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TygrBright Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-28-11 10:48 PM
Original message
OWS: The Beginning of History
I love history. I read history for fun, and not just "popular" histories but dusty textbooks, articles, analyses, dissertations, and other stuff. Amateur historians often develop our own theories of history: How history happens, what is history, how you can tell, and so forth.

My theory is that history has a cycle: Like a wave, it has amplitude and frequency. Frequency describes the speed with which humans build new social and economic and political and cultural structures. Amplitude describes the degree or extent of the change that is represented with each wavelength. Wavelengths may be driven by many things: Climate shifts, new technologies, religions and philosophies, catastrophic events, or combinations thereof.

Human history isn't long, in absolute time. The human race in its current form has only been around maybe thirty or forty thousand years. "History," by definition, refers to records of events, and in the case of humans, the means to make durable records has only been around for possibly six or seven thousand years. Really accessible and understandable (to the amateur historian) records go back only three or four thousand years--and copious, descriptive records don't really emerge until about 2000 years ago in the East, and perhaps 1400 years ago in the West.

Still, in that 2000 years, the wave pattern is pretty clear: A gaggle of recently-emerged religions underlay a series of social and cultural and political developments that built on an earlier, less-documented (but perceptible) wave of migrations based on a combination of new technologies (agriculture, shipbuilding, materials engineering.) In the West, more new technologies, climate shifts and population pressures resulted in another wave, and history began again: New political, economic and social structures that were no longer completely defined by (although still informed by) the religious and social norms of the earlier wave. That wave was carried along by a series of revolutions (American, French) and culminated in an Imperialist alignment enabled by the beginning of the next wave, beginning history again with the Industrial Revolution. And with each wave, each new history, the amplitude has increased.

Each wave, each new history, has its roots in the previous history, and I have often wondered if it was apparent, to people living in the interstices, where one history ended and another began. It's academic. And highly subjective. But I would like to make the argument that history is beginning again, now, before our eyes. And the fundamental change that is defining this new history is the abandonment of linear, hierarchical structures of thought, economic and political organization, in favor of non-linear, distributed structures.

It is a shatteringly fundamental change that will ultimately affect every aspect of the human experience.

Non-linear, distributed structures have always been present in human cultures. But in the West, and latterly in the industrialized world, we have chosen to base our economic, social, and political structures on linear and hierarchical models. Their simplicity served us well, to a point.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth Centuries (C.E.) we believed that all knowledge could, and eventually would, be able to be encompassed by humanity. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries we came to terms with the realization that the Universe--from macro to micro--is complex beyond the ability of human cognition to encompass. And if not the complexity, the sheer volume of knowledge, accumulating picosecond by picosecond, will forever put the ability to know and understand everything out of our reach.

In a universe of such unlimited complexity, linear and hierarchical structures pose critical limits that we, as a species, must transcend to survive.

Non-linear, distributed structures of thought, of social, economic, political and cultural organization, offer a new set of tools.

And in OWS, we are seeing them emerge from the nascent and theoretical state to the hypothetical and experimental state.

I am living at the beginning of our new history, and I know that I am doing so.

It's a breathtaking, humbling realization. And an exhilarating one.

Now, every time some commentator or journo or pundit talks describes OWS as "loosely organized" or "incoherent" or "unstructured" or... whatever adjective they select in their struggle to describe what they are seeing, but not comprehending, I see just what Copernicus must have seen when he looked at Ptolemy. You poor saps. Don't you know that a new history has begun?


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Confusious Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-28-11 10:54 PM
Response to Original message
1. If you like history, you should know that
Edited on Fri Oct-28-11 10:55 PM by Confusious
Millions of movements have started, then fissiled out like a bad firecracker.

I'll wait to see if anything changes before I make proclamations like "history is starting over!"

