This analysis of the future of civilization using the ‘stream/sequence’ model is not entirely intuitive, but its basic insight is surprisingly robust, if only because it makes no predictions. Instead it exposes the way thinking about the past can confuse us, in the process of trying to learn from the past. The ‘decline’ scenario, based mostly on the ‘decline of the Roman Empire’ is misleading, most of all because it induces false comparisons, matched with a kind of inevitability. The point here is simply to see that the future is openended, but with limits.
World history contains a riddle, and our current forms of historical/evolutionary analysis are blind to it.
So the argument was a bit of shock treatment. We are not even close to understanding historical/evolutionary dynamics. The current trajectory is that of Darwinian scientism, with social darwinist innuendoes, and the exclusive emphasis on ‘science’ and technology. However the stream and sequence model suggests that that won’t do it: the reality is far more complex, and not so far decipherable with the methods of current science. In the rise of modernity there is a complex ‘dialectic’ or antithetical spectrum of opposites that are far beyond the simple perception of modernity as the triumph of science as a new omniscient epistemology. That’s a statement about science as we know it: the powerful methods of science might well sooner or later discover the domain we are pointing to.
Consider the simplistic view: modernity begins with the scientific revolution, in the seventeenth century, reaches a first peak with Newtonian science, and then in the nineteenth century explodes in all fields with a new foundation in darwinian biology, followed by the relativistic and quantum revolutions, etc…The industrial revolution is transparent as a technological breakthrough. The rise of capitalism is by and large associated with this, and the ‘science’ of mathematical economics moves to foundationalize this. Technology is of course the central focus in all of this. Issues of philosophy and art are mostly discarded as irrelevant. Religion is declared for total elimination, as the term ‘secularism’ is associated with anti-religion, …Questions of soul are eliminated. Discussions of consciousness end in a mystery, as the routine of mechanistic reductionism reigns over the analysis…
Consider a larger view: modernity begins in the sixteenth century in a balance of science emerging (Copernicus, Vesalius, etc) and religion, the Reformation.
By the seventeenth century, Protestantism and the Scientific Revolution parry the birth of liberalism in the antithetical dance of ‘causality’ and ‘freedom’ world views. The democratic revolutions emerge in the rising progression of revolutions, climaxing in the American and French Revolutions…The Reformation produces a host of religious experiments, with abolitionism coming near the end, along with German Classical philosophy which transforms the field of religious philosophy. Evolution is discovered and its first theorist Lamarck produces the first and last intelligible proto-theory, next to the insights of figures such as Kant into the larger issues of reason, biological science and teleology. The Enlightenment climaxes in a stunning complex of antitheticals, viz. the Romantic movement, and the course of art history, including music, show direct correlation with the whole progression.
This is a very short pairing of accounts, but the basic point is clear: the right interpretation of modernity is not at all easy, and the onset of scientism so soon in the wake of that transition, is a sign of a kind of instant falling off of the real phenomenon. An elaborate misunderstanding takes effect almost immediately and persists with increasing force as the standard view.
In general the place of art, philosophy, and religion in the whole is muddled, while the issues of politics, liberalism, and democracy proceed with their own momentum and no basis in science, which ends in a struggle with such things as free will.
This limited view of modernity (both accounts are far too short, sorry) has an obvious Achilles Heel: leaving aside the issues of religion as tending to confuse discussion, the emergence of art in timed phases is dumbfounding, totally beyond anything whatsoever in the brain of science as current. But, strangely, the figure Kant, not very clearly, sees a connection between aesthetics and ‘dynamics’, teleology! It is hard to even grasp his point, let along develop it further. And we have no idea if it is relevant to the larger issue: historical dynamics shows a clear ‘aesthetic’ hyperdimension of unknown provenance, one that also defeats, probably, a design argument.
So we see the basic point made in yesterday’s linked post: modernity will proceed to its ‘middle era’ under the domination of scientism and a simplistic view of its inherent character, to process a futuristic civilization likely to fail. The effect of technology will keep this from being catastrophic, but the basic limits will be real.
In fact, this could hardly happen: the forces of redefinition will constantly interrupt this one-dimensionality, and the lessons of the Romantic movement will frequently bob to the surface in echoes of the carefully balanced ‘real modernity’ whose interior essence is still a mystery.
It is not helpful to sermonize here, and current civilization has no choice over its own sudden downshifting. We can change things, if we can, or just document our failures carefully.
World history presents us thus with a super-hard problem. Failure to solve it is not fatal, but…
The forms of the super-hard problem are multiple, and include those of religion in the Axial Age, but those are subject to a quagmire of confusion. So the aesthetic version is more useful:
Consider the progression of art in the Greek Archaic or ‘Axial’ interval shows clear derandomization, i.e. its appearance is not randomly distributed: it shows uncanny correlation with timed intervals.
You can’t evade the necessity of explaining such ‘dynamical’ issues if you wish to proceed in control of your history. A similar analysis is evident in the modern transition. So as we distance ourselves from the early modern we will probably see the downshifting loss of a key component we don’t understand or control. This is the kind of issue involved in the model proposed in WHEE: the action of a system is matched with the free action of individuals inside it. But some of the key components of ‘free action’, freely created art, are not completely free, as yet. There is an important signal indicator here, like a control light switching on. We can exist, with relative success, but the true control of the future is still far from complete. The core of the problem is barely intelligible to us.