2016/07/16

From Modernity to After-Modernity. (27)

Summary sketch of part 2.



Life is one of the applications installed in the operating system of the universe and it emerges eventually in those of its sub-sets whose context contains all the ingredients for life to emerge.

Humanity is one of the youngest species to have evolved from such a process of emergence on earth. As all species humanity is subservient to the application of the principle of life. By that I mean that we can’t escape its rules; we are merely dancing to the tune of its music.


The memory of the evolution of life on earth is furthermore encoded in the biological code of each individual of any living species. Our biological evolution made us what we are and the memory of that evolution is guiding our actions on the path we follow in the present. The memory of the evolution of life is imprinted with patterns and among these patterns beauty and ugliness stand out as markers of what to emulate and what to reject.

From an evolutionary perspective beauty represents what works. Ugliness represents what does not work. In the case of humanity the last stage of our evolution legated us a large brain that allows for the processing of concepts and abstractions. Human clans put that capacity to good use by instituting the role of (wo)man of knowledge who was put in charge of the acquisition and distribution of knowledge in order to maximize the pleasure of the individuals while minimizing their pain. Language was still not sufficiently developed to communicate the newly acquired knowledge to the minds of the members of the clan so the (wo)men of knowledge used our innate predisposition for beauty to communicate their knowledge through the arts.

The acquisition of knowledge and its communication through the arts started in clans and opened the path of societal evolution and the rise of tribes. Tribesmen shared a common worldview resulting from the knowledge acquired from the (wo)men of knowledge. Such a worldview solidified the cohesion of their groups which explains why tribal societies survived for tens of thousands of years.

Around 12-15,000 years ago a warming climate melted the ice caps covering most of the land masses. Water flowed downwards depositing rich alluvions in the plains where a luxuriant flora attracted the fauna. Humans followed their animals of prey and established camp in the valleys where women helped nature to spread the seeds of their plants of preference and so emerged agriculture.

Agriculture allowed to feed more mouths and tribal groups grew in size which destabilized their mode of organization. The transition from tribal societies to empires was a long process that consecrated patriarchal power while displacing the tribal matriarchal organization.

The different geographies where humans established camp after the melting of the ice, in the form of different alluvial plain sizes and conditions of isolation versus transit, gave way to different processes of transition from tribes to empires. China disposed of roughly 1,000,000 km2 of alluvial plains while Egypt disposed of 40,000 km2 and Mesopotamia some 15,000 km2. The Bronze Age Indus Valley civilization disposed of alluvial plains larger than 1,000,000 km2 but the Sarasvati river dried up around 1900 B.C. and by 1500 B.C. its civilization had disappeared. In other words agriculture and civilizations emerged and thrived on alluvial deposits and the bigger the alluvial plains the more powerful these civilizations became economically and culturally.
China, a land based society with no neighboring competitors, had very little cultural exchanges and so its society emerged and developed largely in isolation from any other centers of civilization. This explains how its transition from tribes to empire expanded the sharing of its tribal worldview to a enlarging territory. China inherited animism as its imperial worldview while the role of its (wo)men of knowledge was made subservient to its men of power. This state of affairs was largely preserved till the collapse of its empire in 1911.

In stark contrast with China the TriContinentArea was a narrow strip of land where Europe, Asia and Africa came into contact. The traffic from one area to the other inevitably forced exchanges and was accompanied by conflicts and the rise of winners and losers which suggests the idea of rupture and cycles in power and in worldviews. The transition from tribes to empire concluded once religions were co-opted by the men of power to glue the minds of their populations.

The different nature of their transition from tribes to empire explains why China and Europe inherited such different:
  • axioms of civilization
  • models of knowledge formation and acquisition
  • worldviews
  • models of societal organization
  • artistic practices
The conclusion is inescapable. These differences created the context in which their later development sprouted.



The next determinant moment in societal evolution was the encounter, during the crusades, of a backward and primitive Europe with a civilized and economically advanced TriContinentArea. They first plundered the area but pillage was soon displaced by the normalcy of long distance trade which imposed respect, in the minds of the merchants, for the reason at work within the invested capital. As a result they made fortunes which they spent building palaces and mansions that blew the minds of their Western European fellow citizens.

Over the centuries the envy of the merchants’ richness expanded to the European population at large. That’s how the reason of capital, in the minds of the intellectuals, finally morphed into philosophic rationalism.

In this context of widening international exchanges of goods the British state gave protectionist incentives in order to encourage its capital holders to develop technologies to free their country, among other, from the need to import cotton goods from India. This unleashed the industrial revolution that transferred farmers from their land to new factories thus giving rise to urbanization.

