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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Progress is the Enemy

Got the following comment to Anarchic Punk Questionnaire in which I said :

"There is no such thing as progress, only change. The idea of progress is the enemy, it justifies all manner of idiocies."

[Note - pic of open cast coal mine near Dalmellington about 30 miles from here. ]

Commentator said:

Would you care to expand on that one or possibly to discuss it? For one, if both progression & regression are imaginary constructs/ideologies, and only change exists, doesn't that necessarily arrive at a complete relativism of values? And relativism, in this day and age more than ever, justifies as many idiocies as the dominant views of progress do. Plus understanding nuclear war as a threat that was superceded or defeated seems to assume a belief in progress at some level.

Good question I.e. “You got me bang to rights gov. I was rushing to finish the list of questions and not taking the time to check answers for internal logical coherence.”

What I was thinking of was cyclical vs. linear time - rather than relativism of values. I had a look at the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry on relativism
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/relativism/ but was confused rather than enlightened.

I suppose what I should have done first is ask the commentator for an example of an idiocy caused by the relativism of values before bashing out the following 1600 words since I suspect they will not answer the question.

So it goes. And here is my non-answer…


Now 09.25 am 16 April 2008 e.v. and already been for a healthy walk round Carlingwark Loch where a wildlife observation hide is under construction. Since I suggested building something similar 9 years ago as a Millenium Project (but in form of a crannog see http://www.crannog.co.uk/ ) I guess this could be described as ‘progress…’[Even got it included -as ‘crannog style observation post’ in Stewartry Local Area Plan but Scottish Natural Heritage got the ‘crannog’ bit struck out- so on land not in water].

So here we go….

1. Mary Boyce - see obit here http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2006/apr/11/guardianobituaries.religion

Mary Boyce suggested that Zoroaster lived around 3500 years ago and developed his religious insights through a series of visions provoked by a conflict . This conflict was between the pastoral, possibly still stone tool using, community he lived in and a metal/ bronze using and chariot driving community.

Harsh experience had evidently convinced the prophet that wisdowm, justice and goodness were utterly separate by nature from wickedness and cruelty;and in vision he beheld, co-existing with Ahura Mazda [the uncreated creator of the world] , an adversary, the ‘Hostile Spririt’, Angra Mainyu, equally uncreated, but ignorant and wholly malign. [Boyce:1984:20]
Ahura Mazda accomplished the act of creation in two stages. First he brought all things into being in a disembodied stage, called in Pahlavi ‘menog’, that is ‘spiritual, immaterial’. Then he gave it ‘material’ or getig existence’ The getig existence is better than the previous menog one, for in it Ahura Mazda’s perfect creation received the added good of solid and sentient form. Together, the fashioning of these two states constituted the act of Creation, called in Pahlavi ‘Bundahishn’. The achievement of the getig state set the field for the battle with evil, for unlike the menog one it was vulnerable to assault; and Angra Mainyu straightaway attacked. According to the myth as set out in the Pahlavi books, he broke violently through the lower bowl of the stone sky [think meteorites as in stones which fall from the sky], thus marring its perfection. Then he plunged through the water, turning much of it to salt, and then attacked the earth, creating deserts. Next he withered the plant, and slew the Uniquely -created Bull and the First Man. Finally he fell upon the seventh creation, fire, and sullied it with smoke, so that he had physically blighted all the good creation. [Boyce:1984:25]

‘Creation’ was the first of the three times into which the drama of cosmic history is divided. Angra Mainyu’s attack inaugurated the second time, that of ‘Mixture’ (Pahlavi ‘Gumezisn’), during which the world is no longer wholly good, but is a blend of good and evil; for the cycle of being having been set in motion, Angra Mainyu continues to attack with the Daevas and all the other legions of darkness…According to Zoroaster’s new revelation, mankind thus shared with the spenta divinities the great common purpose of gradually overcoming evil and restoring the world to its original perfect state. The glorious moment when this will be achieved is called ‘Frashokereti’ (Pahlavi ‘Frashegird’) [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eschatology ] a term which probably means ‘Healing’ or ‘Renovation’. Therewith history will cease [think Hegel, end of history] since the third time, that of ‘Separation’ (Pahlavi ’Wizarishn’) will be ushered in. This the time when good will be separated from evil; and since evil will then be utterly destroyed, the period of Separation is eternal, and in it Ahura Mazda and all the Yazatas and men and women will live together in perfect, untroubled goodness and peace.
In thus postulating not only a beginning but also and end to human history, Zoroaster made a profound break with earlier ideas, according to which the process of life, once started, was expected to continue forever, if men and gods both bore their part. [Boyce: 1984 :25/6]

Mary Boyce describes this process of Creation >Mixture > Separation as ‘cyclic’, but it is a cycle which operates over many hundreds, even thousands, of years. It is also a one-off cycle which will never be repeated so it implies an irreversible and one- directional arrow of time which moves from Creation through Mixture ( the age we are in) to a final Separation when history ends and Eternity is renewed.

