Spiraling into Our Future: An Inquiry into the Dialectical Trajectory from the Real to the Ideal

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This Text Can Be Found in the Book,
The Evolution of Consent: Collected Essays (Vol. I)


Spiraling Through Time

Time is something which has eluded humanity for a great while, but is it possible to understand time? While we may have many limitations, and it may not be possible to perceive time itself as anything tangible, I do believe we can learn about time, if still we find ourselves unable to fully “grasp” it. In this essay, I will be using examples from the progression of solar time in order to present a dialectical ontology that reconciles reality and ideals. I will then take a look at the stages within the history of human societies, before applying the model and making predictions about where we are heading.

When two people are engaged in a discussion, one will state a thesis, some sort of idea, and the other will counter the point with their own, an antithesis. If they are honest with themselves and each other, lying their pride to the side, and being open to communication, this process will culminate in a final agreement, a synthesis, which incorporates the truths spoken by both parties. This is the process of dialectics, which has been passed down by philosophers since the time of the ancient Greek city-states, such as Zeno of Elea, and perhaps before, to eventually be highlighted by others in more recent history, such as a certain German Idealist, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and even given a materialistic spin later on by people such as Joseph Dietzgen (arguably a neutral monist more than a pure materialist), Friedrich Engels, and, perhaps to a lesser degree, Karl Marx. Dialectics are necessarily tied to our trajectory through time, as I intend to demonstrate.

“Don the Scientist,” in his “Spiral Time or Ecological Time Theory, Its Implications for Behavior,” argues that time moves in a spiral. He suggests that ancient people believed in circular time, while modern people tend towards linear time. Don points out that each of these models has associated truths and difficulties. The problem with circular time is with the variations that occur during cycles, which make each rotation unique rather than identical. The issue with linear time is that it ignores the fact that there are, indeed, cycles.[i] Spiral time is a more recent idea, which seems to be a synthesis (we like those!) of the truths of both.

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Don suggests that in circular time one constantly goes through the same cycles. In linear time, one never goes through cycles. In spiral time, though, there is a linear and a circular element to time; as time moves along its linear path, it cycles from one side to the other, but it’s never exactly the same. There is both a circular element, because the points A and B are repeated, and a linear element, because they aren’t repeated on the same plane. Each A, though an A, is different from one another, and the same is true of B. A good way to think about this is to think about how we experience time itself.[i]

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Throughout our experience of time we have the circularity of years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds, etc. Each year has a Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. Each month follows the cycles of the moon, from new, to first-quarter, to full, to third-quarter. Each day has a morning, mid-day, evening, and mid-night. Each hour, on the minute-hand of a common clock, has its beginning at 12, first quarter at 3, halfway point at 6, and third quarter at 9. If you’ve ever used an analog watch, you’ll know that minutes and seconds can also be put on a round, repeating clock. Though time is cycling around us, it is not a pure cycle, there is a linear element.[i]

As we repeat the experience of Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring, each of these is their own event. Each Summer is different, each Winter as well. The Summer this year will not be the same as the Summer following. Indeed, it will have many similarities, but it will not be exactly the same. Generally, it is Summer, specifically, it is the Summer of 2013. This seems true throughout our experience of time. Our trajectory through time is seemingly spiraled.[i]

Time is related to dialectics by way of the spiral trajectory. If we are to start at Summer, it being our thesis, its antithesis is the Winter, which is not jumped into, but must first go through its synthesis, the Fall. Once the synthesis is reached, it becomes the next thesis, with Spring being its antithesis, and the synthesis, Winter, is reached. This process repeats, but not exactly. Each time around is different, and we experience each rotation of the seasons as a unique one.

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It may be easy to think of Spring and Fall as syntheses of Summer and Winter (hot+cold=tepid), but it’s a little harder to think of Winter and Summer as being the syntheses of Fall and Spring. What is important  here is the momentum behind the solstices and equinoxes.The Spring and Fall equinoxes are times of balance between extremes, but the Summer and Winter solstices are the balances within extremes. The Summer solstice is the longest day, and the Winter the shortest, of the year; the equinoxes are when day and night are balanced. A transition from any of these pos6ints, however, is a loss of balance (even on the solstices). The solstices, like the equinoxes, happen on one day alone. One more day in either direction means a loss of this balance, and an end of the solstice. Now, with this in mind, we can see how Fall and Spring synthesize into Summer and Winter. It is dependent on which equinox is the thesis and which is the antithesis, what their momentum is, for there is also a polarity between them. The Fall is the darker between the two, as Fall is the dying season, and Spring is the season of rebirth, light. Thus, when coming out of Fall—that is,  when Fall is the thesis and Spring the antithesis— the tendency will remain toward darkness, and so the synthesis combines the dark halves of each, creating a dark whole, the Winter, the season, not of dying (that’s Fall), but of death. Similarly, when coming out of Spring, the dominant role is the light, and the light of both seasons combine to form the complete light of Summer, life!

