http://darwiniana.com/?s=stream+and+sequence, a lot of material, but useful.
The stream and sequence analog/model is helpful in sorting out the complexity of world history, and it is also a way to illustrate the real meaning of ‘macroevolution’: we had a link and a post on that today. The place of religion is almost impossible to understand in the context of world history under current assumptions, religious or secular.
The model works just as well for the modern age, given, however, that the onset of a new era in world history is just getting underway. In the analog to antiquity the correlate period is ca. 400BCE; around that time Greek democracy was in crisis, about to disappear, the Axial era of innovation was pretty much over, in Greece. In Israel, the final codifications of the Old Testament were almost concluded, the age of the classic era of ‘revelation’ long over, and in India the religion of Buddhism was gaining momentum, while in China the system was approaching the era of empire and consolidation.
The point here is the question: given this analog, but with the essential proviso that we are free at any time to modify any determinate outcomes taken inevitable, will the world system enter a long slide into inexorable decline visible in antiquity, especially in the occident, where the whole of civilization virtually collapsed within a millennium and a half after about 600BCE. Answer, check back in a few millennia, if you are a curious alien about to blast off to the next galaxy. \
For humans, the reality is that modernity is an order of magnitude beyond the advances such as they were in antiquity. But that reality is mostly now about technology: man has advanced to the point that technological innovation is self-sustaining. But is that the crux? Hardly. If we look at the Axial Age we see immense innovations, but the factor of science was only one among a whole spectrum of innovations, in religion, philosophy, art, literature, and politics. And the same for modernity. We have a suspicion that our focus on science is only one small slice of a larger picture.
We can see that ‘technology’ must graduate to supertechnology, the construction, realization, and projection of whole civilizations over many millennia. The current five year plan is still beyond humanity’s grasp. The obsession with free markets is a confession of defeat, the only way to economic development is a brushfire economic conflagration now threatening a planet.
Look at the detail of what this supertechnology must do (the word itself is wrong, we are beyond techonology as we know it): generate changes in timed combinations on the level of three centuries, and these in series of several millennia, therefore a system that is ‘meta’ for civilization on a scale larger than the full sequence itself, ca. ten thousand years. The interior action here must condition to the level of what we see in history: the most spectacular are the timed appearances of art, and much else.
Absent this sort of hypertechnology, what happens after one of these macrotransitions is solely up to us, but without that superprocess. In antiquity we see the clear result, inexorable decline. But in the modern world we have many more resources, but still no capacity to operate at the level of civilizations. And that doesn’t just happen, the way free markets are said to happen.
Having said all this we can reintroduce the concept of a planned society, some form of communism, some form of macroeconomic control, or regulation, and all of this at its most mechanical level of plans set against a future. But what history shows us is more complex even than that: Whence comes the historical action that we see in antiquity? The problem with standard plans is that we would have someone in say 100oBC (or ten thousand BCE for the whole series) projecting a plan over three centuries in Greece to produce the spectacular phase of innovations. It doesn’t make much sense to see it that way. So there is a still more complicated question of the time-frame of macroplanning. That is a grasp of some mystery of time still unknown to us.
All this is useful for reminding us of the coming era of peril, the means we have to deal with it, and the mystery of world history such as it is. We will end up making a crude replication of such things in forms that will be lacking in cultural vitamins. Still the rise of technology will be an important first step in keeping us prompted toward maintaining civilization. The onset of complete collapse seems unlikely, and yet the economic means now current are not going to produce the right result for much longer if it is true that the global environment is already at risk.
We need to begin to understand the real dynamics of civilization beyond economic, darwinian, or sociological categories, a genuine macro understanding. This is far beyond current knowledge. But we can at least begin to sense the need to operate on a much higher level, and to see that there is a determinate set of processes behind art, religion, political development, and much else.
Best of luck, the alien must be saying as he kicks into hyperdrive. He is forbidden by cosmic law from interfering in the game parks of primitive apes.
We are of course playing a trick on the idea of evolution, which we assume is a series of random events. But we can see that something far more complex is at work, and this has two sides: a macro process induced, and a micro process that is the result of free human action. And this must ask for an elusive starting point, because already we are going to generalize to the level of the whole of human evolution. And that, as yet, we certainly can’t replicate.