My last series of posts dwelled on "the meaning of art", "the great Modernist bungle" and how scientific visualizations came to surpass visual artists' productions in their role at depicting the views of the men of knowledge of the day about what reality is all about.
Before jumping in the fray of contemporary art creation and what it entails to be a real artist, that means an artist who will be remembered by future generations, I feel I still have to make a detour to visit the differentiation between worldviews and propaganda and the working of societal evolution.
In my understanding art is "the depiction by visual artists, of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day, for all to share in order to facilitate the strengthening of societal cohesion". What jumps out in this condensed description is this idea of worldviews that artists along 99.9% of humanity's time span illustrated at the attention of their fellow citizens: animism under tens of thousands of years of tribal societies, religions and/or philosophies since the down of early kingdoms till Modernity peaked with the start of "High-Modernity" around 1900. In this view art is the media of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day that is intended for society to gain higher levels of cohesion to ensure their reproduction. Such a view gives art a specific societal functionality which helps humanity going from change to change, growing and evolving, and most importantly helping humanity surviving and thriving.
Much of the material in this post comes from a book I'm presently writing titled "From Modernity to 'After-Modernity' ". In summary my reasoning is based on 3 defining clusters of ideas. :
- polarism over dualism
- humanity's existence as the outcome of the vital dance of its polarities
- evolution: biological evolution is being expanded and accelerated by societal evolution and its cultural memes.
1. Humanity, as an entity or an ensemble, is resulting from the dance between its 2 polarities: the individuals and societies.
In our Western dualistic view, that was theorized by Aristotle and adopted by Christianity there after, each entity is composed of two opposites that fight it out till the extermination of "the other". I'll pass the aspect of violence that is implied in such a view to concentrate on how it shapes an understanding of reality that must recourse to an outside vital principle or force that makes sense of beginning and outcome. In other words killing the other contains nothing significant about how reality operates. This principle does not allow to understand how change operates and time is thus not allowed to emerge in the consciousness of the atoms or the larger bodies they are particles of.
The Greeks did not understand that opposites are in fact polarities of a same reality in flux. Thus they were led to think that opposites are absolutes that have as function to destroy each other. They could not accede to this idea that a situation starting as one opposite (polarity) could possibly be transforming into the other opposite (polarity). They were at a loss with the abstract principle of change and thus had to refer to something different. So they came up with an explanation laying outside of the duality and invented the idea of a "substantiation" of the opposites into matter (hupomenei). Hupomenei could than be changed into a process (metabole). In other words the Greek thought that inanimate matter could change into its opposite. an animated metabolism, for the good reason that both were present and had only to substitute for each other. But this implies an outside active force that puts the metabolism in motion; a force that unleashes the process of change or the metabole?
Their concept of metabole reaches motion out of a state of inertia in matter, so to change a state of inertia and reach the state of metabole, the Greek philosophers needed to invent an external acting motor and energy (kinoun). Change is then the result of an outside cause and causality is thus established as the philosophical model. But this idea of an outside cause putting change into motion led automatically to questioning what is the cause of the causality. In other words, an absolute final cause had to be found to stop the inescapable intellectual quest for always further causes.
Aristotle holds it as an axiom that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes and effects or movers and the moved. So he submits that the logical starting point of infinite change must be an unchanging substance that is causing change but not being subject to change itself. Arriving at that point of his argument, Aristotle and in his footsteps all Western philosophers of Christianity had only one recourse and this was to invent an “ultimate mover” who they labelled God. As the ultimate mover God then is attributed the role of creator of the original life cycle. In this vision life does not emerge it is created.
For the Chinese, reality is viewed as the flow from YIN TO YANG and vice-versa. But YIN and YANG, as the general principles of any opposition, are better understood as being the opposite poles of a same reality. Black and white being the poles of the line of colours (black = no colours and white = all colours). Good and bad being the poles of the line of judgement (good = all that is desired and bad = all that is rejected). In this understanding, opposite poles of a same reality are not exclusive of one another, they are thought of as specific moments in the shaping of a given reality and thus between those extreme poles lies the greater part of the substance of this reality. So it would be better to speak about polarities than about opposites in the Chinese understanding of what shapes reality.