In terms of ontology, we could say the thesis is the real, the antithesis is the ideal, and the synthesis is the process. The real is what we have to work with, it is the material world around us. The ideal is the world of ideas, it is the imagination which guides our goals. We cannot reach our ultimate dreams, which exist far beyond us, and this leads to the process. The real projects the ideal, and then moves toward it. One cannot move toward point B from point A, unless point B is already in existence. In other words, the future is already there, even if it isn’t realized yet.

Once thes7 process has begun, the ideal becomes more possible, but at this point it has ceased to be the ideal (antithesis) at all, and, instead, becomes the process (synthesis) toward a higher ideal, as you notice in the movement from 1-12 in the image of the seasons.

It is not only heavenly bodies that move in a dialectic of this sort, but all things in motion.[1] The dialectic is the highest law of change, whereby the real is informed by the past and the ideal by the future, creating a pragmatic present. This same model can be used for any transition, which naturally involves goals (ideas, ideals) and methods (materialization).  One must remember, though, that, as I argue in “The Journey of Realization,” the past and future are relative, not absolute, leading to a difference in charge, or direction: the material and the spiritual.

A Dialectical Look at Our Future

Just as the antithesis of Summer is the Winter, the Spring is the Fall, and they synthesize one another, so too do human societies move in such a fashion. Take, for instance, the development of subsistence technologies. Subsistence technologies arose in a sequence of hunting-gathering, to horticulture, agriculture, and industry. This sequence contains both a linear and cyclical aspect in its cycle, as I intend to show.

If we look at the nature of subsistence technologies, we tend to get two primary kinds of related consumption. That is, there is a scale or a spectrum of consumption habits which coincide with the forms of technology in use. These two poles, as described by James Woodburn, are delayed and immediate returns. A delayed return society is one which stores up goods, while an immediate return society uses what it has taken as soon as it is taken. Delayed returns are internal surpluses built up in reaction to external scarcities.[ii] Immediate returns are not pathological, which suggests that our dichotomy is not a hard one, but we can still see that, while immediate return societies do not create an internal scarcity in response to external surplus, they at least have little need to create a surplus, because they are surrounded with seeming abundance.

Indeed, most anthropologists and sociologists argue that hunter-gatherers lived in ignorant bliss and that horticulture was a reaction to scarcity rather than need for improvement. Agriculture, however, took the cake for scarcity-driven societies; in the agrarian era, more surplus than ever was developed, and was held by the ruling class. Industry, though, changed things again, as industry has allowed more and more people to earn a piece of the pie. Wealth is finally starting to be distributed. The next step in the sequence will have something in common with hunter-gatherers, just as summers have the heat in common with one another, but will also contain something unique, just as every summer has its own peculiarities.

Let’s recap this real quick: Hunter-gatherers lived in a state of pure abundance (Summer), horticulturalists lived in a state of increasing external scarcity and internal surplus (Fall), agriculturalists lived in the most intense state of external scarcity and internal surplus (Winter), and industrialists are finally seeing an increase again in abundance (Spring). Our strong dichotomy, then, like Summer and Winter, are abundance and scarcity. Indeed, Summer brings abundance, and Winter scarcity.

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We now have our generalization for the next step of humanity— abundance—, but what of our specification? As the generalization is informed by the future, the circle ahead, the specific is informed by the past, the linear path traversed. In terms of the Integralist, Ken Wilber, the future must “transcend and include.”[iii] It does this by transcending toward generalities of the circle, while including and staying true to the specific history of the line.

Hunter-gatherers did not jump right into agriculture. Instead, they went through a period of horticulture. Horticulture transcended hunting and gathering in many ways, by allowing permanent settlement and the growing of food, but it also included hunting and gathering, in so far as it was limited from the specifics of agriculture. Likewise, agriculture transcended horticulture by using alternative sources of power (animals), but included horticulture in so far as it was limited from the practice of industry. Industry, then, transcended agriculture by incorporating elements of a system of which we are yet to realize, and included agriculture to the degree that we still practice it and are limited from realizing post-industrialism. What industrialism is, in general, is the upward momentum toward abundance. Industrialism is the Spring, the dawn. Post-industrialism, whatever its truest form, will be the golden Summer, the bright middle of the day. It will retain the living standards of industrialism, and will incorporate sustainability (abundance).

