Future of the Spirit
* Book: L’Avenir de l’Esprit. Thierry Gaudin.
This book reflects a conversation between a prospectivist, interviewed by a philosopher. After the first introductory chapter, the second one discusses the current technical system and its crisis, focusing on the shift from the matter-energy, i.e. industrial nexus, to the Time-Living, i.e. the cognitive nexus, where knowledge makes place for a general process of re-cognition (“reconnaissance”).
The third chapter discusses ethology, as a fundamental science to understand human behaviour, Gaudin refuses any specificity to the human, recognizing only quantitative differences. Thus there is no qualitative emergence, which seems unacceptable to this reader. Yes, there are many if not all characteristics that can be shared with the animal world, but where else is there an evolving culture with all its material artefacts, the burial of the dead, religious imagination?
Gaudin says that after a high period of cultural and social change, taking place from the XI to the XIII centuries, with the 12th as high point, there are two centuries of decline, following the eradication of the Cathar heresy in southern France. After that, the Church confiscates the means of production and the feudal lords return from the Crusades. Thus, when the plague hits around 1348, and wipes out one third of the population, it already takes place in a much weakened society. The XIV and XV th centuries are therefore called ‘the waning of the Middle Ages’ (Huizinga).
Jumping to another period of change, he calls 1848 the first truly European revolution, and also the first truly proletarian one. He also notes that every period of fundamental change coincides with a replacement of the ruling class: in the XII cy, the feudal lords were gone to the Crusades, and it was their intendants that inherited power, which coincides with the creation of the Hanseatic League, an alliance of city merchants; in the XVIII cy, we see the results of Louis XIV ‘s earlier policy of recalling the nobles to Versailles: within 2 generations, they had lost their capacity to manage their lands, which were bought by the bigger farmers, and in 1789, they lost their privileges.
Gaudin makes a concrete prediction: just as the optimism and blindness of the elites of the early 1800s, ended up producing 1848, and a restructuring of capitalism, in the same way the current period will culminate in a major crisis around 2020, followed by a major restructuring towards a planetary system.
Gaudin says that an important bifurcation occurred with Zoroaster Not only did he introduce the binary opposition between Good and Evil (instead of between the maintaining vs the destructive power that was typical before that), but he also made a strong opposition between the spiritual (Devas) and temporal (Ahuras) divinities, favouring the latter, and the West would follow suit, instead of choosing the Devas, as the East would do.
The 6th cy BC is also a power revolution: in Greece, democracy arrives and Logos emerges from Mythos; Bouddha is a prince renouncing power; Taoism mocks power and Confucius subsumes power to the spiritual order. In the XII cy, we see the creation of the university, which stresses deliberation and critiques the priestly caste.
In one of the last chapters, Gaudin discusses the importance of metrology, i.e. objective measurement, as a positive sign of modernity. It indeed replaces relations of power i.e. it introduces objective exams instead of the old boy network, as one example of this process. The meter, which replaced more than 2,000 different measuring systems, only dates from the French Revolution. He also notes that the meter, formerly spatial, has now become a temporal measure (??), a sign of our entry into a cognitive civilisation.
For the XVIII cy, Gaudin stresses the progressive aspects of the measures against the Guilds. The Encyclopedia of Diderot was nothing else than a explicit attempt to put the private knowledge of the guilds in the public domain, and the Loi Chapelier was conceived in the same spirit.
The first globalisation was the Silk Road, which connected India to the Middle East, and was controlled by the islamic 'Achemenids'. The Crusades could be seen as a failed attempt to break that stranglehold, as can the later attempts by Columbus and De Gama in the 15th cy. The Crusades were also an attempt by the Church to evacuate the feudal warlords who regularly pillaged the monasteries. He refers to a demand by the bishop of Beauvais, that the feudals would swear to forego such pillaging.