For the Chinese, the flow from YIN to YANG, or from one polarity to the other, is powered by the perpetual burst of energy that is unleashed by the competitive interactions between those polarities. This gives the Chinese to conceive of change as spontaneous emergence of order within the whole of reality that is perceived as random-like simply because it is out of the reach of our comprehension. That emergence of order through change powered by the interactions between polarities is what in the last instance auto-regulates the principle of reality. There is a recognition here that because "the whole of reality" is unattainable to us humans we can not possibly detect its grand order and meaning and we are thus being fooled to think that what we observe is merely randomness. What's remarkable is how the Chinese notion of change transforms an initial perception of randomness into a perception of an ordering action. It has to be noted here that the Chinese concept of change is absolutely indifferent to the idea of a good or bad evolutionary direction which stands in stark contrast with Christian and western dualism that strive to contain change in the direction of what they perceive as being good for themselves.
Now from observation and knowledge accumulation we induce that the principle of life has been conditioned since its early start by the need to go further and to stretch the limits in order to ensure not only its preservation and its reproduction but also to reach a higher level of complexity and of consciousness about the whole in which that consciousness operates. Once a reproducible organism emerges it will interact with its environment which at times can have an impact on its duplicating structure that transcends the structure’s lifespan throughout its successive generations. To survive such environmental assaults the organism develops an adaptation strategy in order to integrate those environmentally caused mutations into its own order or adapts itself to the order contained in the environmentally caused mutation. That fundamentally means that an organism becomes biologically conscious if its systems acquire and display knowledge of their perceived environment and act on that knowledge for self-preservation. Such a strategy implies the deployment of ever increased levels of self-consciousness as a necessity to being able to respond to ever increasing levels of environmental assaults. This mechanism of increasing levels of self-consciousness gradually shapes the path from a biological consciousness to an individual and societal consciousness.
Life development and growth results from the interaction between the tactical principle of competitive growth and the strategic urge for more complexity in the form of a higher level of consciousness. The interaction between the tactical principle of competitive growth and the strategic urge for more complexity acts as a booster on the total level of complexity of life systems:
- the structure and code of the individual's internal body.
- the economic, political, social and cultural societal systems of the specie.
- the interactions of the species with all other species and particles in its environment.
- the consciousness of the individuals about the 3 preceding and also about how they fit in the whole.
This brings us to conceive of the emergence and development of life as a process of evolution starting with the biological and later extending in an accelerating fashion to the societal. In biological evolution natural selection is acting, very slowly, on the code of life (DNA, RNA and genes). In societal evolution natural selection is acting, very fast, on culture (daily culture as an "add-on" to worldviews).
2. To ensure their reproduction societies strive to enhance their internal cohesion.
In the present age of uber-individualism this sentence might appear non-sensical to most of my readers. "what? As if societies had a thought of their own..." I already hear the critiques! But this nevertheless reflects a deep natural reality. For one, individuals have no chance to survive out of the bounds of their societies. This is a truism is it not? But we seem nevertheless to have forgotten about the implications of this truism. We individuals just can't survive without the servicing, or the framing of how servicing operates, so that our vital needs are satisfied. Secondly, societies devise indeed mechanisms that ensure the maximization of their chances to reproduce. How does that work?
In biological evolution natural selection sorts one winning working proposition among a range of available genetic possibilities and so it drives forward the biological evolution of a species. In societal evolution natural selection sorts one winning working proposition among a range of available cultural possibilities and so it drives forward the evolution of a society. Driving forward relates to drive forward in time and does in no case imply that the drive forward is always for the better. Often the drive forward in time witnesses fall-backs or regressions for the species.
Natural selection of new cultural possibilities results from the balancing of the polarities of humanity:
- the individuals.
- their society.
Societies resist change. They are forcing the conservation of what is already there. In contrast the individuals are geared more by an urge for change that conflicts with the societal urge for conservation.
The citizens act like the atoms of their societies that assemble in the molecular form of families, groups, associations and clusters of such molecules. The images here-under summarize the societal evolutionary model I'm writing about in a new book to be published within the next few years.
As mentioned here above an organism is conscious when the structure of its ensemble of systems, in one fashion or another, let's it acquire and display knowledge about its perceived environment and act on that knowledge to preserve its existence. This means, that contrary to what was believed until recently, all life forms are conscious. Indeed the process of emergence of a species impresses on it the necessity to survive which can only be accomplished through the collection of operational knowledge from its environment in order to act for self-preservation. Knowledge-information about a species' environment in order to act for self-preservation is the earliest stage of consciousness. It's the primary consciousness of all life forms.
