A Society Without Paradox Dies

Humans are the most paradoxical species.

We love to stay still and we love to move. We love order and we love change. We love Self and we love the Other. We love the familiar and we love what’s foreign. We love unity and we love diversity.

It’s why we’re the most beautiful species.

When we’re balanced in the ever-generative golden mean between the two paradoxical extremes. As a species we need each, but there are then going to be particular individuals who prefer one over the other.

When one group or the other becomes dominant in a society, the society becomes unbalanced, unstable, and either falls apart or has to undergo a massive change, emerging into a new level of complexity, where new balances between new paradoxical pairs emerge. Insofar as imbalance can result in collapse, imbalance is bad. Rootedness is bad because it’s an extreme (like the extreme of cowardice in Aristotle’s identification of courage as being between cowardice and rashness). In an individual or in a family, it might be good, providing a stabilizing feature for a society, but it’s bad as a way of being for an entire people.

In order to have a healthy society, we need people who are creative and people who don’t seem to have a creative bone in their body. We need leaders and followers. Thinkers-outside-the-box and thinkers well within the box.  Each has his or her role (include masculine and feminine). And there are going to be people along each of these spectra, including neurodiversity. We need autistics and neurotypicals, bipolars and schizophrenics. We need conservatives and liberals, left and right versions of each, conservatives like (the grossly misnamed) progressives, socialists, and Religious Right, liberals like libertarians, left-liberals, and neoliberals. Yes, we need them all (even when they’re mostly wrong about human nature, science, society, economics, etc.).

The enemy of thought, the enemy of creativity, the enemy of freedom is the lack of enemies.

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Leftist Values?

The contemporary Left is postmodern. Postmodernists say there are no values (or that there can be no hierarchy of values). So isn’t it an oxymoron for someone to say that they have Left-wing values? Wouldn’t this come into conflict with their postmodernism?

Of course, this is an issue not just with the postmodern Left, but with the postmodern Right as well. You may recognize the postmodern Right by another name: neoliberals.

Our contemporary culture is dominated by anti-value postmodernism. And Trump is the President of that movement. He is everything the postmodernists, Left and Right, have been saying they wanted. But now that they have him, we get the same old aw: “But that’s not what we meant!” Of course it’s what you meant, just like Stalin is what Marx meant. Fortunately, postmodernism has no principles with which to justify directly murdering millions, so there is that.

Three Strikes Against This Blog (and why I don’t care)

Admittedly, I’m just getting started, but reading an article in The Atlantic about the chief propagandist of the alt.right makes me realize the limits of my reach with my approach.

For one, I’m not the kind of extremist that would be attracted to the radical extremes of Right, Left, or even Libertarianism. I find conspiracy theories downright embarrassing, a residue of our most primitive thinking. The simplistic thinking underlying extremist thinking is precisely what I reject, and since I reject it, you won’t find much of it here. You’ll find, rather, a great deal of complexity thinking. That means to read the blog, you’ll have to actually think beyond mere superficial ideology (all ideology is superficial).

Of course, who wants to read a blog that’s full of complex thoughts? Strike one against me.

You will also always find everything I say to be true–I don’t misrepresent reality just to support my world view. I reject ideology as such, and thus do what I can, to the extent and human being can, to always be true to the facts. Strike two against me.

I won’t troll or bait–I don’t hold the extreme views necessary to drive me to do that. I won’t foster hate against the rich or the poor; whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or any other racial/ethnic group whose identities are almost entirely socially constructed; homosexuals or heterosexuals; men or women. Envy is a vice; misanthropy of any sort, directed at groups or all humankind, is the purest kind of evil. I won’t deal in those things or anything otherwise rooted in resentment. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t problems in the world, but those problems are rooted in bad ideas, destructive ideas, not in people per se, and certainly not in groups of people. Strike three against me.

The malady of the age is that we are undergoing a significant shift in our social orders, including (especially) at the global level. Some seek to stop it, whether through the primitive racism of the alt.right or the primitive economics of the far left and the religious fervor of both the alt.right and antifa (who are mirror images of each other, holding the same fundamental world view and using the same tactics). Others, like myself, are seeking rather to help us move into the next level of social complexity.

Helping guide people into the next level of complexity, though, means one cannot offer simplistic solutions, ideology, or superficialities of any sort. One guides by showing the way through the forest, not by retreating to the already-known. And that means understanding the world first as it really is, in all its complexity, and understanding where we’re going, in all it’s increased complexity. If what you read here doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because you’re in the unknown territory of the future. That may cause this blog to strike out–at least in the near future–but I hope it will provide a blaze for those who wish to follow into the future.

A Brief History of Western Ideas from an Emergent Complexity Perspective

I. Introduction

Complex systems theory shows that the more elements there are in a given system, the more complex the system’s behavior. New rules evolve that govern the behavior of the system, helping to coordinate activities and make the system work in a better and more complex manner. Further, when complex systems contain different hierarchical levels, such systems act in even more complex ways – fluid hierarchies increase complexity of behavior, while rigid hierarchies and flattened hierarchies decrease the complexity of a system’s behavior. This is true in quantum systems giving rise to chemical/Newtonian physical systems, to chemical systems giving rise to life, to neurons in the brain giving rise to thought and intelligence in animals, including humans, and even to the interactions of human societies.