Counting chickens and all that.
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TygrBright Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-28-11 10:57 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. It's not just about OWS, though. Distributive organization is popping up all over.
The "movement" is only one manifestation thereof. It may indeed "fissil" out, but distributive organization is already too essential and widespread to do so.

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malthaussen Donating Member (413 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-28-11 11:30 PM
Response to Original message
3. One of those "Too early to tell" moments
There are enough parallels with the '30s and now, not to mention the '70s and now, that I am not yet sure myself that we are undergoing a paradigm shift or two. But there are indications to support your argument.

I think the communications revolution that has occurred with the opening of the Internet and the multiplication of portable devices to instantly transmit fact and rumor without authoritarian control may be one paradigm shift we are witnessing (and participating in). If this is true, it is somewhat ironic: just at the point when the fascists had pretty much achieved their wet dream of total media control, a new medium arises to undermine their whole position. Of course, governments are working hard to seize control of the new medium as well, but at the moment their success is not complete. I suggest that we have a very narrow window of opportunity here, and it is exhilarating to see people are taking advantage of it.

The "non-linear distributed structures" part of your argument is less obviously a paradigm shift to me, because communal systems were tried previously in the West and discarded due to the superior "simplicity" and efficiency of hierarchical systems. The OWS movement, worldwide though it may be, might still be just another iteration of a fad that comes and goes in times of crisis. When el jefe doesn't look after the people, the people have to rely on each other, but so far a new jefe has always come along to restore "order" and re-apply the same old hierarchical structure. However, I do get that feeling in my hindbrain that some people are coming to realize that their putative jefes are becoming increasingly irrelevant. But the problem I've always had with instincts is that I can never tell how much they are intuition, wishful thinking, or plain bullshit.

Personally, I keep getting a weird feeling of disconnect, not dissimilar to what you talk about in your last paragraph, but about not just the media, but the politicos as well. The games they are playing and the things they are saying seem to me to be more and more irrelevant with each passing day. They are like generals fighting the last war. But that is on a personal level, and a little stroll through the threads just here on DU will show that many people are still wedded to the same old process. Of course, that would be inevitable if the paradigm were shifting, as the majority won't know it has happened until they are confronted with the fact. OTOH, that feeling could just be a reflection of my wish that a miracle might be occurring.

-- Mal
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TygrBright Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-29-11 12:02 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. I agree with you about the instincts.
But a few millenia of the jefe-based social structuring is probably not enough to make a real difference in evolutionary terms. The telling factor, to me, is the parallel structures that have run for far longer: A very localized hierarchical structure (family/clan) welded to a much larger decentralized (perhaps not "distributed" in the strictest sense) set of structures based on inter-family and inter-clan relationships and resource use. You can see the echoes of these parallel tracks in some of the remaining !Kung peoples of sub-Saharan Africa and South American native populations. I am guessing that the long stretch of human pre-history has programmed us much more thoroughly in that direction. It may even be the source of the anti-hierarchical elements of human nature that seem to continually recur.

But again, you're quite right: Intuition, wishful thinking, bullshit or whatever--trying to observe human nature "objectively" is like deep-sea creatures trying to perceive water. We are too immersed in our humanity.

For me the gravamen of the argument rests in our nature as tool-making creatures, and the extent to which the tools we make have shaped our evolution and, ultimately, our history. We have now created an extraordinarily powerful tool based on the distributed, non-linear model: A vast network of communication and information exchange that is in the process of fundamentally reshaping almost every aspect of our economic structure. In that sense, the cat is already far out of the bag. Too much of the "global" economy rests on that tool to go back without an even more destructive catastrophic change.

That tool is now making deep inroads in changing our social and cultural structures as well. Our political structure lags far, far behind, but for how long?

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malthaussen Donating Member (413 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-29-11 12:59 AM
Response to Reply #4
5. You and I have been thinking parallel thoughts...
... I've been muttering to myself and anybody else who would listen about this for awhile now.

