Posts Tagged ‘Makers’

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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Since doing the previous entry about the birth of new visions, I’ve been thinking a lot about the possible nature of the successor to the holism vision.

It’s not possible to figure out intellectually what form that vision will take, of course. A new vision is born when higher knowledge catches a glimpse of its own reflection in the mirror of ordinary knowledge, and there is no way to predict where the lightning will strike.

But my comparative timetables suggest that early intimations of holism’s successor ought to have begun popping up over the past two or three years, much as the first hints of creative imagination were appearing among Tolkien fans and proto-hippies on the eve of the 60’s counterculture.

That means it should be possible to identify signs of change, such as areas where holism is showing its limitations or aspects of science that hold an unrealized potential for being perceived as transcendent.

As I’ve noted previously, the greatest weakness of holism has always been its lingering elitism. The proto-holists of the early twentieth century were frequently appalled by the modern world of skyscrapers and factories and dreamed of getting back to a time when there was “less noise and more green.” And though holism eventually threw off its most blatant aristocratic biases, the utopian ideal at its core has remained decidedly low-tech and low-population.

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I’ve got the midwinter doldrums and heavy-duty posts are coming hard. So I’m going to take a break by doing a simple round-up of some of the trends and movements that I see as about to coalesce into a holism-based counterculture.

Trends alone are not sufficient, of course. A counterculture explodes only when there is both a volatile mixture of elements and a spark to ignite that mixture. But these trends are what will fuel the fire — and each of them is already displaying the distinctive pattern of thought that will shape the next decade.

The movements that have been catching my eye are primarily offshoots of the environmental activists and computer hackers that I previously described as heretics of the 1980’s. Their roots go back to the potent blend of holism, multiculturalism, and do-it-yourself-ism nurtured by Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog in the late 60’s and early 70’s. But what I’m seeing now suggests a new degree of assertiveness and philosophical self-awareness, along with a dedication to the nitty-gritty of everyday life that is very different from the ecotopian romanticism of the 80’s.

These movements fall into three broad groups, which intermingle at many points. The first is typified by WikiLeaks and Anonymous. It is rooted in the hacker ethic and in the belief that access to tools and information should be considered a fundamental human right.

The second, which I’ve only become aware of recently, involves a new wave of environmentalism that over the last two or three years appears to have moved away from any expectation of government-based solutions and applied itself instead to direct action.

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The story I’ve been telling for the past year is almost up to the present day, and I’m starting to think longingly of getting back to the Paleolithic. But there are still a few points left to cover.

There’s not a lot to be said about the period from 1993 to 2008. I see those years as equivalent to 1950-63, when the science-and-democracy partnership was at its peak of unchallenged dominance and chaos and holism were developing slowly at the margins.

In much the same way, democracy-and-chaos has been in the driver’s seat until just recently. The Clinton years brought us an emphasis on the touchy-feeliness of the domesticated chaos vision. The Bush years featured a late-stage, repressive, we-had-to-destroy-the-village-in-order-to-save-it obsession with democracy.

But the financial meltdown of 2008-2009 has brought the democracy-and-chaos partnership to a state of collapse. Democracy has become a hollow shell, and chaos is floundering without the steady hand of democracy to channel its hyper-individualism. Only the Tea Partiers, who pride themselves on their contempt for both government and the common good, appear to be fully in touch with the moment.

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As I was finishing up the previous entry, it struck me that we ought to be noticing the first signs of a successor to holism around now — and in trying to think of possible examples, I was reminded of a paradox I’ve been wrestling with for the past several weeks.

Last month, I quoted Mario Savio’s famous address during the Sproul Hall sit-in at Berkeley in 1964: “That brings me to the second mode of civil disobedience. There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus – and you’ve got to make it stop!”

I assumed that Savio had come up with this image of the government as a out-of-control machine specifically to evoke the tension between a faltering science-and-democracy partnership and the disruptive power of chaos. But it also occurred to me that if I was looking for insight on the emergence of the chaos vision, it would be worth checking out what Henry David Thoreau had said about civil disobedience when he invented the concept in the 1840’s as a means of protesting slavery and the Mexican War.

So I dug up a copy of “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849), and to my astonishment I found Thoreau writing, “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth — certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”

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