Claire Graves, Don Beck, and Christopher Cowan theorize that both human thought and human societies develop in a particular way, and in a hierarchical fashion. If we start with animal survivalism, we move into tribalism, and from tribalism into a heroic culture (i.e. Achilles, and the Greek and Roman gods), from heroic culture into aristocratic/theocratic culture, from aristocratic culture to capitalist/scientific culture, from scientific culture into statist culture, and even now a move from all of these into ideas of world confederacy, and even into more complex, more holistic ideas. Thought also follows these patterns: mere survivalism leading to tribalistic thinking leading to conquering, heroic leaders leading to belief in order, law, regulations, and discipline to build character (typically “religious” thinking) leading to belief in the virtue of competition and progress and knowledge leading to egalitarian thinking leading to time-bound, hierarchical, pluralistic thinking leading to holistic thinking. The thinking always precedes the social development, but the thinking itself cannot jump levels any more than can societies, or than biology can leap suddenly out of quantum physics, skipping the chemical level. In other words, to move from tribalism to a culture led by heroic conquering leaders, we have to have people who begin to think in the new way while the culture itself remains in the old form of organization. It is this phenomenon I wish to investigate here, so we can understand why different thinkers were thinking as they were, and what value they have for the present day, and in the future.

We have to recognize, too, that each culture contains elements of the levels below, including people who continue to think this way. The first thing that we should note is that to say a culture or a person is in one of the lower levels is not to say that it or they are inferior to a higher level. We need the lower levels to help hold up the higher levels – this is how nested hierarchies such as emergent reality and evolving cultures can exist at all. If we take capitalist, scientific culture, for example, we can see that it can and should continue to have religious elements to it, that it will continue to have heroic people, such as athletes, in it, and that it will continue to have tribalistic elements in it –- primarily as families, friends and clubs. This is most important to point out to those levels that most tend toward communitarian thinking, including tribalism, religious thinking, and secular egalitarian statism, which evolve in reaction to the more individualistic levels (heroic, capitalist/scientific), since the heroic and the capitalist levels consider the communitarian levels below them to still be important. Further, higher level communitarian thinking also tends to reject lower level communitarian thinking -– secular egalitarian thinking tends to consider religious thinking as ignorant and something that is best done away with (consider the French attitude toward religion now, starting with the French Revolution). In the worst cases, communitarian thinking is racist and exclusionary -– tribes exclude other tribes, religions exclude other religions, communists must eliminate all non-communists or anyone else who does not fit into the world they are trying to create. So it is important that we be aware of this danger, and do what we can to avoid and prevent it.

Overall, the communitarian forms of thinking and social organization tend to be, regardless of the level of complexity, community-minded and, thus, order-oriented, interested in stability, ethics, faith and truth, are fundamentally religious in outlook, centralized and rigidly hierarchical (today, bureaucratic), and have a belief that time is circular, or eternal, and that it will become this way at the end of history, where all progress will end. The individualistic forms of thinking and social organization tend to be, regardless of the level of complexity, individualistic, libertarian, able to deal with change and chaos, pragmatic, fact- and science-oriented, decentralized, and embracing of time and change, having a fundamental belief in some sort of continual progress. As stated above, the communitarians tend to dislike the individualists, but the individualists tend to work to protect the immediately lower level of communitarian thinking and society, while seeing emergent levels of communitarianism as a threat.

We need to move beyond this way of thinking, and into more complex ways of thinking. The way to do this is to understand all the levels, what their values are, and integrate them. That will get us into the next level of thinking and social organization. And from there, we must next understand everything as being part of a single, dynamic system – more than just pluralist, but unified as well, with unity in its variety. In doing so, we must not forget that lower levels simply cannot understand the ideas of higher levels -– for example, someone who is a religious thinker would find egalitarian thinking, especially late egalitarian thinking, like postmodernism, to be completely incomprehensible –- confusing nonsense in the extreme. To get such a person to the level of the postmoderns, one would have to get that person to first be thinking as a capitalist/scientific thinker, and then move the person into early egalitarian thinking before moving them into postmodernism. Part of the role of the integrationist and holistic thinkers is to help to move all people and cultures into more complex levels, and to integrate the elements of lower complexity into an even more complex whole.

II. The Levels and their Thinkers

All of this is necessary in order to understand the evolution of thought and the history of ideas in their proper context –- past and present. It seems that tribalism is associated with pre-literate times, and that the first writing evolved during heroic culture – the oldest story we have is Gilgamesh, and it is a story of heroism. With Homer, we have a heroic thinker in a heroic time. Achilles is an archetypical hero of this sort.

