acquired by the shaman his knowledge had to be transmitted to his fellow tribesmen.

It is at this juncture that the arts emerged as instruments to communicate the worldview of the shaman to his fellow tribesmen. The communication ensured by the arts acted as the substitute forgrooming. But let’s remember that what is called art is a concept that emerged in the particular context of Europe’s Early-Modernity. The usage of the word art here is for the sake of convenience. Everyone on earth nowadays uses the term art to describe visual and auditory creative productions.

We should nevertheless be aware of the fact that the visual signs, music and dance initiated by the shaman were without any possible doubt grounded in deeper roots than any art produced during the entirety of Modernity. The reason for this is that animistic art was directly at the service of life. The arts were the tools to ensure that the higher consciousness of the men of knowledge would be integrated in their societies and this, in turn, opened the path to evolve a process of increasing complexity amidst their different societies. In other words the arts were a matter of life and death in tribal societies.

The knowledge of the shaman and his recourse to the arts is what powered the societal evolutionfrom clans to tribes and their impact continued to fashion human life ever thereafter; at the exception of Late-Modernity which, at its peril, has completely discarded the memory of the importance of knowledge and the arts for the operation of life.

The trio ‘visual signs music and dance” acted as the signifier, in term of meaning and feelings, of the narrative of the tribal worldview. In this sense the arts acted as unifiers and as shapers of the group’s identity. The trust between the members of the groups, that earlier was ensured by one on one physical grooming, was now ensured at the group level by the sharing of a worldview in the minds of all the individuals. That worldview was communicated through visual signs and dance and the feeling of wellness resulting from this sharing was then strengthened and permanently imprinted in the minds by the action of music and rituals. This whole process was repeated regularly during seasonal feasts that attracted the entirety of the tribal community.

Physical grooming was rendered obsolete by:
  • the celebration of rituals, through the creation of the High Arts”, during festivities that took place regularly:
    – celebration of the Winter solstice, or rebirth, marking the shortest day and the longest night of the year,
    – celebration of the summer solstice, or fertility, on the day that has the longest period of daylight when the Sun reaches its greatest height,
    – celebration of puberty and the entry in adulthood, and so on…
  • the “recitation” (5) of the meaning and of the feelings expressed in the practice of the High Arts” through “Popular Arts”: decorative visuals or crafts and popular songs and dance.

I use the terminology High Arts and Popular Arts not because I feel that one is worth more than the other but because it has been in use since so long that everyone is accustomed to the words even if the sense of their difference is missing. The process described here above illuminates the real difference between the celebration of creation and the recitation of a narrative. It is enlightening indeed and it substantiates the terminology High Arts/Popular Arts at a deeper level that I have ever seen before.

Pierre Clastres (6) was the first to convincingly show how the primitive economies of tribal societies were not poor after all. Tribes stored reserves and when those reserves were not claimed by urgencies they were used to feed the group during communal feasts. That’s how the arts could be practiced and shared in the special context of festivities that celebrated various rituals. These festivities created an atmosphere of togetherness and the practice of the arts reinforced the feeling of that togetherness. Festivities acted as opportunities for tribesmen to intermingle and to reinforce the trust and the bonding between all the members of the tribe. They also came to symbolize the unity of the group and the arts boosted the consciousness of each and everyone about them being an atom of that union. In sum tribal festivities were the engines that powered the trust between allthe tribesmen and the duo ‘knowledge – arts’ acted as the energy that powered that engine.

Festivities were spread over the whole year and occurred at regular intervals. In between festivities the trust between tribesmen, their vision of the unity of their tribe, and their sense of being an atom of the group were continuously maintained and reinforced through what Jean-Francois Lyotard called “recitation”: "...a collectivity that takes narrative as its key form of competence has no need to remember its past. It finds the raw material for its social bond not only in the meaning of the narratives it recounts, but also in the act of reciting them. The narratives' reference may seem to belong to the past, but in reality it is always contemporaneous with the act of recitation" (7). These recitations took multiple forms but the most popular have always been:
  • the beautification, the decoration, of one’s environment and the tools one used in daily life:ceramics, textiles, wood works, etc... The motifs reproduced in these decorations were always simple signs copied from those more elaborate signs the man of knowledge and his team of apprentices splashed all over the locale where the festivities took place (High Arts).
  • the songs recited while plucking nuts or seeds, or to quieten babies, or to lighten up a march to the hunting grounds far away from the main camp. Those songs were initially no more than vocalizations. But as seen in baby-talk vocalizations carry the emotions of the singers and arevery powerful mood shapers indeed. Once language had evolved sufficiently elaboratesyntactic means narration took over from vocalizations in the form of songs. Those songs were recitations of the memory of the themes of the narrations that took place during the festivities. The distinction between vocalizations and songs in the context of language formation is somehow reminiscent of what is starting to take place in Late-Modernity. But today language is not the barrier to the use of words and narratives; it is our blindness, or better our failure to grasp the changing paradigm of our societal worldview, that draws us back to vocalizations... Once the contours of the new worldview of After-Modernity becomesvisible to the most sensitive of us, I think that, we will return to songs and more realistic visual narratives.

