The struggle between the forces of modality and reactionary in our times.
“All great changes are preceded by chaos.”
~ Deepak Chopra
The creativity myth of the ancient Greeks involved the struggle for control between a race of giants; the Titans, and a new group of gods. The Titans ruled during a legendary 'Golden Age' in Greece. They were overthrown by the Olympians, a race of younger gods. It was a struggle between the forces of the 'old way' and of the 'new way'. Out of this chaos a new order emerged. This myth is an explanation of the universal processes of change for all cultures throughout history. It is what we are currently experiencing. It is the age-old battle between those who control society and thus want to maintain the status-quo and those who see the need to change. Those in power resist, so this change does not happen easily. But it does happen, and it happens relatively quickly once a critical mass is achieved. This process of the evolution of society is what Karl Marx called dialectic materialism.
All the diverse reactionary social forces around the world are vying for control in an interwoven desperate power struggle to regain or maintain control of their societies. Some of these social forces are religious-based such as the various reactionary Muslim groups throughout Eurasia and Africa. Others are secular such as Putin's Russia, China, and North Korea. There are emerging authoritarian parties and individuals in Europe as a reaction to the influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. To understand the connections between otherwise random, seemingly unconnected events, requires perspective. And perspective requires detachment form the circumstances that we experience. I observe that most people understand perspective as a concept but have difficulty seeing it manifested in the world. People have trouble acquiring perspective in those areas where they are emotionally involved. For many people, perhaps most people, emotional attachment gets in the way of embracing the new. The emotional attachment to things, particularly to our relationships with people and to the institutions they participate in, are the most difficult to change of all. In Jane Roberts' book, The Nature of Personal Reality, Seth states that “your lives, your experiences, are caused by your present beliefs. Change the beliefs and your life changes.” Change happens one person at a time, and then through individuals collectively as a society. This dynamic is constant throughout the social development of humans.
It is important to see the 'big picture' by connecting the dots. The dots are the activities of different groups from cultures around the world who are aggressively pursuing an ideology that idolizes the past and by opposing the present. By seeing the ideological parallels between these diverse groups is the connection of the dots and as the result the big picture emerges.
A schema is a cognitive framework or concept that helps organize and interpret information. Schemas can be useful because they allow us to summarize and interpreting the vast amount of information that is available to us. It helps to look at the particular belief system of groups who advocate for change through aggressively pursuing their beliefs. However, these mental frameworks also cause us to exclude pertinent information and to focus only on things that confirm our pre-existing beliefs and ideas. Schemas can contribute to stereotypes and make it difficult to retain or accept new information that does not conform to particular established ideas about the world. This is ‘tunnel vision'.
Looking as objectively as possible on the events that are happening around us it is possible to see the two trajectories facing us: it is increasingly clear that we create a society which is inclusive and stabilizes the environment which is required for life, or we slip into authoritarian rule, highly exploitative economic system, increased tensions between nation-states huge migration of peoples and ultimately, collapse.
Individuals who are rigid in their thinking develop into one of two schemata; a revolutionary or a reactionary ideology. The determining factor that separates reactionary and revolutionary ideologies is where each judges the ideal or utopian society to be found. Reactionaries believe the ideal society is located at some point in the past and revolutionaries consider the best or utopian societies are yet to be established at some point in the future. Both reactionaries and revolutionaries share a rigid mind-set and have an intolerant vision for their society, with their group determining the correct behavior for their society. (I go in this topic in greater detail in my essay on ideology.)
Though there have been governments established with a revolutionary ideology (such as the Jacobite during the French revolution early 19th century or the communists in the Russian revolution in the early 20th century), that is not the current situation today. Currently the predominating groups in the world are aggressively driving to establish their various brands of reactionary ideology are in the fore-front. Reactionary ideologies fit into two general categories of paradigms; nationalism and religion. Both of these usually believe in a strong state government with a top down authority hierarchy. In reactionary political system the leadership of the national state is under secular control and in a reactionary religious state the religious head is paramount. North Korea is an example of the former and ISIS and Iran the latter. They know in their minds that they are 'right' and will do all that needs to be done to maintain power to keep their society 'pure', i.e., under their control. To people that believe this way, the end justifies the means. If it means using children as suicide bombers or decapitating those who don't practice religion exactly as prescribed, it is justified as doing 'God's work.' Their action is against the progressives in their society, particularly those presenting an ideology that opposes their belief systems. This is why professors and other teachers, labor and religious leaders, and all others who give a public voice against their beliefs are scapegoated or targeted.
