4 November 2012
In my last post, Axes of Historiography, I mentioned in passing that a more detailed and comprehensive schematic taxonomy of the axes of history could be obtained by interpreting the axes of historiography in terms of ecological temporality. This post will be my first attempt to sketch this in barest outline. What follows is sufficiently complex that it may of of little practical use, even of little practical intellectual use in terms of thinking things through, nevertheless the impulse to elaborate is there.
Here are the categories of historiographic methodology that I formulated in Axes of Historiography:
● nomothetic synchrony
Law-like interaction of all elements within a broadly-defined present
● ideographic synchrony
Contingent interactions of all elements within a broadly-defined present
● nomothetic diachrony
Law-like succession of related events through historical time (especially “deep time”)
● ideographic diachrony
Contingent succession of related events through historical time
Keeping this in mind, with its very sketchy distinction between the synchronic and the diachronic scope of the present, respectively, consider a more detailed breakdown of temporal scope. In my post ecological temporality I distinguish five levels of temporality from the personal lived experience of micro-temporality flowing from the punctiform present to the greatest sweep of history that I call meta-temporality:
●Micro-temporality: The temporal setting in which the individual lives; immediate “lived” time and individual time consciousness, as well as the finest grained temporal structure of non-conscious events.
●Meso-temporality: Relations between micro-temporalities or connections between immediate temporal contexts.
●Exo-temporality: Links between a temporal setting in which the individual does not have an active role and the individual’s immediate temporal context.
●Macro-temporality: The historical era in which individuals live, linking into a single history the exotemporal structures that lie outside immediate temporal experience or fine-grained temporal interactions.
●Meta-temporality: The whole of metaphysical history in which the individual and other lesser temporalities (Meso-temporality, Exo-temporality, and Macro-temporality) are embedded, and the temporal scope at which ideas unfold in history.
Using ecological temporality to define the scope of time, and using the axes of history to define the methodology used to study a given scope of time, there are twenty permutations of historical study, as follows:
● Micro-temporal nomothetic synchrony
Law-like, predictable interactions of all elements across the immediate lived present of the individual
● Micro-temporal ideographic synchrony
Contingent, unpredictable interactions of all elements across the immediate lived present of the individual
● Micro-temporal nomothetic diachrony
Law-like, predictable succession of related events in the immediate lived present of the individual
● Micro-temporal ideographic diachrony
Contingent, unpredictable succession of related events in the immediate lived present of the individual
● Meso-temporal nomothetic synchrony
Law-like, predictable interaction across micro-temporalities or connections across temporal contexts of micro-temporalities
● Meso-temporal ideographic synchrony
Contingent, unpredictable interactions across micro-temporalities or connections across temporal contexts of micro-temporalities
● Meso-temporal nomothetic diachrony
Law-like, predictable succession of related events in relations between micro-temporalities or connections between temporal contexts of microtemporalites
● Meso-temporal ideographic diachrony
Contingent, unpredictable succession of related events in relations between micro-temporalities or connections between temporal contexts of micro-temporalities
● Exo-temporal nomothetic synchrony
Law-like, predictable interactions of all temporal elements across temporal settings in which the individual does not have an immediate, active role
● Exo-temporal ideographic synchrony
Contingent, unpredictable interactions of all temporal elements across temporal settings in which the individual does not have an immediate, active role
● Exo-temporal nomothetic diachrony
Law-like, predictable succession of related temporal events linking temporal settings in which the individual does not have an immediate, active role and the individual’s immediate temporal context
● Exo-temporal ideographic diachrony
Contingent, unpredictable succession of related temporal events linking temporal settings in which the individual does not have an immediate, active role and the individual’s immediate temporal context
● Macro-temporal nomothetic synchrony
Law-like, predictable interaction of all elements across the historical era in which individuals live
● Macro-temporal ideographic synchrony
Contingent, unpredictable interactions of all elements across the historical era in which individuals live
● Macro-temporal nomothetic diachrony
Law-like, predictable succession of related events through historical time
● Macro-temporal ideographic diachrony
Contingent, unpredictable succession of related events through historical time
● Meta-temporal nomothetic synchrony
Law-like, predictable interaction of all elements across the temporal scope at which ideas unfold in metaphysical history
● Meta-temporal ideographic synchrony
Contingent, unpredictable interactions of all elements across the temporal scope at which ideas unfold in metaphysical history
● Meta-temporal nomothetic diachrony
Law-like, predictable succession of related events through the temporal scope at which ideas unfold in metaphysical history
● Meta-temporal ideographic diachrony
Contingent, unpredictable succession of related events through the temporal scope at which ideas unfold in metaphysical history
This looks and sounds too complicated to be of much help in illuminating any understanding of history, but if you take the time to think it through, you may see some virtues in this.