It is in this sense that I hypothesize a societal consciousness that only wise men, or men of knowledge, have access to. Such a consciousness gives those men of knowledge the necessary material to conceive of a worldview to be shared by their fellow citizens. The 32 polarity-play variables that I write about constitute such a material.
3. Societal evolution leads us on the road to "After-Modernity", whatever that may be!
Once a society emerges as a grouping of individuals it evolves its own individual entity preoccupied with its own reproduction. That entity will then devise strategies to glue the spirit of the individual atoms in a shared worldview. The shared belief in such a worldview is indeed what ensures the maintenance of social and societal stability and it could very well be that this is a general law of societies not limited to the human species. Growing up every child has incessant questions for his parents and teachers and those questions will keep coming and being asked over and over till a believable answer is offered. All individual atoms invariably ask the same kind of existential questions the world over and not only the children also the adults. Here follows a non-exhaustive list of such questions:
- where do we come from?
- what is it we are a part of?
- Who created all that?
Those existential questions express an inner need to understand REALITY. But the deeper science succeeds to dig in reality the farther away the big picture of it seems to evade. Ancient philosophies taught us that reality is a mirage and that its nature would keep escaping us. For a long time the scientific method was presented as a search for reality that would be fulfilled sometime in the future. Thinking about it, through the application of simple logic, we see the fallacy of the proposition, for, the future would always need to be pushed further in order to dig always deeper in the infinitesimal and the infinite. As Albert Einstein asked "What does the fish know about the water in which it swims?". We are thus stuck in a quandary. On one side we know that the big picture of reality does really escape us and this means that we’ll never, at least by ourselves, be able to know what is the whole. On another side our minds are thirsty and hungry for a believable explanation that we could be sharing with our family, our friends, and all those with whom we interact. The sharing of a common understanding about the whole and other vital questions acts as an appeaser. It comforts us in the sense that it bestows on us a feeling of belonging to a group which quietens our fright of being alone to face the unknown. This question is most often ignored. But it is nevertheless an essential component of the health of societies and it explains also why, to the puzzlement of hardcore rationalists, there is a near universal return to religious beliefs in Late-Modernity when all certainties seem to be vanishing. Science tries to explain people’s daily lives within their societies and the whole at narrow levels of speciality. But science does not offer grand visions about what reality is all about that could appease the quest of the individuals for believable answers that they could share with their loved ones and their friends. This is where science fails as a worldview.
In a globalizing environment that is divided along the lines of civilizations and worldviews we have first and foremost to understand why and how from one civilization to the other we understand and value things so differently not only in the realm of the social sciences but also in the realm of the hard sciences. I posit that our ideas and values are being “formatted” along the lines of our “core-worldviews” that are acting as our operating systems. Core-worldviews are the axioms on which civilizations have been built and as such they are the unconscious ideation framework upon which the momentary present cultural differentiations of attitudes, values and ideas are building up, as cultural add-ons, to our present worldview.
So it appears to me that various factors are colliding upon one another:
- the need of a grouping for the individual to survive
- the need for societies to glue the individual atoms in sharing a common worldview in order to foster the necessary levels of societal cohesion to ensure the reproduction of that society
- the need for individuals to be offered believable answers to their existential questions that they can share with the group to find peace of mind.
- the quandary of an unattainable reality colliding upon the deeply held preconceptions inscribed in our core-worldviews, or the axioms of our civilization, that is translated in the awe for the mystery of that unattainable that is an integral part of all worldviews anywhere around the world and at any time in the history of humanity.
From the un-attainability of the whole of reality we can unmistakably conclude that the answers given by societies to their individual atoms can be no more than fictional foundational narratives. But the sharing of such fictional stories is nevertheless the societal glue that allows those societies to reproduce themselves over time. When the fictional societal stories dissolve the individual atoms in need of the security and comfort of sharing believable answers will feel drawn to re-tribalize around new shared beliefs but doing so they will also fragment their societies which will thus experience melting cohesion until they eventually collapse if they did not prior to that succeed to affirm their existing worldview or another newer one. This is exactly where advanced industrial societies are stranded today in late modernity and the same can be said of societies like China where the extreme speed of changes is dislocating all past certainties and driving the individuals into a deep fog of uncertainty that drives them into craziness.