Although historically obscure, Zoroaster’s revolutionary ideas have influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Zoroaster’s religious innovations became the state religion of Persia/ Iran. About 2500 years ago, the Persian/ Iranian ruler Cyrus who invaded and occupied the city of Babylon in Iraq. The Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar had about 50 years previously captured and carried off members of the Jewish community into captivity. Cyrus allowed surviving members to return home, and encouraged them to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. [Some stayed, so Babylon became a major centre of Judaism for at least 1500 years].

For his efforts, Cyrus is described as a ‘messiah’ (liberator) in the Old Testament http://www.hope.edu/bandstra/RTOT/CH10/CH10_2D.HTM and it seems likely [Boyce:1984: 51] that Zoroastrian ideas were absorbed into Judaism - and then Christianity.

2. A Missing Link/ Idea of Progress

In Bruce Rich : Mortgaging the Earth: The World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment and the Crisis of Development: Earthscan : 1994 I thought there was a link but can’t find it. It is that in the 17th century thinkers like Descartes and Bacon had the idea that through science the original divine blueprint - the ‘menog’ stage of Zoroastianism- of the created world could be recovered; and then applied through technology to the world as it is in its current ‘getig’ stage and thus restore its perfection. [As a way to immanentize the eschaton - which I have discussed in posts below]

Bruce Rich [1994: 214] located the origins of the World Bank/ International Bank of Reconstruction and Development idea of ‘progress through development’ in the work of Claude-Henri Saint-Simon.

The danger of this idea of progress is that it treats ‘traditional’ knowledge and practice as flawed and irrational. This ignores the possibility that traditions become established through trial and error, that they evolve to adapt geographic communities to their particular environments. The ‘inefficiencies’ of such traditions are the checks and balances necessary for them to be sustainable over time.

The end result of ‘progress’ is not a finally perfected world, but a world which can only be sustained through constant modernisation, an unsustainable world.

“So that this so solid-seeming World, after all, were but an air-image…” as Thomas Carlyle put itin Sartor Resartus or “All that is solid melts to air” as Marx had it.

3. Some Debord, to illustrate his take on shift from cyclical to irreversible linear time.

Cyclical time is already dominant among the nomadic peoples because they find the same conditions repeated at each stage of their journey. As Hegel notes, “the wandering of nomads is only nominal because it is limited to uniform spaces.” When a society settles in a particular location and gives space a content by developing distinctive areas within it, it finds itself confined within that locality. The periodic return to similar places now becomes the pure return of time in the same place, the repetition of a sequence of activities. The transition from pastoral nomadism to sedentary agriculture marks the end of an idle and contentless freedom and the beginning of labor. The agrarian mode of production, governed by the rhythm of the seasons, is the basis for fully developed cyclical time. Eternity is within this time, it is the return of the same here on earth. Myth is the unitary mental construct which guarantees that the cosmic order conforms with the order that this society has in fact already established within its frontiers.

The victory of the bourgeoisie is the victory of a profoundly historical time, because it is the time corresponding to an economic production that continuously transforms society from top to bottom. So long as agrarian production remains the predominant form of labor, the cyclical time that remains at the base of society reinforces the joint forces of tradition, which tend to hold back any historical movement. But the irreversible time of the bourgeois economy eradicates those vestiges throughout the world. History, which until then had seemed to involve only the actions of individual members of the ruling class, and which had thus been recorded as a mere chronology of events, is now understood as a general movement — a relentless movement that crushes any individuals in its path. By discovering its basis in political economy, history becomes aware of what had previously been unconscious; but this basis remains unconscious because it cannot be brought to light. This blind prehistory, this new fate that no one controls, is the only thing that the commodity economy has democratized.

With the development of capitalism, irreversible time has become globally unified. Universal history becomes a reality because the entire world is brought under the sway of this time’s development. But this history that is everywhere simultaneously the same is as yet nothing but an intrahistorical rejection of history. What appears the world over as the same day is merely the time of economic production, time cut up into equal abstract fragments. This unified irreversible time belongs to the global market, and thus also to the global spectacle.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