How can it make any sense to speak of micro-temporal synchrony when I have been characterizing synchrony in terms of a broadly defined present, while the micro-temporal is by definition narrowly defined? This is a matter of taking a present just large enough to be larger than the narrowest interpretation of micro-temporality (which would be the punctiform present), but not so large as to encompass the next level of temporality, that of meso-temporality. So micro-temporal ideographic synchrony would be something like situational awareness, while micro-temporal nomothetic synchrony would be those things in your immediate environment (perhaps those events within the lived experience of one’s own mental life) that you expect to happen because of the predictable regularities of experience.
It takes a little effort and a little sympathetic interpretation to make the whole structure work, but when it is interpreted charitably not only is the whole a coherent and systematic structure, but it actually eliminates some ambiguities by stretching out the boundaries of temporal categories until they abut neighboring categories. For example, the upper bound of micro-temporality stretched upward and outward by a synchronic interpretation abuts the lower bound of meso-temporality stretched downward and inward by a synchronic interpretation. Thus there is a certain usefulness for this schema, and it is not merely a theoretical indulgence.
The next step in this exposition of ecological temporality and the axes of history would be to produce a particular, concrete example of each of the twenty instances of historical thought outlined above in order to intuitively illuminate the idea of each category. I don’t have that many examples to hand at the moment, however, so I will save that effort for another time.
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16 January 2012
In Three Futures I considered a trio of possible developments based upon the extrapolation of certain strategic trends already present in the present. These three futures included:
● Extraterrestrialization, in which the greater part of humanity eventually resides off the surface of the earth.
● Pastoralization, in which urbanization and rural depopulation continue their trends with the greater part of humanity residing in cities (already technically true, in so far as more than half of all human populations today are urban populations, but the disproportion is not yet overwhelming) and the countryside is returned to something like pastoralism.
● Singularization, in which escalating computer technology transforms the life of the greater part of humanity, or simply displaces it. This scenario is based on Ray Kurzweil’s technological singularity, though treated as a process rather than an event (we are, after all, talking about history and not about divine fiat).
Recently in Marxist Eschatology I acknowledged that an old favorite must be added to our list of possible futures:
● Communism, in which, following the totality of globalization and there being under this global (crony) capitalist regime no alternatives to proletarianism, the workers really do throw the bums out and take over for themselves.
All three of these potential futures were treated in the spirit of developing strategic trends that could conceivably become the dominant strategic trend of the future, and in so doing define a new division of macro-temporality. In other words, the strategic trend in question is treated as possessing the possibility of becoming a macro-historical trend. I say here “developing” and “possibility” in order to stress that these strategic trends, even if they do become the dominant trend, will not come about with catastrophic suddenness, as the result of a revolutionary upheaval.
Central to my understanding not only of current affairs but also of history, and especially history understand on the grandest scale, is the idea of a strategic trend. A strategic trend is any historical phenomenon that takes on a life of its own. There are major strategic trends that shape macro-history and there are small strategic trends that are little more than fads. The decline of printed newspapers in the wake of the growing importance of the internet is a strategic trend. The refinement of precision munitions is a strategic trend. The collapse of the horse-drawn buggy industry in the wake of automobiles was a strategic trend in the past, but now is irrelevant.
Thinking in terms of strategic trends is a kind of extension and extrapolation of uniformitarianism. If the past is to be interpreted in terms of processes known to be acting in the present (which is uniformitarianism), so too the future can be interpreted in terms of processes known to be acting in the present, or to have acted in the past. The use of uniformitarianism in the physical sciences focuses on physical laws discoverable in the present and applicable to natural events in the past. The use of uniformitarianism in the philosophy of history focuses on patterns of human behavior discoverable in the present or the past, and possible applicable to distinct human societies at any time in history, past, present, or future.
It was never my intention to present these Three Futures as exhaustive or as mutually exclusive, and I guess I really ought not to worry too much about it, since no one has commented on this post and suggested that my intention had been misconstrued. In any case, my recent addition of a (revised and reinterpreted) communism should make the non-exclusive character of my original list obvious. In this spirit of identifying strategic trends in the present that may become dominant strategic trends in the future, and in no way committed to an exclusive or closed list, I want to propose another possibility for the long term human future.
