Archive for February, 2011

I’ve been developing a bunch of unorthodox theories here, and at times I can start to wonder if I’m just letting my imagination run away with me, so it’s nice to get occasional confirmation that I’m on the right track. Case in point: an article the other day summarizing a paper by archaeologist John Shea, who argues that there is no significant biological difference between the earliest modern humans of 200,000 years ago and their more recent descendants, including ourselves.

“For decades anthropologists contrasted these earlier ‘archaic’ African and Asian humans with their ‘behaviorally-modern’ Upper Paleolithic counterparts,” the article notes, “explaining the differences between them in terms of a single ‘Human Revolution’ that fundamentally changed human biology and behavior. … Shea argues that comparing the behavior of our most ancient ancestors to Upper Paleolithic Europeans holistically and ranking them in terms of their ‘behavioral modernity’ is a waste of time. There are no such things as modern humans, Shea argues, just Homo sapiens populations with a wide range of behavioral variability.”

As anyone who’s been following this blog may have noticed, I’ve arrived at much the same conclusion over the last year, as it’s become apparent to me that my chronology for the sequence of visions requires the earliest visions to go back to the dawn of modern humanity.

But even though it’s nice to see someone else rejecting the old Eurocentric delusion that the important part of human history began only when modern humans arrived in Europe, I’d still take exception to Shea’s reductionist notion that all we’re seeing over the last 200,000 years is “behavioral variability” involving “the varying costs and benefits of different toolmaking strategies.”

The human knowledge base has expanded enormously over that period, art and technology have grown increasingly complex, and the pace of change has constantly accelerated. A theory like Shea’s which describes history as essentially flat has to be omitting something vital.

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Years ago, before I had a blog or even a website, I used to collect my stray thoughts and possible story ideas in an old-fashioned school notebook. One day it struck me that if sexism means discrimination based on sex, and ageism means discrimination based on age, then real-ism ought to mean discrimination based on degree of reality.

So I jotted down a few sentences about a world in which mythological creatures are the targets of prejudice and segregation — although some that are less fantastic in appearance might manage to “pass” as real. The politically correct, of course, would insist that all such beings were merely “differently realized.” And the excluded themselves would finally stand up for their rights and insist, “I’m exactly as real as I need to be!”

It never seemed to be more than a whimsy, though, so I left it at that and moved on. But recently, I’ve been getting a sense that other people have had the same thought — and perhaps took it more seriously than I did.

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite websites, The Daily Grail, commemorated the recent death of venerable British occultist Kenneth Grant by linking to a review of one of his books written in 2002 by graphic novelist and chaos magician Alan Moore.

Moore begins the review cautiously enough, with a general discussion of Grant’s life and the “onslaught of compulsive weirdness” in his work, before tackling the vexing question of whether Against the Light should be taken as a novel masquerading as autobiography or a particularly deranged piece of non-fiction:

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I’ve got the midwinter doldrums and heavy-duty posts are coming hard. So I’m going to take a break by doing a simple round-up of some of the trends and movements that I see as about to coalesce into a holism-based counterculture.

Trends alone are not sufficient, of course. A counterculture explodes only when there is both a volatile mixture of elements and a spark to ignite that mixture. But these trends are what will fuel the fire — and each of them is already displaying the distinctive pattern of thought that will shape the next decade.

The movements that have been catching my eye are primarily offshoots of the environmental activists and computer hackers that I previously described as heretics of the 1980’s. Their roots go back to the potent blend of holism, multiculturalism, and do-it-yourself-ism nurtured by Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog in the late 60’s and early 70’s. But what I’m seeing now suggests a new degree of assertiveness and philosophical self-awareness, along with a dedication to the nitty-gritty of everyday life that is very different from the ecotopian romanticism of the 80’s.

These movements fall into three broad groups, which intermingle at many points. The first is typified by WikiLeaks and Anonymous. It is rooted in the hacker ethic and in the belief that access to tools and information should be considered a fundamental human right.

The second, which I’ve only become aware of recently, involves a new wave of environmentalism that over the last two or three years appears to have moved away from any expectation of government-based solutions and applied itself instead to direct action.

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I learned a new word this week — “horizontalism.”

I’ve actually run into it twice now, both times in the context of the Egyptian protests. The first use I spotted was from a poster in the anarchism forum at reddit, who wrote:

I finally heard on the Al Jazeera stream an answer from a real protester, instead of a talking head, to the question they keep flound[er]ing over, “Don’t the protesters need a leader?” — the answer finally came from a blogger who has been in the square, “the people are self organized, there’s no need for a leader to tell them what to do…people are feeding each other, cleaning the square, we all have the same demands, there’s no need for any leaders to tell us what to do”. …

People of reddit, and the anarchism subreddit specifically, I call on you to spread the anti-authoritarian / horizontalist analysis of what’s happening, the reality on the ground is different than how the media, yes even Al Jazeera, is playing it. The ‘international community’ is waiting to figure out who the new authoritarians they can interface with will be… but what is happening on the ground is a rejection of that failed model.

That post really jumped out at me because it sounded so much like what I’ve been saying here about the difference between the failing democracy vision, with its continuing reliance on hierarchical authority, and the completely self-organizing multiculturalism vision.

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In writing about the remote past, I’ve had two primary objectives. One is to use the cycle of historical visions that I’ve developed based on events of the last few centuries to shed light on the vast blank spaces of prehistory. And the other is to use the known facts of prehistory to better understand the cycle of visions.

In previous entries, I’ve suggested that the first three visions were formed as much as 200,000 years ago, when the earliest modern humans began to shape their knowledge of the world into coherent theories: the transformative vision to structure their observations of the natural world, the kinship vision to codify their social relationships, and the spirit vision to explain the powerful inner experiences of the early shamans.

I’ve further suggested that the transformative and kinship visions came together in the first dominant partnership around 100,000 years ago, following a complex intellectual process that may initially have been catalyzed by the spirit vision but which ultimately subordinated that vision’s more disruptive, trickster-like aspects to a need for social stability and order.

And I’ve speculated that a vast disillusionment resulting from the return of ice age conditions 75,000 years ago could have prompted the first “romantic break,” when people lost faith in the ability of the transformative-and-kinship partnership to explain an increasingly hostile world and turned instead to the spirit vision for guidance.

If that was so, then the lost of faith would have been most far-reaching in the Middle East, where modern humans were nearly wiped out by the extreme cold and drought. And the people of that area who moved further north after the cold moderated 50,000 years ago would have carried with them a growing dedication to both the spirit vision and the newly-emergent cosmic order vision — a dedication reflected in the great cave art of Europe.

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