And the Beat Goes OnCory Panshin on April 22, 2015
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.”
In addition, almost every week seems to bring the announcement of an improved form of energy storage, artificial photosynthesis, or some other innovative technology, as the holism vision moves beyond its utopian dreams of the past forty years to become a generator of practical solutions.
The other indication that the logjam is starting to give way is that the nihilistic hyper-individualists who represent the most toxic manifestation of the chaos vision are finally losing all credibility. From the obstructionist Republicans who now control both houses of Congress to the instigators of the “Puppygate” scandal currently afflicting science fiction fandom, they have thrown discretion to the winds and are staking out positions that violate prudence, morality, and respect for tradition.
These two things are connected. As chaos abandons any sense of responsibility, holism steps in to take up the slack. That’s just how these things work. But the most interesting part for me is the effect this will have on the younger emerging visions — and to explain that, I need to talk about how the system of visions works as a whole.
Except for brief moments of transition, there are always just five active visions influencing the culture.
There is a dominant partnership consisting of two mature visions that have forfeited their youthful transcendence but retain a high degree of authority. These work together to set cultural guidelines and maintain social stability.
There are two emerging visions that are maximally pure and mystical but are weak on practical details. These appeal chiefly to artists and visionaries.
And in the middle sits the “outsider” vision, which has acquired a certain measure of philosophical structure and serves as both a source of idealistic aspirations and a focus for discontent. That is the position that has been held by holism for the last forty years.
This setup can remain stable for an extended period, but eventually the dominant partnership begins to reveal its limitations. As it does, the younger visions start showing signs of rebellion and the partnership responds by growing repressive and self-protective. That leaves it unable to respond creatively to crisis, so when a major crisis does hit, the partnership crumbles.
That crumbling is always a two-stage affair. First the senior partner takes the blame and is discredited, while the junior partner actually grows more powerful. But then the junior partner overreaches and loses its own credibility. We’ve been in the first of those stages since 2010, when the democracy vision floundered and chaos took the driver’s seat. The second is what is happening right now.
However, that’s the simple part. Where it gets tricky and delicate is how the failure of the partnership affects the younger visions.
There is a kind of occult bond between the two oldest and two youngest visions. As I’ve noted previously, the visions come in three flavors — scientific, social, and inner experience — that always recur in that order. This means that the senior and junior partners are always of the same two types as the older and younger emerging vision, while the outsider vision is of the third type.
And though I don’t fully understand why, as long a partnership remains intact, the partners are able to draw upon the transcendence and dedication of the two youngest visions to prop up their own legitimacy. But when those mature visions fail — first one and then the other — the two emerging visions reclaim their birthright. The result is an explosion of transformative energy that destroys and then rebuilds the entire system.
We are currently in such a period of transformation, which began when the failure of the aging democracy vision in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008-09 freed up the emerging horizontalism vision.
The resulting social rebellions of 2010-11 were quickly suppressed by the established order, which was still doing its best to hold onto the fading democracy-and-chaos partnership, but they had one lasting effect. That was the revitalization of the holism vision.
Outsider visions always take a beating. They are caught between the practical needs of the dominant partnership and the romantic allure of the emerging visions. They are bullied mercilessly when they take a more radical stance and have their idealism called into question when they seek mainstream acceptance. The inevitable outcome is the kind of deep demoralization that was affecting holism by 2010.
However, the transformative energies of horizontalism have infused holism with new life. Since 2012 they have jointly been at the center of the most effective protest movements, often under such portmanteau labels as “environmental justice” or “green anarchy.”
That phase is now coming to an end, as holism gains mainstream acceptance and the more pragmatic aspects of horizontalism show an inclination to follow. But this mainstreaming creates a void — a felt need for an alternative that will be younger and purer and more heavily mystical. That means it’s time for creative imagination to come into its own — and the ongoing self-destruction of the chaos vision is precisely what will enable it to do so.
Over the next year or two, I expect creative imagination to become increasingly visible while also taking on greater definition. Up until now, it’s appeared as a set of scattered fragments, ranging from non-transcendent calls for “creativity” and “imagination” to the magical worldview of neo-pagans and chaos magicians. But as the vision itself becomes more coherent, these separate threads will be pulled together under a new rationale that will accommodate all of them.
As that rationale coalesces, it’s likely to give rise to various cultural manifestations whose meaning may at first appear obscure. Much as the horizontalism vision in the late 60s inspired the hippies to get out of the cities, form rural communes, and dress in buckskin and granny glasses, creative imagination will begin prompting people to act and live in strange new ways.
At the same time, the sweeping release of psychic energies resulting from the unbinding of creative imagination will supercharge the existing alliance of holism and horizontalism. All three visions will briefly form a transcendent triad and generate utopian images of a possible future that will provide a point of reference for a generation to come.
One early indicator of this may be found in a link that floated by on my Facebook stream the other day for something called “The Next System Project.” The group’s webpage proclaims, “Large-scale system change is needed but has until recently been constrained by a continuing lack of imagination concerning social, economic and political alternatives.”
The appeal to “imagination” as a source of alternatives strikes me as a nod to the creative imagination vision — but the list of signers is overwhelmingly dominated by heavyweights associated with holism and horizontalism, ranging from Jill Stein and Bill McKibben to Noam Chomsky, Robert Reich, and Frances Fox Piven.
That emphasis on the known and familiar makes me a bit uncomfortable — but I suspect it’s just one more sign of the mainstreaming of holism and practical horizontalism as they shed their former subservience to democracy-and-chaos and take on the moral authority needed to offer guidance to a fragmented and directionless world.
But the path of greatest transcendence leads off in a very different and more frankly magical direction. And those who follow that path will become the pioneers of a new triad grounded in radical horizontalism, an increasingly self-aware creative imagination vision, and the first hints of a newborn successor to holism, which I have tentatively been calling creative materiality.
I already have my eyes out for any hints of that newer triad. The tiny house movement may be one such, since it combines a deliberately modest lifestyle with imaginative whimsy and a respect for creative problem-solving. The seemingly eccentric combination of hard-nosed engineering and weird science espoused by the Occupy Tesla folk may be another.
Both of these are still strongly attached to the holistic and ecological ideals of the present moment. That is why this newer triad can’t yet be said to exist. But soon enough — perhaps three to five years from now — holism will have gone fully mainstream. And then seeds like these will hatch out into something genuinely new and different.Read the Previous Entry: “Complex cognition shaped the Stone Age hand axe”
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