re relativism: while ‘progress’ is guided by rock-hard ideals of development, “growth”, accumulation of profit and the ‘right’ to do so, Reason, etc, what is equally complicit in this process is the relativistic thought process that allows say a scientist to justify working on a nuclear bomb or corporate-sponsored research &lobbying against environmental protection etc, e.g. “if I don’t do it someone else will” or simply the absence of any values fixed enough to resist (“I was only following orders”)… Or one of the lynchpins of consumer society, advertising, which depends on professional sofists willing to sell anything for the highest bidder. There’s a kind of connection here between the universal equivelance of money and the equivalence of all values which mirrors it; internally it also serves as a psychological mechanism which numbs all values and internal conflict in this period of alienation and hopelessness.
Revolt Against Plenty: “…some abstract pseudo-critique of the notion of progress which is post-modernism's revelry in meaninglessness - a lifeless relativism which, like the commodity form itself, makes everything - all histories and societies - interchangeably equivalent. The progress of alienation, the progress of the potential of the struggle against it, the progress of the immensity of our tasks are realities that can't be philosophised out of existence.”
Biroco: “So everything is equally valid? The stupidest most naive interpretation of say politics in Iraq from a schoolboy in middle America is just as valid as a detailed insight from a scholar of Persian teaching philosophy in Baghdad… I don't know if you are a Buddhist, but certainly many Buddhists are of the opinion that a goal is to render all distinctions null and void. But what they often forget is that this is something only possible on an absolute plane and that to attempt to apply such ideas on the relative plane leads one into error.”
Vaneigem: “...these particles of antagonism moulded into a magnetic ring whose function is to make everybody lose their bearings, to pull everyone out of himself and to scramble lines of force. Decompression is simply the control of antagonisms by power. The opposition of two terms is given its real meaning by the introduction of a third. As long as there are only two equal and opposite polarities, they neutralize each other, since each is defined by the other; as it is impossible to choose between them, we are led into the domain of tolerance and relativity which is so dear to the bourgeoisie.”

re progress… have been re-reading Debord and trying to fit it together:
Debord: 136 …The religions that evolved out of Judaism were the abstract universal recognition of an irreversible time now democratized, open to all, yet still confined to the realm of illusion. Time remained entirely orientated towards a single final event: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”… Eternity was also what humbled time in its mere irreversible flow – suppressing history as history continued – by positioning itself beyond irreversible time, as a pure point which cyclical time would enter only to be abolished.

So Debord located the shift not in Zoroaster like Boyce, but in Christianity about 1500 years later. But the point is the same at least to the extent that there is a shift in the consciousness of time (progress) that continues into modernity in secular form. (But I’m also wondering if there aren’t other religions with a definite apocalypse-type end-point other than the monotheistic & written middle eastern ones).

AL: “Where are we? Chasing Hegel the Hermeticist / Gnostic in his pursuit of the Absolute which Karl Marx turned into the pursuit of the Revolution / Eschaton and wondering if there are other ways to make some kinda sense of it all (or should that be The All?)”

But was Marx simply manipulating Hegel’s concepts founded on abstraction and theology, or did he manage to catch a glimpse of the real world that abstraction was clouding, and then on the basis of that glimpse proceed to demystify/unveil that which was repressed and unconscious within both Hegel and the religious currents that inspired him.
Debord: 138 “…modern revolutionary hopes are not an irrational sequel to the religious passion of millenarianism. The exact opposite is true: millenarianism, the expression of a revolutionary class struggle speaking the language of religion for the last time, was already a modern revolutionary tendency, lacking only the consciousness of being historical and nothing more…The peasant class could achieve a clear consciousness neither of the workings of society nor of the way to conduct its own struggle, and it was because it lacked these prerequisites of unity in its action and consciousness that the peasantry formulated its project and waged its wars according to the imagery of an earthly paradise”
Marx: “The world has for a long time possessed the dream of a thing, of which it now suffices to become aware so as to really possess it.”
“Man, who has found only the reflection of himself in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a supernatural being, will no longer be tempted to find the mere appearance of himself, an unman, where he seeks and must seek his true reality…This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world…The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.”

But then why pluck the flower in the first place… the point being that neither Marx nor Debord questioned industrial progress from an ecological perspective – and so theirs are critiques to be superceded too. But that supercession would also be a progress although of a different kind than what politicians, corporate experts and their advertisers have planned; a progress opposed to consensus reality and its architects. If Hegel imagined the end of history, revolutionary theory reinterprets it as the end of pre-history – a qualitative shift which is not an end-point but a new beginning. Capitalism though can evisage neither, only what Debord calls pseudo-cyclical time, the accumulation of more profits and, like an artificial intelligence working on faulty programming, its own reproduction.
And a final quote:

Debord:133 The dry, unexplained chronology that a deified authority offered to its subjects, who were supposed to accept it as the earthly fulfillment of mythic commandments, was destined to be transcended and transformed into conscious history. But for this to happen, sizeable groups of people had to have experienced real participation in history. Out of this practical communication between those who have recognized each other as possessors of a unique present, who have experienced a qualitative richness of events in their own activity and who are at home in their own era, arises the general language of historical communication. Those for whom irreversible time truly exists discover in it both the memorable and the danger of forgetting: “Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents the results of his researches, so that time will not abolish the deeds of men...”

So essential change can only come by conscious mass participation in history; a progress not based on any limited concept of Reason but something more total and wider in scope… drawing on both progress/irreversible-time and tradition/cyclical-time in an attempt to move beyond both? Let us hope that this is already beginning.

11:03 pm  

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