In last week's post we saw how power and the authority that accompanies it overwhelmed societal life. In this post I will try to outline how power imposed its stamp on all other considerations.
2.8. The myth of progress.
It is generally considered today that the introduction of agriculture has been an undeniable progress. The idea behind that belief is that agriculture unleashed higher production levels that caused an increase of population that then destabilized tribal societies and opened the path to a superior organizational model of hierarchical power. The common held belief is that this was something highly positive for humanity.
But recent anthropological studies have been deflating that commonly held belief. It apparently was no more than a myth. A myth that power kept alive to justify its own existence.
Natural Selection and the Evolution of Life Expectancy by Oded Galor and Omer Moav
Longevity & health in ancient Paleolithic vs. Neolithic peoples. Not what you may have been told by Ward Nicholson
Longevity Among Hunter-Gatherers: A Cross-Cultural Examination by Michael Gurven Hillard Kaplan
The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race by Jared Diamond
The emergence of agriculture has not been realized from one day to the other. It spread over a few thousands years as a process of economic adaptation to a changing climate that was warming and melting ice sheets. So the negativity engendered by agriculture was spread over long periods of time and nobody had thus the possibility to observe the unfolding of the whole process of deteriorating life conditions. The acceptance of such contradictions is only explicable by the long time-span over which the process of an emerging 'agriculture-power' dual path had been spreading. In other words the length of the path and the internalization of change one small step after another occulted the reality of what was really going on. So it is most probable that this deterioration of life conditions never entered the consciousness of early agriculturalists. The same mechanism most probably explains how the passage from equality to hierarchical divisions and the reign of authority was internalized and accepted by all.
In his Discover Magazine article "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race" of May 1987 Diamond concludes with the following: "Suppose that an archaeologist who had visited from outer space were trying to explain human history to his fellow spacelings. He might illustrate the results of his digs by a 24-hour clock on which one hour represents 100,000 years of real past time. If the history of the human race began at midnight, then we would now be almost at the end of our first day. We lived as hunter-gatherers for nearly the whole of that day, from midnight through dawn, noon, and sunset. Finally, at 11:54 p.m. we adopted agriculture. As our second midnight approaches, will the plight of famine-stricken peasants gradually spread to engulf us all?".
Suffice to say that Diamond's question shakes the ideological certainty that agriculture and power societies are indeed the only societal model possible.
2.9. A transformation of the arts that still haunts us today
We'll never know for sure how exactly the reign of authority developed but what appears evident is that the trilogy 'authority-force-manipulation' must have played a particularly important role in solidifying the privileges of power and the acceptance of peoples' role as slaves or at the least not really free men.
This brings me to the core of the subject of this post or how power drove all other considerations by imposing new societal principles or principles that transformed what had existed over the past tens of thousands years. I'll concentrate my argument on how the arts were transformed from their tribal societies' practice to their practice under power societies.
Under animism the men of knowledge initiated their fellow tribesmen to new visual signs and their meaning during tribal feasts that doubled as spiritual ceremonies. Music shaped the mood of the group and thus reinforced the impact of those visual signs. That impact was still further exacerbated and amplified in the minds of all by dancing till reaching "out of mind" states, trances, resulting in flashes of consciousness or enlightenment about the meaning of those visual signs.
In between feasts tribesmen would replicate and execute such signs in the decoration of their daily use goods, clothes, roofs and walls. The same went with music and dance. In a way animistic culture was a participatory culture where everyone was involved. In our contemporary ways of saying we would be calling this practice popular culture or popular arts that are being practiced by all. The replication of those visual signs in daily life reinforced the meaning that they conveyed to a point where this meaning became the normal in the minds of all tribesmen and any lingering questions thus dissolved. This traditional popular participatory culture and art continued to be practiced after the emergence of power but in an increasingly narrower sense. Its function gradually detached from the spiritual and thus concentrated more and more on the sole aspect of "beautifying" daily life. The same is observed in all periods of transition. Old forms endure but their use gradually decreases while the new forms gradually become more entrenched.
2.10. Conclusions about art.
Confronted with the numerous side-effects of Modernity humanity starts to question the myth of progress and from within the scientific community an increasing number of anthropologists, climatologists, economists, physicists, medical doctors, and so on,... reach the conclusion that humanity is stranded at the end of a one-way street with no visible escape.
What about the art world?
From where I sit observing the world it seems to me that what Kuspit calls the "artworld" is being stuck in blindness.
Unconscious to be driving on a one way street artists are stuck in a "high art" cul-de-sac. High art is a pawn of power. In our contemporary setting that means that high art is a pawn of finance that confines the artists in the illusion of worth that money claims to bestow upon them. This erects like a steel-bar wall around them that detaches them from the reality of society and more importantly for the individual it detaches him from the reality of life.
