Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ever Progressing? part II

These are pictures of Lake Superior's ice taken at spring break up. Ever since I was a young boy this ice just amazed me. It would build and build, form huge "ridges" pushed up by pressure, some as 60 feet high. Then slowly but surely the lake would ice over and become a flat sheet of white, as far as the eye could see. To view something so large and vast is truly something to behold. When spring finally does arrive, the ice slowly melts away, the ice ridge breaks up forming icebergs that drift out into the lake and disappear. By summertime, there is little sign that the ice was even there, as the ice itself is completely gone.

Do you think that the great civilizations past, that walked the face of this earth, experienced much the same thing? I'm going to strongly suggest that they have, they slowly build up and form a great culture that evolves into a civilization and slowly declines, to disappear altogether. All of them were very distinct in their own ways, however they all experienced much the same dynamics of the build up and decline. None of them ended abruptly, all experienced at least 100 years of decline, some 100's of years. What makes us think that this present civilization would be any different? Because of peak oil, financial collapse, climate change? Sure, those will very likely play a role in this civilization's decline but it will not end abruptly, not in two years, not in ten, and very likely not even in a hundred. This would be like the great ice of Lake Superior disappearing over night! Not very likely... I can assure everyone, that the annual dynamics of the build and decline of this very large body of ice has not changed in hundreds of years, likely thousands...

Just the thought of the great civilizations or cultures past, would strongly suggest that there is no "ever progressing", correct? They didn't just build and build, continue to exist today, and if they did, where are they? They declined to the point of extinction, as they do not exist today. Sure, as they declined, people from one culture crossing over time, again hundreds of years, came to form yet another culture. But the people of one culture are very different than those of the other, as the culture defines "who and what" they are.
Oswald Spengler devoted much of his life in the study of human history and compiled a great work called, "Decline of the West." This book includes the idea of Muslims, Jews and Christians, as well as their Persian and Semitic forebears, being Magian, Mediterranean civilizations of the antiquity such as Ancient Greece and Rome being Apollonian, and the modern Westerners being Faustian. Each culture was unique in it's own way, though people's behavior and thought. Once a culture had achieved it's height, everything that can be done from within the worldview of the culture – everything religious, philosophical, intellectual, artistic, social, political, etc., has basically been done, the culture fossilizes into a civilization. That is, when works stop being creative and become just rehashes of the orginal art forms, it soon looses it luster and creates voids. Once the civilization begins to fall apart, it's basically, because nobody actually believes in it any more.
There we have it, civilization falls because nobody actually believes in it anymore. Do you suppose this Faustian civilization of to-day, is just about there? I think so. Cultures rise and fall slowly taking 100's of years in the process. Do you suppose that we (Faustian) who think we're striving for the unattainable (ever-progressing), just don't believe in it anymore? If this is the case and I highly suspect it is, then we can assume that this civilization will very likely fall much like the others before it and with very little intact. By that I mean, what we value today, everything religious, philosophical, intellectual, artistic, etc., much will likely be lost as we proceed to yet another culture, (IF there is to be one). As those who do carry on, will likely develop a whole new set of values, as we did from the previous culture.
So, I suppose, I'm suggesting we can all unpack our bags (as if we're going somewhere), because even if we reach to where ever we think we're going, we'll very likely not need what we've packed, when we get there.....
I just keep thinking whatever happened to that "Motown Music" that so dominated the city in the 1960's? I think Spengler, has answered that question for me... There is no doubt in my mind anyway, that what we're seeing now are just rehashes of the rich culture that Detroit once enjoyed at the peak of it's creativity....


FARfetched said...

I remember those pressure ridges on Lake Michigan, although I never saw them 60 feet high!

I'm not sure I can properly address the culture → civilization divide, although I disagree (both with Spengler and Archdruid) that the mark of "civilization" is the lack of further creativity. Decline leads to hardship and other problems, and that is fertile ground for creative solutions or simply ways to cope with the situation.

But I agree that Rome is neither built nor crumbles in a day. The thing is, few civ's were ever isolated… that is, little or no contact with neighbors. Like the rock whose support has eroded underneath it, it remains balanced atop a crumbling support until an outside force knocks it over at last. When a modern civilization crumbles enough, it will be easily knocked over by a more vigorous one, leaving the survivors to adapt as best as they can.

yooper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FARfetched said...

Wow… I'm not sure I deserve the kind of accolades Yooper is heaping on me here. If anything, I'm extending trends in religion, politics, society, climate change, and fossil fuel depletion — and trying to guess how each is likely to affect the others.

I know a lot of creative people, which is why I either can't buy Spengler's argument, or am misunderstanding what he's saying. Perhaps the divide is where creativity (and the creative mind) is harnessed to benefit the culture (or civilization), rather than the culture adapting what is created? I don't know, it doesn't quite ring true for me.

While it's in vogue to scoff at the concept of "American exceptionalism," and properly so, there are a couple things I think that *are* new… and they may end up being strengths in the times to come. I'll get into it on my own blog this week, Lord willing and the net don't crash.

Nudge said...

Guys, this stuff is not quite my forte, but if I could put my head on the chopping block for y'all to kick around ..

Civilizations may come and go, but often they leave behind the most curious residues, not just some of the inventions and the attitudes and even the hardware from the time of the peak of the civilization, but the sense of language and identity and culture. The two examples I'd use for this are Russia and China, who seem to both retain a long-term sense of “we are part of XXX country” despite having multiple ethnicities & languages within their borders.

Other types of civilizations implode most spectacularly, or crash in the styles outlined by Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse”.

If I can go out on a limb, I would have to say that Rome is a special case because it's clear from the historical record that by late in the game things had devolved to the level of hostile absurdities .. for example, the way people sold themselves into slavery (!!!) to get out of debt, in response to which the government was forced to make it illegal for people to do such. This was not unlike some of the absurdities in the former Soviet Union, specifically the work schedules that had quality-production-days and crash-production-days depending on what time of the month it was .. or the way suppliers & manufacturers had to secretly hoard materials in order to circumvent the hopelessly-inept central economic planners who, by all accounts, couldn't organize a dog wash on a rainy day.

What both of those cases have in common is that the parent civilization had devolved to the point where a lot of otherwise useful creativity had to get channeled (wasted) into finding ways to circumvent idiotic & counter-productive sets of rules imposed from far above.

What I see now is that very few people in China are not proud of their culture's long history and amazing record of primary inventions back when the rest of the world was living in mud huts (even though they may privately think Communism is a joke) and very few people in Russia who, though they'll spit on the memory of the Soviets, are not proud of the accomplishments of the Russian people and especially the many fine scientists & mathematicians among them.

China's past empires were perhaps contemporaneous with Rome, but you do not see the former areas of the Roman Empire still self-identifying as Romans or Italians these days, whereas in China the same sets of peoples (if not more of them now) identify as Chinese.

I'm sorry this point is so ineptly expressed. My only exposure to philosophy was in the first apartment room I rented, back in 1985. The other roomies (a mix of guys & gals) were all philosophy majors. I remember an especially excruciating 3-day period when they had a prolonged discussion about whether or not “cream cheese” was one word.

yooper said...

I knew this would be hurtful.. I was e-mailed this yesterday,

and then Ruppert's wild prediction... was very distrubing..

and did the two of you know that after the third day FDR was inaugurated, a bank holiday was imposed? All what seems to be pre-planned?

Far, I think you're right, there are a lot of creative people out there... However, if it's the masses that pull us into the direction that is taken, well, that's the tough part...

Nudge, excellent points about the Russian and Chinese cultures. Spengler, did suggest perhaps another civilization following this one and described it a "Russian".

" I remember an especially excruciating 3-day period when they had a prolonged discussion about whether or not “cream cheese” was one word."

ha!ha! heh! LOL! I needed that!

Well, on to part 3 on thoughts of "progression"! ha! I promise that day three will be the last and move on! ha!ha!

FARfetched said...

Nudge, we're all amateurs here. You bring up good points about Russia & China. In between, there's India. An ex co-worker (he quit) is Tamil (not Tiger, he thinks they're idiots), and he filled me in on a lot of the ethnic things they either didn't cover or I forgot about. Within their borders, people speak eight major languages/dialects and quite a few minor ones. If you're in the middle class, you pretty much have to know at least three of them to get by. English and Hindu are both fairly universal.

But I digress. Beyond a few radical/separatist types (and Pakistan), India also has this sense of being one country despite the ethnic/language divides. Yooper brought up the idea that people from a common land tend to share common thoughts; perhaps this is an Asian trait?

Another good point is the "curious residues." I submit that the residues are retained because they are important to daily life, either for survival or comfort. For example, I remember reading somewhere that the tune for "Yankee Doodle" may originally have been a song sang by Romans working their gardens.

Yooper, I only had time to skim the looong editorial, but I'm immediately skeptical of people like Ron Paul who claim that there are no differences between the two parties while being firmly attached to one of them. Funny how the editorialist sat on the sidelines and watched as liberties were eroded over the last eight years but only now it's "time to make a stand." Don't watch the mouth, watch the hands. :-)

Good point about the creative folks being outnumbered… but I also believe the creative spark is there in everyone. A while back, I came to the conclusion that "created… in Our image" refers to creativity. Most people have suppressed it by TV and other means, but it's there.

Oh, got a link to Ruppert? I missed the "wild prediction," although I tend to read wild predictions only for their entertainment value. Like you said, things don't come *or* go that quickly. Too much inertia.

Nudge said...

FAR, I'm guilty as charged. Not much education aside from the self-guided later-in-life variety, no degrees, etc. Just the strong interest in learn :)

Ruppert link, as requested:

If I could summarize Ruppert's blog, it's for those of us who're getting bored with the lameness, blandness, and mainstream-ness of CFN, etc, and who need a stronger Doom fix.

The most disturbing short-term real problem appears to be CA going broke and canceling welfare payments as of February 1. My sister there says not to worry, that this periodically happens anyway and they put together a compromise budget at the last possible moment.

Guys, I just found the coolest geek book through AbeBooks: volume 1 of “How Things Work”. If the world goes Mad Max, this will be a helpful guide if someone's trying to re-invent the Bessemer Converter or papermaking or an automatic hay bailing machine or whatever .. and if not, well, it makes for interesting reading, if you're into that kind of thing.

What seems apparent now is that The Messiah™ is big on not allowing the banks to fail. This leads to the interesting question of what the banks might do as “emergency stabilization procedures”. I am expecting ATMs to offer only limited withdrawals at some point .. there is already a cash-hoarding thing underway.

yooper said...

Hey guy's!

"Nudge, we're all amateurs here."

I'll second that one Far! As no one has actually went beyond reality and came back to talk about it...

John's kind of suggesting again there is no such thing as "progress", being just a myth.
Perhaps, we're no "better off" now than at any time in history. But tell that to the guy who's wife is on life support, enroute to recovery... I really liked what Mrs.M said about it, that is, I don't take it lightly...

Hey Nudge! "Not much education aside from the self-guided later-in-life variety, no degrees, etc. Just the strong interest in learn :)"

I know of a lot intellectuals who have many degrees, but no interest to learn. Many think they know it all, some think they know enough to get by, some do know a lot but don't apply it, still others who refuse to explore other viewpoints or possibilities, than the ones they taught.

I do think "learning" is an "ever progressing" process, or should be....

Thanks, yooper

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