Festivities and narrations, in between festivities, were very powerful and efficient unifiers and the arts were very efficient and powerful vehicles to share the knowledge of the shaman. The trio “knowledge, the arts and festivities” is what shaped the unification that was going on in the minds of the tribesmen and consequently language was not necessary, as such, to expand the realm of physical grooming.

The arts were tools to project the worldview of the men of knowledge into the minds of their fellow tribesmen and their worldview was derived from their knowledge acquisition. This brings us back to knowledge formation and the role of the men of knowledge.

In “Chapter 1. About the formation of human knowledge. 1.3. Conclusions. 1.3.6. Knowledge is a product of the context” I stated the following: “Animism was steeped in the observation of natural phenomena that was transmitted orally from generation to generation. This kind of encouraged a societal digestion of knowledge over the long haul and only after such a digestion had taken place would the lessons learned from trial applications be integrated in daily life. The societal digestion over the long haul of observations about natural phenomena is the major characteristic of animist knowledge acquisition. This means that the application of knowledge was tested before that knowledge was being integrated in the animist corpus. In other words animism required the verification by tribal societies over the long haul that all new undertakings conformed to the primacy of the principle of life. This means that the actors of the verification were the societies and the timespan of the verification was the long haul. And because this was practiced uniformly over the whole earth the outcome of animist knowledge acquisition was converging along the lines of several identical themes or values:
  • humans are very very small particles in the whole of the universe. The whole confers existence to its sub-ensembles and the particles living in them. 
  • such small particles have to conform to the reality of the larger systems that contain them. This suggest the necessity of respecting and abiding the rules of one's environmental context.
  • all particles are animated by a common universal energy (animation) and by a common universal spirit or mind (understanding). So the knowledge and actions of the individuals are seen as pre-ordained by their level of understanding about their circumstances. In such an arrangement humility rules and the ego has no place to emerge.
  • all particles within their environmental context are inter-related and inter-dependent which means that they depend upon one another to ensure their reproduction as individuals, as societies and as a species. This notion of inter-dependence excludes the possibility of one species thinking about itself as being exceptional. Inter-dependence implies a general recognition of their equality in the manifestations of the principle of life.

Such a systemic vision was shared around the world but local geographical, environmental or climatic, particularities eventually shaped the forms, lines and colors of the expression of local knowledge. In other words the local context fashioned a variety of forms out of animist knowledge but the content of that knowledge as described here above was fashioned out of the universal context of humanity and as such its content was universal.
In this sense knowledge is not about the absolute truth. Knowledge relates to the conventional aspects referred to by the context (society, environment, climate, etc…) and it is thus at best an approximation of reality that fits the particular context of a given time. In other words knowledge is produced internally from within the sub-system the men of knowledge live in. This means that the observation of the larger systems, containing the sub-system the men of knowledge live in, are seen through the contextual lens of that sub-system. Knowledge is thus not about understanding the truth about the whole but more like an approximation of what it is all about as detected from one of its internal sub-systems. In this sense the absolute truth is really inaccessible to particles of a sub-system of the whole.

The knowledge of the shaman was the material that he had to narrate to his fellow tribesmen in order to glue them in a shared understanding of what reality is all about. That narrative was strengthening in their minds the identity of the group and shaping their self” as being an atom of the same group. I call such a narrative a worldview. Worldviews continued to be used, after the demise of tribes, by power societies which imposed them by force to glue their societies so that they reproduce over the generations.

The prime content of the worldview was submitted to the tribesmen during feasts when they were celebrating rituals that were orchestrated by the shaman. The rituals were meant to reinforce their convictions of being a parcel of the group and the shaman used visuals to communicate meaning to their minds and used music and dance to reinforce the feeling of adherence to the meaning in the visuals. I exposed the role and function of visual arts, music, and dance in 5.2.2.3 here above.


5.2.3.3The arts at the service of life

We have seen how baby-talk fostered a longing for the comfort of warm social interrelations. That thirst is buried deeply in the memory of each of us and all of us long for the comfort of such warm interrelations. The fact is that we feel miserable without such warm interrelations and the arts have been acting since their emergence to ease such anxieties by facilitating the build up of comfortable and warm interactions between the members of societal groups through the sharing of a common approximation of reality.

