History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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The eonic effect, the Axial Age, and Archaic Greece

October 21st, 2008 · No Comments

The question of the Axial Age is confused by the many wrong interpretations based on issues of religion. It is not until we look at another aspect of it, the Greek Archaic, that we begin to see what is going on. Here is a short passage from
World History And The Eonic Effect
Archaic Greece: The Clue

The terminology of the Axial Age has devolved into a confused perception of some kind of religious age, a sort of generalized age of revelation, complete with transcendental implications. But a study of the Greek Archaic (and Dark Age), is very useful to see the real Axial effect, undistracted by questions of the emergence of religion. If we track changes in centuries relative to millennia, it looks almost miraculous, until we note the overall pattern. Something doesn’t add up in the usual analysis.
C. G. Starr in two separate works notices the acceleration in cultural evolution at two of our turning points. In A History of the Ancient World, he traces the steady development from the Ubaid and Uruk and describes the sudden change in the period just before –3000 by noting that in history there are “revolutions as well as slow eons of evolution; one of the greatest explosions now took place and affected virtually all phases of life in an amazing, interconnected forward surge.”
In The Origins of Greek Civilization, a study of Archaic Greece, Starr describes the inexplicable and truly extraordinary period of the Greek Archaic and is driven to feel that

    the common historical view on this matter [of the tempo of historical change] is faulty. It is time we gave over interpreting human development as a slow evolution of Darwinian type; great changes often occur in veritable jumps.

As Starr, in a further book on this period, notes at the beginning of The Economic and Social Growth of Early Greece: 800-500 B.C., the Greeks in –800 lived in small rural villages on the Aegean, “three hundred years later Greek life was framed in a complex economic structure embracing much of the Mediterranean and centered in cities which were socially differentiated”, creating the foundation of the great classical period.
There is no simple answer to the complexities of what we are seeing until we start to consider what the broad sequence of our turning points suggests, relative beginnings, and a reworking of the incoming stream. This means that, while many genuine novelties are appearing, by and large, we see a transformation of what is entering a period and what is emerging. The dynamic seems independent of the content. Things appear in a total cultural spectrum, with Greek philosophy and early science, dramatic tragedy, or pottery, showing the passage from one end of the spiritual to the other of art, politics, and economy. The key is that the interrupt is coming on cue, and simply creates a kind of intensity or amplitude of generative change.
We are forced at once to distinguish two different things:

    the temporal ongoingness of cultural evolution, a ‘this leads to that’ aspect,
    an interrupt phase: fast action, accelerating from earlier periods.

Consider Greek history in this light. We have a people, its temporal sequence, a series of stages, nomads arriving from Asia, early Neolithic farmers, Bronze Age Mycenaeans, then suddenly the period of Archaic Greece, and its Classical ascent-vertical as a foundational period that templates a whole new age. We see this five times, at all once, to the century, in some cases to the decade. The sudden advance of the Greeks does not spring, then, from long antecedent influences, although the raw material of diffusion is there. This means that it happens suddenly without slow buildup, relative to the scale of intermediate mideonic stages, even as it must accept the antecedent influences of a long runway, whose only effect can be timbre but not the note.
The Greek example, especially, shows the spectacular surge, then its first flowering, roughly, after –600, as science, drama, architecture and sculpture, political thought, and a Mediterranean presence, and much else, emerge, develop, and create whole new categories of thought, social existence, and art. We can break the problem down into clear stages, relative to world history, stripped to a minimum of actual data.
From –900 onward, there are barely visible signs of Greek renewal as it appears from its Dark Age. There is a pronounced appearance of a new pottery style, the Geometric. By the turn of the eighth century, the onset of the earliest period of what is called Archaic Greece. The record of the Olympic Games begins in –776. By the end of the century, the take-off is gathering momentum. Out of nowhere we find the Iliad fully accomplished as a written epic, Hesiod following in its wake, then a great flowering of poetic forms. The Greek city-states are crystallizing in an era of colonization, social revolution, and economic advance. By the middle of the seventh century, a new form of culture has arisen, one in which the early Sparta, and Athens, are still cut from the same cloth, a generalized field of city-state constitutionalism, with a trend toward republicanism. At the rough era of the Exile, we find, in the generation of Solon, ca. –600, the Archaic Age graduating, the labels are relatively arbitrary, to what we call the Classical Period, the age of Marathon, Herodotus, the birth of Greek Democracy, Pericles, and the Parthenon, and the Peloponesian War. Soon, by the fourth century, we are in the age of Plato, Aristotle, then Alexander, and the rushing advance wanes.
We see this basic structure repeated in each case, China, India, the core Old Testament period, and Greece. Persia, indeed Assyria, Rome, and other areas such as Carthage, perhaps, are slightly different, but clearly related, variants. The cultures in the original core area, like Assyria, tend to fail because they are too large, retrograde or caught up in the past. It is the nimbler Israel and Greece that take off. Analysis requires great caution: the overall perception of a mechanical event is rendered over to correlation by a seemingly random pattern of creative events. It seems like a ‘spiritual’ phenomenon. Confucius, Laotse, Buddha, Mahavir, Deutero-Isaiah.

Tags: Third Edition · World History and The Eonic Effect

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