Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Prehistory, History, Post-history, Trans-history

One thing reasonable people should be able to agree upon is that wisdom exists, that it is a very different thing than "knowledge," and that it tends to inhere in the group as opposed to the individual, since a group's experience will be so much more wide and deep, i.e., extending far into the past and encompassing the knowledge and experience of countless older ansisters and brothers.

No one individual in a single lifetime could possibly experiment with every way of living and determine which was best. You can't start life from "zero," with a pneumacognitive blank slate, any more than you could do so with a genetic one.

Genes, for example, may not embody wisdom per se, but they do encode an inconceivable amount of information about the world in general and about the "average expected environment" in particular. Thanks to our genes, we don't have to learn how to recognize human faces, how to bond with others, or how to speak. Rather, these things will all come naturally if we are simply placed in a human environment.

There was also a time when we didn't have to think too much about philosophy, or about metaphysics, or about God, because it had all been done for us by groups that preceded and enveloped us. It has only been about 300-400 years that religion (in the West, anyway) went from being an unconscious matrix to a conscious enterprise that must be carried out by the individual.

While this creates spiritual obstacles that never existed in the past, it also creates unprecedented upportunities for spiritual growth. For example, the most unsane visionary of medieval times could not possibly have conceived of a day when one could so easily purchase an indulgence over the internet from Petey, my household gnome.

There are two major contemporary obstacles to spiritual growth, materialism, and its corollary, the idea of progress. I'm currently in the middle of a fascinating book that discusses this, The Order of the Ages: World History in the Light of a Universal Cosmogony, by Robert Bolton. Bolton points out that our traditional division of the human adventure into prehistory, history and post-history is not exactly accurate. This is because prehistory didn't really end 5000 years ago, or whenever written records begin.

Rather, for all intents and purposes, prehistory continued until the time of the scientific revolution, which didn't really get underway until the 17th century. Consider, for example, ancient Egypt. Although it is considered a part of history, it "retained the same theocratic form for some five thousand years without any radical or irreversible change in its spiritual or social order."

This is a rather staggering idea to contemplate; I'm not so sure we even can contemplate it, since we are so imbued with the ideas of progress, change, and evolution, which were inconceivable for the ancients.

As Mead suggested in God and Gold, I don't think we understand the extent to which we are all -- religious and secular alike -- living in a world with such radically different assumptions than any humans who existed previously. In short, we are consciously living in history, and must therefore cope with linear, irreversible time, whereas premodern peoples lived in a more timeless state -- or, to be perfectly accurate, a cyclically temporal state that resonated with eternity.

Traditionalists maintain -- and they may well be correct about this -- that this premodern, timeless mode is normative for human beings, and that we were never meant to be where we are "in history." Certainly the numbers are on their side, given that human beings only stumbled into this thing called "history" so recently. Perhaps life is so confusing because we are not supposed to be here -- we literally drifted into this strange temporal viaduct, and now we can't get out or find our way back into the timeless (which is the purpose of religion).

Again, it's almost impossible for us to think in this way, because we have to eliminate from our minds all of the anxiety that goes along with the temporal mode, which is also intrinsically quantitative and materialistic.

For example, we are naturally very concerned with the linear amount of time we spend on the planet -- the quantity of our years -- in such a way that it can eclipse the actual moment-to-moment quality of our life. Part of the reason for this is that in the modern world, quality no longer resonates with eternity, so it might as well be just more quantity.

In other words, in the modern world even quality tends to be reduced to quantity. We can all experience this, for example, in the bland "flattening" of aesthetic qualities. Most everything is constantly "different," and yet, just more of the same.

This especially becomes noticeable if you are able to step outside history and live in a more timeless mode. There is a kind of constant change which, ironically, is no change at all, since change is only possible in light of permanence. If everything is changing, then it is logically equivalent to nothing changing -- like fashion, it's difference without a difference, or mere agitation on the surface. So it's a kind of timelessness, but somehow the opposite of the timeless plenum enjoyed by our premodern furbears. How to describe it? It's sort of an empty plenum or overflowing vacuum, is it not? A cornucrapia of BS.