I like your point about the hierarchical system being essentially "imposed" over a deeper, probably more-persistent substructure based on collectivism and cooperation. As you say, in the evolutionary view, the jefe system may be just an aberration, as arguably a capitalistic society driven by conspicuous waste probably is. Environmental realities limit the latter to a more-or-less brief lifespan, unless we find some way to access more resources (off-planet) and perpetuate it. But consider how your later point about tool use ties into the system in this way: all power comes out of the barrel of a gun. Arguably, hierarchical systems evolved due to their ability to concentrate, organize, and deliver coercive force to more disorganized structures.

Which makes the communications revolution so interesting, because we may be finding out if the pen really is mightier than the sword. One would expect, based on history, that the PTB sooner or later will find it necessary to use lethal force to disperse the movement if the latter does not dissolve of its own inertia. Can the new forms of communication and cooperation effectively mount a resistance to that kind of repression? For example, by creating a "breakdown of discipline" such as occurred during the Russian Revolution of the 1990s? Or by anyway facilitating the forces of resistance to regroup and re-occupy again and again until one side or the other gets tired of the exercise? The repression in Oakland was the trigger for an even greater Occupation, and we have seen in other sites the will to come back again and again, and in growing numbers proportional to the growth of repression. But it hasn't gotten really messy yet.

I would guess that if things go on as they are, then we really are seeing a paradigm shift. But since the future is indeterminate, we cannot know if things are going to go on as they are. And history does mostly demonstrate that organized violence defeats disorganized resistance. The people united have, regrettably, been defeated on more than one occasion. I'm trying to think of instances where the PTB have surrendered their hold on power without bloodshed, and coming up blank. And for a true paradigm shift to occur, the hierarchical system has to be dissolved.

-- Mal
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Tsiyu Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-29-11 10:07 PM
Response to Reply #5
8. Having spent time with a lot of young adults and teens
Edited on Sat Oct-29-11 10:10 PM by Tsiyu

I can see their attitudes worthily expressed in the OWS movement: the GAs, the Human microphone, the collective work to feed, shelter and medically attend to the protesters.

They've been talking to me for years about finding a better way to organize our society, and they have proven through OWS that they know how to walk the talk.

Whether any 'mainstream" American - no matter how academically they approach this - gets the full force of this is irrelevant. The kids are showing the "grownups" how change must take place. They aren't going to just mosey on back to "electoral capitalism."

We older folks (speaking for myself) may be too distracted and full of worry to change our socks. But these kids see a future we failed to provide them, and THEY will drive history through the changes THEY make. With or without our cerebral input.

Not being mean, just being real.

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loudsue Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-29-11 08:40 AM
Response to Original message
6. I completely agree that something is happening across the globe,
and the fact that it has started in the USA....still considered to be the most powerful country in the significant. The PTB have been smart about keeping the masses in the USA happy "enough", or brainwashed "enough" to prevent mass revolution up 'til now, but I agree that there is a new paradigm shift, facilitated by the internet, that is a historical game-changer.

The PTB will be hitting harder and harder at the internet, trying to control it, because they know that it has been/is/will be pivotal in the change of power structure. China has effectively contained the internet, and I have every idea that the other governments who stand to lose power will do so as well.
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Tsiyu Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-29-11 09:52 PM
Response to Original message
7. Great post

There is no "wait and see" about it.

Most of those who still are comfortable can't see anything, because they aren't desperate enough.

But speaking for those with no health care, no decent income, no retirement funds left, watching CEOs get outrageous bonuses for laying off thousands of workers, the Tipping Point has been reached. (Hint: You can't see us, comfortable people, but we are legion)

This is something new and it's not going anywhere but up. The more the mayors, cops and politicians fight this, the more people will show up.

There are too many hurting, poor, desperate people around the globe.

Those who think this is a passing fad are also some of the same ones who said OWS was nothing.

When they lose their jobs too, or get sick, they'll have a new opinion. And they will become part of history as well.

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