The Enlightenment: Old and New

There is perhaps no social movement more instrumental in shaping modern Western society than the Enlightenment.

As I do not want even a basic understanding of history to be a prerequisite to reading this blog, I’ll recap, in a nutshell, why that is the case.

In this brilliant flash of intellectual awakening, the philosophical, spiritual, psychological, and ethical foundations for so many of the West’s greatest achievements were laid.

Democracy, equality, basic human and civil rights, and justifications for rule and governance beyond the abstractions that are God and divine right were made possible by the contributions and ideas of those such as Voltaire, Hume, Locke, Mill, Bentley, Rousseau, and many others.

Suddenly, there were new ways to discover truth and gather knowledge. Science became accepted and, eventually, overthrew revelation and theology as the paradigm to new knowledge.

We would have had no George Washington, no Einstein, no Pasteur, no constitution, no civil rights movement or universal suffrage if it weren’t for the courage and ingenuity of these men.

As impressive and important as they were, something is often overlooked amidst the rain of accolades--their society. As intelligent as the harbingers of the Enlightenment were, they were not a new step in human evolution; they weren’t any more intelligent or forward-thinking than the intelligent and forward-thinking men of a generation before them. They only emerged at this time because psychosocial conditions aligned in such a way that these ideas were heard and felt and wanted and accepted.

It would seem that our current reality stands somewhere parallel to theirs. The old paradigms are not working--and it’s quite clear to anyone who is paying attention. But what could possibly be next?

The Enlightenment was about reason and rationality and science. These have become entrenched in Western society and will never be completely discarded--and they shouldn’t be.

Rather, they should become a few of the many approaches of a New Enlightenment. You see, ideas are real--even if they are not themselves physical or material. They come from will and travel to action which, in turn, becomes a new reality.

We’ve come so far as a species in so many ways. We’ve learned so much. But science is not the only way to new ideas.

Our next Enlightenment will be one of awareness, where any particular psychosocial reality is approached appropriately--be it emotionally, spiritually, scientifically, or otherwise.

THEE is not meant for making predictions, it is a map of what it is to be human. But many of the discoveries within it point towards a natural evolution of things. Each person evolves, each family, each community, organization, government, and even the entire species are dynamic and they move in a general direction.

These problems we face as individuals, as families, communities, societies and as a species are not necessarily tragic or unjust, but only the result of unproductive, immature, or misinformed choices we make as we take our natural course through history and, personally, our lives.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at what psychosocial reality is and our freedoms and limitations within it as well as some implications for the future.

I’m excited.

Square One

Who’s got kids? Some of you do, some don’t. For those who don’t, are you at least familiar with the general concept of children? You know, they start very small and, over the course of several years, get bigger and amass more knowledge and eventually become adults.

Well that’s a grand arch, isn’t it? We’re definitely glossing over some details here.

Not accounting for biology, what happens in between childhood and adulthood? Most of it could be characterized as choices and learning.

For those of you with kids, particularly toddlers, you’ve probably noticed that they periodically regress or disintegrate or fall apart. It could be an illness or temper tantrums or moodiness or withdrawal. It’s perfectly natural. Kids grow fast, so fast that you can watch this phenomenon unfold. An attitude or biological attribute or mental state no longer serves the child and they naturally shed it for a more appropriate form. Whatever inner structure was propping them up previously simply goes away and with no support, things fall apart. This passes and parents are relieved at the return of their little bundle of joy.

This concept is applicable to so many things--political maturation, families, organizations and businesses, governments and societies, etc. This is the basis for spirals (this link can take you to a few different spiral examples). Check out THEE’s version of this metaphor if you like.

Most period-->transition-->period-->transition-->period cycles don’t happen as fast as they do in children so they aren’t as directly observable. And of course, there are differences. When a society falls apart, there is no parent figure to catch it and coax it to a state of stability. That’s up to the members of that society.

