We also left off noting that it would be the simplest and the most natural thing in the world to be socialized into such a society - unless you happen to experience the interference of something which somehow helps to dispel that society's illusions, rather than being drawn in to them. What that is and how to magnify it is a question that's worth asking, continually, because doing so is what leads you to steady Progress, upwards and outwards from the societal baseline. But examining that, for the most part, will have to wait for a later post; not that we won't see hints and flashes of it here and there, but as important as that certain something is, we've still got to get a clearer picture of what it is that we hope to make real progress away from. Because if you don't have a clear idea of what regressive movement would be, we're all too easily tempted to pursue what unknowingly cannot lead to real progress, and so confusing motion itself with making real Progress, and History is replete with this tragic trajectory, we become Pro-Regressive instead.
A worthwhile distinction to make is that while savagery is the historic norm for humanity, being natural, has almost nothing to do with whether it is Right or Good. And if you'll continue to question appearances, you find that the features with which a society naturally flatters itself with, being 'Modern'; having technological skills, material wealth, and a wide web of cultural habits and stylized dress; you'll find that they are not only not, in and of themselves, marks of real progress, but more often than not they are the means of suppressing worthwhile change and avoiding real progress, dressing their natural savagery up in more appealing clothes. The widespread acceptance of the significance of appearances ( from race to technology to fashion) and unquestionably meaningful and distinctive, is a sign that most people are unaware of or unconcerned about the differing directions that Progress and Regress would lead them in.
The problem of Materialism isn't in pursuing stuff, but in becoming stuff
The features of the societal baseline worth taking note of are not those features that seem so very different on their surfaces - remember from the last post that despite what appearances might lead you to expect, the anthropologist's academic brethren behaved every bit as savagely as the Yanomamö did. And so as with other appearances, from war paint to web pages, they are but variations and elaborations on the eternal theme of getting, protecting, and in one way or another, becoming, stuff - the fruits of power. And by 'stuff' I do not mean Money, or 'Property', but the mental action of reducing them to possessions; so that these very different things are easily mistaken for being one and the same. The problem of materialism isn't the quest for more material goods - antibiotics and Smart Phones can be fantastic things to have, improve on, and get more of - but the process of seeing ourselves and our ideals as little more than materials that we desire more of for utility, gain, attaining pleasures and overcoming obstacles, is. The truth is that reducing our goals to these won't differentiate them from of the goals of any other savage in any way other than that of fashion.
The action of seeing people and values as but materials for your goals, is the materialist inversion, and is a most common and time honored societal norm, and key to redirecting movement towards the societal baseline, rather than away from it, and when you seem to see all change reduced to appearances, it's a trick you'll willingly perform upon yourself - a judo flip of the soul.
For instance, the Egyptians could calculate the area of a triangle just as Pythagoras could with his geometrical theorem - Pythagoras very likely learned how to calculate the area from them - but despite appearances, they were not doing the same thing at all. There is something in what Pythagoras added to their calculations which lifted him, Geometry, and the resultant West, far and away above what the Egyptians were doing while working their calculations. And without that certain something, which one approach has, and the other lacks, Progress, takes on two very different meanings and directions. And... again I'm going off in a different direction than we need to in this post, I'll go more into that in coming posts, but for the moment, keep in mind that what separated the Egyptians geometric skills from Pythagoras's Geometric Theorems, is what separates receiving training in vocational skills from getting an actual Education.
Geometry and higher mathematics used to be, in the Pythagorean sense, seen as the pinnacle of higher education, a mark of philosophic excellence. Now however, we see them only as useful skills for our students to pick up to get a good job and compete with the [insert threat of the moment here: Chinese, Japanese, Russian, German, etc.].
That there is the Materialist's Judo Flip of the Western soul in action.
