Archive for the ‘Emerging Visions’ Category


Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

One thing that has frequently struck me about the cycle of vision is that certain events seem to be predetermined while others take place in a realm of indeterminacy where anything can happen.

Right now, we’re at a moment where both are true. The two oldest of the current visions have run out of options as they fall into a vortex of irreversible decay and repression. The two that follow are becoming caught up in a scenario of resistance that is equally inevitable in its broad strokes, although they still have the ability to adapt to circumstances and define their own moral and political stances. And meanwhile the newest of the visions, those which are still emerging from the shimmering uncertainty of non-existence, are free to make everything up for the first time.

Since I did my last entry two months ago, events have been rushing towards a foreordained conclusion with breathtaking speed. The battle lines have been drawn and the players are taking up their assigned roles — some as villains, some as heroes, and some as sacrificial victims.

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Facebook has recently been serving up clothing ads in my sidebar, and though I’m not a potential customer, I take an interest in such things because fashion is a handy way of tracking the transitions in the cycle of visions that I’ve been detailing at this blog.

So I clicked through and what leaped out at me was how similar many of the styles were to those of 1968-69. There were the same free-floating shifts and tunics and smocks, all of them designed to conceal the natural curve of the waist and hips. And there were also a few extremely full-skirted items that have the same effect.

This is significant. Though I’ve never fully deciphered the fashion cues that go along with each phase of the cycle, I do know that styles like these invariably appear at a moment when all the familiar “grownup” solutions to current problems have failed. They evoke an adolescent appearance — in contrast with the more womanly silhouette that prevails at other times — and seemingly represent an attempt to summon up the fluidity and openness to alternatives of the adolescent brain.

That’s exactly the kind of crisis we’re in right now, and we need all the innovative solutions we can get.

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I’ve been getting kind of bored with what I’ve been posting lately, which is why I haven’t added anything in several months. I’ve kept starting entries and then trashing them because they were too abstract and intellectual to hold even my own interest.

Part of the problem has been that since last spring we’ve entered one of those transitions where everything stable and familiar falls apart and the active visions undergo a transformation that will set up the ruling assumptions of the next forty or fifty years. When something like that happens, everything else seems trivial by comparison.

Moments like these represent unique points of indeterminacy in the cycle. During prolonged periods of stability, the visions unfold in a way that is largely predetermined. But when the world is in flux, multiple paths spread out before us and a choice of futures is possible. And then we select just one, and the others go back into the box of might-have-been and someday-maybe.

However, this indeterminacy applies only to the newest visions. The older ones, which have long since lost their own capacity for creative innovation, will merely be reshaped by the impact of those that are younger and more dynamic.

The two oldest of the current visions — democracy and chaos — will fare the worst. The partnership between them, which has provided the consensus norms of our society since the 1970s, is in a state of collapse due to its inability to resolve the financial meltdown of 2008. And the democracy vision in particular, which has been hollowed out by rampant corruption and inequality, has suffered a loss of legitimacy from which it will never recover.

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I continue to have trouble moving my account of the cycle of visions along, and that usually means I’m overlooking something important. I suspect the underlying problem is that I keep trying to cast the visions as an automatic consequence of the facts of human nature and brain function — and that just isn’t the way creative processes work.

The history of innovation makes it clear that radical departures from the existing order of things are never inevitable. In the beginning, all is flux and uncertainty and decision points that lead to alternative paths. It’s only when one preferred solution takes hold that the wave function collapses and the rest follows a predetermined course.

This is true of art and science and politics and religion — and it would have been supremely true of the visions, since those were the first and greatest expression of human creativity upon which everything since has been built.

At the onset of our long experiment in being human, when everything was new and surprising, there were many choices to be made. There were choices about things we now take for granted, like how language works and the pattern that stories follow. There were even deeper choices involving the way we define ourselves and our relationship to one another and the world around us.

Our most ancient stories tell of a Dreamtime when nothing was yet determined and everything was a matter of choice. And though those stories surely date from a time much later than when the fundamental choices were made, they reflect an ancestral memory that everything we now accept as given is the result of decisions made in the distant past.

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For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been mulling over what seemed to be two separate questions, one having to do with current events and the other with the framework of the cycle of visions. But now I’m starting to realize they’re aspects of the same thing.

The present-day question is this: I can understand why conservative politicians have gotten so crazy. They’re chasing after the support of libertarians, the religious right, and their billionaire backers, all of whom see government as the enemy and want to elect people who will pledge to tear it down.

But what I can’t understand is the liberals. Why would a supposedly liberal mayor of New York like Bill DeBlasio order the cops to treat protesters as brutally as they ever did under Mayor Bloomberg? Why would President Obama be saying so many of the right things while also pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the face of all evidence that it would harm both workers and consumers?

In the previous entry, I suggested that this behavior by liberal politicians grows out of a desire to prop up the crumbling democracy-and-chaos partnership. But now I’m thinking it’s something simpler and more visceral — a need to maintain social stability at all costs. That’s why leftwing calls for systemic reform are treated as a greater threat than the scattershot violence of gun nuts, sovereign citizens, and other rightwing extremists.

And if we grant that present-day authority figures are ruled by an overriding impulse to preserve stability, the same was almost certainly true in the remote past.

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This seems like an appropriate moment for an entry concerning where things stand right now in terms of the cycle of visions and where they might be headed over the next couple of years.

