Writing and painting are complementary to me; thinking about what is reality, writing about that thinking, and painting with all that in mind. My painting is thus like an extension of that thinking and writing. I feel that painting helps me to clarify my ideas and project a deeper and richer meaning. While in my thinking I delve into something I’m conscious about my painting is more like a subconscious exploration that expands that thinking in areas unknown which at times brings me in startling places.
...a work in progress. Each panel is a standalone painting of 60 x 90 cm (23.5" x 35.5"). For more about it check here.
The subconscious sets our minds free from all the stop signs to knowledge that we have accumulated along the path of our socialization, societal conditioning, and personal self re-enforcement. The subconscious lets us see out of that box and discover dimensions of reality that are hidden to our conscious selves.
Thinking to me relates preponderantly to 4 things:
1. refining and clarifying the concepts relating to reality
2. understanding how we as a species fit in the whole of that reality
3. understanding how the principle of life organizes itself to survive reproduce and thrive at ever higher levels of complexity (biological evolution)
4. understanding how we as a specie organize to survive reproduce and thrive at ever higher levels of complexity (societal evolution).
I'm very well aware that my thinking does not really relate to the knowledge of an absolute truth but rather to the knowledge about how the narrative of our worldviews interprets reality while imposing that interpretation as the absolute truth. But the real truth about how the whole of reality operates is largely inaccessible to humanity. That's the basic reason why we are left to devise and share worldviews that merely give an interpretation about how we perceive that unattainable truth and as such our worldviews are not set in stone. Their form evolves at the whims of our culture.
History suggests that societies can't do without sharing such interpretation narratives for the good reason that without such sharing by the societal atoms societal ensembles collapse. Now it appears that Western Late-Modernity seems to contradicts that historical principle. But does it really? Or is the absence of sharing a worldview in Western Late-Modernity merely a symptom of its sickness? My conclusion is that Late-Modernity is the dieing phase of Modernity. This is not the end of the world. It is the ending of one historical era that announces the emergence of a new era. In other words old modernity dies leaving the space to the young new era of what comes after Modernity. Old yang gives way to young yin. Life continues.
In this series of posts I'll be writing about humanity's interpretations of how we fit in the whole of reality and its interpretations about how we as a specie organize to survive reproduce and thrive at ever higher levels of complexity (societal evolution). From those narratives I'll then try to project what I think is and will be coming our way with intensifying intensity.
1. About concepts.
Words, among other, are used to signify concepts but words are used so diversely and wildly nowadays that a same word can sometimes come to mean radically different things to different people. So I feel it is necessary before I plunge into the subject of my writing to clarify some words that occupy a central place in my thinking while refining the concepts they tag.
Civilizations have been building up gradually following the emergence of agriculture. This unleashed social differentiations between the citizens fostered by the set-up of ever expanding societal institutions from early kingdoms to empires. The convergence and interactions between the following emerging phenomena:
From a long history perspective it appears that kingdoms and empires stabilized after having gained cultural homogeneity. In other words it took the gluing of the minds of the citizens behind a common narrative about the working of reality for the institutions of kingdoms and empires to stabilize and survive. That process was set in motion in 2 steps:
1. in a first step the "theoretical" foundations of such a narrative had to be laid down by the men of knowledge and be accepted by the men of power. In other words a civilization starts by positing its foundational truths into what I call its "axioms of civilization”. In the East such foundational truths are derived from the animistic body of knowledge that had been accumulated over the past tens of thousands of years in tribal societies and transmitted to their men of knowledge from one generation to the next. It is thus no surprise that those same animist men of knowledge were co-opted by early kings and emperors as their own men of knowledge. In the Middle-East things nevertheless turned out rather differently. The animistic body of knowledge was discarded, eradicated often brutally, to let place for new stories that eventually got the seal of approval of philosophers or early scientists. This differentiation between East and West in the formation of their civilizational axioms shaped radically different paths for thinking about life and reality and explains the difficulties we continue to experience at understanding each other till this very day.
2. From such axiomatic foundations member societies then build up their civilizational houses and histories based upon:
When we speak about a civilization it relates to the interactions, during the entirety of its history, between its axioms, its societal worldview, and its living culture. Such interactions are the reason why civilizations can end up regrouping different societies with their own proper, differentiated, worldviews and cultures (China, Korea and Japan for example or France, Germany, Italy, Britain, US and so on).