But THEE doesn’t begin with spirals. Actually, spirals are quite deep in THEE and a lot has to be discovered before any spirals can be formulated. This blog, you, and I got started somewhere in the middle of THEE--or maybe even closer to the end. You see, I started this blog talking about The Spiral of Political Maturation because I, personally, am interested in this stuff and like many, many people, I am quite flabbergasted at the current political/social paradigm. Essentially, I thought I could hook some readers while exploring my own interests. And if that isn’t enough for you, please feel free to send me an email or post a comment and we can discuss anything posted in the blog in more detail. And who knows? Maybe I’ll make my way back to the Spiral of Political Maturation (and there is actually quite a bit before and after the Spiral of Political Maturation in the Politics framework).

Starting next week, we’re starting from the very beginning--you. We’re going back to childhood, if you will, so we can break ourselves down and see what’s at the core. What happens to you when you decide to do something? What happens to the world around you when you decide to do something? How do you make the best possible decision? Are you free, constrained, or both?

If you follow long enough, hopefully, I’ll be able to illustrate how the answers to these questions are connected to the social and political events that seem so much larger than our individual selves. There is a connection, and not a metaphorical one--a real-world connection. I’ll give you one clue: at the origin and destination of any society and any government, there lies the individual. A group doesn’t choose. A lot of individuals choose.

But I have to stop there.

Tune in next week for a blog about you.

Reflections On the Political Framework

“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”
-    Arnold Bennett (British novelist, playwright, critic, and essayist, 1867-1931)

In the last few blogs, we’ve been discussing political maturation in the West. It’s been a crazy ride! It’s sometimes a fun exercise to contemplate the course history has taken this particular culture and what’s in store, a little brain candy. And of course, this blog and THEE tend to avoid details but rather, they focus on the larger scope, the grand arch of social and political motion through history--hence the name, “The Big Picture.”

When we left, the West had made the transition from Plutocratic Pluralism to Conventionalism. After Conventionalism comes Transcendentalism, then Communalism, and finally Participative Pluralism. I considered continuing this series to include these socio-political modes but decided against it as they are quite speculative and still but a distant glimmer in the West’s future, close enough to imagine but likely nothing anyone reading this will ever experience. However, I highly encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about what characterizes these modes and what they may look like to explore them further here on the THEE website.

Instead, I thought I would just decompress, debrief a bit about how my thinking and writing about this topic has affected me. It has definitely had an influence, and that’s great. I consider it very encouraging that I can notice a shift in myself and my way of thinking. Any honest inquiry can only be undertaken with true openness and willingness to put aside one’s pre-conceived notions, biases, and prejudices.

THEE has a way of speaking to you. It might not say something specifically, but will plant a seed with far-reaching implications in your mind. WK, THEE’s creator once wrote me in regards to THEE inquiries, “It is possible you will find certain topics uncongenial/difficult for some inner reason… It is a feature of THEE.  Working on it is a bit like looking into a mirror.”

I did indeed find things that were disagreeable initially. As an American with strong ties to Europe, I had always thought of the next step in our political maturation as something towards a more developed social welfare state. I thought that humanities ills were only curable with strong oversight. I thought that the role of government was to take care of its people. This is blind idealism. It would be nice, in a perfect world, I suppose.

This particular THEE inquiry has made real for me the old saying, “Power corrupts, and ultimate power corrupts ultimately.” We cannot even fault our politicians for their corrupt ways. What else would anyone do in their position? They have numerous incentives to continue their corruption and increasing their powers in the name of “social welfare” only gives a larger, more complex, and less transparent mechanisms with which to practice their corruption.

I saw recommendations in THEE such as dissolving central banks and I thought in horror, “How would we regulate our currency? How will we compete globally? What about my economy and my place in it? We’ll be slaves to the amount of gold we can extract from our mountains!” Then I came across this: “Psychosocial Reality is in Control: When values and institutions of a particular mode have not yet emerged within a society, it is almost unthinkable that they could ever exist.” Follow the link for more context, but the point is this:

All of this is going to change--and probably sooner than later. This society that we all depend on, that we all work so hard in to succeed and advance, is transient. We tend to think that everything goes on the same forever even though all of history says otherwise. I recently read that the Mayans predicted that in the year 4772 AD, people would be celebrating the anniversary of the coronation of their great king Pakal. Who’s that?

