Dear readers I'm really sorry for this late publishing of the last articles in this series. A software glitch left me stranded in Beijing and I could not find a way to access Weebly. There are 3 more posts to complete the publishing of what I wrote along the last winter. I'll post them weekly as I did in the past.
I wish you all a great summer. I'll be back publishing next November.
Chapter 5. About the arts
184.108.40.206. Numerous contemporary ideas about the future.
People generally agree that modernity has yielded a series of bottlenecks but they widely disagree on their future outcomes for human societies. The range of future possible outcomes varies along the line between the following two extreme beliefs:
The concept of singularity is rooted in the belief that artificial intelligence is very fast going to surpass human intelligence. That belief is held by widely optimistic scientists who envision an exponential progress in technology that will result in an unlimited increase in artificial intelligence that will soon surpass human intelligence and leave it inexorably behind with no capacity whatsoever to further comprehend what such an artificial intelligence is fostering on humanity. That vision is based on a series of postulates:
Let's first observe that, positing science and rationalism as acting in the good of humanity, is a statement that can't be proved. It is akin to a religious belief. Both beliefs are rooted in some functionality for sure. As I have shown in earlier parts of this book religious belief finds its roots in the function of societal reproduction and rationalism and science find their function in their economic and financial instrumentality for the reason of capital. It was the very material success by the long distance merchants in applying the reason of capital during early modernity that bestowed on it the cult-like belief in its truthfulness. But it’s temporary success was never proof of its validity for eternity. The numerous side-effects that we become aware of in Late-Modernity are proof enough of the non-validity of that cult like belief.
The deeply held belief in the truthfulness of the reason of capital and its functional extension in philosophic rationalism and then science does in no way portend that their application automatically leads to the truth about reality nor to nature's vision of what such a truth might be. By “nature's vision of what such a truth might be” I mean the best possible outcome for the principle of life; something that is self-evident from the perspective of the whole universe but that is out of reach to the particles within its sub-sets.
The principle of life is not at the center of preoccupation of philosophic rationalism and science which act on the deeply held belief, in a mechanistic vision of efficiency in securing positive results, by those who put them in application. Science and rationalism act first and foremost as efficient instruments in securing positive results for those who put them in use but they are no guarantee of optimal outcomes for the principle of life and by extension for humanity. This should definitely put to rest the bogus assumption that science and rationalism act in the good of humanity.
Furthermore if artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence and conquer nature how do we know the way artificial intelligence will feel about humanity after having left it so far behind? Let's consider for the sake of argument that the assumption materializes eventually one day in the future. In such a scenario artificial intelligence will be deployed exclusively to activate the robots that act as its functional operators. In other words, following the human model of ever increased complexity, artificial intelligence will act with the sole purpose of pushing further its own limits without regards for the necessity to adapt to systemic reality.
In such a mechanist vision humanity has nothing left to offer and becomes a burden for artificial intelligence and its robot functional operators. At this point the logical conclusion is that for the sake of maximizing its own finality artificial intelligence decides to get rid of humanity or at best, from a human standpoint, to let it rot at the margins of its zone of operation. This is decidedly not something humanity would ever want for itself. If humanity, as a species, was conscious of the possible destination of the path that science and technology are pulling it onto it would without any hint of an hesitation reject such a path. But alas humanity does not seem conscious of this possibility.
Only cult-like believers could make the assumption that science, as the active principle of artificial intelligence, has the means to answer any and all constraints that nature puts in the way of human endeavors and will thus eliminate all bottlenecks in furthering modernity. Human endeavors under modernity have manifestly unleashed severe constraints to the continuing playing of the music, I mean the continuation of life as usual, and there is nothing like a guarantee that science and its application under artificial intelligence would succeed to eliminate those constraints.
There is furthermore the frightening possibility that science and technology could be used, very rationally I might add, as last answers to intractable problems or as answers to the inexistent political will to act to answer these problems. What I mean by this is that some scientists are openly advocating for “terraforming” (1) as an action to counter climate change in the face of political inaction. What they don't mention is the cost of the unintended consequences of such actions that portend the risk to poison to death, entire swaths of land and oceans, even faster than the causes that they initially intent to fight.
We are thus left to question the wisdom of the blind belief in science and artificial intelligence. This brings us to posit the absolute necessity for humanity to act only in light of optimal outcomes for the principle of life and by extension for itself. If such an outcome of human acts is not guaranteed the principle of prudence advocates that those acts should simply be forbidden by societies. This is a question of human responsibility that should be codified as an inescapable moral law to be implemented by all societies on earth. I'm not anti-science. Science, as a mechanic vision of efficiency in securing positive results in the short term, has much to offer to humanity but it has to be restrained by first moral principles that oblige it to confront systemic reality.