Each society is a domino effect. Very rarely, if ever, does one element of a society change without affecting the others. With each development of subsistence technology came a new class system, political order, economic condition, set of ideologies. In hunter-gatherer societies, for instance, the class system was non-existent, as was political hierarchy, economic exchanges were “gifts” (voluntary forms of loosely-based credit), and spiritual views tended toward animism, or, what Ken Wilber refers to as archaic belief-systems.[iv] Horticultural societies express the beginning of class systems, political hierarchies, usurious economics, and the spiritual ideologies tend toward polytheism. Wilber calls this stage the magical stage of culture.[v] Agriculture was paired with extreme classism, hierarchy at its fullest, monumental taxation, and a tendency, usually, toward some form of monotheism. Ken Wilber refers to this stage as the mythical one.[vi] Industry, like we are coming out of, comes with decreasing class relationships, decreasing hierarchies, the spreading of surplus, and the secularist stage of ideologies, which Ken Wilber calls vision-logic.[vii]

Hunter-Gatherer, Animism, “Gift,” egalitarian, Anarchy: Summer

Horticulturalist, Polytheism, Commodity Currency/Barter, Slaves, Oligarchy: Fall

Agriculturalist, Monotheism, Coins, Serfs, Monarchy: Winter

Industrialist, Secularism, Scrip, Workers, Democracy: Spring

Convivialist, Pantheism, Credit, Owner-Operators, Panarchy: Summer

The coming era, which is to exist at the pinnacle of the cycle, and which is to replace the hunter-gatherer, must share similarities to them, but must also be a progression from them. The next stage must transcend and include industrialism. If industrialism— say, in the location of nine o’clock, or at Spring— is the thesis, the antithesis is the future which replaces horticulture at three o’clock, and the synthesis is the replacement of hunter-gathering at twelve.

s7Once again, the real is the condition from the past and the ideal is the condition of the distant future. The conflict of real and ideal motivates us toward balance in the immediate future, which we have potential to realize. The synthesis of real and ideal I call process.

Let’s consider the new society. I’ve labeled it Ivan Illich’s term, convivialist, which has a root which means, essentially, leisurely or festive. Indeed, the new society will be quite novel, full of fun and games. We’ll have the time to enjoy them. We won’t regress into pre-industrial society, however, we will progress to a more post- or trans-industrialism, which has had, so far, exciting claims involving post-scarcity, technological singularities, sustainability, space-travel, possible immortality (thanks to germline and cancer research, among others), and more. The new society will retain a great deal of logic and secularism, but will have something in common with animism. Perhaps the new ideology will be a tendency toward pantheism, as pantheism tends to be associated with newer versions of animism at times, such as panpsychism or noetics. Post- or trans-modern societies will drift away from their harsher, secularist, views of science, to a large extent, thanks to fields such as theoretical physics and psychology, as well as a re-emerging interest in mysticism. Indeed, we are beginning to concern ourselves once more with the “within of things,” to put it in the terms of the pantheist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. That is, we are beginning to take spirituality, emotion, more seriously again. Fields like economics are opening up to behavioral studies of psychological importance; philosophies such as post-structuralism, object-relations, and more, emphasize new methods that are less rigid and settled, and which are more alive and organic. Classes are engaging in warfare; the pressure of the dialectic is on, hopefully to eliminate class-society. My proposals for the ways of the new society are found generally in row five, above, but more specifically throughout my other articles. Some may consider my views too idealistic to be accomplished by row five, but I feel I’ve taken special consideration to both sides of the equations I address, realistic and idealistic.

There’s no telling the specifics, but the generalities seem pretty reliable. If we continue to synthesize our history, and if time moves according to the neutral dialectic, it is only a matter of time before our ideas of peace, love, and anarchy can come into fruition.


Notes

[1] Of the four forms of motion—oscillatory, linear, vibratory, and deformatory (internal)—, it is possible to explain the motion of each in terms of neutral dialectics.   Due to these forms of motion, anything can be considered a clock, though some things are more reliable and accessible than others.


References

[i] Don the Scientist

[ii] James Woodburn

 [iii] Ken Wilber, 27.

[iv] Ibid., 156.

[v] Ibid., 157.

[vi] Ibid., 156.

[vii] Ibid., 173.

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