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Eternal Reoccurrence vs. Finite Progress

How repetitious is history? — Human Consciousness of Change and Persistence — The Age of Darkness before the Myths of Creation — Fandom Cults of the Academia — Origins of the Wheels of Reoccurrence — Whither be thou, O Sweet Progress?

(Now with fixed footnotes. Hover cursor over footnote to reveal it, or click!)

 

One of the major themes in my Weltanschauung that shows up in my novels, nonfiction, and others nuances, is the concept of historical reoccurrence: the notion that history repeats itself. As with my previous post regarding the death of philosophy, this is not a particularly revolutionary idea in this day and age. It’s wisdom you would’ve heard everywhere from children’s books, elementary school history class, newscasters, comedians, political propaganda, angry tirades, and is often its own butt in joke-telling. It’s a cliché that we take for granted, but also one of the few clichés that we actually take seriously when heeding to the warnings of economic forecasters, political soothsayers — even the advice of our friends telling us not to pursue a certain career path, or to avoid dating a special someone.

What’s interesting is that, our own mass awareness of this notion — that history repeats itself — is a mutually shared understanding, crossing cultures, classes, nations, ages[1], and eras. What’s also interesting (ironic even) is that this hasn’t always been the case everywhere in the history of human culture. What’s even more interesting is how we like to consider our contemporary era of freedom, democracy, mass communications, cheap beer, video games, cell-phones, and the Internet, as something that exists outside of this frame of historical reoccurrence — our contemporary era as an exception to historical reoccurrence, rather than belonging to it, because it’s so “new” and “revolutionary”.[2] And what’s further even more interesting [x4], is that we tend to exclude ourselves as individuals from reoccurrence ‘warning wisdom’ about our lives, eg: “I won’t be the one to make that mistake everyone else has done! Other people made that mistake because they’re stupid / weak / unskilled!”

Now before moving onto what I think is interesting in the above paragraph[3], I’d like to identify a few types of reoccurrence[4].

  1. The reoccurrence wisdom that concerns us as individuals carrying out our daily lives on a micro scale. Life-wisdom like: “she has a history of being flakey”, or “don’t become a writer because the Internet has made their profession obsolete!”, or “don’t wear Hawaiian shirts, flip-flops and baseball caps when haggling in foreign marketplaces, because you risk being pick-pocketed, and merchants will know you’re a tourist and will rip you off!”
  2. That which concerns us on a macro scale: our place in greater society, civilization, and the world. History, economics, politics, society, culture — the big questions, claims like: “allowing the government to strip us of our rights and freedoms in times of terrorist threat will lead to government tyranny and totalitarianism. Just look at the Nazis!”, or “all economies follow the trend of bubbles and bursts, growth-stagnation-collapse”, or “the West has always been the most progressive and innovative than any other part of the world”
  3. Finally, that which concerns observance to laws and axioms of natural phenomena, which requires a ‘reoccurrence’ paradigm. This is a key part of our cognitive understanding of the world as human beings: taking generic rules/concepts, and applying them to particular instances that are likely to repeat. Without it, we cannot have a) or b). These are things like: “F = ma”[5], [physical constants in nature], “don’t touch a hot stove or you’ll get burned” [pain avoidance], “whenever you speak to her about her dead husband, she gets upset” [human psychology as natural phenomena], and “Are you seriously wearing wear jeans and a t-shirt to my wedding tonight? You look like an idiot!” [social norms]

For our purposes here in this entry, we have two essential types of historical reoccurrence that are, I argue, closely linked — (a) life-wisdom, and (b) history-wisdom. Let’s move onto the two main schemes of time.

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The Decline of Thinking’s Universality:
Against the Hyper-Compartmentalization of Knowledge (or the Hyper-Compartmentalizers)

It may be ironic that a blog which draws heavily from the philosophical tradition would start thus:

Philosophy is dead.[1]

Of course, that’s not a particularly revolutionary idea, and especially not in this day and age. We all know that philosophy has been replaced by hard, solid, objective SCIENCE!, that has no need for the empty, pretentious quibblings of philosophers, who confirm nothing with factual, real, physical evidence…! According the prevailing creation myths of SCIENCE!, no one before Galileo conducted experiments, and all human knowledge was purely based on religious dogma, superstition. It was the Dark Ages, because Rome — the sole guaranteer of Reason and Progress — had fallen to savage invading barbarians and its own opulent corruption. It was the Dark Ages, and life was poor, nasty, brutish and short.[2]

What rationality did exist was what Christian monks working in dungeons and monasteries, hunched over on copying tables, were able to preserve by scraps and bits of unoriginally copying manuscripts from the Greeks and Romans — because Augustine said it was what any good Christian ought to read, since he was such a squealing fanboy for people like Aristotle, Plato, Ptolemy, Hippocrates, etc. And then finally, it took a handful of privileged white men in Western Europe to pull the ‘West’ up from its own bootstraps, out of the Dark Ages, and to dominate the world again, as they had meant to do, since they inherited the Greco-Roman legacy. Meanwhile, the Church burnt anyone at the sake who contradicted its dogma[3], so the ‘West’ had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the brave new world of innovation. In fact, before this “Renaissance” the West was so behind, that they had to learn and ‘recover’ what they historically knew about the Ancients from those fanatical, backward Arabs! Then thanks to these privileged white European men, we discover the world is not flat[4], revolves around the Sun (Heliocentricism), and Chris can finally discover America, the Reformation breaks the clerical stranglehold on PROGRESS!, and the rest (SCIENCE!)history:

^ Above ^ is a paraphrase of a cultural meme we see espoused by standard textbooks, teachers, TV presentations, Joe the In’ernet-Know-all-Tuff-Guy, etc., treating this subject of SCIENTIFIC PROGRESS! (and all the subtext notwithstanding.) Absurd as this narrative is, I’m not going to dwell on it here, as this entire blog is dedicated to smashing such creation myths of PROGRESS (aka positivism).[5]

Now in truth, things were, as they often are, actually a little more complicated. First of all, all knowledge — all SCIENCE! — was considered under the domain of Philosophy. If you were a thinking person — no matter how amateur or professional, no matter how shallowly or profoundly — what you were doing when pondering the universe, human relations, physical phenomena, God’s attributes, etc., all went back to that word: Philosophy.

  • When Galileo disproved prevailing beliefs about Aristotle’s theory of Motion, it wasn’t called Physics — it was called Natural Philosophy.
  • When Copernicus uprooted Geocentricism, it wasn’t called Physics — it was called Natural Philosophy
  • When Newton discovered the principles of gravity, and formulated MATH around this, it wasn’t called Physics — it was still called Natural Philosophy

( I’m just going to pause here and mention that Natural Philosophy was the discipline that is more or less what we would call science nowadays — philosophy concerning in the nature of motion, matter, astronomy, chemistry (shared with alchemy), geology, animals and natural history, etc. )

Intellectuality — the scope of things you would be educated in — was continuous, fluid, and organic. The Educated were well versed in theology, logic, natural philosophy, metaphysics, rhetoric, aesthetics, the Classics, politics, history[6], etc., because these were all universally recognized aspects of Knowledge of the Universetwo sides of the same coin — or, better put, different faces on the same die:

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