Archive for September, 2013

Alexei remarked after reading the last entry that he’d found it hard to follow, and I had to admit I found it a bit hard to follow myself. Part of the problem was that I’d attempted to weave several different strands into a single narrative, and the result wasn’t as seamless as I’d hoped.

But I see now there’s also a more fundamental problem. In the course of trying to pinpoint the underlying mechanism of the cycles, I’ve been focusing in finer and finer detail on the factors surrounding the birth of each new vision — and I’m starting to think that this was misguided.

The birth of a new vision is a crucial factor in every cycle. It’s the magical moment, the point at which undiluted transcendence pours into the world. But it’s only the final act in an extended sequence of events that have weakened or distorted the existing visions and made a new vision necessary. It’s not what drives the cycle.

So this strikes me as a good time to take a step back and present a more holistic overview of the landscape. And I believe the best way to do that is to pull out my very earliest notes on the recurring sequence of cultural moods that marks every cycle and start integrating them with everything I’ve learned since.

As I believe I’ve mentioned in passing, my own journey on this path began during the dismal first week of November 1972, when as an alternative to obsessing over the imminent reelection of Richard Nixon, I plunged intensively into exploring certain ideas about cultural change that I’d been toying with during the previous few months.

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I’ve spent most of the last year wrestling with one specific question: how the cycle of visions began and what keeps it going. I sometimes wonder whether I’ve become too narrowly obsessed with this one issue, but I don’t see any way past it. My goal is to present a coherent theory of human history, not just an eccentric set of speculations, and for that I need a plausible mechanism.

In the previous entry, I hit on something I think is very important — that the birth of the spirit vision came about when the first true shamans found themselves completely alienated from their larger society. To rectify that, and to prove they weren’t crazy, they needed a model of reality that would verify their perceptions and make it possible to communicate them to others.

My initial assumption was that this extreme degree of alienation must have been a one-time-only event, because each new vision since then has emerged from a predecessor of the same type. But as I thought about it, I realized that the same situation arises whenever the romantic aspect of the outsider vision has been marginalized and demoralized to the point where it no longer serves as a vehicle for higher possibility. That leaves its adherents as isolated and unable to explain themselves as any shaman of 250,000 years ago.

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