by Joel A. Wendt
Without doubt, the future is unknown. It may be unknowable, although there are many who seek to penetrate the mists in which the future is hidden. Some claim to be seers - to know through spiritual experience some content of this dark realm. Others think that there might be some kind of science, such as statistics, which would allow for predictability. Not a few find in various prophecies some indication of what lies yet unknown. It certainly is very human to want to know the future.
In our time there are a lot of very specific attempts to see into the future in these various ways. I will add my own voice to these attempts and the reader will have to decide whether there is anything of value here.
My own method bears some resemblance to those who look to science. Thus, it might appear that I have attempted to extend ongoing tendencies, in the existing social and political realities, on into the future. Yet, this is not quite correct. What I did was try to understand the social present, and in the process of that search discovered various kinds of long term dynamic processes active in social life, which would seem to effect the shape of the future. My method of research was largely based upon the scientific work of J.W. Goethe , and is in some circles called goetheanism .
Goetheanism, as I have used it, involves the use of the picture creating capacity of the mind - the imagination. All thinkers use this capacity, but only a very few have yet realized its fullest potentials. Discursive thinking and analytic thought can, to a certain extent, come to an appreciation of those aspects of reality which they mirror - namely the most material aspects. But the imagination has more kinship with the life processes of reality, as well as with the hidden spiritual aspects. Just as discursive thinking is the mirror of the mechanical/material, so the imagination is the mirror of the life sphere, for the mind is not separate from the world, but rather its counterpart. Each aspect of the world has a corresponding and analogous quality in the mind.
But the application of goethean principles to social scientific studies raises certain problems. Goethe applied his method to sense perceptable forms, such as the world of plants, wherein he recreated in his imagination (by what he called: exact sensorial phantasy) the changes in the form of the plant over time. Through this process he obtained his results. His discovery was that the inwardness of the plants would appear in the imagination, if the imagination faithfully recreated their appearences. In a like fashion I have attempted to create in the imagination an exact picture of the dynamics of our social existence. The results of this work appear on this website.
But social forms don't exist to the senses. I don't see, with the physical eyes, such things as family, communities, the State, or other kinds of social order. I only see them with the thinking. So in my work I had to be mindful of the fact that I was engaged in two kinds of acts: one, wherein I created in the imagination the specific form, and the second, where I recreated the changes in this form over time. In addition, a lot of care had to be taken so as not to introduce my own subjectivities - my sympathies and antipathies - into this process. So I found it a difficult struggle to manage to maintain a similar kind of exactness to that which Goethe was able to find in his sense observations. In aid of this struggle the work of Rudolf Steiner was very helpful, in particular his book: "ATheory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception".
As a general statement I have written of the method I used as: "Listening to the World Song ". It was my intuition from the beginning that social realites were a kind of "speech", and that all one really needed to do was to bring them alive in the thinking with as much objectivity as possible. These "facts" would then speak, and all that was required of the cognitive capacity was to be able to inwardly behold, as images, social reality.
Let us begin to test my methods by becoming aware of certain very simple observations.
We live, in the industrial West, in a time when there has arisen the term "nuclear family". A modern family frequently consists of only one parent and child. Moreover, this small social form will often be separated from other aspects of "family", such as the parent's siblings, parents and so forth. Even more intact families, where both parents are present in the home, the other relations - grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins etc. - these will live in quite separate geographical locations and often there will be little social intercourse.
If we step back in time, say to the turn of the Century (from the 19th to the 20th), we will find quite large family organisms living in the same neighborhood. There will be many "relatives", sets of grandparents, a dozen sets of parents, and many many children. Moreover, this family organism will be embeded (usually) in a mirco-culture, a neighborhood of same or similar people in the sense of language, ethnic origin, and religion.
If we go back even further, perhaps three or four hundred years, we find the family organism just as large, but usually embeded in a village environment, which might have a single isolated cultural milieux. Whereas, in the turn of the Century neighborhood, we will find other cultural systems existing side by side and quite busy influencing each other, in the village everything was quite singular This requires, for our social observations, that we not isolate the family from the community, and that we have to include in our pictures the various changes over time in community as well.
In this way we become conscious of something at once very obvious, but nevertheless quite extraordinary. For centuries now a certain kind of order in the social world has been slowly disolving. Well, perhaps not so obvious, but many have mentioned it (see, for example, Robert Bly's books: Iron John ; and, the Sibling Society).