And only an Education, meaning a Western Education, which demands that something be true in order to be accepted, can help develop within you a habit of questioning and reflecting upon what is real, once called 'the good, the beautiful and the true', and so be capable of avoiding being fooled by appearances. How else could you judge whether or not your society's' assumptions are either right or good? And why else would you? The answer is that you wouldn't, and the societal baseline knows it.
The changelessness of endless change
Lacking that higher perspective, what would there be, what could there be, to separate the idea of political position, from the desire for political power? That, not that perspective itself, but its lack, is key to recognizing the real appearance of the societal baseline we're in pursuit of. Outside of the West the answer is that power and position and value are synonymous. But within the Western tradition? The answer is no, they're not... or at the very least it raises an uncomfortable question, the asking of which makes it nearly impossible for someone to say, as Gwenyth Paltrow said aloud what so many others implicitly urge:
“It would be wonderful if we are able to give this man all the power he needs to accomplish the things he needs to.”. More and more the Western Tradition becomes hard to find in the West, and that is because it isn't a tradition which somehow removes us from the perils of humanity, or makes us better than others, it only notices that there is a way to rise above that see if we'll but make the effort to climb. But be that as it may, promoting a political position primarily for the politics of the position, is not and cannot be Progress, as it places the pursuit of Power, over what is Right for power to be used for - Might makes Right - which is, in the most important manner, Regress.
Not surprisingly, trying to explain that to those who do not question their own point of view, who do not look beyond the things they expect it to do for them, will make you seem very strange to them. Man is after all, as Aristotle put it, a political animal, and when his political ideals come primarily from his animal nature, as they are naturally wont to do, that society will be one where those who can physically dominate others by force, will - a distinctive aspect of our 'societal baseline'. It also means that those who are primarily concerned with the Justice of a position, will seem to most people to be very strange and upside down people - and to them they are.
From the point of view of my former friend Dice, it no doubt seemed to him as if what he was doing was making progress - he was defending the political security of his tribe, and his own place within it. Actions such as that, forcing others to comply with you because you can, are actions that can be acted on very successfully, for thousands of years at a time, as the tens of centuries the dynastic struggles of the Pharaohs of Egypt can attest to. And within that limited view, such struggles and changes can very much appear to be making progress. Even though what it really means is using power to prevent change.
The truth is that through all those superficial changes, there is rarely any real change occurring, no differences are being made - for all their struggles, no Progress is made. Exchanging one tyrant or dynasty for another is what mankind spent the tens of thousands of years of pre-historic times doing - but nothing of significance ever really changed! That's why they are referred to as being Pre History! The sorts of changes they engaged in, were not the sorts of changes that could produce Progress... and so as we attempt to look closer at them, they simply fade into the mists of time. The existence of History is itself a sign that real change had finally occurred, that change was worth noting, inquiring into, and pondering, so that more real progress could be made.
Those who've flipped their souls (or perhaps it is that they've never done so) mistake appealingly shallow hopes & changes for something more, are in the habit of thinking that things control and dictate our actions, they think that more things makes for better lives, and so they cannot see, do not see, and even laugh at, the person who doesn't value those same things, as they do, over the higher values, ideals and virtues. Those people who look to power for progress, are the 'rich man' who will not only never get his camel through the eye of the needle, but will forever try to hire someone to do it for him.
And they will fiercely persist in calling you the strange one.
Look back at that snippet from Jonathan Alter, and the other headliners - what is it that they are seeking to do? Isn't their primary goal to prevent change? To keep corporations from relocating, to forcibly punish dissent and debate(that 'climate change' was the subject is almost irrelevant), to prevent the wheels of justice from turning, or considering the matter very deeply at all, Why? Because 'maximizing political and personal security was the overwhelming driving force in human, social and cultural evolution.'