1.2. The axioms of civilizations.
The term "axiom" comes from the Greek “axioun” or "judged as being valid and respectable". In other words an axiom is an indemonstrable, unverifiable, “truth” that is considered evident by whoever understands its meaning. In that sense an axiom is accepted by everybody without any discussion and then becomes the base from which logical conclusions are being drawn.
The unification of tribes into early kingdoms, as a consequence of the societal destabilization brought about by the growth of tribal populations that followed the emergence of agriculture, confronts chiefs and kings with the vexing question of how to keep the control over their newly assembled domain. Armies moving on foot (human or horse) need time to reach their destination and the larger the territory of the newly assembled domain the more time was needed by its armies to reach and quell spots of instability. The risks of territorial separation and overthrow were thus very high indeed. A multitude of early kingdoms emerged but only very few lasted (see Arnold Toynbee). The successful ones were those that had devised strategies based on gluing the minds of their citizens in a shared understanding of reality which complemented the force of their armies by maintaining high levels of societal cohesion that acted like a force of inertia.
Those early kingdoms that were successful at reproducing themselves over time were left to compete with other successful ones in furthering the game of expansion leading to empires. That game was paralleled by vigorous philosophic debates among men of knowledge or scholars about the nature of reality and the working of society. By the time a king became emperor those philosophic debates had already frozen different packs of general ideas that would form the foundational understanding, or the axioms, of the empire and its civilization. During the unification of their empires leaders generally chose one set of such ideas, or depending upon the circumstances, were imposed such a set and made it the obliged reference within the boundaries of their territory. Those ideas I call the “axioms of civilizations”. They were transmitted from generation to generation as the non negotiable foundations or building blocks of their civilizational house and all present and future theories and philosophies were then laid down like the bricks of a wall on top of those foundations. Once posited such civilizational axioms everywhere have been accepted by all without further discussion and, as with mathematical axioms, they form the unquestioned substrate from which are derived all later logical conclusions. Once established those axioms of civilization are soon forgotten by the conscious memory and then reside nearly exclusively in the individual atoms' subconscious which is the reason why so few people are aware that they exist at all.
From their given axioms the member societies of a civilization evolved further worldviews. Worldviews are like grand narratives built upon initially accepted axioms. They act like psychic glues that bind the minds of their citizens around a same set of general ideas about reality and are then affirming the necessary societal cohesion that ensures the reproduction of their societies. Worldviews give the general ideation framework defining a people's understanding of itself and the reality in which this understanding operates (in the West religion and later modernity, in the East Buddhist and Taoist philosophy followed by a recent entry into modernity). By gluing the minds of the citizens of any given society, around a shared understanding of themselves their environment and the whole of reality, worldviews are strengthening the cohesion of their societies and thus helping to ensure that these societies reproduce into the future which is paramount for the species to survive. Societies act like the soil wherein citizens find the means to produce their lives, eventually thrive, and hopefully reproduce. Take away societies and the individuals very fast cease to exist. That basic principle of life has unfortunately largely been lost in Western Late-Modernity and this is liquefying the cohesion of these societies to the point that we now can speak of societies that have atomized. The bonding of atoms in their societal molecules has been dissolved and as a consequence societies have lost the capacity to act as coherent ensembles or entities and as a direct result the great problems of the day can't be solved any longer.
We know from a long history perspective that civilizations have transitioned from an initial "intellectual" worldview then have expanded into the belief systems of the religions of the word or Tao and Buddhist philosophies that later were superseded or in competition with modernity.
Modernity is the worldview that emerged as a consequence of the conversion of money into capital during Western Europe's early phase of commercial capitalism powered by long distance trade. Along the following centuries capital succeeded to impose its “reason” to all who came in contact with it and this gradually gave rise to capitalism as the new economic form and to rationalism as the utilitarian philosophic system of that worldview.
Culture in its broad definition relates to the ensemble of all present beliefs and doings of a society's citizens. This necessarily includes all economic, social and, cultural forms taken by their daily behavior. Culture is not static. It evolves and some elements of this evolution eventually solidify and are then integrated as add-ons or extensions to worldviews. At a certain threshold of installed cultural add-ons and extensions the worldview starts to change. But those cultural add-ons are not a threat to the worldview. On the contrary they are smoothing the worldview in the eyes of the citizens by adapting its form to changing times.
Daily ways of life produce their particularities that are registered as cultural behaviors that deposit like a present layer over the societal worldviews and are thus expressing and differentiating the character of societies. If the “axioms of civilizations” can be considered as the foundations of the civilizational house and the worldviews are the bricks stacked on top of those foundations and the wooden beams that form the walls and the roof of the house then culture is like the paint, and the tiles, used to dress the walls and roof of that house.