The fact is that over time it appears that the family organism, as a social form, has become smaller and smaller. It is as if it is somehow flying apart, so that it is not surprising that the metaphor "nuclear" (as in small, charged and potentially explosive) is applied.
But this kind of observation is only of the outside of social phenomena. Families and communities are made up of individuals, and each individual is a node of consciousness. Thus, the psychological changes - the inner environments - become relevant. That is they are part of the whole. We can't just picture the changes in the outer social form, but must include the changes in the inwardness of the individuals.
I was greatly helped in this part of the effort, by the work of Owen Barfield . His investigations of the phenomena of language changes over time gives us the best evidence of the changes taking place in the inwardness of the individual over the same time period. The name generally given to this phenomena is "the evolution of consciousness". Readers, who want to know more of this, need to take up a serious study of his work, including but not limited to: Saving the Appearences - a study in Idolatry; Speakers Meaning; History in English Words; and, Poetic Diction.
Barfield, and others (see Gotfried Richter's Art and Human Consciousness ; as well as Ernst Lehrs' Man or Matter , have identified as an aspect of this process of inward evolution a particularly significant change as having begun around the 15th Century. This change has been called a change from "original participation" to the "onlooker separation". Whereas before this change the individual felt him or herself more as a part of either nature, community or others - following this change the individual experienced him/her self as separate. Where once one might be called John's son, or de Chardin, that is identified with a specific town or family, now more and more individuals sought their own identity. Once upon a time the son and daughter assumed certain well defined roles for their future - namely following in the footsteps of the parent, while today it would be considered a egregious breach of inner freedom to expect a child to be a clone of the parent.
We can now bring these two streams of change into relationship with each other: one in the nature of the social form and the other in the nature of the individual within that form. Holding both picture streams in mind leads to a clear perception of their mutual reciprocal interdependence. The slow development of greater individuality becomes a force from inside the family and the community, tending to disolve these forms. The individuality needs these forms to cease inhibiting its growth. But this is not all that has happened in the past which effects the shape of the social present.
Families and communities, and the individual members, are all embeded in culture. It is culture as well which has undergone all manner of change over the same time period.
The "onlooker separation" gives rise to natural science, for now the knowledge seeker has a clear experience of nature as being over there, and that he or she is inside, over here" - there is a distinct outside and inside, and the two seem quite separate (see also Coleridge's remarks about "outness", as discussed in Barfield's What Coleridge Thought). Science, in turn, creates two powerful trends. One trend we see in what has been called the industrial revolution, and which involves our discovery, through science, of vast powers hidden in nature. The other trend is the change in world view - the paradigm change - which replaces for many the previously held religious beliefs with a scientific materialism.
In addition, the industrial revolution effects the social quite directly, first by driving the father from the home and into the factory, and second by coagulating people near urban centers and their industrial concerns and away from viliages - the more rural ways of life. This same process of challenge to the existing social forms of family and community has continued, until today the mother as well has been taken from the central axis of the family and into the work force.
This, of course, was an outer change in social form. But the second trend - the paradigm change - spawned by natural science has more effected the inner environment.
Scientific materialism has produced a new idea of the nature of the human being, and of the universe in which we find ourselves. It very much seems likely to be a temporary view, but it nonetheless dominates the image of self that many people have, as well as our sense of larger meaning.
It also is possible to see these changes as being very undesirable, and many do just that, yearning for a return to some prior imagined time. But if we seek an objective social knowledge, then we cannot indulge our antipathies, and must learn to see these processes and changes as whole in themselves.
It is possible to go into more detail, and there is some justification for this. For example, the individual biography must be acknowledged. While we can see great trends in the social world - in the world cognized by the discipline of history - it remains a fact that this is experienced individually. The fact that there are apparently great inovators in history (Jefferson, Newton, Goethe, Gandhi etc.) needs not to cause us to overlook the existence of each individual life. These individual lives are not irrelevancies, even though some students of history tend to see the individual as a passive canvass upon which the great and the mighty paint their deeds. For our purposes it will do to see the deeds of the significiant as a kind of social radiating force - effects pass outward into the social organism from these deeds.
Let us make here a hypothesis. Let us imagine that it is not just the great and the mighty who are essential in the vast streams of history, but also the individuals. Let us imagine that history exists, not for itself, but for them. History, in this sense then, is a created context with a distinct purpose for the individual lives which are lived in each particular age. The great and the mighty are called to perform a service to this context, but they are not the deeper cause of it.
How could we know if this is true?
