Axialization of the Nomadic Paradigm

15 December 2010

Wednesday


In the schematic division of Integral History that I have been formulating in a series of posts, I have posited a tripartite historical periodization based primarily on demographic trends: the nomadic paradigm, in which the greater part of human beings are hunter-gatherers, the agricultural paradigm, in which the greater part of human beings are subsistence farmers, and the industrial paradigm, in which the greater part of human beings are workers in industry. This schema can be further extended with prehuman prehistory coming before the nomadic paradigm, and with extraterrestrialization as a possibility following the industrial paradigm. Further future developments are to be expected it the fullness of time, but I will not discuss this any more at present.

While I have posted many thoughts about the character of life under the agricultural paradigm and the industrial paradigm, I have posted very little about life during the nomadic paradigm, though this is where humanity got its start and was the basis of everything that followed. At the earliest edge of the nomadic paradigm, human history emerges seamlessly from natural history, and I have devoted some posts to this transitional period, such as The Continuity of Civilization and Natural History, inter alia. At the trailing end of the nomadic paradigm, hunter-gatherers make the transition either into settled agriculturalism or nomadic pastoralism. Both developments represent a rationalization of the food supply for human societies. In between these two integral transitions that bookend the nomadic paradigm, which constitutes a period of at least 120,000 years and at most a period of five million years (depending upon where you would like to begin in prehuman prehistory), societies of the nomadic paradigm experienced their own forms of development unique to this integral division.

In another post, The Next Axial Age, I introduced the term axialization to denote that process that civilizations experience when they reach a given level of maturity such that the institutions intrinsic to the civilization in question can produce the definitive mythological synthesis that expresses the central idea of the civilization in question. (Note also that in The Incommensurability of Civilizations I have suggested that distinct civilizations are based upon essentially different ideas.) In The Next Axial Age I suggested that the axialization of the agricultural paradigm did not occur until that paradigm was perhaps ten thousand years old (depending upon when you fix the date of the advent of the Neolithic agricultural revolution), which demonstrates both how long it took for the agricultural paradigm to mature, and how mature a division of integral history must become before it can produce an account of itself.

If we drop the implied requirement of discussing this question in terms of civilizations we can extrapolate this reasoning backward through time, and in doing so we can immediately see the axialization of the nomadic paradigm. The Axial Age of our hunter-gatherer ancestors prior to the advent of the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution is to be found in the great age of cave art that flourished in Western Europe during the last Ice Age (more specifically, during the Quaternary glaciation). The earliest known cave art, in the Grotte de Chauvet, may be 32,000 years old. The dates are in some dispute, and some suggest later dates that would correspond to the Gravettian culture between 28,000 and 22,000 years ago. Prior to the Gravettian culture was the Aurignacian culture, which was sufficiently sophisticated to produce such artifacts as The Lion Man sculpture.

At this point in the argument we need not be more specific; both the Gravettian culture and the Aurignacian culture predated the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution, and both represent semi-sedentary peoples on the cusp of agriculturalization and settled life. But they weren’t quite settled yet, and it is to be expected that their culture continued to be rooted in the traditions of hunter-gatherer nomadism. However, it is significant that these cultures are on the cusp of agriculturalization and settlement, because it demonstrates how late these development came under the nomadic paradigm. But the axialization of the nomadic paradigm did eventually occur, as we see in the great galleries of cave art in what is now France and Spain. This art is the mythological expression of the age.

It must be noted that, even in comparison to the relatively late axialization of the agricultural paradigm, the axialization of the nomadic paradigm was even later. This could be explained by distinguishing between relative and absolute degrees of the maturity of human institutions. If you like, we could formulate the same idea in terms of the “progress” of human institutions, but “progress” is a word that arouses suspicions. In any case, there is on the one hand the maturation of institutions specific to a particular integral paradigm, and on the other hand there is the maturation of human institutions independent of any paradigm. In the long history of our species, we can identify and separate both kinds of institutions: those almost entirely embedded within a division of integral history, and those that transcend the divisions of integral history. The former I will call the relative maturation of institutions, while the latter I will call the absolute maturation of institutions.

Because of the slow rate of the progress of absolute maturity of human institutions, it too a long time for the elements to emerge that would make the axialization of the nomadic period possible. It happened late, and it happened just before the whole nomadic way of life was superseded by the agricultural paradigm. The axialization of the agricultural paradigm took perhaps ten thousand years, which is a long time in human terms, but it happened much more rapidly than the axialization of the nomadic paradigm. This I assume to be the case because a great deal of the absolute maturation of human institutions had already taken place, and all that was needed was the relative maturation of institutions specific to the agricultural paradigm.

In The Next Axial Age I suggested that the axialization of the industrial paradigm is still a few hundred years away. I continue to be of this view, but even if the axialization of the industrial paradigm occurs five hundred years from now, it will have occurred only some seven hundred years after the advent of industrialization, which is far shorter — shorter by an order of magnitude — than the axialization of the agricultural paradigm. The axialization of the agricultural paradigm almost certainly took longer then seven thousand years; the axialization of the industrial paradigm will almost certainly take less then seven hundred years, hence an order of magnitude of difference. On this basis, and on the basis of the the idea of the absolute maturation of human institutions independent of integral transitions, I further suggest that if extraterrestrialization emerges as the next major division of integral history, that the axialization of extraterrestrialization will occur an order of magnitude sooner than that of the axialization of the industrial paradigm. Furthermore, and for the same reasons, if something else emerges as the next major division of integral history, if anything else is possible (and I believe this to be the case), that the axialization of this unknown paradigm of future human life will similarly occur an order of magnitude sooner than that which preceded it.

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2 Responses to “Axialization of the Nomadic Paradigm”

  1. [...] While my new purchase was being wrapped, I walked around the gallery enjoying the artwork.  I found another piece I like, by an artist named Timothy Chapman.  I’ll have to wait on that one.  A sign in the gallery, Even Cavemen Had Art, reminded me of my brothers recent post, http://geopolicraticus.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/axialization-of-the-nomadic-paradigm/. [...]

  2. Oh, I think this is a very good usage of Jaspers’ notion. I would also point out Ortega y Gasset’s “Meditations on Hunting.” While it is not so much about history, I think he does some contemplations there would be beneficial for thinking the hunter-gatherer axialization. Also, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone did some interesting phenomenology of a cave painting in 2001 at the SPEP/IAEP meeting in Baltimore. I will have to dig around to see if she ever published that.

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