The movement from heroic culture into the next level begins in the Greek culture with the pre-Socratics, who are beginning to think in more orderly, purposeful ways while living in heroic culture -– this is typically seen as the beginnings of the movement from archaic into median culture. We have with the Greek tragedies an art form designed to move Greek culture safely and non-violently into the next level –- each tragedy starts with a heroic individual who must be destroyed in order for a new level of organization to come into being. The Greek tragedies are art forms that indicate that the culture is going through an emergence into a new level of complexity. Tragedies are how a culture gets safely initiated into a new level of complexity. This is why Nietzsche identified tragedy as being simultaneously Dionysian and Apollonian –- Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus identifies Dionysus as the god associated with the madness of initiation and Apollo as the god associated with the madness of prophesy -– and Greek tragedies aided in the initiation ritual into a new level of complexity of thinking while prophesying what that new level would be like. Sophocles prophesies the emergence of the emergent median way of Greek thinking, while Shakespeare prophesies the emergence of the scientific/capitalist age to come, though he was writing during a time when Medieval/religious thinking was still going strong. After the initiation into the new level of thinking in ancient Greece, we get both Plato and Aristotle arising as the greatest thinkers within this level of complexity.

But emergence into new levels of complexity is not certain. In the West, we get a backward movement with the rise of the Romans –- the Roman Republic and Empire was a heroic culture, and was exemplified by people such as Julius Caesar (consider how similar in character he is to Achilles). With the rise of Christianity, we see the Roman Empire moving into the next level –- Jesus was a religious thinker during a heroic time. The Christian Romans and Christian medieval Europe was clearly organized in a rigid religious hierarchy, with the hierarchical Catholic Church and the hierarchical forms of government in serfdom, monarchy, and aristocracy, all supported by the Church. The Christian thinkers St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas found such a strong connection with Plato and Aristotle, respectively, because they recognized in them thinkers on the same level of complexity.

The Renaissance helped move Europe into the next level of complexity –- the capitalist/scientific level. We see in Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo some of the first, transitionary scientific thinkers. And the work of Machiavelli and Shakespeare both helped set the stage for capitalism and science. Newton and Descartes moved the West even more into this realm of complexity – and the height of such thinking occurs in people such as Voltaire, John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, and the American Transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau. All material and scientific progress occurred precisely because this level of thinking and social organization arose. We also see the abolition of slavery for the first time in human history precisely during this time (it is no coincidence that slavery still exists in regions of the world that have yet to enter this level of complexity). The United States’ form of government is the exemplary of the form of government that arises in and through this way of thinking – which makes it all the more ironic that it was the last of the Western countries to abolish slavery. That is, until you realize that the American South was one of the last places in the West where religious/authority thinking remained (and still remains) strongest. Because the next level was forced on them, the South has taken over a century to recover and get caught up with the rest of the United States -– becoming scientific/capitalist just as the Northeast has become egalitarian in its world view. But the religious way of thinking is still strong -– which is why the creationism-evolution (and its latest variant, Intelligent Design) debate still goes strong in the United States, particularly in Southern and Midwestern states.

With Rousseau, we get the first of the egalitarian thinkers –- and it is his ideas that led, more than anyone else’s, to the French Revolution, which was the first example of the modern State (while it is true that the idea of independent nations arose with the Enlightenment, after the Renaissance, the peculiar institution of the modern State as typically found in Europe arose with the French Revolution). It was based on secularism and egalitarianism, and this example, along with the ideas of Marx, led to the rise of the Soviet Union and other communist states, which combined this way of thinking with religious/authority thinking, while tending to throw in a heroic leader for good measure. Nazi Germany was yet another example of this kind of state, though they combined it with tribalist ideas, leading to the atrocities of WWII. Of course, the Soviet Union’s avoidance of tribalism did not prevent them from killing even more people – the difference simply being that the U.S.S.R was more personal in its murders, while the Nazis liked to kill people in groups. But both are based on the same way of thinking, and were reactions against Enlightenment thinking. This helps us to understand why people who think this way tend to support communist and fascist dictatorships, and cannot see the difference between them and democratic republics (in an egalitarian world, all forms of government are equal –- equally bad, and equally good). Further, the tendency to see people of lower levels -– especially those still stuck in tribal or heroic thinking and societies –- as victims, and modern-day environmentalism are also based on this way of thinking, and the latter is distinguished by the idea of nature as unchanging –- notions of the eternal, the end of history, etc. being part of communitarian thinking, both religious and secular. This is why much secular communitarian thinking, like environmentalism and communism, closely resemble religious thinking. But these are not the only forms of egalitarian thinking. Darwin introduced an even more fundamental form of egalitarianism when he suggested that humans evolved from apes, and that all animals were fundamentally related to one another. Thus, humans and animals were put on the same plane of existence – and it is this that creationists object to. The hierarchy between humans and animals, placing humans in a place definitively above animals, was flattened by Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Among the more recent thinkers in this more recent egalitarian tradition include Heidegger (who was, not coincidentally, a Nazi), Sartre (a communist), and various Marxist and postmodern thinkers, including Derrida. Some of these latter, the postmoderns, have come in toward the end of egalitarian, statist thinking, and have thus begun the move into the next level of thinking. This is perhaps because they claim a great deal of influence from Nietzsche, who was perhaps the first thinker in this tradition, in reaction to the German State and socialism. Since most of the philosophers and theorists influenced by Nietzsche have in fact been egalitarian, statist thinkers, they have mostly misunderstood Nietzsche’s ideas. One can understand clearly levels below oneself, but there is difficulty in understanding levels above oneself, unless one is trying to move into that next level oneself. As for societal organization, since this next level of thinking is new, there seems to be but a few societies based on this thinking, including the present-day United States and Great Britain, having gone through a lot of statist thinking, while retaining the essential form of the previous level, making it possible to be more pluralistic and hierarchical and inclusive), with organizations like the U.N., the W.T.O., and the World Bank acting to coordinate the world’s governments in a very loose confederacy. Perhaps because the U.S. and Britain were more solidly democratic republics than other Western countries, which attempted to create egalitarian States, this new form of more complex thinking appears to be most common in these two places, and less so in continental Europe. It is all-inclusive, and considers all the lower levels to be important constituents of society as a whole. It believes that there is a basic human nature, and that humans can nonetheless adapt and evolve in extremely complex ways -– that we have instincts, but also highly plastic brains, which allow us to have highly complex ways of thinking. Further, this new level of thinking has so far occurred less often among philosophers, and more often among scientists, such as Victor Turner, E.O. Wilson, Steven Pinker, Jeff Hawkins, Benoit Mandelbrot, and Ilya Prigogine.