We should begin by calling to mind a particular biography, of which the best is probably our own. We can examine this biography and find therein any number of elements that are common to all biographies: life and death, inner and outer growth, moments of moral crisis, times of remorse and guilt - almost endless is what happens within the experientially rich environment of an individual biography.
In our particular time there is a very significant common aspect to human biographies - one which is quite consistent with the various dynamic processes we have already been observing. One of the effects of the changes in family and community life, and in culture in general (this is more true in the industrial West, but is also emerging in the Third World), is the lessening of the coercive effect upon the individual of the family's and community's moral standards. As we have more and more emerged into the change of consciousness that began in the 15th Century, there has been an increasing loss of the ability of traditional ways to determine individual moral behavior.
This has not gone unnoticed. For example, in the cultural milieux of America there has emerged a particular form of television drama. It is best exemplified by the work of David Kelley, the quite prolific writer of most of the scripts for several television series: L. A. Law; Picket Fences; Ally McBeal and The Practice and so forth. In one of the episodes for Picket Fences, at the end, a lead character summarizes the situation, where he says in a few sentences: No one knows what is right to do anymore, we are all on our own.
We live in a age of moral ambiguity, which places us in life situations that compell our making individual choices, free of the older paternal security of an outside source of moral teaching. Moreover, this same age has been growing its own ways of being self aware of this very phenomena. For example, in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, in the basic idea of the What Would Jesus Do movement, and in Rudolf Steiner's book The Philosophy of Freedom, we find practical cognitions of this problem and how the individual can relate to it. The same underlying source, which creates for each individual in this age the possibility of moral freedom, arranges for the needed idea of it to be present for our support and edification (for details, see my book: the Way of the Fool).
We could say this then about our age - it is a womb for the development of individual moral freedon through processes of alchemical social crisis.
So we look at the world, at its surfaces, and see AIDS spreading all over the third world, we see individuals and groups trying to dominate the world economy, we see cultural decay in many of the arts, and we can have an almost endless list of terrors and horrors that brings deep pain of heart when we have to observe them. Yet, all of this is necessary for moral crisis to arise in individual biographies, without which the possibility of moral freedom cannot appear.
With these ideas in mind, let us add to our considerations: the future.
As we have noted, the above situation really only is fully developed in the industrial West. Now so as to appreciate this condition, let me summarize it a bit.
We have observed the increasing disolving of the family and the community, from that cultural and moral cohesion they once enjoyed. Eventually we get the so-called nuclear family, the family values crisis, and other phenomena connected to what is essentially an end to Western Civilization.
Whoops, did he really say that!?!
If we consider that "civilization" is the inside of something, rather than the outside, we will realize that the moral and value systems which engendered what we tend to call Western Civilization have been falling apart for some time. In fact, there must be birth and life and death to such complex social form structures as what we call: civilization. Our studies of history make clear the endings and beginnings of many of these complex organisms of social existence.
In fact, with the discovery of the New World a certain watershed was reached as regards the life processes of Western Civilization. What had been for centuries written into the cultures of various nations and peoples of the Old World now had a geographic gap to bridge, which it could not really do, for the Americas are not by nature a place hospitable to these last remains of quite old traditions. We could study Europe endlessly, and never really have a clue to what is to be born over time, culturally, in the Americas (for example, if we look just at the phenomena emerging in the present from America, we can see clearly quite unusual forces are at work).
But I am not here going to attempt to unfold these possibilities, for that would take us quite far afield. Rather the point of this is to realize that Western Civilization (the inward elements) has fallen, and its collapse outwardly in its institutions and infrastructures is bound to follow. Yeats had it quite right at the beginning of the 20th Century when he wrote: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
Let me go into this a bit more, so there is no confusion. Just as there is a physical community, there is also the possibility of a community of ideas and values. It is this inner community which has been shattered through the social forces unleashed by scientific materialism. Everyone wants to go their own way, and this is true even in goverments and boards of corporations. The individuals responsible for managing our most essential institutions can't find any longer a community of values by which they can form a cohesive and cooperative path into the future.
Now it may appear that they do find such views, but if you listen closely to the language used in the babylon of current polticial and economic discourse, you will see that only in the most superficial way is there any consensus. Within these superficial ideas one will find the flawed imaginations of the present (what are essentially polticial and economic myths). These flawed imaginations do not accord with social reality, and actions based upon them are thus doomed to failure. The managers don't understand the world they live in except in cliches and myths, and so the structures they try to create in response are castles built upon sand (for details on this see The Coming Collapse: Civilization at the Brink , these pages).
