Why Development?: Three Ways of Thinking about Modernity

     So far on this blog, I have been taking development of consciousness for granted.  So, I should probably say something about why I believe in it.  The reason is because it explains both the past and modernity, while other ways of thinking explain only one or neither.  And, furthermore, the development of consciousness is plausible in its own right, not just in comparison to other theories.  This is more difficult to articulate because it involves looking at the theory itself. 

    There are three main ways of thinking about modernity: Traditionalism (I am primarily thinking of traditional Christianity, but I would also include those whom Dante would term the virtuous pagans), Modernism, and Developmentalism.  (For this post, I am using these terms for convenience and they may not necessarily align exactly with uses of these words elsewhere)

    Modernism takes the modern world (in particular since the Industrial Revolution) as its reference point.  Modernism uses scientific thinking, such as geography, history, physics, economics, sociology, etc. to analyze cultural changes.  But, the important point is that modernism analyzes all these in a secular manner, excluding the spiritual as a matter of methodology.  These secular scientific analyses can give important insights into the past, but cannot completely understand it because they neglect the spiritual, which acts both in human society and in the broader scope of history.   

    Modernism explains the success of the modern world, sweeping away all in its path, by claiming that its success is based on science, which is the correct understanding of reality.  Modernism explains the birth of the modern world in an external sense, with reference to social and historical conditions.  

    Traditionalism takes the world of the past as its reference point.  It may make use of scientific thinking, but behind all its analyses of cultural change are philosophical and religious understanding.  In particular Traditionalism differs from Modernism in that its view of human beings is ultimately based in the spiritual.  

   Developmentalism differs from both Traditionalism and Modernism in that it seeks to incorporate both theories.  Unlike Modernism, Developmentalism does not seek to replace Tradition, but to add to it; to grow out of it.  Like Traditionalism, Developmentalism believes that human beings are fundamentally spiritual rather than material.  

    One advantage of a developmental view over Modernism is that Developmentalism tries to understand the past on its own terms, recognizing that it was based on different principles than the modern.  It also goes deeper in terms of how the modern world came to be.  Modernist analyses do an excellent job of explaining how the modern world developed, but are less satisfying as to why.  Why, for instance, did changes in many areas such as art, science, politics, technology all happen within such a short time span of each other.  The developmental view posits that all these changes come from changes in consciousness.  Human consciousness underlies everything that human beings do and so if this changes, then culture will naturally change.  Changes in consciousness are naturally more subtle and difficult to see than material changes, but it is certainly apparent that people in the past truly thought differently.  

    An advantage of Developmentalism over Traditionalism is that the developmental view can also understand the modern world on its own terms.  Traditionalism can only see the modern world as an aberration from the past.  This is true in the sense that the modern world has taken a terrible turn; indeed, I would say that we have gone increasingly off the rails since 1914.  However, the original impulses that brought the modern world into being (I would say around the mid 1700s, following Bruce Charlton) were not bad in themselves.  

    If these impulses were completely false, why has modernity been so powerful?  It's not because our current culture is on "right side of history:" that's just stupid because it doesn't take any account of the past.  The reason given by Developmentalism, that the consciousness of human beings crossed a threshold makes the most sense.  This is because this view does not discount the past, but adds to it.  We don't have to say we were wrong up to this point, we just have to add to our understanding.  

    Another reason why for Developmentalism involves the problems that we face in the modern world.    Three of the biggest issues are the dehumanizing Ahrimanic evil, the cultural depredations of Luciferic evil, and the loss of the bonds of society that had previously existed for thousands of years.  

    Of the three theories, Modernism is the least able to resist them. Traditionalism does a much better job, while Developmentalism starts with Traditionalism and strengthens it in this regard.

     I am using these terms following Bruce Charlton who in turn borrowed (and modified) them from Rudolf Steiner.  Luciferic evil is involves instincts and the unconscious.  If I was to imagine a metaphor for Luciferic evil, it would be a sort of dark, intoxicating miasma that dulls the spirit and rational mind.  The mass media is one of the primary physical focuses of Luciferic evil in society.  In much of mass and social media the real message is subliminal: there is a constant undercurrent of lust, subversion, and resentment towards the good. 


    Ahrimanic evil is related to restriction of thinking, consciousness, and action.  I would imagine Ahrimanic evil as a force constricting one's thoughts; something that can be felt but not seen.  This also manifests itself in the mass media.  In the U.S. Presidential debates, the candidates are asked questions chosen by the media and then evaluated based on criteria also chosen by the media.  It's a closed system.  Ahrimanic evil also manifests itself in bureaucracy, and the mechanization of life in general.

    To make matters worse, all three of these problems compound each other.  The loss of social bonds make many people almost helpless against Luciferic temptations while Ahrimanic technology empowers the Luciferic rampage.  

