Posts Tagged ‘horizontalism’

Fans, Hackers, and Invisibles

on January 1, 2014 in Emerging Visions | Comments Off on Fans, Hackers, and Invisibles

After posting the previous entry, I kept thinking about the association between horizontalism and creative imagination, and it struck me that the roots of this association can be found in the subculture that grew up around science fiction in the 1930s and early 40s.

When the horizontalism vision was taking shape in the 1930s, science fiction fandom was one of its earliest manifestations. In an era dominated by top-down mass media, fandom was bottom-up, peer-to-peer, and free of any kind of centralized leadership. It was a functioning anarchy in everything but name, being carried on by amateurs who were held together solely by a commonality of interests.

As summarized by Wikipedia, “Science fiction fandom started through the letter column of Hugo Gernsback’s fiction magazines. Not only did fans write comments about the stories — they sent their addresses, and Gernsback published them. Soon, fans were writing letters directly to each other, and meeting in person when they lived close together, or when one of them could manage a trip. In New York City. David Lasser, Gernsback’s managing editor, nurtured the birth of a small local club called the Scienceers, which held its first meeting in a Harlem apartment on December 11, 1929.”

These early relationships flowered over the next decade into an extensive network of clubs, fanzines, and conventions, climaxing with the grandly-named First World Science Fiction Convention in 1939.

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Pagan Anarchism

on December 21, 2013 in Emerging Visions | Comments Off on Pagan Anarchism

In between my forays into the remoter reaches of prehistory, I like to keep an eye on current events for signs of significant transitions. It seems that one such transition is upon us now, as indicated by the fact that “economic populism” — or “economic justice” or “social justice” — has become the hot new buzzword of the moment.

Four years ago, the issue of inequality was not even on the table. Two years ago, it was being pushed only by those noisy folk down at Occupy Wall Street. But now it is something that even the elites and makers of opinion are having to recognize.

That’s not just a switch in the zeitgeist. It’s a sign that we’re at a crucial turning point in the cycle of visions where the horizontalism vision starts to attract mainstream attention.

If the pattern that I worked out last spring holds true, we’re about to see horizontalism — like holism in the late 60s and early 70s — become the focus of a tug of war between established interests looking for practical solutions and the wild romantics and radicals who have been nurturing the vision for the last several decades.

The ultimate outcome of that struggle will be a split between a “safe” version of the vision on one hand and a more dangerous and mystical version on the other. However, that split will remain latent for the next dozen years or so. In the meantime, I see nothing wrong with getting as many tangible benefits as we can out of this window of opportunity when the elite are running scared and willing to make concessions.

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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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I wasn’t altogether satisfied with the previous entry, and though I’ve done some rewriting to tighten it up, it still has one major flaw: It presents the birth of a successor to the transformation vision and the split within the kinship vision as if they were two separate events, when they were actually the product of a single, interconnected movement of thought.

This is something I only realized as I began the current entry, and though I’m still working out the implications, two points are already clear. One is that in order to maintain our engagement with higher knowledge, we need access to fully transcendent visions of all three types at once. The other is that this access is so crucial that whenever the transcendence of a vision is at risk, we will leap to restore it — or if it is lost despite our efforts, we will quickly devise a substitute.

Like everything involving higher knowledge, our need to draw on each type of vision simultaneously is something of a mystery, but it appears to result from the inadequacies of human perception. Because we are unable to grasp existence as a whole, we rely instead on three separate streams of knowledge — scientific, social, and inner experience. However, none of these is designed to facilitate profound understanding, and they all suffer from unavoidable blind spots and distortions.

Our best solution has always been to observe reality through the lens of all three modes in combination. Not only does this provide a more complete picture, but the effort to resolve the contradictions among them pushes us into the intuitive and integrative thought processes typical of higher knowledge. For that reason, the three newest and most transcendent visions regularly operate as a triad.

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Over the past few entries, I’ve been trying to pin down the exact sequence of events that took the holism vision from being a hot new thing in the late 1910’s and early 20’s, to becoming culturally marginalized in the middle 30’s, and then into a fruitful association with the new-born horizontalism vision by the end of the decade.

The first step in that sequence was when the democracy vision emerged from the counterculture of the 1910’s in the perfect Goldilocks position — neither too old and tired nor too new and untested — to be accepted as the consensus vision of the era.

The second step came when democracy entered into a partnership with a pared-down version of scientific materialism, depending on the older vision to reinforce its bottom-up view of society while not getting in the way of its agenda of human triumphalism.

The third step took place around 1934, when the chaos vision was hauled into the orbit of the emerging scientific-materialism-and-democracy partnership, at the cost of its long-time relationship with holism.

And the fourth occurred in 1936-39, when holism responded to its growing isolation by forming a new association with horizontalism.

When I first discussed this series of events, I compared it to a Rube Goldberg machine, with visions randomly bouncing off each other — but I’m finally starting to understand that it was both orderly and inevitable.

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In the course of doing the previous entry, I stumbled on a surprising realization — that the first tentative seeds of each new vision are generated a full cycle before they take shape as a distinct entity. This has undercut some of my long-held assumptions about the dynamics of countercultural periods, but it promises to replace them with a subtler and more fruitful paradigm.

When I initially developed my ideas about the cycle of visions, I assumed that the central narrative of every counterculture involved the loss of faith in a dominant partnership and the coalescing of opposition around the next vision in the sequence. I derived this template from the 1960’s, which I perceived as a heroic struggle by the forces of chaos against the increasingly repressive tendencies of scientific-materialism-and-democracy.

That remained my working model when I started this blog. I soon added an additional level of complexity, however, as I concluded that the explosive burst of cultural energy which marks the onset of every counterculture must be a by-product of the liberation of the countercultural vision from the influence of the dominant partnership and its realignment towards the vision one junior to itself.

In this revised model, I identified the foundations of the 60’s counterculture as having been established between about 1958 and 1962, when a few visionary writers and musicians began to associate chaos with holism rather than scientific materialism. This new way of thinking then swept through the culture at large when the dominant partnership was discredited in 1964-65.

I still believed, however, that holism had played a merely catalytic role and that chaos had provided the energy source for the counterculture and had produced its most radical new ideas, some of which coalesced as the creative imagination vision when chaos narrowed down in the 1970’s and became more conventional

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At the end of the previous entry, I promised that this one would carry the story along by discussing the flowering of holism in the early 20th century. I soon realized, however, that I’d missed an important step in the development of the association between horizontalism and creative imagination — so I need to backtrack and deal with that before I move on.

When creative imagination started hanging out with horizontalism in the 1970’s, the relationship initially took shape within the terms of multiculturalism, and its chief exponents were neo-pagans and chaos magicians. But in recent years, the same association has been most apparent in the context of direct democracy, and its leading devotees are now computer hackers and self-professed pirates.

That may seem like a natural progression when viewed from the perspective of creative imagination — especially since there has always been a significant overlap between magicians and hackers — but from the viewpoint of horizontalism, the underlying dynamic is far more complex.

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As I’ve been tracing out the history of the chaos vision, I’ve come to a number of conclusions which affect my understanding of the development of the visions in general. Most strikingly, I’ve started realizing that the interactions among visions — which I’ve compared in the past to a Rube Goldberg device because of their seemingly chaotic nature — actually function with the precision and regularity of clockwork.

This comes as a surprise to me — but it probably shouldn’t. Rube Goldberg devices, after all, achieve the illusion of an effortless cascade of random impacts only through an exacting adjustment of angles and timing.

It does mean, however, that instead of viewing each individual vision as being bound from the start upon its own relatively fixed course, I’m going to have to reconceive of the entire system of visions as a single, elaborate piece of machinery whose evolution is subject to constant modification through the ongoing interactions of its parts.

That’s a challenge — so perhaps the best way to start is by pausing, taking stock, and devoting the next several entries to chronicling the various relationships that each vision experiences in the course of its lifetime.

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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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As each vision matures, it takes on a broader philosophical dimension that enables it to challenge the underlying assumptions of earlier visions. The holism vision is currently undergoing just such a development, as demonstrated by the recent flurry of doubts being raised about the concept of the autonomous individual.

For the past several centuries, we in the West have been living in an intellectual climate where the isolated individual was perceived as the fundamental unit of existence on every level of reality. It began with the image of atoms zooming through the void that was the basis of the science vision. It continued with the self-sufficient citizen of the democracy vision, equal to but independent of every other self-sufficient citizen. And it climaxed with the chaos vision, in which individual consciousness becomes the sole determination of value and meaning.

But now we have reached a turning-point where the concept of absolute individuality and freedom that was formerly a path to liberation from hidebound tradition has become toxic and destructive. We are in desperate need of an alternative — and holism, with its central message that the whole is always more than the sum of its parts, is ready to provide it.

That message was already present when the holism vision was coming together in the 1920’s and 30’s, but mainly as a grounds for arguing against scientific reductionism. The notion that we personally might also be part of something larger began to take hold only in the psychedelic 1960’s, when a musician like John Lennon might sing “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”

But what was still no more than an acid-fueled insight forty years ago has since become solid science — and that science in turn is actively generating new philosophical insights.

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