The Saga of Chaos and Holism

This historical summary is aimed at anyone who has been following my entries on the dance of the visions and feels they could make better sense of the overall pattern if they saw events presented in a simple chronological framework. The listing that follows represents an attempt to do just that by drawing on existing entries from 2009-12.

This does not constitute a coherent history. Some periods are covered in detail and others are once-over-lightly. Certain entries appear under more than one heading or are included on the basis of just a few pertinent paragraphs. The entries from 2009-10 do not completely share the more evolved assumptions and terminology of those from 2011-12.

However, putting it together has been an illuminating exercise for me and it tells a more focused story than I would have expected. What strikes me most strongly is the extent to which it dramatizes the intertwined history of the chaos and holism visions from their emergence in the 1800s to the late 20th century.

The climax of that saga will come roughly a decade from now, when those two visions form a partnership and assume the joint leadership of society. However, the basis of that partnership is already implicit in what has gone before, starting around 1870 when chaos and holism first joined together to present an image of a constantly evolving universe.

The Emergence of Chaos and Holism

The chaos vision was born in the 1700s and crystalized in the 1860s.

Holism gained its first philosophical expression between the 1880s and the 1920s.

The chaos vision underwent its initial flowering from roughly 1915 to 1933, in the space between the collapse of the reason-and-science partnership and the construction of the science-and-democracy partnership.


The Era of Science and Democracy

When the science-and-democracy partnership came together between 1934 and 1938, chaos was subordinated to it and lost much of its wild and subversive quality. Some of that wildness reappeared in 1940-41, but by then chaos had become both more democratic and more technological, and it was never again quite as transcendent as it had been in the 1920s.

As the science-and-democracy partnership was reaching its final consolidation in 1936-38, a newly-formed association between the two youngest visions, holism and multiculturalism (horizontalism), came into focus along with it.

In 1941-43, the chaos vision began to resist the influence of scientific materialism and started embracing the more flexible universe of the emerging holism vision.

Between 1944 and 1953, World War II and then the Cold War sparked a widespread sense of social alienation. This period gave rise to serious doubts about the underlying premises of scientific materialism, along with a proliferation of potential alternatives. The chaos vision became a center of artistic and philosophical rebellion. Holism and horizontalism were developing rapidly. And the vibrant do-it-yourself movement that popped up after the war fused science and democracy with an individualistic touch of chaos.


The Sixties Counterculture and Its Legacy

After 1953, the science-and-democracy partnership regrouped and attempted to rein in all the younger visions. This was particularly damaging to the chaos vision, which by 1958-63 had become disengaged and cynical. The key to meaningful change lay in holism breaking free and bringing chaos along with it.

A series of changes began suddenly in 1964-65. The science-and-democracy partnership collapsed, faith in the scientific materialism vision faded, and the democracy vision became arrogant and lost its moral center. That set the stage for the flowering of the counterculture in 1966-67, with the three younger visions — chaos, holism, and horizontalism — taking the lead and setting new standards of thought and behavior.

During the “second counterculture” of 1968-76, the chaos vision began to assume a leadership role in society and gave up its dreams of radical change. However, holism, horizontalism, and the newborn creative imagination vision continued to develop rapidly. The resulting period of social ferment lasted until the late 70s, when society began to pursue stability instead and the younger visions were pushed aside.


The Era of Democracy and Chaos

The years between 1976 and 1981 witnessed the construction of a new dominant partnership, based on the democracy and chaos visions and dedicated to the principle that flexible improvisation is the best way to survive in a universe of uncertainty. But when the partnership became distracted by worldly power in the middle 80s, new centers of opposition began to appear, founded in holism and horizontalism.