Human beings being what they are, there is always the possibility of returning to a past mode of life that proved robust and sustainable. Our long prehistory dominated, as it was, by a cyclical conception of time has deeply inculcated the idea of a “return to roots” in almost all human societies. A “return” to the agricultural paradigm, following on the experience of industrialization, and therefore transformed by this experience, could constitute a new division of macro-temporality, and this possibility I will call post-industrial agriculturalism, or neo-agriculturalism, or neo-agriculturalization when speaking of an historical process.
I have written quite a number of posts touching on the nature of settled agricultural civilization. The most significant of these posts include:
Many other posts of mine have touched upon agricultural civilization, but these are the ones with the most meat in them.
The strategic trend of agriculturalism as it reveals itself in the present dates at least to the “back to the land” movement of the late twentieth century, especially in its counter-culture iteration, and continues to crop up now and again in the popular media. For example, Japan’s youth turn to rural areas seeking a slower life by Roland Buerk of BBC News, Tokyo, is a typical expression of this.
In contemporary society we can identify strategic trends that are both a “pull” toward agriculturalism and a “push” away from industrialism. I have written on many occasions about the dehumanization and depersonalization of industrial-technological civilization, and escape from this regime is a recurring theme of popular culture. That is the “push” toward the supposedly simpler life of agriculturalism. On the “pull” side of the historical equation there is the long tradition of a kind of mysticism of the soil, such that in the event of neo-agriculturalism it might be possible to speak of the re-enchantment of the world (since the disenchantment of the world — die Entzauberung der Welt — has been one of the discontents of industrial-technological civilization).
The contemporary strategic trends of environmentalism and anti-globalization, while they garner a great deal of press, have not ultimately accomplished much. Environmentalism has changed the way some things are done, but a radical interpretation of environmentalism, the success of which would involve the abandonment of industrial-technological civilization, has made no headway at all. Only the most mild and inoffensive initiatives of environmentalism have had any traction, and certainly nothing that makes the ordinary person uncomfortable or even mildly inconvenienced is countenanced. That being said, the anti-globalization movement, in so far as it is a “movement” at all, has accomplished absolutely nothing except furnishing a pretext for protests and vandalism, which is great fun for a certain segment of society. However, in so far as “venting” is important, these protests have served a certain social function.
Despite this dismal record, and the likelihood that environmentalism and anti-globalization as strategic trends are likely to wither away in time as they become either irrelevant (anti-globalization) or completely co-opted by the status quo (environmentalism), these strategic trends might gain a new lease on a longer life if they feed into some larger movement that has a chance to fundamentally alter the way in which people live. Such opportunities come along only rarely in history, as I have attempted to argue on many occasions. Neo-agriculturalism would serve this functional quite competently, since environmentalism and anti-globalization could be given content (anti-globalization) and direction (environmentalism) by becoming associated with social change driven by a neo-agriculturist agenda.
When we think of a post-industrial agriculturalism in these terms, it becomes obvious that those strategic trends that ultimately become dominant trends that shape the next stage of macro-history are those trends that can be fed by the largest number of minor and middling strategic trend. In this way, a dominant strategic trend that comes to define a division of macro-history. Perhaps in the final analysis, the biggest tent wins. In other words, that strategic trend that can subsume under itself the greatest number of other strategic trend while retaining its essential coherency, may be that strategic trend that comes to dominate all other trends.
With this in mind we can identify a number of strategic trends that implicitly feed (or would feed) into neo-agriculturalism: being a locavore, and in fact the whole local food movement (and, to a lesser extent, the “slow food” movement), bioregionalism, eco-communalism, and radical environmental philosophies like deep ecology.
As I noted above, I don’t intend my identification of possible futures to be exclusive or exhaustive. Thus what I have previously identified as pastoralization could well coexist with neo-agriculturalization. Furthermore, pastoralization could be subsumed under neo-agriculturalization, or vice versa. A little more attention to detail would be needed to order to determine which strategic trend represented that of the greatest generality, therefore likely to subsume other strategic trends under it. However, this being history we are discussing, a certain degree of this determination is left to chance, circumstance, and contingency.
It should also be noted that these future scenarios I have been attempting to sketch do, at least to a limited degree, involve a reconsideration of, “the basic principles underlying our social order,” and constitute, “a systematic idea of political and social justice that claimed to supersede liberalism” — two conditions that Francis Fukuyama named as necessary to refute his “end of history” hypothesis:
“At the core of my argument is the observation that a remarkable consensus has developed in the world concerning the legitimacy and viability of liberal democracy. This ideological consensus is neither fully universal nor automatic, but exists to an arguably higher degree than at any time in the past century.”