1.4.1. Dead culture: The past ways of living of societies and their people are gone replaced by the present ways and thus this idea of dead culture. Past ways are nevertheless infecting the present ways through memory and or eventually a voluntary return to its sources in the present as in China nowadays.
1.4.2. Living culture: The ways of living and doing of societies and their people in the present. This view of culture in the largest sense encompasses the economic and social forms of a society as well as its cultural attributes. Societal evolution or the changes in the culture of a society are then attributed - or to individual innovation (technology) - or more generally to the arbitration of individual and societal interests - or to the weight of outside factors.
It is the second worldview on the civilizational evolutionary path. It followed the initial religious or philosophic age. When we think about the “long history” as including what comes before civilization we get a history made of 3 types of worldviews:
From its emergence until today modernity passed through 3 phases of development:
1.5.1. Early modernity: The long distance trade in luxuries that emerged, during the crusades from the contact of the Western aristocracy with more advanced Middle-Eastern societies, gave rise to modernity in its early stages. European merchants soon discovered that the money or gold they used to finance the purchase and transport of goods over long distances injected a level of risk and of complexity that they never had observed earlier in exchanges within the short distances of Western European markets. The sanction of long distance trade was often the loss of their money or gold and so they discovered that they had to submit to the logic at work in the money they invested that soon came to be known as capital. So the fear of loss gave rise to submission to the functional rationality at work within the reason of capital. For the merchants it was capital not to lose the money invested in long distance trade and they soon baptized that invested money under the name "capital" (from the Latin capitalis "of the head").
1.5.2. High modernity: Over the centuries it became evident for more and more Europeans that the submission to the reason at work in capital was the reason the merchants became rich and powerful. This is how the functional reason of capital was finally integrated by the intellectuals in their discourses and their methods. Rationalism was born that would inspire the scientific method and generate the ideas and technical innovation that would soon power the industrial revolution. With the industrial revolution the market that had been until then a market for luxury goods at the attention of European aristocracies (commercial capitalism) transforms into a mass market for commodities at the attention of all (industrial capitalism). The massification of the offer of products necessitated free individuals who could pick among the "offer" the products of their choice. Soon economic freeing was followed by demands for the political freedom to chose the political decision makers in society. Sheer societal pressure ultimately imposed a form of "representative democracy" that left the owners of capital in control of the institutions of power. It was no accident that "participatory" or real democracy was never given a chance. It conflicted too much with the interests of the establishment of the day.
1.5.3. Late modernity: After displacing the citizens, from economic autonomy largely in the countryside, into dependency on consumption largely in cities (period of high economic growth rates) industrialization has been observed to mature into largely urban service economies characterized by stagnating rates of economic growth. But being always in search of higher rates of profits Western capital holders derived a set of concomitant strategies:
- first the expansion of the reach of capital, from within their national borders, to the whole world (globalization)
- the knitting of obscure financial shenanigans (financialization) that would allow a continued expansion of consumption through higher indebtedness while simultaneously investing in research and development of new technologies; a strategy that was thought would make the industrializing captives of the industrialized.
- the globalization of the reach of capital succeeded to break down all mechanisms of social bargaining and after a few decades of consumption financed through debt the West has seen the inexorable income contraction of all working people while big capital holders were reaping the near totality of benefits accrued through gains in productivity. This inexorably contracted national demand then froze the possibility of any further economic growth. Because capital holders were reserving for themselves all the benefits from increased productivity, while prices for the necessary daily use goods were inflating, the middle-classes melted away and poverty levels skyrocketed.
The emergence of such a particular environment is unique in human history. It is part of the great world rebalancing that followed the integration to the industrial train of all countries and societies around the world. That countries want it or that they refuse it changes nothing to this reality. The power of "bling" agitated in front of citizens' eyes worldwide unleashes indeed an irresistible urge of want that creates the need for always higher levels of economic growth to satisfy that increasing want. Late Modernity acts like a bulldozer. Nothing can resist it. Most countries welcome it but a minority refuses it. Being bullied in a corner by Western bureaucrats, soldiers and their masters the big capital holders, this minority has nothing to lose and recourses to terror. Meanwhile, having been anesthetized during the last decades by the supply of cheap productions from the South while being numbed by PR and servile media, people in industrialized countries gradually observed the irresistible rise of the majority of the world population into dependence upon consumption and the economic might this comes to represent and, to say the least, they are not happy.