The meaning of the narrative contained in the worldview served merely as material to facilitate bonding and trust. Knowing if the worldview was based in truth was never a question asked. People were simply content to share the same understanding with their fellow citizens. The question about the truth of a worldview only appeared in case a conflict was bursting between two societies sharing different worldviews. Each wanted to keep its own version of the truth and problems arose when one society wanted to impose its own vision on another. There is no proven certainty that tribal societies entered necessarily in conflict about the outer form of their worldviews. But the fact is that such conflicts became inevitable with the advent of power societies that adopted dualism as the root of their narratives.

Science inherited this dualistic bend and pushed the envelope of its own veracity to an extreme as the new atheists have spectacularly demonstrated. They apparently never understood that the meaning in the narrative of a worldview serves merely as material to facilitate bonding and trust and has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth about what reality is all about. Since the truth about reality is inaccessible to humanity the best we can do is to share approximations. If we understand this we tolerate different views than our own. This is a sign of a higher consciousness and it stands in stark contrast to the belittling of the worldview of others.

The arts acted as nature’s tactical principle to satisfy a strategy to build societal cohesion that is so essential to ensure the reproduction of societies which in the last instance is what keeps life going. Modern societies have forgotten such a life sustaining principle which puts the human species at risk of going extinct. I understand how the large majority of us slowly forgot about the nature of life but the total absence of clamor by men of knowledge is beyond me. Our species is committing suicide and we stand there inert. How come? Is it possible that there are no men of knowledge left at all?

Let’s remember that societies are the intermediaries between a species and its individual atoms. In other words societies are the tools that life relies upon to ensure its preservation and eventually its thriving into further complexity. See “Chapter 2. About the formation of Consciousness”. It’s the dynamic of life that I’m talking about here. Whatever ideologues might say if you take away societies the individuals die and the species goes extinct. Since tribal times the arts have been one major instrument to ensure the success of the whole process of the dynamic of life. It is simply amazing to observe that primitive man understood the true complexity of life while moderns forgot everything about it!

Seen from the viewpoint of the principle of life the ideology of Modernity has been a sheer catastrophe for humanity. The ideology of individualism and the cult of the ego have brain-washed humanity into forgetting that the principle of life is a universal prime principle that is not affected by human ideology which implies that sooner or later our ideologies will be confronted to the universal reality... Knowledge, in the sense of understanding the complexity of the universal reality, always strove to avoid such an outcome. This was considered wisdom.

The arts were at the service of knowledge. They were the prime tools of knowledge so it is onlyindirectly that they enhanced the dynamic of life. Indeed it all starts with the men of knowledge who tribal societies, everywhere on earth, tasked to acquire knowledge in order to maximize the pleasure of their members while minimizing their pains while simultaneously preserving and enhancing the principle of life. See “About the formation of Consciousness. 2.1. 'Conservation - Reproduction' and the brain.

The arts succeeded such an extraordinary feat by relying on:
  • the aesthetic patterns that biological evolution has been storing, starting 4 billion years ago,in the memory of the code of life our DNA-RNA. I exposed this hidden mechanism in “5.2.1.1. a biological predisposition of beauty”.
  • by furthermore relying on the sweet memory of baby-talk that societal evolution has inscribed in the memory of our brains and minds all humans are instinctively attracted by the“raw ingredients of artistic aesthetics. Kids are attracted by the arts. Unfortunately thesocietal needs of socialization, to frame the minds at the image of the socio-economic order, very fast represses the kids’ natural predisposition for aesthetics and the arts. This is really unfortunate because this means the destruction of the kids’ creativity. This also implies that our societies are cutting themselves off from the whole system that biological and societal evolution have been so patiently weaving along the long haul… What a waste!

The lesson here is that to re-make contact with its natural evolution, biological and societal, it is imperative that humanity catches the genie of egotism, or is it egoism, and imprison the ego in its bottle anew. But the most important lesson that we should never forget again is that human life relies on knowledge to ensure its preservation and knowledge relies on the arts to spread in the minds of all.

A society that lost its memory about the role of knowledge and the deep meaning of the arts is a society that is dead. It solely continues to move forward under the impact of inertia till it finally collapses. Late-Modern Western societies are such societies and I’m afraid the rest of the world is following in their footsteps...


5.3. Evolution of the arts though history

5.3.1. the arts under tribal societies

The eye being humanity’s most important sensor the narrative of the societal worldview was naturally defined in visual terms. Consequently the men of knowledge illustrated their worldview for all to see. The target was to route the visual signs to the minds of the tribesmen so that they could register the worldview. The visual signs of the men of knowledge were thus necessarily about telling a story and this is how the narrative about the worldview took central stage in all human societies.

