The Birth of a New WorldCory Panshin on February 5, 2017
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.
I’ve been genuinely impressed by just how eagerly Donald Trump is taking on every aspect of the classic antagonist role. He is a shameless exploiter of the dysfunctional norms of the failing democracy vision and a willing minion of a chaos vision turned arrogant and toxic. He is the sworn enemy of environmentalism and social justice, which are the visible political representations of the vibrant younger holism and horizontalism visions.
At the same time, he is the living embodiment of the tyrant-father, an archetype that always surfaces when the ancient family drama of conflict between old and young plays out during a period of accelerated change. He and his followers have even surrounded themselves with the well-worn tropes of fascist oppression, just to underline the point for anyone who might have missed it.
This is an old, old mystery play we’re enacting, older than the cycle of visions itself, and since we all know the drill by heart, the result is as predictable as any other myth of death and rebirth. After a few years of general insanity, the broken shards of the democracy vision will lie strewn around the battlefield, never to be reassembled. The chaos vision will have been humbled, shorn of its arrogance, and remade as a formal icon of freedom and individual rights to which everyone pays lip service but which no one fears or obeys.
And by then the coalition of holism and horizontalism will have been bloodied and traumatized but will also be the only option left standing. Holism will give up its radical edge as it takes on the task of reassembling a badly fragmented society on a new moral basis. And horizontalism will be torn between its socially-responsible pragmatists, who will join with holism in the work of reconstruction, and its wild romantics, who will take refuge on the margins of society and continue to weave utopian dreams.
It’s inevitable that each of these things will happen because they’re what always happens when a previously stable configuration of visions disintegrates into mutually antagonistic components that shift and mutate until they find a new center of balance.
The one thing we can’t yet know about the struggle is how it will play out on the ground — how bad the violence and social collapse will get, how much of what we cherish and seek to protect will be lost along the way, and where the sources of renewal will emerge and what unique spin each one will place on the new alignment of leading visions.
Will the crashout be as extreme as our current grief and terror seem to portend? Will the United States be effectively destroyed as a cultural force while leadership passes elsewhere? Or will the creative forces present within our own society prevail even as everything we take for granted is upended?
But all of that is already written in the stars, even if the need to play out our assigned roles forbids us from knowing the result in advance. Whatever is to happen will happen — and even if we could foresee the future, we have no way of stepping outside the matrix of events to change it.
However, there’s another arena where our actions and moral choices truly can change the future. The most important events of the next few years will largely fly under the radar because they will involve the very youngest visions, which still exist in the realm of indeterminacy. These are the creative imagination vision, which was born out of the turmoil of the 1960s but is only now becoming clearly defined, and the even younger creative materiality vision, which is presently hovering on the borderline between existence and non-existence and will be brought into being by the turmoil yet to come.
At the present moment, creative imagination is tightly aligned with holism and horizontalism in a mutually beneficial alliance. This alliance is especially potent because it includes visions of all three basic types: holism to provide our best understanding of the natural world, horizontalism to spin dreams of a more just society, and creative imagination to plumb the mysterious depths of our own nature.
Creative imagination is currently the fuzziest of the three and the least publicly visible, but it is also the most powerful because it is closest to its transcendent roots. It is what keeps holism from falling into the academic sterility of ecological studies and endows it with a faith in universal wholeness. It is what forces horizontalism to acknowledge that the moral purity of minorities and indigenous peoples is rooted not only in their suffering but also in their connection to deep spiritual forces.
And creative imagination is about to take center stage, as a result of one of the fundamental mechanisms of the cycle of visions. To put it simply, each vision goes through three broad phases in the course of its lifespan. Initially, it is young and dynamic and intensely transcendent. But then, after an extended period of development, it gives up its wild, mystical side in exchange for respectability and political influence — which is the point at which it also gives birth to its own successor.
During the second phase, the vision remains able to draw on the energies of that successor, which typically appears as merely its own leading edge. But political success makes it worldly and corrupt and encourages it to start suppressing the more radical ideas associated with its successor. As it does so, it undermines its own legitimacy and is eventually reduced to ruling by force alone. And at that point the bond is broken, its successor is liberated to go its own way, and the older vision withers and decays.
That has been the course of the relationship between chaos and creative imagination since the 1970s. For forty years, they have operated more or less in tandem, but there are profound incompatibilities between them that can no longer be reconciled.
The chaos vision sees the human mind as dominated by the irrationality and infantile willfulness of the Freudian unconscious, and that has been used to justify both our dog-eat-dog political system and our profit-driven market economy. Creative imagination, in contrast, views our ability to weave meaningful patterns out of the scattered fragments of existence as what makes us truly human, and it emphasizes play and art over money and power.
The two have been held together by a common adherence to the do-your-own-thing hippie ethos of the 1960s. But as the forces of chaos abandon or pervert that ethos, creative imagination will be liberated to pursue its own highest ideals. And that growing assertiveness will put great strain on the current three-way alliance, especially once holism begins moving into its phase of respectability.
In the name of social acceptance, holism will reject its own most transcendent aspects. Eco-spirituality will be out and environmental management will become the order of the day. And meanwhile horizontalism will be split down the middle, with those who seek political reform going one way and those who dream of a total social transformation going the other.
And as the alliance flies to pieces, a new vision will be born that combines the rejected aspects of holism with various offshoots of science and technology that have never quite found a home: the Maker Movement and the Steampunks, the lovers of old analog technology, and the weirder implications of contemporary science.
But the very heart of the vision will be a perception of the universe as alive and creative in every particle. This is what will most clearly set it apart from holism, which perceives the natural world as alive but perpetuates the attitudes of nineteenth century mechanistic materialism when it comes to non-living matter.
The new vision, which I have tentatively been calling creative materiality, will throw off that lingering mechanistic influence. It will no longer regard matter and energy as dead and soulless and suitable for casual exploitation. It will recognize the long history of the physical universe as a series of creative acts and the universe as a whole as being every bit as conscious and creative as ourselves.
And it will join with creative imagination in rejecting the purposeless hyper-individualism of the chaos vision in favor of a view of both living and non-living systems as held together by a sense of common purpose that propels them towards ever-higher levels of complexity and integration.
The flowering of a radically altered understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe will be the most important work of the next few years. And it will proceed irresistibly, even as the old world based in chaos crashes and burns.Read the Previous Entry: The Next Four Years