The outcome of those capitalistic strategies now converges with the negative side-effects of Modernity like climate change, peak energy and resources, acidification of the oceans, a mass extinction of living species that starts to look like one of the worst mass extinctions the earth ever witnessed, and so on and on. Each of those crises separately has the potential to bring down our economies and societies. Their convergence and interactions assure that humanity is entering a period of hyper disorder and the extremely complex and fragile systems of our societies are at risk of collapse which begs the question "shall humanity survive this tsunami". Only the future has the answer to that question.
Peoples' consciousness seems to be awakening to the side-effects and consequences of modernity. But faced with the gravity of such an unforeseen reality all life certainties seem to be evaporating. In this maelstrom the first signs of what comes after modernity are starting to sprout but our tantalizing search for what is really going on is being dwarfed by the speed of change and the cacophony of the noise machine. The air of our times is one of total confusion.
The word “post-modernity” has been set to marinate at all kinds of ideological sauces and its meaning is diverging far apart nowadays. While having used it in my book “Artsense”, published in 2004, I feel that for the sake of clarity it is time for me to discard it in favor of the words “what comes after modernity” or "After-Modernity". What comes after modernity is a third civilizational evolutionary age, or a historical evolutionary age that brings about humanity's 4th historical worldview, whose first roots are presently starting to emerge.
That fourth historical and societal evolutionary age brings about a new paradigm of societal reality that unmistakably will regrow societal cohesiveness through the sharing of a worldview which, unfortunately for us, will only become recognizable long after its maturation. This is why I simply call this new historical era “After-Modernity”. But what already strikes me is that the new paradigm of “After-Modernity” is bound, it seems to me, to be adopted:
The superseding of modernity by what comes after modernity is bound to be more than a paradigmatic shift of our societal worldviews. It is going to drastically shrink world population levels within a relatively short timespan and the radical shock this will provoke is necessarily going to awaken us to the necessity to invent radical new ways of living. This is going to affect the axioms of our civilizations, destroy our present worldviews and revolutionize our cultures around the world.
While we have no way to know in advance how "After-Modernity" is going to turn out we nevertheless can already observe some first visible signs:
The real artist, as a late-modern shaman, trains his mind to recognize those patterns in the lines, forms, colors, sounds, smells, and so on... on his canvas, music sheet, or in his life. When he masters that art on the canvas, or the music sheet or in his life, he is able to distinguish those patterns at work in the reality around him. This is what gives real artists and sages that ability to smell the active principles in the air of their times way before their fellow citizens. That ability has been recognized historically as the wisdom of the sage.
1.7. The arts.
The content of the grand narratives elaborated by the men of knowledge (sages) were never easily transmissible through words to largely illiterate citizens and the arts soon appeared as a potent instrument for sharing those narratives with all. So ensued the societal functionality of visual arts, music and dance that has been prevalent in all human societies along the entirety of their history albeit for the last one hundred years or so which is an aberration that societal evolution shall correct in no time. On the scale of the long history this aberration shall represent no more than a dot on a very long line.
Painting being one of my activities I'll concentrate my argument here principally on visual arts.
Over time vision developed as the mammal species' most important sensor. It allows the instantaneous communication to the brain of information about any threat or potential threat in our near environment. The brain rapidly computes a response so that the individual can act in order to preserve his life and integrity. This coordination between vision and brain was evolutionarily refined over millions of years and having taken such an important function in human life vision very naturally became the tool by excellence in the sharing of worldviews with all the individuals among any given human society. Visual arts have always been and remain in charge of instilling the visions, ideas and concepts, of worldviews in the minds of the citizens. Only the fog of late-modern confusion succeeded to hide this truth from us. In light of this I posit that the mission of contemporary visual artists in Late-Modernity and Early After-Modernity is to give visual signs of the emergent values and ideas that will shape the grand narrative of the worldview that eventually will mature in the coming historical period that I call "After-Modernity". In the eyes of citizens living in the future only those present works that successfully depict and explain to them, however naively, how "After-Modernity" came about shall be retained for posterity.
A new post is added to this series every Thursday morning.
I installed DISQUS the n#1 commenting platform. It allows to insert links, pictures and videos to your comments and you can also subscribe to receive updates to the thread. Comments are open after registration.
You can help me to refine my thinking by sharing your critiques and comments. You can also debate with your friends.
This is an open forum but I reserve the right to delete comments that contain: