Saturday, August 29, 2009

Evolving Utopia Part 4

Part 4: History and Religion

There is also a particular historical analysis that is unique to the period we are currently leaving.
In the period between the World Wars and after the second, the british historian Arnold Toynbee wrote "A Study of History" in some twenty-odd volumes. Not everything he wrote made sense, but when he applied his model to the development cycle of post-Neolithic civilizations it made considerable sense (See Part 11).

In particular the two obvious symptoms of a "decline and fall" that Toynbee noted were the decadence of the "Dominant Minority" (Toynbee's term for the establishment) and the proclivity of the alienated "Internal proletariat" (the non-establishment) for ideology-based cults.

In other words Toynbee would have viewed the waste of resources and practice of vices by our establishment and the decline of belief in traditional faiths and the explosive growth of non-traditional churches as not boding well for our civilization. This is particularly the case when the "external proletariat" (Toynbee's term for the barbarian at the gate) wants to be able to imitate us by wasting more resources than there are available.

Our establishment's efforts to keep the external proletariat from upward mobility has motivated a guerilla warfare (in the mideast it is called a Radical Islamist Jihad) that our establishment can't respond to effectively because it doesn't understand what's happening.

Unfortunately, when we look at the current situation we see that it is, indeed, a crisis point.

In order to cope with the invention of agriculture (the "Neolithic Revolution") we invented popular religion and a hierarchical social infrastructure. We called that "civilization", meaning culture based on urbanization.

We later used mechanical technology to democratize access to the social establishment in the period (1500-1950) called the "Industrial Revolution". But that process had to come to a stop in 1950 because it was using the waste of resources as the primary status symbol, and by 1950 there were too many people in the next stratum scheduled for upward mobility (i.e., women and people of color) to allow them to waste resources at the rate that the establishment of Western Civilization did.

That is our crisis: the lower strata everywhere that can be reached by modern communications want to be upwardly mobile, and the western establishment are prepared to build walls around their golden ghettos even if it means disestablishing their own middle classes. It is a crisis of attitude and the solution will be to change our attitude.

The way Toynbee described what normally happens in these kinds of situations is that the civilization goes through a "decline and fall" and, often after an anarchical "dark age", a new civilization is established by a "creative minority". That creative minority may well be a by-product of the trauma associated with the fall and the "dark age".

It has never happened before, but there is no inherent reason why this transition can't occur gradually without incurring the gross trauma of a decline and fall of our global civilization. What we need is the adoption of a value system, or religion incorporating a value system, that is consistent with species survival. If we look at the things about our civilization that don't work, we can see what kinds of values should characterize that religion.

First, it must be egalitarian.

We have no reason to believe that any group of human beings, whether sorted by gender or skin color, by physical capacity or the ability to answer a questionnaire, or the traditions of the subculture they happened to be born into, is a priori more suited to be privileged or disadvantaged compared to any other group. Furthermore, we know from experience that any group that is so privileged or disadvantaged will develop traditions and ideologies that are shaped by their unnatural circumstances rather than their inherent qualities, and that those traditions will produce decadence and alienation.
There is no justification for stratification other than to facilitate a function, and even then the stratification and the function must be carefully crafted or the incumbent will suffer from the psychological distortions inherent in stratification.

Second, it must facilitate creativity.
Most of the traditional religions were created during the Neolithic Revolution or in reaction to Neolithic religions. They are generally based on the insights of an individual prophet or messiah like Moses, Gautama Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed or reformers like Calvin and Luther. While those messiahs may be unusually creative, they are bound by the worldview of the era they lived in. Jesus, for instance, could have no idea of the effect of newspapers, much less radio and television. Even if the messiah was a demigod, as some religions believe, his or her followers would not understand, and thus could not pass on, references incorporating 21st century science and technology.
The group who follow the messiah have no method to change their ideas to suit circumstances other than having a new messiah or reformer reinvent the religion and form a new sect. This is essentially what Paul did in converting Christianity from a Jewish sect to a gentile religion.

The advantage of science as a worldview is that no matter what the prestige of the scientist who proposes a new principle, in order for it to be accepted in the long run it has to work. This leaves the door open for revisions that evolve along with our increase in experience.

There are historical periods in which academic science becomes stagnant. Physics was so stagnant in the late 1800s that the scientific establishment believed there was nothing new to discover. They were wrong, of course, as a substantial fraction of common technology has been invented since 1900.

Evolutionary theory is currently stagnant, and the practice of government with it, but at least scientists are aware of the fact even if they are locked in a political attitude that keeps them from looking in the right direction.

Finally, a new religion must regard waste as nekulturni or extremely bad taste, something not only sinful, but disgusting.
If we adopted that attitude now there would be no problem with supporting the kind of global population we have in a lifestyle that is reasonably comfortable. This is not as difficult as it seems because most waste is generated for symbolic reasons, reasons that would have no function in an egalitarian society.
This attitude does not have to wait for society to become openly egalitarian. Abjuring waste is something an individual can do as a symbolic act or ritual in the transition period before the next global civilization gets itself organized.

A civilization based on those values: equality, creativity and avoiding waste; could assure the survival of the human species on this globe for an indefinite period. Whether those are regarded as scientific axioms or religious values is unimportant; there is no difference except the idiom in which they are described, and which of them one can be comfortable with just depends on one's state of moral development. This will be discussed in some detail.

The rest of this essay has more detail in order to provide a degree of assurance that we are evolving into a Utopia based on egalitarianism, ecological responsibility and creativity; and that Barack Hussein Obama has already made a significant contribution to the direction of that evolution. How much more he can persuade us to do is a question for the future, but at least he made it possible to believe we can get to a Utopia. How long it takes to get there is a question for our descendants.

The important thing is that it doesn't matter if they are scientists or theologians: they can both understand the process in their own metaphor and make it easier for the rest of us to understand it in whatever idiom we can.

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