From humanity’s perspective as a living species the reproduction of the principle of life in general, the reproduction of the individuals, the reproduction of human societies and the reproduction of species are first moral principles that have to be protected at all costs even at the cost of suppressing scientific endeavor if such endeavor poses a risk of defiance against those first moral principles. It is high time that scientists be put under the supervision of human societies and stark penalties be meted out to those who run counter first moral principles. This for sure will vastly reduce the freedom of scientists. But it is the price imposed by moral first principles in order to confine human endeavors within the realm of systemic reality and thus ensure the reproduction of life. In other words from the standpoint of the human species full individual freedom is guaranteed societal suicide.
Now I understand that, from the perspective of the individual atom, such moral first principles may, in certain ideological contexts, appear as inadmissible infringements on their individual freedom. This begs the following question: what is coming first? Is the individual prime or is the species prime? To give a valid answer to that question we have to frame it in the context of the primacy of the principle of life. When doing that we discover that the principle of life, in sub-sets of the whole, materializes in species. So species are definitely prime and consequently they contain the rules of the game of life by which the individual particles have to be playing.
Ideological visions emanating from the ego, individualism – materialism, are positing that the individual particle is prime. But that so-called primeness relates to its ideological context which is no match for systematic reality. In systemic reality the principle of life is prime and sooner or later biological evolution eliminates anything that goes against that natural rule. This implies that the ideological vision of individualism - materialism may eventually have a successful short run but sooner or later it will be extinguished. The problem for species and particles alike, as we are discovering in Late-Modernity, is that during its short run to fame the ideology may have wrecked a lot of damage which shows us the deep wisdom that is contained in the old animist principle of prudence...
B. Societal Collapse
On the other side of the spectrum, of Late-Modern beliefs about how the bottlenecks of Late-Modernity are going to affect the future outcomes for human societies, lays civilizational collapse. What the proponents of this thesis envision is that those Late-Modern bottlenecks are going to destabilize the complex working of societal systems that will inevitably end in their collapse.
The peak oil community, for example, envisions decreasing volumes of oil extraction after the peak of extraction is reached while demand nevertheless continues to increase. Furthermore the decrease in the volumes of extraction is understood to be accelerating till it becomes anti-economical to continue to pump oil at all. Without cheap energy the powering of the activities of societies comes to a halt and societies simply collapse and disappear, so say peak-oilers and I have to say that they are no dreamers. Many among them are geologists specialized in the geology of oil who worked their whole life in the field. Those people should know what they talk about. Furthermore there is a gradual alignment being observed by international energy agencies behind the positions of peak-oilers. And there is more. The Pentagon, the British and German military, all published internal studies concluding that peak oil is to occur between now and 2020 and that measures are urgently needed to counter its potentially devastating effects. These agencies are walking their talk and investing heavily in alternatives sources of energy.
Peak resources follows the same reasoning as peak-oil. After resources start to peak their extraction decreases till a later point when the remaining resources become simply too expansive to be further exploited. But to keep modernity running we need those resources. There is no possible shortcut here; the decrease in their extraction is going to bring modernity to a standstill.
The same is observed in the climate-change debate. The scientific community in the field of climate and weather research, in near unanimity, alleges that climate change is a reality provoked by human activities that will greatly destabilize human societies in the coming decades and whose effects are going to stay put over many centuries in the future.
The loss of biodiversity is considered a similar threat by the scientific community that is already impacting agricultural outputs and health conditions.
All these crisis potentially share common outcomes in the view of the scientists studying them:
What is not very well understood is the interactions and feedbacks taking place and due to take place in the future between all these different crisis. What is not difficult to understand is that in those interactions and feedbacks lay possibly many black swans. We have constantly to remember that it all happens in a dynamic framework where many of our actions today will generate outcomes that will manifest years or decades later.
Societies as complex as our Late-Modern societies are like gigantic ships that need a lot of space and a lot of time to make u-turns. The nature of the multiple crisis we face gives us to see that not one u-turn shall be needed but a succession of u-turns in very narrow and shallow waters. Our predicament is furthermore compounded by the fact that the problems are global and so all societies need to make this zig-zag u-turn dance all at once all over the world in the record short time of a few decades at most. Realistically speaking the chances of all this really happening seem very slim indeed.
While I’m not a follower of the rationalist cult the most frightening in my eyes is perhaps that the interactions and feedbacks loops between these different crisis is possibly going to annihilate the credibility of science as a mechanistic vision in the eyes of suffering populations. If this were to take place it would mean the risk of science falling out of history which would push After-Modernity so much further back on the societal evolutionary ladder. As I wrote earlier rationalism and science, contained within the boundaries of systemic reality, are immensely valuable instruments that could help humanity deal with some aspects of its troubled future.