I'll try to demonstrate what I just wrote by countering "The Matrix of Sensations" by Donald Kuspit. Literary wise this is a very beautiful text and its argument is seductive and sensical. The gist of Kuspit's thinking is that "the period of avant-garde painting, which officially began with the so-called color patches of paint in Manet’s Music in the Tuileries Gardens in 1862, and climaxed almost a century later in the dynamic tachisme of European art informale and American modernist painting, was a time of transition from traditional analogue art to postmodern digital art, that is, to an art grounded in codes rather than images."
What Kuspit writes there makes sense and seems to explain much of what is going on nowadays. But there is only one problem. This idea is a straight line projection of future meaning from within the sole aspect of the technicality of representation and as such of Modernity. The idea aligns neatly with what is going on in the technological field, seen as of today, but it makes total abstraction of the heavier realities that are molding the shapes of our future: peak energy and resources, climate change, mass extinction and loss of bio-diversity, pollution of air - water - land, economic re-balancing of the world economy that leads to financial dislocation and, on a fast approaching horizon, possible war ultimately. I could continue like that but I guess everyone will have understood what I'm after here. All those factors are heavy determinant factors that are slowly breaking down Modernity and opening the door to a new historical era that shuffle the technicality of representation argument out of the bounds of our history in the making.
Our very complex societal systems 'economy-culture-geopolitics' are on the verge to crash and this could soon collapse societies around the world. One is free to reject this view but one is not free to create one's own facts. Projecting Modernity and technology on a straight line into the future is creating one's own facts because it is like putting blinkers over one's eyes that impeach to see the reality we're surfing in. In this case the facts are on the side of what I just wrote but, to avoid cutting short on the crux of my argument, I'll address those facts more in detail in future posts.
What interest me at this juncture is the dichotomy between the views of the "artworld" and what history teaches us about the reality of image making. History is without appeal. Its facts are unchallengeable, they have already happened, and those facts show us without any possible doubt that the arts have a societal function and that out of that societal function the arts would simply not exist. By shoveling the heavy determinant factors shaping our future under the rug Kuspit frees a path to follow a one-sided non-determinant factor, technology, until a point when he himself has to concede "Let me go, perhaps absurdly, further..." That's the problem indeed. When ignoring societal reality one falls out of the domain where our future is unfolding. That means one falls in the field of unreality. But having written a poem titled "Apocalypse with Jewels in the Distance" I'm certain Kuspit would agree with what I'm writing here.
Can high art or for that matter the art market make a u-turn back to what matters in our societies? Not a chance. Its participants' interests are too much intertwined with the interest of the men of power who, as I'll show in 2.11, are now acting like rats jumping from a ship that goes under.
Deeply down inside my artist's soul, from the subconscious side of me, comes the feeling that the only thing left that makes sense resides in the memory of the artistic practice under animism. My writing this "From Modernity to After-Modernity" series is a trial to put flesh on that feeling, to put in words what I sense is coming our way, the aim being to reason that feeling into my consciousness and possibly in the consciousness of the reader.
2.11. Conclusions about power.
The Old Testament mentions that after leaving the Garden of Eden humanity had to “earn thy bread by the sweat of thy brow”. Substitute the Garden of Eden with the hunter-gatherer world and “earn thy bread by the sweat of thy brow” with toiling the soil under agriculture and you have the real meaning conveyed by the Old Testament. The religious narrative in this case was not heard or better it was perhaps not understood. This would then imply a failure of historical knowledge by the men of knowledge of the church. But had the men of knowledge of the religions of the word really forgotten the real meaning of the words in the Old Testament or had they simply sold out their souls to the men of power? We'll never know the answer to that question but we know, for sure, the consequences that this lapse imposed on the citizens living in the different societies within the realm of Western civilization.
To me it looks more and more like our societal systems have become so utterly complex that nobody really understands any longer their functioning. I feel we have reached a point of singularity when nobody nor any institution has any control on the unfolding of events and the men of power have taken off their masks. Politicians and banksters have no compunction left and can now tell us in our faces that white is black or black is white and it looks like they have no price to pay any longer for their lies. The only way to make sense of this carnival is to observe that, after applying without any success all the possible remedies, the men of power have reached the conclusion that they are powerless. So comes what may. They know that the game is over and that there are no working solutions any longer so they now play as if they were trying hard to keep Modernity afloat just to gain some more time to suck people dry of all their remaining real wealth and when the day of reckoning comes they will be gone to their islands hidden from the righteous popular furry.
Rats jumping overboard always was a sign that the ship was going under. Power preparing its exit is one sign among many that Modernity is sloping down toward its end.
At some point the new era that comes after Modernity emerges and then it will slowly slope up to its unfolding. This is when optimism will set in and fear will vanish. But before I write about that most exciting prospect I have to lay out a little further the intellectual foundations upon which rests our possible understanding of the coming revival.
A new post is being added in this series every Thursday morning.
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