“In order to refute my hypothesis, then, it is not sufficient to suggest that the future holds in store large and momentous events. One would have to show that these events were driven by a systematic idea of political and social justice that claimed to supersede liberalism. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan – horrible as that would be for those countries – does not qualify, unless it somehow forced us to reconsider the basic principles underlying our social order.”
Francis Fukuyama, “A Reply to My Critics,” Fall 1989, The National Interest
For the record, I am interested neither in refuting or defending Fukuyama’s thesis, but his formulation does provide a certain clarification for what it takes to account for a genuinely novel historical development. I would be willing to state that, “a systematic idea of political and social justice that claimed to supersede liberalism,” would be a sufficient condition for the definition of a new division of macro-history, and I would further hold that no such condition has presented itself since Fukuyama’s essay.
Again, however, we can identify strategic trends in the present that could well constitute a systematic idea of political and social justice that could displace that systematic idea of political and social justice that prevails today. For example, if we consider the idea of environmental justice we have a conception which if elaborated, extended, and expanded into the future could become an alternative paradigm of political and social justice. Such changes take time and cannot be seen in a single lifetime. Changes of an intellectual order I call metaphysical history, and metaphysical history is the summum genus of historical categories, subsuming even the macro-historical concerns I have been writing about here.
Notwithstanding the fact that, if humanity fails to transcend its planet-bound civilization its future will be necessarily finite (or we can also say that any successor species of homo sapiens will necessarily have a finite future), even given a finite future there would be time enough for many macro-historical divisions yet to be determined. One of these macro-historical divisions could well be a post-industrial agriculturalism.
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In Metaphysical Ecology I introduced a more comprehensive treatment of time into Urie Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems theory. I further extended and refined this metaphysical temporality in Ecological Temporality, and I applied this ecological temporality to the mind in The Temporal Ecology of Mind.
In several posts I have have occasion to comment on the prominent role that the idea of narrative has in contemporary thought. I especially developed this theme in The Totemic Paradigm, in which I contrasted what Walter Fisher in his influential book Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action called the narrative paradigm. While I don’t wish to impugn or belittle Fisher’s conception of the centrality of the narrative paradigm in human affairs, I simply wished to demonstrate that the narrative paradigm alone is not sufficient to understand the forms of human consciousness that have emerged in history.
Now that I have had the occasion to give an exposition to what I call metaphysical ecology and ecological temporality, I can offer a more detailed account of the place of narrative in human civilization.
What my formulations of ecological temporality have made clear to me is that the world functions on several temporal levels, and in so far as the mind that is part of the world reflects the world, the mind too functions on several temporal levels.
An entire metaphysic could be constructed on the interesting consequences for the philosophy of mind from the interactions of the ecological levels of the world with the ecological levels of the world as reflected in the mind, but at present I only want to point out something much simpler. And it is this: the world as we know it consists of many narratives running in parallel at different levels of ecological temporality.
The ecological levels of narrative follow the schema of ecological temporality:
● Micro-temporality: stories of the temporal setting of individual consciousness. The perfect exemplar of this is the “stream of consciousness” technique in literature.
● Meso-temporality: stories of relations between micro-temporalities or connections between temporal contexts. More obviously, these are stories of social time, and this is the most common format of storytelling. Almost all traditional story telling, including mythology and fables fall into this category. Aesop’s fables are stories set in social time, though the agents are animals rather than human beings. The distinctive thing about mythology is that stories of metaphysical history are given concrete meaning and even individual personality by embodying ideas in particular persons (or heroes or gods) and setting this stories in social time.
● Exo-temporality: Stories of links between a temporal setting in which the individual does not have an active role and the individual’s immediate temporal context. These are stories in which the individual strikes out beyond the familiar. Many heroic narratives take this form.
● Macro-temporality: Stories of the historical era in which individuals live, which can reach from eras of human history through the life of entire civilizations and beyond to the greatest expanses of time investigated by natural science.
● Metaphysical temporality: Stories of the whole of metaphysical history in which the individual and other lesser temporalities (Meso-temporality, Exo-temporality, and Macro-temporality) are embedded. Mythological stories are indirectly (by way of meso-temporal stories) narratives set in metaphysical temporality. Cosmogonies, religious cosmologies, and philosophical narratives of the world entire take place in metaphysical time.
These many stories overlap and intersect like Wittgensteinian family resemblances. While in some cases these stories can be isolated and are independent of all other stories, and of stories on another levels of narrative temporality, more often the stories touch on each other, if only tangentially. The traditional intertextuality of some literary genres — Aurthurian romances, for example, which have borrowed heavily from each other, sometimes taking characters, sometimes scenes, and sometimes entire stories or cycles of stories and re-telling them — can exploit this tangential relationship among stories in order to enrich the world of the storyteller, so that like walking through an Gothic cathedral the rich ornamentation might catch your interest at any point and lead you in a new direction if you allow yourself to be so distracted.