Those 2 visions, singularity and collapse, are the creations of our Western dualism. They are the extremes on the straight line representing the whole range of visions among futurologists and concerned scientists. Any vision out there today takes some aspects of one or of the other of those two extremes running from the promised paradise of scientism to the hell of the annihilation of societies, civilizations and eventually humanity itself.
220.127.116.11. The future is probabilistic
As I already stated earlier the future is not a given. It is the probabilistic natural selection of one variable path among the many present at the bifurcation point from chaos to order. Each of the variable paths present at that point have a decent shot at being the lucky retained one to become the future. So we come to understand that even extremely minuscule forces have the potential to help the selection of one of the variable paths by adding their weight to it in the balancing act of natural selection.
That's where idealist visions of the future take their full dimension in term of their possible impact on the creation of the future. Not only have idealist visions the potential to impact the choice of natural selection at future bifurcation points toward newer forms of order; such idealist visions are primarily impacting our choices in the present and thus shaping the present at the image of our ideals of the future. As Ilya Prigogine stated: “...since no deterministic prediction is likely to be valid, visions of the future -utopian visions- play a very important role in present conduct ” (2).
The future being probabilistic societies have to maximize the probability of generating a future as close as possible to the present dreams of their citizens. The elements I just laid out in my vision about the future are nothing extraordinary; they are not in the domain of the impossible. What fails is the understanding and the political will. It would be relatively easy to generate a future close to the dreams of citizens. But I'm a realist and I know that the establishment has no will to apply dreams or ideals in the present. Now if not applied in the present it is clear that those same dreams will not materialize as per miracle in the future.
Humanity, I mean societally, has at least once taken the shortest and most efficient route toward maximum happiness. This was when the clans instituted the function of men of knowledge, with the arts as its instruments, resulting in the societal evolution towards tribal societies. But since power societies took the helm humanity has been unable to take the shortest and most efficient route to maximum happiness again. Power always behaves as if the wisdom to see the route to the future was weighing less than the weight of immediate material gains. But the fact is that natural evolution always has the last word. It guided the process of biological evolutionary change to this very day and there is nothing to stop it from continuing to do so.
Humanity has now reached an evolutionary threshold of sufficient scientific “knowings” from where it could possibly accompany the waves of biological evolutionary changes while guiding societal evolution on the most efficient route toward maximum happiness. Such a feat will not emerge out of the blue for sure. But I'm firmly convinced that the extreme miseries unleashed by the great convergence of Late-Modernity will act as an awakening call on the more sapient among us. This is when by necessity we will re-discover the utility of knowledge in its traditional sense of universal wisdom.
This awakening could be the historical opportunity for humanity, at long last, to size the control of its societal evolutionary route toward maximum happiness. For me the possibility of the idea of something so momentous taking place is worth pushing the dream. Better that than waiting for collapse in any case. Time could very well prove, long after we are all gone, that in term of historical importance the knowledge that is emerging during Late-Modernity is the equivalent of the knowledge that grew clans on the societal path to tribes. A momentous possibility indeed!
I have no way to know for sure if this will materialize in future reality but the very fact to be able to think about the existing potential for humanity to gain the control of its societal evolutionary destiny is something stupendous that I feel must be explored further. It is what gives meaning to life in an age of societal absurdity.
18.104.22.168. The arts as a narrative about life and reality
As I already stated I don't believe in the promised paradise of scientism but I see the clear possibility of societal collapse and even of the extinction of human life. I nevertheless don't feel it is worth spending my time writing about the extinction of human life other than as a reminder of the danger of complacency and inaction.
I'm firmly convinced that in a common dream about the future lays the surest and strongest path toward the shaping of a livable world for our children and grand-children and such a dream should necessarily be accompanied by the codification of “first moral principles” to be implemented by all societies around the world. A common dream about the future and the codification of “first moral principles” these 2 constitute the bedrock of my optimism in the future. Without an optimistic outlook on the future life becomes intolerable indeed.
A common dream and the codification of “first moral principles” is such an optimist outlook on the future that gives humanity a chance and a reason to live and to fight in the present.
My dream about the future relates to the following fields:
22.214.171.124. The world’s Late-Modernity & the arts in China
The Western transition to Late-Modernity is well engaged already and the whole world is being sucked in the maelstrom. That countries are willing to adapt, or unwilling to adapt, to this new reality changes nothing. Late-Modernity acts like a gigantic black hole. Nothing can escape being sucked in it.