In animism the content of the visual work can be summarized as follows. Tribesmen conceived of themselves as very tiny particles of a whole that they sensed was alive; pulsating from one polarity to the other through day-night, seasons and so on. They viewed themselves and all other particles in their environment as being driven by spirits that are like extensions of the mind of the whole inside each and every of its individual particles. To illustrate that worldview and to render it accessible to their fellow tribesmen they produced visual signs:
  • showing how each polarity is being symmetrically reflected by the other. For example the Day is white versus the night which is black.
  • symmetrical polarities were then integrated in a cyclical movement of change. Our ancestors observed that once a day/night cycle was repeated so often times a phenomenon emerged that repeated itself in a bigger cycle, without end, for example a full moon. Repeated 3 times that full moon cycle was observed leading to even wider cycles of changing seasons and 4 seasons were observed to form a unit that later was called a year. Such observations over the very long haul gave primitive men notions akin to: polarities, cycles, transformations,... that after being illustrated in visual signs produced symmetrical patterns suggestive of movement. Such symmetrical patterns were represented all over the world and continued to be represented in kingdoms and empires that used animism as their worldview. But Christianity obliged to discard these signs often brutally and when it could not discard them it recuperated them for its own use…
  • the interdependence with other particles in their environment was another of their topics and such topics are widely illustrated on cave walls in Lascaux, Altamira and many other places around the world that served as retreats and initiation hubs for the men of knowledge.
  • content was always packaged in a form reflective of beauty. It is really as if beauty has always acted as a necessary accessory of content in order to foster interest and catch eyeballs.


5.3.2. the arts under imperial societies.

I dwell at length on the transition from tribes to empires and the working of empires in “Book 1The axioms of civilizations“. In “Book 2. Chapter 4. Governance and societal evolution” I argued about the theory explaining this transition and how this transition impacted the working of empires. What follows here under is an extension of these historical and theoretical presentations as they worked out in the field of the arts in Europe and in China.


5.3.2.1. Europe

The civilization of Europe has been forged by Christianity. For sure Greece was flourishing between 700 and 200 BC. For sure the Roman empire took over the mantel of power from Greece and stayed at the helm till the 5th century AD. But this was essentially a Mediterranean affair and what is more its Western flank collapsed. This Western flank is where contemporary Europe came to exercise its dominance as a direct result of the policies that the Roman empire espoused starting in the 4th century AD.

As we have seen in Book 1 Christianity was selected as the official religion of the Roman empire by Emperor Constantine. His successors intervened to codify the creed and to build a centralized structure of authority at the image of the empire. The target of the Roman empire was very simple. The empire was threatened from within and from without so the emperors hoped that Christianity would unify and glue the minds of the populace to follow the edicts of the empire. In other words the empire hoped that Christianity would help Rome to survive. But that hope was not a given. The future looked uncertain and, in anticipation of more troubles, Constantine moved his capital East to Constantinople. So the Roman empire now had a Western flank, with Rome as its center, and an Eastern flank with Constantinople as its center. A century later the Western flank collapsed and went into extinction while the Eastern flank continued to thrive over the next 1000 years and evolved into the Orthodox Branch of Christianity.

Since my writing is concerned, by how the present came to be what it is, I will particularly focus here on what happened in Western Europe after the fall of the Roman empire. It is indeed where Modernity emerged some one thousand years after the collapse of Rome and where it then developed ever further to the whole world. The situation of the visual arts in Western Europe followed the development of Modernity and capitalism. The initiative of the French kings in the 17th century, to set up national “manufactures” for the production of luxury goods at the attention of the European aristocracy and bourgeoisie, transformed Paris in the uncontested European capital of culture. This explains why the artworld concentrated in Paris and not somewhere else. Paris was the epicenter of modernism and in the aftermath of the 2nd world war, under the pressure of US foreign policy initiatives and the association of capital holders to these initiatives, the center of the artworld moved to New York.


A. The road to power and specialization

Under tribal societies the arts had been practiced, without the intervention of any technical intermediaries, by the men of knowledge themselves. That system somehow was still in use, albeit imperfectly, during the transition from tribes to empires. But once empires succeeded to reproduce over the generations they invariably recoursed to specialized craftsmen to illustrate the narrative of the official worldview. That’s what happened in Rome. Craftsmen were hired to illustrate the creed. They were considered technicians and were recognized a very low social esteem. To be more precise they figured at the bottom of the social ladder. The artists never found any glory there! That’s why their names don’t figure in history books.