Technological changes were breathtaking. The speed of transportation had been 7-8 km per hour at the most for the past millions of years and, with the introduction of trains, it nearly instantly jumped to 100 km per hour. The telegraph transported voice over long distances. Electricity powered lamps and motors. All these changes questioned the minds. The members of the Paris avant-garde rejected the validity of past ways of representing reality. Modernism was born that wanted to find deeper levels of reality to illustrate than the first degree image that projects on the retina. Unfortunately the avant-garde never succeeded to find such deeper levels of reality and their efforts concluded in total confusion about what art is all about.

After the second world war Europe was bankrupt and the US sized the opportunity to attract European capital holders, intellectuals, and artists. The State Department concocted a strategy to make New York the art capital of the world. State ideology and capital united their efforts. To show the world, how free America is, members of the New York Art School, who were despised by the originators of this secretly sponsored strategy, were offered exhibitions around the world.

The new York art School soon was world famous and New York had displaced Paris as the arts capital of the world. Culturally this propaganda ploy succeeded to portray the US as the freest country on earth while manipulating the minds of the citizens of the world into the perception that the communist bloc was a gulag.

Capital holders are fast learners. The financialization of the entire economic sector of the arts guaranteed them recurring profits without risks. Within two decades the scheme was extended to the entire economy. Financing technology and globalization were the two legs that allowed them to walk their investments around the whole world.

This early financialization of the art world had two direct consequences that would mark the future:
  • some critics declared that the function of painting and art were dead. More generally Western arts entered into a period of crisis that Postmodernism tried to answer by positing the diagnostic that societies had lost their worldviews (narratives) and proposing as remedy to abandon beauty and consecrating ideation as the role of the arts. But beauty is a function of the patterns left on nature by biological evolution so Postmodernism was a failure on this count and ideation, for its own sake, spread around till the whole art landscape had sized in a complete loss of sense.
  • China viewed Western capitalist globalization as a thread to the survival of its own nation and entered in a frenzy of economic reforms that, within 3 decades, amplified their economy to the point that it is now the biggest on earth.

Seen from the perspective of the long history Modernity has changed the human condition within the blink of an eye. No doubt about that and as proof that the going was immensely appreciated by the individuals world demographics shot up exponentially. Every viewer of images of Modernity wants indeed to share in the consumerist gluttony.

But as the art world’s early existential crisis attested there was a price that had not been factored into the calculus of Modernity. Since then multiple crisis have indeed been popping up into humanity’s consciousness:
  • globalization and technology are disrupting all fields of life but the first domain to give in is economic financialization. Debt has risen exponentially and asphyxiates daily activities...
  • population has exploded in an exponential fashion increasing ever more the needs for goods and services unleashing the new geologic era of the anthropocene...
  • societal atomization signifies the death of societies only inertia keeps them rolling till they finally collapse…
  • the earth average temperatures are climbing fast wreaking havoc on regional climates which threatens our human habitat...
  • water, air and land pollution have poisoned the habitat of all living species; ours included. Some go extinct rapidly while others adapt momentarily through biological mutation…
  • the oceans are acidifying rapidly and threatening marine life and more and more land based habitats are becoming unlivable…
  • in consequence of these multiple crisis a 6th mass extinction has been put in motion that is occurring at a faster rhythm than any of the 5 preceding ones.


So here we are.

The very success of Modernity is also provoking its demise. This diagnostic of the ills of the principle of life on earth puts us in a quandary.

Where is humanity going from here?

In a long history perspective:
  • Modernity has peaked. Its fall has already been initiated.
  • in the context of the fall of Modernity the seeds of a new societal paradigm are spreading. But which of these seeds will successfully sprout is unknown.
  • that new societal paradigm is an answer adapted to humanity’s present quandary.
  • To strengthen the cohesion of surviving groups of individuals the role of the (wo)man of knowledge will be re-instituted, under one form or another, to share their knowledge about what the new reality is all about and worldviews will once again thrive.
  • under the necessity to share their worldview with knowledge deprived individuals the (wo)man of knowledge shall recourse to the arts as they were understood initially at the time of their creation leading to the emergence of tribal societies.

Going forward what does this entail for our understanding of the arts?
I'll address this question in my next series of posts that I plan on writing this coming winter.

In the meantime, if you are interested to read or re-read my older posts go here part 1 or here part 2 or part2 full table of content.

Dear readers I wish you interesting times this summer and coming autumn and hope you'll be back this coming winter for my next series of posts.

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