During 'normal' times where physical, emotional, and security needs are met, 60% of the society's population are moderates and are content. They tend not to question the system and more or less go along with the mores and values predominating in the culture. When these needs are increasingly not being met the middle collapses in the bell-shaped curve to a bimodal curve where moderates are forced to confront the problems that they are presented with. Conservatives resist change but work within the system. The progressives (liberals) are those who see the necessity for change within their society as an adaptive process that uses peaceful methods to promote their cause.
Although reactionary and radical visions are diametrically opposed, they share authoritarian or totalitarian beliefs and methods. Examples of reactionary mind-sets are the Taliban in Afghanistan, the contemporary Iranian government, Al Qaida, and their associates who share an idealized version of an Islamic state. For them the state is patterned after the high point of Muslim civilization from the seventh to twelfth centuries. In reality, those Renaissance Islam cultures were the most liberal and tolerant of their time which is substantially different than reactionary Islam today. For example, in the current vision of reactionary Islam, ISIS is intolerant in a variety of ways. Islam women are chattel and society is governed by Sharia law that maintains a rigid social structure. ISIS is the most reactionary of all the religious ideologies going back to the caliphate of early Islam, with all the political, religious, and eschatological ramifications that this implies.
Though the particulars vary from group to group and from culture to culture, reactionary philosophy shares the following belief patterns:
- There is a single 'right' way of believing and acting.
- Rigidity about what an ideal society looks like.
- All other beliefs are suppressed (punished) or eliminated (killed).
Each society has different ways in which these dynamics play out. However, all ideologies have at their core a philosophy based on an idealized vision either of what worked in the past or a new vision for the future. Once one can see the commonality of various authoritarian ideologies, the big picture materializes, and things appear to fall in place.
Ideology is a worldview. It is present in individuals as well as societies. A national ideology can be defined as a social way of life and a way of governing. All ideologies, personal or national, fall on a spectrum, i.e., reactionary, conservative, moderate, liberal or revolutionary, and can be determined by answering the following questions:
- Is it rigid in allowing others to believe differently other than what they put forth as true?
- Is power and wealth concentrated to a few or distributed to the many?
- Are the social institutions open to a few or open to all?
- Do all within the society have equal opportunity?
- Is there equal justice?
In other words, are they inclusive or exclusive in their physiological approach to life and do their institutions meet the basic needs of society by providing physical and emotional security?
Rigid belief patterns combined with an idealized but warped view of the past are characteristics of both religious and non-religious reactionary (and revolutionary) groups. The control of women, the merging of religious and secular life, the persecution of undesirables such as homosexuals and minorities, the use of intimidation and harsh punishment are attributes of both the Taliban and the Tea Party. Both justify their belief systems based on their interpretation of the divine and the belief that the end justifies the means in pursuit of their end goals. Where societal institutions are strong enough to keep reactionary or revolutionary groups in control, they are benign. But in societies where these controls are weak or non-existent, these groups gain power and establish authoritarian or totalitarian governments.
Similar views are held by other reactionary groups such as Orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, or Yakuza. Similar views are held by ultra-nationalistic groups as well, from Oliver Cromwell and the English “Glorious” Revolution to the French Revolution and Robespierre; from Stalin and Hitler, to Milosevic and Putin. Occasionally there is more than one reactionary group in play for power, such as the military government and the Muslim Brotherhood vying for power against each other as well as the progressive forces in Egypt today or the Arab Spring in Muslim societies in North Africa and the Middle East over the last few years. It’s important to recognize that the mind-set and methods used by revolutionaries are the same as reactionaries. Both sets of ideologies tend to predominate during the decline of a society and are in competition for the establishment of a new order.