This vision is a bit dark, for it only sees the end of Western Civilization. But endings are really only transition points - social form (the life sphere of the social organism) also can undergo metamorphosis. We are not falling off a cliff into an abyss (although individually and inwardly we do face a spiritual crisis which is like standing at the edge of an abyss - see: The Abyss of Aloneness , these pages). Instead we face social transformation. In an age which is hallmarked by the need for individual biographies to face intimate moral crisis sufficient to create the possibility of a kind of inner awakening (Rudolf Steiner calls this the Consciousness Soul age, and the Hopi Indians of America's Southwest call it the Age of Purification ), we should expect nothing on the macro social level but a mirror image of this individual crisis. What first appears most clearly in the industrial West, must go onward to encampass the whole world, and the whole world will burn from this.
Because the individual biographies require it. The need for moral crisis is a great hunger in the inwardness of individuals. They are drawn to it like a moth to a flame, for in it they sense the latent image of their own yearnings for freedom. Each "I am" wants complete antonomy, particularly in the inner realms - in the realms of moral freedon and of self created world view. We want no one to tell us what to think, or what is right to do.
To have a more concrete picture, think about it this way. The AIDS crisis, for example, does not arise because some madman has attempted to destroy the world by passing out some kind of biological weapon (although such may accompany the actual collapse of civilization), it arises because of millions of individual moral decisions. The acts of individuals in this sense are a kind of "suctional", or scuptural, social force, drawing the stream of events into a certain kind of order through their massive common nature. Rather than the great and mighty just radiating effects on the passive canvass of the masses, it is the needs of the individual biographies, through taking common form, that pulls the world into various kinds of crisis, toward which in response might well appear those few great souls we hope will guide us through the burning social fires of purification (see Strange Fire: the Death, and the Resurrection, of Modern Civilization , these pages)
As we can imagine, the more this develops the more we enter into a condition of a kind of social chaos. Modern individuality seeks to completely overcome any aspect of social form which would inhibit this development. The two are absolutely necessary for each other. Rampaging individuality has to have the weakest form of surrounding community. The less cohesive the community, the greater potential field of action for the unfolding of the individual "I am".
There are, of course, contrary impulses and we should acknowledge them. Some people have not the inner strength to pursue such a goal. Whether through fear, or through a need to be a part of something else, they will then not heed the call of their own "I am". Some others will see themselves as guardians of traditional ways, and in their own individual form of moral crisis, choose to interfer in the choices of others. Many others, of course, faced with moral choice will choose the Dark, rather than the Light. The varieties of possibilities are nearly as endless as are the number of individuals participating in this Age.
We need then to be inwardly prepared for outer events to get much worse. At the same time we need to have what is essentially a social aesthetic. Just as the catastrophic aspects of Nature rise to the heights of the most dramatic beauty, so life on the Earth was very well characterized by the Bard, when he wrote: "All the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players." What in human history that is great drama has its origin in the thoughts of an equally great dramatist. So we play our parts, and with grace and effort we might also discover how to have a say as to the staging and nature of the next act - the form and qualities of the new civilization.
The burning fire of the death of one civilization is the fiery womb for the embrionic phoenix of the next one. But given the nature of what has brought about the end of the old - that is the appearence of the striving for inner automony - there certainly must be an opportunity for this to become a creative power giving new form to what emerges. The danger is to be so involved in issues of survival, that the organizing of new social forms is left to old powers and their habitual patterns of thought.
The fundamental issue is one already well understood - how to have communities in which our hard earned personal inner autonomy can be maintained. Clearly this must be possible, but how to do this will mean drawing something futher out the mystery of our own "I am".
This is then one of the challenges we face - a very creative challenge. Since we can see the coming of a certain intensity of social chaos, this does not mean we have to be passive in the face of it. What the future really is, is not the shape of the trials by which one age is ending. Rather, the real future is something we create out of the new capacities gifted to us by this Strange Fire of the Age of Purification.
So, the future, as always, lies in choice - do we stand by passively wringing our hands at the terrible conditions of the world, or do we take what this rite of passage has created within us, and use this new moral strength to forge a more human civilization.
Of course, if we wish to act, we must act not just as individuals, but as communities. Various possibilities along these lines will be found on this website, especially in: Civil Society: its potential and its mystery , in The Plan and most especially in Counter-Moves : finding victory in the war the rich are making upon the poor.
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