The next level, the holistic level, is very new, and includes very few thinkers in it – the only one I know of being the poet-philosopher Frederick Turner. We have yet to see what possible form of social organization will come out of such thinking. Even though we have learned that other communitarian forms of social and government organization have been dictatorial every time, it seems likely, since this is a much more complex level of thinking, that it will be some sort of world federalist democratic republican form of government, where individuals are encouraged to be communitarian thinkers, while the government does not get in the way of people self-organizing into communities of their choice.

III. Implications for Understanding Philosophy and Philosophers

As we can see, there can end up some overlap in thinkers. Just because an egalitarian, communitarian thinker comes along, that does not mean that capitalist/scientific thinkers go away – and most scientists and business people are in fact still thinking this way. And not just the average person, but philosophers and scholars as well. Most of the clergy of the Catholic Church are clearly thinkers in the religious tradition – as well they should be. The Pope should only be a religious thinker, and should not have moved into the capitalist/scientific way of thinking (even if his thinking begins to play on the borderlands, his thinking should mostly be firmly rooted in religious thinking). Do we really want a Pope who is interested in profit? And certainly we should not have a Pope who is a secular humanist. Yet, it has profited the Church considerably to integrate in scientific understandings of the universe, rather than continuing to oppose them. Thus, the Church performs its proper role in maintaining truly religious thinking – and in maintaining it in its best traditions, rather than its worst (which we should have learned from, and learned to avoid, by now).

I am certain, in making these identifications, that I have stepped on some toes regarding peoples’ favorite thinkers and philosophers. We do not like to think that Plato and Aristotle are less complex thinkers than some people are nowadays – or even are less complex thinkers than, say, Machiavelli. Such objections will undoubtedly be made, but they are made precisely because of two errors in thinking: 1) we project our own thinking on the thinkers of the past, and read our own complexities into those past thinkers, and 2) there are inevitably those who themselves think at the level of, say, Plato and Aristotle, and thus consider, say, Machiavelli, to be a highly complex thinker, precisely because their own thinking is only just now becoming as complex as Machiavelli’s was. For these people, someone like Derrida is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible in what they are trying to communicate.

The important thing we must remember is this: Plato is not a thinker. Aristotle is not a thinker. Machiavelli is not a thinker. They were thinkers. They were thinkers of their time, place, and complexity. This does not mean they do not have their values now, in our more complex times, because those levels of thinking still exist, are still relevant, are the base on which higher levels of complexity are built. Machiavelli could not have thought what he thought had Plato and Aristotle not thought what they thought. Machiavelli could not have moved us into a culture and society of capitalism and science from the Platonic/Aristotlean world view without this world view to move from. And each of these thinkers provide excellent basic models from which to build new, more complex self-similar levels. But we must not mistake any of these thinkers from the past for who they are not. They are not present-day thinkers, thinking in present-day complexities – they are thinkers from the past, thinking in their own levels of complexity. Oftentimes we forget this when we talk about them or read them. When we read them, we must remember that, and we must remember that we read into them, we don’t read them for what they meant at the times when they were writing. We interpret them over and over (individually and socially) into the present, making and keeping them relevant for today and the future. The same must be remembered of present-day thinkers. Should I be read in the future, you must remember not to mistake me for someone else. I am a thinker now; I will have been a thinker at some future time. And my thoughts will be relevant for the hierarchical level of thinking I am presently in, which will exist as a lower level in the nested hierarchy of some future level of complexity. I will seem relevant to future scholars who think at my present level of complexity; a mere source and spur of thinking for future thinkers, who will recognize too the relative simplicity of my thoughts compared to theirs, though it occurs as a spur to each higher level that is self-similar to my own.

