Monday 28 January 2008

Man Comes of Age- The Thought Revolution

This is the sixth post in the series on human systems, and possibly the most controversial so far.
Ultimately, we have now reached the period where our modern world was structured.

The nineteenth century was a truly amazing period of history.

It commences with much of the world still exotic and strange to the people of Europe.

It ends with the globe under it's control.

It ends with the telegraph and the railway linking every town, every country, every continent.
The world was linked by a common infrastructure.

The face of the world had changed. Man had conquered his environment. This century saw him fight disease, fight slavery, fight ignorance, it saw huge cities mushroom to become metropolises, with vast transport networks, factories, schools, universities.

Progress was the watchword of the century. People really did believe things could only get better. The future really was bright.

The true success of the Capitalist system was in its diffusion of knowledge. Now a miner's son could become a great scientist.
Ideas spread like wildfire and the advance in knowledge and comprehension was great.

At the start of the century, real knowledge was still pretty shaky. The answers to most of the fundamental questions were still unknown.

Where did all these different animals come from? Where did Man come from?
What drives the universe?

The only answer still, was God.

The nineteenth century changed that.

And suddenly, in the middle of the century, a thought revolution takes place. The universe is demystified.
And the new knowledge rippled through society, shaking its very foundations.
Some of the new knowledge, was very dangerous indeed.

The science of physics is the most notable nineteenth century success story. In 1800, much of it was still a mystery. Heat and light were both thought to be elements. There was no real concept of energy. That changed during the 1850s, as Electro-Magnetism began to be understood, as the laws of thermodynamics began to be appreciated.
Even matter itself, began to something tangible.

No more would inventors waste time trying to make perpetual motion machines. Energy was now something that man understood. There was no longer any mystery to how the universe worked.

Basically, we now understood how things happened.

And in the same decade too, we have Darwin outlining his theory of evolution by natural selection. Man's origins, and those of all life forms explained. Man is understood for what he is. The process of life is understood for what it is.

It encourages a new way of thinking.
Thinkers now the see the whole world as part of a dynamic process, that change is inevitable, the world and humanity are evolving, progressing.

Now, it's worth noting one important point here. The scientific community accepted Darwin's theory with very little resistance- as Huxley said, 'Of course,how very stupid not to have thought of it before'.
But it certainly scared some people. And many who privately must have realised it was correct, publicly abhorred it, because it threatened a whole belief system, where every body's place was determined by God.

But the period produced an even more challenging theory, one which made the establishment quake.

One which like Darwin's theory, is also pretty obvious when you actually look at the proposition. Like Darwin's theory, one is tempted to say 'Of course, how very stupid not to have thought of it before.'

It was a simple observation really. It was the realisation that this cycle would result in a huge transformation of the world, creating a vast infrastructure, with knowledge a premium, with highly developed methods of production and distribution.

That it's tendency would be to improve the material lot of all, but considerably widen the gap in terms of quality of life, from those at the top of the tree to those at the bottom.

And that ultimately, it was a cycle dependant on continuous expansion to power it. It was driven entirely by interest. It worked, because year in, year out, more wealth was brought in, more consumers brought in.
But one day, the limits of the world would be reached.
At which point, the system would fail to deliver.

The theory was entirely dependant on the simple observation that social and political systems evolve and progress. Capitalism, was a phase in social evolution, it was not an end result, nor could it be.
The day would come, when it turned and ate itself.

But that day was a long way away.

And what would happen when it did?
The logical next step.

For now, with such highly developed communication networks, with mass education, with technology the originator of this theory knew that he himself could not even conceive of, it would be possible to have the best system that the species in such a state of development could conceive of. One where we no longer needed to exchange bits of metal to work out who was entitled to what.

It would a real democracy. Our communication systems would be that good, it could work. We would all together decide how to run the infrastructure, because we'd all have a say. No executives, no nations, no armies, no money.

Just a global community feeding itself, housing itself, living together in a state of enlightenment, continually improving its lot.

And that great human creation that the labours of millions throughout history had gone into creating, the mechanisms of production and distribution, the transport networks, the utilities, none would be owned, all would be administered, by the people who used them.

But there was a crucial bit to this theory a lot of people ignore. He wasn't encouraging a revolution. He just said- this will happen. Maybe in the 22nd century.
You couldn't bring it about UNTIL Capitalism failed of its own accord. Then it would come, because it is the logical next step.

Yes, this theory is the theory of Karl Marx.

But in the corridors of power, this theory was alarming.
I'm sure even then, intelligent people in high places realised it was true. I suspect those who run every major bank in the world have realised the theory is right.
The thing is, the people in the very positions to realise this theory is obviously correct have nothing to gain in promoting it.

Because the theory predicts the eventual demise of ALL power structures. It predicts a society WITHOUT a rigid power structure, a society which CANNOT act against the popular will.

So instead, the powers that be, plan ahead. They know why it is that Africa must be carved up. It really is about Livingstone's three Cs; Commerce, Civilisation, Christianity. It's about expanding the economy, bringing a continent into a system, so that the banks are happy, money gets pumped into huge country estates, landlords retain control of the homes and the livelihoods of the populace, and as a result, retain real political power.

So an attempt is made to fend off doomsday. When it comes, when the system does fail, the power structure will be defended. It will use the people themselves to defend it.

Democracy was a dirty word at the start of the nineteenth century. The reasons are obvious, if you think about it. Most people in Europe still live in hovels. If you give the whole population an equal control in deciding what policies governments pursue, then these policies may well involve mass expropriation.

A genuine democracy, by its very nature, will be egalitarian, will reflect what people actually think.

But new technology means that maybe, that can be avoided.
The printing press means that a nation of newspaper readers can be informed, and also instructed on the correct worldview.

Political parties change. Gone the loose alliances of similar thinking elected representatives.
The 1860s see political parties become mass organisations, designed to fight and win elections and keep them in the preserve of the powers that be. Conservative, Liberal, they both have Peers of the realm and wealthy industrialists at their helm.

And the working man? Well, the Labour party can join the club too, since the powers that be can't stop people voting for it, but only when it has basically accepted the rules of the game.

And the secret ballot? Makes it easier to rig elections, should you want to.

Federate the voters into thought camps, take away the thought from voting. Vote for Disraeli and his flag waving Jingoism, or vote for Gladstone and progressive thinking.

By the time universal manhood suffrage appears in 1885, the people are already streamlined, just as they had already been streamlined on the other side of the Atlantic.
You can control who they vote for, as long as you control their livelihoods. They will vote for whoever they thinks makes them as individuals most prosperous.

And the people saw no reason to wake up and see what had happened. They now genuinely thought that they truly were free. And life still continued to get better, because more wealth was continuously being brought in.

But a cloud is on the horizon.
Take a look at the map of the globe. It's not yet all developed, not all markets have yet been fully exploited. But the boundaries of that exploitation have been laid.

And in the corridors of power, the leaders of Europe look at what they have.

And in Berlin, there is a lot to worry about.

The German share of the world, just isn't enough.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thinking IS important, but so is DOING. Sometimes we have to stop thinking so much and just BE. That is not to say that thinking is bad though. It can also make us feel alive, like we are a part of the stream of consciousness.