Prehistory, History, Post-history, Trans-history
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