People’s reactions to fragmentation and loss of certainties is to flock to past established worldviews. People flock to past worldviews for the good reason that those are the only ones known to be available and, force is to admit that, they still succeed in supplying the individual with some peace of mind. But such past worldviews are nevertheless societally ineffective for the good reason that they had fallen out of favour much earlier due to their in-adaptation to new societal realities.
Only a worldview adapted to our present realities is going to be societally effective. By adapted to our present realities I mean that a contemporary worldview has to integrate the bits and pieces of knowledge available to humanity in our present time and more particularly the body of knowings accumulated by scientists. Any worldview asking late-modern individuals to abandon those knowings instantly marginalizes itself. That's also why past worldviews are mal-adapted to late-modernity. Conscious individuals should thus concentrate their efforts assembling the elements of such an effective worldview and artists should shape visual signs of those elements for all to share.
Seen the mounting side-effects of modernity we have to conclude, from a purely societal evolutionary perspective, that humanity is in deep trouble in Late-Modernity.
Propaganda is definitely something less complex than worldviews. In term of time it is limited to the present or better the contemporary or even better the culture in contemporary times.
I wrote earlier that "Core-worldviews are the axioms on which civilizations have been built and as such they are the unconscious ideation framework upon which the momentary present cultural differentiations of attitudes, values and ideas are building up, as cultural add-ons, to our present worldview". Daily ways of life, also called culture, produce their particularities that are registered as cultural add-ons that superpose over the societal worldview thus possibly differentiating, over time, the character of societies within a same civilization.
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 that form the walls and the roof of the house then culture is like the paint, or tiles, used to dress the house.
Some initial points of differentiation between worldviews and propaganda:
- we have seen that worldviews are general belief systems that transmit over the very long haul of time. In contrast propaganda is limited to what happens, in term of culture, in the present, the contemporary.
- worldviews are belief systems that give a general interpretation about what reality is all about. Propaganda, on the other hand, is a belief system that gives an interpretation about the working of societies in the present.
- worldviews are being used by the powers that be but the same worldview is also simultaneously used by that power's competitors, its opposition while each the powers that be and their opposition have their own distinctive propaganda systems.
- worldviews are elaborated by men of knowledge while propaganda is elaborated by men of power and their technicians. In other words propaganda is a tool of politics to keep the powers that be at the helm of the decision making process in the present while worldviews are the tactical societal principle devised to ensure sufficient levels of societal cohesion to satisfy the ultimate societal strategy that consists at reproducing itself.
Propaganda is the sum of theories, beliefs, adhered to by the different actors fighting it out among themselves to access the levers of state powers or any other institution. Once an actor arises to power he then tries to reinforce the adherence of all to its propaganda system of belief in order to consolidate its grip on the levers of decision making.
Using modern examples we see that anarchists, communists, socialists, social-democrats, ecologists, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, all have their own distinctive propaganda systems while all of them adhere to the same modern worldview.
ART VERSUS ADVERTISEMENT.
Advertisement is the depiction by publicists, of propaganda and the image of those offering that propaganda, to influence the adherence of citizens to the belief system of those forces that strive for power or that exercise power in the present. Let's remember that, in the confusion of modernity, what was presented as art was also used as a propaganda instrument by the US to project its ideal of freedom while the communists used their artists as publicists of their propaganda. Advertisement is also the depiction by publicists, of the commodities for sale on the market, at the attention of citizens consumers.
While we are at it I will add that art is too often mistaken nowadays for a decoration commodity upon which financiers eventually speculate in the hope to make fortunes. Let's note also that graphical techniques used in advertisement or publicity are also often mistakenly been presented as art.
As I wrote higher art "is the depiction by visual artists, of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day, for all to share in order to facilitate the strengthening of societal cohesion". Such a function is all too important, for us, to continue to accept the confusion that is been entertained so widely nowadays between advertisement, publicity, decoration on one side and art on the other. But sometimes I doubt, that in the age of Twitter, it makes any difference if we try to make sense of that confusion or if we just do nothing.