Meanwhile a country like China only transitioned for real into Modernity round 1980. It was a calculated decision, taken as a self defense stance, against the Western push toward globalization and world domination by Western big capital holders. The Chinese leadership understood at the time that:
The risks taken in 1980 have obviously paid off. China has grown tremendously economically over the last 30 years and has accumulated the necessary financial means to resist the pressure of the West. This pressure is not gone as we can observe in the South China Sea and on the Southern flank of the Eurasian corridor. But what is reassuring is that China will not again be bullied in unequal treaties as it has been over the last centuries.
Having said that the frenetic rhythm of change has taken a toll in the form of severe air, land, water pollution and a severe choking of societal cohesion. The engineers who form the present leadership are well aware of the toll the economic craze has exacted. They are furthermore also well aware of what I wrote about in “126.96.36.199. Many contemporary ideas about the future”. Proof of their understanding of the severity of the problems the world is facing is seen in their rapid decisions concerning the gradual elimination of the use of coal, their investments in new energies and in new modes of transportation. No other country on earth is acting with the rapidity to adapt to the constraints of climate change, for example, than shown by China.
But the fact of the matter is nevertheless that China is stuck in the quandary of – rapidly pushing Modernity further down the throat of its citizens on one side, – while having to adapt to the destructive effects unleashed by a Western inspired Modernity. There is a contradiction here. You can’t simply continue to push your citizens on the path of Modernity and urbanization while knowing that the world has entered a forced re-balancing enacted by nature or by the Tao. As I wrote here above the transition from Late-Modernity to Early After-Modernity will be a forced transition out of over-population, over-consumerism, and a general absence of prudence in confronting an increased consciousness with the principle of systemic reality.
This is what I wrote in “4.6.1. Societal reproduction - Individual for change”: “Being the mother of all necessities societal reproduction makes societies wary of individuals promoting ideas of change which could distract from the need of societal reproduction. So societies unleash a flow of conservation measures to weigh on the individual urge for change by striving to slow and orient change along a manageable path while making extreme change a virtual impossibility.
What we have here is the crystallization of a contradiction in the interaction between the tactical principle of competitive growth and the strategic urge for more complexity. In other words in Modernity:
The quandary for China is at the decision making level for sure but it will also be felt at the level of the peoples’ daily lives. I tried to show the contradiction that decision makers have to juggle with. An even more striking contradiction will inevitably knock the Chinese people to their knees in the not too distant future when economic growth stalls and the economy suffers the ravages of pollution, climate change, an energy crunch, peaking resources, dead oceans, the 6th mass extinction, and so on… And all this will be compounded by a melting societal cohesion that augurs trouble in the street! The Chinese population barely entered Modernity and only took its first bites out of consumerism but it soon will have to face the fact that the dream was merely a mirage.
Chinese artists are in for the same nasty surprise. The opening of the country let them taste Western freedoms and the promises of its artworld. The result was a wild run indeed. Many artists have been aping past and present Western schools. A very short few among them were lured by the Western art market and their names now are synonym with big sale figures that make dream new entrants.
But the fact of the matter is that aping the West resulted in no more than a gigantic cacophony that plunged the minds of all in the deepest of confusions. In “5.1. Clarification on what we call the arts” I wrote the following about this cacophony: “Western collectors 30 or 40 years after their selection was realized are now trying to impose their criteria of choice on China’s society. This operation can’t be seen any other wise than as a blatant political interference in China’s cultural affairs. The way the game is being played by these collectors is to impose the idea on Chinese society that the works they bought have attained artistic authority by invoking as proof the high financial valuations they are achieving on the market. First they operated a selection of works at a time when Chinese artists had no notion at all of value. The works they bought were thus dirt cheap and furthermore, even if this was done unconsciously, their selection was made according to Western ideological criteria. Secondly the art market in China was inexistent and to some extent it is still today. So their game consisted in playing their dirt cheap ideologically framed Chinese artworks on the Western art market which till today is largely controlled by Western capital and by Western actors and interveners like art reviewers, art appraisers, auction houses, galleries, museums, and so on…
Confronted with such a market reality Chinese artists understandably obliged in order to make a buck and produced what attracted Western collectors. What attracted Western collectors was what made a splash in the media. So selection criteria overwhelmingly favored works, that were critical of the Chinese authorities or of Chinese culture and, gained the front pages of Western media. Seen from a historical standpoint this shall, without any possible doubt, be remembered as a marginal or anecdotal Western ideological fork on the road of Chinese art that was bought maliciously with Western easy cash. I hope Chinese collectors will have the brains to stay away from these works and make their own selections according to their own criteria. Only Chinese made collections can validly reflect the vibrations of Chinese society. Western established collections can only project the ideological vision of China that their financiers, consciously or unconsciously, want to project.