It is entirely possible that an individual might entertain, at one and the same time, a narrative of their own consciousness, a different narrative of the immediate social situation in which they find themselves, another narrative that tells the story of how distinct societies interrelate (over both time and space), a narrative unique to the great sweeps of historical time, and lastly another narrative, an eschatological narrative perhaps, that encompasses the whole of all the preceding even while going beyond it, i.e., a narrative of eternity. These stories do not contradict each other because each takes place at a different level of ecological temporality, and this gives us a structure in which to organize the different narratives employed to encompass the world.
It would be an interesting exercise to offer an exposition of these differing narratives of ecological temporality based on the work of Hayden White (especially his book Metahistory). Those who are familiar with White’s work on narrative will immediate see how complex this task would be, as White makes a number of subtle distinctions among the literary tropes employed to tell a story (especially the stories of history). I will leave this to any other interested party who cares to take up the challenge.
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8 May 2011
In what I have come to call Metaphysical Ecology I took Bronfenbrenner’s bio-social ecology, extended it, and applied it to time, yielding what I call Ecological Temporality. I then applied ecological temporality to the philosophy of mind in The Temporal Ecology of Mind. There are many potential applications of ecological temporality that I hope to spell out in future posts.
Today I was listening once again to Darren Staloff’s lectures The Search for a Meaningful Past, from The Teaching Company. Unfortunately, The Teaching Company has discontinued this title, though it is certainly among the most rigorous and detailed of the philosophy titles that The Teaching Company offered. Knowing how much I enjoyed this, and knowing that it is no longer available, I bought a second, used copy for myself through Amazon. It was because I just received this “back up” copy that I have been listening through it again.
In this most recent listening I realized that the different levels of time that Fernand Braudel recognized in his historiography — the history of the event, the history of cycles, or conjunctures, and the history of the longue durée — and which he especially lays out in his essay “History and the Social Sciences,” collected in his On History, can be given an exposition in terms of ecological temporality.
Braudel’s tripartite division of historical time scales roughly corresponds to the short term, the medium term, and the long term. Braudel wrote:
“All historical work is concerned with breaking down time past, choosing among its chronological realities according to more or less conscious preferences and exclusions. Traditional history, with its concern for the short time span, for the individual and the event, has long accustomed us to the headlong, dramatic, breathless rush of its narrative.”
Fernand Braudel, On History, “History and the Social Sciences,” University of Chicago Press, 1980, p. 27
This assertion must be seen not only in the context of Braudel’s own concern for the long time span, the longue durée, but also in the context of a famous passage of his that I have quoted on several occasions:
Events are the ephemera of history; they pass across its stage like fireflies, hardly glimpsed before they settle back into darkness and as often as not into oblivion.
Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Volume 2, Part Three: Event, Politics and People, p. 901
For Braudel, the choice of the longue durée “according to more or less conscious preferences and exclusions” is a choice to be concerned with what is permanent rather than what is ephemeral. Taken to its logical extreme, the structuralist conception of history becomes what I have called a top-down temporal model. However, we need not extrapolate the doctrines of structuralism to their logical extremes, but can rest in a middle ground. One way to do this would be to integrate the structuralist perspective into a ecological structure emphasizing the interaction of temporal orders of magnitude.
Braudel’s tripartite distinction can be (perhaps imperfectly) assimilated to ecological temporality by identifying the short term history of the event with meso-temporality (the social time that is the interaction of individuals experiencing micro-temporality), identifying the history of conjunctures with exo-temporality (temporal interactions on the level of discrete social systems or dynamical systems), and identifying the longue durée of classic structuralist historiography with macro-temporality. In this ecological schematization of Braudelian temporal categories, Braudel does not recognize a history of internal time consciousness (perhaps that would be relegated to psychology), and he does not go as far as metaphysical temporality (no historian any traditional sense of the term does go this far).
If the history of events is ephemeral and disappears into oblivion as soon as it is glimpsed, from the point of view of metaphysical history, the longue durée no less disappears into oblivion, it just takes longer for this to happen. And the longue durée would count for nothing, indeed would not exist, if it did not descend into the individual consciousness, and if the individual consciousness in turn did not impart its fragment of temporality to the turning world.
In Braudelian terms, the history of the event flows into the conjuncture, and the conjuncture flows into the longue durée, just as the longue durée shapes the conjuncture, as the conjuncture shapes the history of the event.
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