There are a few things we must remember when considering the history of ideas in this way: 1) each higher level of complexity necessarily needs the lower levels on which to build and rest, while the lower levels do not need the higher levels in the least (this does not mean, however, that within a person, the lower levels are not affected by their own higher levels – family for a tribal thinker is different than family for religious thinker, which is different than family for a capitalist/scientific thinker, or even an egalitarian thinker, though the family unit remains at the same level of complexity-thinking for each) , 2) each level has its own values, benefits, and shortcomings, and 3) there is no upper limit of complexity. Let us consider these in order.

In this model, each of the levels must be traversed in order to reach upper levels. In this, Marx was correct in identifying different levels societies go through, and in realizing one must necessarily go through each lower level to reach upper levels. For example, countries like Germany and France have extensive welfare states that are based on the egalitarian world view. Since these welfare states were built on a solid foundation of capitalism, they have lasted quite a long time without extensive or severe human rights violations (though when Germany adopted a different version of this level in Nazism, they clearly did commit severe human rights violations, as has egalitarian France in is former colonies). If those welfare states are currently on the decline, as they indeed are, it is because those societies have for the most part rejected the levels below them – they are knocking the foundation out from under themselves. But this is a different problem from level-jumping. When the egalitarian/communitarian world view was imposed on an aristocratic society in Russia, we got Soviet-style communism, and thus a mixture of aristocracy and communitarianism, without a capitalist/scientific level (the Soviet rejection of science can be most clearly seen in their acceptance of Lysenko’s biological theories). Thus, a true egalitarian/communitarian society was not reached, while places like France and Germany came closest to accomplishing such a goal. However, one of the problems with each of these levels up to the egalitarian world view is that each also tries to reject the other levels, and the egalitarian world view seems most keen on getting rid of both the capitalist/scientific and religious world views (mostly just capitalism and religion, since it does have its own brand of science in systems science, relativism and probablistic science). When lower levels are rejected, the effect is, as said above, to try to kick the foundation out from under oneself. One of the benefits of those levels above the communitarian level is the recognition of the value of each of the levels, and even the holistic integration of them all. The reason we need the lower levels is the same reason we need lower levels of reality. Atoms give rise to chemicals which give rise to cells which give rise to complex organisms, one of which is humans, with our complex thinking. We can destroy cells without destroying chemicals, and we can destroy chemicals without destroying atoms, but we cannot destroy an atom while keeping the chemical around. The atom, though at the lowest level of complexity, is the vital foundation of each of the emergent levels above it. In the same way, the noosphere, the sphere of emergent human thought, contains the biosphere within it, since the biosphere can get along just fine without humans or human thought, while humans cannot get along without the biosphere (this idea is Ken Wilbur’s, from A Theory of Everything, 98). The relationship may in fact be a more complex feedback loop than even Wilbur admits, since one could also point out that other organisms that are clearly less complex than the biosphere as a whole could also be wiped out, without any real effect on the biosphere as a whole. The important thing here is that human thought is more complex than biology, including the entire biosphere. And more complex levels contain less complex levels, not vice versa. Thus, nature is a part of us even more than we are a part of nature. But I have gone through this to point out that levels of human complexity are also nested hierarchies, self-similar to the nested hierarchies of nature itself. Like atoms to molecules, the higher levels require the lower levels to exist at all.

Thus, we have to remember too that each level has its benefits –- as well as its shortcomings. The lowest level is the level of pure existence. We cannot deny our needs for food, drink, sleep, and sex if we are to survive as a species. But this is what animals do, and we are more than mere animals in our cognitive abilities and social organization. Thus, the first fully human level is tribal. This is the level of family and family ritual and, in the present day West, athletic teams. However, this level is fundamentally racist –- anything non-self is considered bad by those who stay in this level. The next level, the heroic, is associated with Homer’s heroes, the Greek and Roman gods, and Roman emperors. Here we also find athletic superstars. However, this level is extremely egocentric and can be very destructive (again, consider our athletic superstars). The next level is authoritarian and theocratic. What we now think of as religion -– exemplified by Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. –- with its emphasis on giving life meaning, direction, and purpose, and a world that is well-ordered by God. However, these codes are so strictly enforced that they result in things like the Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials. The backlash to such extreme measures gave rise to the next level, the capitalist/scientific level, which “seeks truth and meaning in individualistic terms” (Wilbur, 10), is rational, believes that the world is knowable through science, gave rise to immense material gains through capitalism, abolished slavery, and developed ideas of human rights. However, due to the fact that this level needed lots of resources, there was perceived exploitation of lower classes both within and without capitalist societies, and Newtonian physics was coming up against quite a few contradictions, both of which led to the next level. The egalitarian/communitarian level insists on the equality of all people, sees the world as a system, and encourages ecological thinking and pluralism. However, this level, even more than the rest, seems determined to destroy every level below it. This is in part due to its opposition to hierarchy and its extreme form of equality. As we can see, each of these levels comes with its own set of benefits –- benefits which we need to both acknowledge and embrace. We need stronger families, a healthy sense of self, lives with meaning, direction, and purpose, but with material well-being and a scientific understanding of the world and how its works, and respect for all people regardless of religion, race, or color. Family, heroism, religion, science, economic and ecological thinking, and pluralism all have their place. And should.