B. The arts as a regulated trade

The illustration of the Christian creed started in the 2nd century but was repressed by the authorities. In the 4th century Christianity had been transformed in the official religion of the empire and Christian art was soon established as the exclusive art in the whole of Western Europe. This state of affairs continued till the end of the 15th century when the new rich merchants started to compete with the church for the services of its image crafters. Crafts in the Middle Ages were not hobbies as they are viewed today, nor were they considered art, they were trades more prosaically called economic activities. A candidate craftsmen joined an established crafter who was a member of the guild of his town. Membership of the guild, or association, conferred to the crafter the right to practice his trade. Over time guilds represented every possible trade in town. The guilds ensured best trade practices among their members and quality control was at their heart. Those who were not members of the guild or did not respect its regulations were put out of business and forbidden to practice their craft.

Christian image making took different forms: illuminated manuscripts, mosaics, fresco paintings,carvings, sculptures, etc... There were no portrait, no landscapes, and no stills. Art in the Middle Ages was nearly exclusively commissioned by the church and the rare private commissions also related to religion. The population was illiterate so Middles Ages art was exclusively for the purpose ofnarrating the story of the Christian creed.

During the Late Middle Ages the crusaders returned with Greek and Roman books and the absorption of these texts pushed formal innovation like the perspective view for example. But what best characterizes Middle-Ages’ art productions is the quality of the craftsmanship. The trade wasbeing very strictly regulated and the content of the works was being imposed so the image craftershad only one way to express themselves and this was through the painstaking mastery of theirtechnical execution.


C. Early Modernity and the sanctification of the arts

In the 15th century the new rich merchants, trading luxury goods between the Middle-East and Europe, started to commission works of another nature. They commissioned Christian image makersin the hope that their technical skills would reflect and deposit in their works the truthfulness of theirfinancial richness and the new values that their class represented: individualism, private property, etc... And so appeared the first portraits, landscapes, and stills. These 3 subjects related exclusively to the life of their commissioners. That means that landscapes meant landscapes around the mansion, portraits were portraits of those living in the mansion and stills were of tables within their mansions. In other words art was put exclusively at the service of the new burgher class or the bourgeoisie. The mission of these early modern arts was to glorify the way of life of the burgers in order to sanctify their new system of values in the eyes of all.

Image makers, until then had exclusively illustrated the creed so commissioning them to make profane works was meaning the commissioner entered in competition with the church. This was a dangerous undertaking in a time when the inquisition could burn anyone at the stake upon the slightest accusation. The only way to attract the image makers was thus to pay them a lot better. For the image maker this financial incentive had the direct advantage of a fast climb on the social stratification ladder and in consequence the position of the artist in society changed radically for the better.


Notes.


2. “Humans” by Dennis O'Neil, Behavioral Sciences Department Palomar College. San Marcos, California

3. “The Social Brain Hypothesis” by Robin I.M. Dunbar in Evolutionary Anthropology

4. Critiques of Dunbar argue about the power of language and vocal grooming. “The theory does nothing to explain the crucial transition from vocal grooming — the production of pleasing but meaningless sounds — to the cognitive complexities of syntactical speech.

5. Jean-Francois Lyotard. “The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge” (Volume 10 of Theory and History of Literature). Edited by Wlad Godzich and Jochen Schulte-Sasse. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
I use the terms High Arts and Popular Arts in a rather provocative manner here with the sole intention to attract the attention of the reader to the real difference between artistic creation and artistic recitation. This differentiation existed throughout the whole of human history and along the same lines that I lay out here. Modernity is really a rare moment in our history. We forgot the meaning and function of the high Arts and the resulting confusion destabilizes our societies which by Late-Modernity have entered the singular stage of atomization which announces their imminent collapse.

6. Pierre Clastres. “Society without State”.
It looks like the powers that be absolutely want us to believe in the colonialist lie of the ugly savage. The debate about the nature of tribal societies has indeed been re-ignited recently following the publication by Napoleon Chagnon of “Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes — the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists” and Jared Diamond’s “The World Until Yesterday ”.
For those interested in this debate here follows a compilation of answers to these two works.
  • Anthropology on Noble Savages, Napoleon Chagnon” by Jason Antrosio in the Anthropology Report.
  • See also the excellent article by Stephen Corry “The Return of the Brutal Savage and the Science for War” who writes “The last few years have seen an alarming increase in claims that tribal peoples have been shown to be more violent than we are. … In reality though it’s nothing more than an old colonialist belief, masquerading once again as “science. ... The fact that Chagnon’s thesis has been repeatedly demolished in scholarly publications for decades is simply ignored by those who want him to be right.

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