One of the enduring and nonsensical elements of human myth is the “paradise lost.”
Enduring? Yep. It is everywhere from Eden (no, no, the original one) to the rebellion of the angels in heaven, to the academic feminist myth of the great-rule-of-women-in-a-pre-history-no-one-can-prove [Or disprove, you tool of the patriarchy. Right, sorry. I must have an academic feminist character somewhere in the backbrain. That’s going to be … interesting. I think that story will need a dragon. Yes. A dragon. Anyway, moving right on.]
The story goes something like this “the world was perfect, and then people rebelled against it” (shuddup my story and angels are people) “and everything went to hell.”
This makes perfect sense in a purely mythological/theological concept, like the first two stories. The fall in Eden was inherent in the contradictions inside woman and in the existence of the serpent. (The first of you to snigger stays after school to clean the blackboards.)
If you’re a believer (I am, by the way) you sort of go along with RES and assume that what we don’t get about the first two instances – like, aren’t angels sort of ineffable automata? How can they rebel, as such – is the result of describing a multi-dimensional event in human terms.
On the other hand if you’re a believer in the third you sort of assume that men are all evil and oppressy (totally a word, shut up) and willing to wreck paradise to oppress like oppressors because oppressive.
It is harder to do this sort of thing when it comes to history, and yet we get it over and over and over again, too “this time of history was paradise and then—“
The most inexplicable believers in this, btw, are female fantasy fans who seem to think we should all go back to the middle ages, because that was paradise. (Not all female fantasy fans but a significant number of them. This usually coincides with the Green Madness that says that “of course we’ll have to lose 9/10ths of the population. They never seem to think that yay and verily in a catastrophe of those proportions airy dreamers who think of the middle ages as sort of an Earthly paradise would be the first to go. You know, I often think that everyone would be vastly improved by knowing where their food comes from and working the land for a year. Then I realize that Mao thought so too, and I let it go.)
There was always this bliss and perfect place from which we came tumbling down.
Hegel (stopped clock all that) came up with a mechanism to explain the continuous paradise lost. (The idea was not originally his, not that he gave credit, but I write these blogs for free, have a novel to finish, and will be d*mned if I’m about to run off and try to find references after only one cup of tea. Deal.)
Any system while running accumulated contradictions, and it was those contradictions that brought it down. What does that mean? Oh, say a system is supposed to feed all the poor, but this is impossible, so it feeds some poor very well and others not at all. For the very well fed poor it’s paradise, but then the others rebel. (This is a made up and oversimplified example, but if you apply it to say the change between feudalism and the renaissance, you’ll see it work out.)
There are two things this system doesn’t take into account, flaws that were made worse by Marx borrowing his friend (and patron) Hegel’s theory and making it into ersatz theology.
A) It was a closed loop system. The contradictions that accumulated were those inherent in the system, without outside influence. Nothing on Earth runs that way, not even the Earth itself. (No? You do realize we get water from space, right? In the form of ice meteorites. Go look it up, I’ll still be here.)
B) There is no perfect system without contradictions. (This is the part that makes Marxism theology. It aims to a perfect system that will end history. And before idiots tell me I’m wrong because that’s not precisely what Marx said – it’s what every socialist state believes. That they’re the end of history and the perfect, non-contradictory state.)
These two flaws mean that Hegelian analysis as performed by Marxists is perfect nonsense, even without adding in the concept of (flawed) class theory, which was being broken even in the industrial revolution, let alone now. Any analysis performed by any theological system (including the one I believe in) upon the real world is nonsense to those who don’t belong to the church, because theology doesn’t make sense in practical terms. Or if you prefer “One man’s religion is another man’s belly laugh.” As Robert A. Heinlein said. (The only problem with Marxism is that the poor dahlings don’t think they’re a religion. The whole thing about “scientific Marxism” see. Ah, the illusions of the early industrial age, how quaint, how precious.)
However, if you include those two factors, you get a pretty good explanation for Paradise Lost and Lost and Lost and also for the lurching history of mankind. You also get a clearer view of where we are.
First, let’s dispose of weird uncle Karl’s idea of perfection and of nothing bad ever happening to anyone under the perfect state. To achieve that humans would need to become either angels or automatons, something that has proven impossible for all systems that depended on turning men into such, no matter how many people they killed or how many they tortured or scared.
Second, let’s add in the external change. This change often is not “external” as such, as it is (quite often) the result of things humans in that society do. BUT it is external in the sense of philosophy. When new types of plow made the cultivation of different fields possible in the eleventh (or is it thirteenth? I have Medieval historians among my readers, and they WILL tell me) and villains started leaving the enclosed cities to settle in the new land, they weren’t going “hey, now, let’s start an agricultural revolution that will give us a surplus of food beyond bare subsistence and incidentally increase the population.” Oh, and the man who invented the plow wasn’t going “Let’s do this.” They certainly weren’t doing it for philosophical reasons. So, they are external to the philosophical framework of society.