It is the reactionary ideologies that are in the forefront today. It is, however, entirely possible that competing revolutionary ideologies will emerge. It depends on a number of factors.
It is easy to see the chaos in times of transition, especially the violence that is often part of that chaos. It is also easy to overlook the people or groups that are significant players in this global transition. Positive changes are taking place around us in a myriad of ways even though they seem unrelated. They often manifest in small, incremental ways. For example, in 1982 I was involved in a global educational project for a NGO of the UN that put me in touch with small grass-roots organizations throughout the Pacific Rim. I met individuals of a number of indigenous groups doing progressive work that were improving both people's lives and the environment. Another example is Wangari Muta Maathai who founded the Green-Belt movement in Africa focusing on the planting of trees, or, in 2004 the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development. On a larger scale the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is working on ending global poverty and diseases. The struggle between regressive and progressive ideologies is for the hearts and minds of people in each society. It is global and it is timeless.
Today more and more people around the world are seeing the need to make fundamental changes in the existing structures which control their lives. The Week magazine recently had an article about the next generation of Americans who will be running this country within a decade. They are more liberal than today's demographics indicate. This group of people generally want a more inclusive society within the country and from around the world. This goal becomes more defined as we focus on the behavior/structure causing the problems. Groups coalesce and then merge. Change begins to go in particular directions that vacillate between a philosophy of inclusion and caring, and one of exclusion and fear.
Entrenchment exacerbates policies that have caused the problems in the first place. Transformational change is necessary and vital in order to modify or replace the institutions that are causing society to begin to fail. When we find ourselves in the upheavals of social change, it is helpful to ask these four questions:
- What are the problems?
- What are the changes that I want to see made to correct these problems?
- What can I do to make this happen?
- How will my life be impacted as a result of my chosen involvement?
Prior to this election cycle, polls indicated the support for conservative issues in the United States has decreased by ten percent since the last general election. In part this reflects a reduction in the size of the Republican base. In Jane Robert's book, The Nature of Personal Reality, Seth said death is the creative way of the passing of old ideas. Old white guys are dying off and are being replaced by a polyglot population in which there will be no majority racial group who wants a more just and equal opportunity as was the case with the American Revolution society, where the government takes an active role in the welfare of its citizens. This group also is more receptive to changing structures that don't work and creating those that will achieve their vision.
Modernity takes many forms, one of which is no form at all but rather a quiet resolve against those who wish to impose their will. Such an example is the vote of millions of Afghans to participate in the first democratic election in their history in spite of the threat by the Taliban of mass violence to disrupt it. Each person knew that they were risking their lives but voted anyway. In the last generation, totalitarian governments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have become, or are in the process of becoming, democracies. In Latin America Chile, Argentina, Uruguay all have become democratic. Colombia and most of Central America are becoming more democratic as well. In southern Africa, democracies are evolving in Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland primarily due to small loans to women started over a decade ago which has increased their political power. These countries have a higher percentage of women in their respective national political systems then is true in the United States.
At the same time the old guard, whether it be religious, secular, or economic are desperately trying to maintain or reestablish their power. These titans are not giving up easily. The election of Donald Trump is a prime example. His hard core supporters (the Tea Party) wanted to re-create the idealized past. (The name Tea Party goes back prior the American Revolution.) Most of the people who voted for him did so as an attempt to break the established political order in the United States and not for the pseudo-reactionary philosophy he used to keep his basic constituency loyal. A national poll was commissioned by Rep. Alan Grayson two days prior to the election. In that poll the participants were to choose between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders who would they choose for president. Sanders won in a landslide with a large enough vote that he would have carried the Senate and possibly the House of Representatives.
Throughout the world there are democratic groups in competition for the makeup of society. Will people around the world reject societies that are caricatures of the past based on fear, hate, and xenophobia, or will we create a global democratic society based on inclusion, love, and acceptance? Are we this generation of Olympians? It is up to us.