Now, just when you were getting used the idea of being condemned to history, Bolton points out that we are actually no longer living there. Rather, that ended way back in -- well, people can argue over exactly when history ended, but it was definitely over by the start of the 20th century.

History over? How can that be? World War I, World War II, communism, the British invasion, the collected poetry of Suzanne Somers? Yes, just agitations in the posthistorical void.

Bolton notes that as late as the fourteenth century there was "nothing that need necessarily have led to anything different after another five hundred years, whereas the pattern of changes from the fifteenth century onward was unmistakably cumulative." So that is when history truly began. But it was very, very different from our post-historical situation, since it still resonated with the timelessness that preceded it, and in fact, can be seen as a sort of "prolongation" of those timeless qualities, only now concretized in time.

With the entrance into history proper, Bolton writes that it was as if a damn had burst, so that all of the potential in these eternal ideas flooded out into time. But eventually the force of the "explosion" weakens, until we have reached our present state of exhaustion, in which we are collectively more distant than ever from the living principles that animated our civilization.

To a large extent, time, history, and change are all tied in with the development of science, which, for the first time, introduced real -- and seemingly inevitable -- progress. However, again, our technical progress over the past few hundred years is so "directly demonstrable and tangible" that it "can almost stifle any sense that something else may have been lost at the same time." In fact, Bolton argues that these tangible changes serve to orient us solely to nature, which has the consequence of masking "a relentless loss of both a consciousness and of a spiritual energy of a far more essential kind."

According to Bolton, this has to do with the nature of time and our fall into materiality and quantity, and the consequent historical movement away from a kind of consciousness that is no longer familiar to us. Or, to be perfectly accurate, it is still accessible, but it must be self-willed. For reasons we will get into later, in the post-historical world, consciousness contracts unless active counter-measures are taken.

To be continued....

I have remarked that the materialist, like the madman, is in prison; in the prison of one thought. These people seemed to think it singularly inspiring to keep on saying that the prison was very large.... these expanders of the universe had nothing to show us except more and more infinite corridors of space lit by ghastly suns and empty of all that is divine. -G.K. Chesterton

23 Comments:

Blogger JP said...

Bob says:

"Now, just when you were getting used the idea of being condemned to history, Bolton points out that we are actually no longer living there. Rather, that ended way back in -- well, people can argue over exactly when history ended, but it was definitely over by the start of the 20th century."

Isn't this kind of like Spengler's Civilization model?

The point being that the culture (history) of the West ended and that the Spiritual Winter of the West has begun?

"Winter:
Dawn of Megalopolitan Civilization. Extinction of spiritual creative force. Life itself becomes problematical. Ethical-practical tendencies of an irreligious and unmetaphysical cosmopolitanism"

And before Van accuses me of being fatalistic, I will once again remind him that there is the option of a new High Culture. Just like you can move from Greece/Rome (begun in 1100 B.C.) to Byzantium (begin in 0 A.D.) to The West (begun in about 900 A.D.).

Culture is essentially a fractal that is unrolled through time. Like everything else that's not eternal, cultures are finite. They begin and they end. And then you get new ones.

11/09/2010 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Great post.
No questions or comments at the moment but want to get on the comment stream..

11/09/2010 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger black hole said...

If you look back over your personal history, you'll note an uncanny precision in the unrolling of the events and tides of your life. You'll get a sense that things happened for a reason. You will discern that your life could not, should not have been otherswise than it was.

And I suggest so it is with the unrolling of events in time for the collectivity. Epochs come and pass, as GDB has eloquently written of. Whether we are beyond history or not, and to whence we go,we may trust it is the correct movement.

Trust, courage, vigilance. Start with trust, and events are no longer merely agitations. They are necessary movements in the whole warp and weft of the thing.

Cast away anxiety; it is not needed for the large things.

Be vigilant; for the part you are to play, and play it.

That is for you, Rick.

11/09/2010 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Jason T. said...

If we know there exists and can directly apprehend and experience a transcendent dimension above and within the material reality our bodies inhabit, a realm of higher Vision, higher creative functions, platonic archetypes, energetic realities, heavenly vistas, etc., an interesting question arises in the face of technological prowess and progress: how does such relate to those higher realities?

