Thursday 17 January 2013

History must be cyclical *and* linear


Pure linearity would be just one darned thing after another; and nothing could be learned from it because the past is no guide to the future.

Pure circularity would be mere repetition, with no possibility of breaking out, we would be bound by fate - and nothing could be learned from it.

The first condition of pure linearity is modernity - indistinguishable from the incomprehensibility of chaos; the second condition of pure cyclical history is the hunter gatherer (or Hindu) world view, with  a constant state of reality (now and always, past and future) varied only by the temporary swirlings of energy and recyclings of form.


Christian history is a a linear, purposive, and end-stopped sequence of multiple repeated themes or leitmotiven - recognizable recurrences, but inexact recurrences.

We may perceive pattern, in large and in small, but the outcome is not fated: there are at least two outcoes to each story - one positive, one negative (e.g the outcome of repentance, or of pride), and at the crux of each recurrent theme is a choice.


Wisdom is in applying the correct story to the current situation; recognizing the choice, then making the right choice.



Cantollonblog said...

In other words, history is a spiral and there may be similar relationships between periods in history as there are within other spirals that occur in nature.

His application of the work is questionable, but as regards observation and theory, Robert Prechter's work on Elliott Wave and socionomics is of possible interest here.

Bruce Charlton said...

@C - Spiral or helical - but the turns need not be regularly spaced; and indeed I think probably are not.

Ariston said...

One of the more fascinating phenomena of the period sense the Renaissance is the shattering the synthesis* of the cyclical time of pagan cultures with the linear–historicism implied by the unique nature of the Incarnation (and creation ex nihilo, but that doctrine was developed later). As you put it (modified to my understanding), wisdom is in understanding and choosing which ‘tool’ provided by that view of time is applicable.

The most obvious effect is in the strict linear time of the ‘strictly scientific’ world–view†. This is the dominant view of educated persons in the Anglophone nations. The other is the slip into a new form of that circular time from which man cannot escape, which reaches its finest expression in Nietzsche. (This book is dry—it could be much shorter—but excellent all the same.) This view is more common among non–Anglophones, but I doubt it is a majority (but I'm basing this mostly on Germans and Scandinavians).

I think this breakdown is very illustrative of one of the key diseases of modernity: Not only do we have a division where one is not needed—or even detrimental—but our division also effects our view of the past, and makes it ever harder to reach that commensurability which societies must have to survive; without it, there is no shared moral—much less philosophical**—universe.

* I'm not sure ‘balance’ is the right word— not that you used it.

† Causation and historical analogy are not real, but psychological; history does not follow laws, even though each actor may follow them, the system is too large & chaotic. Obviously the believer in synthetic time will be against historical law in the strict sense, but is readily open to the use of events as types of other events as a method of understanding.

** My use of ‘philosophical’ includes ‘theological’. Theology is part of philosophy; it is first philosophy in some of its facets, and secondary, tertiary, &c. in others.

Makaro said...

Perhaps history is like a chain it has a begining and an end and its made of varied circles

The Continental Op said...

Mark Twain: History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

The reason is that man hasn't changed at all, so the same old schemes the devil cooks up keep working. Forget what's right, suffer the effects, come to your senses, learn the lesson, next generation doesn't know the lesson learned, go back to start. Read Judges for a good sample of this.

George Goerlich said...

It would make sense that human history reflects to some degree a human life. We are born, give birth, die, and our children reflect our own makeup though do not exactly duplicate nor are entirely independent of what they inherit.

Daybreaker said...

History can't really be cyclical, because genes don't cycle.

It can be cyclical within relatively homogenous populations living together for a long time. You can see how many things identical twins have in common; racially similar people also have many things in common, and in different places and over time they will find themselves in similar sorts of situations.

But when the white man replaced the red man in most of North America, the cycle for the history of the red men did not continue. When mass immigration and forced integration end the whites, the white cycles of history will not continue.

The end of a single man's life is not the end. Descendants - not even your own - of similar character are likely to bring forward similar projects to any you leave incomplete. If you feel passionately about freedom or the beauty of your native land, it is likely that someone else of your own breed will eventually feel the same.

But the end of the breed is the end. Neanderthals will not be taking back Europe, no matter how long a cycle you have in mind.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D That is the linear bit you are describing; the cyclical bit is the replacement of one people by another.

Daybreaker said...

The theory that peoples replace each other cyclically is on the same footing with the theory that religions replace each other cyclically.

Both theories are known to be true, if at all, only by faith, and in the teeth of a lot of evidence, including the history of that remarkable people, the Jews.

Daybreaker said...

As far as I know, history is neither linear not cyclical nor any combination of the two, and the Bible never teaches that it is.

As far as I know, the Bible teaches that it is all about divine will, and under that all about nations of blood. That is a very different perspective.

Races and nations are not like busses. There will not be another one along in a while, headed to the same destination as the one before it and as good as equal in quality.

A cyclical view of race and national replacement would lead you to expect that. Old Testament history would lead you to expect nothing like that. And in this respect I think the Old Testament is right.

A view of history as a series of random events (that can't have a serious biological or divine basis otherwise they wouldn't be random) and that nothing can be learned from is also incompatible with Old Testament history.

I do not think that combining two radically wrong views makes one right one.

It's not time that's driving things; neither in the bus schedule sense nor in the sense that every time the click ticks everything becomes different and will never become similar again.

And it's not time that renders some people comprehensible and others not. It's either the will of the LORD and the holy narrative, or it's the "begats".

Jew relates to Jew across the ages and across all the lands and oceans of the Earth. Other peoples? Not so much.

This is natural and proper and true for other people as well.

Whites, building their great cities, could not learn very much from civilization of the Australian aboriginals or the Comanche Indians - much less than the whites that built America and Australia could learn from Romans and Greeks thousands of years before on another continent.

Those who are replacing us as we perish cannot for the most part learn from us (this is even adjacent to one of your points, on the necessity of "simplification"), and for the most part they are not interested in trying.

When it comes to developing a sympathetic understanding of the history and experiences of (some) others, and being able to use that understanding to be the best you can be, I think combining lines and cycles has little to do with it.

I'm not trying to talk you to death on this. It's just that I hadn't thought about this before - I found lectures on cyclical time too eye-glazing to spark any real thought - and I think it's important that history isn't at all like a clockwork process, not matter how many epicycles and adjustments you add. Because smart people have seriously thought that history is like that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - But you are merely distinguishing the linear bit (e.g. the endurance of The Jews until the end) from the cyclical bits (e.g. increasing disobedience to God, punishment, repentance and renewed obedience). There are both and there need to be both.

In a sense, my point here is metaphysical, and therefore unrefutable by experience or examples - it is a way of structuring experience and examples.

But it does clarify that the simpler metaphysics of 'pure' linearity or circularity quickly lead to paradox.