Teleological thinking is something humans commonly engage in. In fact, one could go so far as to identify it as one of the human universals. Thus, we should not be surprised if and when people use it with a model such as this. There is no highest level in this model. The holistic level, the highest level of thinking we currently have, is not the highest. Whatever the next level will look like will have to wait until the integrative and even the holistic levels become realized more in social organization. We cannot know exactly what it will look like, only that it will have a family resemblance to the other individualistic levels, since it comes after the communitarian level of holism. And there will be a communitarian level after it, etc. This is another reason why we should not mistake thinkers from the past for being more complex thinkers than they were. It is unlikely that a higher-level thinker will in fact mistake a lower-level thinker for thinking as he or she does, but there are those who may be on the same level as a past thinker, who may mistakenly think, just because he is in a more complex culture, that his thinking is also necessarily of the most complex form, and therefore think that a past thinker –- say, Plato, who is an aristocratic thinker –- is, say, a holistic thinker. This is particularly true among those who think that holism is necessarily the highest form of thinking possible (it is not –- it is only one more rung on the emergent ladder).

Thus, if we take the integrative and holistic approaches, we can begin to see the importance of knowing thinkers from each of the levels of complexity. Plato and Aristotle have their places in helping to give our lives meaning and direction, and to provide an ethical basis for action. They can inform the way we think these issues even today – since it is a level that is necessary for us to live meaningful, ethical lives. The next level, the capitalist/scientific level, allowed us to individualize those ethics, to consider the origins of ethics and the justification for them, and develop ideas of individual rights and personal responsibility. At the same time, the pluralism of the egalitarian level allows us to apply those ethics to more and more people in our ever-expanding tribe. This is admittedly a utilitarian approach to understanding the great thinkers of the past – but if we are honest with ourselves, we are already utilitarian with them, studying them to write essays and to develop our own philosophies for our own times. In the latter case, we have to know where we’ve been in order to know what’s already been done, and what still needs to be done. And for the integrationist and holistic world views, knowing each level is vital to understanding how each level should relate to each other, and be used to develop more complex levels of thinking and social organization. As we become more and more self-aware (the dictum to “know yourself” applied in a larger and larger sense), we will come to understand how important it is to integrate the levels and to appreciate and affirm each level for the benefits they bestow –- for both the development of new levels, and scholarship to understand each of the levels, particularly in how they relate to one another, and lead into new levels.

Another way we can come to understand these levels is suggested by Ken Wilbur: I-we-it-its. He talks about how we need to integrate all these aspects together –- but we can also come to understand each of the levels through these four aspects. The tribalist level contains none of these in any real sense. There is not yet a real sense of individual identity, or the difference between individual and group – and technology is very primitive, and is not seen as really separate from the tribe. With the development of heroic culture, we get “I” culture. With the development of the authoritarian culture of Plato and Aristotle, Christianity and Islam, we get “we” culture. With the development of capitalist/scientific culture, we get “it” culture. And with the development of egalitarian culture, we get “its” culture (with systems theory, etc.). Wilbur argues that I-we-it also corresponds to beauty(aesthetics)-ethics-truth. Thus we can begin to understand what is happening when Aristotle says ethics aims at to kalon, which can be translated as either “the beautiful” or “the good,” since Aristotle has an ethical “we” philosophy that is also strongly “I”. Also, we can begin to understand John Keats’ equation: “beauty is truth –- truth, beauty,” since Keats is an individualist living in scientific culture (romanticism was an attempt to recover aspects of heroic culture). And we can also begin, with more integrationist thinking, to understand that beauty, the good, and truth are all one and the same thing – and with the systems science of “its,” we can also begin to really understand for the first time how deeply embedded all of these are in time. And if we include the idea developed by J. T. Fraser of time as a nested hierarchy, we can begin to understand more and more deeply how everything is related.

IV. Conclusion

Obviously these ideas need to be further expanded -– but that is the topic of a full-length book, not an essay introducing the idea. With the idea of emergent complexity that contains the lower levels in a nested hierarchy, we can include too the I-we-it-its as well. We get a new idea of “I” when we move into the “we” of the authoritarian level, and a new idea of each as we move into both the “it” and “its” levels as well. And each of these aspects will change as we move into the intregrationist and holistic levels –- change, while at the same time containing their original meanings. The “I” investigated by Homer and Socrates influenced Freud, but the “I” developed by Freud is clearly of a different kind, emergent and more complex. And the “we” developed by Plato and Aristotle influenced Heidegger, but the “we” of Heidegger is clearly of a different kind as well –- influencing the “we” of postmodernism, including its worst aspects, such as political correctness. And while the ancient Greeks did have science and technology, it is clear that the science and technology of the scientific culture is of a different kind, emergent and more complex. And the highly complex systems science that has since developed and become more dominant had its origins in some of the thoughts of Goethe, and even Aristotle.

One might ask, “If Aristotle were alive today, would he still be an authority thinker?” Naturally, this is impossible to say. That may have been his natural disposition to such an extent that it would still be his disposition today. However, it is also just as likely that Aristotle, being the genius he was, and the most complex thinker of his day, would be among the most complex thinkers of today. There is nothing in Aristotle that makes him inherently incapable of our level of complex thinking –- what made him incapable of it was his living and thinking in the time and culture in which he actually lived. In fact, every person living today, no matter what level they may currently be in, can also think in each of these levels –- though if they are at a lower level, they would of course have to move through each level, in order. Level jumps in complexity of thought are just as impossible as atoms skipping molecules to create life.

