Monday, April 25, 2011

The Deformation

May you live in interesting times.
     Supposedly a Chinese curse
Monique commented on LaMarotte saying, “I am beginning to get the feeling that ‘times’ are always interesting… Has any human lived an entire life during peaceful, tranquil, times in which rationality and thoughtfulness prevailed? I wonder. Perhaps, only those whose lives have been particularly short...”

This got me thinking that different kinds of “interesting times” have a different “feel”. The sum of evil seems always the same, but the feel of it can certainly be different. Brigitte and I lived through World War II; it had its share of horrors, but the feel of the thing was different. The best explanation for a different “feel” may lie in the relative unity of humanity as it faces its troubles and in the trend of events. If unity is high and the trend is towards coherence, the feel is positive, otherwise negative. The troubles themselves are unchangingly the same.

Contrast troubles in business caused by growth and those caused by disappearing markets. Same problems, different feel. We might see it writ large as well. Herewith a look at Western Civilization.

At the beginning, chaos and a transcendental Inspiration (Christianity). Then in order: Formation (called the Dark Ages), High Middle Ages, the Renaissance (the exploitation of the success of the High Middle Ages), the Reformation, the Enlightenment (product of the Reformation), Modernity (the exploitation of the Enlightenment), and now, finally, we’re in the midst of The Deformation.

Some comments. The Dark Ages are well named because western civilization was then in the womb, and it’s dark in the womb. If cells participating in the formation of an embryo had consciousness, they’d call this period “interesting times.” The Dark Ages were not a period of peace but of turmoil—but the trend, the tendency was toward coherence. That coherence peaks in the High Middle Ages; in the year 1000 AD Europe “clothed itself in the white mantle of churches” (more here); in the thirteenth came its glorious peak. The Renaissance is a period of relaxation, exploitation—and of corruption. Comes the Reformation. It was a bloody—an interesting—time but its tendency once more constructive. The second peak in western civilization is not ours but the Enlightenment, which came to be exploited as Modernity. And now the excesses of modernity are producing what here I call The Deformation. It will end in chaos again—and in that total darkness, perhaps, another Inspiration.

Why not another, a third peak? My own view is that the cycles of Western culture are “lossy,” to use a modern term. At every stage less of the original transcendental Inspiration remains in force, has been lost. The culture therefore becomes ever more material in character. Therefore, if my own “feel” is right, this period, the Deformation, no longer carries anything that will help this culture peak again. And for that reason the “feel” of these times is not a good one—even though all of our troubles are the same old, same old—wars, rumors of wars, plagues, earthquakes, tsunamis, and corruption. But unity is fracturing. The center isn’t holding. It was a transcendental vision. But how many, today, actively share it? At the individual level, of course, nothing is lost. But we’re talking about the great collective.


  1. Wonderful post.

    Do you think that the combination of cheap energy and technology are speeding the cycles you speak about? Feels like it and yet, I wonder. If so, perhaps we're in for a slow down in a generation or two...

  2. That's a question I've asked myself too, but like you, I wonder. In a technical sense, energy makes particles move more, collide more, influence each other more. Thus communications are certainly increased. But the other side is that human lives are still the same length, and if a generational shift is involved in these cycles, energy may not be as influential. But who knows with certainty...

  3. Indeed, who knows for certain? It feels like it would take more than a lifetime to see this through. And even if a cycle took but a single human lifetime, our sense of time changes throughout our lives, complicating the matter further. But, fun to contemplate!

  4. Indeed, who knows with certainty? Nonetheless, these are interesting things to contemplate.

  5. Oh, I guess both of my previous comments may have been received... though they aren't showing up yet. Funny how Blogger handles these comments sometimes...

  6. Comments on "old" posts are presented to me for approval first.... Comments on recent posts appear immediately.