This example demonstrates that there is no such a thing as an artistic exceptionalism that is valid universally. The world is not the expression of one but of multiple cultures. For centuries Europe got away with the projection of the myth of its own universal exceptionalism. Observing the US it appears that this time is now ending”.
The great majority of Chinese artists are stuck in aping Western Modernism and the more advanced among them are stuck in the nihilism of Postmodernism without understanding that all this is already well passé. Our ship world has already left the harbor of High-Modernity and is navigating in the waters of Late-Modernity. But Chinese artists have had no time to observe the world; all their attention was concentrated on following the extremely rapid changes their society has been undergoing these last 30 years. So their heads have been stuck in the non level playing field of the market of their own country and their eyes and minds are missing the action of the world that will unavoidably reverberate tomorrow in China itself. Only a handful are trying to reconcile what happens in their country with Western Late-Modernity. Those who succeed to reconcile these 2 stories are the effective initiators of Modernism in China.
Thirty Year after the country opened itself to the rest of the world the cultural and artistic scene is in total chaos. The contours of what promises to evolve in two heavy trends are nevertheless already observable:
But how can Modernism possibly fuse with Chinese traditional Culture?
We have to remember what Modernism was all about. I addressed this question more in detail in book 1. In summary the introduction of the application of rationalism and science in economic production shattered intellectual and cultural certainties. In this particular context Modernism questioned the validity of all past worldviews and after rejecting all of them it postulated that the role of art is to discover the truth at deeper dimensions of reality than the first dimension image that projects on the retina. What distinguishes the approach of Western and Chinese artists in the search of such deeper dimensions is that:
Chinese Late-Modernity, like its present form in the West, will announce a historical shift away from Modernity. But the coming paradigm shift to After-Modernity is going to have far wider and deeper consequences than the ones caused by Modernity that nevertheless shocked the traditional Chinese culture into catatonia. It is urgent that Chinese intellectuals and artists awake to the fate of humanity. We are indeed entering a historical transition of gigantic proportions. Modernity is falling and the seeds of what comes after Modernity are preparing to sprout. This is a process that unfolds over decades but what is important to know is that the process already started.
I wrote the following in “188.8.131.52. The arts at the service of life” that is particularly well adapted to our present times: “… to re-make contact with its natural evolution, biological and societal, it is imperative that humanity catches the genie of egotism, or is it egoism, and imprison the ego in its bottle anew. But the most important lesson that we should never forget again is that human life relies on knowledge to ensure its preservation and knowledge relies on the arts to spread in the minds of all. A society that lost its memory about the role of knowledge and the deep meaning of the arts is a society that is dead and solely continuing to move further under the impact of inertia till it collapses. Late-Modern Western societies are such societies...”. Let’s hope, for the good of humanity, that the Chinese society never forgets about the role of knowledge and the deep meaning of the arts.
Over the span of its history China developed a pragmatic philosophy of life that could be its prime richness going into the future. Lets remember that art should trace the path of the Tao; not only the Tao of mountains but also the Tao of societies. The knowledge about the Tao of life and the Tao of societies should shed some light on what awaits humanity in After-Modernity.
The truthfulness, gained from the knowledge of the tao of life and of societies, will be the most momentous prize come true that Chinese artists could ever be dreaming about. Their success at re-catching that truthfulness will also be the greatest gift of sensicality that they could contribute to all artists around the world.
1. Terraforming: “Terraforming (literally, "Earth-shaping") of a planet, moon, or other body is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to the environment of Earth to make it habitable by Earth-like life.”
2. Prygogyne. In “Beyond Being and Becoming” an interview with Illya Prygogine by Marilyn Berlin Snel in the Magazine NPQ
3. When writing “… while the diagnostic of the situation was correct Postmodernism erred in the remedies: rejection of beauty and content to be defined by ideation” I have in mind Jean-Francois Lyotard’s 1979 book “The Postmodern Condition” which is a diagnostic about the collapse of worldviews in Western societies and the hegemonization of capital whose control of science destroyed philosophy and later financialized the arts out of their societal function.
The reaction of Postmodernism to such a state of affairs was to reject beauty and impose the primacy of ideation in the arts.
But by rejecting beauty Postmodernism was going against the grain of biological and societal evolution which necessarily would leave it as a loser. The primacy of ideation was not necessarily wrong. What was wrong was to fail to grasp that ideation had to be connected to worldviews that Lyotard had diagnosed had collapsed. This intellectual misfiring was responsible for the erring into the absurd.