    Modernism can resist these three evils, but only from a material perspective.  It is strongest in arguments and motivation against the Luciferic onslaught.  Modernism can go against these projects by recognizing that they are inherently destructive or incoherent.  They are often non-viable from a functional perspective, for instance societally or biologically.  It is weaker in arguing against the Ahrimanization of life.   Modernism can argue against it from the perspective of freedom or disrupting humanity.  But, because modernism only views the human being materialistically, there is no as strong a motivation to resist these things.  After all, the representatives of the Ahrimanic might say, "Why should human beings be free?" or "If you live in comfort and prosperity with every desire fulfilled [the promise of Transhumanism], then why does it matter if humanity is disrupted?"  

    One the third issue, Modernism is weaker still because it can describe the breakdown that has taken place, but cannot provide strong motivation to overcome it.  The bonds of human society ultimately come from the spiritual.  They also depend on human consciousness, so sociological or historical analyses alone have a hard time confronting this problem.  In his book Meditations on the Tarot, Valentin Tomberg said something helpful on this subject: 

    "Can one produce artificially intellectual, moral or artistic inspiration? Can the lungs produce the air which they need for respiration?"

    Traditionalism can resists more strongly because it correctly understands human nature.   The purpose of human beings is not comfort and prosperity.  It is to live in accordance with God and Creation.  Because it provides a firmer foundation and because of examples from the past, when culture was at the very least sane, Traditionalism provides a firm foundation and motivation to resist the Luciferian and Ahrimanic.  For these reasons, Traditionalism also provides a stronger motivation for social cohesion than Modernism.  

    Developmentalism accepts the traditional view in these respects, but also adds to it.  A key point in both Rudolf Steiner and Nikolai Berdyaev's views of the development of consciousness is that in this era of human consciousness, human beings need to develop freedom.  Not negative freedom, which is the absence of restrictions, but positive freedom; autonomy.  Positive freedom is more difficult to conceptualize, but I would imagine it as the opposite of our current Ahrimanic system.  (Francis Berger also has a good post about positive freedom). 

    In this system, increasingly people are all interchangeable widgets who perform meaningless and arbitrary tasks with no individual input.  Imagine a university with every teacher teaching from the same government designed slideshow, giving the same assignments, evaluating them according to the same arbitrary criteria.  In contrast, envision a school where every teacher teaches in their own way, according to their own understanding.  A world of positive freedom is one where every individual contributes in their own way.  So, the developmental worldview gives another reason to resist the Ahrimanization of life.  

    Also, the developmental view gives us hope that just as there has been a breakdown of the bonds of society, they might be able to be build back up in some way that is qualitatively different than anything that has come before.   

    Lastly, since Traditionalism views the modern world as an aberration, the approach to take is to resist the modern world until it goes away or to fight back and try to move back towards tradition.  But the problem with the second of these is that it is almost impossible with modern tools.  For instance, since modern people's assumptions are so different than medieval people's any attempt to institute a monarchy with modern institutions without a corresponding change in thinking would result in a dictator with a crown, not a king.   

    The developmental view's strategy for dealing with the modern world is to fight if we can, yes, but also to go through the modern world.  Rather than waiting for it to go away, we have to pass through to what's on the other side.  The changes that led to modernity were meant to be a positive opportunity and we can still make use of this opportunity.  

    In conclusion, Developmentalism has a more comprehensive understanding of the past and present than Modernism and Traditionalism.  Also, it provides a stronger motivation to face the modern world and rise to its challenge.

4 comments:

  1. I like what you have outlined here. It expands upon the ideas you expressed in your post about seeing the old in a new way.

    What you have outlined here makes sense to me. As I read the post, I kept thinking about the Catholic Church, which has been caught between the forces of traditionalism and modernism for centuries.

    Not to wander off topic, but Modernism has the upper hand in the Church now; those who see the danger of that yearn for a return to tradition under the belief that such a move would solve everything.

    The only viable way forward for the Church would have to involve the developmentalism you have described here, but this would require a change of consciousness which, at this point, probably won't come from within the Church, but from somewhere outside the Church.

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    1. I agree. Whether a change of consciousness leading to a way forward came from within or outside of the Church, it would not come from the Church as an institution. It wouldn't be based on a reform of rules, but something that goes beyond rules.

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  2. Thanks for the insightful blog post.

    "Developmentalism differs from both Traditionalism and Modernism in that it seeks to incorporate both theories. Unlike Modernism, Developmentalism does not seek to replace Tradition, but to add to it; to grow out of it."

    Isn't this what Tradition has always been about?
    To quote Chesterton "Tradition is tending the flame, not worshiping the ashes"

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    1. I like that quote about Tradition. My view is that for strange and unexpected reasons, impulses that were strong in the past have weakened, so a new development (but one that grows organically from the past), something qualitatively different, is the way to preserve what is good in Tradition.

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