All of our wisdom traditions are just that, traditions descending from the timeless state of our past. I think of the Upanishads and the Gita and the Tao te Ching and the Bible of course, none of which emerged-organized themselves in the modern era (although I am sure they are ever-renewing in the minds of seekers). With our collective awakening to rational/scientific understanding and the power that it grants, what does this say about the nature of heaven and the post-death state?

What is the archetype of an i-phone? Can we meditate upon a fighter jet and know it, not by analogy, but by essence? What is the spiritual radiation of a light bulb?

I have no personal Kurzweilian visions of living into my thousands through nanotechnology enhanced blood cells or robotic organs, but even the idea is fascinating to me in the face of the personal evidence and metaphysical experience of life after the human body. It is an expression of self control and personal-societal power, which I highly doubt we as a species are ready to hold in our collective grasp (I mean, come on, we are dealing with some real barbarians here; see New York Times editorial section for projective proof of this).

But as a self awakening to a Self which will transcend this body and hopefully continue the story and lessons learned from this lifetime, what kind of reality will I be awakening to upon death? Technology could be giving me some pointers...

11/09/2010 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Consider, for example, ancient Egypt. Although it is considered a part of history, it "retained the same theocratic form for some five thousand years without any radical or irreversible change in its spiritual or social order."

Indeed; the one time an Egyptian ruler tried to change things, the religious keepers of the flame made certain to change it all back after his death, with a vengeance.

Perhaps life is so confusing because we are not supposed to be here -- we literally drifted into this strange temporal viaduct, and now we can't get out or find our way back into the timeless (which is the purpose of religion).

Western man, having given himself over to the concrete knowns (not just in time, but in measures, in laws of nature, in the micro and macro; all of it solely in the context of the material), has rejected mystery. Thus, that which is mysterious but observable, measurable, weighable, tangible, must be of the real; even if the material cause isn't known, he reassures himself, it is knowable. And if it is known and knowable, there's no mystery, and nothing holy or sacred about it.

Science, instead of enhancing the Mystery as it should have done, became its replacement.

11/09/2010 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Jason,

What is the archetype of an i-phone? Can we meditate upon a fighter jet and know it, not by analogy, but by essence? What is the spiritual radiation of a light bulb?


The funny thing is, all of those questions can be answered from a spiritual perspective. I was just thinking last night about how light and our experience of it reveals so much about God.

Taking it further, and going back to What Jesus Saw from the Cross, Sertillanges was discussing how for Christ, past, present and future were all visible to him from his elevated perspective. Which means, even our own here and now, and all it holds. I wondered if, during his forty days of preparation, he didn't perhaps look ahead and consider a favorite tune from the here and now, and, knowing how many people would partake of that same transporting melody, there would be a kind of communion and an affirmation that even here there are those he loves, and that for all time this world, every when of it, was worth dying for.

Just because we may understand how a fighter jet flies and why, does not mean it doesn't also contain an essence worthy of meditation; in fact, it could not be otherwise.

11/09/2010 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Jason T. said...

Julie said..."Just because we may understand how a fighter jet flies and why, does not mean it doesn't also contain an essence worthy of meditation; in fact, it could not be otherwise."

Yes! And I don't even freaking KNOW how a fighter jet works, but seeing it situated in relation to the rest of history and looking at its future potentials, one can only gape in awe and wonder, especially when you see the sort of mastery a pilot can attain over/with such a vehicle; it is almost symbiotic.

Freedom flying at great speed traversing tremendous distances in precious moments, without and within attuned and unified in an superhuman expression of defense and freedom! Enjoyment and delight at the leading edge of possibility for the betterment of society at large!

Word to ya, Momma!

11/09/2010 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger black hole said...

Julie brings up a good point. Back in the day Egyptian Pharoah Akhenaton had things nailed DOWN, brothers and sisters. Fresh hot revelation from the Sun!

A study of AKTN's life reveals he was an UBERCOON the likes of which has never been surpassed.

I cannot discern any improvement made in the mainline approach to God in the thousands of years since AKTN. We've tried it every which way but loose but the original formula still speaks volumes.

So what'd they do? Wiped him and his city out. A setback, to be sure.

So even the Egyptians were immersed in the making of history, it would seem.

11/09/2010 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Part of the reason for this is that in the modern world, quality no longer resonates with eternity, so it might as well be just more quantity."