Spiral Dynamics

It seems that conservatives, libertarians, and liberals are all talking past each other. It is as if each group has their own way of thinking that excludes the others –- whether it is because they consider one of the others less complex, more interested in feeling than thinking, or they consider what the others believe to be complete nonsense. If this is the case, is it possible for these groups to be able to talk to each other at all?

Don Beck and Christopher Cowan in their book Spiral Dynamics lay out a hierarchical theory of psycho-social development that may perhaps explain why these groups are talking past each other. In other words, they develop a theory that explains both the psychologies of individuals and the social structures of individual societies –- and show that different people, and different societies, think in particular ways for particular reasons.

What they –- and I, with some modifications –- propose is that human societies go through spiraling cycles of new levels of complexity, switching between individualistic and collectivist forms of social organization. This is often preceded by individuals who lay the groundwork for the new social organization. And even when one form of social organization is left behind, there are people who continue to think that way. And, to make the situation even more complex, we continue to have aspects of the lower levels holding up the new levels of complexity.

But that is all very abstract. What we need are details. Basically, Beck and Cowan suggest that we start off in survivalist mode –- what helps the individual survive is what we do. This is really the level of purely animal survival: food, drink, sleep, and sex. Next we develop into the roving bands/tribal mode –- this is in the present day both athletic teams and the family unit, and is the kind of thinking we mean by “family values.” This is the level of ritual, traditions and symbols. At its worst, it is the level of racism, superstition, and fear of change. Once this level becomes repressive, we get development of the powerful individual mode – this is in the present day in rock stars and rebellious teens in general, as well as in gang members. In the past, this was ancient Greece during the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Rome during the Roman Empire. This is the time of heroes and strong leadership, storytellers and mythology. To the extent that these two groups exist in the modern world, liberals have a tendency to label them as victims and to try to leap them –- and sometimes those in the next level –- into their kinds of societies. Since you cannot skip levels, since each level develops naturally out of previous levels, this is inevitably disastrous.

The next level is the level of authority and order. This is the realm of modern-day conservatives and those on the Right. At this level, it is believed that the world gains meaning from doing your duty, respecting traditions and heritage, and obeying the religious laws. Conservatives believe in good and evil, right and wrong, in sacrificing now for the future, love and charity, and in patriotism. At their worst, they fear trespassing upon the ordained order, are nationalistic and tend toward theocracy and authoritarianism. Many are royalists and, in the United States, have Puritan tendencies. Historically, this was medieval Christianity and the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle.

Following this is the development of capitalism and science -– the realm of the modern-day libertarian, or classical liberal. There is strong support for reason and science. Such people and societies are optimistic and willing to take risks and are highly pragmatic in dealing with the world, even if they are idealistically pro-freedom in political issues. Such people and societies support personal rights and liberties, and were responsible for abolishing slavery – the irony of the most capitalist country in the world being the last to abolish slavery does not negate this fact. In fact, Emerson, whose thinking exemplifies this level of thinking, was a staunch abolitionist. Other thinkers at this level include Adam Smith, John Locke, Lord Acton, Voltaire, Machiavelli, and Descartes. At its worst, it promotes deterministic thinking and results in alienation.

Next is the development of egalitarian thinking –- the realm of the modern-day Left. In fact, it was in the first expression of this level in the French Revolution that the terms Left and Right were first developed. It is equally interesting that the Left represented a new level of collectivist thinking beyond capitalist thinking, and the Right represented the old form of collectivist thinking in the Royalists and religious thinkers. At its best, postmodern leftism emphasizes being socially responsible, caring for all people, finding ourselves, and treating workers well.  It promotes pluralism and relativistic, postmodern, multidisciplinary thinking. At its worst, like all collectivist thinking, it promotes feeling over reasoning. And more, having much of its thought based in Marx, it leads to welfare states, socialism, communism, and even fascism, is anti-hierarchy, and supports economic redistribution. It is in fact deeply conservative of its own status quo, and supports anti-free speech codes like political correctness. In opposing free speech and other individual liberties, people at this level tend to be in agreement with conservatives more than they are willing to admit. For example, both will end up favoring anti-pornography laws, but for very different reasons.

Now, each of these levels tend to be exclusionary, rejecting each other. Those above reject those below as being too simplistic, and those below are just plain confused about what is going on at higher levels. But there are two levels (so far –- more will emerge over time) above the egalitarian level –- the integrationist and the holistic. The integrationist is a return to individualism, but it also sees the values of each of the levels below it. People at this level attempt to create a society were all of these levels can work together –- both the individual psychologies and to develop a more integrated society. Thus, it tries to promote environmentalism, capitalism, religion, heroic individualism, and families simultaneously. Beauty, truth, and ethics are united into one way of thinking. Knowledge and competency are emphasized, as are fluid, nested hierarchies and interdisciplinary, chaotic, fractal thinking. This level is the first truly self-aware level, and there is no longer any fear of yourself or the world. Nietzsche may not have been the first of such thinkers, but he’s the transitional figure that allowed for this kind of thinking to emerge. And as for holistic thinking, which is only just beginning to emerge, we have such thinkers as Frederick Turner. Everything is understood to be connected to everything else, there is interest in wholeness of existence, and patterns and living systems are emphasized. Such thinkers are interested in bringing holistic order to the entire society – and thus supports a kind of holistic hierarchy, or holarchy.