One of the problems with philosophers is that to a philosopher everything looks like an idea problem. But humans live – yes, even we – closer to nature than that. We don’t eat ontological states and excrete paradoxes.
Looking at it from the point of view of philosophy also dislocates where the real external influence comes in. The French Revolution might have seemed to come out of nowhere to most people, and its proximate cause was the bad harvest and the lack of bread and the surging bourgeoisie, but if you go to the physical cause that influenced all of that, you go back to that plow and the surplus of bread, that allowed for the creation of machines, that allowed for greater surplus and more people, which in turn– In the middle there is a France with a young and restless population supporting the American revolution and that not going well for them in financial terms.
It all becomes the old woman who swallowed a fly. Which of course is what history is. One thing driving the other, driving the other.
But here’s the point: It is said every society has the governance it deserves. (This leaves me wondering just how naughty the poor average North Korean, born after the idiots took over can be to deserve that. Never mind. It’s a comforting saying not an accurate one.)
What is more accurate is to say that any society has the governance its technology will tolerate.
Technology too follows a sort Hegelian pattern, if you will, of accumulating contradictions which are then resolved. Only, it’s more complex than that, because Technology too is not a closed system, neat as the philosophers would have it, but it’s enmeshed with science. Science will come up with something new, (real science, guys, no one HAS invented political SCIENCE yet. Possibly because the laboratory is massive and the observations flawed, and the subjects keep changing) which some bright tech chappie will run with and make an improvement in some machine with, and then– Suddenly the old system is out and the new system is in. (And then you’re on the phone to tech support wondering why it won’t boot, but that’s another story.)
Then you throw in government as a distorting factor, both pushing money into and taking money away from some branches of science, and those things that – really – humans can’t predict, like human genius. (They are born, sometimes, only you never know when one will be born. And if you tell me that’s because it depends on the untidy mating practices of humans and that we should create geniuses in labs, we can’t be friends anymore.)
At this point the neat cog and wheel of contradiction-and-resolution that Hegel designed looks like something out of a steampunk cartoon, with four weels, a pseudopod, and a horn stuck in an amusing place, and it moves by crisscrossing its on path.
Now, if there WERE such a thing as the “perfect government” – a creature that, like the perfect man has failed to materialize – we could totally simplify this buggy and make it fit the present technology perfectly, etc.
BUT since there isn’t what we can do is observe how tech and governance go together, and how the governance comes to pieces when the tech changes ENOUGH (tech and science change are an incremental thing.)
Each society has the governance its TECH deserves.
Start with feudalism (yes, we could go further, to roving bands, but we won’t.) A society of people producing barely enough to keep body and soul together could manage, if a lot of them contributed to the upkeep of a few, keep a group whose sole job was to defend them. The system worked. Or at least, the system allowed people to survive when it worked. Yes, some of the lords were worse than the raiders he was supposed to defend people from. Yes, some lords taxed too much. BUT when that happened they either died or lost all their villains. Which means that those places didn’t survive. Others did.
It worked, as did the pyramid of fealty upwards. Supported by the contributions of all their Lords the kings of countries generally large enough to swing a cat in without needing a passport could live in about as much comfort as our poorest citizens. (The people under them could advantageously have traded up for a sleeping bag over a vent in the streets of New York City.)
Then along came improved agricultural technology, which burst the bounds of the walled cities, made the wilderness into habited areas (yes, I am simplifying brutally. This is already three pages) and allowed peasants to raise a lot more kids. (As the amusing horn stuck in the middle of this juggernaut’s body, consider either the fact that the Moors got kicked out of Europe and their raiding and the raiding of those they displaced by raiding subsided OR that the world went through a warming period, though off the top of my head I can’t tell when. I know it wasn’t the fourteenth century. There are, I’m sure, other factors I don’t have the time to cover nor the disposition to look up right now.)
This in turn gave time for people to start thinking how to improve things further. Shake a bit, add a bit of personal genius and voila, you have the machines that started the industrial revolution.
The industrial revolution started with family enterprises and small factories. By its very nature, it was a tech of small communities… at the beginning. It fed into the entire ethos of the enlightenment. Which in turn fed the revolutions. BUT as it went on and became bigger and better, the industrial revolution became a thing of proletariat as a displaced mass, away from its community (the theory that this is because they were kicked out of their fields applies in some places, but is insufficient to explain what we see in the now-industrializing countries like India and China. It’s entirely possible peasants voluntarily became proletarians, by walking of the land, because endless shifts tending a machine are better and more productive than looking at the southward end of a northbound mule.)
