History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Archaic Greece: the clue

December 20th, 2008 · No Comments

Karem Armstrong in her book on the Axial Age did everything she could to confuse the issue, in the process trying to discredit the Greek Axial. But in fact the Greek Archaic is the great clue to the whole of the eonic effect.

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.
The Hellenic example is of especial interest because its stream shows so clearly the four or more separate conditions of culture possible to the nomadic tribalisms entering the field of successive phases, in the relations of multiple encounters with the eonic sequence:
1. its earliest stage as a nomadic tribalism arriving from Asia and Hyperborean minus infinity. By what process of cultural evolution the early Indo-Europeans achieve their characteristic culture remains unknown. The same stands true for all of the primordial cultures of the Paleolithic.
2. Then, a sequential or mideonic stage in the first phase of civilization after Sumer, as the Mycenaean relative and apprentice of the Minoans. The difference between a phasing transition and the sequential dependency induced it its wake is clear from looking at the Mycenaean world, very much in the mold of the Middle East, and the Minoans, themselves in a complex blend of this same, and earlier diffusion. This era makes what comes later the more remarkable. For it shows that pure diffusion is a different effect.
3. a phase of eonic transition: after an artificially created or contingent ‘Dark Ages’, we see the rapid appearance the transitional period leading to its great classical contribution, followed by
4. a post-transitional passage into its Hellenistic period as a generator of a new oikoumene.
This is not the evolution of a ‘Greek’ culture, but the eonic evolution in the greater eonic sequence, in a cross-section or cycle sampling, during a period of phasing transformation. This is confusing because a process universal in scope exploits the tribal/local to refresh itself and create new templates of cultural advance that will then find themselves short in the passage to their real destiny, the molding of oikoumene cultures, that don’t have this phase intensification, into an integrated whole. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that a local acceleration finds its meaning in a global context. The sudden transformation occurs just as the great cycle of phase picks up, and does so in a ‘near-far’ relation to the nearby Mesopotamian world. This ‘near-far’ is the mechanics of parallel interactive diffusion. The transition induces more interaction from a safe distance, during the Orientalizing period in the seventh century.
The case of Greece is especially interesting because of the artificial discontinuity created by its post-Mycenaean collapse. We might be hard-pressed to uncover the identical pattern in China, visible from ca. –750 to ca. –400, without the Greek example. The Chinese example shows that prior growth, relatively strong in this case, is an independent process, a fact that might elucidate the modern period. For any earlier developmental continuity is merely summed with the interrupt phase, which is only visible from its highest achievements. Indeed, Greece is nearly reduced to the Stone Age after the collapse of the Mycenaean period, starts from behind and then overtakes its greater environment! We might try to extend the buildup to –1200 in some particulars, but the very nature of the evidence cautions that an effect is visible only because nature could not manage five separate generations unless its synchronous action were brief, indeed synchronous. The whole effect of this parallelism is extraordinary and yet it has gone virtually unnoticed, or ignored, except among a small string of scholars, and, indeed, has been the object of dismissal by others.
With this simpler Greek example, we can decipher the Old Testament data, without being distracted by religious trappings. It is remarkable how the Old Testament, with an additional account given by later history to the period just after the Exile, gives direct clocking testimony of one time-zone slice, the Canaanite pocket world, to the whole phenomenon of the great synchrony, irregardless of its content. The Old Testament is a series of ‘story slots’ built around the eonic effect in its core period in the interstices of Mesopotamia-Egypt that its redactors ‘knew’ without knowing must correspond to their historical record, whose exact details they were hard pressed to reduce to fact. The runway, acceleration, crossing, and realization-emergence are told in the thoughts and words of a crystallizing first-emergent group, the Israelites becoming the Jews in the later Hellenistic world of the Second Temple. In India, the chronological record is not so detailed but as clear, the appearance of early Buddhism in the period after –600, within the memory of the earlier Upanishadic era just before it, is almost directly parallel, bulls eye fashion, within the limits of a generation. Just as the Old Testament literatures begin to crystallize by –400, so the ‘Buddhism’ we see has crystallized from the fertile era of gestation, in the period before roughly –600. The ‘peculiar’ appearance of the Upanishadic phenomenon as a buffer between the runway and emergence periods is a giveaway, as incomprehensible as the rest, but the bearer of a clue in the form of its preoccupation with self-consciousness.

Tags: Third Edition · World History and The Eonic Effect

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