And it has always been so, from our day, to Jesus's day, to Aristotle's day and on back before that. From Last book of the Nichomachaen Ethics:
"...Solon, too, was perhaps sketching well the happy man when he described him as moderately furnished with externals but as having done (as Solon thought) the noblest acts, and lived temperately; for one can with but moderate possessions do what one ought. Anaxagoras also seems to have supposed the happy man not to be rich nor a despot, when he said that he would not be surprised if the happy man were to seem to most people a strange person; for they judge by externals, since these are all they perceive..."And in a society formed around the externals of fashion, image, power, then strange means different, and different is threatening. Translating Anaxagoras into today, is well put in this snippet from Political Philosophy Needs Revelation: A Conversation with James V. Schall
"Gradually, civil government becomes an instrument to implement these ideas fashioned by the leader who promises to lead the people to happiness against their enemies, principally those who affirm that there is an order in nature and that the liberty to do anything or live any way is rather a form of self-chosen and eventually government imposed ideology..."The roman poet Horace said that 'Power without wisdom falls of its own weight', and the Amazon tribe of Yanomamö are in a perpetual state of free fall, an unchanging struggle for change such as Hobbes' war of all against all. When force governs, not only does nothing of significance ever change, but real change is just what is not wanted. The changing faces of power struggles are routine and pursued all around - and you can just as easily look to Soviet era East Berlin or modern North Korea, as the Yanomamö for neverending changes in the cliques and faces of those in power, but their stagnant lands, the gray souls of their people, those do not change.
But the suggestion of change that might herald higher ideals of truth and rightness than that of might makes right, the slightest hints of ideals of liberty and individual rights, or of ending slavery, those 'fools and poets' are killed off or are sent to the Gulag post haste - real change, real progress will not be tolerated.
Change, not superficial, but real, is what the savage fears most.
Primitives and the power minded, either want no change (climate change?!!! AHHH!!!), or they want a constant stream of superficial alterations which give the appearance of change, but really serve only to distract from what is not being allowed to change in that society. The only exception being changes which lessens or removes that certain something which leads to real progress, that sort of change, fundamental transformations which forces people to accept their diminishment as if nothing had changed at all - while 'maximizing their own political and personal security' - that sort of change they are all for, all night long.
The savage doesn't want what requires THEM to change, and they will gleefully change everything else, up to and including changing you into dust - living or not - to avoid that too real change, that really would be Progress. The dark little secret of the savage, whether tribalist or technologist, is that Progress is what they fear and will fight tooth and nail to avoid.
But that still undefined something which separates the Pythagorean theorem from the Egyptians calculations, is the driving force of real Progress, it is what led to the creation of History and it is feared by the exponents of regressive changes, from the Yanomamö to the Pharaohs, and from Thrasymachus on up to our modern Academics and 'intellectuals' who've never risen to the level required to recognize, let alone make true Progress. They are content with the only answer they can imagine: the rule of power for power's sake. And every step taken in that direction is truly Pro-Regressive.
Our own history shows the Pro-Regressive change in action, in going from the Founder's ideal of people living in liberty, to that of Rousseau's egalitarian ideal of people being be forced to be free, inexorably leads to the Orwellian times where 'telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act', and it is heartbreaking to see, whether in schools turning away from education to indoctrination, or hospitals established by religious orders yielding to laws which require violating their convictions... you know they're telling themselves that they must in order to remain intact, but what they retain is gone - flipped. Those who want to maintain their institutions political and personal security, rather than what it was that their institutions - be it church, media, school or govt - were created to preserve and spread, they will perform the materialist flip and willingly go along with forcing everyone else to be free.
For the greater good.
This isn't to say that power is bad - far from it - but it is to say that it must be the tool, not the workmen. Power is an important tool of the Good, and Liberty requires governmental power to enable just Laws to uphold & defend Individual Rights. But Power cannot do good, it can only serve it; to try to do good entails abandoning what is Good and True. If power is not forced to serve Truth, truth will be - in truth has already been - abandoned for power... and used to see that things remain the same.
Ok, it got too late last night as the Cardinals lost, and dinner is calling now, so we'll have to leave fully identifying our 'societal baseline' and that 'certain something' that makes Progress away from it possible... for the next post.