Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hellenism, Americanism

There are certainly parallels here. Hellenism is dated to the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC); but Hellenism was, above all, a cultural invasion, not an ear when one state ruled extended geographies. Alexander’s realm fell apart soon after his death as his successors created contending states of their own. The Greek culture, however, came to overlay a vast region, its ways were absorbed; its language became the tongue of the educated; science suddenly emerged (link). The realms that Alexander conquered were—at least from the Greek perspective—backward and culturally passive, moribund kingdoms and empires.

Americanism began—let’s just say—with the end of World War II. It has the same character. It is the radiation of a secular culture (what Hellenism also was), its earmarks commercialism and democracy, its chief influence indirect.

How long did Hellenism hold its sway? And if the fundamental, functional characteristics of Hellenism are the same as that of Americanism, how long will the cultural radiation of Americanism last? The dates of Hellenism are shifting. Today’s endpoint is put at 146 BC, the Battle of Corinth, when Rome in effect conquered Greece. So make that 177 years all told. This dating is anchored in viewing history as political power. Those who take a wider, cultural perspective date the end of Hellenism to Caesar’s assassination or what comes to the same thing, Cleopatra’s death (30 BC). After that time democracy in Rome was effectively extinguished. I like this somewhat longer dating because Greek culture, as a form, was alive and well in Caesar’s time. The educated still all spoke Greek. So make that 293 years all told. Three centuries. And as empire gripped Rome, Hellenism as a culture was in process of hosting, and transforming itself, by a vast, and many-headed religious movement.

If we apply these temporal durations to Americanism, what do they suggest? The 177-year duration, added to 1945, points to 2162; the 293-year duration produces 2238. In neither of those years will anyone alive today still be breathing.

All right. But some—those who dream of a return to sanity, escape from the chaos secular culture is now breeding—suggest that things, these days, are moving much faster than they did back then. Aren’t they? Well, that seems to be the case—but the cause of this seeming speed-up is the use of fossil fuels. Things will certainly return to normal when oil, gas, and even shale run out later this century. Indeed, it might be argued, that with the earth’s currently huge population, that change in energy will produce a far more rapidly evolving disaster than the mere wear-out of the potentials inherent in secular culture. And yes, that seems to be the case as well.

But even the end of this century is safely far away to bother about—never mind the twenty-second or the twenty-third. It is always well to live with a highly extended personal time-line, thousands of years back, hundreds of years ahead. But the practical consequences of such exercises are absent—except to make us look, as it were, at a dimension placed 90 degrees to time itself. A worthwhile activity on one’s own birthday.

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