Hooked into the nub of the problem there, I think.

11/09/2010 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

There are two major contemporary obstacles to spiritual growth, materialism, and its corollary, the idea of progress.

So we're more or less serving time.

Can we get off with time served?

Sometime, as we're sitting around, will someone come in announce: "Time is served"?

Now serving time.

"Would you like Mammon with that?"

11/09/2010 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"...consciousness contracts unless active counter-measures are taken"

Interesting... looking forward to tomorrow. Lots of cogitations set awhirl, not yet landed.

11/09/2010 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

JP said "And before Van accuses me of being fatalistic..."

Too late.

Tell ya what, you take your Spengler and abandon this civilization in search of... where are ya going with that again?... and I'll abandon Spengler to you and work on this civilization.

Have fun on your search; me, I'm already here.

11/09/2010 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Grant Maher said...

Queston for the quorum:

What do you think this civilization needs?

11/09/2010 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Less grunting, more stars.

11/09/2010 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

Just before noon, Flanders, 1916. The elite Raccoon Division is assembled in the forward trenches. Artillery shells rumble overhead.

A dapper officer who resembles Van stands up.

"Raccoons! Today is the Big Push. Today we settle this. Across from us are the enemy: every one of our insecurities, each of our fears, be it of poverty, disease, failure, or death, and every last one of our cravings and weaknesses. Mixed among them are the most sinister--doubts. After today we shall suffer none of them again."

The Division emits a loud hurrah.

"We are enough. We have enough. We are strong. Division: Fix Bayonets!

The Division clatters as bayonets are fixed.

"Your orders are to cross No-Man's land, storm the enemy positions, and kill them all. Take no prisoners. Understood?"

The Raccoons scream out "Yes Sir!"

"Leavetime in Paris to all after this! Lads and lassies, on my whistle, over the top, and give them hell!"

The officer puts a whistle to his lips. Screeeeeeee, Screeeeeeeee!

Over the top they go. Machine gun fire is heard. After a time the officer peers into his periscope and says to his adjutant, "Weatherby, the issue is still in doubt."

11/09/2010 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Retriever said...

Great post. Wondering if some of the reasons for our losing that sense of timelessness and being in the stream of eternity rather than measuring it from the banks (as we do now), are:
--having more things (that we love) so hard to travel light. In the Westerns, they can't get over the Rockies without strewing the trail with stuff too heavy for the exhausted team.
--comparing ourselves more with others, and with ourselves (snapshots, mirrors, fashion contribute to narcissism, and envy)
--technology blurring the seasons, day and night, slowing aging, disease, etc. Taming Nature leaves people more time to ponder.
--better living conditions (hard to have a sense of history when struggling to survive day to day or crop to crop)

Too tired to do your post justice, but glad to have it to think about as I head off to my chores. Thanks.

11/09/2010 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

grunting hole said "A dapper officer who resembles Van stands up... After today we shall suffer none of them again."

Proof positive that good looks aren't enough, if you look good on the outside, but have a black hole within, you'll not only say the stupidest things... but believe them too.

I appreciate the laugh, but it's so sad to think that 'smart' people actually fill their lives thinking such things.

Best wishes.

11/09/2010 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger Grant Maher said...

Ok Van, I've had it with you. You continue to insult me here. You're behavior is unconscionable.

This has gone beyond words. The only way I can settle with you now is with my bare knuckles.

You are a bully. You have pushed me into a corner like a trapped animal.

Why don't you leave me alone? I do not grunt. I am a dignified gent, older than you. Where is your shame?

And the others don't censure you becuase you are so sarcastic and hostile.

Fie, bah, and poobah.

11/09/2010 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

;-)

11/10/2010 05:34:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/10/2010 07:14:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

(pimf; Let me try that again...)

Completely off topic, but, like, omg, why won't anyone think of the waaaaails?

Surely, someone could invent an environmentally friendly, dolphin-safe submarine to dispense sunblock to Flipper and Willy.

11/10/2010 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Sublime, tasty post Bob! More, please.

11/10/2010 07:36:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Van‬ said...
Less grunting, more stars….with the jitters.

11/10/2010 07:37:00 AM  

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