Our monetary system may fall apart, our government may collapse, and our global economic position may slide to one notch above Zimbabwe. Who knows about specifics? One thing is certain: the current state of the West will not, cannot continue as is. But through it all, people will just carry on. They will weather this social/political transition just as their ancestors have weathered every social/political transition in history (and there have been many). So in a strange and frightening way, it’s all going to be OK.

Ideology: The Red Herring

I was killing time on Facebook (as so many of us do). I have quite a few politically-minded “friends” and I was following a rather long thread of a heated debate on ideology. There was a lot of back and forth about how Republicans in the U.S. would, if elected to power, destroy the country or that President Obama wasn’t really a Democrat but actually a moderate Republican. Someone wrote: “Libertarianism is the stupidest thing since Nazi fascism.”

To many who read this, none of it will make sense. That’s ok. It doesn’t make sense anyway.

It struck me at how this very conversation was actually an outstanding example of one of the most fundamental and defining characteristics of Western society. As we have discussed, plutocratic pluralism is a society of numerous groups, many of them in conflict with each other for the power and resources of a society.

The western democracies are masters of ideological manipulation. This is nothing new of course. Every regime change, coup, revolution, or cultural paradigm shift comes with it some ideology. The human race is quite familiar with ideology and it seems that its persistence would imply that it has some use. I think it does.

If we go back to 400 BC or so, Plato was talking about “forms.” A form could be truth or justice or virtue or freedom or some other ultimate value. Many of his discussions were an attempt to define an ultimate value with what now seem like cliché questions such as: What is beauty? What is truth?

If they do indeed seem cliché, it’s somewhat paradoxical. All of these ideologies--libertarianism, socialism, communism, capitalism, etc.--might as well be a Socratic line of inquiry. They are all the pursuit of an ultimate value. One might think that the only pathway to economic justice would be socialism. Others might think that we can’t find truth except through Islam. Still others say there is no freedom until libertarianism prevails.

I shrug my shoulders. Look at the set of values and institutions generally found in privileged pluralism. The next page, privileged pluralist ethos, sums up the point I am trying to make: “…I am not interested in the particular intellectual garb that existing political elites may inherit or choose to wear at any point in time or in any particular culture.”

Incidentally, every stage in the spiral of political maturation outlines the values and institutions of that stage.

Still, as many of us are currently starting to understand the fundamental problems of plutocratic pluralism, we wish to see it changed. In our desperation, we look to what we perceive as a different ideology. In the U.S., Democrats/liberals/progressives view the country as hard-core free market capitalism that needs more regulation, more oversight, and more government control. They look to socialism. Republicans/conservatives/Tea Partiers view the country as already too socialist with far too much government intervention and a skewed sense of morals. They look to religion or maybe libertarianism.

Which is it?

Both, neither. The problem is not ideology it is our political institutions: i.e. plutocratic pluralism just now. If we are frustrated and we want to see a change, it would be more useful (though perhaps not as intellectually or emotionally satisfying) to look to the next stage of social development which, at this time in history, would be conventionalism.

Conventionalism will not be a triumph of any ideology, old or new. It would, like every other manifestation of society, indicate that certain values and institutions were emerging and changing our politics. A short list of those is: moderation, equality, an emphasis on social consensus, and an acceptance of public choice.

I am not going to sway any passionate believers here. I know that. However, I highly encourage any readers to take some time to look into the spiral of political maturation. If you have already, take another look. Its scope is staggering. With brilliant simplicity, it manages to put aside the biases of history and any particular culture and actually examine, objectively, societies and their evolution over time. You will find that there really is understanding and truth here.