Article 35 The Times they are a-changin’…
“Everything that comes together falls apart.”
Last words uttered by The Buddha
This Article is a slight variation of the quotation above; we could paraphrase it thusly: ‘there is joining together into one and separating apart into many.’
We are living through a period where news events effect our lives more than usual but at the same time – and as most polls attest – it is hard to know what is really going on. It is relatively easy to know what the Authorities want us to do though they seem to change their minds fairly often emphasizing different priorities or data points as they bumble along mismanaging pretty much everything most of the time – and for decades now. In other words, although the facts and data might be fuzzy nevertheless it’s clear that something Big is going down – and on a world wide scale.
Without straying too far into conspiracy theory perhaps it might be helpful to step back a little to try out a few different ‘bigger picture’ perspectives, so in that spirit:
No matter what the ins and outs of the infamous covid19 pandemic, it seems clear that this global event has triggered widespread and significant political change in western nations which until recently have been leading cultural and economic influences in the world. So the Big Picture notion on offer here is that we may now be part of what can be considered a civilisational sea-change.
Oswald Spengler came up with some nifty theories about civilisational uber-cycles a century or so ago, but basically the whole thing is simple: like everything else there is a beginning, a middle and an end, which is just another good way of paraphrasing the Buddha’s statement above. The insight – or niggle – this Article proposes is the following:
Any civilisational development is usually the result of population increase over time engendering ever more sophisticated cultures including food production, language, architecture, governance, arts, education and spiritual traditions. This process can be likened to many different streams gradually merging into one, or perhaps you might prefer to imagine it as many different country lanes leading to small town squares and in turn to larger towns and, ultimately, to capital cities such as Beijing, Tokyo, Rome, Cairo, Istanbul, Rome, Paris, London, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City and so forth. This is the phase of things coming together. Some sort of distinct civilisation emerges in profuse and usually resplendent glory, some more elegant or wise or noble or degraded than others, but all with emergent power and efficacy with distinct languages, cuisines, dress and mores in the mix – what we generalize with the word ‘culture.’
And then at some point whatever has been holding that civilisation together (usually some sort of culturally positive momentum) starts to fall apart (aka ‘decadence’). This might be a gradual or sudden affair, or any number of combinations of the two in fits and starts. Generally speaking, things come together civilisationally in one broad river and then split apart into various streams through natural creativity – as people go off madly in all directions- or corrupt power struggles – which break and tear apart too many of the complex network of skeins in the body, speech and mind aspects of society which hold them altogether as an experienced whole.
Cities and nations also have the same sort of dynamic as do families or individual life journeys but the emphasis here is on entire civilisations. Generally speaking we can now recognise that there were great civilisations in Central America, Egypt, Persia, Asia – comprising mainly China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Siam etc. – and Western Christian Europe which some might insist bifurcated into the Byzantine and Holy Roman civilisations.
What we have been in of late seems to be a more globalized post-industrial offshoot of the Europe-based civilisation emphasizing infrastructure and commerce over any Christian elements, a new secular civilisation. This seems to have developed at first under the auspices of the Great British Empire – thanks to which billions of the world’s citizenry speak or regularly listen to the English language – and later under its offspring the United States and which now involves pretty much all the ‘developed’ world.
And with the political changes being implemented world wide but especially in western ‘democracies’ whose Common Law based Constitutions are being trampled on using a medical emergency as justification it seems that perhaps a new civilisation is now forming which no longer honours such Constitutions. Also, many streams from both East and West are merging into a larger whole so for the first time we might form a truly global system; we already have one in the realm of Commerce but we don’t yet in terms of political and judicial jurisdictions. Perhaps just as a virus knows no man-made borders, nor will this new civilisation. Certainly the US Southern border seems to be getting a head-start on this new borderless nation notion.
Ironically, this process of so many disparate nations coming together into one larger whole seems to require individual nations breaking apart into increasingly disparate populations as our governments and social institutions slide into chronic dysfunction, a perversely effective ‘ring out the old, ring in the new’ dynamic.
If history is any guide, usually such very Big Things involve displacing, starving, murdering or somehow sweeping away millions and millions. Let us hope that does not transpire with what is now unfolding…