We’re presently about halfway through a period of accelerated change. Beliefs and attitudes are evolving rapidly and so are the ways people present themselves and interact with the world. But at the same time, not much is actually happening. Battle lines are being drawn, the tension is being ratcheted up, but the last three years have represented something of a pause in the action.

In contrast, 2010 and 2011 were years of major social upheaval, when it seemed as though the sky was about to crack open and allow a new world to emerge. But in the first half of 2012, the lid was clamped back down. The Occupy movement was crushed, Jeremy Hammond was arrested in the Anonymous hack of Stratfor emails, and Julian Assange was forced to hole up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Ever since then, we’ve been in a period of stasis — but two recent developments suggest this may be about to come to an end. One is that public acceptance of the environmental values closely associated with the holism vision has suddenly reached a tipping point. In March, the Bad Astronomy blog at Slate had an entry titled “Unlike Temperatures, Climate Change Deniers Are Falling Fast.” And just a few days ago, Bloomberg News ran an article headlined “Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables.”

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When my son Toby recently proposed that he and a friend interview me as a bonus episode for their comic book podcast, one of his suggested questions was, “Does the rise of superheroes during WWII–their slump thereafter–and their rise again during the cold war corollate with real world events.”

That really confused me. In my own timeline, the Cold War began immediately after World War II. And it would never have occurred to me in the early 1950s, when I was a little kid bouncing off the furniture with an old baby blanket pinned around my neck for a cape and pretending to be Superman, that I was living in the middle of a superhero slump.

But apparently I was. As Toby explained it, there had been a great proliferation of superheroes during the war, but by the time I began reading comics around 1952, they’d been pruned back to just Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. And even those titles weren’t particularly memorable — not compared to Carl Barks’ brilliant Uncle Scrooge stories, which I was reading at the same time. The superhero genre wouldn’t get back on track until 1956, by which time I’d outgrown the kid-oriented comics of the day.

Once I started to think about it, though, a number of things fell into place, and I realized that the answer to Toby’s question had to do with science. After the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, science came to be viewed as a destructive force rather than a savior, and that made science-based superheroes a lot less appealing. Over the next decade, even science fiction backed off from scientific extrapolation in favor of sociological SF, reality trips, and rationalized fantasy.

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With the outcome of this week’s elections in the US, we have moved one step closer to the complete meltdown of the democracy-and-chaos partnership. Not only has the partnership consistently failed to address the economic and environmental crises of the moment, but the two partners are now at one another’s throats.

The Democrats remain bound to the failing democracy vision, even though it is no longer able to produce a viable campaign platform. Meanwhile, the Tea Party Republicans have pledged their souls to the darker side of chaos and seem to be looking forward to dismantling as much of the structure of government as possible.

That’s how these things always go, so there’s no use crying too many tears over it. It’s the process by which every fossilized partnership passes into the dustbin of history. The real challenge of the next few years will be to preserve the health of the planet and its peoples as they come under unrelenting assault from a dying system.

That’s exactly what the adherents of the younger holism and horizontalism visions are already trying to do. But there’s about to be an even younger vision joining the mix and sending things off in a new direction — because as the chaos vision becomes completely unmoored from reality, the creative imagination vision will be set loose to follow its own path.

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We’ve now reached the onset of one of those recurring points in the cycle of visions when all the current visions mutate, realign, and take on new roles. Those changes are going to be extremely interesting to watch as they unfold — both for their own sake and as a real-time experiment in how the visions do what they do.

In the previous entry, I discussed the ongoing collapse of the aging democracy vision, the resulting breakdown of the democracy-and-chaos partnership, and how this has enabled the younger holism and horizontalism visions to take center stage.

Over the next decade or so, each of these four visions is going to move along one step. The democracy vision will fade away, except as an increasingly nostalgic point of reference. The chaos vision will shed its current arrogance and take a back seat to the holism vision in a new dominant partnership that will assume the leadership of society. And once that happens, the horizontalism vision — which will have played an instrumental role in these other changes — will be elbowed aside and forced into the role of the rowdy outsider.

However, all this will take a while, and the chaos, holism, and horizontalism visions will have to go through some painful adjustments along the way. Meanwhile there will be no dominant partnership to stabilize society, so we can also expect the next ten or twelve years to be a time of increasing social and philosophical fragmentation.

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I’ve spent the last five years at this blog laying out a theory of human history as determined by a succession of visions of the nature of existence. But although I have no doubts about the reality of that sequence, I’m still struggling to identify the underlying mechanisms.

I’ve most recently been developing what I think is a plausible scenario for how the earliest visions arose out of the changes in brain organization that first made us human. But that scenario can’t explain why those initial visions should have failed and been replaced by others — or why those others then failed and were replaced in turn, following an amazingly consistent pattern of events.

I’m therefore trying out a new hypothesis which assumes that the mechanisms behind the visions operate on two different levels. On the intellectual level, each vision is elaborated out of a limited set of fundamental premises — comparable to the rules of grammar or the axioms of mathematics — that is believed to explain an entire area of human experience. This produces a tightly woven logical structure which gives each vision a high degree of coherence and enables it to remain intact over an extended period of time.

However, any system that narrowly based can only provide a partial picture of reality. Newborn visions may dazzle us with their ability to tap into areas of experience that have previously been neglected, but as visions age they get stale and over-familiar and start to reveal gaps and weak spots. This is one reason why new visions become necessary.

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