Friday, 6 March 2015

How to conceptualize civilizations?

In the first place, civilizations are short lived things compared with Men. We Men are eternal entities, eternal stretching in both directions; but civilizations are finite, and sometimes very brief.

Nonetheless, they set a context for our mortal lives; so it is important to recognize that the analogy, the metaphor, the model by which we explain civilization sets constraints on how we understand them - and so some extent how we understand ourselves.

Most discussion of civilizations is quasi-scientific, often very quantitative: nowadays to do with statistics of one sort or another, in an earlier time, to do with histories of conquest and conquerings. Oswald Spengler rejected this for a biological, organismic model - history as analogy with growth, vitality, seeding, disease, senescence and extinction.

But this is also extremely limited; and indeed grossly insufficient in terms of how the soul yearns.

Another framework is to look at civilizations in terms of intellectual and/or artistic 'achievement' - viewed with a long-termist perspective: philosophy, architecture, fine art, science and technology, poetry and literature... Yet although this is superficially inspiring, it soon palls and drags us down; and we notice the disturbing mismatch between The Man and the Civilization on the one hand, and The Accomplishment on the other hand.

To dwell inside the aesthetic framework becomes a dismaying, demoralizing, and even an un-aesthetic experience - it leads with apparent inevitability to the poseur, the dilettante, the pundit and the art dealer rather than to the sage: the man of depth and wisdom.

As eternal beings we crave an understanding of civilizations which includes divine aspirations - a context of God's plans, or hopes; and our own.

Closer to what we want is to understand civilizations in terms of spiritual warfare, the fight between good and evil, obedience to God and rebellion against him. But of course, warfare is sub-optimal, warfare may be necessary - but it is not what we most hope for.

What we do most hope for is something creative (creative in a very general sense - a making of things that are good).

So, best (it seems to me) is to understand civilizations in terms of spiritual progression, in terms of the striving (and otherwise) of Man and Men for higher levels of divinity, for God-like-ness, of participation in the ultimate work of creation and creativity - of progress in this goal, and corruption away from this goal.

A salvation and theosis story.

Indeed, once this spiritual evolution/ devolution analogy has been noted and explored, all other analogies of civilization seem grossly and dangerously impoverished.