This is but a brief outline of how the different forms of thinking evolved. For further discussion of these ideas, you might also be interested in a piece I wrote on it for The Freeman. I think if we come to understand how different forms of thinking emerge, we can stop speaking at cross-purposes to each other. The lower levels are all necessary parts of our thinking, and each level is needed to help us develop a more complex and just society. But conservatives, libertarians, and liberals won’t be able to do it. That is up to the integrationist and holistic thinkers, whose thinking is more complex, and who understand the value of each of the different levels.

The Ruiners of Mankind

“all the means by which one has so far attempted to make mankind moral were through and through immoral.” — Nietzsche, TI

In The Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche warned us against the “improvers of mankind,” that such people never in fact sought to improve a thing, but rather sought to weaken mankind. Why weaken mankind? Because, fundamentally, the “improvers of mankind” hate all of mankind. If they didn’t why would they want to “improve” us?

The racists on the Right want to “improve” us through breeding. They imagine that it is their race which is the superior one which ought to be selected for, but if we are to be honest, this is really an argument for incest, ultimately. The Hapsburgs thought themselves too elite to marry outside their own family–the result being disfigurement and genetic disease. Purebred dogs are much more prone to health issues, while mutts are typically healthier and better-tempered. Those who would prefer one group of humans to another think mankind would be thus improved by breeding more of the preferred group over the unpreferred group(s)—if you think this in any way, shape, or form, you’re a racist (whether you’re on the Left or Right).

The postmodern multiculturalist Leftist version is the position that European culture is the bane of the world, and it needs to be completely destroyed in favor literally all other cultures. Of course, inverting the Right-wing racist position isn’t any sort of actual improvement on anything, since it’s really the same thing. Declaring one race superior to another, regardless of what race is considered inferior, is racist, just like declaring men superior to women or women superior to men is sexist.

Indeed, if you would “improve” women by making them more like men, you are sexist. And if you would “improve” men by making them more like women, you are sexist. Do you want to “improve” homosexuals by making them heterosexual? You’re homophobic.

But do we then need people to “improve” the racists, sexists, and homophobes? Those improvers—those who would impose such improvement on everyone—are little better in their bigotry against people as they are. Does that mean we shouldn’t try to improve mankind? Absolutely. Does that mean mankind cannot improve? Absolutely not. While those who tried to push acceptance of homosexuality primarily put homophobes on the defensive and retrenched their positions, T.V. shows like Ellen and Will & Grace actually caused people’s minds to change and, as a result, the American culture to change. Attempts at shaming people failed and backfired, while artistic representations, fun and entertaining popular stories, succeeded.

We do not need improvers of mankind. We do not need socialists, we do not need fascists, we do not need racists, and we do not need sexists out there trying to improve us. They each and every one want to reform us, improve us, change us because they hate us—they hate human beings as such, qua human beings. They hate human beings for being human. Why should we listen to such people? Would you take advice from someone who hated you?

Beauty and Culture

This is a blog about cultural change, about cultural renewal, about beauty. I am a radical for free markets, a radical for natural classicism in the arts, a radical for freedom of speech, a radical for the various gift economies, and an opponent of oppression, totalitarianism, envy, and misanthropy. I am a radical for beauty–beauty as defined by Francis Hutcheson–unity in variety and variety in unity.

But we will talk about beauty a great deal more in this blog. Indeed, it may be all we ever talk about, even when I don’t use the term.

The current culture is postmodernist–the avant garde institutionalized primarily in our universities–and is fundamentally elitist. This culture is falling apart as we speak. It’s disintegrating in a civil war of social justice warriors trying to out-victim each other. Comedians refuse to perform at our universities because the students get offended and outraged rather than laugh at their own foibles. There are increasing calls for censorship from the left. And the primary response to all of this has come from a phenomenon known as the alt.right, a resurgence of national socialism and explicit racism.

I am opposed to both of these movements.

The choice does not have to be left illiberalism or right illiberalism. It doesn’t have to be so-called neo-liberalism, either. We don’t have to have some mixed-bag third way that is a deformed mixture of liberal and illiberal views. We don’t have to choose between radical individualism and collectivism. We do not have to choose between idealism and realism.

We do not have to choose dualism. We can recognize that humans are always already social and do not have to be forced to be social, do not have to undergo radical change to be social. We can recognize that humans are individuated through their social interactions, and are more individuated the more complex the society. We can recognize that humans become most fully human, most fully social, most fully individuated, most fully moral only when they are most fully free. And that in addition to all of these things, liberty will also make people more healthy, wealthy, and wise, to boot.

These are the things this blog will be about.