This was the stage that Marx analyzed and where he decided that left to its own devices, it would just become this massive exploitation-of-peasants machine. So, the proletariat must rise up… And make sure it became that way.
No, that’s not what he said, but that’s what happened in the places where the intellectuals rose up and convinced the proletariat that this entirely bourgeois “revolution” was in their best interests. The tech froze, the intellectuals (and the brutal sadists) stepped into the place of the mill owners or what the mill owners would have been if they were intellectuals and brutal sadists. The end stage of that state as observed in the Soviet Union, in Cuba, in North Korea, is sort of like feudalism with the addition of enough technology to keep the peasants down forever. (Only it doesn’t because like feudalism, eventually the peasants starve enough that the Lord crashes too.) This is why those countries seem like they’re stuck in a decaying version of former times.
But in the rest of the world, the industrial revolution went on. Yes, the tech induced a top-down governance everywhere even where there was no ideological straight jacket dictating it be so. BUT where there was enough room for human creativity, it went on, and tech cycled back around to personal/small/driven by creativity and innovation.
Oh, we’re not completely there yet. But we’re most of the way there. My field is careening head first into “there” right now. Every man his own boss, etc.
The people whose mind is still stuck in the “big/manufacturing/top down” are looking around and treating this like the end of the world. “Oh, no. People will now be unemployed like FOREVER. We must take things back to where top-down forces people to work together, to work in the old style factories, where everyone can earn a living, because—”
Because they think the industrial age was paradise and they want to keep it going forever. (This has the additional problem that the people who had the top-down power want to retain it.) This is a lot of what our government (right and left) is flaylingly (totally a word) trying to do. They have this idea that if they make us broke enough he heyday of the fifties will be back. (Okay, the left would like its fifties with more social freedom. Maybe. If you scratch deep down they’d treat integration and women’s lib as nothing, if they could just have their unity and shoulder to shoulder.)
In the early stages of the turning, humans can’t visualize what comes next and always always treat it as chaos and dissolution, which then goes to feed the myth of paradise lost.
Depending on how much government tries to apply the brakes or take us back to paradise, the transition can become a thing of horror and blood. (See, French Revolution. Also, the various English upheavals. In fact, the only place transitions haven’t been horror and blood is here, where the government has been too disperse and powerless to make it so. Uh… in former times.)
But no government yet has succeeded in completely STOPPING the change. (North Korea? It’s not over, is it? If they keep up, it’s likely to kill them) And no one on Earth can completely undo technology once the genii is out of the bottle.
The way the technology is going is not the way Uncle Karl expected, towards bigger and bigger and more and more concentrated (which necessitated his “revolution.”) Don’t hold that against the despicable mooch, though. A lot of better men than him envisioned the future like that. No? Read Brave New World and 1984.
The transition will come, and the way tech is going it will be towards smaller, more fragmented, more PERSONAL.
This means two things – we have to stop already with the even vague equality of outcomes. It can’t be managed. And – again from the way things are going – this doesn’t mean anyone will starve, because the new tech seems to produce far more with less labor.
What I mean by equality can’t be managed is that I suspect in 50 years (or more or less, depending on how we manage the transition) their poor will have the material goods our rich have now, and the material comforts. But since it will be a highly personal tech, they might not have the acclaim or the … improvements. For instance, there’s a world of difference, now, between someone who scrounges used furniture, throws it in his apartment and never so much as dusts it, and someone who refinishes it, arranges it tastefully and keeps it clean.
Now multiply that by someone who improve what his 3-d printer creates to be unique AND more functional and someone who just takes it, half made, and uses it that way.
These are crude examples, but what I mean is in a future where how well you live is entirely in the individual hands – above subsistence, which will be higher than we have – the discrepancies will make your head spin.
But, you say, if more will be done with less labor, won’t masses be unemployed and have to be looked after?
I don’t think so. That’s sort of like saying back in the fourteenth century “But if one day only 2% of the people will be farmers, what will the rest of the people do? Starve or be pensioners?”
That’s not the way humans work. They’ll find things to do and ways to improve their lot even in the new world. No, it won’t be things anyone expects.
Which is why no government can manage it.
The government can flail around and honk (maybe it’s the amusing horn in the middle) and desperately try to bring back the fifties. Or the thirties. Or that idealized Middle Ages with shampoo and deodorizer.
All they can do is make this very hard and very bloody. They can’t stop the change, though.
In the end, we win they lose.
Because we’re not mourning a paradise lost.
And the future is ours.